Michele and I went to Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State park today. It was a longer drive than we wanted, but we were looking for a place to take a walk along the lake, and it is one of the ugly facts about Lake Tahoe that it is hard to take a long walk along the water. Along the shoreline, it is almost wall to wall private property.
Driving south on the lake-shore highway, we passed miles of private homes – most of them gated to keep us from getting to their private, backyard, waterfront – interspersed with resorts and small open spaces, usually private beaches, giving us views across the lake. Along California’s Coast, it is less troublesome to get to the water because of what some would call the Socialist Coastal Access Act but Tahoe doesn’t have an equivalent act leaving the shoreline pretty much access proof.
My dad had been Chairman of the California State Park Commission under Governor Pat Brown when the Isaias Hellman1 estate at Sugar Pine Point came on the market. It was a major stretch of private water front and, today, would be a prime candidate for an hyper-expensive, gated, still private, development (most likely based on a golf course….uggg!). But the 60’s were a different time and the state bought it and turned it into a Sugar Pine Point State Park. Among other things, the park provided, for the first time, a long stretch of Tahoe shoreline accessible to regular people.
Thinking about that, as we drove down Highway 89, brought back memories of Daddy – as my sister and I still call him – and how influential he was in getting this property and how proud he was that the state did get it (and how much he enjoyed the perk of spending the night at the mansion including being entertained at a a special dinner in the dining room). It brought back memories of how much Daddy was a democrat – with a small “d” – as well as a Democrat. Memories that included the California of the 50’s and 60’s when Governor Pat Brown’s motto was Make no little plans and California was a boomtown – uh? boomstate? – with all the good and bad that involved.
When we got to the Park, the first thing I noticed was the entry Gatehouse built by the state 1n 1965. It was lovingly designed and built to match the existing mansion including diagonal muntins separating diamond shaped panes of glass over the double-hung windows and featured a native stone base.
I had forgotten Daddy’s love of architecture and how much he knew about it but, now, I remember his taking me to hear Frank Lloyd Wright give a lecture when I was eight (and, years later, while in the Army, making a special trip to see Wright’s Imperial Hotel in Tokyo that was a direct result of that lecture). I remembered how surprised I was, when first discovering the Farnsworth House in an architecture class, finding out that Daddy already knew about it.
We parked the car and walked by the public beach. Watching the people on the public beach – the people’s beach – enjoying the water and the sun, brought tears to my eyes. Tears of love and admiration mixed with the sorrow of how little I knew my father – how distant he was – and how much, on a day like this, here, I miss him.
(I also thought of how many of people enjoying the beach, with their boats tied up nearby, wouldn’t vote for a Democrat because they didn’t want “big” government.)
We had a picnic lunch under a gazebo with a view of the mansion which was designed by San Francisco architect, Walter Bliss, wandered around the outside of the building – both of us were most taken with the Sugar Pine porch columns with the bark still on and then we went for our long walk in the trees overlooking Lake Tahoe.
1. Isaias Hellman was a very interesting guy. (The following is from The Web, to save you the trouble.) A Jewish immigrant from Germany, he came to California when he was 16 in 1859. By the time he died, he had effectively transformed Los Angeles into a modern metropolis. He became California’s premier financier of the late 19th and early 20th century by founding LA’s Farmers and Merchants Bank, LA’s first successful bank and then transforming Wells Fargo into one of the West’s biggest financial institutions. Hellman invested with Henry Huntington to build trolley lines, lent Edward Doheney the funds to discover California’s huge oil reserves, and assisted Harrison Gary Otis in acquiring full ownership of the Los Angeles Times. He controlled the California wine industry1.1 for almost twenty years and, after San Francisco’s devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, Hellman calmed the financial markets alowing San Francisco . Oh, he also had exquisite taste in architecture.
1.1 A group calling themselves Wine Beserkers recently tried a 1875 Cucamonga Vineyard Angelica Wine Isaias W. Hellman Private Stock saying Bricked medium cranberry red color with clear meniscus; fascinating, VA, coffee liqueur, chocolate, raisinette nose; tasty, rich, chocolate, orange, raspberry, coffee liqueur, raspberry syrup palate with good acidity; long finish (bottled from wood in 1921; reminiscent of both a mature Port, but with greater color — no doubt due to the 46 years in wood before bottling — and a mid-1800s vintage Madeira Bastardo, i.e., vintage Madeira from a red grape, with the acidity of a Terrantez or Verdelho) (97 pts.)