Sinatra's old Tahoe resort to get major makeover

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Updated: 9/09/2013 12:01 pm

RENO, Nevada (AP) — A Lake Tahoe resort once owned by Frank Sinatra and frequented by his Rat Pack buddies is about to undergo a major makeover.

The Cal Neva hotel-casino that straddles the California-Nevada line will close for more than a year beginning Monday to allow for the multimillion-dollar project.

The 219-room, 10-story hotel and 6,000-square-foot casino will be upgraded in an effort to revive the struggling property, said Robert Radovan, co-owner of Criswell-Radovan. His Napa Valley, Calif.-based development company acquired the Cal Neva in April.

"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."

The property has fallen on hard times because of the double-whammy of the recession and competition from Las Vegas and Indian casinos. Its casino was forced to shut down in 2010 due to declining business.

During its heyday from 1960 to 1963, the Cal Neva was owned by Sinatra and became one of the most famous resorts in the country. It drew fellow Rat Packers Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford, and stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio 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. Five small cabins, including the one where she stayed that year, also will be renovated, Radovan said. The other cabins were used by Sinatra and friends.

Sinatra himself renovated the Cal Neva, adding the celebrity showroom and a helicopter pad on the roof. He used tunnels to shuffle mobsters and celebrities beneath the resort so they wouldn't be seen by the general public. The tunnels were built in the late 1920s so liquor could be smuggled in during Prohibition.

The showroom will be improved with modernized equipment, painting and new carpets, Radovan said, and the tunnels will be preserved. Public tours of the cabins and tunnels will resume after the project is completed. Bigger plans are in store for the showroom.

"The acoustics in that place are amazing. The modernized equipment will allow for high-end concerts," Radovan said, adding the room where Sinatra, Martin and Davis once performed will continue to be named after Sinatra.

Owners hope to make the hotel a 4-plus-star resort instead of a 1-star by upgrading rooms with modern amenities, larger bathrooms and bigger windows offering Lake Tahoe views, he said. Plans call for the redesigned casino to reopen with blackjack and other table games.

Radovan declined to provide a cost estimate for the project, but acknowledged it'll cost a "pretty penny."

"There will be an elegant, clean, post-modern feel to it after we're done," he said. "You don't want to lose the history of the Frank Sinatra era and eras before it. But you have to ... bring it back to where it's a modernized version of what it was in the heyday."

Owners hope to reopen the Cal Neva on Dec. 12, 2014, which would have been Sinatra's 99th birthday. He died in 1999.

Sinatra's gambling license was stripped in 1963 by Nevada gambling regulators after Chicago mobster Sam Giancana was spotted on the premises.

The Cal Neva is one of Nevada's first legal casinos. The present resort was built in 1937, when a fire destroyed the original lodge that had opened in 1926.


©2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Kramer - 9/10/2013 1:11 PM
0 Votes
rename it the SIN-atra CITY Lodge. these boats are made for caulkin'

Kramer - 9/10/2013 1:09 PM
0 Votes
whoopie, i just learned where the oddball "Rat Pack" name came from. it was (drum roll) the Wolf Pack! whatta posse that was

Paladin - 9/9/2013 5:31 PM
0 Votes
Speed: I am not ragging on the CNL. Its just several of these articles seem to paint Sinatra as an innocent little lamb, which he was not! Frank and Sam Giancana were buddies and Frank wanted that "little mob connected" personna. He was allegedly the one that hooked Giancana up with Phyllis McGuire. I got a personal tour of the tunnels years ago. That was so cool to see where Frank, Giancana, Marilyn, Kennedy and others had been. What a wild time in Nevada's gaming history. That lodge does have great history and I, too hope it will be restored to all its glory. I hope they keep the historic flavor of the place with the great room on the CA side, all the hardwood and animal heads,...the mountain lodge look.

Speed - 9/9/2013 4:19 PM
0 Votes
It DOES have a great history,and that needs to be remembered,and seen for what it is NOW-History. I'm very much looking forward to the re-opening and plan to be there. I have lots of fond memories of the Cal-Neva,I used to eat breakfast there 4 days a week before work back in the 80's.

Paladin - 9/9/2013 9:12 AM
0 Votes
Lest not forget, Sinatra lost his gaming license because of a long standing relationship to the mob and Giancana was not just "spotted" at the CNL, he had been surveilled there by the FBI for months meeting with other mobsters and mob families, not to mention his secret trysts with Phyllis McGuire (of the McGuire Sisters). And that bungalo at lake level was home to a number of famous secret trysts including Kennedy and Monroe, Giancana and McGuire, Giancana and other mobsters, Kennedy and other women, etc... How do you think Hoover (FBI) ran roughshod over both the Kennedys, because he had the goods on them. How do you think Kennedy got elected? Old man Joe Kennedy's connection to the mob, Giancana and to an extent, Sinatra, who desparately wanted a channel to the white house. Its a very very colorful past, but lets remember it for what it was. Shawn Levy's book, "Rat Pack Confidential" is a great read and has a whole chapter on the CNL.

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