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Curious Cbus: Riva Ridge Boulevard's Surprising Mafia Ties

Sign for Riva Ridge Boulevard in Gahanna.
Debbie Holmes
Sign for Riva Ridge Boulevard in Gahanna.

The names given to towns, buildings, and streets can often indicate a lot about a community's history. It can also reveal some unsettling connections.

Glenn Soden recently wrote to WOSU’s Curious Cbus project to ask, “Was Riva Ridge Boulevard in Gahanna named after the Riva Ridge battle in Italy during World War II?”

The famous WWII battle took place between the 10th Mountain Division and the German army in the snowy mountains of northern Italy, and resulted in one of the war’s highest casualty rates.

But a deeper look into Riva Ridge Boulevard, and the Saratoga Estates neighborhood where it sits, unveiled a connection not to military valor but instead to horse racing, gambling and organized crime.

It's common for the streets of new neighborhoods to be named according to a certain theme. The roads of Saratoga Estates follow the theme of horse racing - the development is named after the Saratoga Racetrack in New York, one of the oldest major sports venues in the country.

Streets such as Churchill and Pimlico are also named after racetracks. Seven of the neighborhood’s streets are named after winners of the Kentucky Derby, including Riva Ridge, Dark Star, Venetian Way and Tim Tam.

Riva Ridge won the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes in 1972.

Riva Ridge crosses the finish line to win the 98th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. on May 6, 1972.
Credit stf / AP Photo
AP Photo
Riva Ridge crosses the finish line to win the 98th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. on May 6, 1972.

The story of the Saratoga Estates neighborhood begins when the Saratoga Development Corporation acquired land from the City of Gahanna in the early 1970s. The San Diego-based real estate company was co-owned by investor Allen Glick, who graduated from Ohio State University in 1964 and received his law degree from Case Western Reserve University.

Today, however, Glick is better known as a frontman for mob activity in Las Vegas. As reported in a 1977 New York Times article, he purchased four Las Vegas casinos with an estimated $150 million in loans from the Teamsters Pension fund. The loan was obtained after a meeting with Frank Balestrieri, who the FBI called a “crime leader” in Milwaukee.

As a part of his agreement, Glick was required to hire Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal as one of his top managers. It was later revealed to Glick that he had no power over Rosenthal. In fact, it was Rosenthal’s job to oversee the vast skimming operation on behalf of organized crime.

If this story sounds familiar, it might be because Glick was fictionalized in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film “Casino.” Kevin Pollak’s character, CEO Phillip Green, is based on Glick. The film’s protagonist, played by Robert De Niro, is a thinly veiled depiction of Rosenthal.

Credit Universal Studios
Universal Studios
In the film Casino, actors Robert De Niro and Kevin Pollak played characters loosely based on Frank Rosenthal and Allen Glick respectively.

The City of Gahanna reclaimed the land after the Saratoga Development Corporation went bankrupt in 1975. Tamara Rand, a businesswoman and investor in Saratoga, sued for all of Saratoga’s financial records, but was murdered that year in gangland fashion. The case was never solved, but authorities believe it was a professional hit on behalf of organized crime.

In exchange for immunity, Glick would become a key government witness. In 1986, the Chicago Tribune reported that Glick’s testimony led to “convictions in Kansas City of five top organized crime bosses including Joseph Aiuppa and John Cerone, the two highest-ranking members of the Chicago crime syndicate.”

According to the Tribune, Glick said that he “never was a frontman.'' Instead, he claimed, ''I was caught in a vise between people who had infiltrated the casino and the government's investigation.”

Despite financial troubles, the neighborhood was completed by another developer with the race track names intact.

And even though Riva Ridge Boulevard is technically named after a racehorse, it is possible to connect the dots back to the WWII battle. Riva Ridge the horse was owned and bred by Christopher Chenery, and was named by Chenery’s daughter, who took the name from her favorite ski run in Vail, Colorado. Her husband and some fellow veterans named the Vail Resort’s longest run after their division’s epic battle in the snowy Appienne mountains.

So in a roundabout way, the street was named after the battle. Riva Ridge, the street, was named after the horse, which was named after the ski trail, which was named after the battle.

Do you have a question about our region? Submit your own question below and Curious Cbus may investigate the answer.