As Kings Beach goes through a sort of Renaissance with street and pedestrian upgrades, public art displays, and talks of a new public pier, it still maintains its funky beach charm with old hotels and curious little shops. Although many families flock to this sunny spot on the North Shore for its wide beaches and shallow waters, its roots lie in gambling.

Rumor has it that Kings Beach was named in 1925 when card shark Joe King won the land after an all-night poker game with eccentric millionaire George Whittell Jr., who had purchased the majority of the east side of Lake Tahoe in the early 1930s and built the Thunderbird Lodge. But Tahoe historian Mark McLaughlin thinks it’s more likely that King won the money for the land in a card game with San Francisco real estate developer Robert P. Sherman. Sherman owned much of the land that is now Kings Beach, Tahoe Vista, and Brockway.  

“Sherman had built the original Cal-Neva Lodge on the state line in 1927, which he used as a real estate office and guest house to woo prospective clients,” McLaughlin wrote in a 2014 column for the Tahoe Weekly. The winnings from Sherman, combined with profits received when King cashed out his partnership in the Pastime Club, better explain the source of income needed to purchase and develop the land.”

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However Kings Beach got its name, King is still credited with developing the beach town. King built a large shopping center in the heart of town near the beach, which included a grocery store, beauty parlor, movie theater, meat market, and Loynd’s Pharmacy. King also developed land in Tahoe City and was the proprietor of the Squirrel Inn, a speakeasy in Homewood where he sold bootleg whiskey. The North Tahoe Business Association even held the Joe King Poker Tournament recently for a few years in his honor, giving the winner the title of Mayor for a Day.

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  • Kara Fox

    When she’s not writing or editing the news section for Moonshine Ink, Kara Fox can be seen hiking in the spring, paddle boarding in the summer, mushroom hunting in the fall, snowshoeing in the winter, and hanging out with her 7-year-old son year-round.

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