The Tahoe Biltmore is going away and so are its ghosts By Ken Adams, CDC Gaming Reports March 20, 2022 at 4:31 pm The Tahoe Biltmore is set to be bulldozed in the coming months. It is going away to make room for a new luxury resort. The property first opened in 1947 and has operated as a hotel-casino on the north shore of Lake Tahoe ever since. The plans call for a resort with condominiums, a hotel, and a casino. EKN Development says the project will be finished sometime in 2025. The property was built in the aftermath of World War II. The developer hoped to capture the post-war travelers and gamblers. The Biltmore name was meant to evoke the grandeur of the Vanderbilt Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. However, the Vanderbilt Estate was a hard act to follow: it was intended to be a testament to the Vanderbilt fortune and the Gilded Age; it remains just that today. It is the largest privately owned house in the United States. The Biltmore resorts that played on the name began after World War I. They pretended to luxury and opulence, but they fell far short of their illustrious namesake. The Tahoe Biltmore was a good example — tiny by comparison and little of the luxury of a true Vanderbilt. Actually, it had nothing that would have received Cornelius’s approval. The resort, located near the shores of Lake Tahoe, used the name to tempt the newly mobile middle-class Americans who wanted to rub elbows with the Vanderbilt legend. However, the location was a difficult economic environment. Lake Tahoe at the time was seasonal, between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The casinos and hotels closed over the winter, as did most of the roads leading to the lake. The Biltmore may have been a financial success, but it was sold three times in its first decade — not a good sign. The property underwent a name change when Lincoln Fitzgerald remodeled it in 1958 and changed the name to the Nevada Lodge. The much more modest name fit the property better. Fitzgerald had no delusions of grandeur; he was a simple and frugal casino operator and owned the Nevada Club in Reno. Fitzgerald received his casino training with the Purple Gang in Detroit. Legend says that after the war, he fled Detroit for Reno to avoid the mob. Fitzgerald died in 1981. In 1985, the Nevada Lodge changed hands again and the following year once again became a Biltmore. For most of its past, the Tahoe Biltmore-Nevada Lodge was a quiet backwater in casino gaming, with a few hundred slot machines and hotel rooms and a restaurant. But it did have a showroom and some notable celebrities played there, beginning with Lena Horne during the property’s first year. Later, Phyllis Diller, Helen O’Connell, Rowan and Martin, Rudy Vallee, and even Regis Philbin performed there. One of the most famous of the later stars to grace the property was Mary, reportedly a dancer in the showroom who died sometime in the 1960s in a car accident. Guests and employees alike have reported seeing a faceless woman in a red miniskirt prancing about the property. In October 2019, the television series “The Haunted Side” made a visit to the Tahoe Biltmore. The crew spent a weekend walking around the property, contacting and even talking to some ghosts. The property invited its VIP customers for a weekend of fun and ghost busting. However, as a marketing tool, there is a limit to the power of a dead Mary. The property changed hands again in 2007. The new owner promised to build a property that would bring back the glory days. Unfortunately, that developer could not find financing for his vision. In September 2021, EKN bought the property for $58 million. The tentative name of EKN’s vision is the Lake Tahoe Luxury Resort and Residences. EKN promises to offer lakeside amenities, boating, and entertainment. The also includes a casino and underground parking; the property will be green and the current outdoor parking lot will be converted into green space. The plans are vague; in fact, there are no real plans yet. EKN purchased the entitlements of the previous owner, indicating it will put them to use. Unlike its predecessor, EKN has the financing to proceed. The timing is certainly right. Property at Lake Tahoe has become very valuable. Lake Tahoe is attracting the super-rich, just the kind of people that Vanderbilt invited to his little house in North Carolina. Lake Tahoe is an expensive place to build and a casino would have a hard time servicing its debt. But with the sale of expensive condominiums and high-priced hotel rooms, it just might work. There are a couple of unanswered questions, however. First, what happens to Mary? The manager of the hotel told the crew of “The Haunted Side” that every one of the 309 hotel rooms had its own ghost story. Besides those stories, there are ghosts in the wedding chapel, ballroom, parking lot, and in rafters. Can Mary and the others survive the destruction of the property and move into the new one when it is finished? Second, there are the employees and their stories. General Manager Tyler Gaffaney told KRNV-TV in Reno, “I remember the $1.99 breakfast in the café. My parents got married here in the seventies.” The other long-time employees, like the rooms, have their own stories. EKN says it will keep the employees on the payroll and rehire them when the property opens. But I suspect the employees will be in the same boat as the ghosts: unsuited to the new luxury resort. It is hard to go from haunting a remodeled, tiny, 1947 hotel room to lounging around a 21st century luxury suite. It is just as difficult to go from selling $1 meal specials on holidays to recommending the proper $10,000 bottle of wine to a discriminating diner. But that is the nature of business. Things change. Ghosts go out of fashion and lakeside wine tasting replaces them. The real estate is too valuable for Mary and $1.99 breakfasts. Sorry, Mary. If it’s any consolation, I have a spare room and I always did like girls in red miniskirts.