In History: A Great Estate, Lake Tahoe's Vikingsholm
A trip up the West Shore of Lake Tahoe passes several former estates, many now operated by California State Parks. In days gone by, these were the summer homes of some of the wealthiest families in California. Guests would visit for a week, or the entire summer, and enjoyed swimming, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and boating. Each estate was run by a bevy of servants—from cooks and chauffeurs, to maids, laundry women, and groundskeepers.
Vikingsholm, one of these estates, is nestled at the end of Emerald Bay and was the summer home of Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight for 15 years.
Lora was born in Illinois and the daughter of Edward A. Small, a corporate lawyer. Two of his partners, brothers James and William Moore, held controlling interests in several large companies including National Biscuit, Continental Can, Diamond Match, and Union Pacific. The brothers also garnered the interest of Lora and her sister Ada, marrying the young ladies in the 1880s.
Together, Lora and James made many trips—both to California and abroad—and purchased a home in Santa Barbara in 1915. James passed away a year later, and Lora eventually married a stockbroker from St. Louis named Harry French Knight. The Knights were major financial backers of Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight. The marriage, however, ended in divorce a couple years later.
Lora was generous with her wealth, making contributions to youth groups in California and Nevada and providing educational opportunities to students who could not otherwise afford them. She was a major backer of the Christian Science churches in Santa Barbara, Reno, and South Lake Tahoe.
For many years, Lora maintained a summer home at Observation Point on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe (now known as Dollar Point). In 1928, she purchased 239 acres at the head of Emerald Bay from the William Henry Armstrong family for $250,000. The Armstrongs had several cabins on the property that they used as their summer residence. Lora had grander visions for the picturesque bay, however.
Emerald Bay reminded Lora of the Scandinavian fjords, and she envisioned her summer home built in the Nordic style. She commissioned Lennart Palme, her nephew by marriage, to design Vikingsholm. Together they toured Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland to gather architectural ideas from wooden churches, homes, and stone castles.
The foundation for Vikingsholm was laid in the summer of 1928, with construction of the building beginning the following year. Over 200 skilled workmen were brought to Emerald Bay and housed in barracks on the property. Much of the material used in the house was gathered in the Tahoe Basin. Timbers were cut on the property and hand hewn, granite was quarried from behind the home, and metal fixtures, hinges, and latches were hand forged on site.
Details include intricate carvings around the doors and entrances, carvings along roof ridges, and a sod roof. On the interior, delicate paintings adorn the ceilings and walls. What’s more, all of the carefully chosen furnishings complement the Scandinavian theme; many are antiques, others are detailed reproductions of authentic pieces found in museums.
Vikingsholm consists of 39 rooms—including 19 bedrooms—and is comprised of a main house facing the lake and three wings that form a rectangle. The teahouse on Fannette Island was used for afternoon tea during the summer months by Lora and her guests.
Vikingsholm, one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the U.S., is open for tours May through September.
Santa Cruz Sentinel, Volume 94, Number 254, 24 October 1949
Vikingsholm photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Lora Knight photo courtesy of vikingsholm.com