Tropicana Las Vegas closing Tuesday ahead of planned demolition

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Tropicana Las Vegas closing Tuesday ahead of planned demolition
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One of Las Vegas’ longest-standing Strip casinos is shuttering its doors for good.

Tropicana Las Vegas is set to close Tuesday, just two days shy of its 67th anniversary. Once a crown jewel on the Strip, the aging property has struggled to stand out in recent decades amid a sea of megaresorts.  

A demolition is set to take place later this year to make room for a new Major League Baseball stadium. Once gone, the only standing Strip resort from the 1950s will be the Sahara

While the Tropicana's demise is “sad for historians,” according to University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) history professor Michael Green, it’s not an unusual move from a city known for tearing down its history to make way for future projects.

“Hotels built in the 1950s were not designed for the 2020s,” Green told USA TODAY. The Tropicana’s closing “reflects Las Vegas changing to keep up with and get ahead of everyone else. … The times have changed.”  

‘The city is transforming’

The teardown is bittersweet for Antioco Carrillo, a 56-year-old Las Vegas local who worked in the property’s kitchen when he was 20. It was his first job in the states after immigrating from Mexico in 1987.

While the property has undergone renovations since his time as an employee, Carrillo said walking through the property with his husband this past weekend hit him with a sense of nostalgia. 

He snapped photos of the stained glass dome above the casino, the conference center, the pool. He recalled feeling small his first time inside the resort, which felt like a “city within a city.” He thought back to all of his former coworkers, a melting pot of employees from all corners of the world, he said. 

“It’s the property that gave me the opportunity to live here,” he said. “But I think it is a positive move, at the end of the day, because the city is transforming.”

Las Vegas' Sahara hotel after 70 years:Take a peek into the property's past

‘One of the elites,’ once upon a time

With a $15 million price tag, the Tropicana was the most expensive Las Vegas resort built to date when it opened in April 1957. Dubbed “the Tiffany of the Strip" as a reference to the famous jeweler, the 300-room property was considered a luxurious retreat.

It received high praise from local media at the time, with the Las Vegas Sun gushing over the “fantastically beautiful” resort with its "colorful, mosaic-tiled entrance" and spacious rooms, while the Las Vegas Review-Journal described the Tropicana as having a “quiet dignity.” 

The resort would go on to become well-known for its entertainment. It was the first Las Vegas stage to showcase the magicians Siegfried & Roy as part of the Folies Bergère show – a cabaret show imported from Paris that would go on to entertain tourists with its topless showgirls for nearly 50 years. The property’s Blue Room was another big attraction, hosting big-name jazz performers like Louis Armstrong

In its early years, the Tropicana was “one of the elites of the Strip,” said Green, who said that in addition to its entertainment offerings, “it was also known as having been opened by the mob.”

While ties to organized crime weren't unusual for Las Vegas casinos, Green said the mob did a poor job of hiding its involvement at the Tropicana. Just one month after the property’s grand opening, the mobster Frank Costello was shot in New York City. A paper in his pocket showed gross win figures from the Tropicana’s casino, connecting him to a skimming operation at the property.

Management changed hands a number of times since then, with the most recent buyers – Bally's Corp. – purchasing the property for $148 million in 2022

“I think part of (the property’s decline) is it that it went through several ownership changes when the other hotels were not – which meant different approaches, different plans,” Green said. “Then it was surrounded by these megaresorts. And in a sense, it tried to have its own niche by not being one of them and having amenities – but not the amenities to the degree the others did.”

Demolition planned for fall

The Tropicana’s gaming floor is set to close at 3 a.m. Tuesday, and food and beverage departments are set to close by noon, according to the property’s website. Preparations to tear down the resort will begin “shortly after,” with a tentative demolition date slated for October.

“What they say is, is true. (Las Vegas is) not a sentimental town. When they think they can do something better with the land, they will do that,” said David Schwartz, a history professor at UNLV. 

Once the property is torn down, approximately nine acres are set to go to the Athletics for their new stadium. The MLB team – which currently plays at the Oakland Coliseum – recently released renderings of a 33,000-seat stadium.

But memories of the property will live on. The Tropicana said on social media that it will be collaborating with UNLV, the Neon Museum and the Showgirl Museum to “preserve the heritage and items of sentimental value within the Tropicana.” Additionally, fans of the property can purchase items like guest room furniture, gaming stools and linens at the property’s pre-demolishion liquidation sale.

“I think I’ve made peace with the fact that we live in a city where we’re pushing forward with new things,” Carrillo said. “It’s sad to see the hotel go, the whole property go, but it’s exciting to look at the new opportunities this city is going to have.”