Published Tuesday, June 14, 2016 | 2:01 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, June 14, 2016 | 5:24 a.m.
The Las Vegas Strip wiped another piece of its history off the map early today, as the most prominent portion of the once-glamorous Riviera was imploded to make way for a new development.
Shortly after 2:30 a.m., the Riviera's 24-story Monaco Tower met a splashy and swift demise while onlookers watched from parking lots, sidewalks, neighboring buildings and even a helicopter. The implosion was preceded by a robust fireworks show and, in typical Las Vegas fashion, festivities included a VIP area with live music, food, drinks and showgirls.
That area was hosted by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which bought the Riviera last year and plans to replace it with more convention space. Attendees were at turns nostalgic for the Riviera’s past and optimistic about the site’s future.
Before the fireworks and implosion, producer and choreographer Jeff Kutash called the former hotel-casino an iconic place that once attracted a range of celebrity visitors. Kutash said they came to watch his water show “Splash," which ran from 1985 to 2006, and “experience what the Riviera did to reinvent Las Vegas” decades ago.
“It was a privilege to be here, and I’m glad you’re all here,” he told the VIP crowd gathered for a front-row viewing of the implosion. “What we’re going to do tonight is the beginning of the end, and that’s the way it should be, because it’s going to be fresh.”
Similarly, former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller said he had a long history with the Riviera, dating all the way to its debut in 1955, when his father was one of the hotel’s “small owners.”
“A lot of my childhood was spent being a lifeguard at the Riviera hotel, and every Sunday night my sister and mother and I would come here for dinner with our father, because he worked in the evenings,” Miller told the audience. “It’s a bittersweet moment for me to watch my past being blown up, but I do so in the Las Vegas tradition, which is out with the old, in with the new. And in this case, the new couldn’t be in better hands than being taken over by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.”
In the end, it took mere seconds for the Monaco Tower to fall to the ground, starting with its east side. As the dust settled, the hotel tower appeared to be completely felled — unlike the last Strip-area building to be taken down. In the February 2015 implosion of the 200-room Clarion, the hotel’s elevator shaft remained standing after the rest fell, forcing workers to topple it later using cables and construction machinery.
But the Riviera implosion happened without a hitch amid cheers from spectators on a crystal-clear night with temperatures in the mid 70s. Convention authority representatives said it all went exactly as planned.
Alicia Pascual, 68, was among those who came out to watch the implosion unfold. For her, the events were personal: Pascual and her husband were both longtime Riviera food service staffers, having worked there for 17 and 22 years, respectively.
Sitting by a fence on Paradise Road about an hour before the implosion, Pascual wore a Riviera-branded hat and T-shirt and smiled as she reflected on her time at the hotel-casino. She said it was “like a second home” for her and her husband, Joel Pascual, 66, who stood nearby donning a Riviera hat and a shirt marking the property’s 50th anniversary.
“It was a lot of fun just to come to work here,” Alicia Pascual said. “(I’m) always gonna keep it in my heart.”
The Pascuals met while working at the Riviera in 2007 and were married that same year. They both brought their old employee ID's with them to the implosion.
Visiting from Los Angeles, sound technicians Vaughn Hannon, 38 and Perry Freeze, 35, stood among a group of six visitors behind a fence near the Las Vegas Convention Center’s Gold Lot, at Convention Center Drive and Paradise Road.
Wearing T-shirts and khaki shorts and with beers in-hand, the two said the Riviera implosion was the first time they'd witnessed a building being brought down by explosives.
"It's just a very Vegas thing — to see buildings demolished this spectacularly — but also symbolic, to make room for the next project," Hannon said.
Another California resident, 28-year-old Frank Lewis, said he'd been waiting outside the fence for the better part of an hour before the implosion, to be in place for "a historical moment."
"There's so much to that place," Lewis said. "It's more than just an implosion, it's a significant moment in the city's history."
The Riviera opened in 1955 and cost about $10 million to build. For years, it was one of Las Vegas’ top resorts, attracting star performers such as Liberace, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand and Dean Martin, who was a part-owner for a time. Liberace cut the ribbon at the Riviera’s grand opening, and he earned $50,000 per week to perform there, making him the Strip’s highest-paid entertainer at the time.
But as more lavish resorts opened to the south of the property, the Riviera lost its luster over the decades. It closed in May 2015 after the authority bought it to make way for a new convention facility planned as part of its $1.4 billion expansion and renovation of the Las Vegas Convention Center, located just across Paradise Road.
The authority’s board of directors agreed to pay $182.5 million plus as much as $8.5 million in related transaction costs for the Riviera.
The implosion isn’t the last one scheduled on the site. Plans are underway to bring down the Riviera’s shorter Monte Carlo tower in August after asbestos is removed from its exterior. An exact date for that implosion has yet to be announced.
The resort joins a lengthy list of storied Strip properties that have been brought down by explosives, including the Desert Inn, Dunes, Aladdin and Landmark.
Tijuana, Mexico, natives Juan Trujillo, 64, and Yazmin Flores, 63, spent two hours of their three-day Las Vegas vacation awaiting the Monaco Tower’s destruction.
When the tower fell, the married couple said they nearly cried while remembering the great times they once spent at the hotel, watching performers like Sammy Davis Jr. and Liberace. The two also said they liked to play the one-armed bandits.
"So many memories there, but nothing's forever," Trujillo said in Spanish. "That hotel was past its best days, and eventually you have to move on."
Video of the implosion can be seen on the Las Vegas Sun's Facebook page.
Sun reporter Chris Kudialis contributed to this report.