- The Magazine
- Current Issue
- Events & Shows
- Web Extras
- Yellow Pages
So did Sammy Davis Jr., and so can you—for $32.5 million.
If you take a guided bus or boat tour of Lake Tahoe this summer, you’ll likely find yourself stopped outside the “Villa Costa,” a 20,000-square-foot abode at Zephyr Cove, on the lake’s east shore. Your guide will tell you that when the home was originally completed in 1963, it was called the “Villa Harrah,” after then-owner and gambling pioneer William Fisk Harrah.
You might also hear that Harrah was well known for securing big-name headliners—Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Judy Garland, Bill Cosby, Wayne Newton, and Dean Martin, among others—for his Mint Club at South Lake Tahoe. The casino owner made fast friends with these stars, and Harrah built his estate, you’ll learn, as a haven for them. He rarely stayed there himself.
Harrah’s house, for which he paid $23 million, occupied 17,000 square feet across four lots. Underground tunnels protected his famous guests as they made their way to the swimming pool, two beaches, and the dock where Harrah tied up his classic wooden powerboat, Thunderbird. The basement ballroom provided stars with secluded entertainment. At one of his favorite soirées, a Hawaiian luau, he gave a bottle of liquor to every one of his neighbors. Until his death in 1978, Harrah was fond of throwing parties for his friends.
Richard Costa, who renovated the house shortly after purchase in 1993 and now has plans to sell it, went to great lengths to maintain the home’s rich history. But, as with everything else that hopes to stand the test of time, updates were inevitable. Costa’s two biggest changes were adding a second story and reducing the house’s size to make it fit on the two middle lots. The remaining two lots were sold and are separate residences.
Costa says that, where possible, he wanted “everything to look exactly the same as the day I bought it.” Where he has added a wall, for example, he installed a mirror to convey the idea of open space. Many of the chandeliers hanging throughout the home are original. He avoided tell-tale signs of renovation by matching the house’s first-floor exterior features on his second-floor addition.
Some changes, however, are entirely Costa’s. The kitchen, for one—with Brazilian blue granite on its counter tops, two dining tables, a hibachi-style cooking area, and a breakfast booth with a lake view—was designed specifically for Costa, an amateur chef. The stadium-seating theater, game room, and small bathroom featuring one of Harrah’s original fixtures were added with Costa’s grandchildren in mind. The new upstairs master bedroom features separate his-and-her bathrooms, a sitting room, and a black granite fireplace.
Costa is proud of the history his home protects. “Wayne Newton’s dog scratched that piece of wood,” he says. Or, “A piece of Tony Orlando’s hair was stuck to the suede paneling we reused in a guest room.” In an upstairs bedroom, pillows sewn by Liberace’s mother adorn the bed and settee. It is said that people always knew when Bill Cosby was around because his cigar smoke filled the house and tunnels.
Priced at $32.5 million, the “Villa Costa” will not likely sell quickly, and that’s OK with Costa. He hopes that when it does change hands, the new owners will appreciate it as much as he and his family have: “You’re not just buying a home here. You’re buying a piece of history.”
Distinctive Homes Sotheby’s International Realty