Tahoe welcomes MontBleu: South Shore casino had a storied past long before its latest name change
The Stateline casino corridor has had a long colorful past that goes well beyond the shade of signs and buildings.
With MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa launching a new era Wednesday where Caesars Tahoe once sat, historians reflected back on the changing nature of casino names and the environment that went with them.
After buying it from Caesars Entertainment for $45 million a year ago, Kentucky-based Columbia Sussex named MontBleu to provide an air of sophistication. This transformation from Roman culture to a French name meaning blue mountain came 26 year after Caesars Tahoe hit the scene. Caesars, a Las Vegas company, attached its name to Park Tahoe – which was built in 1976 and opened in the spring of 1978.
The Park Cattle Co. run by Brooks Park had visions of a South Shore economy built on tourism. The Park family owns 500 acres where MontBleu, Horizon, Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course and Harveys parking lot now sits.
From cattle to slots
“Land had become valuable, but we determined that (ranching) was perhaps not the highest and best use of the land,” said Jeanne Park Blach, the eldest daughter of Brooks. The 87-year-old rancher died in 2000 – but not before leaving a lasting footprint on what has remained the mainstay of the South Shore economy.
“I thought my father was extremely smart – a creative thinker. He had dreams others didn’t. He was quiet, but people listened when he spoke. He was persuasive and followed through with good old fashioned ethics,” the Park matriarch said Wednesday.
Park Blach has enjoyed watching the evolution of the Park Tahoe into MontBleu. She said she has no opinion on the latest name but believes her father would be “proud of what’s going on.”
She does respect the changes but also reflects fondly on old times. She liked watching children spinning on the stools at the Harveys Wagon Wheel – now Harrah’s-owned Harveys Lake Tahoe named after an everyman’s guy, Harvey Gross.
Times have changed
It appears that Park Blach isn’t the only one looking back at the “good old times.” Retired dealer and pit boss, Joe Snyder, 79, said the gaming environment was different a half-century ago.
“Players nowadays want to be entertained. Back then, they just wanted to be dealt to,” said Snyder, whose father got him interested in gaming early. “I learned to spin a roulette wheel before I learned how to eat.”
He started in 1948 with the Tahoe Village, which was located north of Kingsbury Grade off Highway 50. The Airport Inn existed where Lakeside Inn & Casino now stand. There was the Nevada Club and Sahati’s Stateline Country Club where Harrah’s sits. There was even a casino called Itahas – Sahati’s spelled backward. Across the street, Tony’s and Harveys rounded off a cluster of modest gaming venues. In the 1950s, Barney’s – now Bill’s – was joined by the Tahoe Palace and the Glass Crutch.
“They named it that because it was an alcoholic term,” gaming historian Dwayne Cling said. “People used to go down there and drink like crazy – come out a few days later.”
Fast forward to today – now MontBleu, Bill’s, Lakeside, Harrah’s, Harveys and Horizon – once called Del Webb’s Sahara Tahoe and High Sierra – anchor the highway.
Cling said the markets have changed dramatically in different ways. For one thing, casinos with their entertainment venues have become more family oriented.
Secondly, the casinos were once seasonal – opening on Memorial Day weekend and closing up over Labor Day.
“They called it ‘getaway day,'” Cling said.
Harrah’s – which bought up a number of old, small casinos in the 1950s – was the first to be open year-round. The big change started a trend. The late 1960s and 1970s spawned a few decades of expansions and later remodels. The industry is still known to reinvent itself on a regular basis.
There are other similarities, according to Cling. He believes there has been and always will be “big name entertainment.” Back then, it was Ted Lewis. Now it’s Sugar Ray and funk legend George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, who will appear at MontBleu on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Of course, the marketing will change.
“With MontBleu, I think they’re going to look at marketing in a different way,” Cling said.
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