End of an Era as Tropicana Las Vegas Closes Its Doors

las vegas tropicana shut down doors

After 67 years, the Tropicana Las Vegas, a true icon of the famous Strip, closed its doors earlier this month.

Over the years, the casino rose to fame for numerous reasons. It was popular with the Rat Pack and it was also known to have mob connections. The Tropicana even found its way into a James Bond film. In the 1971 classic “Diamonds Are Forever“, Bond says, “I hear the Hotel Tropicana is quite comfortable.”

However, Las Vegas is a city of continual renewal and reinvention, meaning that the casino resort’s days were always numbered and on Tuesday, April 2, workers and fans of the venue gathered together, with some visibly crying, as at just before one o’clock in the afternoon security began to lock up the venue for the last time. Those present reported that they could hear the sound of chains being drawn across the door handles.

The Tropicana demolition is due to be in October, and in its place, a $1.5 billion baseball stadium is set to be built as part of the city’s plan to become a sports capital.

Mixed Emotions for Workers, Locals and Visitors

The Tropicana closing has produced mixed emotions. As Charlie Granado, who worked at the casino’s bar for 38 years, explained, “It’s time. It ran its course. It makes me sad. But on the other hand, it’s a happy ending.”

When the casino was built, the population in Clark County was just over 100,000, whereas today, it is over 2.3 million. It cost $15 million and had three floors with 300 rooms divided across the two wings. With its well-kept lawns and high-class showroom, it was soon known as the “Tiffany of the Strip”.

When it opened, visitors first saw a tulip-shaped fountain by the entrance, followed by mosaic tiles and mahogany paneling on the inside. Looking back at photos from the era, it was clearly popular with celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Mel Torme and Eddie Fisher.

One of the final guests to stay at the hotel was Joe Zappulla from New Jersey. He paid $600 for his room and was able to realize his dream of lying on a craps table on the casino floor. Zappulla’s parents had told him about meeting the Rat Pack during the Tropicana’s heyday. They spent their honeymoon in Las Vegas in 1961 and then returned to visit on a regular basis. With tears streaming down his face, Zappulla said that the “Old Vegas”, which his parents remembered, is disappearing.

Changing with the Times

The Tropicana underwent several changes over its almost seven decades of operation. Two additional hotel towers were added over time and in 1979, the iconic green-and-amber stained-glass ceiling was installed above the gambling floor at a cost of $1 million.

One worker who has seen the many faces of the Tropicana is Barbara Boggess. She began working at the hotel as a linen room attendant when she was 26 years old in the 1970s. She is now 72 and over the years, has witnessed changes such as the 1980s rebranding into “The Island of Las Vegas” when a pool complete with a blackjack table was installed and the redesign as a South-Beach-themed resort in 2011.

Today, not much remains of the original Tropicana, only the low-rise hotel wings. However, the venue is packed with vintage Vegas charm and nostalgia, some of which is bound to be preserved in both public and private collections and exhibits.

The Mob Connection

When the Tropicana opened on April 4, 1957, it had links to organized crime, primarily through the alleged mobster Frank Costello. He was shot in the head shortly after the resort’s opening and while he survived, investigating police found a piece of paper in his pocket with details of the Tropicana’s exact earnings and “money to be skimmed”.

In the 1970s, more than a dozen people were charged by federal authorities with planning to skim $2 million in gambling revenue from Las Vegas casinos and charges relating to the Tropicana resulted in five convictions.

However, there were also many years in which the Tropicana was mob-free. For a while, it was home to Las Vegas’ longest-running show, “Folies Bergere”. Imported from Paris, the topless revue ran for close to 50 years and helped to make the image of a feathered showgirl a true Vegas icon.

The Future of the Tropicana

The Tropicana brand and imagery live on in Atlantic City as well in several online casinos. While it will soon disappear entirely from the Las Vegas strip, fans will still be able to enjoy games such as online baccarat while enjoying their memories of the historical Vegas venue.

Caroline Richardson
Caroline Richardson Read Bio
Hi all, I’m Caroline. I’m based in Boston, Massachusetts, with my husband and our three noisy and inquisitive kids. I began my career in journalism, working for several Boston-based....
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