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Style El Dorado County Foothills

Summer Splendor

07/08/2011 10:45AM ● By Style

When Duane Bliss brought his lumbering operations to Tahoe City in 1898, he intended to enter the hotel business. But first he had to build a small railroad to Truckee. After, he purchased a substantial parcel of land. With the formation of his Lake Tahoe Transportation Company, trains soon began carrying passengers from Truckee and across the water aboard Lake Tahoe’s largest steamer, the S.S. Tahoe.

Determined to outdo his flamboyant competitor, Lucky Baldwin, Bliss proceeded to build a hotel “designed to be the show piece of Lake Tahoe.” The opening of his lavish Tahoe Tavern in 1901 now offered tourists a complete vacation package including railroad, hotel and steamer.

Like Baldwin’s Tallac House, the Tahoe Tavern attracted mainly wealthy visitors. The three-story building featured gabled dormer windows that “brought the outdoors into every room.” In addition to the usual luxuries of fine dining, Bliss’s staff organized picnics, festivals, horse races, and steamboat excursions around the lake.

While the rich and famous patronized the opulent Tallac House, Tahoe Tavern, Glenbrook House and other immoderate “wilderness retreats,” the coming of the automobile and improved roads brought a different sort of tourist to the area. Resort style had already begun to change in the 1890s when some astute operators saw the value of offering lower-priced rooms, cabins and campgrounds to a wider clientele. Camp Richardson, just southeast of Baldwin’s Tallac House, became one of the most successful of these so-called “new-style resorts.” Years before, however, John McKinney had run an outdoorsman’s retreat near Sugar Pine Point. McKinney’s Hunter’s House, was, according to the editor of the Tahoe Tattler, “truly the gamester’s paradise.”

By 1890, McKinney’s had become a favorite of families vacationing by the lake. The resort provided cabins and tents, a modest hotel, guided pack trains, swimming and fishing instruction, a dance pavilion, and an over-the-water bar. A 1920 advertising brochure described it as “an old-fashioned mountain inn, but not a dressy place.” Camp Richardson also gained popularity catering to families and middle-class working people. The beachside resort promoted “healthy living” to “anyone wishing to experience the wilderness,” emphasizing its familial atmosphere.

Resort owner Al Sprague combined modest luxury and simplicity to create another of the lake’s family vacation spots. In 1907, he built the Al Tahoe Inn, a three-story hotel with cottages and cabins scattered amongst the trees. Easy pathways led to the beach and the quarter-mile fishing pier where the steamers docked. A large dance pavilion, built in 1911, played host to summer evening dances and concerts. In 1916, electricity came to the Al Tahoe and a phone line connected it with Gardnerville, Nevada.

When Frank “Hemo” Globin bought the place in 1924, the name was so closely identified with the business that he called the resort “Globin’s Al Tahoe.” According to Lyndall Landauer, author of The Mountain Sea: A History of Lake Tahoe, Globin customarily opened his hotel each year on the last day of May, provided Echo Summit had been cleared of snow. “If it had not, he and residents of the town took shovels and snow plows and opened it themselves.”

When the trend turned toward year-round tourism at Lake Tahoe, many resort owners fell victim to the unsolved problems of upgrading their establishments to meet the new demands of an ever-changing clientele. The early 1960s saw a number of “farewell parties” given for old resorts like the Tahoe Tavern and Glenbrook House to make way for new condominiums and modern hotels. In 1965, following a nostalgic auction sale, wrecking crews began dismantling the Al Tahoe. Some resorts became private residences. The Tallac House, now under the management of the U.S. Forest Services, has been preserved as a historic site.

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