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Sinatra's Old Lake Tahoe Resort Set To Reopen

The famed Cal Neva, a North Lake Tahoe resort once owned by Frank Sinatra and frequented by a number of shady businessmen over the years, will reopen on Dec. 12, 2015.

That date is crucial Robert Radovan, co-owner of Criswell-Radovan the firm that bought the historic hotel in 2013. He has been trying to remodel it in time to open on what would have been Ol’ Blue Eyes’ 100th birthday.

Criswell-Radovan previously set the reopening date for Dec. 12, 2014, to coincide with Sinatra’s 99th birthday. However, various financing and construction issues delayed the reopening. Sinatra died in 1998.

The 219-room, 10-story hotel and 6,000-square-foot casinos will be upgraded in an effort to restore the property to its former glory, he said.

“It’s a property that just has tremendous character and history,” Radovan told KNPR. “It has fallen on hard times over the past couple of decades, and to some degree that’s what creates the opportunity.”

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Radovan said it’s still a property that everyone knows and loves. That includes Sinatra’s three children – Tina, Nancy and Frank Jr., he said.

“Tina, Nancy and Frank Jr. are all personally invested,” Radovan told KNPR. “We are speaking quite a bit. They are very happy to see it come back.”

The Cal Neva hotel had fallen on hard times because of the recession and competition from tribal casinos in Northern California. Its casino was closed in 2010 due to declining business. During its heyday from 1960 to 1963, the Cal Neva became one of the most famous casino-resorts in the world.

Cal Nevada attracted fellow Rat Packers Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford, and movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Juliet Prowse. Monroe spent her final weekend at the Cal Neva before she died of a drug overdose in Los Angeles in August 1962.

But, it was also the hideaway for mob boss Sam Giancana during the early 1960s.

“Giancana was one of the best known mobsters for decades,” Geoff Schumacher, director of content at the Mob Museum told KNPR. “It is believed he was looking for a place in Nevada where he could get away from the scrutiny of the FBI.”

Schumacher said Giancana, a close friend of Sinatra’s, used the entertainer as the front man to purchase the Cal Nevada for $250,000 because he was listed in the state’s black book. Nevada gaming regulators had banned Giancana from ever entering a casino.

Unfortunately for Giancana, Sinatra and the Cal-Neva, the FBI photographed them playing golf and having drinks and dinner together in the Cal-Neva dining room. Those photos led to an investigation by gaming regulators, and eventually Sinatra losing his gaming license.

In the end, Sinatra’s association with Giancana not only cost him his gaming license, but it forced him to sell not only his 50 percent stake in Cal Neva, but also his nine percent interest in Sands on the Strip. His stake was valued for about $3.5 million in 1963.

Schumacher said the mafia was involved in Northern Nevada casinos at the time, albeit not as dramatically as in Las Vegas. He told KNPR what drew the mafia to Cal Neva was the resort’s remote location.

GUESTS:

Robert Radovan, co-owner of Criswell-Radovan

Geoff Schumacher, director of content at the Mob Museum

Copyright 2015 KNPR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.knpr.org/.
Guests

Robert Radovan, co-owner of Criswell-Radovan

Geoff Schumacher, director of content at the Mob Museum

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