Cal-Neva Casino, of Frank Sinatra Fame, Returning to Glory Days

By: Kristen M. Foster - September 9, 2013

Cal-Neva hotel-casino, so named because it straddles the California-Nevada state line, is closing starting Monday to undergo a multimillion-dollar renovation. Anticipated reopening is scheduled for 12 December 2014. The casino attached to the hotel shut its doors in 2010 due to declining business during a time of recession and hot competition from Las Vegas and Indian-gaming casinos.

Developers Criswell-Radovan acquired the resort in April and they have plans to breathe new life into the property, known mostly for the celebrities it drew in the 1960’s. “Our goal is to bring it back to its former glory and to make it what it was like in Sinatra’s day,” Robert Radovan, co-owner of Criswell-Radovan, stated.

The reference to Frank Sinatra is because the crooner owned the property during the early 1960’s. Then, at the height of its popularity, Sinatra and “Rat Pack” pals Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford visited the hotel as well as Marilyn Monroe and several of the Kennedy family. Monroe actually spent her last weekend at the hotel on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore before she died in her Los Angeles home in 1962 at the age of 36.

“There will be an elegant, clean, post-modern feel to it after we’re done,” said Radovan, who explained that the owners intend to maintain the historic vibe of the location while bringing amenities and equipment up to modern-day standards. If all works as planned, the December 2014 opening would fall on the birthday of the Chairman of the Board; he passed away in 1998, but this would have marked his 99th birthday.

Sinatra’s renovations during ownership were to add a celebrity showroom and a helicopter pad. The 10-story hotel currently has 219 rooms and five small cabins, and the casino stretches for 6,000 square feet. Prohibition-era tunnels were used in later decades to keep actors and other infamous personalities out of the public spotlight.

Rat Pack at the Cal-Neva

Plans are to raise the hotel to the 4+-star level by improving amenities, expanding bathrooms and capitalizing on views of Crystal Bay at Lake Tahoe. The casino also will be redesigned. Radovan promised improvements to the showroom and cabins and public tours of the tunnels—which will be preserved. Radovan further discussed plans for the showroom which he says has amazing acoustics and with new equipment could feature, “high-end concerts.” The developers plan to name the room after Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, who used to perform there with Martin and Davis.

About 60 employees will be out of work during the closing but Radovan says that current employees understand the makeover is necessary and after renovation, almost three times as many employees will likely be needed.

There are many rumors, mysteries and falsehoods of Cal-Neva’s storied past and reliable sources can be hard to come by. The location actually had an original lodge that opened in 1926. That structure was destroyed in a fire and rebuilt in 1937, which brings us to the present resort.

[Images via Tahoe Daily Tribune.]
Kristen M. Foster

About the Author

Kristen M. FosterKristen M. Foster is a writer, traveler, reader and fan of far too much TV and film! You can follow her California adventure on Twitter, Stumbleupon and Google+

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  • Dan Miller

    Sinatra died in 98. Is that really that hard to fact-check??

  • Mark

    Two unnecessary uses of the word “actually.” This actually annoys me. 😀

  • Roger Steele

    That picture of the billboard is superimposed. It was actually taken in front of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas.

    • Marcie Kaye

      I so agree with you … it is a great picture and brings back a lot of memories !!!!

  • Marcie Kaye

    Glad to hear this … I am now planning to attend the grand opening … I hope the Indian Room will stay !!

    • Dave

      I will be there also as its is my birthday the same as Franks, If only they could bring back the good old days!

      • Dave Savoy

        Hi…another Dave here…walked through the entrance back back in 1962; the Hollywood USO was always good to us….one day invited over to Paramount and here comes FRANK…coat slung over and the hat, with ‘entourage’…he waved and then Jerry Lewis appeared and we were welcomed onto the Bob Hope SET of the “Jimmy Walker Story”…(a bomb for Bob..), after frequent Navy flights to the Vegas…one night at the Sands…I was just kind of hanging around the entrance and who appears…Frank with a ‘bevy’ of beauties and seated himself at the circular table…Sammy comes out and was making fun and running around in circles…even checked my long coat! …I wonder why ? and then late date-here on the East Coast at the Worcester MA Hockey Arena…I venture to say…some 40,000 people showed up….on our return from the WEst Coast…had to park the rigs two days in advance and then the Long, stretched out LIMOS kept arriving and then the legacy we all love…here’s Frank…STEVE and Edyie(bless her soul…do I miss her…)what excitement!….as a Musician…I get to do all those great Sinatra arrangement and sign-alongs on the grand piano. People just love it and the Teenagers come by and ask me….that’s really something…a beginning, middle and End!! ….and you tell a whole story; that’s what the Chairman of the Board accomplished, listen carefully….its difficult to follow him, as he changed the lyrics…a friend of mine out at Ojai Ca…used to rent a place at Lake Tahoe(Frank would come over next door, must have been CalNeva and wake her up to see what she thought of his arrangement!!…can you imagine, Jackie Quakenbush used to ask me. If you happen to see a Steve Philippi appearing (Touch of Sinatra), a fabulous all Frank show and he doesn’t impersonate–He just sounds and manner-ises Frank, right to a tee….he usually does the College circuit and performing art centers; many do Frank…but STEVE with a 125 piece orchestra at the University of Maine did him proud! …lots of side stories….gotta go and do the Sinatra book and hope to, also be there on the 12th….Dave S

