How El Dorado County was almost a Summer Destination for the Wealthy
● Published by Jerrie Beard
photo courtesy of sierranevadaadventures.com
Envisioning El Dorado County as a summer destination for America’s wealthy in the 1920s, A.T.P. Elder built a luxury hunting resort on the Georgetown Divide deep in what he termed the “forest primeval.”
Elder was a businessman from the East Coast whose successful ventures included a thriving Boston newspaper and the completion of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco. With a fat bank account and a dream of developing a sportsman’s paradise, he purchased 350 acres northeast of Mosquito where he placed the Michigan Hunting Lodge, renaming it Deer View. The building was originally a display at the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. After purchasing it, Elder had it dismantled, shipped by mule train to his property, and reassembled.
He and his wife Emma entertained wealthy friends from the East Coast and Southern California at Deer View each summer. The lodge had indoor plumbing, and electricity generated from the flow of two springs. It boasted a dining room, large central gathering room with a double fireplace and nine bedrooms.
In 1921, Elder traveled to San Francisco to confer with an architect to build a much grander hostelry next to Deer View—the Hotel Bret Harte. The four-story, 250-room property was designed to rival the best hotels in San Francisco. It had electricity, hot and cold running water, and most rooms featured a private bath—a luxury at that time; it also included a dining room, grand ballroom, large kitchen, wine and root cellars and a veranda that ran the length of the building.
Estimates are that Elder spent $250,000 (over $3 million today) on the construction of the hotel. The building included an estimated 10,000 tons of material, including five million board feet of lumber.
The site was to include orchards, gardens, pastures for livestock, trout ponds, and cement outdoor swimming pools. For entertainment, trained guides would assist in deer, bear or mountain lion hunting and trout fishing. The hotel was also promoted as a healing destination, providing the healthy spring water and fresh mountain air.
Elder repeatedly petitioned the residents of Placerville to support his venture by replacing Mosquito Bridge and improving the road from Placerville to the hotel, considering it took four to five hours to travel by auto from Placerville to the lodge over the existing muddy and rutted road.
He was confident of the positive economic impact the hotel would have on Placerville, saying that, when built, his lodge would “…cause 20 dollars to circulate among the merchants and the entire people to one dollar circulating now.”
To finance his dream, Elder devised a plan to sell memberships to the hotel. According to Bob Bergantz, who worked on the property, Elder planned to pack the hotel during its grand opening and sell memberships to 500 of his friends and acquaintances to demonstrate the viability of the venture. He then planned to sell it to investors from Los Angeles. His untimely death in May 1924, prior to the hotel’s completion, put an end to the scheme.
Elder’s wife and children had no interest in completing the project. Furnishings and fixtures were sold, many finding their way into the homes of local residents, and the structure was left to ruin. In the winter of 1937, the roof collapsed. Michigan-Cal Lumber Co. acquired the property in 1941, and the building was razed. Today, only the stone foundations remain.