I just love this photo of the Ta-Neva-Ho. Taken in the late 1930s, it shows what Lake Tahoe is like every winter – snowy!
No kidding, right? Well, not everybody has a chance to see the amazing lake that straddles the California and Nevada state lines. This club, built and opened in 1937, stands along the North Shore of Lake Tahoe – a couple of football fields away from the water. From the back steps or the parking lot, you can still see the clear blue expanse of the lake through the huge pine trees. They stand much as they did seventy years ago – think taller.
The Ta-Neva-Ho was more than just a casino. As you can see in the photo, the club was housed in a building (don’t say strip-mall!!!) that offered dining, gaming, bowling, sports betting, and even a drug store and post office. If you take a look at the building today (it remains as the Crystal Bay Club), it may seem too small to have offered so much. However, in a small community like the Crystal Bay, the locals were thrilled to have anything to do during the winter.
There were less than 1000 people in the general vicinity, and a drug store and post office were mighty handy to have nearby.
The Ta-Neva-Ho was originally built by Norman Biltz and Pete Bennett. No, the name is not Native American, nor does it stand for “white man gambling.” Biltz was also involved in the Cal-Neva casino, closer to the lake. Over the years the Ta-Neva-Ho had several owners including our old friend Nick Abelman. He held points in the casino, and it seems many other people did too – right up until the present.
Today’s Nevada Gaming Control Board insists on knowing (and approving) every owner, but back when the clubs were fun – dangerous – exciting – new, each spring season brought at least a few new “partners” to each venture at the lake.
One of those “partners” who showed up was Frank Fat, a Sacramento restaurant owner. When he first arrived at Lake Tahoe his friend Otis Babcock booked a cabin for him at Bijou, but the day after he arrived, Fat was asked to leave. That day it sucked to be Asian.
A few years later, Fat turned the tables on the situation when he and his friends, Babcock, Art Nyberg, and Nick Abelman bought the entire block the Ta-Neva-Ho sat on for $125,000. Each owned 25%, and Fat took the gaming license, even though he ran only the restaurant.
In classic early Nevada style, Frank Fat fronted for a host of owner-operators who preferred to keep their gaming interests silent. The casino ran beautifully for several years and the partners sold their property in 1945 for $300,000 to a group of investors lead by Johnny Rayburn. Fat again stayed on to run the restaurants.
These stories and many more at found in the book “The Roots of Reno,” written by yours truly, AL W. Moe available from those crazy online bookstores like Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
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