The Spindleshanks building in Tahoe Vista has been around for 86 years. Now, Tahoe Vista’s oldest commercial building is slated to be torn down next year to make way for a timeshare project. While some community members lament the loss of a community landmark, the restaurant owners say they hope to re-open in a new location.
The Spindleshanks building was constructed in 1927 as part of the Sandy Beach Resort and campground. For almost half a century, starting in 1942, the building housed the Tahoe Vista Post Office until it moved to its current location on National Avenue and Highway 28. Since that time, the building has housed four different restaurants, including Spindleshanks, which opened in 2000.
In 2008, building owners Joe Lanza, Rafe Miller, and Tim Wilkens of Tahoe Vista Partners, LLC proposed turning the old Sandy Beach campground into 45 timeshare units. The Friends of Tahoe Vista and the League to Save Lake Tahoe sued Placer County and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency over the project’s approval, claiming the development was too big for the amount of coverage at the 6-acre site and would result in a loss of community character. In a settlement reached in 2010, the developers agreed to reduce the number of units to 39 and decrease land coverage by 50,000 square feet, according to Leah Kaufman, a member of the Friends of Tahoe Vista.
According to Steve Marks, one of the Spindleshanks owners, the three partners in the development were originally going to keep the building as part of the project, and had plans to remodel the restaurant and put in a new kitchen. But when Lanza and Miller sold their share of the property to Wilkens last summer, he decided to tear down the Spindleshanks building.
“The building that houses Spindleshanks is badly in need of repairs and code compliance upgrades,” wrote Wilkens in an email to Moonshine Ink.
Marks learned in August of the building’s fate. The restaurant was supposed to close in October, but its deadline for moving out has been extended to Jan. 15. Marks hopes that date can be pushed back to April.
“They can’t do anything [in the winter], and we’ve made an offer to help with some expenses,” Marks said. “We will hopefully operate until March 31; that is my goal.”
Marks and his partner Herman Schuchmann are looking for other another space in Tahoe Vista to re-open Spindleshanks. Marks said he does not begrudge Wilkens for having to move after 13 years in business.
“It’s sad, but the lease has run out and that’s the way it works,” he said. “Pieces of it have already gone. It was across the lake, the campground closed, and a lot of the buildings are in disrepair. It’s not such a bad thing this is happening.”
But some community members are upset that a building with a long history in the community is being demolished, and that a local business could be lost in the rubble.
“It’s one of the last historic-looking buildings left in the Tahoe Vista community. We all embrace having a local business there,” said Ellie Waller, a Tahoe Vista resident and head of the Friends of Tahoe Vista. “It’s nice to be able to walk by and see a piece of history.”
Waller and Kaufman are also disturbed that the building’s potential demolition was not discussed during settlement negotiations about the Sandy Beach development.
“I would have put it on the table if we had known it was going to be removed,” Waller said.
Placer County does not have cultural resource laws. Ralph Gibson, interim museums administrator for Placer County Museums, said that all he can offer are comments about a building’s historical value; his department cannot prevent an old structure from being demolished.
“Even the National Historic Preservation Act can’t forbid someone from tearing something down,” Gibson said. “In the end, all you are left with is comments, take it or leave it.”
In the end, that disappoints Kaufman.
“It’s sad that it’s just going to be this private timeshare,” she said about the Spindleshanks building.
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