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Cal Neva Lodge & Casino

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Cal Neva Resort & Casino
Cal Neva Lodge.jpg
The Cal-Neva Lodge & Casino in 1962
Cal Neva Resort & Casino is located in Nevada
Cal Neva Resort & Casino
Cal Neva Lodge & Casino
Address 2 Stateline Road, Crystal Bay, Nevada, United States
Opening date 1926; 91 years ago (1926)
No. of rooms 220
Total gaming space 116,000 sq ft (10,800 m2)
Casino type Land-based
Owner Criswell-Radovan, LLC
Coordinates 39°13′29″N 120°0′20″W / 39.22472°N 120.00556°W / 39.22472; -120.00556

Cal Neva Resort & Casino, previously known as the Calneva Resort, Cal-Neva Lodge,[1][2] is a resort and casino straddling the border between Nevada and California on the shores of Lake Tahoe. The original building was constructed in 1926, and became famous when the national media picked up a story about actress Clara Bow cancelling checks she owed to the Cal Neva worth $13,000 in 1930.[3] After a fire, the building burnt down in 1937 and was rebuilt over the course of 30 days. In 1960, entertainer Frank Sinatra purchased the Resort alongside Dean Martin and Chicago mobster Sam Giancana.

Under Sinatra, the Celebrity Room was added alongside a helipad and it opened year round. His ownership gradually increased over the following two years until he owned 50 percent outright. But Giancana's attendance at the property first provoked a rift between Sinatra and share holder Hank Sanicola, and later resulted in Sinatra's gambling license being suspended by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. He initially leased the property to Jack L. Warner and later in 1968 to a group of investors. It passed through the hands of a series of investment groups until 1976 when it was bought by Kirk Kerkorian. The property is owned by Criswell-Radovan, LLC, which closed the resort on September 5, 2013, for renovations and declared bankruptcy in 2016.[4]


Early period[edit]

The Cal-Neva Lodge was built in 1926 by real estate developer Robert P. Sherman.[5] In 1929, Canadian Army Colonel H. H. Betts went missing from his room at the Cal-Neva; his body was found over a year later some five miles away from the hotel.[6] The lodge was first made nationally famous later that year when actress Clara Bow cancelled checks owed to the casino worth $13,000;[7] she claimed that she had believed that the chips she was using while playing blackjack were worth 50 cents when they were actually valued at $100.[8][9]

A group of investors bought the Cal-Neva in 1935, and recruited William "Bones" Remmer[10] to act as its president and the pit manager of the casino.[11] That year a 13-year-old Judy Garland performed at Cal Neva for the first time.[12] The original building burnt down in 1937 causing $200,000 worth of damage;[13] the incident which was thought to have been arson but no charges were ever brought.[14] The reconstruction effort took 30 days, with 500 men working on the project.[15] State legislation was changed shortly afterwards to allow gambling, and following the purchase by developer Norman Blitz it became one of Nevada's earliest legalized casinos and rumors abounded that there was an intention by the owners of the lodge to put a gambling boat on the lake.[14][16][17]

Towards the end of the Second World War, the lodge was purchased from Remmer by Sanford Adler and a group of associates for $700,000;[18][19] Adler renamed the property to "Cal Neva" in order to match Adler's Cal Neva hotel in Reno, Nevada.[20] However, this formatting of the name had been in common use since before the fire.[6] In 1946, Xavier Cugat was paid a reported $22,000 for a two-week stint at Cal Neva Lodge—this was reportedly the first nationally famous band to perform there.[21]

Ownership was transferred once again on March 21, 1955, when a group led by Bert "Wingy" Grober purchased the lodge for $1 million.[11][22] During this period, the hotel was frequented by members of the Kennedy family including John F. and his brother Robert.[11] Author Scott Lankford claims that John F. used the lodge to carry on an "endless series of extramarital affairs with wealthy divorcees and Tahoe's notoriously ubiquitous prostitutes".[14] The lodge served as accommodation during the 1960 Winter Olympics, held at nearby Squaw Valley Ski Resort.[23] It has remained popular with skiers over the decades since.[23][24]

Ownership by Frank Sinatra[edit]

Frank Sinatra became the majority stakeholder in the Cal Neva Lodge in 1960.

