|Views like this are harder to find as McMansions with elaborate
entries have been walled off as family compounds.
North Tahoe’s walled-off hysteria is not a hotel anyone should visit soon
GUEST BLOG / By Eric Peterson, Matters of Taste Editor-- In his travelogue “Roughing It,” Mark Twain describes Lake Tahoe as “a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks …” He added: “I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”
Today, the jewel in the crown of Twain’s cherished Lake Tahoe is a town called Incline Village. It sits on the lake’s north shore and has a population of roughly ten thousand.
Incline Village residents have included Oracle’s Larry Ellison, casino mogul Steve Wynn, junk-bond kingpin Michael Milken, the Beach Boys’s lead singer Mike Love, and golfer Annika Sörenstam.
The blue water and snow-clad mountain peaks alone aren’t enough to encourage the uberwealthy to settle here. Incline Village is in Nevada, and Nevada is a tax haven. It has no state income tax.
For pretention and recognition of achievement, the ne plus ultra Incline Village address is Lakeshore Boulevard, where the real estate market is perpetually hot. A teardown starts at $4 million.
Taking a summer stroll along the three-mile Lakeshore Boulevard walking trail, I stared with bug-eyed disbelief and my jaw dropped. The newer homes were like palaces. In this stretch of elite residential real estate, a car elevator leading down to a yawning subterranean garage might be considered a quaint feature, but among this crowd, it’ll hardly raise an eyebrow.
On that same walk, I saw imposing gated entries, and I encountered armies of gardeners tending elaborate flower beds, thick hedges, and lush green lawns. Each estate, it seemed, had its own legion of workers. If Incline Village has a civic anthem, it must be the sound of a gas-powered leaf blower.
Incline Village was established in 1882 as a logging operation. The town was reborn in 1961 when Washoe County created the Incline Village General Improvement District, or IVGID, as it’s known today. Five elected trustee positions were established and charged with planning the district’s improvements and running its operations.
Picture a giant, all-powerful homeowner’s association and a population of millionaire and billionaire alpha-lion overachievers, and you can begin to understand the ecology of Incline Village politics. Trustee candidates compete in cutthroat elections and are recalled on a regular basis.
And no detail is too small to avoid scrutiny of the IVGID Trustees, who presume godlike authority. Fireworks at the beach; boat-launch pricing; tee-time intervals and changes to the cart path at the golf course; what kitchen equipment to buy; what point-of-sale system to use—these were all agenda items at board meetings of the IVGID Trustees. These plutocrats rule with a tight hand.
Imagine the horror: Eight low-level millionaires taking possession of a Lakeshore trophy and treating it like a vacation rental. The next thing you know they’ll be changing the oil in their Hummers on the concrete driveway and blasting Toby Keith from the lumber-and-stone loggia of their Pacaso luxury co-op.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Incline Village was a humble place, an isolated getaway spot for serious snow skiers, persevering nature lovers, and summer vacationers. There were few year-round residents. The architectural style of the first wave of single-family homes mirrored the modest ranch houses of the flourishing Bay Area suburbs. A single-story with a long low-pitch roofline, big windows along the front, an attached garage, and sliding glass doors leading to a dedicated patio in back—was there any other way to design a house?
In those early years, higher up the mountain, on the cheaper lots above the snowline, A-frame cabins became popular. They were affordable and conjured up a distinct ‘60s Swiss-chalet après-ski panache—cheese fondue and Mateus Rosé served in a snow-encircled hot tub full of bikini-clad ski bunnies, above, while Herb Alpert’s “A Taste of Honey” played on the hi-fi.
Then came the midnineties. With the dotcom bubble, personal wealth in the San Francisco Bay Area soared. Many of these new Silicon Valley millionaires and billionaires set their sights on Incline Village. The town locals watched flat-footed and stupefied as lakefront summer homes and rustic cabins were scooped up by land-grabbing, real-life Monopoly Men, who amassed contiguous lots, completed the required paperwork with the governing agencies, and renovated the properties as Mountain Modern monstrosities (see below).
The homes they built were as big as hotels. The favored architecture style expressed a decidedly mountain-oriented vocabulary: thick beams, gable roofs, oversize windows, stone facades, rock fireplaces, rugged textures with copper accents. The Monopoly Men went deep underground, too—those car elevators and subterranean garages were commonly incorporated into the grandiose homes that were under construction along Lakeshore Boulevard. Car collecting, it seems, is a popular side interest with billionaires. Elaborate entries were constructed, and cameras went up. The properties were walled off as family compounds. Armed guards secured the perimeters.
Disappearing lake views aren’t my only quibble with the new construction along Lakeshore Boulevard. Within the past few years, a disturbing architectural trend has descended on Incline Village. The new deep pockets arrivistes—internet entrepreneurs, heirs to fortunes, dissident investors—are now constructing massive concrete homes in the minimalist style of architecture (see above), and the trend is sowing the neighborhoods of Incline Village with a rash of cubist-architecture eyesores.
These atrocities look like fallout shelters—flat roofs, rigid lines, and excessive use of concrete and glass. They’re as out of place at Lake Tahoe as an *oompah band at a debutante ball.
Today Incline Village serves as a cautionary tale for the country.
Most middle-class workers—the teachers, the postal workers, the security consultants, the nurses, the tax accountants—have been priced out of Incline’s housing market. Every evening there’s an exodus down the mountain as these commuters make their way to homes in more affordable cities like Reno, Sparks, and Carson City.
The forewarning: Incline Village is a community without a middle class. The delta between the haves and have-nots makes this chic mountain town feel increasingly like a Third World country.
About the Author:
Peterson's, left, most recent book, titled Museum of the Unknown Writer, is a collection of essays penned exclusively for Pillar to Post. In his spare time, he is PillartoPost.org’s arbiter of all matters of taste from architecture to artichokes.
|* German-American Oompah Band from YouBetcha, Wisconsin (maybe).