An elegant home overlooking Lake Tahoe
Twin turrets brace each side of the massive three-story, wood-shingled mansion that silently overlooks the calm beauty of Lake Tahoe. From the elegant, long porch, spanning the two towers, you can see the sun rising over the Sierra Nevada, casting the day’s first light on the lake.
The house is the Helmann-Ehrmann Mansion at Sugar Pine Point State Park, one of the best representatives of the style of fabulous summer homes that were built on the shores of Lake Tahoe during the early 20th century. Today, you can tour the mansion, which was built in 1903, picnic on the grounds, or play in the water of the lake.
Located about 20 miles north of the intersection of U.S. Highway 50 and California State Highway 89 on Lake Tahoe’s west shore, Sugar Pine Point Park is operated by the California State Park system.
The house, which boasts 11,703 square feet, including more than two dozen rooms and several large, stone fireplaces, was built for Isaias W. Hellman, a successful San Francisco banker. In 1897, Hellman began quietly acquiring some 1,016 acres of land on Lake Tahoe’s west shore, including more than two miles of lakefront.
Within a year, work began on the house, built in a modified “Queen Anne” style architecture with gables and turrets. The exterior, however, incorporated natural wood-shingling and rough-cut stone which have, in more recent years, become known as early Lake Tahoe architecture.
In addition to the main house, called “Pine Lodge,” the estate included separate servants quarters, boathouses, an electric power plant, an icehouse and a tall water tower, all of which are still standing.
In 1920, Hellman died and the house was inherited by his daughter, Florence Ehrmann. The Ehrmann family added a tennis court and a second, smaller house for the children during the 1930s, and continued to use it as a summer retreat.
In 1965, Mrs. Ehrmann’s daughter, Esther Lazard, sold the estate to the state of California. Since then, the state has consolidated the property with other lands to create the 2,300 acres Sugar Pine Point State Park.
Today, visitors can tour the mansion between Memorial Day and Labor Day, (it’s still only a summer home). Throughout the year, the park grounds are open for picnicking or enjoying the wonderful beaches and views of the lake.
The mansion tour is worthwhile for providing a glimpse into the lifestyle of those who once called it home (as an example, just check out the rugs and overstuffed leather chairs). The first part of the guided tour, which lasts about a half hour, includes a description and history of the house and its inhabitants. After that, however, visitors are allowed to explore the rooms of the second floor.
North of the house, are a pair of cabins built by General William Phipps, a veteran of the Indian Wars, who was the original owner of Sugar Pine Point. The one-room wooden structures, open in the summer, were constructed in the 1860s and have been partially restored by the park service.
Adjacent to the cabins is a small trout stream, General Creek, that feeds into the lake, as well as the start of a quarter mile nature hiking trail.
Across Highway 89 from the entrance to the Hellman-Ehrmann site, is a year round campground, also part of the park. A bicycle trail connects both portions of the park. The campground includes 175 sites with barbecue pits and tables. Showers are also available.
From the campground, there are several hiking trails that follow General Creek to a handful of lakes, including Lily Pond (3.5 miles), Duck Lake (7 miles) and Lost Lake (7.5 miles). For more information contact Sugar Pine Point State Park, 530-525-7882. Tours are from July to Labor Day.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that Nevadans find special.