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Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point State Park, California, United States

Historic Hellman-Ehrman Mansion Tour

Travel back to the late 1800s to learn about one of the wealthiest Californians who built this beautiful estate

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Difficulty: Easy
Length: 1.1 miles / 1.8 km
Duration: 1 hour or less
Family Friendly
Overview: This guide will take you on a tour of the Historic Ehrman Mansion built by Isaias Hellman. The audio portions will explain the various buildings on the property as well as the history of this prominent Californian and his life as an immigrant to the United States.

After taking the tour, you can purchase tickets for an informative tour of the inside of the mansion, walk along the nature trail which starts near the butler's cabin (POI #3) or relax on the sandy beach.

Points of Interest


Barn and Coach House

Welcome to Sugar Pine Point State Park. You are going to be walking around on the estate of the Hellman/ Ehrman mansion that was originally built by Isaias Hellman in 1902. As we approach the mansion from the parking lot we are going to be passing a lot of out buildings on the estate. The first one you are going to pass is the barn and coach-house. Here the wagons were housed on the lower floor, a hayloft up above, and in later years, when the family converted over to automobiles, the downstairs was a garage and the upstairs was quarters for the chauffeurs.
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Water Tower

The next building you're going to be passing on your left hand side was the original powerhouse and water tower. When the Hellman estate was built in 1902, it was in the middle of nowhere and had to generate its own electricity and have its own water system. The lower part of this building housed a wood fired steam generator. From 7 in the morning until 10 or 11 at night employees chopped wood to generate electricity. If guests in the house needed light at night, they used a kerosene lantern.

The Hellmans also had their own water system. About a mile up General Creek, still on the property, was a dam, and a flume and ditch water system carried the water to this location where it was pumped up into the water tower and then gravity-fed into the mansion.

An interesting side note here is that Isaias Hellman had resided in Los Angeles for about 30 years and was friends with William Mulholland who was the president of the Los Angeles Water Company. Hellman asked Mulholland to design this water system for him.

From here you're going to head towards the front porch of the mansion. There is a split in the road and a sign that says "No motor vehicles beyond this point". Veer to your right here.
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Powerhouse and Water Tower

Nanny Cabin

As you are continuing your walk toward the mansion you're going to be passing a tennis court on your right hand side adjacent to a residence. This house is known as the Childrens' House. It was added to the estate in 1930. By then the family had grown and they were running out of bedrooms in the main house so they decided to house the children out here with their nanny. This is a 3 bedroom, 3 bath house with a very small kitchen. The nanny would prepare a light breakfast and lunch for the children but they made their once a day appearance over in the main mansion to be able to spend time with their parents and the guests. The tennis court was added at the same time as the children's house, around 1930.

On your left there are two small buildings, the first one is the Butler's cabin. The butler was the head of the staff for the house and therefore had his own small residence. It's a two bedroom residence with a bathroom. And just beyond the Butler's Cabin there's a building that's the Maid's Cabin. It now today serves as a public restroom however in its day it housed four maids in four separate small rooms who shared one bathroom.

The Hellmans--and then later the Ehrmans--brought their staff with them from San Francisco, they didn't hire separate staff up here in Lake Tahoe. From here keep going toward the mansion and walk around the building so that you are on the front porch facing the lake.
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Childrens House and Butler and Maids' Cabins

Caretaker Cabin


Butler Cabin


Isaias Hellman and the Ehrman Mansion

Standing in front of the main mansion you can understand the beautiful architecture of this building that the family called the Pine Lodge. Isaias Hellman immigrated from Germany in 1842 as a 16 year old boy who didn't speak any english. He had a job in his cousin's dry goods store, and it turned out that he had a great knack for business and in a few short years was running his own stores. He lived in Los Angeles at this time and because he was such a successful business man people would come to him to borrow money, as there were no banks in Los Angeles then.

Pretty soon Isaias decided that it made sense for him to open a bank and he opened the Farmers' and Merchants bank. Banking ended up being Isaias' calling and for the rest of his life that's what he dedicated himself to. After about thirty years in Los Angeles, Isaias and his family moved to San Francisco so that Isaias could take over the presidency of the Nevada National Bank. Eventually the Nevada National Bank merged with Wells Fargo Bank and became known as Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank, and was finally shortened to simply Wells Fargo Bank.

Isaias was the president of Wells Fargo Bank at the time that he built this home. At the turn of the century, wealthy San Franciscans were starting to discover the beauty of Lake Tahoe where they could escape the fog.

Isaias and his wife enjoyed summering here in some of the early hotels and eventually decided to build their own summer estate. He hired a prominent San Francisco architect, Walter Danforth Bliss, who designed this home, and he bought about 2000 acres of land to place it on. The home was completed in 1903 and the family moved in that July. It was a truly a summer home: it has no insulation and no heat.

Life here in Lake Tahoe was very idyllic; the family came here for the entire summer. Isaias couldn't spend the whole summer himself, because he was a busy man, but guests would come for weeks at a time because getting here was quite an epic journey back in those days.

Mrs. Hellman passed away only five years later in 1908 and then Isaias passed in 1920. At that time his youngest daughter, Florence Hellman Ehrman, inherited this house. She and her husband Sidney continued to summer here until 1964 which is when she passed away. Over those years the house slowly became known as the Ehrman mansion which is what you'll commonly hear it called today.
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Isaias Hellman

Pier and Lake Tahoe

From the end of the pier you have an absolutely stunning view of Lake Tahoe. If you turn around and look back toward the land you can see some of the other buildings on the estate. Facing the land on the far right is the North Boathouse, the Fips Cabin, and the caretaker's house. The caretaker lived on the estate year-round to look after things in the wintertime.

On the far left is the bathhouse, where bathers changed into their bathing costumes, a little bit more modest that todays outfits. On the beach is the small pumphouse; once commercial electricity was available in 1927 the family pumped water from the lake rather than using the original Mulholland water system. And a little further down the shoreline in the distance you can see the South Boathouse.

Now turn around and face back around to magnificent Lake Tahoe again. Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in North America, after Crater Lake in Oregon. It's known for its depth and its beautiful blue color and clarity. The depth of Lake Tahoe is over 1600 feet deep at the deepest point, and the average depth of the lake is over 1000 feet deep. It's 22 miles long by 12 miles wide and its clarity is down to about 70 feet. Lake Tahoe used to be a bit clearer than this, but because of development along its shoreline it has lost some of its clarity. Efforts are being made today to restore the clarity of Lake Tahoe and to "Keep Tahoe Blue".
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Pier and Lake Tahoe
Pictures in this guide taken by: chris
This tour was really cool, especially heading it straight from the ranger in charge of the park. I learned a lot about the Hellman family and the estate, and the views across the lake form the beach were great.

I didn't take the tour of the interior, but I heard that is pretty great.

Visited on Oct 28, 2010

by chris on Jan 26, 2011

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