Cal-Neva resort’s heyday was when it was owned by Sinatra
The history of Lake Tahoe’s North Shore can best be summed up in one name: Cal-Neva.
Recent reports that the historic cabins at the Cal-Neva Resort in Crystal Bay will be razed to make room for time-share housing are premature, said Resort Manager Duane Jakob.
“We’ve gotten preliminary approval, but it’ll be almost a year before any action is taken,” he said.
The original plan was to get rid of the cabins but, Jakob said, that plan could be altered because of the feedback he has received.
“I’ve heard from fan clubs of Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe, asking if we could find a way to save the cabins. We’re thinking about relocating them to another spot on the property and turning them into a museum,” Jakob said.
In 1926, real estate developer Robert P. Sherman sought to draw potential buyers to the area by purchasing 13 acres, five in California and eight in Nevada, and constructing a lodge with alcohol and gaming.
Cal-Neva Director of Security Rick Talbot, who has researched the history of the resort, said Sherman took advantage of straddling the state line.
“If the cops from Washoe County came in to make a raid, Sherman would just move his guests from the Nevada side of the lodge to the California side and told the officers that they were out of their jurisdiction, ” Talbot said, pointing to a painted line on the wall of the Indian Room that designates the states’ borders.
When gaming became legal in 1931, the Cal-Neva was the first casino to be regulated by the state tax commission, until a state gaming commission was established in 1955 and a gaming license was issued.
“The Cal-Neva is the oldest existing gaming establishment in the United States,” Talbot said proudly.
Though the property would have several owners over the next few years, it wasn’t until Frank Sinatra bought it in 1960 that the Cal-Neva really made headlines.
“The story goes that Sam Giancana (the Mafia kingpin) wanted to buy the casino, but because of his background, there was no way the gaming commission would grant him a license,” Talbot said. “He was friends with Sinatra and talked him into buying it. And even though it wasn’t really on record that Giancana owned any piece of the property, he was there a lot and probably didn’t pay for anything.”
Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne and Mickey Rooney performed in the Sinatra-built “Celebrity Showroom.” Frequent guests during the era included President John F. Kennedy, his brother U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.
According to Talbot, it was this rendezvous between the “Blonde Bombshell”, who was a regular occupant of cabin No. 3 and Robert Kennedy, that is rumored to have contributed to her death by drug overdose in 1962.
Sinatra, who lived in cabin No. 5, escaped the crowds through a network of underground tunnels to allow him to get from his cabin to his office or the showroom.
A secret visit by Giancana to his paramour, Phyllis McGuire of the McGuire Sisters, resulted in Giancana getting into a fight with the sister’s road manager in cabin No. 30.
“The Gaming Commission found out that Sam was on the property, even though Sinatra denied it,” Talbot said. “Then he maintained that Giancana was technically not in Nevada, but the commission wasn’t buying it and revoked Sinatra’s license.”
Talbot conducts a tour of and under the resort. The tour, dubbed the “Frank Sinatra Famous Tunnel Tour,” is free on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m.