Mural makes demolition of hotel tricky |

Mural makes demolition of hotel tricky

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune
Dan Thrift/Tahoe TribuneMike Svob painted this Sierra House scene in 1998.

Demolition of the Chateau Spa & Suites Inn at 2608 U.S. Highway 50 is on hold until the new owner decides what to do with a $10,000 mural at the edge of the property.

Steve Leman purchased the half-acre parcel several weeks ago after it listed for $300,000. He plans to clean the property up but is still trying to figure out how he’s going to do it. The project has gotten more complicated because of the mural.

“I don’t want to be a trasher of the mural … but how can we keep the mural standing and not have it be an eyesore on the backside?” Leman said. “I want to find a way to do it gracefully.”

The mural, which depicts Sierra House, a way station for travelers and the pony express once located near the Sierra House school on Remington Trail, was painted in 1998 by Mike Svob, a Canadian artist.

“Our first preference is to save the mural,” said Phylise Walker, a committee member of Heritage Murals of Lake Tahoe. “(Leman) really likes the mural. He came to our meeting and we had a long chat. He said he would investigate and talk to engineers to see if retaining walls will hold it up.”

Walker said Heritage Murals had at least a 12-year mural contract with the former owner of the property to keep the art intact. That contract is now Leman’s responsibility, she said. Walker said the mural is also protected because it is considered public art by the state of California.

Other than tearing down the Chateau and leaving the mural standing with the support of retaining walls, Leman could also pay for one to be painted somewhere else, Walker said.

A grant from the Nevada Arts Council and private contributions covered the cost the mural. It is one of nine in South Lake Tahoe, Walker said.

The fact that the property is within the city’s airport overlay plan has also caused Leman to pause and weigh his options. The overlay plan only allows the construction of a church or office space for companies in real estate, finance or contract service.

Leman said he bought the property with an intent to transfer 2,500 square feet of the parcel’s 6,500 to 7,000 square feet of commercial building rights to other properties he owns in the city. One parcel is a half-acre near Barton Memorial Hospital where he wants to construct a medical office building. The other property is a 4.8-acre piece of land on D Street that he co-owns with Karl Buchholz.

“If the building needs to stay up, it may become employee housing for ski resorts,” Leman said. “I think it’s good to be patient. Things in Tahoe move a little bit deliberately Ñ there are a lot of agencies.”

Workers hired by Leman have already done some snow removal and clean up on the property. Most of the old motel rooms had been trashed and vandalized by the time Leman bought the property. Some of its furniture was salvaged and donated to charity.

The Chateau property began a downturn in October 2000 when a hot tub caught fire behind a section of the motel. It ignited a tree nestled against the motel’s attic. Owner Scott MacDonald put the property on the market the next month.

By the end of February, MacDonald had filed for bankruptcy and been convicted of tax evasion and money laundering. His arrest was part of an FBI sting called “Operation Clean Sheets.”

The sting led to the conviction of two other South Lake Tahoe men, Pembroke Gochnauer and Mark Patel, for tax evasion. Patel, Gochnauer and MacDonald all conspired to conceal almost $700,000 in cash from the sale of a motel in September 1999.

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