Dreyfus mansion offers view of how select few live
Imagine you are so rich that you can afford not one, but two mansions on the Lake Tahoe shore. Now, imagine you are so wealthy, two weeks vacationing at the lake each year in just one of the houses is enough before you are off to other pursuits.
That pretty much sums up the wear and tear on the Dreyfus mansion at Zephyr Cove, a 10,000-square-foot residence once owned by New York financial tycoon Jack Dreyfus.
The $3 million house, which hugs the Lake Tahoe shoreline, is now owned by the Minden-based Park Cattle Co. The 15-year-old mansion faces an uncertain future, clouded by talk that the U.S. Forest Service might order the structure demolished in order to grant more public access to the property on which the house sits.
“This situation is just a total befuddlement,” said caretaker Frank Warner. “If you ask me, the Forest Service has the opportunity to create a totally unique complex at no cost to themselves. Instead of creating something special, they are causing a path of destruction. It’s a lose-lose situation – to the Park family, to ourselves and to the taxpayers.”
For a man he never met, Warner knows multi-millionaire Dreyfus well.
“I made it a point to study him. When someone entrusts you to make those kinds of decisions, it’s important to be able to act like you think they would,” Warner said.
Dreyfus is now in his mid-80s, concentrating his wealth and power in the medical field. He lives in New York City.
n Sight unseen
The story goes that Dreyfus bought 10,000 acres of Tahoe real estate in two counties – including 13 miles of shoreline – sight unseen. He was contacted by a Reno attorney, whom he had never met, as the old Whittell estate was being divided up in the late 1960s. He bought the property for $12 million, but has since divested himself of it.
At the time of the purchase, the Whittell estate included the Thunderbird Lodge, a medieval-style mansion in Incline Village, in Washoe County. The two often are confused, but the Dreyfus mansion wasn’t built until 1984.
“He was very private,” Warner said. “When he had guests, they stayed at the Thunderbird Lodge (in Incline) and he and Joan stayed here.”
For about 10 years, Dreyfus vacationed at the Zephyr Cove house for two weeks every summer and that was the only time he spent in the nine-bedroom mansion. He never felt comfortable about staying at the older Thunderbird Lodge in Incline, Warner said.
The Dreyfus mansion was designed by Joan Personette, Dreyfus’ ex-wife. They were married briefly, but maintained a long and warm friendship until her death a few years ago. Personette was a dress designer and a set designer at New York’s Roxy Theater. Framed copies of her costume designs once hung along the walls at the Dreyfus mansion.
n Eye for detail
The mansion reflects Personette’s exquisite taste and artist’s eye for detail. The main rooms are open and airy, taking advantage of the spectacular view of Lake Tahoe. Colors are subtle, the floors are oak and some walls are paneled in Douglas fir. A huge painting that once hung over Dreyfus’ desk in New York dominates the 25-foot high entryway.
Each of the nine bedrooms has its own bath. The master suite has two bathrooms and a sauna. The house also includes a game room, library, dining room, kitchen and laundry facilities.
Warner has been caretaker at the Dreyfus estate for seven years. He and his wife Betty stayed on after the property was acquired by the Olympic Group, an Arizona-based group of investors who sold the residence to Park Cattle Co.
The Warners are responsible for the upkeep of the mansion and the the two acres surrounding the house.
Warner estimates the house needs about $100,000 worth of what he calls “deferred maintenance.” That includes $30,000 to $35,000 for painting the mansion, replacing some of the windows and repairing the roof.
But Warner can’t proceed on the repairs without a special use permit from the Forest Service.
Douglas County commissioners have enlisted the help of Nevada’s congressional delegation in getting the Dreyfus estate issue resolved.
Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., said he and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., would send a letter to the Forest Service requesting the agency to stop any plans to tear down the mansion, which Park Cattle Co. would like to convert into a convention center.
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