Let the teary-eyed tributes and sentimental remembrances begin. Or, perhaps not. It all depends on how you view the once-fabulous and now-doomed Tropicana.
On Monday, Bally’s announced an April 2 closing date for the venerable hotel and casino, among the last of the early Strip’s shimmering resorts, just two days short of the anniversary of its April 4, 1957, opening.
I don’t know why company officials didn’t decide to close the doors on the anniversary. Given all the challenges the Tropicana faced during its tumultuous time on the Strip, I’m a little surprised they didn’t pick April 1 to lock the joint.
Bally’s President George Papanier saved the nostalgia for others. “This is an exciting next chapter for Bally’s and we are honored to be a key partner with the Athletics bringing a Major League ballpark to the great city of Las Vegas.”
The fact that the Tropicana was mobbed up from the desert beneath it to the penthouse suites when it opened didn’t make it unique in the Las Vegas of the era. A colorful cast of killers and accountants paraded through for decades and played behind-the-scenes puppeteer from New York, Miami, Kansas City, and points in between.
With so many investor hands on the grab, the Tropicana was fated to struggle at the bottom line. That it also suffered from internal managers who gave away the store at every opportunity furthered its woes.
From a legal standpoint, the Tropicana’s hidden ownership was exemplified by the violent, silent, Civella brothers of Kansas City. Nick Civella was one of the biggest mobsters in the U.S. Brother Carl, “Cork” as he was known, made for a capable second. And Anthony “Tony Ripe” Civella was close enough to Las Vegas to attend Oscar Goodman’s notorious big bash back in the 1990s.
The Tropicana was well known for a generation for its famous fountain and Havana-Miami stylings, its Folies Bergere floorshow, and its proximity to the burgeoning action on the south end of the Strip. The Folies lasted nearly half a century before closing in March 2009.
By far my favorite character associated with the Tropicana was neither a mobster nor a showgirl, but a kindhearted and well-meaning rube who lost her family fortune attempting to make a go of it at the so-called “Tiffany of the Strip.” Mitzi Stauffer Briggs, chain-smoking devout Catholic, never recovered financially from the beating she took by all of her newfound friends.
It’s easy to forget that in addition to being an iconic Las Vegas hotel, the Tropicana was a factory that employed thousands of people over the decades. It provided big breaks for both rising stars and those on the downward side of fame.
As the talented Murray the Magician told TMZ, the approaching closure complicates things for the current entertainers. He also reminded skeptics that the Trop’s proud entertainment history includes being the first home for Siegfried and Roy, as well as a stage for Gladys Knight and the Pips and Wayne Newton. There were times it had plenty going for it.
But as ever in Las Vegas, it’s on to the next new thing.
Acerbic Las Vegas food critic and attorney John Curtas echoed a common theme when he skewered the Tropicana this way on social media: “Is there any hotel in Vegas with less sentimental attachment to it than the Trop? It’s been troubled, forsaken, and forlorn since the early ‘90s.”
I must admit, the ringing irony of the Tropicana’s demise isn’t lost on me. The casino is scheduled to be replaced by a stadium that will house the former Oakland Athletics, the care-worn carpetbaggers of the American League.
It’s easy to be cynical, but count me as the sentimental type when it comes to old showgirls, comedians, and gambling joints that have seen better days.
Rest easy, Mitzi Briggs.