A sprawling Lake Tahoe estate once owned by William Harrah, one of Nevada’s pioneer casino operators, is on the market by Compass.com for $25.75 million. Known as Villa Harrah, the property on the east shore of Lake Tahoe possesses considerable cachet, having hosted legendary showbiz icons, including actress Judy Garland and “Rat Pack” members Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.
Although the 1960s-era mega-mansion has been dramatically overhauled to appeal to contemporary home buyers, it is still widely recognized for the glamour and glitz that made Harrah’s estate one of the hottest tickets in town for the rich and famous.
“It’s really high-end finishes from the ground up,” said Compass Tahoe real estate agent Jamison Blair, who is co-listing the property with David Bellings of Compass San Francisco. Blair added, “No stone was left unturned. The details are incredible. The bones are the same floor plan, a classic party floor plan with a big great room.”
A circular driveway and porte-cochère that can easily park 20 cars set the tone for the mega-mansion, which boasts an enviable location. It is situated on a half-acre lot directly on the lakefront.
“Bill Harrah had his pick of wherever he wanted to build the property, and he chose this specific cove on the east shore of Lake Tahoe,” said Blair, adding that the property offers excellent views of the lake, is set back from the main road, provides a relatively calm environment for boats and is “front and center” of all other properties. “You really don’t feel like you have any neighbors,” he said.
The 22,288-square-foot property features three levels with eight bedrooms, nine full bathrooms and six half bathrooms that balance comfort and style, sometimes blended with a bit of whimsy. For example, a custom cast concrete bathroom sink is designed in the shape of Lake Tahoe.
The great room showcases an epic wall of glass that allows homeowners to enjoy sweeping views of the lake and mountains. With an oversized seating area, circular fireplace, expansive dining area, billiards lounge and custom bar, the great room is the ultimate centerpiece for Tahoe glamour and entertaining.
At the heart of the villa’s open aesthetic are sliding doors that create a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor living.
“It’s all set up in zones, so you could have a big party, and from there, you could relax in the living area, the kitchen, dining and living rooms,” said Blair. “It’s an open concept, and it all opens up to the big outdoor patio.”
The house was designed for Harrah and his wife to entertain celebrities that were performing at his casinos. The main room could easily pack about 100 people for cocktails and dancing.
In those golden years, Harrah was quite the entertainer and always had his “70 mile-per-hour cocktail lounge,” a wooden speedboat called Thunderbird, ready to transport celebrities from his casinos to his luxurious estate, according to tahoetopia.com.
“This was a property for celebrities to leave the casino and come here to have cocktails and a good time,” said Blair.
The drinks flowed freely at the resort, which was a place where entertainers who performed at Harrah’s casinos could party, take a dip in the pool or crash after an evening of wining and dining.
In Villa Harrah’s heyday, secret tunnels ran the length of the property to help conceal high-profile guests such as Sinatra, Garland and actor and comedian Steve Martin.
Harrah had an underground tunnel built that connected the home to a neighborhood tunnel system, according to Tahoe Quarterly magazine. “This allowed access to other houses on the street, giving famous guests and neighbors the ability to move discreetly from place to place. Recently poured concrete walls closed the tunnel off permanently, ending the opportunity for any future sub-grade intrigue,” the magazine stated.
Home chefs will take delight in the sleek restaurant-quality kitchen, which features four Wolf ranges and two Sub-Zero refrigerators. A temperature-controlled wine room enclosed in glass makes a statement with back lighting.
All of the bedrooms are en suite and offer impressive views of the lake and sunsets. The guest master bedroom on the main floor offers some of the best views with huge windows and a deck. The main master bedroom upstairs has a lounge area and deck.
The lower level includes a movie theater, VIP suite, nanny’s quarters and a cozy bunk room. A fold-down desk, cabinets, cubbies and stairs are designed into the structure of the bunks.
“The kids’ bunk room is phenomenal,” said Blair. “It is the most Tahoe-feel room in the whole property. It’s finished with live-edge slabs of sycamore, and it’s a really fun place for kids with six bunks down there.”
The villa abounds with resort-style amenities that provide a celebrity treatment. There’s a full spa that includes a steam room, sauna, eight-person hot tub, cold-plunge pool, hair salon with shampoo sink, mani-pedi station, and the piece de resistance, a therapeutic salt cave covered with pink Himalayan salt.
The retreat is near retail stores, restaurants, Heavenly ski resort and casinos in South Lake Tahoe, yet it’s still off the beaten path. Blair noted, “You’re kind of away from it all, away from busier streets.”