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Opening of the Tropicana in 1957 showed promise of ‘bright new era’

Updated April 2, 2024 - 7:39 pm

When the Tropicana held its preview opening on April 3, 1957, the resort was heralded as representing a “bright new era” for Las Vegas after the failures of a pair of casinos two years earlier.

“Today is ‘T-Day’ in Las Vegas,” trumpeted the Las Vegas Review-Journal that day. “Ending an extended period of anxiety, the preview opening of the mighty Tropicana takes place this morning with all Las Vegans and visitors invited to view the really beautiful resort hotel, the most ambitious on the colorful Strip.”

The resort, built at what was then considered a fortune of $15 million, brought a sigh of relief for the community that had recently reeled from negative national publicity.

“For Las Vegans, the Tropicana heralds a bright new era in the resort industry and indicates that obituaries promiscuously written have been more than a little exaggerated,” the article continued.

The rise of the Tropicana, built by former Fontainebleau Miami hotel owner Ben Jaffe, came on the heels of some casinos that fell flat a couple years before amid national media reports that portrayed Las Vegas as “overbuilt,” with the El Rancho Vegas, Last Frontier, Flamingo, Desert Inn, Thunderbird, Sands, Sahara and Riviera on the Strip and downtown casinos vying for the tourist dollar.

“In the past month, two new top-notch hotels opened,” wrote Life magazine in June 1955. “One was the $5 million Dunes, which lugged 120 slot machines in anticipation of the rush. The other was the Moulin Rouge, the first interracial hotel in Las Vegas.”

But the Dunes and Moulin Rouge ran into severe financial trouble that year, and “when the excitement of the opening(s) died down,” Life wrote, “the town looked at its new places — where customers were scarce and the betting was light — and wondered: Has Vegas pushed its luck too far?”

So the Tropicana represented a victory of sorts.

“Today’s opening climaxes a period of impatient waiting that dates back almost two years to the time ground was broken for what promised to be the finest and most beautiful hotel ever constructed in this country,” the Review-Journal stated.

That April night, singer Eddie Fisher made his first appearance in Las Vegas, heading the premiere of a production show in the Theater Restaurant called “Monte Proser’s Tropicana Revue,” with bongos and calypso music and dancers and a set decked out like a mythical “island of Tropicana,” according to the newspaper.

About 400 people attended the preview party and show, then an estimated 13,000 made it to the opening on April 4, after a group of dignitaries, including Miss Tropicana Dee Sharon, posed at the ribbon cutting.

“Los Angeles Highway 91, the Las Vegas Strip, looked like downtown in any major city from 10 o’clock in the morning until the small hours of the following day,” the paper stated.

From its celebrated preview opening on April 3, 1957, to its closure just two days shy of the 67th anniversary of its official opening, the Tropicana stood the test of time and will remain among the most famous resorts in the history of the Strip.

The “Trop,” as many locals call it, is set to be demolished in October to make way for a proposed $1.5 billion major league baseball park for the Oakland Athletics, tentatively set to begin construction in April 2025 and maybe ready to play ball in 2028.

Contact Jeff Burbank at jburbank@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0382. Follow him @JeffBurbank2 on X.

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