Cal-Neva & Crystal Bay Growth
Overlooking the Cal-Neva Lodge1927 marked the year that the first casino was built at Crystal Bay right on the California-Nevada border. Robert Sherman built the Cal-Neva Lodge to host his prospective real estate clients. The Cal-Neva’s casino was an immediate success frequented by bad boys, mobsters and confidence men, along with a great many debutantes and socialites who were in Nevada to establish six-week residency for a divorce.
Bill Graham and Jim “Cinch” McKay, two sporting gents who owned a plethora of gaming saloons and brothels in Reno (and had some underworld connections), took over running the Cal-Neva casino early in the 1930s buying if from Norman Biltz for $65,000. Sherman had given it to Biltz in payment for owed sales commissions. Graham and McKay put in “gambling,” hosting a big gala opening.
“I sold it to them for $65,000, and they gave me ten down, balance at the end of the season … We all attended their gala, and I drank two Swiss ess’s (absinthe over shaved ice) … I got up at noon and they told me that I did not owe them anything … Thank God for that … I got news for you they said … we don’t owe you anything, either.”
Biltz had lost $58,000 gambling. “But they were very good to me,” said Biltz, “they loaned me $500 to get out of town.”
Both Graham and Cinch McKay would be convicted of mail fraud in 1938 even though the prosecution’s star witness, Roy Frisch, disappeared one dark and cloudy night walking to see a movie in Reno. Legend has it that Pretty Boy Floyd was in Reno, perhaps stopping by for a cocktail. Graham and McKay served just less than six years of their sentences. Pardoned by President Truman through the intersession of Senator Pat McCarran, the duo resumed life as before in 1950.
The Cal-Neva was always the “in place” at Tahoe, an uproarious rendezvous during Prohibition; it became one of the most stylish speakeasies (and style conscious) in the West. They dressed to the nines in those days – men in tuxes and women in shimmering gowns. The dance floor in the Indian Room was bisected down the middle by the California-Nevada state line.
The completion of the roads circling the lake in 1935, followed in 1938, by the development of Chambers of Commerce about the lake, the Lake Tahoe Basin began to be seriously promoted as a classy resort destination.