Frank Sinatra first visited Cal Neva in 1951; his trip made the national press as he overdosed on sleeping pills and this was reported to the local sheriff.[25] He continued to attend the lodge and Grober would talk up his appearances to other guests such as when on one occasion, Sinatra played a jam session with big band leader Harry James and actress and singer Betty Grable.[26] Sinatra publicly bought the resort in 1960 through his company, Park Lake Enterprises.[27][28] Initially, he owned 25 percent of the property with Hank Sanicola and Paul "Skinny" D'Amato who each held 13 percent.[29] Other smaller shareholders included Dean Martin. Chicago mobster Sam Giancana was said to be a silent partner in the business;[29] D'Amato acted as Giancana's man.[30] Sinatra gradually expanded his ownership of the casino; by 1962 he owned more than 50 percent share, with Sanicola holding 33 percent and Sanford Waterman owning the remaining shares.[31]

During this period, the hotel was frequented by members of the Kennedy family including John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert F Kennedy and father Joseph P. Kennedy.[11] Author Scott Lankford claims that The Kennedy Clan used the lodge to carry on an "endless series of extramarital affairs with wealthy divorcees and Tahoe's notoriously ubiquitous prostitutes".[14]

One of Lankford’s most fascinating stories of The Cal Neva Lodge involve the prohibition era tunnels that traveled underground, below the suites of the financial elite and movie stars, such as Marilyn Monroe. He stated that Monroe, who kept a permanent bungalow (#4), next to Franks (#5), and between the one maintained by the Kennedy clan (#3), was a constant visitor to Bungalow #3, at all hours of the day and night, and known for visiting JFK most often, was also known to visit Father Joe and brother Bobby.

Sinatra was known to keep thousands of Dollars both in cash and in United States Mint bags holding Brilliant Uncirculated Morgan silver dollars, that he kept in a private underground Vault within the tunnel, connected to his Bungalow #5.

The shareholders decided to open the property year-round; it had only previously opened for the summer season.[32] Sinatra built the Celebrity Room theater and installed a helicopter pad on the roof. He re-utilized prohibition-era smuggling tunnels beneath the property to allow mob members to move around the property without being seen by the public.[16]

The FBI already had the lodge under investigation at the time due to the connection to Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., who was staying there at the time that Sinatra's deal was finalized. There were concerns that Kennedy was involved in the arrangement of a casino for use by the American mafia.[33] The FBI suspected that the expansion was made using funds borrowed from Jimmy Hoffa.[34] Following a request by Robert Kennedy, who had concerns over the press coverage of his and his brother's relationships with Marilyn Monroe, Sinatra made accommodation available for her for a weekend prior to her death on August 4, 1962.[35] During this period she was not allowed to leave and only Giancana was allowed to visit her. Even her former husband, Joe DiMaggio, was turned away.[36] She attempted suicide through an overdose, but contacted the reception desk and was rushed to hospital where she had her stomach pumped.[37] The cabin, known as Monroe's, and another, known as Sinatra's, are still part of the guest accommodation.[16] Also in that year, a federal investigation took place into a prostitution ring being run from the foyer of the Cal Neva.[37]

Postcard of the lodge, c. early 1960s.

The Sinatra period saw extravagant parties and visits by celebrities such as Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Kim Novak, Shirley MacLaine, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz and Richard Crenna. However, his mood swings would sometimes determine how he responded to patrons. Journalist Herb Caen reported that he could be dismissive and insulting to those who annoyed him.[31] Giancana was banned from the state of Nevada, but Sinatra continued to allow him to stay at the lodge which resulted in Sanicola seeking to remove himself as a shareholder. Although Sinatra sought to explain that Giancana was only visiting his girlfriend, Phyllis McGuire, the disagreement resulted in the end of Sinatra and Sanicola's friendship.[38] After Giancana was spotted on the premises, Sinatra had his gambling license removed by the Nevada Gaming Control Board.[16][n 1] Following this, Sinatra decided he wanted to get out of entertainment property ownership as he was being heavily criticized in the national press and pursued by law enforcement over illegal activities at the casino.[40] The Cal Neva Lodge was leased to Jack L. Warner in a deal which also saw a majority stake in Reprise Records sold to Warner Bros. Records and Sinatra gaining a one-third ownership in the new company.[41]

Later period[edit]

The Cal Neva Resort in 2007

After leasing it to Warner for four years, Sinatra sought to sell the property to Howard Hughes in 1967 as part of the renewal of his contract at the Sands Hotel and Casino.[42] Following a fallout between Hughes and Sinatra, the entertainer instead signed a contract with Caesars Palace. This included a requirement for Sinatra's stake in Cal Neva to be purchased by his new employer for $2 million,[43][44] but instead the lodge passed into the hands of the same owners as Reno's Club Cal-Neva in 1968 for $1.4 million.[45][46]

