Friday, July 3, 2009

July 4 Weekend - Cal Neva Resort, North Lake Tahoe

It's a novel place where you can swim and walk in California and Nevada - at the same time!

To the amusement of hotel guests, these state boundaries run through the Cal Neva Resort at Lake Tahoe.

In the Indian Room, a wood-panelled room with heads of deer and moose and other hunting memorabilia mounted near the ceiling, painted state lines run across the floor and up a wall: gold for California - what else! - white for Nevada.

Outside, a black line traverses the bottom of the swimming pool with the names of the states inscribed.

Sitting on wooded mountainside in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Cal Neva has picturesque views over Crystal Bay at North Lake Tahoe, its address officially in Nevada.

The Cal Neva Resort, Spa and Casino, as it has become, claims to be the oldest operating gaming facility in America, and was once part-owned by Frank Sinatra who gave it a short, but colourful, celebrity-filled era.

However, the original lodge was built in 1926 by a San Franciscan businessman, Robert P Sherman, and to this day many San Franciscans have stayed there, as house or hotel guests.

This extended Independence Day weekend was no exception.

When owned by Frank Sinatra in the early '60s, it saw amongst its guests Marilyn Monroe, members of the Kennedy family, Rat Pack actor Peter Lawford who was brother-in-law to President John F Kennedy, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Judy Garland.

Pics of its famous guests not surprisingly hang on the walls and there is a secret passage that led between Sinatra's private chalet and the hotel, which was used by his close friends.

A rumour of Marilyn Monroe is reported on the illustrated sheet documenting the history and which is used as a table mat: one week before her death she called the Hotel Operator to say she had overdosed, and paramedics were called, thus saving her life on that occasion.

The hotel is also famous for its Circle Bar, a circular bar over which hangs an inverted crystal dome, an enormous orb of over 7,000 pieces of hand-cut German stained glass.

At the entrance to the grounds are tributes to the American Indian ancestry. The road is flanked by an impressive totem pole and a Chief Joseph Monument fashioned in bronze.

With an indigenous name of Hinmuuttu-yalatlat - with variant spellings - he was the chief of the Wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) band of Nez Perce.

He and other chiefs led 800 of their people to freedom in Canada, resisting the efforts of 2,000 cavalrymen to round them up and settle them on a reservation in Idaho.

'For over three months, the Nez Perce outmaneuvered and battled their pursuers traveling 1,700 miles across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana,' says wikipedia in a tribute, describing Chief Joseph as a peacemaker and humanitarian.

A great pic of Chief Joseph and his family is on: family pic

So what is it like to stay at this resort?

We arrived late on Thursday night, just after 9.30 pm, due to the Independence Day exiting of the city - see previous blog.

As we made our way to our room, there were already signs of a tired hotel. The room, with darkened lake views, was elegant in appearance, but the old-style furniture was marked and battered.

Like 'Ol Blue Eyes, it had been a long time!

The taps, too, were old. The shower faucet needed a good tug!

Downstairs, we went in search of a drink and a light bite. The restaurant was closed and the Circle Bar near deserted. The bar served only drinks. The server, with embarassment, suggested we could get something to eat in the bar across the road.

And this in a hotel that is open all night as a casino! We settled for drinks. In the morning, we looked out over beautiful lake views and the promise of breakfast in the Lakeview Dining Room. The dining room does have a magnificent vista, though sideways onto the lake.

However, the room is a bit like a function room, lacking decoration and atmosphere. The breakfast menu is limited, and the scrambled egg was more like a thin, overcooked omlette. Chris thought his home fries were soggy and left them on the side of the plate.

Good points overall? Our server was friendly and our room was clean. Another negative, again, is lack of electric points in the bedroom. The only place where you could plug in a laptop was either in the TV socket or in the bathroom.

Tellingly, perhaps, their website home page gives a glamorous image of the hotel in both its blurb and pics, but omits to call itself a four-star, which is what it is supposed to be. We didn't dine there, so can't comment on the dinner service, but based on the general impression and breakfast, we would be wary.

Its website says it is under new management and ownership and announces, 'Namwest is launching a complete renovation and restoration program for The Cal Neva Resort, Spa & Casino intended to position the Resort as the leading destination in Lake Tahoe with services and accommodations that will meet the needs of the most discriminating traveler.'

It is worth a visit for the fun of the dual state lines and the history, but is a place of faded glory trading on history.

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