Thunderbird Lodge kicks off summer season |

Thunderbird Lodge kicks off summer season

Adam Jensen

One of Lake Tahoe’s most iconic estates, the Thunderbird Lodge, starts summer off early this week, kicking off public tours ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.

The Thunderbird Lodge was built in the 1930s by George Whittell Jr. and represents some of the best craftsmanship in stone, iron and wood of the era.

“Two of the most stunning pieces of Lake Tahoe’s history are Thunderbird Lodge and Thunderbird Yacht,” according to the Thunderbird’s website. “The eccentric San Francisco real estate magnate, George Whittell, Jr., built the magnificent Tudor Revival summer estate between 1936 and 1939 and commissioned the Yacht in 1939. Located on Nevada’s eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, the historic site consists of a main lodge surrounded by three cottages, a card house, a boathouse, an elephant house, a lighthouse, three garages, and a gatehouse all nestled in a high desert pine forest.”

New to the National Historic Site this year are recently restored waterfalls. The half-acre man-made falls were originally built in the late 1930s and restored with help of the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society, said Barbi Mooberry, marketing and administrative manager at the lodge.

“Originally, Marlette Creek water was diverted through the property, cascaded into the water feature, then into moats surrounding the house, filled pools in what is now the lakeside lawn, and tumbled through a series of weirs into Lake Tahoe,” according to the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society’s winter newsletter. “In addition to the visual effect, this flow supplied irrigation for the ground, domestic drinking water, and electricity via a penstock to a turbine plant generating hydroelectric power.”

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In addition to exploring the grounds of the Thunderbird Lodge and viewing the Thunderbird Yacht during tours, guests will also hear a little bit about Whittell Jr., Mooberry said. The stories about Whittell are as varied as they are colorful.

“Numerous legends surround Whittell’s activities at his Lake Tahoe estate, including colorful parties and high-stakes gambling in the card house,” according to the site. “The eccentric Whittell collected a veritable zoo of wild animals that made guest appearances at the Thunderbird Lodge each summer. Whittell’s interest in new technology such as automobiles and airplanes catered to his desire for high speed and risk taking.”

Thunderbird tours:

Public tours by land are offered May 20 through Oct. 18. The tours are $39 for adults and $19 for children ages 6-12. Tours start from the Incline Village Visitor Center at 969 Tahoe Blvd. For more information visit

Friday Wine & Cheese Tours are also available for $100 per person. The tours take place at 2:30 p.m. every Friday in July and August.

A variety of options are also available to reach the Thunderbird by water.

From South Shore: 775-230-8907 or

• One tour per day, Tuesday through Saturday, May through October

• 10 a.m. departure from Zephyr Cove at South Shore

From North Shore: 775-831-4386 or

• One tour per day; Thursday, Friday and Saturday; June through October

• 9 a.m. departure from Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino in Incline Village

Kayak tours: 530-913-9212 or 866-830-6125 or

• Tuesday paddle tours from Sand Harbor.

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