Stop spreading the news – Cal-Neva cabins may be saved
The history of Lake Tahoe’s North Shore can best be summed up in one hyphenated name: Cal-Neva.
Rumors 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,” Jakob 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, referring to the two stars who were frequent occupants of the cabins.
If the fame of a person or place is dependent on legend, whether it be fact or fiction, the Cal-Neva definitely qualifies.
The legend began in 1926 when real estate developer Robert P. Sherman decided he would try to draw potential buyers to the area by purchasing 13 acres, five in California and eight in Nevada, and construct a lodge that offered alcohol and gaming for the entertainment of his clients.
Cal-Neva Director of Security Rick Talbot, a history buff who has researched the history of the resort in his seven years at the helm, said that 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, a former Los Angeles County deputy sheriff said, while pointing to a painted line on the wall of the Indian Room that designates the state border. “It also worked the other way with Placer County authorities.”
When gaming became legal in 1931, after a vote by the Nevada Legislature, the Cal-Neva was the first 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, entertaining such luminaries as Joseph Kennedy, patriarch of the Kennedy clan, who sold meat to the resort as well as used it for clandestine meetings, it wasn’t until Frank Sinatra bought it in 1960 that the Cal-Neva really made headlines.
“The story goes that Sam Giancana (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.”
Other frequent guests at the resort during the Sinatra era included President John F. Kennedy, his brother U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe, who was rumored to have had romantic interludes with both the president and his brother.
According to Talbot, it was this rendezvous between the “Blonde Bombshell,” who was a regular occupant of cabin No. 3 and Bobby Kennedy, that is rumored to have caused her demise in 1962.
“The rumor has it that Marilyn had an encounter with Bobby and circumstances occurred that resulted in her taking an overdose of sleeping pills,” Talbot said. “Sinatra was able to get her to the hospital without anyone finding out. She was always talking about how she was going to someday write her memoirs. Two weeks later, she was found dead.”
Sinatra, who called cabin No. 5 home, while No. 4 was reserved for his friends, escaped the crowds that frequented his establishment by having a network of underground tunnels constructed that would allow him to get from his cabin to his office or the showroom without notice.
“It wasn’t that Sinatra didn’t like his public. He just figured that if he had to pass through the casino, his public would pay more attention to him and not to the one-armed bandits that we’re making him money,” Talbot said.
All the romance and intrigue finally came to an end when 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.”
After a closing performance on Labor Day 1963 by “Old Blue Eyes,” the resort went through several owners, before finally closing down for a few years until the present owner, Charles Bluth, a real estate developer from Southern California.
Several areas of the property still have the feel of a time past that saw the likes of Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne and Mickey Rooney perform on the boards in the Sinatra-built “Celebrity Showroom.”
To further the appreciation of its romantic and sometimes sordid past, Talbot conducts tours into and under the hidden past of the resort.
The tours, dubbed the “Frank Sinatra Famous Tunnel Tour” is open to all ages, is free and takes place on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, beginning at 7 p.m.