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Mountain mansions at Tahoe invite you in for a visit.

"A big cabin with a lot of class," recalls a 1938 guest of Valhalla, a stately Lake Tahoe summer retreat. "We used paper napkins at lunch, but a very proper English butler took the plates."

In the early 1900s, Tahoe was a summer haven for the families of San Francisco tycoons. Guests stayed in private log cottages or in the main houses, whose exteriors ranged from Sierra rustic to Scandinavian romantic, with comfortable, even elaborate interiors.

In recent years, a handful of these estates along Tahoe's shoreline have come into the public domain. Their grounds are open year-round; tours and other activities take place in summer. The unheated interiors are chilly, so bring a sweater or coat.

Ehrman Mansion. Built for Isaias W. Hellman, a Bavarian immigrant who became a San Francisco bank mogul, the imposing main house dates from 1902. In 1965, the state acquired the property, including nine outbuildings and nearly 2,000 acres that now form Sugar Pine Point State Park.

Refurnished last year, the 11,703-square-foot Queen Anne has 16 rooms open to view. Tours begin Memorial Day weekend, then run daily starting June 16; they're given every hour between 11 and 4. From State Highway 89, turn toward the lake at Sugar Pine Point Picnic Area. The day-use fee, which includes the tour, is $2 per car. A booklet on the estate also costs $2.

Vikingsholm. Standing at the head of Emerald Bay, this 1929 landmark was designed for Lora J. Knight by Swedish architect Lennart Palme, who drew inspiration from Norse castles and dwellings. Later owner Harvey West donated it to the state in 1953. From a signed parking area off State 89, a steep 1-mile trail takes you to its door.

It took 200 workmen less than a year to build the 38-room house (12 rooms are open to view). Stones were quarried from nearby mountainsides. Wood was hewn, carved, and painted by hand at the site. Inside, the intricately carved, brightly painted furnishings are original.

Tours begin Memorial Day weekend, then run daily from June 16, every half-hour between 10 and 4. Cost is $1 for adults, 50 cents for ages 6 through 17. A booklet on the site costs $3. Picnickers can spread a blanket on the shore or use one of the tables facing the bay. Tallac historic site: three estates

This 74-acre site contains three large main houses and 23 cottages and cabins. It's off State 89, 3 miles north of the U.S. 50 junction. Day-use parking is free. A historical booklet costs $1.50.

Walk or cycle on trails winding through the grounds; plaques explain the history of certain buildings. Between July 1 and Labor Day, the Forest Service plans 1-1/2-hour tours on Saturdays and two weekdays, as well as Wednesday evening slide shows. For details, call (916) 544-6420.

In summer, the Tahoe Tallac Association, a nonprofit group, sponsors art shows and films; music, crafts, and folk festivals; and historical programs. For schedule information, write or call the association at Box 1595, South Lake Tahoe, Calif. 95705; (916) 542-2787.

Valhalla (Heller Estate). San Francisco financier Walter Heller built this summer palace in 1924. The government bought it in 1971.

The main house, shingle-roofed with wide verandas and large dormers, has 14 rooms (5 open to the public). The excellent acoustics of the cavernous main hall make it the site of many musical events. An art exhibit will be open daily this summer; call ahead for times. Several picnic tables dot the broad front lawn.

Baldwin Estate. This stout log cabin was built in 1921 by Dextra Baldwin McGonagle, granddaughter of E.J. Baldwin, an early Tahoe land baron. In summer, the cabin is used as a museum and a nearby cottage for art exhibits.

Pope Estate. The two-story, wood-shingled main house was built in 1894. Though closed now, it holds promise of being the most attractive of the three if restored. On the grounds is an arboretum, complete with a small manmade waterfall, shady gazebo, and trout pond (no fishing).

At the Forest Service visitor center next to the site, you can pick up information on tours and activities in the Tahoe basin; or write to the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, Box 8465, South Lake Tahoe, Calif. 95731.
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Publication:Sunset
Date:Jun 1, 1984
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