The new owners oversaw the construction of a ten-storey expansion to the property. This added a further 200 rooms to the lodge, for which permission was given although the Nevada State Park Advisory Committee opposed the move.[47] They sought to re-open the Cal Neva on July 1, 1969,[45] but instead it partly opened in May of that year with the new expansion opening the following month.[46] The Ohio Real Estate Investment Trust purchased the lodge in 1970 for $6 million,[48] with the aim to lease it to the U.S. Capital Corporation, who in turn sought to sublease it to Tahoe Crystal Bay Inc.[49] The stockholders of the Ohio Real Estate Investment Trust filed a lawsuit against the company in 1973, which resulted in the Cal Neva being placed into federal receivership.[50] After opening year round since Sinatra purchased the lodge, it closed for the winter season in 1974 due to a drop in visitors blamed on the 1973 oil crisis.[51]

The Cal Neva was sold in 1975 alongside the Crystal Bay Club to BKJ Corporation, who consisted of Everett Brunzell, Charles Ketchum and Norman Jenson. The two clubs were purchased for a total of $9 million.[50] But their licensing application for Cal Neva was turned down by the Nevada Gaming Commission due to a their lack of ongoing finances.[52] The First National Bank of Nevada foreclosed on the property in early 1976 before selling it to Kirk Kerkorian, a significant shareholder in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.[53] He owned the Cal Neva through his Tracinda Investment Corporation, a different entity than the one through which he owns his MGM shares. As part of the re-launch of the lodge, he convinced Dean Martin to return for a performance, for which Cary Grant was also in attendance.[54]

Jon Perroton was arrested in 1985 for fraud after convincing Hibernia National Bank to loan him $23 million towards the purchase price of Cal Neva. He had claimed that he had the backing of Sheraton Hotels and Resorts. He was subsequently sentenced to 20 years in custody.[55] That same year, the lodge was purchased by Chuck Bleuth. Under the new owner, it was renovated and the exterior of the main building restored to how it looked in the 1960s.[56] On September 10–12, 1993, the lodge hosted the second annual Daow Aga Pow wow (a local Native American meeting) on Lake Tahoe.[57] In 1998 the hotel was named "Nevada's Best Getaway" and cited as one of America's 50 Flagship Hotels.[58]

In 2005, Bleuth sold the lodge onto Ezri Namvar. However the casino was in severe decline; by 2009 the revenue was around half of that which it received in 1992. Canyon Capital Advisors foreclosed on a $25 million loan, and an auction open across two states failed to result in any bidders. The area had seen several other casinos nearby close around the same time.[16]

Architecture and location[edit]

The casino

The Cal Neva Lodge and Casino overlooks Lake Tahoe with the property split across the California/Nevada border near Crystal Bay.[56][59] The main dining room has a white line indicating the state border running down the middle of the room,[60] and continues outside through a swimming pool.[26] The interior is decorated in the lodge-style.[61] The entrance had been replaced several times over the years, although the exterior of the buildings have remained almost the same since the reconstruction.[62] Prior to the expansion under Sinatra, the lodge had 55 rooms and 11 lodges,[61] but this was increased to 220 lake-facing rooms following the expansion in 1969.[47][63] As of 1998 it had 182 rooms and suites and eight conference rooms, catering for up to 400 people.[58]

Celebrity and Indian rooms[edit]

Constructed following the purchase by Sinatra and his associates, the Celebrity room and theater hosted both the singer and his Rat Pack friends as well as other singers of the day.[16] It is located near to the casino area on the Nevada side of the border,[56] and has sat up to 700 people.[64] The Indian room featured Native American memorabilia and wood-beamed ceilings,[59] and is sited in the California side of the hotel. It acted as both a museum to the nearby Washoe people, as well as operating as a ballroom.[56] The Indian room underwent renovation in the late 1980s, when it was described by Skiing magazine as being "a spacious area with a large fireplace".[24]

Current renovations[edit]

Hotel facade in 2010

Criswell-Radovan, LLC, a Napa, California-based development company which acquired the property in spring 2013, closed it as a whole on September 5, 2013 for a complete renovation.[16] The development project was originally estimated to take at least a year and was to include an overhaul of the 10-story Cal Neva, including interior guest rooms, the Circle Bar, the casino, Frank Sinatra's Celebrity Room theater and a complete exterior upgrade. The casino upgrade sought to restore the Cal Neva's original 6,000-square-foot gaming floor, complete with a full slot machine display and the return of table games. Criswell-Radovan was aiming to reopen the property in conjunction with what would have been Sinatra's 99th birthday on December 12, 2014.[65] However, reopening was first delayed to January 2015, then summer 2015, and then pushed into 2016. The delays were attributed to a combination of factors: the need for construction to proceed carefully and the difficulties in obtaining financing. The company obtained a $29 million loan in November 2014 that allowed construction to begin.[66] An additional $20 million equity line of credit is also financing the project.

