Harveys’ long legacy started with Mr. Gross
When Harvey and Llewellyn Gross built a one-room cabin at Lake Tahoe and nailed a wagon wheel above the front door in 1944, they never could have guessed what the joint would look like 54 years later.
Yes, Harvey’s Wagon Wheel is still rolling. Only today it’s known as Harveys Resort Hotel & Casino – one of Lake Tahoe’s biggest landmarks – featuring a hotel with 740 guest rooms and an 88,000-square-foot full-service casino. Times sure have changed since Harvey Gross, a meat retailer from Sacramento, moved to South Lake Tahoe just prior to World War II to become one of the area’s true pioneers.
The Grosses opened Harvey’s Wagon Wheel Saloon & Gambling Hall in 1944 on seven acres on U.S. Highway 50 near the California-Nevada border. In those days the one-room log cabin featured three slot machines, two card tables, a lunch counter and the only 24-hour gas pump between Placerville and Carson City.
Gross did pretty good business during the summer months, but winter was another story. Tahoe was virtually snowbound in those days, and Harveys’ employees and friends spent much of the winter sitting around the fireplace eating popcorn and telling stories. Business was so bad that one winter Gross flooded the parking lot and turned it into a skating rink. But still, few came.
How could they? Highway 50 wasn’t yet open year-round. But Gross wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves, and with several other Tahoe residents grabbed shovels and dug out the road at Echo Summit themselves, just to prove it could be done. Consequently, a maintenance station was built the following year on Echo Summit to keep Highway 50 open during the winter, and Tahoe as we now know it was born.
And as Lake Tahoe grew as a year-round resort destination, Harveys grew also. Harveys became the first high-rise on the South Shore in the early 1960s with the completion of an 11-story, 197-room hotel. Another major expansion phase in 1980 was punctuated by a extortionist bomb, which blew a five-story hole in the hotel tower. But the unsinkable Gross attended the grand opening of his remodeled hotel only nine months later.
Gross died in 1983, but ownership was kept in the family. Bill Ledbetter, who married Beverly Gross – Harvey and Llewellyn’s only child – today is Harveys’ vice chairman. Kirk Ledbetter, Bill’s son, is also an executive there.
Harveys is now big business in every way. The hotel/casino formed a corporation with the Hard Rock Cafe in 1995, has developed hotel/casinos in Las Vegas and Colorado, and has even been put onto the New York Stock Exchange.
Harveys is a big success story, for sure. But let’s not forget the guy who started it all. When you look at the newly-remodeled Harveys, squint just a little and you may be able to see Harvey Gross trekking toward Echo Summit with a shovel slung across his shoulder to open the road, just to prove it could be done.
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