When I was a young tot in the mid 1960s, I used to visit Sadie, an elderly lady who lived in the tiny building across the street from the fire station (after she died her house became a barber shop). I still remember her talking about how she had a view of the lake until that ‘damn monstrosity of a firehouse’ was built across the street.

It looks like Sadie may finally get her wish.

With the new Tahoe City firehouse on Fairway Drive almost complete, focus has turned to what to do with the old firehouse property, public land just above Commons Beach in the center of town. As part of the original agreement that allowed the firehouse to be built in 1961, the old building must be torn down. A public meeting was held last month to discuss the options of what to do after it’s demolished.


On Oct. 17, about 100 people attended a joint meeting of the Tahoe City Public Utility District and the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. A group of architects and designers, including Dick Glanville, who designed the 2003 Commons Beach improvements, presented four alternatives for the use of the property. The proposals were prepared with the assistance of the West Commons Beach Steering Committee, whose goal was to provide community input.

TCPUD General Manager Cindy Gustafson began the meeting by emphasizing that this was just the initial phase of the process. The goal was to find out what residents think about the different ideas and begin the conversation about what should be done next.


Fountain of the Lake
This least expensive alternative begins with demolition of the existing fire station and the adjacent visitor center. Then a two-story addition would be constructed at the west end of the community center, which houses the North Lake Tahoe Arts Center, including a new elevator to meet ADA requirements. A fountain, with lighted column features similar to what you see at Los Angeles Airport, would be the focal point of a large plaza with granite slabs, benches, and landscaping. Cost estimate is $4 to $6 million.

Community Center Plus
This alternative would replace the fire station and visitor center with a multi-use facility. The top two levels of the community center would be completely renovated, and a 165-seat, multi-purpose theater would be built where the fire station and visitor centers are currently located. The theater could be used for community events, music, and arts presentations. The estimated cost of this alternative is $7 to $8 million.

Tahoe Experience Pavilions
In this alternative all the current buildings in the West Commons area would be demolished and replaced with the Tahoe Experience Interpretative Center. It would include four, three-story pavilions connected by a central corridor. The buildings would have reception and demonstration areas, classroom/lab space, several exhibition galleries, and on the bottom floor next to the lake, a café and rental shop with kayaks and paddleboards. Estimated cost is $11 to $13 million.

The Hydrarium
The most ambitious proposal, the hydrarium is a large scale, cultural attraction blending information, education, and entertainment that would become the defining icon of Tahoe City. The idea is to have a place so powerful and unique that it attracts visitors throughout the region, and would be a highlight of any trip to Lake Tahoe. In addition to interpretative exhibits it would have a wide-screen, multi-use theater presenting the Tahoe story. It would incorporate dining and retail venues, and to this reporter seemed like a mini Monterey Bay Aquarium–type attraction. All the existing buildings would be demolished, followed by the construction of a new, four-level building. The scale of the development would require off-site parking with a shuttle arrangement to the facility, perhaps in conjunction with the transit center at 64 Acres. Unlike the other proposals, this project might be private or semi-private, and would provide revenue and employment to the community. It was estimated to cost between $23 and $25 million.


The new firehouse is set to be completed in December, with the moving process taking several months. Over the next several weeks the TCPUD and NLTRA will gather public input on the proposals, and then the steering committee will reconvene and determine what the next step will be. ‘We think it is important to be proactive and have a vision of what can be on the site before the building is torn down,’ said Kelli Twomey, TCPUD director of resource development and community relations. But steering committee member Christin Hanna, vice president of the Tahoe City Downtown Association, summarized what might be the biggest challenge, ‘We have to figure out how to pay for it all.’

or more information or to respond to a survey regarding the proposals, go to tahoecitypud.com, or contact Kelli Twomey at the TCPUD at (530) 583-3796 ext. 21.

~ Comment on this story below.


Previous articleGiving Fennel the Love It Deserves
Next articleBenjamin ‘Benny’ Steven Brackett