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CASINO CHIP AND TOKEN NEWS | October November December 2001 21
WhenRobert Sherman constructed a logcabin in 1926, hewas undoubtedlyignorant of therich history that hewas buildingalongside hismodest endeavor.Over the course of75 years, longafter it leftShermans hands,the Cal-Neva hasbecome the proud owner of anintriguing life, steeped in star-studdedglamour, seedy underworld legend,and historical significance. Over theyears, its profound place amidstNevada and California history has ledto it being called The Lady of theLake and The Castle in the Sky,names well applied because of itspristine setting. If Sherman couldstand now, in 2001, and look back onthe impact his creation had onNevada history, it would probablybring a startled smile to his face.
Sherman was a wealthybusinessman from San Francisco,California, when he decided to tacklereal estate in Nevada. With twopartners, Harry Comstock andSpencer Grant, Sherman had a handin developing Kings Beach, TahoeVista, and Lake Vista. He decided tohave a log cabin built in order toentertain guests and potential realestate clients. Modeled after FrankBacons cabin in the hit Broadwayplay, Lightnin, he chose toconstruct his cabin straddling theborder between California and
Nevada. Thiseventually led tothe moniker Cal-Neva a name thatwould stick with itthroughout itsillustrious history.
Little elseappears to beknown about theman who foundedthe Cal-Neva, and,in the late 1920s,the property left his
hands and he faded out of the lodgeshistory. For commissions owed toanother real estate mogul, NormanBlitz, Sherman deeded the property tohim in 1928.
Norman Blitz, like Sherman,was a real estate businessman fromthe San Francisco Bay Area. At theage of 25, he began selling propertiesalong Lake Tahoes coast, as well asbuying up property in his own name.By the year 1932, Blitz owned 42,000acres around the lake. Establishing
by Amanda Andersonand Allan Anderson
C A L N E V A R E S O R T
22 CASINO CHIP AND TOKEN NEWS | October November December 2001
his fortune in Nevada, he also had astrong hand in forming the stateshistory. His influences brought manynotable people to the state, leading tothe creation of the Washoe CountyLibrary, KCRL television and radio,and the University of Nevada, RenosPlanetarium. Despite his overwhelmingpresence in Nevada, he representsonly a small fraction of the Cal-Nevashistory, having leased it out from themoment he came to own itand selling it by 1930.However, that thisDuke of Nevada,as he came to becalled by FortuneMagazine, owned theCal-Neva demonstratesthe historically significantpast of lodge. That twoof the Lake Tahoe regions mostprominent founders were the first twoowners of the lodge places it dramati-cally within important Nevada history.Of course, the lodge would go on tocollect an even fuller, richer historyon its merits alone.
In 1930, for what todaywould be considered the meageramount of $65,000, Bill Graham andJim McKay bought the Cal-Neva
from Blitz. While Grahamand McKay, like thelodges previous owners,helped to shape Nevadaculture and history, theirinfluence was of a farmore infamous nature thanthat of Sherman and Blitz. Inthe late 1920s, McKay and Grahambought and renovated Ricks Resortin Reno. Ironically, Ricks Resortwas forced to close because ofProhibition, and Graham and McKay
reopened it as a speakeasy calledThe Willows. By the 1920s,Graham and McKay also were incontrol of the Stockade of theCribs, the red-light district of
Reno; essentially, the two single-handedly ran the prostitution businessin that city from the 1920s to theWorld War II. It was with the moneyfrom these investments that they wereable to purchase the Cal-Neva in1930. Unfortunately for the pair, theywere arrested for mail fraud in 1934and sent to jail for a nine-year prison sentence. This allowed the Cal-Nevato fall under the control of a gentlemanby the name of Elmer BonesRemer, who was best known forliquor smuggling and his rough-and-tumble demeanor.
On May 17, 1937, the Cal-Neva suffered its first great tragedywhen a fierce blaze raced through it,burning the still-young lodge to theground. However, apparently havingcaptured the affection of a previousowner, the Cal-Nevas history was notdestined to end on that fateful day.Norman Blitz, the brief owner from1928 to 1930, and contractor AdlerLarsen attended to the lodges speedyrecovery. Employing over 500 mento work around the clock, the lodgewas resurrected in just over 30 days.
