Hidden safe discovered during Bill’s renovation
August 19, 2011
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – A funny thing happened on the way to the CVS.
While demolishing a wall on second floor of the former Bill’s building late Thursday afternoon, construction crews found a long forgotten part of Lake Tahoe’s history – an approximately four-foot tall, locked black safe.
The safe was hidden underneath a staircase and completely sealed off behind Sheetrock, adding a layer of intrigue to the unexpected discovery, said South Shore attorney Mike Laub, who bought the building in February 2010.
“The fact that it was sealed off like that was so bizarre,” Laub said during a Friday phone interview.
A CVS drug store, Dotty’s Casino and restaurant and bar are among the businesses that have leased space in the building.
Harrah’s officials were unaware of the safe, leading Laub to think the safe could be a remnant from a previous owner of the building, even former Barney’s Casino owner Richard L. Chartrand.
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Barney’s Casino operated from 1960 to 1987 in the eastern end of the building where the safe was found. Harrah’s ran Bill’s Lake Tahoe Casino from July 1987 until January 2010.
Chartrand was killed Aug. 27, 1968 when a bomb exploded underneath his car as he backed out of the driveway of his Skyland neighborhood home near Zephyr Cove.
While the nature of the unsolved killing could fit into the plot line of nearly every mob movie ever made, the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office found no evidence of a “gangland-type assassination,” according to a 1968 Tribune article.
Initial efforts to move the safe discovered inside the old Bill’s building were unsuccessful.
Laub said he will have the safe looked at by a locksmith and opened in the next couple of days. Opening the safe will require drilling through the locking mechanism rather than the Hollywood-esque use of a stethoscope to decipher the combination, Laub noted.
The discovery invokes “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults,” a 1986 television program hosted by Geraldo Rivera that included the opening of a vault reportedly owned by gangster Al Capone, Laub said.
The much-hyped opening revealed nothing but an “old stop sign and a couple of empty gin bottles,” according to a retrospective by Rivera.
Likewise, Laub acknowledged the safe may contain “nothing but air.”
But, for the time being, the safe holds nothing but possibilities.