Historic Tahoe City’s heritage present throughout town, Tahoe City Walking Tour Part II

Totem poles in front of the historic Tahoe Inn. | Mark McLaughlin

Tahoe City is a hotbed location for family activities with free beach access and multi-use paved bike paths that run north, south and east. Each direction offers different vibes and views. The northbound route from Tahoe City to Palisades Tahoe runs along the beautiful Truckee River. The community was founded 159 years ago in 1863 and its unique heritage is on display for those curious enough to look for it.

Tahoe Community Center
Just above Commons Beach at the west end of town is Tahoe Community Center, the location of North Tahoe Arts (adjacent to the old fire station), with its gift shop and galleries that showcase photographs, art and crafts by local artisans.

Built in 1938 following a devasting arson fire the year before that destroyed everything on and around Commons Beach, the community center originally housed the Tahoe City Post Office and library on the first floor with meeting facilities run by the local Women’s Club on the second. The architecture is considered classic “Tahoe style.”

Tahoe Inn
Across the street is the recently-closed Blue Agave Restaurant (the bar remains open), housed in what was formerly known as the Tahoe Inn built in 1876. This is one of the most historic buildings in Tahoe City and there are many vintage photographs on the walls inside chronicling its history.

During the Prohibition era of the 1920s and early 1930s it was the site of a bootlegging operation and speakeasy. During the same timeframe the hotel offered sanctuary for the likes of notorious Chicago gangster “Baby Face Nelson” while he waited for the heat to cool down from his Midwestern bank robberies, murders and other nefarious criminal activities.

In autumn 1935, the musical romance film, “Rose Marie,” starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, was shot on location at Lake Tahoe. Proprietors of the Tahoe Inn, Carl “Pop” Bechdolt and his wife, Julia, helped cater meals for the actors and huge cast of extras working on the movie production. Afterwards the Bechdolts appropriated some of the props, including the large, brightly painted, wooden totem poles prominently displayed in front of the building today.

Watson Cabin Museum
In the middle of Tahoe City on the lakeside sidewalk (560 N. Lake Blvd.) is Watson Cabin Museum, built in 1908 by Tahoe City’s first constable, Robert M. Watson, as a wedding gift for his recently married son, Robert. The cabin is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places for being the oldest log structure remaining in the North Lake Tahoe area.

The two-story building was constructed of hand-hewn logs chinked with cement; the large fireplace is made of native stone. The Watson’s home was the first dwelling in Tahoe City to have indoor plumbing. The museum inside features artifacts from the early 20th Century that offer a glimpse into the history of the Watson family and Lake Tahoe. Owned by North Lake Tahoe Historical Society, the charming house is usually open to the public from late June until around Labor Day weekend.

Heritage Plaza
Next to Watson’s Cabin is Heritage Plaza Park, which offers benches on which to relax and enjoy the view of Lake Tahoe. In nice weather local musicians commonly perform here. Informative signs have been installed that profile important time periods for phases of development in Tahoe City and the region. Included are the early days of the town from 1860 to 1895 as well as information and photographs about the beginning of tourism, railroad history and the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley (now Palisades Tahoe). Each display also lists the names of notable locals contemporaneous with each era.

Tahoe City prides itself on its robust public art program and Heritage Plaza Park is no exception, boasting a nearly 13-foot-high California Black Bear installation.

The mama bear and her nearly hidden twin cubs is a beautiful piece of work created by artistic team Lisa and Robert Ferguson. The signature piece was initially designed for and installed at Burning Man in 2017, the annual, internationally popular, counter-culture gathering in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. This impressive artwork, titled “Ursa Mater,” weighs 5,400 pounds and if you look closely at the bear’s fur, you will see that it is made up of more than 203,000 donated pennies. Hence, it’s local moniker – The Penny Bear.

Constable Johanson
Wolfdale’s at 640 North Lake Blvd. was the former home of Tahoe City’s colorful Constable Harry Johanson, its principal lawman who served the community for 32 years, retiring in 1967. Johanson chased skirts, but after a divorce said, “The more I see of women, the more I love my dogs.” Johanson is a resident of the Trails End Cemetery, near Tahoe City Golf Course, a resting place that he renovated in the 1950s. | northtahoemuseums.org

Read Part I at TheTahoeWeekly.com