Las Vegas Sun

March 25, 2019

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Rissman, architect of Strip hotels, dies of cancer at 74

Homer A. Rissman, a longtime Las Vegas architect, made a unique contribution to the Strip skyline when he designed the tent-shaped Circus Circus.

In addition to the Circus Circus, Rissman designed a number of other local properties, such as the Dunes Country Club, the Hacienda on the south end of the Strip and the Bonanza, which had been on the Bally's site.

His work also includes the Flamingo Las Vegas towers and the Primm hotels Buffalo Bill's, Whiskey Pete's and the Primadonna, said Nevada Moore, who had worked for Rissman the past 11 years.

"He was one of the nicest men I ever knew," Moore said.

Rissman died Wednesday. He was 74.

Born Feb. 22, 1927 in Chicago, Rissman, who came to Las Vegas in 1956 to design the Hacienda, started his career by building simple, inexpensive houses in Illinois.

In 1954 he moved to California and initially came to prominence building restaurants and motels along the developing interstate highway system.

It was such work that brought Rissman to Las Vegas, where he would become known for his imaginative building design concepts, including Circus Circus, which he co-developed with gaming pioneer Jay Sarno, and the riverboat-shaped Holiday Casino, now Harrah's.

One of Rissman's early jobs was a major renovation of the Flamingo Hilton, where he painstakingly worked around historic architecture dating back to when mobster Bugsy Siegel built the resort.

In the process, Rissman replaced most of the buildings -- which had been built with cheap materials -- with sturdy and useful structures. Still, he saved Siegel's suite, complete with trap doors for quick escapes, as well as other early VIP suites.

In a later renovation, by another architect, those efforts were destroyed as the resort underwent major changes as operators attempted to distance themselves from the property's organized crime roots.

Away from the Strip, Rissman designed luxury apartment complexes, including the Regency Tower, where he lived for many years.

In his spare time, Rissman and his wife, Alice, who survives him, visited Nevada ghost towns and helped preserve them for their historic significance.

The American Institute of Architects will posthumously honor Rissman with a lifetime achievement award on Oct. 13, institute Executive Director Randy Lavigne said. Alice Rissman will accept the award.

"He played a very important role in the history of Las Vegas," Lavigne said.

In recent years Rissman has been slowed by lung cancer. He recently sent a letter to the American Institute of Architects' Las Vegas office, announcing that his third round of chemotherapy "has produced no tangible results."

He joined the Nathan Adelson Hospice treatment program on Sept. 11, and three days later closed his business, Rissman & Rissman Associates.

Survivors, in addition to his wife, include a daughter, Suzanne Farber of Los Angeles; two sons, Craig Rissman of Sacramento and Dr. Maurice "Nick" B. Rissman II of Beaumont, Texas; six grandchildren and a great granddaughter.

Visitation is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. today at Palm Mortuary on Eastern Avenue.

Services will be 2 p.m. Friday at King David Memorial Chapel at Palm Mortuary at Eastern Avenue and Eldorado Lane.

The family suggests donations be made to Nathan Adelson Hospice.