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Robert and Lisa Maloff

A History of Caring

Robert and Lisa Maloff's devotion to community stems from a lifetime of generosity.

If the names on the walls of the Robert Maloff Center could talk, they would tell a story of generosity, caring and community.

The building’s namesake, Robert Maloff was raised in a Bay Area orphanage — an experience that would motivate his philanthropic commitment and advocacy for youth and education.

“That’s what drove him to educate himself, be successful and then give back,” said Lisa Maloff, his widow. Robert died in 2011 at 90 years old.

It also prompted his pursuit of a master's degree in social work from the University of California, Berkeley, Lisa said.

“He had a true passion for education, at-risk children in particular," Lisa said.

After graduating, Robert moved to southern California to work with disadvantaged youth, which is where the couple met. At the time, Lisa was pursuing her degree in education at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I want you to know that my diploma said that I was on the dean’s list,” Lisa said.

The two married in 1948. A decade later, they moved to the south shore of Lake Tahoe to escape Los Angeles.

“We wanted to get away from that lifestyle,” Lisa said. “When we came to Tahoe, we had to start from scratch.”

With few opportunities to use her education degree, Lisa began working at Harrah's Lake Tahoe.

Robert began his development career in South Lake Tahoe, first building a 13-until motel named The Flamingo Lodge. 

"We had a little studio that we slept in with a couch, and whenever the rooms were full, we would give up our bed to make the $5 per night fee for that space," Lisa said. "Every penny counted at that point. We were starting from scratch. We built what we had from nothing.”

In 1963, Robert bought the Lake Tahoe Inn, which stood on the same lot where the Marriott currently stands. At the time, it was a mobile home park, and he transformed it into a 410-room resort. During this time, he also became business partners with George Karadanis. In 1975, the two opened the Sundowner Hotel and Casino in Reno, which was at the time the biggest hotel in the city. In 1988 they bought the fabled Mapes Hotel in Reno, which they then donated to the City of Reno in 1996. The two also built shopping centers and apartment complexes in Reno and Sacramento. In addition, Robert also owned several Burger King restaurants in northern California. 

"He worked hard throughout his lifetime because he cared about his success and the success of his business and his love for Lake Tahoe," Lisa said.

As the Maloffs became more ingrained in South Lake Tahoe's community, they also became involved in the effort to build a hospital.

“A local woman was pregnant and had to go down to Reno to be able to deliver her baby,” Lisa remembered. “At that point, there was a small group of us who felt that shouldn't be the case. So, we all got together to start fundraising to be able to build a hospital.”

In addition to being involved in Barton Health from the start, Lisa is also a charter member of the Barton Auxiliary, an active group of volunteers who give generously of their time and talents to support Barton Health.

But, the Maloffs didn’t limit their philanthropic involvement to the hospital. The couple also donated time and funds to numerous causes in the city, and their generosity can be seen at Lake Tahoe Community College, Tahoe Youth and Family Services and South Lake Tahoe Police Canine Association, Whittell High School and other locations and organizations. Robert gave to individuals and causes quietly as well.

"Robert's generosity speaks volumes," Lisa said. "He tried to encourage his employees to further their education and the education of their children, and he would many times offer to pay for the education of the less fortunate."

It was through their involvement with Barton Memorial Hospital that Robert and Lisa met Dr. Paul Fry Jr., a relationship that would become pivotal to the creation of the Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness located in the Robert Maloff Center.

When Robert died in 2011, Lisa asked Dr. Fry Jr. what she could do to help the hospital.

“And in his quiet voice he said, ‘OK, kid, we need a building. Would you finance or support (one or the other) it?’ and I said ‘Absolutely,’” Lisa remembered.

In 2012 Lisa and Dr. Fry Jr. began discussing the building, and by 2015 she committed $10 million to build the Center.

Dr. Fry Jr. and Robert shared a community-minded sensibility, said Dr. Mike Fry, Dr. Fry Jr.'s son. Dr. Fry Jr. passed away in 2015.

“They just wanted the community to prosper for the benefit of everybody,” Dr. Mike Fry said. “This building is a way they can care for people in perpetuity and improve the health of the community in the future.”

Inside the Robert Maloff Center will be a therapy pool, funded by a $1 million donation from Dr. Fry Jr.

“He would be very proud and happy,” Dr. Mike Fry said of how his father would feel about the opening of the Center. “And he'd feel like he was able to contribute to the community for its well-being.”

The Maloff’s donation was crucial to bringing the Center to fruition and elevating the level of healthcare in the area, said Chris Proctor, administrative director for the Center.

“Robert was a giver,” Proctor said. “He just was one of those genuine people who wanted to take care of people. And this is Lisa's way to give back. What her donation has done for this project is significant.”

As the Center opens its doors, it will stand as a testament to the community-mindedness and generosity of the Maloff and Fry families.

"South Lake Tahoe has been my home for nearly 60 years," Lisa said. "It is my honor to be a part of this community, and I am happy to help in any way that I can."

Fun Facts about the Maloffs

While working at Harrah's Lake Tahoe, Lisa worked with Kay Starr, a pop and jazz singer, and traveled with the performer all over the world.

"It was really fun, and I'll tell you why, because you can’t buy the treatment she got, " Lisa said. "They rolled out the red carpet."

Lisa, a founding Auxiliary member, worked with Joseph Magnin department store in Reno to produce a glamorous fashion show, in which she also modeled. She also helped to start The Attic thrift store.

Robert and Lisa were avid bridge players.

Short timeline of Robert’s career accomplishments

1963: Purchase the Lake Tahoe Inn

1975: Opened the Sundowner Hotel and Casino in Reno with partner George Karadanis. The building was the largest hotel in Reno at the time it opened.

1988: Purchased the Mapes Hotel in Reno with Karadanis

1996:  Donated the Mapes Hotel to the City of Reno in 1996

An excerpt from "Orthopedics & Wellness" published by Barton Health for the July 12, 2018 opening of the Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness. Freelance writer Annie Flanzraich contributed to this article.