Thursday, August 09, 2007
Exploring the Tallac Historic Site
There’s nothing like seeing how rich people live. Exploring a huge mansion or the grounds of a sprawling estate built by a wealthy person offers a vicarious thrill, especially for those of us unlikely to ever live in such a manner.
The Tallac Historic Site at Lake Tahoe is such a place. There, it’s possible to catch a glimpse of the lifestyles of the rich and famous in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Tallac homes—really elaborate summer cottages—were built by some of America’s wealthiest individuals. At one time, the site was also the location of Tahoe’s first casino-hotel. While many of the structures have disappeared over the years—victims of neglect and progress—a few have been preserved and are now managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
The Tallac Historic Site is located on Route 89, north of Camp Richardson. A wonderfully scenic two-and-a-half-mile-long bicycle and hiking path winds through the area.
Riding through the historic grounds is an opportunity to pretend that you’ve gone back to a time before automobiles and airplanes, when only the super-rich could afford to build seasonal homes in a once remote place, such as Lake Tahoe.
The setting is remarkably peaceful and very beautiful. The trail is lined with tall pine trees filled with chattering birds and, as you ride along, provides glimpses of the clear, blue waters of the lake.
While the main path is paved, there are several dirt tributaries that snake through the reserve and lead to small, hidden beaches or particularly scenic tree groves.
Development of the Tallac area started in the 1870s, when Yank Clement opened the Tallac Point House on the south shore to accommodate visitors. “Yank’s” inn also offered steamboat rides, a saloon and dancing.
In 1880, "Yank's" was sold to Elias "Lucky" Baldwin, a California entrepreneur and professional gambler. Baldwin transformed the sleepy lakeside inn into a 250-room resort that included a casino, ballroom, four bowling alleys, sun parlors and billiards rooms.
Meanwhile, in 1894, George Tallant, son of one of the founders of California’s Crocker Bank, built a rustic summer lodge adjacent to the Baldwin estate.
Five years later, Tallant’s sold his property to millionaire Lloyd Tevis, who expanded and renovated the home, making it the largest and most luxurious in the area. Tevis added servants quarters, a dairy, stables and a shaded, garden with Japanese teahouse and arched bridges.
In 1923, Tevis sold the compound to George Pope Jr., a San Francisco lumber and shipping magnate. To reflect Pope’s ecumenical name, the estate was nicknamed the "Vatican Lodge."
Also in 1923, another prominent businessman, Walter Heller purchased the land south of the Pope estate. Heller began construction of what would become the last great Tallac mansion, an impressive stone and wood lodge named Valhalla, which is now used for concerts and special events.
The early 1920s marked the heyday of the magnificent Tallac homes but was also the end of "Lucky" Baldwin’s resort. In 1920, Baldwin's daughter, Anita, closed the casino-hotel and demolished the buildings. Later that same year, Dextra Baldwin McGonagle, Baldwin’s granddaughter, constructed a beautiful single-story home on the family property.
Today, the 2,000-acre Tallac Historic Site has picnic tables and several public beaches including Kiva Beach and Baldwin Beach. For more information, contact 530-541-4975.