Woman awarded for pioneering efforts in preserving Vikingsholm Castle

(From left) Francesca Vietor, SPRC commissioner, Rosie Smith, SSPF board secretary, Heidi Doyle, SSPF executive director, (center, sitting) Dr. Helen Henry Smith, Sarah Robertson, SSPF board member and daughter to Dr. Smith, and Phil Ginbsurg, SPRC vice chairperson and award presenter, recognize Smith for her preservation efforts.
Provided/Sierra State Parks Foundation

TAHOE CITY, Calif. – A woman who was instrumental in preserving the Vikingsholm Castle at Lake Tahoe has been recognized for her efforts.

Dr. Helen Henry Smith was recently presented with the Golden Bear Award, annually presented by the California State Parks and Recreation Commission, which highlights individuals who demonstrate leadership and make significant contributions to the parks mission. 

“The Sierra State Parks Foundation invites Californians to recognize and celebrate Dr. Helen Henry Smith for her pioneering efforts that saved and preserved Vikingsholm Castle located at Emerald Bay State Park,” said a news release. “If Lake Tahoe is the Jewel of the Sierra, then Emerald Bay is the crown jewel.”

Vikingsholm Castle, the stunning summer home on the shore of the bay, was constructed in 1929 and harmoniously blends with its majestic setting. Dr. Smith’s passion for Vikingsholm came through her unique perspective. Her parents and Lora Knight, the visionary and owner behind the castle, were friends. She fondly remembers walks and conversations with “Aunt Lora” as she spent 14 summers at Vikingsholm as a guest. 

In 1953, the house and property were acquired by California State Parks with plans of demolishing the historic home. During this period, Dr. Smith reconnected with Vikingsholm and petitioned State Parks to allow her to offer tours. At that time, women employees worked solely in administrative jobs; Dr. Smith’s request to serve the public in a front-line position was bold and courageous and changed her relationship with her childhood get-away from guest to advocate. 

Through education and interpretation, she inspired many more to connect with the historical landmark and fostered future generations of stewards. Sixty-eight years later, Dr. Smith’s passion is still strong as ever. Concerned with the lack of state funding and resources to care for the property, she formed the Vikingsholm Project Council which raised $2 million for restoration and repair. Although she is no longer able to spend summers at Vikingsholm, she remains steadfast to its preservation and future and continues to raise funds and advocate in partnership with the Sierra State Parks Foundation. 

The Foundation now manages tour and visitor center operations and partners with California State Parks on restoration projects.

“Helen Henry Smith is a woman of vision and tenacity,” said Executive Director of the Sierra State Parks Foundation Heidi Doyle. “Her monumental efforts toward preserving one of Lake Tahoe’s iconic cultural treasures show how one person can make an impactful difference. She turned her childhood memories into advocacy and a legacy for future generations. Tours resume Memorial Day weekend and continue until the end of September each year to continue to inspire future generations.”

For more information about the castle, tours, and the Vikingsholm Forever Endowment Campaign, visit

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