Eccentric millionaires and their Tahoe estates

Turrets & stonework

There is a lot of quirky history to be found here.  Whether it’s the eccentric millionaire who built an enormous stone lodge on the east shores of Lake Tahoe, or the millionaire who built an enormous summer home on the west shore of Lake Tahoe, there are as many interesting stories as there are old mansions.

Perhaps the most visible out of all of these is Vikingsholm, located at the base of Eagle Falls in Emerald Bay.   Built by a possibly eccentric millionairess, this estate is popular by dint of its scenic locale.  Lora M. Knight wanted to recreate a traditional Scandinavian home at Lake Tahoe, and spared no expense in doing so.  Built in 1928 or so, it’s a unique looking mansion with an equally unique story behind it (and the crumbling teahouse on nearby Fannette Island).

I’ve walked around the outside, but despite a regular summer schedule of tours offered by the California State Parks, I’ve never been inside.  Until last month, when Vikingsholm offered an evening of living history with one of its volunteers, Dr. Helen Smith, a woman who spent her childhood summers at the estate (and who also happened to be one of the first women to work for the California state parks back in the day).  A few friends of mine agreed to come (and drive – thanks C!), and not only did we get an ‘insiders’ tour, replete with special rooms that aren’t included on the ‘regular’ tour (which I’m not allowed to talk about here), but we got to hear Smith talk about what summers were like at Vikingsholm. Perhaps best of all, we got drive to and from the mansion on a special one-lane road with amazing views of Emerald Bay that’s closed to the public.  Oh, and there was wine and cheese in the courtyard of the estate afterwards, with the backdrop of Maggie’s and Jake’s behind us.

I have to say, it was a pretty painless way to learn something more about local history. And help a local icon that could always use more support.  As part of a California State Park, Vikingsholm’s future isn’t as secure as once thought, thanks to the California state budget issues.

Living history at Vikingsholm

If you’re interested in learning what summers on Lake Tahoe were like back in the 1930s and 40s, and maybe help a local state park cover its maintenance costs, you’re in luck, as there are two more of these evenings left this summer – one on July 28th and the other on August 4th.

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