Cal-Neva Tour Reveals Shady Mafia History in Lake Tahoe

By: Tom Malone

The 20-person tour group gathered at the Circle Bar in the Cal-Neva Resort and cashed in two-for-one drink vouchers in preparation for the expedition through the storied mafia hotel and casino. After the 49er game ended, we followed tour guide Hans through the ornately decorated doors to the Indian Room.

We passed the seemingly casual “Ski Locker,” complete with a trap door to a tunnel that mafia members used to outwit and escape incoming raids by federal agents during the resort’s shady history.

The California/Nevada border line runs through the Indian Room. During Prohibition, the room served as a speakeasy paradise for gamblers and drinkers. Mass amounts of liquor arose from a trap door behind the fireplace. Casino game tables placed on wheels rolled to the California side of the border depending on the level of federal heat.

After exiting the Indian Room, we cruised outside to private lodges once reserved for the Rat Pack, Marilyn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra (who owned the resort from 1960 to 1963).  Stopping in front of a massive boulder that overlooked Lake Tahoe, Hans described that the backdrop was the location of Monroe’s last known photograph. Taken five days before her untimely death in 1962, the photograph serves as evidence that she spent her last weekend at the resort before dying of a drug overdose in Los Angeles.

We continued down the stairs to the Rat Pack’s cabin. While watching the lake sunset, Hans told us about the famous contents of Lake Tahoe’s floor, including multiple submerged Ford Model Ts, bodies of people connected with the mafia, and the body of a Barnum circus elephant. All contents were perfectly preserved due to the freezing lake-bottom temperature.

Next, Hans led the group to the tunnels beneath the hotel and casino. We explored the formerly extensive underground tunnel network used for Prohibition rum-running between neighboring casinos, dramatic mafia escapes, and alleged mafia hits.

Entering the Frank Sinatra showroom, we felt the star power. I sat in Sinatra’s regular booth and marveled at the stage where he and his Pack performed.

Situated behind the curtain to the right, we saw the viewing balcony reserved for mafia big shots. They watched Sinatra’s shows without fear of detection by the ever-present federal agents in the crowd.

The tour guide speculated on ghost stories and Cal-Neva connections with Jimmy Hoffa, Dean Martin’s intoxicated legends to Kennedy/Cal-Neva conspiracies. The tour was worth the $10 and sparked interest in a part of recent history that remains largely undiscovered.

*Photo By: Tom Malone
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