Silver Tailings: The Duke of Nevada

In 1927, there arrived on the scene in north Lake Tahoe a young man by the name of Norman Biltz. He was born in Connecticut in 1902, of wealthy parents.

He left the east coast for California in about 1920, where in his first few years of residence he held a wide variety of jobs, mostly menial. In 1927 he became associated with Robert Sherman, a wealthy San Francisco real estate promoter.

As Sherman’s partner in his Brockway-Tahoe Vista Corporation, Biltz embarked on selling land in north Lake Tahoe to San Franciscans, and acted as contractor for the original Cal-Neva Lodge in Crystal Bay. Sherman built the Cal-Neva as a guest house for prospective buyers of his Lake Tahoe real estate.

But Biltz partnership with Sherman ended in 1928 when Sherman went bankrupt. Sherman gave Biltz the Cal-Neva in lieu of money Sherman owed him.

Biltz borrowed $50,000, incorporated the Crystal Bay Corporation, bought thousands of acres at north Lake Tahoe from the Blisses, and struck out on his own promotional odyssey. Understanding that the new tax laws in California and other states would tax the wealthy unduly, he saw the advantages to them in Nevada’s far more lenient laws.

He studied 200 multi-millionaires with an eye to selling them land in Nevada so they could escape the taxes in their home states. He got the support of then-governor Fred Balzar, who gave him a letter that essentially said that “he was sure [Biltz and his associates] would state the advantageous tax laws of Nevada honestly, but if [they] made a mistake, he would attempt to make [the state’s tax laws] fit [their] mistake.”

They produced and sent to each prospect a special magazine called Nevada: The Last Frontier, which they bound in leather and embossed with the prospect’s name. Biltz learned the likes and dislikes of every one of the prospective buyers and after making the sale, worked to keep them happy so they would stay in Nevada.

The first millionaire he brought to Lake Tahoe was Jim Stack, who had made his fortune in stock holdings of Quaker Oats. To get Stack to stay, Biltz lived with him for six months.

This was typical of the lengths he went to convince his buyers of the advantage of living in Nevada. He took the buyers hunting, fishing, golfing.

He spent day, weeks, even months keeping the buyers happy. He started a construction company and built their houses for them, even found them servants. The theory was that once sold on Nevada, the buyers would go back to their home states and become salesmen for the state themselves.

Among the millionaires Biltz sold Tahoe property to were Max Fleischmann, of Fleischmann’s yeast, E.L. Cord, creator of the Cord automobile, the family of E.W. Scripps, the newspaper publisher, Cornelius Vanderbilt , Rex Bell and several other Hollywood stars. All in all he sold Lake Tahoe property to approximately 75 millionaires.

In about 1930 Biltz married Esther Auchincloss, aunt to Jacqueline Kennedy. Over the years he became very influential in Nevada politics and very wealthy, with interests in numerous areas ranging from developing, to ranching, to mining and oil leasing.

When ranchers in Nevada lost their land during the depression, Biltz sold the ranches to wealthy men from out of state (including Bing Crosby), putting the land back in service and money back into Nevada’s economy.

He helped prepare and distribute the “One Sound State” program booklet, promoting Nevada nationwide, and produced a full color magazine-type publication, entitled “Nevada, The Last Frontier,” to lure the nation’s wealthy to the state.

He was close friends with many of the state’s movers and shakers, as well as with influential men at the national level. When Fortune magazine wrote a story about him, they dubbed him the “Duke of Nevada.”

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