The Riverside Hotel became a temporary home to many as the divorce colony blossomed. Its walls evolved and expanded over the 20th century. In 1951, Frank Sinatra came to establish a Nevadan residence to divorce his first wife and sang at the Riverside Hotel during his stay.
Years before his 1951 divorcee debut in Reno, a twenty four year-old Frank and nineteen year-old Nancy were wed thousands of miles away from the Riverside Hotel. Young Frank and Nancy Sinatra were married in 1939 just as Frank was beginning to sing in a successful band.
The two were married for eleven years and had three children. Eventually Frank’s fame grew and rumors of infidelity spread. Over time, one extramarital relationship took on greater importance in Sinatra’s life than all the others. Sinatra sought a divorce from Nancy in 1950 per his lover Ava Gardner’s request. On February 14, 1950, Nancy and Frank announced their intent to divorce. His journey towards Reno began.
The once humble and now legendary Frank Sinatra arrived in Nevada on August 9, 1951. Newspapers across the country and around the world bore his name that day, announcing his movement towards divorce. While he established residency, his voice filled the Riverside Hotel for six weeks as he performed for visitors and residents. Frank did not come alone, however. On August 18th, a familiar brunette arrived at Lake Tahoe to stay with friends. From that day, Sinatra was accompanied by his new love interest and intended wife, Ava Gardner.
Complexity filled Sinatra’s time at the Riverside Hotel. His ties to the mob intensified as Lucky Luciano, a known mob member, visited Sinatra in the gambling town. Evidently, Sinatra mingled with the famous and the infamous while seeking the usual Reno cure. Clark Gable also visited Sinatra in August. This visit to the divorce haven spurred questions of Gable’s own intent to divorce.
Newspapers across the country noted Sinatra’s schedule while residing in the divorce capital. The Des Moines Tribune noted on August 24, that Ava Gardner, Clark Gable, and Frank Sinatra had plans to go on a fishing trip together.
Gable and Sinatra also spent time at the Riverside Casino. Their time was documented by newspapers that mentioned Gable’s presence and Sinatra’s lack of finances. At the time, Sinatra’s fame had been dwindling and rumors of Sinatra’s troubled financial situation mounted.
In an article documenting Gable’s presence, the Gazette also notes, “Sinatra is crooning for his supper at the Riverside.” Sinatra performed in Reno’s Riverside until August 22. Gardner and Sinatra relocated to Las Vegas for another singing engagement before he completed his six week residency at the end of September. He ultimately received his divorce in Las Vegas.
The day after Sinatra’s divorce, the duo applied for a marriage license. Some newspapers note that twenty-four hours had not passed from the time Sinatra was divorced from Nancy before applying for the marriage license with Gardner. Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner left the Nevadan communities they’d called home to marry at Isaac Levy’s home in Pennsylvania on November 7, 1951.