An inside look at Lake Tahoe’s Thunderbird Lodge

Immaculately constructed on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, Nevada’s Thunderbird Lodge is the infamous domicile of legendary California playboy and bon vivant, George Whittell Jr.

Inheriting a fortune in the 1920’s worth the modern day equivalent of $49 billion, the highly eccentric and endlessly fascinating Whittell vowed to never work a day in a life, a goal he eventually achieved until his death at the age of 87.

Having purchased over 100,000 acres along the eastern shore of the Sierra’s Lake Tahoe, during the height of the Great Depression Whittell commanded a legion of local workers to construct his “Castle in the Sky” that would eventually become the Thunderbird Lodge.

Camouflaged into the granite and aqua marine shoreline, highlights of the lodge range from fish tanks embedded in the walls to multiple secret passageways, the longest being a 600 ft. subterranean tunnel that connects the main lodge with the card house that was host to legendary high stakes poker games.

In addition to his lakeshore mansion, Whittell was perhaps most famous for his full throttle lifestyle that was rife with curiosities. An elite member of San Francisco high society during his youth, upon completion of school Whittell left the US to join the Barnum and Bailey Circus in Europe against the will of his parents.

During his time in the circus, Whittell developed a keen pension for exotic animals, a love which would one day lead to him operate a safari business in Africa and keep a pet lion named Bill with him at his California and Nevada estates. For a short period of time, Whittell even housed an elephant named Mingo at his Thunderbird Lodge, though the cold weather would prove to be detrimental to Mingo’s health.

Fluent in 7 languages, Whittell married a French nurse who tended to wounds he sustained while driving an ambulance in World War I. After the war, the couple eventually moved back to California and spent their summers at the Lake Tahoe Castle in the Sky, which thanks to the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society is now open to the public for tours.