Urban refugees, country-seekers flock to Nevada County developments for ‘good life’

George Hubert was a golf newbie in the early 1990s when a friend talked him into joining Alta Sierra Country Club and learning how to play.

He never looked back.

“This is the greatest thing in the world,” Hubert, 78, said of the Alta Sierra golf club, which celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this month with a dinner, dance and golf tourney. “The facility’s wonderful and the golf course is terrific.”

The people, who include wife and fellow golfer Peggy Hubert, 56, aren’t bad either.

“I like living in Northern California better than anywhere else for a permanent home,” said George Hubert, who moved with Peggy to Nevada County more than 30 years ago from Hawaii.

The Huberts have a lot of company. More than 100 years after the 1850s-era Gold Rush drew an onslaught of starry-eyed gold-fortune-seekers to Nevada County, a new wave of transplants discovered what they hoped would be a better life at expansive new rural housing developments such as Alta Sierra, Lake of the Pines and Lake Wildwood.

Even though those communities — all three built in the decade between 1960 to 1970 — had no gold to offer, they instead offered the promise of pleasure-filled, idyllic days putting on the golf course, dozing by the pine trees or fishing in the lakes.

With the addition of thousands of these new residents in those three major housing communities, population in Nevada County soared by a factor of five between 1960, when it was 20,911, to 2013, when the population was 98,200, according to the U.S. Census.

People got here by different routes, but, like the gold miners 100 years earlier, had similar goals: a comfortable country lifestyle surrounded by natural beauty.

“We (husband Bob and four children) were living in Walnut Creek in 1969,” Harriett Rothschild wrote in “Lake of the Pines” by Jan Townsend. “I was expecting our fifth child.

“We had planned to take our trailer to Lake Shasta, but neighbors told us about Lake of the Pines,” she said. “We stayed at the campground for a week; then we bought a lot in September 1969.”

The Rothschilds, like the Huberts, were followed by thousands of others with similar yearnings for a rural lifestyle. However, according to a 1991 article in “Image” magazine titled “White Flight,” there were also some people who came to Nevada County to escape inner city diversity.

As a result, by 1991, rural Nevada County was turned into “the whitest enclave in California,” the article said.

“Left for dead economically when the last mines closed in the 1950s, Nevada County is now the state’s fifth fastest-growing county,” journalist Joan Walsh wrote in the article.

“Since 1970, its population has more than tripled, to 80,000,” Walsh wrote. “But with a struggling economy based in government, tourism and service jobs, the county isn’t drawing fortune-seekers in this boom.

“Instead, it’s attracting refugees from the crises and complexities of urban life,” the article said.

For whatever reason, people came. And with them, Nevada County acquired a whole new segment of suburban dwellers that now comprises a significant portion of county residents.

Alta Sierra

According to “The History of Alta Sierra Country Club,” by Gene Zepp, Anne Dobson and Elsa Silbert, the original idea of the Alta Sierra subdivision came from George Brewer in the latter 1950s and early 1960s.

“He had been and still was an executive for the California Rice Growers Association,” Zepp, Dobson and Silbert wrote. “While he was thinking of retiring, he purchased several hundred acres of ranch land along Dog Bar Road, just south of Grass Valley.”

Brewer built a home and developed a cattle ranch, hiring Warren Hardin to manage the ranch for him.

Brewer, through his leadership in the Rice Growers Association, met many influential people in Northern California, including Joseph Alioto, a San Francisco politician and an attorney for the Rice Growers group. Alioto also owned property that would later become Auburn Country Club.

In early 1960, Brewer had Alioto form an investment partnership with a plan to buy adjacent ranches and other properties to create a several-thousand-acre residential community. In addition to Alioto and Brewer, the other partners were George Fay, who owned the Sacramento River Delta Queen boats, and Oscar Zebal.

The acquisitions continued during 1960. At the end of the year, pro golfer Tom LoPresti, a friend of Brewer’s, suggesting adding a golf course. Bob Baldock, a golf course architect, was hired to develop a plan for an 18-hole course. Construction on the course started in early 1963, and the new course and accompanying clubhouse were opened on April 15, 1964.

In late 1965, officials began a heavy advertising campaign to attract more buyers for the residential lots. According to “The History of Alta Sierra Country Club,” a lack of adequate transportation from Grass Valley was an issue. Some out-of-town potential buyers solved that problem by flying in their own planes and landing on the 14th fairway of the golf course. Brewer decided at that point to build Alta Sierra airport about a mile south of the golf course. The airport construction was completed in 1967.

Brewer died in 1973. His family named Robert Wolff, a Sacramento attorney, to assist in the establishment of Alta Sierra Vista, a property-holding organization.

Over the next several decades, homes continued to be built, and the country club went through several different owners and groups of board members. In 1984, ownership of the club was transferred to Alta Sierra Golf & Country Club, a proprietary, membership-owned organization. In 1997, members voted to build a new clubhouse, which opened in July 1999.

On the residential side, there are currently “over 3,300 homes in the original Alta Sierra Estates, comprised of many different units,” said Julie Siegenthaler, president of the Alta Sierra Property Owners Association. “A number of property owners in surrounding areas asked to be included in the association territory several years ago, and were annexed. “I know that one of our members has a family photo album which contains pictures of the area from the ’60s,” she added. “It looked very different then.”

Lake of the Pines

In 1966, agents for United States Land Inc. came west to purchase about 3,000 acres of California ranchland. U.S. Land, headed by Thomas Perine, had already developed lakeside communities near Cleveland, Chicago and Washington, D.C., according to “Lake of the Pines,” a historical book published in 2000 by LOP resident Jan Townsend. Perine’s plan was to build a lake at what was then Magnolia Field and then sell lakeside resort properties around it.

