Our Tahoe Heritage
by Carol Van Etten
Courtesy of The North Lake Tahoe Historical Society
Among the oldest and most popular hostelries on Lake Tahoe’s north shore is Tamarack Lodge, located on the uphill side of the intersection of Highway 28 and Lower Lake Forest Road. Mr. and Mrs. Angelo Oppio (whose daughter Louise Fenech and her son Alan were still actively involved in the operation of the Lodge when this article was published) were the original proprietors, opening their doors for business in 1927. As with almost all local businesses of the day, the operation was seasonal, opening about Memorial Day and closing soon after Labor Day.
In those early years, Lake Forest Road was actually a part of the highway, and above the roadway just west of where it bent down the slope toward the little community of Lake Forest, Mr. Oppio hung a sign, its perimeter illuminated by electric bulbs, proclaiming the existence of “TAMARACK.” Travellers of the day could not help but notice the lodgings, especially since other structures were so scarce. The Oppio’s establishment at that time adjoined Lake Forest’s dairy, and wandering cows were among the pastoral views from the windows of its bungalows.
The modern availability of dinner houses is virtually limitless, and today it is considered unnecessary for local innkeepers to provide on-premises dining for their customers. Yet in 1927 the public dining rooms of the Tahoe Tavern (a grand lakeshore resort one mile south of Tahoe City) and the Tahoe Inn (on the bluff above Commons Beach – now Victoria Station) were practically the only places where dinners were served daily. The two or three miles to these establishments was a comparative trek at that time, and so it behooved Mr. and Mrs. Oppio to make a dining room and bar available to their guests and the public at large.
The restaurant building was connected to the northeast corner of the Lodge proper, and was built around three large pine trees. When heavy snows collapsed the structure, the Oppios elected not to rebuild — by that time the selection of local eateries had grown to the extent that it seemed unnecessary. However, the pine trees and the stone fireplace which once lent atmosphere to diners at the Tamarack are still standing.
The Lodge’s accommodations originally included five bungalows, built around a main lodge and restaurant, and in the early days these peripheral units were the scene of regular poker games. Avid suitors of Lady Luck would come from far and near to partake of this opportunity to gamble, while their female companions passed the time in the main lobby, commiserating amicably in the comfortable surroundings, beneath the same antique glass chandeliers which still grace the room’s knotty pine ceiling.
Today, in spite of the addition of 12 modern units, the five original “Poker Rooms” continue to be specifically requested by many returning guests. Perhaps it is this romantic aspect of their past which makes them so eagerly sought-after, or the fact that several of Hollywood’s biggest stars of the 1930s and 1940s were frequent inhabitants of the little cottages.
Celebrities appreciated the Lodge’s charm, returning to savor the kind personalities as much as the comfy accommodations of the Tamarack. Clark Gable enjoyed the Oppio’s generous hospitality and considered the retreat among his favorite trout fishing hideouts. Gary Cooper was another Tinsel Town refugee who found the Tamarack a pleasant home away from home. Wallace Beery occasionally visited the Lodge when on vacation from the cameras, and still another well-known personage chose to remain cloaked in anonymity, signing the guest book simply “Cash Register.”
A whimsical touch was added to the construction of the Lodge by a foresighted carpenter (his name apparently lost to history) who installed a bottle of Jim Beam under every staircase on the property. One such well-aged surprise turned up during a recent bit of rremodeling recalling for Mrs. Fenech the discovery of similar “treasures” in years past.
Distilled spirits played another part in the Lodge’s colorful history. In the days of the Volstead Act, several local entrepreneurs were engaged in the production of alcohol, one such operation conducted at the Tahoe Tavern. The reputation of Tamarack Lodge held it above suspicion by the “Feds,” and in consequence it was chosen as the repository of the Tavern’s illegally-produced beverage.
Today, the Tamarack Lodge continues its well-earned reputation as a comfortable, friendly retreat for the weary ttraveler As ever, its rates are among the most reasonable on the lake. Friendly managers carry on the day-to-day work of operating the Lodge, while Louise Fenech, who with her late husband Al owned and managed the business for a generation, is still on hand to enhance the visits of interested guests with her charming stories of the Lodge’s early days.
Please see reviews of Tamarack Lodge on the following websites:
(Pages will appear in a new tab)
Below are links which will allow you to review Tamarack Lodge on Trip Advisor, Google, or Yelp. Most people who choose to stay at Tamarack do so after having read a few recent reviews of our Lodge. Perhaps you did this yourself. It is a good way for guests to know what to expect, and for us to understand guest perceptions and experience.
Please note that Yelp discourages us from asking directly for reviews. So write one on that site only if it is something you would ordinarily do. The other options are available to all.
Frederique & Gerard Fenech
send us your memories
In the four years that we have been managing Tamarack, we have met a large number of people who have been coming here for many year. If you are one of our long time guests, please email us your early or important memories of staying here at Tamarack Lodge. We will post them here.
Address emails to: firstname.lastname@example.org
It's the Water
It is not clear why Tamarack Lodge was built on this spot. We were a mile east of Tahoe City. Worse, we were right next to a rather odoriferous dairy farm. (Note: today the dairy farm is long gone, and the air is perfumed by pines and firs rather than by cow herds).
One theory for our location is our spring. We have a fabulous spring here on the property, which long provided all of our rooms with the most extraordinary water. About 25 years ago, in the interest of eliminating all possible risk, we were told that we could no longer use spring water for our guests. So we sunk a well and hit the jackpot. Now we have the same water from an artesian well. So drink copiously while you are here, and leave the bottled water at home.
Another theory on why Tamarack is a mile out of town is that farther from town was better if you were serving illegal alcohol. Even if this theory is the right one, the water we have on tap today is still very very good.
North Lake Tahoe's Most Pet-Friendly Hotel
Pets are welcome at Tamarack in most of our rooms. There is a $15 per pet per night fee, with a maximum of two pets in a room. Dogs must be at least one year old to stay at Tamarack. We request that owners keep their dogs off of the furniture, and keep them from barking. Dogs must not be left alone in the room. When outside, they should be kept on a leash. Bags are available in front of the office for the collection of "dog-doo". Please make use of them.
Guests' whose pets disturb other guests will be asked to make alternative arrangements for their animal. Guests who leave early for reasons related to their pets will be charged for all nights reserved.
If you would like to bring an animal other than a dog, please call for applicable conditions.
Undeclared pets will be subject to a $100 fine. If the pet cannot pay, the fine will be collected from the registered guest.
Please note that pets are never permitted in Deluxe Cabin 17, nor in our "Seven Woods King", room 26.
Burton Creek State Park (immediately behind us) is a great place to walk you dog.