Frank Lloyd Wright, the renowned late 19th– and early 20th–century architect, created homes and buildings throughout America and abroad, of which 28 are scattered around California. One project that did not come to fruition, however, is the Lake Tahoe Summer Colony that would have been in Lake Tahoe’s famed Emerald Bay.
Wright came to Tahoe for the first time in 1923 to present his unsolicited design to Jesse Armstrong, the owner of the land surrounding Emerald Bay. Armstrong had inherited the property, a chunk of acreage spanning from the North Shore of Emerald Bay to Camp Richardson. Wright’s large–scale, idyllic proposal included terrestrial cabins, barge cabins built to float in Emerald Bay, and a main lodge on a wide pier between the coast and the island, leaving the latter in the middle of the bay pristine.
“Wright’s work was an architectural expression of the American landscape; he tried to create structures that reflected the landscape, and this was new because most architectural models before this time came overseas from Europe,” said Colin Robertson, curator of education at The Nevada Museum of Art.
This style was very pronounced when Wright presented detailed plans for his Lake Tahoe Summer Colony. Robertson describes the project as consistent with Wright’s innovative way of creating an extension of the landscape with his architecture. Wright went as far as to specify that all of the concrete used in the foundation blocks would be made on-site with rock from the surrounding area, making the building a physical manifestation of the land.
Wright designed four types of cabins on the land surrounding the bay. While he did not specify exact locations, he did name them, according to the Library of Congress. The cabins — Lodge, Wigwam, Big Tree, and Shore — reflected certain elements from their names; for example, the Big Tree cabin had a roof that looked like a large tree trunk. Wright also created four types of barge cabins to float romantically around the bay. The barge cabins included Catamaran, Fallen Leaf, Family Type, and Barge for Two, and were all eye-catching as Wright used geometric shapes to create them.
The Barge for Two cabin is Wright’s first known use of a fully hexagonal module, according to the Library of Congress. Geometric forms were characteristic of Wright’s buildings, and he accredits these shapes coming from an early influence of a set of Froebel’s wooden blocks that his mother gifted him, according to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
But, alas, Wright could not convince Armstrong and other investors to fund the meticulously planned project. There is no record of the amount Wright was asking for. By 1928, Armstrong sold her prized land to Lora Josephine Knight for the bargain price of an amount equal to a quarter million dollars by today’s standards. Knight, a woman with a flair for European style, had a nephew, Lennart Palme, who was a Swedish architect. Taking many influences from Nordic architecture, Knight and Palme created Vikingsholm; ironically, in almost the exact spot Wright dreamed of a colony of American designed cabins.
Overall, the plan for the Lake Tahoe Summer Colony, drawn by Wright on Japanese paper with graphite pencils, included 10 specific buildings, according to Alan Hess, an architect and historian. In the plans, Wright’s characteristics for landscape use, local material, and love of his country show through. Even though the plans were never realized, Emerald Bay still makes for a stunning view.