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Record real estate deal by South Shore Realtor

Sally J. Taylor

An already prestigious South Shore real estate firm has taken a step up in the world by arranging a record residential property sale.

Escrow closed Monday on the historic Thunderbird Lodge estate south of Sand Harbor, previously owned by mutual fund tycoon Jack J. Dreyfus, Jr., for $50 million, the highest price ever paid for a residential property in the United States. It surpassed the 1990 record sale of the J.L. Warner estate in Beverly Hills, Calif., for $47.5 million.

Shari Chase of Chase International Distinctive Properties handled the complex sale on behalf of Dreyfus, which will ultimately transfer the lodge and 140 acres, including about a mile of Lake Tahoe shoreline, into the hands of the United States Forest Service.



The USFS already owns much of the original 14,623 acres purchased by real estate mogul George Whittell in 1938.

The transaction has “commanded worldwide attention,” Chase said between phone calls from international media and new clients who heard about her firm from news coverage.



“It’s exciting, very exciting. This was a great accomplishment. (The sale) was extremely complicated with a diverse array of personalities involved.”

Although title on the property south of Sand Harbor was temporarily delivered to the Del Webb Corporation, the transaction has not concluded.

With the American Land Conservancy serving as intermediary, the estate will ultimately land in the hands of the USFS in exchange for land held by the Bureau of Land Management in the Las Vegas area.

The goal of Del Webb, developer of casinos and retirement communities such as Sun City, is to build in Las Vegas a 5,000-acre, master planned community with housing and a country club.

Once the estate is in the hands of the Forest Service, the buildings on the property could be used by the University of Nevada, Reno for a conference center and research station, pending approval by the university board of regents.

“The University of Nevada looks forward to working closely with the U.S. Forest Service on the management of the magnificent Whittell Mansion property and to providing public access to this beautiful and historic site,” said Joe Crowley, UNR president.

Had the conservancy deal fallen through, two other offers were waiting in the wings, Chase said.

Although a record, the $50 million paid for the estate was below what the current market would bear, she said.

Dreyfus, 84, sold the property to fund the Dreyfus Medical Foundation.

“It was exciting to work with a person like that,” Chase said of the philanthropist.

Chase, a certified international property specialist and an established real estate representative in exclusive Lake Tahoe properties, was contracted to market the property by Dreyfus in 1994.

On the original holding, Whittell constructed a summer mansion reminiscent of a medieval French chateau with granite blocks, leaded windows and gables decorated with hand-wrought iron thunderbirds on a wooded, rocky promontory just south of Sand Harbor.

It took 70 stonemasons more than three years to complete the estate with its main buildings, three guest chalets and a caretaker’s house.

During its heyday, Whittell’s guests at the estate included Howard Hughes and the Shah of Iran.

In the early 1970s, Dreyfus purchased Whittell’s Castle and the adjoining 10,200 acres of prime Lake Tahoe shoreline. He restored the historic lodge in 1985 and added an entertainment wing in the old lighthouse.

Much of the original land acreage had been purchased by the USFS before Dreyfus contacted Chase to sell the remaining 140 acres.


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