Thunderbird Lodge offers ‘golden’ legacy |

Thunderbird Lodge offers ‘golden’ legacy

At the apex of his career, legendary Tahoe land baron George Whittell owned more than 40,000 acres of land in the basin, including 27 miles of shoreline.

Over the decades, Whittell – the heir of two families who made their fortunes during the California Gold Rush – sold, donated or lost those holdings in bits and pieces, eventually leaving him little more than the Thunderbird Lodge, a few miles south of Sand Harbor.

Not that he had any reason to complain, as anybody who has been to the mansion since it opened to the public five years ago will tell you.

“The Thunderbird Lodge is the legacy of an eccentric man: Here you will see animal cages, tunnels, secret passages, Tudor revival architecture and the best technology money could buy in the 1930s, all in one place,” said Bill Watson, executive director of the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society. “It’s a golden remnant of Tahoe’s gilded age.”

Guided summer tours at the lodge began June 5.

The tour begins in the panoramic Lighthouse Room before proceeding on to the Old Lodge, past the servants’ quarters, through a 600-foot tunnel, into the boathouse of the famous Thunderbird yacht and on to the Card House where Whittell held high-stakes poker games with the likes of fellow eccentric Howard Hughes and baseball legend Ty Cobb.

In addition to the tours, the lodge preservation society will host a new series of luxury dinners this season.

“There are four Winemakers’ Dinner Series events, one each month and on Sundays,” said marketing manager Hannah Zive. “What we do is we bring in a different set of wineries and chefs for each event, and pair the wines with the courses.”

Reservations are $175 per person per event, and tickets to the entire series may be purchased for $600.

Incline nonprofit Red, White and Tahoe Blue will host a dinner at the lodge as part of its three-day Independence Day celebration.

The gourmet dinner will feature music by the Sierra Brass Quintet, as well as astronomical observation led by Space Science For School’s Paul Guttman.

“It’s part of the festival and the profits will be distributed among the organizations benefiting from Red, White and Tahoe,” said Red, White and Tahoe Blue co-organizer Ed Gurowitz.

Tickets are $100 per person and include transportation to and from the event. Anyone interested in purchasing tickets can call Gurowitz at (775) 833-4501.

Tours by land

Tours by shuttle began again June 5. Parking and shuttle pickup for Thunderbird Lodge tours is at the Incline Village/Crystal Bay Visitor’s Center, 969 Tahoe Blvd., Incline Village. Shuttles leave at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. and the tour begins 30 minutes later.

Online booking is available through http://www.activity To make reservations by phone, call the Incline Village/Crystal Bay Visitor’s Center at 1-800-GO-TAHOE 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday; or 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, Sunday and holidays.

Ticket prices include the shuttle ride and tour of the historic site and are $32 per adult and $16 for children ages 6-11. Children under 6 are not permitted.

By water

Guests can travel Tuesday through Saturday from the Tahoe Keys Marina on the South Shore to the Thunderbird Lodge.

For more information and to make tour reservations, call Caravelle/Woodwind Boat Tours at (888) 867-6394 or visit

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