Construction on Magnolia Dam was completed in February 1967, and the lake was filled with water in April of that year.

Originally Perine planned, through his western subsidiary, Western Lake Properties, to sell 1,885 lots, but that number increased to 1,998 by 2000 through subdivisions.

Five years prior to Perine’s arrival, in 1961, Franklin Schoellerman sold most of his ranch to Western Enterprises, a Sacramento housing development company, according to Franklin’s son Willard Schoellerman, who still lives nearby and who is the administrator at Forest Lake Christian School on Combie Road. The development plan never went through, however. In 1966, Western Enterprises formed a partnership called Bear River Ranch Venture, which teamed with Sonoma Mortgage Corp. to sell the former Schoellerman ranch to U.S. Land, Townsend writes in “Lake of the Pines.”

Meanwhile, after the lake was filled, advertising for the lots began in earnest — including promotional dinners for prospective buyers, according to Barbara Hallock:

“We were living in Marysville in 1967, when we were invited to one of those dinners,” Hallock says in Townsend’s book. “... Highway 49 was a three-lane road where you could pass in the middle lane, going either direction, very dangerous.

“We bought our lot on Balsam in November 1967, and we built on it in 1969,” she added. “There was no power to our area at the time. The contractor built our house using generators.”

In 1968, Boise Cascade merged with U.S. Land. Boise Cascade, which decided to get out of the development business, subsequently transferred management of and title to Lake of the Pines to its property owners — a process that closed in early 1972.

In 1973, the development’s board of directors first proposed selling the community’s gun club, which had been built earlier on the Bar MD Ranch owned by Don and Mary Newton and then later sold to U.S. Land. The sale plans fell through, but resurfaced in 1977, when the club was sold to D. Janus for $69,000. Janus then sold the property to Nevada Joint Union High School District. In 1986, the district opened Bear River High School at the site.

Home-building and sales continued for the next few decades to their current lot number of 1,998.

According to Townsend, each property owner, as a member of the Lake of the Pines Association, also is a shareholder in the corporation, which owns all the assets. Those include the roads, the lake, the golf course, the tennis courts, parks, clubhouse, swimming pool, marina and other buildings and items.

In 1984, the Sacramento Bee described the attraction of Lake of the Pines:

“Lake of the Pines offer suburban-style immersion into country life,” said the article, quoted in Townsend’s book. “It’s a dream that has to do with land and space, clean air and water, less traffic and smog-less skies with star swirls at night — all of those Golden State, good-life allurements.” The Bee also noted the development’s close proximity to Sacramento, adding that the original idea of a vacation and retirement resort area was evolved into a commuters’ bedroom community as well.

Lake Wildwood

In 1967, Boise Cascade purchased options to buy land from 11 ranchers in the area of what is now Lake Wildwood, according to one of the ranchers, Bill Vogt. The lake was filled in December 1969, according to Vogt, who in 1947 moved with his wife Elaine from their home in Turlock to 240 acres of what is now the bottom of Wildwood Lake.

Vogt, who kept some of his land to run a working farm, the Vogt Ranch, was a neighborhood fixture until his death several years ago at the age of about 90 or 91, said Amy Powers, executive secretary of the Lake Wildwood Association.

“He used to sit near the road with his homegrown vegetable stand and watch people go by,” Powers said of Vogt.

According to local chronicler Earl Simmons, Lake Wildwood was Boise Cascade’s “first project in which they would start and finish,” Simmons said. “Their prior land developments had been started by other developers, with Boise then buying them out and finishing the project.

“Lake of the Pines had been their last project, so what with that and building of other developments, they had high hopes of rectifying any previous mistakes.”

The Lake Wildwood Association was incorporated on Nov. 26, 1968, Simmons said. On Oct. 15, 1969, the first meeting of the association board was held in San Francisco.

“In the early summer of 1969, the lake, dam, golf course, marina, road construction and all association buildings were started at approximately the same time,” Simmons said.

During construction, the historic Anthony House Way Station/Pub, a stage stop between Marysville and Nevada City, was planned to be relocated by Boise Cascade, but the cost to move it and then do repairs was too high. Instead, Boise Cascade offered the local Historical Society $10,000 to have the building torn down, and the historical society accepted. The historical society used the $10,000 to repair the circa-1862 Bridgeport Covered Bridge, according to Simmons.

“So one Nevada County landmark was sacrificed to save another,” he wrote.

A grave and headstone at the Anthony House site was preserved and protected with a wrought iron fence, however. The gravesite is of Jacob Van Blaren, a Civil War bugler, who stayed for a time at Anthony House.

The headstone reads: “In memory of Jacob Van Blaren, died Dec. 27, 1868, age 40 years.” The burial site could later be seen at Commodore Park near the lake banks, according to Simmons.

Eventually, the 2,300 acres of Lake Wildwood were developed into lots. Like Lake of the Pines, amenities include a golf course, clubhouse, tennis courts, swimming pool, 88-boat-slip marina, and, of course, the 285-acre man-made lake.

But while some may have moved north to escape urban woes, it’s clear that the ultimate draw for many at Alta Sierra, Lake of the Pines and Lake Wildwood was the recreational lifestyle and rural beauty.

“Lake Wildwood, your dream of a private recreational community come true, is located in the pine-covered foothills of your neighbor, the Sierra Nevada Mountains,” says an early promotional brochure. “Our lovely man-made lake, near the 18-hole golf course, has over seven miles of shoreline, with six sandy beaches.”

For people like Earl Simmons in Lake Wildwood, George Hubert in Alta Sierra and Harriet Rothschild and Barbara Hallock in Lake of the Pines, that was more than enough.

To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email kbrenner@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.


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The Union Updated Jul 29, 2014 11:18AM Published Jul 27, 2014 09:06AM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.