Tahoe's Top Attractions

Tallac Historic Site

Three of Tahoe's grand old homes, one of them an excellent museum celebrating the "Era of Opulence," are located at this 150-acre South Lake Tahoe site managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Though it is well off Highway 89 and sequestered in tall pine trees, the site has become not only an important historic landmark at the lake but also the focal point of Tahoe's burgeoning arts and music community. As an added bonus, it adjoins some of South Tahoe's finest white sand beaches.

Tallac was the location of a palatial resort built in 1880 by Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin, a California entrepreneur who catered to the nouveau riche from San Francisco, Sacramento and Virginia City. The resort featured two lavish hotels, a massive casino (boasting "500 electric lights") and several accessory buildings, accommodating over 250 well-heeled guests with its spacious ballroom, string orchestra, croquet, tennis, steamer rides and strolls along a promenade. Seven years after Baldwin's death in 1909, his daughter Anita, bowing to the influx of automobiles and the construction of other elaborate estates around the lake, dismantled the resort.

But three large summer estates and 33 other structures remain, including the following:

Baldwin Estate: Built in 1921, this hand-hewn log home houses the Tallac Museum, which has exhibits on local Washoe Indian culture, the significance of the Baldwin family in California history, photographs of the hotel and casino and a presentation room for a 15-minute slide show. The site was historically used by Native Americans, who migrated each summer from the Carson Valley to the area from Taylor Creek to Camp Richardson. Admission to the museum is free, and there is a small bookstore inside. The museum is open daily except Mondays from 10 AM to 4 PM from mid-June to Labor Day, with a reduced schedule through October 1.

Pope Estate: Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 1994, this estate is dominated by an elegant main house, which is still in the process of being restored. From its living room windows, it has a commanding view of Lake Tahoe. Built in 1894, the estate was purchased by the George Pope family of San Francisco in 1923, and became known whimsically as the "Vatican Lodge." As a summer retreat, the home was a great place to entertain the rich and famous, from author John Steinbeck to actor Rudolph Valentino. Several adjacent cottages contained maids' and workers' quarters, laundry and children's play areas. Although visitors can stroll through the estate and look inside the cottages, guided tours of the main house, offered on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 1 PM and 2:30 PM, are by reservation only. Admission: $1.50 per person.

Heller Estate: Known as Valhalla, this 1923 estate built by Walter Heller borders Camp Richardson and is the community events center for the historic site. The non-profit Tahoe Tallac Association holds a variety of jazz, bluegrass and classical music concerts on the grounds here from late June to early September, and there are periodic arts and crafts exhibits as well. The small cabins north of the estate house regular summer attractions including a cultural arts store, a photo arts gallery, fiber arts and folk crafts exhibits, a fine art gallery and a variety of workshops for children. The biggest event is the annual Great Gatsby Festival in mid-August, when association members dress in period costumes, serve gourmet food and display antique cars.

The Tallac Historic Site, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is located 3.5 miles north of the city of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89, next to Camp Richardson. Parking is free. Open weekends 11 AM to 3 PM. Memorial Day to mid-June, and daily 11 AM to 3PM mid-June—Labor Day. Information: Tallac Historic Site, (530) 541-5227; Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, (530) 573-2600.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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