For most Tahoe residents, it’s probably pretty difficult to imagine what life was like in the region 100 years ago. All the debate over development and preserving Tahoe’s heritage and habitat of late makes you think about exactly how much progress and change has happened in the Basin over the last century.
While much — an obvious understatement — has changed since 1918, there are two businesses that have stood the test of time, and will be celebrating their centennial anniversaries this year. Both the Tahoe City Golf Course and Cabona’s will ring in 100 years in business in 2018, and look back on a century of success. Obviously these businesses have changed over the years, from Cabona’s evolution from general store to clothing boutique, to the golf course going from an exclusive private club to a town-owned public facility. But it’s no small feat to remain in business for so long, and it’s a testament to both that they are still standing today.
The histories of these places remain surprisingly reliant on oral tradition, passed down through generations of owners and employees. So much so that the Tahoe City Golf Course almost kicked off their centennial celebration last year, after being assured that the course was opened in 1917. It was only after they commissioned some historians to dig into the course’s past that they realized their error, and planned the festivities for 2018 instead.
TAHOE CITY GOLF COURSE
The construction of the course was commissioned by the Tahoe Tavern, an exclusive resort at the time. The owners chose May “Queenie” Dunn to design the course, which is now viewed as a highly unexpected move, considering Dunn was a woman in a time when few occupational opportunities were given to women. Even to this day, very few courses are designed by women, according to Kurt Althof, management analyst for the Tahoe City Public Utility District, the current owner of the course.
Dunn’s family was an institution in the golf world. Hailing from the United Kingdom — whether they were English or Scottish is still under debate, Althof said — the Dunns were involved in every part of the game, from club and ball engineering and manufacturing to course design. Prior to the Tahoe City course, Dunn had already designed Nevada’s first golf course — Reno Golf Club — and she is widely considered America’s first female golf professional, according to historian Mark McLaughlin.
As an amenity of the upscale Tahoe Tavern resort, the six-hole golf course was frequented by many famous patrons, like the Rat Pack and Bob Hope.
In 1948, the Bechdolt family bought the course from the resort. Althof attributes much of the success and longevity of the course to the fact that it has been owned by so few entities, even in its 100 years of business. The Bechdolts owned the course for 64 years, until they sold it to the Tahoe City Public Utility District (TCPUD) in 2012, Althof said.
These days the golf course, just a stone’s throw from Lake Tahoe, sees 7,000 to 10,000 rounds of golf played each season. It was expanded from Dunn’s original six-hole design to nine holes in 1926, and there have been some adjustments made to the placement of the course over the years, coinciding with the expansion of Tahoe City. But for Althof, the most impressive change from 1918 to 2018 has been the clientele the course serves.
“Maybe the biggest change is that it was originally designed as an amenity for the Tahoe Tavern, which was a very upscale lodge and resort, and now it’s a publicly-owned course,” Althof said. “Over 100 years, that’s a pretty big shift, to come from an exclusive course and one of very few in the area, and now one that is owned and operated by and for the public. And it’s something that’s actually more affordable. Not everyone wants to pay $150 for a round of golf, so being able to go play Tahoe City offers you the ability to play golf for a reasonable rate.
The TCPUD has brought some historians on board to help them unearth more forgotten historical information about the course as they celebrate the 100-year anniversary. The course also has special events planned for the 2018 season, to commemorate both its longevity and pay homage to its female creator. At the start of the summer, the course will host a women’s tournament as a nod to Queenie’s undying influence on the business. There will also be fun contests, like long drive and putting challenges — but utilizing the tools of the time, they will be played with hickory clubs from the turn of the century.
To the north in Truckee, another century-old business is preparing to celebrate its impressive lifetime. Cabona’s, located in the center of the historic downtown strip, has maintained its standing not only as a successful business, but a driving force in the community.
Stefanie Olivieri, the current owner of Cabona’s, said the store was founded in 1918 by Dave Cabona. At its inception it was a true general store, later adding appliances and sporting goods. When Cabona died in 1947, it was taken over by his widow, who would become Olivieri’s adoptive mother after her own mother died when she was very young. Her mother was the first to pivot Cabona’s toward carrying clothing.
Olivieri got her start in the store at just 9 years old, ironing children’s dresses and washing hangers. She worked her way up to owning the store, becoming a shareholder in 1967 and eventually buying her parents out at age 28 in 1971. Her future was never a question for her, “Even when I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to own the business,” Olivieri said.
Truckee was a lot different when she was a child, she said. In the early years, Cabona’s even had a gas pump outside the store, since the highway ran through downtown. Tahoe wasn’t yet a ski destination, so she said they relied on the summer tourists for business. They had loyal customers that would come back to shop every summer.
Olivieri said that one memory that lives with her was of one of her early jobs in the shop: posting the balances and payments for the charge accounts every week. This was before credit cards, she says, and tourists would charge their account over the summer, and wouldn’t pay it until they were back in town the next year, an unimaginable courtesy nowadays.
Now, the store is known for its selection of quality clothing. Olivieri said her mother taught her to adjust to the needs of the customer, but that running a business meant more than making sales.
“My mother always told me your interests cannot stop at the door to Cabona’s,” she said. “You need to become an active part of community as it grows and steer that growth.”
Olivieri sees herself as more than just a business owner, but as a steward of the community. She played an important role in Truckee’s incorporation push in the ’90s, and she has stayed involved with the development and master plan of the town. She can keep Truckee true to its roots because she remembers what it was so many years ago, when only 500 people lived there.
Aside from celebrating 100 years in business, the biggest honor for her would be to see the store passed on to the next generation of her family.
“I’m very, very proud that we’ve been here 100 years, and I’m hopeful that we can carry on the tradition. I have a son who doesn’t seem at this time to be very interested in the business, but he may come around,” Olivieri says with a laugh, “and I have nieces and nephews, so hopefully I’ve been able to instill in members of my family how important it is for our business to go on and hopefully be held in the same family; it’s a wonderful tradition.”