The present owners of the property, Criswell-Radovan, have filed for bankruptcy.[67]

Hill said the bankruptcy filing guarantees that that the Cal Neva won’t reopen this year but that Criswell-Radovan has a permit allowing construction until October 15, 2018.[68]


  1. ^ Sinatra did not gain back his gambling license until 1981, following a hearing of the Nevada Gaming Commission and the intervention of Ronald Reagan, who acted as a character witness.[39]


  1. ^ "Blame for Fires is Blamed Upon Deer Hunters". Reno Gazette. 15 August 1928. p. 8. Retrieved 29 September 2016. Cal-Neva Lodge  open access publication – free to read
  2. ^ "SF Wife Cites Gaming Checks Of Clara Bow : Cal-Neva Manager Made Too Conceited by Incident, Divorce Plea Charges". Oakland Tribune. 30 October 1930. p. 21. Retrieved 29 September 2016. Cal-Neva Lodge  open access publication – free to read
  3. ^ "Former Gambling Czar 'Bones' Remmer Dead At 65". The Tuscaloosa News. Google News. Jun 13, 1963. p. 7. Retrieved 29 September 2016.  open access publication – free to read
  4. ^
  5. ^ Carrerowbonanza, Jack (July 7, 2004). "Sinatra did it his way at the Cal-Neva". Tahoe Daily Tribune. Retrieved November 15, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b "Human Bones Are Identified". The Ogden Standard-Examiner. September 11, 1930. p. 4. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  7. ^ "Cal-Neva Inn Keep Must Pay Alimony". Oakland Tribune. December 14, 1930. p. 14. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  8. ^ "Clara Bow 'Alibi' Hit by Will Rogers". Santa Cruz Evening News. Santa Cruz, California: September 26, 1930. p. 5. Retrieved 29 September 2016. Cal-Neva  open access publication – free to read
  9. ^ "Clara Bow Admits Gambling When Will Rogers 'Tells All'". The Pittsburgh Press. September 25, 1930. p. 1. Retrieved December 11, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Ex-gambling Czar Remmer Dies At 65". St. Petersburg Times. Google News. June 14, 1963. p. 5. Retrieved 29 September 2016.  open access publication – free to read
  11. ^ a b c Woods Moe (1996): p. 89
  12. ^ "Historic Cal Neva resort shuts down". San Francisco Chronicle. April 1, 2010. Retrieved November 16, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Cal-Neva Resort Burns, Damage is Over $200,000". The Fresno Bee. May 17, 1937. p. 3. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  14. ^ a b c Lankford (2010): p. 198
  15. ^ Larson (2008): p. 96
  16. ^ a b c d e f g "Frank Sinatra's Lake Tahoe casino shuts down". USA Today. March 31, 2010. Archived from the original on February 5, 2015. Retrieved November 14, 2015. 
  17. ^ "Nevada Plans to Emulate Old Monte Carlo". Warren Times Mirror. March 21, 1931. p. 1. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  18. ^ Woods Moe (1996): p. 31
  19. ^ "$700,000 Deal". Long Beach Independent. June 5, 1948. p. 6. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  20. ^ Woods Moe (2008): p. 207
  21. ^ Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 3 August 1946. p. 18. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  22. ^ "Trio Seeks to Buy Lake Tahoe Casino". The San Bernardino County Sun. December 19, 1954. p. 42. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  23. ^ a b Skiing. October 1970. p. 200. ISSN 0037-6264. 
  24. ^ a b Skiing. December 1989. p. 103. ISSN 0037-6264. 
  25. ^ Kelley (1986): p. 168
  26. ^ a b Wilson, Earl (July 25, 1958). "Sinatra With Wings? That's How It Looks!". Janesville Daily Gazette. p. 7. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  27. ^ Freedland (1997): p. 292
  28. ^ Clarke (1998): p. 225
  29. ^ a b Freedland (1997): p. 270
  30. ^ Kelley (1986): p. 312
  31. ^ a b Kelley (1986): p. 313
  32. ^ Clarke (1998): p. 226
  33. ^ Kuntz & Kuntz (2000): p. 141
  34. ^ Kuntz & Kuntz (2000): p. 180
  35. ^ Marilyn Monroe's Personal Pucci Blouse - The Marilyn Monroe Collection LLC
  36. ^ Freedland (1997): p. 299
  37. ^ a b Kelley (1986): p. 314
  38. ^ Freedland (1997): p. 298
  39. ^ "Gaming License in Nevada Goes to Sinatra with Praise". New York Times. February 20, 1981. Retrieved November 14, 2015. 
  40. ^ Kelley (1986): p. 323
  41. ^ Clarke (1998): p. 228
  42. ^ Kelley (1986): p. 371
  43. ^ "Reports Say Sinatra Punched in Nevada". Delaware County Daily Times. September 12, 1967. p. 1. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  44. ^ "Sinatra Sale". The Independent. November 14, 1967. p. 2. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  45. ^ a b "Opening Date New Cal-Neva Lodge Set July 1". The Times. April 18, 1969. p. 20. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  46. ^ a b "Sinatra's Former Casino Reopens". The Fresno Bee. May 29, 1969. p. 9. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  47. ^ a b "Cal-Neva Lodge Addition is Set". The Fresno Bee. November 8, 1968. p. 11. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  48. ^ "Ohio Investment Co. To Buy 2nd Casino". Washington C.H. Record-Herald. August 21, 1970. p. 9. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  49. ^ "Purchase of Casino Proposed". News-Journal. July 8, 1970. p. 12. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  50. ^ a b "2 Nevada Clubs Bought for $9 Million". The Logan Daily News. February 24, 1975. p. 7. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  51. ^ "Cal-Neva Lodge Will Close". Galesburg Register-Mail. January 5, 1974. p. 8. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  52. ^ "Miden Slot Permit Denied". The Edwardsville Intelligencer. October 17, 1975. p. 57. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  53. ^ "Kerkorian Buys Casino at Tahoe". The San Bernardino County Sun. November 23, 1976. p. 15. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  54. ^ Eder, Shirley (April 29, 1977). "Others Share Time With Cary". Santa Ana Register. p. 58. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  55. ^ "Con Artist Gets 20 Years". Ukiah Daily Journal. June 23, 1985. p. 2. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  56. ^ a b c d Castle (1995): p. 569
  57. ^ The Native Magazine: 1993–1995. Native Network. 1993. p. 22. 
  58. ^ a b Insurance Conference Planner. Bayard Publications. 1998. p. 77. 
  59. ^ a b Castle (1995): p. 469
  60. ^ Lankford (2010): p. 197
  61. ^ a b Woods Moe (1996): p. 90
  62. ^ Larson (2008): p. 97
  63. ^ Castle (1995): p. 570
  64. ^ "Cal-Neva Lodge Seats 700 in Celebrity Room". The Times. August 15, 1969. p. 19. Retrieved November 14, 2015.  open access publication – free to read
  65. ^ Griffith, Martin (September 8, 2013). "Sinatra's Old Tahoe Resort to Get Major Makeover". Associated Press. Archived from the original on October 7, 2013. Retrieved November 14, 2015. 
  66. ^ Cal Neva Lake Tahoe remodel construction
  67. ^ "Owner of Tahoe's famed Cal Neva Lodge files for bankruptcy". July 12, 2016. Retrieved December 29, 2016. 
  68. ^ MacMillan, Kevin (November 5, 2014). "Lake Tahoe's Cal Neva reopening delayed yet again; 2016 now eyed". Tahoe Daily Tribune. Retrieved November 14, 2015. 


