A group of loungers in front of the Tahoe Vista Hotel could not restrain low whistles at the sight emerging from the tonneau of the cream-colored Packard "four" touring car. First came a broad-brimmed, multi-flowered hat, then a vividly rouged and powered face framed by blonde, corkscrew curls, followed by a lowcut lace dress and a pair of high heeled patent leather shoes with rhinestone buckles. The wasp-waisted, bosomy creature carefully removed her white suede gloves. "Sam, hand the parasol," she commanded in a throaty voice. Her colored chauffeur reached across the devided front seat, grasped a bright red "bumbershoot", swung it out and snapped it open in one sweeping movement. Lifting her dress daintily to reveal a well-rounded calf, she minced up the front steps of the hotel and disappeared inside.
"Hot diggity-dig, if that ain't something!" exclaimed one of the younger peg-trousered blades as he and his spellbound companions stared at the closing door.
Ten minutes later she reappeared, swept across the porch and down the steps, leaving a strong scent of french perfume in her wake. Sam reached for the parasol, closing it carefully. He assisted her onto the running board and into the rear seat, a flash of silk stocking rewarding the bug-eyed group watching every movement. Then the box door was slammed shut. The intriging face appeared again for a moment from behind the isinglass side curtain. "Goddam it, Sam, we got the lot" carried clearly to the ears of the startled watchers who froze in shocked amazement.
Sam grinned, then hustled around to the front of the car. Freeing the crank from its leather keeper he pulled up sharply. A wheezing cough followed and the engine thundered into action. After rehanging the handle he vaulted over the false door into the driver's seat, releasing the outside spring-action break and, with a grinding of gears, clutched off in a swirl of dust toward Tahoe City.
It was July 18, 1911, and Cherry de St. Maurice, notorious "madam" from Sacramento and owner of the finest "parlor house" on the Pacific Coast, had just bought herself the first lot in Tahoe Vista's new subdivision.
Fifty years before Cherry de St. Maurice's bid for respectability through the acquisition of summer home property at Tahoe Vista, the northwest shore of Tahoe was an undeveloped forest and meadowland wilderness. What had originally been a Washoe and Paiute Indian trail leading from Martis Vally east over the devide to the lake became, in the years 1849-1852, a branch of the Emigrant Trail. Consideration for reopening the "road" was given by Placer County surveyor Thomas A. Young in 1856, when he and his party traveled the route, but nothing was done to put it to shape.
In the summer of 1865 D. H. Wright, wood contractor from Douglas County, Nevada, established Pine Grove Station at the present site of Tahoe Vista. Here Wright built a large log cabin, with hewn beams, rough plank flooring and conventional hand-split cedar shakes. His cordwood camps fanned out up the mountain and with the completion of the Martis Valley-Hot Springs road in August of 1869, Wright was able to load lumber wagons in the summer and sledges during the winter, hauling logs and pine slabs over the pass to a ready market in the railroad town of Truckee.
When Walter Scott Hobart completed his Great Incline of the Sierra in 1879-1880, Pine Grove Station became a marine terminal for saw logs chuted down from the high country near Martis Peak and the headwaters of Griff Creek. From here they were rafted into Crystal Bay and Hobart's Mill Creek sawmill.
Although lumbering at Pine Grove continued through the late 1880's, extensive development of the land did not start until well after the turn of the century.
The Tahoe Development Company was formed in 1910 with Morris Brooks, president, and Charles W. Paine, secretary-manager. They purchased 1100 acres from Frank Brockway Alverson and finished lumber was hauled in by wagon from the Truckee to build the Tahoe Vista Hotel. This relatively large 80 by 30 foot lodge was another of the many lake establishments constructed by Tahoe City contractor Matt Grean. Situated on abluff overlooking the water, northwest of old Boiler Point, site of the steam powered shingle mill in the 1880's, the hotel featured a massive stone fireplace which still stands today. It held six-foot logs that threw out enough heat to warm most of the 22 rooms in the building.
On July 18, 1911, Tahoe Vista officially became a post office stop for the mail steamers, and building lots were laid out by the Tahoe Development Company in the same year, with Tahoe Vista Hotel becoming a vital part of the real estate promotion. In the spring of 1913 a casino was erected on the lakeshore below the main establishment. Two-thirds of its length extended out over the water and eight rooms on the second floor could accommodate additional guests.
The casino, or "social hall," fronted on Tahoe Vista's 20 foot L-shaped pier that had been extended out into deep water to allow docking of the 169-foot Tahoe steamer. Diving from the second story windows into the lake was high sport for the hardier summer vacationists, and logically explained to timid onlookers "as fun, besides being the quickest way down". Guests in the upstairs rooms reported that heavy blows out of the south built up ocean-size combers, giving them the feeling of being at sea on the bow of an ocean liner.
Eighty people could be accommodated at the resort when "kenyon houses"
and tents were spread throughout the grounds. Advertisements run in the summer
of 1913 proudly listed the new "Tahoe Vista Inn" as "electric
lighted and offering a dance floor second to none, with rates of $2.50 per day".
Tahoe Vista was strictly a family retreat. Families from San Francisco, Stockton, Sacramento, and Reno returned each year loaded down with valises, band boxes, suitcases and Saratoga trunks that contained everything from needle and thread to Irish frieze ulsters.
Although the hotel and casino were a financial success, the real estate venture did not show the expected results. A resident of Tahoe Vista ventured the thought that buyer resistance might be traced to the over-enthusiastic sale of the first lot as not until the property had been legally transferred was Miss Cherry de St. Maurice's true indentity discovered. Word got around and prospective purchasers sometimes asked pointedly just what type of development was being promoted anyway? Another blunt condemnation of Tahoe Vista was recorded by a feminine correspondent in the late 1920's. "many lots have been sold," she admitted, "but what's the good? It's too windy to build them anyway."
In the winter of 1922-1923 the Tahoe Vista Hotel on the hill burned to the ground and the casino became the center of activity. Tahoe Vista continued as a mail stop for lake steamers until marine service was discontinued in May of 1941. Today the location serves as a hub for an expanding community that includes a general merchandise store, grarge, remodeled casino, motels, summer homes, and boat harbors. The adverse wind reported 25 years before appears to have blown nothing but good fortune across the sandy beaches of Tahoe Vista.