Future of Whittell Estate in limbo
Nevada’s congressional delegation has reaffirmed its support for the public acquisition of the historic Whittell Estate on Lake Tahoe’s East Shore, despite the expiration of an option to buy the property.
Last week, Nevada’s four representatives – Senators Harry Reid and Richard Bryan and Congressmen Jim Gibbons and John Ensign – met to discuss alternative strategies for purchasing the historic property, which is currently owned by mutual fund executive Jack Dreyfus.
“We’re exploring all avenues,” said Reid spokeswoman Susan McCue. The delegation agreed to explore adding the property to this session’s public lands bill, and to approach the Interior Department for its assistance, she said.
But Dreyfus must decide whether he’s willing to extend an option on the property for a third time. The American Land Conservancy bought the option more than a year ago, and Dreyfus extended it twice after it expired.
A representative of Dreyfus did not return the Tribune’s phone calls.
If the Nevada legislators succeed in the plan to purchase the estate, the University of Nevada has expressed interest in establishing a research center on the grounds.
Joe Crowley, the president of the University of Nevada, Reno, said the university is willing to pay $3.5 million to acquire the estate’s 10 buildings, including Thunderbird Lodge, if other public entities can buy the land.
“We think conference facilities and a research center would be a wise and appropriate use of the buildings,” Crowley said. “Also, we feel there is a strong potential for educational programs, especially for public schools.”
The university’s activities would allow some public access to the estate, he added.
Crowley explained that the university’s environmental resources department already conducts a significant amount of research at Lake Tahoe. If the center becomes a reality, Crowley said the university would invite U.C. Davis’ Tahoe Research Group to share the facility.
“The combined research presence of the two groups would be a real boon for the area, he said.
Dreyfus bought the property in the early 1970s from the estate of George Whittell, the eccentric San Francisco banking scion who bought up more than 35,000 acres of Lake Tahoe’s East Shore in the 1930s. Whittell employed an army of stonemasons to build Thunderbird Lodge in the design of a French chateau, a cluster of other buildings, a boathouse, and a 500-foot tunnel that connects Thunderbird Lodge with the boathouse.
Dreyfus added a modern addition to the lodge after purchasing the estate, and sold most of the 12,000-acre estate to the Nevada State Park system, retaining 143 acres and nearly a mile of shoreline.
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