Major donation sets pace for Thunderbird Lodge fundraiser

The nonprofit group managing the old Thunderbird Lodge on Lake Tahoe's east shore got nearly $1.8 million from the Del Webb Corp. and American Land Conservancy, kicking off a major fund-raising effort.

''This is a great way to start off,'' said Phil Caterino, executive director of the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society, which gained title to the medieval-style castle and other structures on a 6-acre piece of the former Whittell Estate last year.

The society hopes to raise $15 million to pay off financing and set up an endowment for long-term maintenance and operation of the estate, placed in public hands at the close of one of the most significant land exchanges in U.S. history.

Controlled by University of Nevada, Reno, the nonprofit group hopes to open a conference center and research station by this fall. At that time the public should also be allowed access to the 140-acre property, most of which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

The estate was built in the 1930s by flamboyant real estate magnate George Whittell, who once owned more than 20,000 acres of Lake Tahoe real estate, or most of the lake's east shore. After Whittell's death in 1969, the estate was purchased by New York mutual fund tycoon Jack Dreyfus.

Del Webb bought the $40 million property from Dreyfus in 1998 and later transferred the land to the Forest Service in exchange for 2,575 acres of federal land in southern Nevada.

Representatives from Del Webb and the land conservancy, which helped broker the land swap, said their contributions are in line with their vision for the estate's future.

Conservancy president Harriet Burgess said her group's gift is designed to help ensure the estate ''will be forever preserved to public use and research in its current state.''


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