History comes back to life at Pine Lodge

August 8, 2008 7:58:24 PM PDT
We think of Lake Tahoe now as a tourist mecca, packed with vacationers. But in the early 1900s, Tahoe was a very different place. It was home mostly to rugged outdoorsmen and a small group of millionaires from the Bay Area. Once a year, a dedicated group of volunteers brings those old days back to life.

Pine Lodge on the west side of Lake Tahoe is a world class residence with a world class view. It was built in 1903 by Isaias Hellman, a San Francisco financier.

"He was really important in the development of California, bringing it from a frontier economy into one we know today with trolleys and railroad lines and water companies," said Frances Dinkelspiel, Hellman's great-great-granddaughter.

Pine Lodge helped usher in the guilded age of Lake Tahoe when some of the Bay Area's wealthiest families spent their summers there. In 1965, the family sold the property to the state of California and it is now Sugar Pine Point State Park.

The once private beach is public and the house has become a museum. It is open for tours all summer, and once a year volunteers put on "Living History Day," recreating life in 1935. By then, Isaias Hellman had died. The house belonged to his daughter, Florence Ehrman, who entertained in grand style.

The original dining table could stretch to 30 feet. It could seat 30 guests who were all dressed in their very best attire for formal dinners.

The house had an elaborate kitchen for the time, but didn't get a refrigerator until the 40s. There are eight bedrooms. When visitors arrived, the maids would show them to their quarters.

During the summer, the family would have eight to 12 guests at a time.

They had two boats, the Mercury and the Cherokee, and many times the family would go skiing on the back of them.

Volunteers come from all over Northern California. Gay Thomas even brought her grandmother's tea cup with her for a "little bit of authenticity" she said.

"When you go through the mansion and see everybody in costume, it's very exciting," said Wendy Jordan, a volunteer from Piedmont.

Ken Corcoran was Contra Costa County's auditor controller until he retired. He now plays the Pine Lodge caretaker.

Down at the waterfront, a mountain man demonstrates what life was like for some of the less elite residents.

Inside a cabin, a volunteer plays the part of General William Phipps, one of the first-known permanent residents of Lake Tahoe. Phipps was actually dead by the time Pine Lodge was built, but his house is still standing on the property.

Rosie Smith is the volunteer coordinator for Living History Day. She organized more than 120 people to pull it off. She's still not sure how many hours she put in herself.

"I haven't counted them up yet. Last year I put in 500 hours over a three-month period of time," said Smith.

Why do all these people do it?

As one of the volunteers put it, "It's just the charm of Tahoe. It's hard to explain, but you just kind of get attached to it."

ABC7 salutes the volunteers of Pine Lodge. Next year is the 25th anniversary of Living History Day and they're planning a fantastic event. For more information on that event, visit laketahoelivinghistory.com. For general information on visiting Sugar Pine Point State Park where the lodge is located, click here.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.


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