Group Faces June Deadline to Raise $5 Million for Tahoe Landmark

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. (AP) - The Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society is facing a June 1 deadline to raise $5 million in order to help keep the historic Lake Tahoe property open.

Pulte Homes based in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., has agreed to permanently forgive a nearly $10 million note and convey its interest in the property to the nonprofit preservation society on the condition that the deadline is met.

The $5 million would go toward an endowment fund designed to produce as much as $300,000 a year in interest to maintain the east
shore lodge.

"It's a short deadline, but I'm confident we'll make it," said Bill Watson, manager and curator of the preservation society. "Pulte wanted us to have a sense of urgency with this money. Forgiving the debt is a great gift from Pulte and now we have to raise this money."

The 70-year-old-plus Thunderbird Lodge was flamboyant real estate magnate George Whittell's summer estate until he died in 1969 at age 87.

The "Castle" - as it also was known - had never been open to the public until 2002, when a land deal transferred ownership to the nonprofit preservation society.

The preservation society also assumed the $10 million note at that time. Pulte Homes acquired the property's former owner, Del Webb Corp., in 2001.

Watson said the preservation society is seeking 50 donors who will each chip in $100,000 to the endowment fund. Under terms of the Pulte gift, no money will be paid to the company.

The preservation society has received 14 firm commitments to date for contributions of $100,000 or more, he said.

"We have a responsibility to the next generation to take care of this lodge and preserve it," Watson told the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza.

Located five miles south of Incline Village, the lodge has been hailed as one of Lake Tahoe's top tourist attractions.

From its perch on a forested, rocky promontory, it offers a spectacular panorama of the lake famous for its clear blue waters. It's a link to a bygone era when prominent San Francisco Bay area families spent summers at opulent Tahoe estates.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)