Located almost smack dab in the middle of Lake Tahoe’s eastern shore is a tiny hamlet that has the same mystique as the storied Camelot.
Its name is Glenbrook, which may be a little redundant because Webster lists the definition of glen as, “a valley usually wooded and with a stream”, however, early settlers wanted to definitely describe the area in its totality.
At the present time, Glenbrook is a gated community yielding access only to its approximately three hundred homeowners and their guests. Physically, it is a four-square-mile hamlet that was the first settlement at Lake Tahoe. If the Lake itself is the tiara of the Sierra Nevada, then surely Glenbrook is the crown jewel of that tiara. The four square-miles mentioned are divided into 3.8 sq. mi. and of land and .2 of an sq. mi. of water. This ratio changes slightly when extremely wet or dry years occur.
To fully understand what Glenbrook was and now is, one has only to pick up a copy of local author Jack Harpster’s riveting biography of Duane L. Bliss, which is entitled, “Lumber Baron of the Comstock Lode”. In his 2015 200+ page soft-cover tome, Harpster delivers a historical account of the individual who was once called, ”The Grand Old Man of Lake Tahoe”.
Harpster himself is a meticulous researcher and a talented writer with a free-flowing style that was probably honed during his previous career as a newsman. Since moving to Northern Nevada he has specialized in books describing such iconic figures and places as Lavere Redfield, the Riverside Hotel and the Virginia Street Bridge.
Getting back to Glenbrook of the present day, once you gain access through the gate, you drive down a sharp incline (that was once part of original Highway 50) past a number of switchback four-way stop signs that lead to numerous large and magnificent single family structures. There are also small clusters of medium sized structures on the way down. Once you make the final turn, there is a huge meadow to your left that extends all the way down to almost the lake shore. At one point there is a small enclosed cemetery on the north side of the meadow which is the site of numerous pioneer graves. Upon arriving at the shoreline area, there is a large number of two-story edifices that resemble a modern-day version of Cape Cod. The structures fronting the grassy lawn area that leads to the sandy beach are probably the most historic ones in Glenbrook. Biggest house is the Jellerson mansion that is a mid-19th-century building that once served as a tiny hotel. It has been renovated and reconfigured into a spacious single-family home. Having personally visited the Jellerson House, I can attest to the fact that it is as solid and sturdy as when it was first constructed. Cheek to jowl with the Jellerson is the old Glenbrook Inn, which has been transmogrified into several condominium units. I remember the Inn as a tiny but elegant dining facility in the middle of the 20th century. Since one of my college roommates was dating a member of the Bliss family, one Sis Bliss, we were often invited to this charming enclave. Interestingly enough, for those present residents that decry the lack of a grocery outlet within the confines of Glenbrook, the Inn itself during halcyon days was actually an over-the-water grocery store. Current homeowners have to travel to the Round Hill shopping center to stock up on victuals.
Abetting the beach on the southeastern shore of the cove are two long piers, one of which has a small enclosure at the far end which serves as an office for the popular boat attendant named Scott. His duty is to service boaters whose crafts are anchored by the scores of buoys that provide a kaleidoscope of color during summer’s high season.
Primary installation on the northeast corner of the cove is the famous Glenbrook Golf Course that is open almost half the year. It also features a magnificent clubhouse and restaurant that is the perfect setting for weddings and other summer activities.
Having played the course when it was open to the public, I recall two memorable instances. The first occurred when a threesome of Father Maurice Welsh, Monsignor Robert Anderson and I were about to tee off on the first hole. Coming up behind us was a twosome of Bob Hope and the resident Pro. Since we recognized Hope, who was an inveterate golfer, we offered to let the duo play through, but Hope and his partner demurred and urged us to tee off. After Father Welsh had hit three tee shots into the rough, which consisted of towering pines that caused the errant shots to rat-a-tat-tat like a burst of machine-gun fire, Hope declared, “Maybe we should play through.” He and the Pro hit straight long drives and it was the last that our stumbling trio saw of them. The other instance occurred when Harrah’s Club hosted the members of the local Sierra Nevada Sports Writers and Broadcasters Association to a golf tournament and dinner show at the Lake. On the finishing hole of the tournament, we were on the putting green in a foursome that included A.D. Dick Trachok, Harrah host Lee DeLauer, reporter Clark Bigler and the writer. Trachok, who was a skillful golfer had an easy to make, six-foot putt. While one of us diverted his attention, DeLauer deftly substituted a golf ball with a liquid mercury center for Trachok’s ball. When Dick hit the ball, it went in squiggly fashion and completely missed the hole.
Historically, it is said that the times create the man, which is certainly true in the case of Duane Bliss. An easterner by birth, he left home at an early age and became a cabin boy on sailing ships, coming to Nevada via California. He was a miner and an entrepreneur who found his greatest success in the lumbering business. Most of the 50,000 acres of timber that he cut down are now residing beneath the town of Virginia City in some 135 underground mines, some of which plunge more than a half-mile into the earth as they formed the square-sets needed to excavate roughly 700 miles of underground tunneling beneath the Comstock communities.
It is hard to imagine Lake Tahoe during the Bliss years when steamships cruised the lake regularly. Docks were built that could handle narrow-gauge rail cars and Glenbrook was home to some thousand residents, most of whom worked in Bliss’ sawmill operation. Mute testimony to the hubbub of activity are the dozens of ancient pilings that still rise above the waterline of the cove. Former residents of that era also had to endure much more rigorous winter conditions as snows fell to the fifteen-foot level and drifted to thirty-foot heights.
Once the Comstock Lode petered out, Bliss turned his attention to developing Tahoe into a summer resort. His most famous facility was the Tahoe Tavern in Tahoe City that was recognized as the grandest hotel between San Francisco and the Rockies.
Today Glenbrook remains undoubtedly Bliss’ finest development as it ensures many happy ever-afterings.