Thunderbird Lodge Architecture


Several buildings on a six acre parcel comprise the Thunderbird Lodge National Historic Site. Below is a brief synopsis of six of these buildings. Much more information and a first-hand look can be obtained by taking a guided tour, or purchasing online the wonderfully informative book, "Castle in the Sky".

Thunderbird Lodge
George Whittell began construction of Thunderbird Lodge in 1936. The architect, Frederic DeLongchamps, was famous in his time and was the Nevada State Architect. The Carson City Capital and the Reno Courthouse are also examples of his work. Thunderbird Lodge was built to blend harmoniously with its surroundings and therefore is made of stone. It was Whittell's "summer cottage" on Lake Tahoe and consists of 2 master bedrooms, a great room complete with movie screen, 3 additional bedrooms for servants and a fully functional kitchen with the original appliances. Thunderbird Lodge represents a high level of expertise in building crafts, stone masonry, ironwork and woodwork.

Aerial view of Lodge

The Lighthouse addition (lower-left in photo at left) was added by Jack Dreyfus, Jr. in 1985 after he acquired the property from Whittell. The addition is attached to the old Lodge and it added an additional master bedroom, 2 guest bedrooms and glass-enclosed bridge connecting to a 1000 square foot great room encompassing the original lighthouse that had been built during Whittell's era. Some of the best views of Lake Tahoe can be seen from the Lighthouse room. The Lighthouse room can also hold up to 120 people for an event and boasts an adjacent state-of-the-art kitchen for catering.

Card House

The Card House (right) is one of a few still existing card houses where the "boys of summer" would come to play cards, smoke cigars and enjoy the fine company of women. This is one of the most interesting interiors on the property, with a fireplace at either end, exposed stone walls, and exposed roof trusses with carved wood beams. The infamous tunnel is connected to the Card House with a most unusual entrance.

The Boathouse is home to George Whittell's incredible yacht, Thunderbird. The Boathouse is a long, narrow, one-story structure measuring approximately 28 feet by 100 feet at the level of the lake and is the first steel structure at Lake Tahoe. It is entered from the tunnel or from an outside doorway. This is the second of two boathouses that were built on the property. The first boathouse was much smaller and built prior to the Thunderbird.

The Cook and Butler's House is a one-story building across from the Lighthouse and housed Whittell's cook and butler. It features six dormers, two chimneys, and steeply pitched gable roofs along with the liveliest roofline of all the small houses. It has one of the best views of the Lake.

The Elephant House is an unusual building. Precedents for the design of the Elephant House probably exist in zoos, although at first glance it looks like a garage. However, its purpose was highly unusual - it housed Whittell's elephant, Mingo. It is embellished inside and out with decorative ironwork, sconces between the doors in the front wall, and a fireplace screen (with elephant figures) inside.

Larger versions of the above images and more photographs of the site can be viewed by visiting our Gallery.

Much of the above information is taken from the publication "Castle in the Sky", courtesy of Ronald and Susan James. To purchase this elegant and informative book online, click here.