Vikingsholm historic tours return to Emerald Bay
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif — Nestled among the pinecone curtains of Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay is Vikingsholm, a castle full of history, natural beauty, and what many consider to be the greatest display of Scandinavian architecture in the western hemisphere.
Summer tours of the property have returned leaving, every hour on the hour, between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m daily through Sept. 30.
While the setting is impressive, the people are more so. Lora Josephine Knight was the creator and visionary of what is now known as Tahoe’s Hidden Castle.
“A woman ahead of her time, who was remarkable: Forward thinking, generous, and resourceful. She made her wealth in the stock market before the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression,” tour guide Katie Sullivan said of Knight. “She never took it for granted that she was well off while many others did not have a job, clothing, food, anything.”
Knight fell in love with what would later become Vikingsholm after an afternoon invitation to tea with a mother and daughter, whose family owned the portion of Emerald Bay for 40 years.
After lengthy negotiations, the property was transferred to Knight for $250,000, which included 239 acres of Emerald Bay, including Fannette Island, the expanse from its shoreline, up the mountain side behind the castle as well as the nearby waterfall, lower eagle falls. The property line touched Highway 89.
Knight’s nephew-in-law, Swedish architect Lennart Palme, was commissioned for the design of the property. Palme was instructed to leave the Ponderosa pines and cedars untouched which meant every single tree had to be plotted out in the original plans and drawings.
Vikingsholm perfectly displays the awe-inspiring natural beauty by using all locally sourced materials. The granite for the driveway and steps was sourced from the mountain behind the castle. The pine and fir woods, used externally and internally, were sourced from the North Shore.
In 1929, 200 workers specializing in stone masonry, woodworking, and metal works were hired, and housed on site. The peaceful summer retreat was finished within five months based on Scandinavian architectural ingenuity and designs of Palme.
After 15 years’ worth of summer visits, in 1945, Knight passed peacefully in her turquoise aqua colored room at the age of 82. Knight’s relatives back east were unable to assume the expensive and extensive responsibilities of upkeep, so it went to market. The property changed hands rapidly when Lawrence Holland bought it but had to give it up when plans fell through. Holland then sold Vikingsholm to Harvey West.
West expanded the boundaries of the property to include up to the mouth of Emerald Bay. By the 1950’s the cost of upkeep became insurmountable, and it again became available for sale. The size and scenic beauty of the property presented the perfect opportunity for a would-be hotel owner. With a new buyer having plans to demolish the castle and tea house on Fannette Island, the sale was denied by West.
In the interest of preservation of the historic site, West donated the 282 acres and original furnishings to the state of California.
Sierra State Parks Foundation has been hard at work with the goal to “educate, interpret, restore and preserve,” according to a brochure. All proceeds are put back into the sustainability of the experience for generations to come.
To take in the beauty of a unique castle on the shoreline, visitors descend a steep one-mile trail that takes visitors from the parking area off California State Route 89 to the beauty that awaits below. Those with health conditions are recommended against the steep descent. Alternate routes are available. Eagle Point Campground, from campfire center, provides a less steep 1.5-mile trail.
Local businesses such as Action Water Sports, M.S. Dixie II, and Cruise Tahoe offer excursions with views of the castle from the water. Don’t forget to take a closer look at the former Tea House on Fannette Island. Additionally, there are options that provide ADA accessibility.
Thanks to generations of generosity the castle maintains 80% of its original furnishings. Thanks to the proceeds of tours, donations and tireless hours of volunteers Vikingsholm has scaffolding that revolves around the building year after year taking care of continuous projects for upkeep.
There are many projects in need of the community’s support. The foundation of the castle property is settling which has created cracks in the building. The damage is visible on the 30-minute tour. The trees in the courtyard became diseased and needed to be removed as well. The lack of shade left the peasant style sod rooftops bare to the elements of the Sierra Nevada mountains, no match for the heat and snow.
The preservation, restoration and education of this historic site are the top priority for the foundation. Fundraisers are planned by the Sierra State Parks Foundation that allow for greater sums to be collected towards ever present needs of maintenance. Private tours are also available which provide a night as Knights honored guest. For a donation of $1,200 a party of four is taken by car down the trail to a twilight reception of fine foods and beverages.
For ADA accessibility, call state parks at 530-525-3384 or email Emerald.BayADA@parks.ca.gov.
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