It may be just roughly a three-hour drive from the Central Valley area, but once one arrives, it’s easy to feel worlds away in Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay. A short drive from South Lake Tahoe via Highway 89, Emerald Bay is the only inlet on the lake, as well as home to Lake Tahoe’s only island, Fannette Island.
Not only does Emerald Bay host the only island, it is also home to what’s known as “Tahoe’s Hidden Castle,” more properly called Vikingsholm. A true hidden gem, Vikingsholm can be accessed by visitors via a one-mile trail off Highway 89 or by boat. The castle is open to visitors, offering tours in the summer months from June through September. Guides accompany visitors through the exquisite Scandinavian-inspired dwelling and tell the story of visionary Lora Knight.
The daughter of a corporate lawyer, Knight was born in Galena, Illinois. In 1915 Knight and her first husband James Moore purchased a home in Santa Barbara. Moore died in 1916.
In the early 1920s, she remarried Henry French Knight, a stockbroker from St. Louis. The couple divorced prior to the building of Vikingsholm.
It is said that for 16 years, Knight enjoyed spending summers on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. In 1928 she purchased the 239 acres at the head of Emerald Bay from the William Henry Armstrong family for $250,000. Knight then commissioned her nephew and Swedish architect, Lennard Palme to design Vikingsholm. This idea was inspired by Palme’s home in Rye, New York, as well as the fjord-like location of Emerald Bay.
Knight, along with Palme, made a trip to Scandinavia in 1928 for inspiration and construction ideas. The foundation for the 38-room mansion was laid in the summer of 1928. During the spring of 1929 a reported 200 highly skilled workmen were commissioned to work on the Emerald Bay property and were temporarily housed in barracks.
Now just a handful of years shy of a century since the house was constructed, one can’t help but be impressed by the detail, as well as the craftsmanship of the home. The woodwork is both intricate as well as solid as one looks at the timbers, as well as the granite boulder exterior of the mansion.
It is said that prior to construction of the home, direction was given that no trees were to be removed for the home’s foundation. Today the home sits among beautiful redwoods with a breathtaking view of Emerald Bay and Fannette Island.
Inside the mansion much of the interior remains as it was decades ago when Knight entertained summer visitors. The furnishings of the home were carefully selected by Knight to maintain the integrity of the Scandinavian influence. Antiques were purchased as well as replicated in the instances where Knight would see something in a museum which was not for purchase. She would commission craftsmen to duplicate items she fancied which were on display in Norwegian and Swedish museums. Many of the original furnishings still remain in the home.
Knight enjoyed a total of 15 summers at Vikingsholm. She passed away there in 1945 at the age of 82.
Once the estate was settled, the house and property were sold to a rancher from Nevada who maintained the home for just over a year. In early 1950 the final owner, Harvey West, sold the property to the State of California. The conditions of the sale were that he would donate half of the appraised value of the land if the state would pay him the other half. In 1953 the property was acquired by the State of California and is now a part of Emerald Bay State Park.
Visitors to the area may enjoy taking a picnic lunch and plenty of water to enjoy either before or after the tour. The grounds are shaded and well-groomed for hiking. Not far from Vikingsholm is Lower Eagle Falls, a 2.5-mile out and back hike, which provide views of the only waterfall to empty into Emerald Bay.