  • Castle, Ken (1995). Tahoe: The Complete Guide. San Francisco: Foghorn Press. ISBN 9780935701029. 
  • Clarke, Donald (1998). All Or Nothing At All: A Life of Frank Sinatra. Thorndike, ME.: Thorndike Press. ISBN 9780754011408. 
  • Freedland, Michael (1997). All The Way: A Biography of Frank Sinatra. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9780312191085. 
  • Kelley, Kitty (1986). His Way. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 9780553051377. 
  • Kuntz, Tom; Kuntz, Phil (2000). The Sinatra Files: The Secret FBI Dossier. New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 9780812932768. 
  • Lankford, Scott (2010). Tahoe Beneath the Surface. Berkeley, CA: Sierra College Press. ISBN 9781597141390. 
  • Larson, Sara (2008). Lake Tahoe. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub. ISBN 9780738558493. 
  • Woods Moe, Albert (1996). Nevada's Golden Age of Gambling. Reno, NV: Nevada Collectables. ISBN 9780965521505. 
  • Woods Moe, Albert (2008). The Roots of Reno. BookSurge. ISBN 9781439211991. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Cal Neva Lodge & Casino at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 39°13′29.3″N 120°00′19.9″W / 39.224806°N 120.005528°W / 39.224806; -120.005528