The Good Ol’ Bad Ol’ Days – 1920s & 1930s
During the period from about 1920 to the beginning of World War II, new residents started building summer homes in the Lake Tahoe basin. Several small communities ringed the lake, but inadequate roads limited travel to and within the basin.
New homes were built as rustic retreats, often without insulation or plumbing, and were intended to be mountain hideaways for those wanting primitive wilderness accommodations in the summer. The new residences were built during a small boom in real estate sales in the region that was abruptly cut off by the gas rationing of World War II.
The Roaring Twenties at Tahoe could have been scripted by F. Scott Fitzgerald with so many Gatsby-esque characters about, and some were for real, real life bad boys as Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson. While on the Atlantic shores historic properties may boast that “Washington slept here,” in Nevada, Reno and Tahoe, the boast is “Pretty Boy Floyd stopped by for cocktails.” That gambling became legal in Nevada in 1931 did not matter, the tables just moved to the front of the Tahoe casinos. But the liberalization of divorce residency laws really transformed Nevada’s tired Depression economy by bringing the bright, well-educated, chic New Yorkers to Nevada, where the café society awaited their six-weeks residency to obtain a Nevada-style divorce at divorce ranches or resorts. And many stayed, transforming the arts, culture and architecture such as Lora Josephine Knight who had homes in both Reno and Tahoe and built Vikingsholm a Swedish-styled summer residence at Emerald Bay.
I remember that year we sold 17,000 lots up at Lake Tahoe, it was great until the depression came, and we got it all back.
Into this mix wandered the tall, dark and handsome Norman H. Biltz, with movie star good looks and a Rhett Butler smile in May 1927. He came to Tahoe to try his hand at the gaming tables at Robert Sherman’s new Cal-Neva Lodge. Sherman, the son of William Tecumseh Sherman, was a real estate developer, a visionary who saw the potential of selling Tahoe real estate. Sherman had developed great tracts of California, and at Tahoe developed the Vistas: Brockway, Lake, and Nevada Vista. Stepping over the state line Sherman built the Cal-Neva lodge to house his clients, modeling his real estate office to resemble Frank Bacon’s cabin in the hit Broadway play and later movie starring Will Rodgers as smooth-talking, Lightnin’.