Plans are afoot to build a new bridge across the Truckee River downstream of Fanny Bridge in Tahoe City. The bridge will part of the realignment of Highway 89 through 64 Acres and become the main artery to and from the West Shore of Lake Tahoe with roundabouts connecting either end of the new roadway. The existing Fanny Bridge will be replaced and widened to include bike lanes and a roundabout will replace the light and the wye in Tahoe City.
“That hasn’t stopped many pranksters through the years from creating photographic remembrances of their friends’ bare-butted fannies on the bridge.”
This spells big changes for Tahoe City, and I thought it would be interesting to reflect on other changes that have happened at this location over the past 40 years.
Fanny Bridge & Lake Tahoe Dam
Tahoe City recently celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2013. From the beginning, the river was an integral part of the community. The Lake Tahoe Dam was built in 1913 and Fanny Bridge was built more than 87 years ago. While the bridge is well-known for all of the fannies of the folks leaning over, attempting to get a gander at the large fish in the waters below, the bridge actually got its moniker from the foreman of the bridge road crew who named it for his aunt, Fanny McGillicuddy Wilkerson. That hasn’t stopped many pranksters through the years from creating photographic remembrances of their friends’ bare-butted fannies on the bridge.
While the bridge has not changed since it was built, the area on the north and south sides of the river has gone through a major metamorphosis. While now those areas are places in which to quietly contemplate the river in a park setting, when I was a teenager we went there to get some grub.
The north side of the river was the site of an Orange Julius in an A-frame-style building. Later, the popular Izzy’s Burger Spa gave off a distinctive odor of burgers — a smell that still permeates the area when the grill is full speed ahead at Bridgetender Tavern & Grill, across the street.
The south side of the river was home to Fanny Bridge Inn, a popular bar and restaurant with a rustic ambiance, including a tree going through the building. This eventually morphed into The Bridgetender, which eventually relocated across the street to the former location of La Cuesta Mexican Restaurant. The Mexican restaurant went out of business and The Bridgetender relocated when the leases ran out on the property that had been purchased years earlier by the state. Now, on the south side there is a wide-open plaza with seating areas, viewing space and interpretive information kiosks.
The dam itself went through an upgrade about 10 years ago when windows were installed allowing Fanny Bridge onlookers to see through the dam to the lake. A wide boardwalk and trail were built behind the dam to provide a spectacular view of the meeting of river and lake.
The Gatekeeper’s Museum
The Gatekeeper’s Cabin sat behind the dam until the 1970s. The gatekeeper, who operated the dam gates to keep the right amount of water flowing into the Truckee, resided there. In the 1960s, this little strip of land, where spectacular weddings are now held, was a small trailer park. Residents got to live in simple mobile homes on prime real estate at the edge of the lake.
When the cabin burned to the ground, it was decided it wasn’t necessary for the gatekeeper to live on the property anymore. An effort was launched to create a museum to house Tahoe artifacts, which was the beginning of what is now the Gatekeeper’s Museum.
When I was a tyke, the triangle of land at the wye in Tahoe City was a garden of weeds. Now there is a flagpole, paved trails, landscaping and the unique “Three Mackinaw” sculpture created by Tahoe local John Betts and installed in 1977.
“The $64 question is where it goes next. I want it to be left alone,” said Betts. “My contention is [the fish sculpture] cannot be moved because of how it was built.”
Wherever the fish end up, they will hopefully still be part of the entrance to Tahoe City. Perhaps, in a few years, we will all decide that these major changes are a nice addition to the community, but I still miss drinking an Orange Julius above the banks of the Truckee River.
For more information about Tahoe City, go to visittahoecity.com. For information on the project to replace Fanny Bridge and the new Highway 89 alignment, visit tahoetransportation.org.
Historian Mark McLaughlin looks at Tahoe City’s first 150 years
Spend a day exploring Tahoe City
Meet Tahoe City’s gatekeeper
Mark McLaughlin looks at the history of the 100-year-old Lake Tahoe Dam