Lake Tahoe Thunderfaire raises funds to preserve historic Thunderbird Lodge |

Lake Tahoe Thunderfaire raises funds to preserve historic Thunderbird Lodge

Kayla Anderson | Special to the Bonanza
Bill Watson and the girls (Aspen Kenyon, Shireen Piramoon, Siani Nau and Mindy Shaw) at the Aug. 20 Thunderfaire.
Courtesy Kayla Anderson |

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Visit to learn more about the Thunderbird Lodge and the nonprofit Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society.

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — It all started in 1936 when George Whittell bought 40,000 acres in Northern Nevada and 20 acres of Lake Tahoe shoreline, for which he planned to build a ski resort and casino.

As he got older though, he lost interest in further developing the property, concentrating more on enjoying animals, nature and his privacy than accumulating more wealth.

After Whittell’s death in 1969, Jack Dreyfus acquired the famous East shore property along with 10,000 more acres. He later sold most of it to Nevada State Parks and the Forest Service.

Thunderbird Lodge changed hands again and in 1999 the American Land Conservancy enabled a land exchange allotting 4,000 acres of land in Clark County to the Del Webb Corporation and 140 acres of Lake Tahoe land to the U.S. Forest Service.

But when the Forest Service declined to maintain the historical structures, the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society was formed.

Thanks to some generous donations, by 2009 the Preservation Society was able to settle its debts and maintain full control of the estate.

“The reason why it’s not built out like South Lake Tahoe is because it’s been privately owned all of these years,” says Thunderbird Lodge Chief Executive and Curator Bill Watson.

But the estate is quite expensive to maintain — its yearly operating budget is $1 million with insurance being its biggest expense ($180,000/year). One hundred volunteers and a few paid staff manage its grounds and upkeep.

Although Thunderbird Lodge regularly hosts tours, weddings, and school groups, most of the funding that keeps it going is from its generous donors.

Special fundraising events like the Thunderfaire Grape and Gourmet series allow people to enjoy the beautiful lake while helping to preserve the historical site.

On Aug. 20, The Thunderbird Lodge hosted 80 members, guests and residents at its Thunderfaire Grape and Gourmet event.

Against a backdrop of the gorgeous Lake Tahoe sunset and The Great Gatsby theme, guests enjoyed wines from different vintners, a specialty crafted menu by Crystal Bay Steak and Lobster House Executive Chef Evan Carsman, and a tour of the famed Thunderbird property.

“The idea of these events is to showcase how awesome this place is and how this is a fun membership to be a part of,” Thunderbird Lodge Program Sales and Event Coordinator Siani Nau said.

Members and guests also had the opportunity to buy tickets for a chance to win a 1988 Mustang, bought bottles of wine, and enjoyed a silent auction with proceeds going towards the preservation and support of the Thunderbird Lodge.

Thunderfaire guests Bruce and Kathy Beamer have attended a few events at the estate and like what the Preservation Society is doing to keep it unique.

“They always have good food and good wine. These events give you a chance to enjoy the lake,” Bruce Beamer said.

Spirits were high as guests enjoyed incredible food, wine and live music.

At the end of the evening, Watson thanked the crowd and added, “George’s legacy is really the preservation of Lake Tahoe, whether he intended that or not. I tip my hat to all of you for your wonderful support.”

Kayla Anderson is an Incline Village-based freelance writer with a background in marketing and journalism. Email her at

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