How is everybody this week? I haven’t really been gone for a week, in blog-world, my posts follow each other, so I’ve always been here.
The State Line Country Club is one of my favorite stories. Part of the reason is that long ago I made friends with Karl Berge, a bartender and part-owner of the club in the 1950s, and partly because Lake Tahoe is so freaking beautiful and I wish I had seen the lake back then.
A dice-dealer friend of mine at the Cal-Neva in Reno brought me a few old chips from the club, and the $100 variety with an inlay showing the club’s swimming pool is my favorite chip in the world. This friend’s wife remembers being three or four years old and wandering around the offices with her father, who was also a manager/owner. Lots of great stories – I wish I could tell them all to you, but of course, you have to start at the beginning.
When Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, Cal Custer, a long-time rum-runner from Southern California, purchased the club and expanded the operation in include a 21 table, tub-style craps game, and a dozen slot machines. The following summer, Cal expanded again, and by 1933, Nick Abelman of Reno and his partners Steve Pavlovich and Bert Riddick were very interested in the sixteen-acre property.
The partners talked Custer down from his $100,000 asking price to $84,000 and purchased the club and property. Abelman, always a stickler for providing a superior product, immediately spent forty-thousand dollars building an expansion that offered a large, hard-wood dance floor and a huge fireplace. In the back of the club under a row of chandeliers was a small stage where a band played every night.
The club offered dozens of slot machines, roulette, chuck-a-luck, faro, and 21. It prospered for years under the watchful eye of Steve Pavlovich, who managed the club most summers. Big-name entertainment was standard, and the club offered wonderful meals such as a crab cocktail, soup and a main course like “famous Louisiana frog legs,” Idaho Trout,” or a filet mignon, plus vegetables, potatoes, and a nice dessert for $2.50.
In the mid-1940s, as Nick Abelman approached the age of seventy, he admitted it was becoming tougher and tougher to make the trek from Reno to Tahoe every day, and his manager, Pavlovich was too sick to handle the club alone. The three partners conferred and agreed it was time to sell.
At a meeting at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, Abelman came to terms with Nick and Eddie Sahati to purchase the club. A final price of $350,000 was agreed to, and the Sahati brothers took over for the 1945 summer season.
They got off to a rocky start, but eventually, the club prospered under their management. Entertainers such as Lena Horn, Sons of the Pioneers, and the Ink Spots brought gamblers into the club, and times were good.
Eddie Sahati died of Cancer in 1952 at the age of forty-one. His brother, Nick, then leased the operation to a group of businessmen including Karl Berge, who ran the bar (Berge later owned Karl’s Silver Club in Sparks).
Bill Harrah purchased George’s Gateway Club, across Highway “50” from the Country Club, and after a successful couple of years was able to persuade the businessmen to give up their lease so Nick Sahati could sell the property and auto-court to Bill.
In 1958, Nick Sahati did just that, for the same $350,000 he purchased it for. Eventually, Harrah also purchased the tiny “Main Entrance” casino and also Bud Beecher’s Nevada Club, allowing him to expand all the way to the actual state line. Harrah’s Tahoe now sits on the site.
There’s a lot more to the story, as told in The Roots of Reno ($2.99 on Kindle, free for Prime)
Thanks for reading – Al W Moe