Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Longitude: -119.930358100
Latitude: 39.204842500
Elevation: 6266 FT (1910 M)
 Directions: : 
Year first lit: 1936
Keepers dwelling: 
Tower shape: 
Tower Height: 
Focal plane: 
Original lens: 
Current lens:
Fog Signal:
USCG number:
Site manager:  The Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society

It was my second attempt in getting to this Lighthouse structure on the lake. Technically, Thunderbird might not be considered a lighthouse, as it was owned by a private individual and used for his personal needs. Yet, I selected it because of its location and history of its owner. The owner juxtaposition with regular light keepers, he was fabulously wealthy, while they depended on the Light board for their meager existence, he was surrounded by opulence, they were surrounded by supplies issued by the government, He was close to civilization, they mostly lived in hard to get rural areas, He did not have to face ravages of nature, they had to make it part of their lifestyle.

The first time to visit was in winter and I failed to researched my location properly. I headed off from the Bay area to Tahoe to photograph both Sugar Pines and Thunderbird. You can head on over to the Sugar pines link and you will have a record of my journey and adventure for  that day. I headed for Kings City to meet Anne, after a nice lunch with my wife's niece Anne, she is a sweet person, I always love to visit her and her family. When I arrived at Kings City, I punched the address of Thunderbird lodge  into my gps, and to my chagrin I wondered up and down the Highway 28 until I found a narrow entrance to the lodge. Only to find that it closed to the public, a sign was posted near the gate, visits to the lodged had to be booked. The Lodge is located between Highway 431 and Highway 50, closer to 50.That was the kernel of my first visit.

My next opportunity came in the Summer of 2011, I went with my wife for a weekend in Tahoe. We stayed at the embassy Suites hotel, our time was a wonderful and enjoyable experience. If anyone ever paid a visit to the Tahoe area knows how beautiful it is. I could create a photo book on the sites in the area. I love traveling with my wife, she will talk to anyone. We were at manager’s happy hour in the lounge of the Embassy suites and noticed a lot of senior couples enjoying themselves. At the table next to ours was an elderly Jewish couple, my wife caught their eye and they introduced themselves ,they extricated themselves from their quarters and planted themselves at our table. My wife’s eyes lit up as she engaged them in conversation. It did not take long and she was telling them about the Messiah Jesus, it's amazing she loves Jesus so intensely that she has to share Him with everyone she meets.

Later on that evening we had dinner not too far from the hotel, another couple from New York was sitting a short distance from us. The husband appeared to have a glass or two too many. He was in a jovial mood. Again my wife engaged them in conversation, she spoke primarily to the husband, who reminded me of my father, he was one to party and make himself friendly to any pretty lady who sat near him. I engaged his wife in conversation, two different kinds of conversation, one about the Grace of God through Christ and another about the tea party movement. It was strange to hear people to make false judgments on both arguments. Judging God on the actions of men, and judging the tea party on the statements made by the media. The woman maintained that no-one would go to hell as all men are inherently good, yet she judged Christians as not good people. I asked her about Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, Stalin, serial killers, rapists, child molesters, murders, etc, etc.. I also said that men would be judged according to their own works and that no one would be justified. She argued that they were not really bad, just led astray. We finished that night as friends, no hard feelings as we left. Jean and I headed back to the hotel and they were set for a night of gambling in the casinos.
I made my booking for the Lake Tahoe boat and the Thunderbird Lodge. The boat was on Sunday and the Lodge was for a Monday. Sunday was a good day, the Sun was high in the sky and the sky a deep blue. The boat headed out across the lake, and I drank in the beauty of the surrounding mountains, the tree that lined the shore, and the skyline that sharply separated the grey mountain from the blue sky. I knew from what I saw God lives, He is the eternal artist. We spent the day on the lake and later that night had dinner looking at the sunset.

Monday came and Jean dropped me at the center to take the bus to the lodge. The bus was full, our driver was a lady from Australia, she was charming and filled us on some of the History of the lodge. Our tour started in the room that housed the faux lighthouse. We spent time visiting every room in the lodge, we traveled through the underground passageways,  stopped at the hanger that housed the Thunderbird boat, finally we made our way outside and back to the main lodge from the outside path ways. I took lots of pictures and nearly missed the real lighthouse, a small structure sitting by itself on the Shore, Not too far from it was the American flag, where would a lighthouse be if there was no flag. It was small, no spiral stairs, no Fresnel lens, no water towers, no oil sheds, no large lantern room. They boasted that it was the highest lighthouse in America, I reminded them of Rubicon and Sugar Pines. It was trip I thoroughly enjoyed and most likely will be back again for another journey into one of the most beautiful places in this world.

