George Whittell Jr., heir to one of San Francisco’s largest fortunes, pulled his $50 million (roughly $50 billion in current dollars) out of the stock market just weeks before the crash of 1929. He needed to do something with all that money and started buying up land on Lake Tahoe’s eastern shore, eventually owning almost the entire Nevada shoreline. In 1936 construction began on his "castle in the sky," a lakefront estate that would serve as his summer getaway and tax haven.
Finished in 1939, Thunderbird Lodge was constructed by the finest artisans and craftspeople available. The exteriors were done in stone decorated with metal images of local wildlife, and the interiors were fashioned in the Arts and Crafts style. He had a 600-foot tunnel blasted out of the granite under the property to connect the lodge to a boathouse and serve as a secret exit from the Card Room. Whittell also had a 56-foot mahogany yacht custom-built. With a pair of 1150 hp Allison V-12 engines, the Thunderbird can reach speeds up to 75 mph. It’s still seaworthy and sheltered in the boathouse.
Thunderbird Lodge and its grounds, listed as an Historic Site in the National Register, are now owned by a nonprofit Preservation Society and are open for tours and available for parties, banquets, corporate functions and other special occasions. The grounds – full of lawns, water features, secluded terraces, a lakefront gazebo and beautiful views across the lake – make the Thunderbird a top choice for weddings, receptions and rehearsal dinners. They have an executive chef on-site, and their staff can help coordinate every aspect of your event. The Thunderbird hosts occasional events including a Winemakers’ Dinner series every summer. All tours are guided and are available Tuesday through Saturday from May through October. Reservations are required.