Tahoe

Photo from the Don Totoian Collection

LAKE TAHOE

By Don Totoian with Memoirs from John Rauzy

Welcome to the Lake Tahoe portion of the Nevada Casino Ashtrays web site. Over millions of years while the surface of the Earth was forming, a beautiful mountain lake formed. It was partially in Nevada and California and is the largest Alpine lake in the United States. Its beautiful serene mountains and clear blue water make this fantastic Lake Tahoe Valley a must to see! In the early days as people moved into the area, logging was the main attraction. (John Rauzy: I remember that I was logging from 1951 to 1955 and made $5 an hour, which was big money for those days!) During the summer people worked hard knowing that in a few months the area would be covered in snow and everything would come to a halt.

Gambling was legalized in 1931 and in a very short time it made its way to Lake Tahoe. The border between Nevada and California ran through the middle of the lake. On the north shore the Cal Neva Lodge opened as the first Lake Tahoe casino. It is the longest running casino in Lake Tahoe. Over the years it has had numerous owners including Frank Sinatra who was frequently seen with his “Rat Pack” at the Lodge. Next came the La Vada Lodge in 1931. It was located about a quarter mile above the Cal Neva Lodge in an area called Crystal Bay. It later became the Cal Vada Lodge. Next to open was the Ta-Neva-Ho, which was just around the corner from the Cal Vada Lodge. It survived from 1940 to 1945.

This led to the opening of many more casinos in the late 1940’s through the 1960’s. With the heavy snow pack on the mountain passes leading into Lake Tahoe keeping travelers out, the casinos were only open in the summer months. Consequently most of these early casinos only lasted one or two summers before the proprietors had to find new sources of income. Some of the failed casinos were: Capy Rix’s Gaming Hall, Joby’s Monte Carlo, Sierra Lodge, Nevada Club, North Shore Club, Kings Castle and Eugene’s Chalet to list a few. (JR: When the Kings Castle opened, their inaugural performer was Buddy Hackett. To open the show he walked out on stage totally nude!! What a laugh that was!!).

While the north shore casinos were struggling to survive, others were sprouting up on the south shore of Lake Tahoe. In 1944 Harvey Gross opened the Wagon Wheel Saloon. It was not much bigger than a couple of log cabins. Next door between the Wagon Wheel Saloon and the stateline, Tex and George Cannon opened George’s Gateway Club. On the stateline end of the building Dopey Norman’s opened for a short time and then changed to Tony’s Club for a couple years. Across from the Wagon Wheel Saloon was a country club. It was purchased by the Sahati brothers and was called the Stateline Country Club. (JR: Sahati’s was the place to see shows. I remember seeing Peggy Lee perform and she was so drunk that she passed out before her show was finished!).

Casinos continued to pop up on highway 50 from stateline to past Kahle Road. On the east side of highway 50 was the Tahoe Plaza, Tahoe Palace, Twin States Club later the Tahoe Colonial and then the Circus Room. (JR: Alice was the waitress at the Circus Room and boy was she great!! I’ll always remember her!!). Down a little ways was the Tahoe Village later the Casino De Paris and finally Oliver’s. (JR: Most of the small casinos were dark and dingy but the Tahoe Village was very nice. Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby performed there. Oliver’s was a husband and wife team. They told me that they made $350,000 a summer!! Fantastic for the late 1950’s!!) The County Jail is now on this site.

While those casinos came and went, many opened as well on the west side or lake side of highway 50. There was the Bonanza, which later was the Riverboat, and just a stone’s throw was the Stardust. Next on the corner of highway 50 and Kahle Road was the Sky Harbor. (JR: Across the street was the airport. Pilots would land and park across the street and go to the Sky Harbor for a bite to eat and a little gambling). On Kahle Road just down from the Sky Harbor was the Glass Crutch. (JR: This is where the locals hung out. One night 3 of us walked up to the door to enter but we were turned away because my friend had on short pants. So we dropped our drawers and ran through the casino!! I believe Bud Jones opened this casino which featured great Jazz music). There were several more casinos such as all the Nuggets; South Tahoe Nugget, John’s Tahoe Nugget and Ed’s Tahoe Nugget. This site is now a Burger King.

As years progressed Bill Harrah bought out the Gateway Club and later bought out the Country Club and Nevada Club across the street to open Harrah’s Casino. Harvey Gross bought out the property next to stateline, which is now Harveys Casino. This was bought by Harrah’s a couple of years ago and now goes by Harrah’s Harveys. Sahara, Park Tahoe, Barneys, Harvey’s Inn and Gary’s casinos also opened.

As the casinos became more popular, the owners were trying to find inexpensive ways to advertise. The ashtray salesmen moved into the area. They sold ashtrays to the casinos with their casino logos and designs printed on them. In those days it seemed everyone smoked and this was a great idea. The ashtrays came in all sizes and shapes. Thanks to some early smokers who stole these ashtrays as souvenirs we now have them available to collect. Many ashtrays are very common but many Lake Tahoe ashtrays are very rare with several selling over $1000.00!! The Capy Rix’s, Twin States Club, Dopey Norman’s, Tahoe Village and the Stardust are some of the rarest. Recently the Capy Rix’s Gaming Hall ashtray sold for over $2600.00 at auction on eBay.

Thank you Mark and Lynn!!!!!!

Don Totoian

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