George Whittell liked all things fast: cars, planes, boats and women.
Wait, you thought this would be a post about Laura and Ryan and their wedding? Just hold on a hot second, we’ll get there.
George Whittell’s antics started young. Out of highschool, much to his high society parents chagrin, he ran away and joined the circus, eloping with a chorus girl. After deftly removing his family’s assets from the stock market before the great crash, George was left as the sole heir to their treasure trove upon his mother’s death in the 1930s. He amassed a collection of cars (he loved Dusenbergs) and a menagerie of circus animals that included tigers, a giraffe, an elephant, and a bear. A lion cub named Bill was his constant companion.
After Tahoe was logged for mining, Whittel bought up 95% of the coast line for pennies on the dollar, building himself a summer playground in the Thunderbird Lodge. The elephant didn’t fare well in the altitude and had to be sent home. The lion however, was always afoot. Without regulatory interference in Nevada, Whittell was able to pursue his dreams: gambling, partying, drinking and going fast. He owned a number of planes, dozens of cars, and the most infamous piece in his collection: the Thunderbird.
Whittell commissioned John Hacker, a Naval architect, to design a yacht in the style of his personal DC-2 aircraft and his many Duesenbergs. It cost $87,000 (which would be the equivalent of $3.3 million today) and thanks to its twin airplane engines, could cross Lake Tahoe at speeds of over 70mph.
Today, Lake Tahoe has Whittell to thank for most of its pristine beauty and undeveloped land in Nevada. Before his death, Whittell donated land to the University of Nevada and Zephyr Cove, where a high school bears his name. Most of his 27 miles of shoreline were sold to the National Forest Service.
Today, taking my summer guests and visitors on tour’s of this eccentric man’s home is one of my favorite things to do. It is a breathtaking piece of architecture, with stone pathways, waterfalls, and intricate rock work. It is the most beautiful of the older estates on Lake Tahoe and quite possibly the most beautiful wedding venue that Tahoe offers. There is no need for decor when you have this estate as your backdrop.
Laura and Ryan actually didn’t intend to wed at the Thunderbird Lodge despite the fact that they had family members on the board of directors for the Preservation Society. They looked at a number of other venues to begin with but found that the rigidity of their event rules weren’t going to work for them. Laura’s late mother was an extravagant and enthusiastic host, whose legacy was partially remembered for one very specific appetizer that she always prepared for her guests. Laura desired her wedding to be a nod to her mother in remembrance and the small details that her mother never forgot were important to not overlook. From the chargers that her mother would have insisted on to the appetizers she would have served, the tribute would be a small but important reminder that she too was present. While many other venues weren’t willing to accommodate some of these important requests, Thunderbird Lodge was and it was all the more special since the Lodge itself has played such a large part in Laura’s family history.
Laura and Ryan were wed on the lawn in the late afternoon and then presented with another surprise: they had been gifted a ride with their wedding party on the actual Thunderbird! Captain Dave took us out for a short 20 minute ride and it was absolutely incredible!
When I look back over their wedding gallery, I am still in awe of how breathtakingly special it is to dine at sunset on the lawn of this historic lodge. I’ve taken the tour of the lodge many times and am well versed in some of the more eccentric stories of Whittell, but to spend an entire evening there is humbling and incredible. If you can’t find someone to hold their wedding at the lodge for you to join in on, the Preservation Society does offer a summer dinner series and seated wine-maker dinners. You can tour the property in the summer and I would suggest going by water, where you’ll arrive via vintage wooden boat from the same era and enjoy lunch on the grounds.
Laura and Ryan’s wedding culminated with touching toasts and a non-stop dance party, mostly enforced by her energetic and charming father who even made me put my camera down to dance for a bit. I normally try to limit my blog post photos to just a few, but I think I would be doing a disservice to the venue if I didn’t share the incredible venue photos that my amazing second Brian Walker took for me. So, without further adieu, here are waaaaaay too many photos from Laura and Ryan’s gorgeous Thunderbird Lodge Wedding.
Venue: Thunderbird Lodge | Planning and Coordination: Blue Sky Events | Linens: Creative Coverings | Florist: Thran’s | Wedding Music: Stacy Farnan with Serenade Services | Catering: CoCoMoe’s Drop Off Gourmet | DJ: Reno Tahoe DJ Company | Rentals: Celebrations Party Rentals | Hair and Makeup: Tahoe Salon Be | Shuttles: Northstar Transportation | Restrooms: Quickspace | Second Photographer awesomesauce from Brian Walker Photography