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Century-old Steinway donated to Boathouse

A 100-year-old Steinway piano will become the possession of the Valhalla Boathouse Theater on July 25.

After more than 10 years in storage, the piano has been donated to the Tahoe Tallac Association.

“Right now it’s being completely renovated and restored,” said Carol Spain, executive director of the Tahoe Tallac Association.



“Structurally, it’s beautiful but it needs to be redone. The keys are in perfect condition and the exterior looks great. It’s all of the innards that have to be worked on.”

Barbara Lespade and Karen Knisely, members of the Richardson family, of Camp Richardson, contacted Spain three years ago about donating the piano.




“It was one of their possessions. It used to be in the Richardson’s home,” Spain said. “They felt it belonged in the boathouse.”

Lucky Baldwin purchased the piano for the Baldwin Theater in San Francisco, Spain said.

The Richardson family bought the piano from the Baldwin Estate and put it in their hotel.

“It’s said that it was purchased for Cora Richardson,” Spain said. “It was put in the hotel and was there for years. It ended up in storage after Camp Richardson was sold.”

Lespade told a similar story.

“The piano was given to me when the resort was sold and up until that time it had been in the lobby of the resort hotel,” Lespade said. “When I got it , it was put in my grandmother’s (Cora Richardson’s) home at Lake Tahoe. That was probably around 1967. It has been stored since 1988. It was in her home for 20 years, but when we lost the home to the Forest Service we stored everything.”

If that piano could talk, it would probably have quite a few stories of its own to tell.

“It’s had an interesting life,” Lespade said. “I can tell you what I’ve been told…

“It can be placed about 1900. That’s when it must have been built. It had to come from back East and it came, I’m presuming, around the Horn and into San Francisco. My dad told me these things, so I assume they’re true.

“It was in the Baldwin Theater in San Francisco. Then it went from there when the Baldwin Theater closed, to Tallac Hotel at Lake Tahoe. That was probably around 1920. Tallac Hotel closed down sometime in the ’40s, I think.

“At that time my dad was the executor for the Baldwin Estate and married to my mother who was a Richardson. He went to my grandfather, Al Richardson, and asked if he wanted the piano. So it moved from Tallac Hotel to Camp Richardson’s Hotel. It was there until 1967.”

The piano was a big hit at the Resort Hotel and people from all over the world sat down to indulge.

“At one time there was a very famous Russian pianist that came to the lake and played that piano,” Lespade said. “He told my grandfather that it had a very, very good tone and that if anything ever happened at the hotel, he should save that piano at any cost. He said, ‘Cut the legs off and throw it out if you have to.’ He said the piano was definitely worth preserving.”

Spain said she is excited to have such a special piano for the boathouse.

“When I met with Barbara Lespade and Karen Knisely, they were just great,” Spain said. “They felt the piano belonged in the Valhalla Boathouse Theater. From the association’s point of view, I am thrilled to death. We’ve had the strangest odyssey in terms of trying to get a piano for the Boathouse performances. We’ve never had one of our own and now we’re going to have the most wonderful piano.”

While the piano is on its way to recovery, there is still much work to be done on it.

“We’re on the last lap of fund-raising,” Spain said. “Steinways are just marvelous pianos and when it’s fully restored it will have a value close to $40,000. It’s going to be a gem of an instrument.”

Lespade said she’s glad she chose to return the piano to its former location.

“It was my choice to donate it to the boathouse,” Lespade said. “I didn’t have enough room in my home so that’s where it came from and that’s where it belongs. And anyone who really knows music will appreciate it. Anyone who has ever played it has said that.”


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