Six years after purchasing the storied Cal Neva Resort & Casino property on Lake Tahoe's north shore, billionaire Larry Ellison is reselling it at a tidy profit to a hotel group who will now, finally, renovate and reopen the place.
It's not clear whether Larry Ellison ever really planned to do something with the Cal Neva Resort when he bought it out of bankruptcy in 2017, or if he had some ideas and then had a change of heart. But when you've got the kind of fuck-you money that Ellison has, you can have such whims, and they can end up earning you $20 million without even trying.
That appears to be what's happened, as Bay Area News Group and the Chronicle are reporting that Ellison has sold the 97-year-old, 13-acre property without doing much — if any — work on it in seven years. He bought it for $38.6 million in a transaction that closed in 2018, and now he's sold it for $58 million to Denver-based real estate firm McWhinney.
It's possible that Ellison's team managed to get some new entitlements for the property — they supposedly submitted plans in 2019 for a new two-story structure that would add new restaurants and lodging, but it's not clear where that went.
McWhinney is reportedly partnering on the venture with Hayes Barnard, a former Oracle executive who has a home in nearby Crystal Bay, who is the lead investor in the project.
"We are thrilled for the opportunity to craft the next iteration of this one-of-a-kind resort," says Chad McWhinney, co-founder, chairman and CEO at McWhinney, in a statement. "The acquisition of Cal Neva is a perfect complement to our existing award-winning hospitality lifestyle portfolio."
McWhinney, which has an extensive hospitality portfolio in the U.S., acquired the Austin Proper Hotel in late 2021 from the KOR Group, which developed it along with other Proper locations in San Francisco, Santa Monica, and Downtown L.A. In a release, McWhinney says it plans to partner with the KOR Group on the redevelopment and renovation of the Cal Neva, and turn it into the next Proper Hotel.
Brad Korzen, CEO of Proper Hospitality, says in a statement, "We believe the approach Proper Hospitality takes with each of our distinctive projects is the perfect fit for such a rare property. We strive to create an experience that is anchored to its location and creates long term lasting value that supports the local community."
Named for the fact that it straddles the border between California and Nevada, the Cal Neva was first constructed in 1926 and then rebuilt after a 1937 fire. It was known as a hideaway for celebrities in the 1950s and 60s, and at one point, Frank Sinatra bought the place. Sinatra reportedly threw lavish parties for years, hosting the likes of Judy Garland, Kim Novak, Shirley MacLaine, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, Lucille Ball, and Desi Arnaz. And, infamously, Marilyn Monroe was put up there by Bobby Kennedy in 1962, one week prior to her death, and she allegedly attempted suicide while there — calling the front desk to tell them she'd swallowed a bunch of pills.
The resort closed for business in 2013, and a previous, attempted renovation was stopped dead in its tracks when the previous owner went belly-up.
A new website for the project suggests that "the design team is focused on upgrading and modernizing the existing hotel tower while retaining some of the original character of the public spaces like the Indian Room and Frank Sinatra Showroom."
It sounds like this could easily take a couple of years, so, stay tuned. We've only been talking about this project for six years so far, what's another two?