Some would not consider this a traditional lighthouse, due to its location and endurance of time, I have decided to add it to my collection lighthouses.
1828, Hugh Whittell the grandfather of George immigrated to America from Ireland
1849, Hugh came west on a steamer during the gold rush period, made his fortune grub-staking miners and investing in California real estate.
1879, George Whittell, Sr., marries Anna Luning, daughter of Nicholas Luning wealthy Banker.
1881, September 28, George Whittell, Jr. (Captain), was born in San Francisco, He owned 100,000 aces of the Nevada Shoreline at Lake Tahoe
1890, Anna’s father dies the Luning and Whittell fortunes unite
1919 George marries his french nurse Elia Pascal
1922, George's father died, he inherits his father's fortune.
1936, George Whittle Starts to build Thunderbird Lodge, and the beacon was erected on the cove, one of the tallest lighthouses in the world
1939, Thunderbird Lodge is completed.
1940, Whittell takes delivery of the yacht Thunderbird
1969 April 18, George Whittle Dies, a book about "Castle in the Sky", courtesy of Ronald and Susan James. Jack Dreyfus, buys the lodge and 10,000 acres
1985, Dreyfus Adds to the Lodge, an entertainment building, and a 2 story wing over the garage.
1998, Del Webb Corporation purchased the Whittell Estate
1999, BLM exchanged the land in Clark County to Del Webb for the Lodge property for an amount of $40 million.
2000 November, Thunderbird Lodge was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Beacon could crumble
A winter’s worth of waves caused significant damage to the Thunderbird Cove Beacon Lighthouse at the Thunderbird Lodge.
The lighthouse stands upon rocks in the water in front of the historic East Shore property.

Bill Watson, manager and curator of the Thunderbird Lodge, said winter storms in January and February delivered significant damage to the beacon’s rock foundation.

“Due to wave and wind action during those storms ,the beacon’s foundation took exceptional damage,” Watson said.

The structure was among the first built on the George Whittell property, either in 1936 or 1937, Watson said.

According to Lighthouse Digest, the beacon and its sister lighthouse, which also sits in the waters adjacent to the property, are the two highest lighthouses in North America given Tahoe’s elevation at more than 6,225 feet above sea level.

Watson verified that fact and said the beacon used to hold a variety of colored lights and the Whittell’s alarm system.

Without repairs Watson said the beacon is in danger of crumbling into Lake Tahoe.

Based on preliminary estimates, Watson said, repairs to the battered 71 or 72 year-old beacon should cost around $40,000.

Half the amount — about $20,000 — has already been raised between three organizations, the Tahoe Yacht Club, the Lahontan Community Foundation and the National Parks Service.

“Those funds are just not enough for the repairs,” Watson said.

The remainder of the funds must be raised before the end of summer to ensure the work is completed before next winter, Watson said.

And, according to a July 7 press release from the lodge, if the work isn’t completed promptly the beacon could collapse into Lake Tahoe.

To raise the funds necessary to repair the beacon, the Thunderbird is dedicating money from a Winemaker’s Dinner tonight at the lodge.

The dinner, part of the Winemaker’s Dinner Series, begins with a silent auction and cocktails at 5:30 p.m. and a dinner catered by PlumpJack Restaurant at 7 p.m. at the lodge.

Individual dinner tickets are priced at $250 per person ($175 of which is a charitable donation) and reservations may be made by calling (775) 832-8754 or registering online at

The entire Winemaker’s Dinner series kicks off today and includes three more dinners, on Aug. 17, Sept. 21 and Oct. 19. Tickets for the entire series cost $900, of which $700 will serve as a charitable donation for the lodge.

On a related note, Watson said he would not comment on a $5 million fundraising effort by the lodge to remove a lien on the property held by Michigan-based Pulte Homes. The deadline to raise the money came earlier this month and Watson said he expects a press release within the next two weeks to explain how the fundraiser wrapped up.


Journal History Links References Thunderbird Lighthouse, Lighthouse, lighthouse pictures, Thunderbird, Tahoe lake, California, photographs, Journal, history, LighthousesOfCalifornia, Sean O’Cairde
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