Musical acts Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy James and the Shondells, Chaka Khan, and Glenn Miller all have one thing in common: Each, at some point in their performing careers, played before an audience at The Riviera, the historic venue that has been a Lake Geneva centerpiece for 90 years.
While Lake Geneva has many attributes, Mayor Charlene Klein attests that The Riviera is a standout attraction within the community for a number of reasons. Central among them are the venue’s deeply rooted history and its breathtaking architectural elements.
“There really is no other place like it,” Klein says, citing the venue’s location along the lakefront and its proximity to Riviera Beach. “People just love it.”
For decades, The Riviera has been a popular spot for weddings and other special events—not just because of the surrounding natural beauty—but for its interior architectural adornments as well. Three sides of the facility are surrounded by lakefront views. Inside, the ceilings are 20 feet high, creating an ornate, elegant feel.
The Riviera has a long past. As the city’s current mayor, Klein says she has high hopes that a new era is being ushered in after a series of improvements.
The two-storied venue was first constructed in 1932. Even by today’s standards, the speed of the project’s completion remains impressive, Klein notes. Work got underway that spring, and the project was wrapped before summer’s end.
“Hundreds of local craftsmen were hired to work on it,” Klein says, explaining that they sometimes worked up to 14 hours a day to complete the process in time.
The cost to construct the facility at the time was in the range of $65,000, which equates to about $1.27 million today.
From its earliest days, The Riviera became a hot spot for well-known acts, including big band performers like the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra and the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The venue remained popular as musical tastes changed, as evidenced by concerts from such acts as Tommy James and the Shondells and Chaka Khan into the 1970s.
“By the 1970s, it became, more or less, a discothèque,” Klein recalls of The Riviera’s evolution and metamorphosis. “It has a very rich history of music and the arts. It became the place to go and be seen. People would go there and dance the night away.”
The long-lived legacy of The Riviera impacted generations of people, and its influence continues today.
“I hear from people all the time,” Klein proclaims. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, my parents went there every Saturday night.’”
In its more recent iteration, The Riviera’s popularity as a wedding venue is made abundantly obvious by its bookings, which are already stretching into 2023.
As with any venue boasting a grand history, The Riviera began showing its age in recent years, prompting questions about how and when refurbishments should take place to ensure its prominence continues in the coming decades.
“During the pandemic — as horrible as that all was — there was the perfect opportunity to get all of these renovations done because nobody was able to book anything for weddings or have events,” Klein says.
The renovations, which occurred in two phases between December 2020 and May 2021, were undertaken with some of The Riviera’s history in mind. For example, an original terrazzo floor is now being showcased once more after the removal of an overlay of an epoxy coating.
“The Riviera is an iconic landmark, and it needed to be saved,” Klein says of the overarching goal behind the improvements. “We brought back the sophisticated ambiance of the 1930s.”
Klein adds the first floor of the facility, which includes shops that will reopen in May, will pay homage to the history with timeline displays of the notable events that have occurred at the site over the past nine decades.
Some spectators have been able to see the improvements on the second floor, but Klein says she is looking forward to the entire facility being fully operational in time for the warmer months of 2022.
“It looks just beautiful now,” she proclaims, and she’s not wrong. Soon the public too will be able to observe this magnificent venue once more in all its splendor.
Written by: Dave Fidlin