Hollywood in Incline Village
The iconic Bonanza television series—the first Western televised in color which premiered in 1959 was the longest running and most successful Western in American television history. It was based at the mythical Ponderosa Ranch in Incline Village, a 250,000 acre spread between Lake Tahoe and Washoe Lake. The creator-producer David Dortort used his encyclopedic knowledge of western mining in particular the fabled Comstock Lode to frame a story line of a compassionate, warm, wise widowed rancher, Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) and his three sons, Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocker) and Little Joe (Michael Landon) and their stories.
The series captured the hearts of the American viewing public. Across the nation, Sunday nights were devoted to the faithful watching Bonanza proudly sponsored by Chevrolet.
Although NBC-Paramount designed stage sets 16 and 17 to film the show at their Burbank studio, about two weeks a season crews filmed at Lake Tahoe. Incline Village became home base for the cast and crew. It was not unlike organizing the Normandy landing accommodating the 200-plus Bonanza cast and crew when they were in town.
The Ponderosa Ranch at Incline was the inspiration of Bill Anderson. A heavy equipment surplus dealer who tired of the grind in the Bay Area, Anderson moved his family up to Incline Village in 1962 where his skill at cutting roads and shaping the mountain terrain come in handy completing the infrastructure required to build the town for Boise Cascade.
A horse enthusiast, Bill Anderson, talked to the developers about establishing riding stables in the Village, a concept which was whole-heartedly endorsed as the planners wanted to provide all kinds of year-round recreational opportunities to the Village folk. The cast of Bonanza stabled their horses at Anderson’s Incline Riding Stables. One day, while in conversation with Lorne Greene, Anderson shared his dream of building a Ponderosa Ranch movie-set with Victorian village. The Anderson family’s re-creation of the Ponderosa Ranch, the ranch house, and a Virginia City townscape, with riding stables and trail rides quickly became an international tourist destination. Soon the roads to Virginia City and Incline Village were clotted with shiny new Chevy station wagons filled with families making a visit to Ponderosa land.
The Bonanza cast’s visit to Virginia City for “Bonanza Days” to celebrate the Comstock’s 103rd birthday drew a crowd of 150,000 people creating amazing disorder for the tiny 500-person community. Ben, Hoss and Little Joe were all recipients of the Silver Spur Awards by the Reno Chamber of Commerce. Their graciousness so endeared them to Nevadans in so many meaningful ways that Governor Grant Sawyer, by special proclamation, made the Cartwrights “native sons of Nevada.”