While visiting the north shore of Lake Tahoe, we had the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Thunderbird Lodge. This property was built in 1936 as the private residence of George Whittell. George Whittell originally purchased 40,000 acres on the east shore of Lake Tahoe and possessed 26 miles of its shoreline. It seems that George was quite a colorful character, and developed a love of wild animals, booze, poker and women. He built a separate enclosure for his pet Sumatran elephant, Mingo, and kept a full grown lion, Bill, as a pet.
His Thunderbird Lodge home is fascinating to tour, primarily because of its situation among enormous granite boulders on the property, along with its 600-foot underground tunnel which connects his boathouse to the residence.
During the home’s construction, Whittell hired Native American boys to construct a series of intricate stone paths, which later became known as “the Dragon’s Tail.”
Whittell summered at Thunderbird, and while there commissioned the building of Lake Tahoe’s most recognizable speedboat, The Thunderbird. It’s mahogany hull and huge twin V-12 engines are currently in restoration in Incline Village, and will be returned to the Lodge in the near future.
While Whittell’s original plan was to build a resort and condominium complex, along with a ski resort, his later lifestyle altered those plans. He became more and more reclusive and his privacy was highly valued. Ultimately, he sold off vast pieces of his property to the Nevada State Parks Department and other agencies. After his death, Wall Street maven Jack Dreyfus purchased the remaining estate and ultimately sold most of it to the U.S Forest service.
It is the result of George Whittell’s reclusive nature that the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe remains largely undeveloped today. Hubs and I were fascinated by the careful siting of the original home, and the use of materials to marry the residence to its site. If you happen to visit the Lake Tahoe area, it’s worth it to take a tour of this historical home.