The lodge next came underthe ownership of Sanford SandyAdler, who, while not seeming to
have contributed heavily to theregions general historicitylike Blitz did, contributedmany of the Cal-N e v a sfamous and enduring
a t t r i butes. Under his rule, theIndian Room, initially called
the Wigwam Room, was built,featuring a collection of trophy heads,antlers, and skins along its walls.Three wigwams, giving the room itsoriginal name, graced the stage, and,even more impressively, a grandfireplace was set into the wall nearthe entrance. Massive graniteboulders, effectively bringing thenatural beauty of Lake Tahoe insidethe lodge, flanked the fireplace,which is still in existence today.
A few of Adlers contribu-tions have not lasted to the presentday. During his time as owner, thelodges land included a small beach-front on which a sizeable steel pierwas constructed. As one of the perksfor his wealthy clients, Adler had asmall fleet of fast speedboats availablefor their disposal. At any time of dayor night, these boats would escortelite guests to any destination thatthey wished to visit. In addition tothis luxury in transportation, Adler
Gaming at the Cal-Neva Lodge - 1944
CASINO CHIP AND TOKEN NEWS | October November December 2001 23
commissioned the building of atrolley car so that his guests couldtour Lake Tahoes north shore atleisure. Although setting him backover $18,000, the trolley became aregular tourist attraction of LakeTahoe, later transporting touristsstaying at the Tahoe Biltmore (thennamed the Nevada Lodge) andcurrently being housed at PonderosaRanch in Incline Village, Nevada.
At the age of 30, the Cal-Neva left the extravagant hands ofSandy Adler and entered into those ofWingy Grober. This era began thedraw of celebrities to the lodgescomforts. Throughout his life,Grober found success startingup businesses in variouslocations, including placeslike Miami, Philadelphia,and Havana. An acquain-tance that fostered intofriendship from his MiamiBeach days was a man by thename of Joe Kennedy, the father offuture president, John F. Kennedy.The Kennedys, over the next span ofyears, often visited the Cal-Neva forrecreation and to escape the publiceye.
This marked the beginning ofthe Cal-Nevas most decadent andluxurious era, brought to a climaxwith the introduction of FrankSinatra. The incredibly popularentertainer had become so attached to
the lodge and its pristine surroundingsthat he chose to undertake itsownership. Convinced that, under theright management and with the proper
investment power, the lodgecould achieve unparalleled
success, Sinatra bought outGrober and his partners in1960. After receiving hisgaming license, the singer
threw himself into revivingthe Cal-Neva, initiating
extensive remodeling andconstruction.
Among his many projects, thewell-known Celebrity Show Roomwas built, featuring a helicopter padon its roof. As its name suggests, thisroom became the showcase of aparade of celebrities that visitedduring Sinatras reign. Thenames of those that joinedthe attraction ranged fromglamorous Hollywoodstarlets to notoriousunderworld figures. JudyGarland, Mickey Rooney,Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Durante,Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, and theMcGuire Sisters are some of the starsthat patronized and performed at theCelebrity Show Room. MarilynMonroe as well as President John F.Kennedys family members were alsoregular visitors, which sparked antici-pated rumors of secret trysts.
In those early days, the lodgenot only consisted of the main buildingcomplex that housed the casino butalso included 57 chalets that served asguestrooms. Sinatra had one of thebest chalets with an incomparableview of Lake Tahoe reserved forMonroe to use during her many visits.Sinatra also kept a private chalet forhimself on the grounds. During hisownership, he had a secret tunnelinstalled between his chalet and themain casino that allowed hassle-freetrips back and forth. The bricktunnel is still in existence and boastsa staircase with the original patternedcasino carpeting of Sinatras heyday.Both Monroes and Sinatras chaletsare still available for the Cal-Nevasguests to rent but, understandably, theentrance to the singers tunnel hasbeen closed off.
Of course, in addition to theother slew of famous faces frequent-ing the lodge, Sinatras famousclosely-knit group, the Rat Pack, wasoften in attendance. Consisting ofSinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., DeanMartin, Joey Bishop, and PeterLawford (who was married to PatriciaKennedy, President Kennedys sister),this group alone carried with it an
immeasurable amount of starpower. On occasion, Martin
and Sinatra were evenknown to have givenimpromptu performanceson the Celebrity Show
Rooms stage. Davis Jr.,Monroe, and singer Juliet
Prowse also took the stage forawe-struck audiences. At this time,however, it appears that the multitudeof celebrity faces was more expectedthan abnormal. While those likeMartin, Prowse, and the lodgesowner crooned through songs onstage, other equally recognizable starsand politicians sat in the audience andplayed at the casino.
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However, despite whatsome may assume, Sinatra did notonly increase the number of celebritiesin the area.