Kyle Magin: Nostalgia on the ropes in Lake Tahoe area resort, casino
Like a prizefighter on his last legs, nostalgia seems to offer no defense against the heavy right hook of modernity.
Over the past few years nostalgia in California’s playground of Lake Tahoe has been taking a beating from modernity, and sadly a couple more haymakers landed this week.
Homewood Ski Resort, tucked among pine cabins on the sleepy West Shore, was long known as an undeveloped hideout for
skiers and snowboarders seeking refuge from corporate resorts. It’s now facing major development (read: hotel and condos) or closure.
Owners of the Cal Neva Casino, Frank Sinatra’s resort on the North Shore that was a famous retreat for the Rat Pack, mobsters and Marilyn Monroe, is planning on closing its gaming facilities next week.
The news leaves you reeling like a punch to the gut if you’re familiar with Tahoe. I moved onto the mountain in 2007, and both properties, while struggling, retained a lot of charm people came to the lake for.
Swilling highballs in the Cal Neva’s circle bar conjures up Frank’s memory, and it doesn’t take too much to imagine Ol’ Blue Eyes loosening his tie after bellying up, looking out at the lake alongside his entourage.
The casino plans to drop its gaming license until new owners can take it over, leaving empty the tables where Frank squired mafiosos. No more blinking lights at the slots, which must have buzzed frenetically after Monroe brought the house down.
Like the Cal Neva, Homewood takes you back. The two-seat chair lifts crawl up the mountain, unlike the five-seat express lifts that dot every other mountain in the Basin and Truckee. On a stormy day, I’ve found myself alone on the eastern slope, looking down into the mighty blue lake. At such a moment, not another soul is in sight – no raggae music blaring from speakers in an upscale village, as Starbucks-fueled tourists compare their fleece sweaters.
You’re more likely to catch a puff of smoke out of the corner of your eye as a lethargic, dreadlocked rastafarian wannabe pops out from behind a tree.
The Union reader and Grass Valley resident Eric Sutera put it beautifully in an e-mail to me this week:
“The problem, in my opinion, is that those of us who live in the (western county) area really don’t care about lodges, rental shops, etc.,” he said. “That is for the San Francisco/L.A./out-of-town crowd.
“I’d much rather see that they put more effort into thinning out the trees, adding new terrain, new slopes and better lifts,” Sutera wrote. “We want the best and most skiable terrain for the lowest cost, period.”
Amen brother. Charm and quality being sacrificed in the name of the dollar.
It’s nothing new. Business-owners have bent to the greenback’s will throughout history.
But the Cal Neva and Homewood are jewels, special because they hadn’t yet given in. One lets you touch history in a town where high-priced, stylized ski-beanies have largely replaced Frank’s classic fedora. The other is a refuge for snowboarders who’d rather pack their own lunch to enjoy while overlooking the lake instead of paying outrageous prices to eat with Bay Area tourists in a crowded cafe.
Here’s hoping nostalgia can get up from the canvas – and if not, here’s to the memories.
To contact Staff Writer Kyle Magin, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4239.
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