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Tahoe remembers its past

Can contemporary business maintain a place for the past?

That’s the question the Heritage Mural Project committee in South Lake Tahoe ponders as the region makes room for progress and redevelopment plans.

Yes, Meeks Lumber Owner Bill Meek said Wednesday of the group’s plans to place its 10th historical mural on one of its walls at the new Meyers store.



The panel, consisting of local historians and chamber representatives, had received agreement from former Supply One, but the home improvement center filed for bankruptcy for all nine stores before the project raised the necessary funds.

The committee has gathered $2,000 of the $10,000 needed to pay for the large painting of the Celio family cattle drive due for completion next year.



The latest nod of approval from Meeks follows another milestone for mural advocates during a dedication at the El Dorado County building off U.S. Highway 50. The ceremony two weeks ago brought out 30 people.

In eight days, artist Don Gray of Murrieta completed the mural that portrays life in the 1920s. A woman is standing at the shoreline waving to the S.S. Tahoe, which lies 350 feet down in Glenbrook Bay.

The committee, aiming for a goal of 20 murals, would also like to establish murals on the Transit Center at the “Y” and on the new Safeway store in Bijou.

Assistant Manager Tom Nobriga said the store’s district manager is interested but needs a letter of intent to pitch the idea to the corporate office.

“Dozens of people ask about that wall,” said Duane Wallace, committee member and executive director of the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce. “We need to raise money for both (the Meeks and Safeway walls).”

How do you know where the best locations are?

“We know it when we see it. There are only so many good walls,” Wallace said.

As a collective tour, the murals represent a pet project of Wallace’s. He’s long maintained that if a city the size of Chemainus, British Columbia can have 32 murals which contribute $25 million in tourist business, then the South Lake Tahoe area could score at least 10 to 20 percent of those kind of tourism dollars with a small investment.

“Cultural tourism is huge in the United States,” he said.

Other cities in California such as Eureka and Arcata have tried to measure the impact of their public art and mural programs. They have estimated an impact of at least $5 million.

Hoping for similar success, the chamber had 2,500 brochures printed of the tour. Only 50 are left.

As this local committee adds murals, one on the route may be taken away.

The one dividing Chateau Suites and the Ducks on the Lake carwash has received no commitment from Southland Corporation, Chateau’s prospective new owners that operate 7-Eleven Food Stores. The hotel is still in Escrow awaiting Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and city approvals, Real Estate Manager Tom Greenland said.

Southland wants to knock down its franchise store next door to build a larger convenience store and filling station on the 44,000-square-foot lot. The wall may be in the way, but Greenland is unsure what will happen.

“I think it has to go, but it doesn’t mean it can’t move,” he said.

“I understand as a business owner why it may need to go. But perhaps, if they indeed need to take it down, (that) because it’s a piece of public art, I think they’d pay to put it somewhere else,” mural committee member Greta Hambsh said.

There’s one hook. One of the mural prerequisites requires the rendering be located where the time and place in history occurred.

Another involves the historical integrity of the art – an often-times compelling story of our past in South Lake Tahoe.

You know about Al Tahoe?

The two-year-old mural painted by Alan Wylie and Mike Svob on the Tahoe Daily Tribune building at U.S. Highway 50 and San Francisco Avenue shares Al Sprague’s vision of a one-of-a-kind hotel in the 1860s. Sprague insisted on Tahoe in the name.

“One of the reasons he put the Tahoe name on the hotel is because he was the postmaster, and if he made it the name of the post office, then people would remember the name of the resort. And you could see they did,” South Lake Tahoe historian Lyn Landauer said, pointing to the people gathered on the lawn in the mural.

Its heyday came to a close in 1959 when the three-story building burned down. Even then, there were energy quandaries.

“And in the ’60s and ’70s, you simply couldn’t afford to run them or redo them,” Landauer said.

“The interesting thing about these murals is many are (made) from photos. When artists look at the pictures, they’re black and white. So often, the colors are their vision,” she said. An eight-member committee hunts for the photographs and often makes a party out of it.

“Of course, we all look at the pictures and forget what we’re looking for,” she said.

The early explorers to the Tahoe area didn’t have it so easy, Landauer pointed out.

The area’s first mural painted three years ago by Peter Darvas on the Lake Tahoe Historical Society building on U.S. Highway 50 showed cartographer Charles Preuss and U.S. Army Capt. John Fremont on top of Red Lake Peak off Carson Pass, a high vantage point.

Preuss, shown pointing at Lake Tahoe, drew a map after climbing the peak. These days, climbers take a map to navigate the peaks.

“This was absolutely pristine territory to them,” Landauer said.

Other murals include:

nAn unknown artist painted the forest scene in the Nephele’s Center Courtyard off Ski Run Boulevard.

-The El Dorado Tile Mural at Lakeview Avenue and U.S. Highway 50 is inspired as a community project that enlisted the help of many local children and artist Julie LaCroix. One tile represents a memorial to late city parks commissioner Patrick Bennet, and another marks the 1997 presidential Lake Tahoe Summit.

-Susan Tooke portrayed hikers taking a break in 1900 in the Tallac Professional Building mural on Lake Tahoe Boulevard.

-The South Tahoe Refuse Co. released a wall to artist Jack Malotte on Eloise Avenue that depicts Washoe Tribal life, the earliest summer inhabitants of the Tahoe area.

-In the U.S. Forest Service Stream Profile Chamber off Highway 89, a wall-to-wall mural painted by Mark Coe three years ago highlights four-season life in Taylor Creek.

-Artist Mike Svob gives passersby a glimpse of the Sierra House, the first major way station on Pioneer Trail. It’s located at Chateau Suites on U.S. Highway 50.


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