Sorry Larry Ellison but when it comes to building mansions at Lake Tahoe, you were not the first. Since the turn of the century, elite have flocked to Lake Tahoe building luxury summer homes along its shores. I am often asked about the history and facts about the mansions that adorn the shores of Lake Tahoe. Here I share what I consider to be the crème de la crème!
The historic Thunderbird Lodge and its world famous Thunderbird Yacht sit stately along Lake Tahoe’s tranquil East Shore. George Whittell, Jr. born in San Francisco in 1881 into great wealth, lived a fast life as a playboy of California and Nevada and later became a recluse. His immigrant grandfathers exploited the gold rush, founding his family’s financial empire in the San Francisco Water Company, today Pacific Gas and Electric. In early 1929, Whittle sold $50 million in stock holdings later insulating him from the stock market crash and became one of the wealthiest men in California. Eventually Whittell acquired over 40,000 acres on the East Shore, including 20 miles of shoreline. Thunderbird Lodge was completed in 1939, and consists of a main lodge surrounded by three cottages, a card house, a boathouse, an elephant house, a lighthouse, three garages, and a gatehouse! Many stories surround Whittell’s activities including colorful parties and high-stakes gambling in the card house. Whittell loved exotic animals which he collected, including elephants and lions, who made guest appearances each summer!
Vikingsholm & Fannette Island House
Vikingsholm is known as one of the first summer homes as well as for its unique location incorporating the only Island and nearby the only waterfall on the Lake. Mrs. Knight purchased the land from previous landowners in 1928 and decided she wanted to build a summer home that would compliment the natural surroundings. She commissioned her nephew, Lennart Palme, a Swedish architect, to construct a Scandinavia masterpiece. It was completed in 1929 and occupied by Mrs. Knight, her staff of 15 and many guests and enjoyed for 15 summers thereafter.
The Pine Lodge
The Ehrman Mansion is located at Sugar Pine Point State Park and was originally built by Isaias Hellman in 1902. Hellman was a German immigrant in 1842 and as a young 16 yr old boy began working in his cousin’s dry goods store. He had a natural talent for business and shortly was running his own stories and decided eventually to open a bank. Banking became his true passion in life, later moved to San Francisco and became the President of Nevada National Bank which eventually became the Wells Fargo Bank that we know today. Hellman hired Walter Danforth Bliss to design a summer home in Lake Tahoe and bought 2000 acres of the surrounding land. The home was completed in 1903 and the family began summering at the estate that July. The Mansion is complete with the main house, barn and coach house, water tower, various worker cabins and a pier.
The “Godfather” Estate
Also formally knows as the Kaiser Estate was originally built by Henry J. Kaiser from San Francisco in 1935 as an exclusive hideaway for him and five other owners who joined forces to build the Hoover Dam. The walled compound was originally a 16-acre mansion which included 17 large homes, small cottages, servant quarters, a yacht club and boat house and is found on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. The mansion’s was nicknamed “Fleur du Lac” or “Flower of the Lake” after Kaiser’s favorite hydroplane. The mansion became most famous when it was featured in “The Godfather II” movie and site of Freddo’s death on the Lake. Today the property has been redesigned into private residences and only the original boat house, harbor and lighthouse remain.
Most of these mansion offers daily tours starting in late spring through early fall which is a great activity to enjoy during the shoulder seasons in Lake Tahoe. Share if you are interested in visiting any of these historic mansions at Lake Tahoe in the comments below.
Enjoy learning about Lake Tahoe? Follow my blog and me at @robinpenning to receive information on tips, news, activities and special events in Lake Tahoe.