        • Dave Savoy

          …just an added story:…it was my first year in the Navy (1956),Frank was signed to do CAROUSEL, the movie with Shirley Jones….he arrived at Boothbay Harbor, ME and noticed that Director Henry KING(famous director), was shooting the scenes TWICE….Frank told him….I ONLY SIGNED for One Picture and cancelled storming out….it was also pretty cold up here, I watched KING all day try and put together the “JUNE IS BUSTIN OUT ALL OVER” sequence….dancers glore on the grassy meadow…..Dave S

  • Carlton Rolfe

    Great news, remindfull of the bar show with Nat King Cole Kathryn Grayson.

  • Shawn DeAngelo

    So glad to hear this. I actually stayed there in 2010 and thought how said that this once great gem had faded away. There’s so much history at that site it would be very sad to see it go away. If I had the money I would’ve done the same thing. Best of luck to the new owners. I will stay and play there for sure.

  • Terry & Larry Collins

    Soooooo glad to hear the great news. We have never stayed there but have been there many times to look at the split room of cal/nev and to play the slots. Lots of fun. We absolutely love Cal/Neva.Please keep us posted and one day after its all renovated maybe we can afford a trip back there.

  • Carole

    I was actually at the Cal-Neva in the 1960’s. I also saw Frank Sinatra,Dean Martin, and performing that weekend was Robert Goulet. That was also the weekend that some mob bosses were housed in the little cabins on the California side. This incident was what lead to Mr. Sinatra losing the Cal-Neva as it associated him with the “Mob”. I also remember witnessing a new-comer in the lounge, by the name of Barbara Streisand. I was the guest of a performer by the name of Joey Villa. Those golden days are gone, and it is exciting to see that they are going to be remembered in this renovation.

    • Paladin

      “Some mob bosses housed there” doesn’t quite cover it. Sam Giancana and Sinatra were buddies and Sinatra provided him a “hideaway” to meet with other mobsters, not to mention carry on his long standing affair with Phyllis McGuire of the singing McGuire sisters. In the middle of all the mobsters running around the Lodge was Kennedy sneaking in to have his little affair with Marilyn Monroe (and allegedly others). The FBI was surveilling the place for months watching all this happen. Finally the feds went to the state gaming regulators and demanded it stop. Why do you think Hoover (FBI) ran roughshod over both John and Bobby Kennedy? They both wanted him fired but couldn’t touch him. Because he had the goods on them. Hoover kept files on everybody in politics and hollywood. He was more powerful than most of the presidents he worked under. Sinatra knew what he was into and wanted that “little mob connected” persona. Well he got it and got what he deserved when Nevada jerked his gaming license. What a wild time in Nevada history. Carole, I am jealous. You lived a part of Nevada history that is only part of the history books now. Just don’t paint them all as innocent little lambs. They weren’t!

    • Paladin

      A great read on that part of history is Shawn Levy’s book, “Rat Pack Confidential.” It covers all the Rat Pack era in the Las Vegas showrooms and has a whole chapter on the Lodge, the feds and Sinatra’s association with the mob.

  • Kristen Foster

    Keep the comments coming! Love the anecdotes and thank you for your corrections.

  • Sara

    My husbandand I were married at the Cal-Neva; So happy to hear it is getting a much needed facelift. I hope they take away that dreadful lodge room with all of the dead animal heads on it and state line down the middle of room.

  • Love the Cal Neva

    Does anybody know when they will begin offering rooms for the reopening celebration? My wife and I were married there and have been back a second time and love this classic resort. Would love to be there for the celebration!

  • Bruno

    Looking forward to the re-opening. Been there many times. My family had cabins they rented at Tahoe when I was in my teens. I actually saw Sinatra and his BIG guys on either side of him, walk by me as I stood outside the Crystal Bay club one night. Now I think back of that night, and ask myself, I wonder who the other guys were with Frank, and, I wonder what was going on down the street around the corner at Frank’s Cal Neva. Fights ? Kennedy ? The Mob ? Wow what a time.