The oldest continually licensed casino in the U.S. – The Cal Neva in Lake Tahoe – is getting some plastic surgery, like any good old star. The major makeover begins this week, and will close the historic property down for more than a year as it undergoes a multimillion-dollar facelift.
Reviving Historic Property
Best-known for being once owned by renowned singer Frank Sinatra, the property’s 6,000-square-foot casino and 10-story, 219-room hotel will get the renovations in an effort to bring it back to its former excitement and boost business, according to Robert Radovan, co-owner of Criswell-Radovan. Radovan’s Napa Valley, Calif.-based development company purchased the Cal Neva this past spring, with the vision of getting it back on its feet.
“Our goal is to bring it back to its former glory and to make it what it was like in Sinatra’s day,” Radovan told the Associated Press. “It has such great soul and character, and it’s needed this redo for many decades.”
What was once the shining star of the Hollywood jet set has fallen into disrepair, blamed on both the recession that’s affected so many casinos, as well as the obvious plethora of more opulent and accessible gaming houses, in Reno, Las Vegas and via Indian casinos in California. In fact, the casino hasn’t even been in operation since 2010, due to lack of customers, but Radovan plans to change all that. The Cal Neva name reflects the property’s positioning right on the California-Nevada border.
Rat Pack’s Home Away from Home
At its zenith in the early 1960s, the Cal Neva was home to the legendary Rat Pack, with Sinatra actually purchasing the property; as such, it became world-renowned and drew many celebrities to its doors. Besides fellow Rat Packers Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford and Dean Martin, top stars like Marylin Monroe, her one-time husband and baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, and Elvis Presley dancing partner and paramour Juliet Prowse also frequented the casino. In fact, Monroe’s last few days were spent at the Cal Neva, before being found dead of a drug overdose in her home in Los Angeles in August 1962. Sinatra’s ties to Monroe’s secret affair with then-President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy were legendary.
This isn’t the first renovation for the nearly 100-year-old property; Sinatra himself added a showroom (naturally) and was ahead of his time with a helicopter landing pad on the roof to accommodate the glitterati clientele who didn’t want to make the long drive from L.A. And before Sinatra, tunnels were built into the property’s underground when it was first built in the 1920s, to allow liquor to be brought in unseen during the Prohibition era. The tunnels were later used by Sinatra and his cronies to bring in some of his Mob and celebrity friends, during the time when the FBI had started to keep an eye on the Mob’s gambling connections out West with a closer eye.