George Whittell Jr., the scion of two prominent and wealthy Gold Rush-era families, was known to San Franciscans of an earlier age for a number of eccentricities, such as collecting exotic animals and driving his open-air roadster around town with his pet lion, Bill, as his co-pilot.
But perhaps his greatest legacy was the equally quirky Thunderbird Lodge, which he built in the mid-1930s along the east shore of Lake Tahoe. The estate, which sits on a prominence a few miles south of Sand Harbor, included a main house, a card house (whose denizens included baseball legend Ty Cobb and another eccentric man of great wealth, Howard Hughes), a lakeside cottage, a cook/butler house, a barn for Whittell's pet elephant and other furry guests, a boathouse (which is connected to the main house by a 600-foot long underground tunnel) and a gatehouse.
The compound, which was among the great residential estates that prominent San Francisco-area families built along the lake's shores during the Gilded Age of the 1920s and 30s, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.
On Saturday, May 19, you can learn more about the inner workings and intricacies of Lake Tahoe's "Castle in the Sky" when curator Bill Watson conducts a special tour and lecture at 2 p.m. The two-hour program, which will include light snacks and beverages, costs $45 per person and is appropriate for children 12 and older.
For further information or to purchase tickets, go to thunderbirdtahoe.org or call (775) 832-8752.