Those who believe they recognize a certain kinship of spirits between the Tahoe Tavern and the Ehrman mansion are witnessing two instances of the same genius. By 1901, when the Tahoe Tavern opened for business, Issaias Hellman, a wealthy San Francisco capitalist, had acquired title to over 1,000 acres of land surrounding the mouth of General Creek (named for the former resident, General William Phipps. Hellman admired the magnificent hostelry, and retained its architect, William Danforth Bliss, to design his new residence.
Before the construction could begin, huge quantities of topsoil were hauled in by wagon to stabilize the sandy hillside chosen as the site for the main house. Granite brought in from nearby Meeks Bay formed the foundation for the residence, and native timbers became the massive roof supports for its lakeside entry. All other construction materials which could not be gathered in the immediate vicinity had to be delivered by steamer, as nothing more than a cowpath existed between Sugar Pine Point and Tahoe City at that time.
The development of the state was prior to the days of local water companies, and so the estate had to be self-sufficient in this regard. A ditch and flume system which ran from General Creek supplied water to the storage tower located near the main house, and from there the water was dispersed to the individual buildings.
Another necessity, in view of the estate's isolation, was that it be capable of generating some of its own food, and to that end, the compound had its own dairy and vegetable garden.
The main building was only one of the many structures which dotted the grounds. During the family's annual two-month stay, they were attended by a virtual army of over 30 servants, including caretakers, chauffeurs, maids, cooks, laundry workers, groundskeepers, gardeners, tailors and boatman. Housing for these employees alone accounted for at least half a dozen buildings on the property.
The family's two boathouses attest to their enthusiasmfor marine activities. Among their mahogany-planked water toys were Ester's Belle Isle speedboat and the 26 foot bronze-trimmed CHEROKEE. Charles Ehrman's plaything, the JACQUELINE, was raced during the summer season of 1937, taking first place in the 200+ horsepower event in the Tavern Regatta that season.
All this came to an end in 1965, however, when the State of California purchased the 1,989 acre property for use as a State Park. During the summer months, tours of the Mansion and grounds are conducted several times daily. Though the mansion is presently closed for the winter season, visitors can get a feel for the enormity and beauty of the family's estate by taking one of the four cross-country ski trails laid out on the grounds. Whatever the season of your visit, a glimpse into the magnificence of the past is well worth the trip.
Story by Carol Van Etten.
Photos by Dick Singer
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