UNR steps down from Tahoe estate society board
RENO (AP) The University of Nevada, Reno has stepped down from the board of the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society, a non-profit group it helped establish to acquire the historic lodge on the east shores of Lake Tahoe.
In a statement issued Tuesday, UNR President John Lilley said he’s proud of the role the university and Desert Research Institute played in helping to keep the lodge on the sprawling Whittell Estate in public hands.
But he said a “newly constituted board will be able to move forward with a strengthened mission.
“Del Webb Corp. purchased the 140-acre Whittell Estate in 1999. Del Webb then traded the property to the U.S. Forest Service in exchange for 2,500 acres of federal land in Las Vegas area for development.
But the Forest Service didn’t want the lodge.
The Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society, a nonprofit group controlled by UNR, was formed to acquire the lodge and other improvements on six acres of the estate from Del Webb at a cost of $9.8 million.
Officials said the university will continue to have access to the lodge for conferences, fund-raising events and research projects.
Phil Caterino, preservation society executive director, said the group’s most immediate goal is to finalize payment for ownership of the lodge.
Long-term efforts will focus on plans for tours, teleconferencing events and establishing endowment funds.
The estate was built by one-time San Francisco land baron George Whittell between 1938 and 1941.
Whittell, who died in the late 1960s, liked to host all-night card parties in a guest chalet and reportedly lost $100,000 in a single evening.
He also kept wild animals, including lions, tigers and a baby elephant, at the estate, and installed an elaborate security system of searchlights and loudspeakers to keep strangers off the forested property and its beaches.
After Whittell’s death, the property was purchased in 1972 by mutual fund executive Jack Dreyfus. Del Webb paid Dreyfus, through the American Land Conservancy, $40 million for the property.