By Linda Bottjer

Thunderbird Lodge blends into its natural setting

Photo Credit: Linda J. Bottjer

Lake Tahoe first attracted vacationing millionaires in the late 19th century. Several former summer mansions, elegant with a rustic veneer, are open for tours. Maintained by state, Federal or non-profit organizations all, with the exception of Thunderbird Lodge, are reached by turning at roadside signs off Highway 89 along the West Shore. Wearing flat comfortable shoes is a must. Walkways are often uneven and steep.

“Mrs. Pope” AKA Susan Fehr greets guests at the Pope Estate

Photo Credit: Linda J. Bottjer

Baldwin and Pope Estates
Three estates, at Tallac Historic Site
Three miles north of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89
(530) 541-4975
Hours: Tours at various times
Price: Free

Lucky Baldwin’s moneymaking skills were as vast as his romantic scandals and ability to offer the wealthy pine-scented Tahoe relaxation. His granddaughter Dextra’s Scandinavian styled U-shape “Baldwin House” serves as a treasure trove of Tahoe’s recreational past. Garden pathways lead to the Pope Estate. Often “Mrs. Pope” leads tours of the home where lush, yet casual furnishings, make it easy to imagine frequent guest Rudolph Valentino vacationing here.

A corner of Vikingsholm among wildflowers, trees and mountains

Photo Credit: Linda J. Bottjer

Highway 89 by Emerald Bay
(530) 525-9530
Hours: Half-hours tours occur Memorial Day to late September from 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Price: Parking Lot $8.00 fee
Tickets are $8.00 adults/$5.00 for children 6 – 12 years of age/Free for children under 6.
Grounds are free to visit.

Any Norseman’s longboat sailing into Emerald Bay would find Vikingsholm the perfect place to drop anchor. Built in the late 1920s from owner’s Lora Josephine Knight’s inspiring Norwegian travels Vikingsholm was constructed from local granite and hand-hewn timbers.

When her money could not buy original Scandinavian antiques it could hire craftsmen to recreate intricate carvings for doorways, roof ridges and the living room’s dragon beams. The mythical Viking symbol is repeatedly found both inside and out. Other motifs include interior painted wildflowers while real ones grow on the sod roof.

“Selma” welcomes visitors in a colorful and timely manner. A steep one-mile trek is required from the parking lot down to Vikingsholm. The high altitude trail is well defined. The local joke is “one mile down and two miles back up.” Arrange special needs access by calling the office with at least 48 hours notice.

Listening to guide

Photo Credit: Linda J. Bottjer

Hellman-Ehrmann Mansion
Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park
Highway 89 (between Meeks Bay and Tahoma)
Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. mid June through Labor Day.
Tours $8 for adults, $5 children 6-17 years. Children under 6 free
Parking lot $8.00 fee
Grounds are free to visit.

Designed in the California Craftsman style the 98-year-old Pine Lodge took its name from the
surrounding sugar pines trees. Built by Wells Fargo bank President I.W. Hellman the first floor reflects
when prewar graciousness ruled.

Overstuffed chairs, in both the living room and on the front porch, invited guests to contemplate nature with its stunning vistas of the lake.

Hellman’s daughter, Florence Ehrmann, inherited the house and upstairs her family’s love of history and sports is displayed with scattered Navajo rugs and equipment like wooden tennis rackets left on beds.

The upstairs/downstairs guides tour includes servants’ quarters and 1940s’ kitchen.

An aluminum and classic wooden boat, recalling Tahoe’s bygone era, are kept at the two boathouses.

Pine Lodge’s Lake View

Photo Credit: Linda J. Bottjer

Thunderbird Lodge
Shuttle from Incline Village/Crystal Bay Visitor’s Center
969 Tahoe Boulevard
Incline Village, NV
(800) 468-2463
Hours: Four tours are available Tuesday – Saturday
June – October starting at 10 a.m.
Price: $39.00 adults/$19.00 children 6 – 12 years old
Children under 6 not permitted

Captain George Whittell, Jr. was known for his eccentricities and his beloved Thunderbird Lodge, built during the Great Depression, reflects many of them.

His pet lion, Bill would prowl along the Main Lodge’s underground 600-ft tunnel stopping occasionally to lick occupants of the then legal opium den. The tunnel connected to the Card House through the bathroom. Here Whittell and his cronies, including baseball great Ty Cobb, would signal nearby casinos to send showgirl companionship.

The 71-year-old yacht Thunderbird, still resplendent in mahogany and brushed stainless, resides in the Boathouse.

Waterfalls, lagoons and Mingo, the elephant’s house, can also be seen.

Linda Bottjer is a full time writer whose natural curiosity buoys her sense of adventure. Her work can be found at