Sunday, April 20, 2014

Mission: Find the Riviera!

From the 1930's to the 1950's there was a nightclub called the Riviera atop the cliffs overlooking the George Washington Bridge. Its acts included Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Vic Damone. It had a revolving stage, a secret casino on its top floor, and a dining room with a retractable roof and a view of the NYC skyline. It was razed to make way for the Palisades Parkway and Palisades Interstate Park.

Samuel is on spring break this week, and I'm currently unemployed, so we decided to trek to New Jersey with fellow urban archaeologist Elise with one goal: locate the ruins of the Riviera!

We started at the base of the GWB, heading up pedestrian stairs into Palisades Interstate Park. We had a vague idea of where the Riviera was supposed to be, but we saw nothing but brush and thorns and trees--and a nice view of the bridge.

Suddenly--our first clue! A patch of curved, dark pink cement peeking out from under the eroding asphalt and gravel park trail.

It matched up perfectly with an old photo of the Riviera's entrance. The approximate location, angle and orientation all fit.

From there it was pretty straightforward to get our bearings. The building extended from here to the cliff, angled somewhat toward the bridge.

Our next find was about twenty feet away. See the planter and flagpole in the photo above? Now look at the photo below. We believe that's the raised brick edge of the planter. We found traces of yellow paint on the concrete at the soil line, underneath the leaves.

Here's a color shot showing the planter and flagpole in the driveway, and the entrance behind it.

From there we trudged into the brush, hoping not to step on any snakes. I'll tell you what, if you weren't looking closely you'd never know anything had ever been there. But we managed to find some bricks and broken pieces of concrete under the brush. (We also found what were either deer bones or the remains of a mob hit in the '50s. Either way: creepy.)

The most exciting find: a few small fragments of stone or stucco covered in flaking yellow paint that had been hidden under the brush. We believe these came from the exterior of the building. I'm holding up a photo of the building, just to belabor the point.

Do you recall that the other exterior color was blue? We found a few fragments with blue paint as well.

It would've been fun if the entire foundation were still there, but I think the bigger thrill was that it wasn't. It's fun to be amateur sleuths and piece together clues. It's fun to see into the past, to see something that no one else can see unless they look really, really closely.

And of course it's nice to hang out with fellow adventurers, including a boy that I love dearly.


  1. I visit your blog now and then. This looks like so much fun. It's amazing what you can find if you just look. Great post!

  2. Thanks, Margaret, we had a great time!