Tuesday, July 29, 2008

His Friend, Bill

After my conference wrapped up Friday morning I headed to the North Shore of Lake Tahoe to visit the Thunderbird Lodge -- known as Tahoe's "Castle in the Sky."

Built by eccentric San Francisco multi-millionaire Captain George C. Whittell, Jr., this house and the story behind it are fascinating.

Whittell was the only child of two parents, each of whom inherited fabulous fortunes around the turn of the last century. Though Whittell was expected to take over the family businesses he showed his intentions by running away to join the circus at age 16. His father's death left him 33 buildings in San Francisco, but when offered a key to the family's office suites he made it clear he "never intended to work a day in his life" and instead of keys preferred they just send him checks.

The the forests on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe were clear cut to provide lumber for Carson City, Virginia City and the silver mines of Nevada. Once the timber was exhausted Whittell purchased major land holdings from the lumber companies.

He kept many wild animals on his property, including the lion photographed above -- "Bill." He had an elephant house built on his Lake Tahoe property to house his pet elephant, but the elephant didn't do well in Lake Tahoe's high elevation so it was returned to the family mansion in Woodside (near San Francisco).
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