GORGEOUS SETTING: Its many trees compliment the wooden exterior of the swish mansion, built in 1963
Lake Tahoe, a picturesque resort offering spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada with its bus-tour punters and pensioners, was a far cry from the glamour of 1960s movie studios and nightclubs. Here, America’s rich and famous could come out and play – far away from the paparazzi lenses of Sunset Boulevard. And the creation of this A-list playground was down to canny casino kingpin, William Harrah, whose legendary parties at his eponymous villa on the shores of the lake were once the hottest invite for Hollywood celebrities.
Via a secret underground tunnel that ran the length of the property, his guests could come and go at ease, thus guaranteeing unrivalled privacy.
Now the sprawling estate on the east shore, built by Harrah in 1963 to entertain celebrity friends, is up for sale for a cool £20million.
Since he was one of the first to build on Lake Tahoe, Harrah was able to pick a prime waterside location.
He was already a master of the hospitality industry yet his 22,000-square-foot home was to be the epitome of luxury.
STUNNING VIEWS: Estate agent Jamison Blair said it’s the best view he has seen in his 20 years
Villa Harrah enjoyed its heyday in the Sixties when the likes of Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Shirley MacLaine, Tony Curtis, Sammy Davis Jr, Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack gathered at the nearby Cal Neva resort and casino.
It’s said many of them used the secret tunnel to carry on partying after a night in the casinos of Reno which Harrah had built up into a multimillion pound gaming empire.
Villa Harrah was just across the lake from Cal Neva, which Sinatra part-owned along with Dean Martin and Chicago mobster Sam Giancana.
INDULGENCE: one of the seven opulent en-suite bathrooms in the villa
Legend has it that after the celebs performed at the casino, Harrah would ferry them across the lake on his 55ft wooden speedboat Thunderbird to Villa Harrah.
From the dock, they’d enter the house through the tunnel.
It still exists today, although it has been sealed off, closing that glamorous link to the past.
Not that Harrah, who died in 1978 at the age of 66, liked his guests to stay overnight.
The original house was reportedly built with just one bedroom.
For Sinatra’s son, Lake Tahoe would hold only traumatic memories after his botched kidnapping close to Villa Harrah in 1963.
LUXURY LIVING: This bedroom, one of eight, has fine views of the lake
Brought to the resort by his father to launch his fledgling singing career, Sinatra Jr was sitting in the nearby Harrah Lodge Motel when three gunmen burst in, tied up his bandmate and took the 19-year-old hostage.
He was held in a Los Angeles hideout for four days while the kidnappers demanded a ransom of £191,000.
Because of his famous father, the case dominated the headlines and the FBI got involved.
Frank was released unharmed after his family paid the ransom, but because the kidnapping ended so quickly and without violence, it sparked an untrue rumour that it had been a publicity stunt designed to promote the youngster’s career.
PURE ELEGANCE: The dining room has a generous outdoor eating area and stunning views
“This family needs publicity like it needs peritonitis,” was his father’s reported response.
Today the surrounding casinos still exist, although Reno no longer dominates the gambling industry over Las Vegas as it did in Harrah’s day.
But there is a much more genteel feel to the area.
And far away from the strips with their bingo halls and slots is Villa Harrah.
Rumoured to have had a £11million renovation, the villa nevertheless retains its capacity for entertaining in style.
Estate agent Jamison Blair said: “It has the vibe of a party fun house. The view when you walk into the front door is this huge great room and you’re just speechless when you walk in there.
VILLA VISITORS: Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, and Frank Sinatra
“It’s one of the best views I’ve seen in my 20 years of doing business up here.”
In the property’s main living room, the owners have opened up the lake frontage with large floor-to-ceiling windows, which allow expansive and breathtaking water views.
All eight bedrooms were also designed to maximise the view and seven of them have en-suite bathrooms while there are six half-bathrooms.
If the children invite friends for a sleepover, there is a bunk room which sleeps 12.
The property also includes a full spa with a steam room, sauna, jetted bath, cold plunge, a hair and nail salon and a Himalayan salt cave.
VILLA VISITORS: Liza Minneli and her mother Judy Garland
“The spa rivals some five-star resort spas,” says Blair.
Outside, a 150ft stretch of lake-front property includes a sandy beach and a pier.
A rock jetty shields the beach from wind.
The home blends a mountain lodge aesthetic with mid-century modern glamour.
The main living room is the focal point with an enormous seating area, floating fireplace, dining room, custom bar and a 31ft-long wall of glass that frames a lake and mountain view.
Legend has it that after the celebs performed, Harrah would ferry them across the lake on his boat
Harrah – Bill to his friends – is considered one of the most famous figures in America’s gaming history.
While his influence, and the name Harrah, is ubiquitous, the current owners wish to remain anonymous.
They have spared no expense with the renovations, importing oak flooring from Europe and stone slabs from South America.
Their vision in the redesign ensures that while the new owners may never be able to recreate the Rat Pack capers of the ’60s, Villa Harrah will party on.