The following details were generously provided by Sandra Schilling-Santos, granddaughter of Paul & Frances Pennoyer.
Paul G. Pennoyer was born October 30th, 1890, and grew up in Oakland, California. One of three brothers, he was fascinated by trains and railroads from an early age, especially the locomotives that powered up Donner Summit. He loved all that the Sierra Nevada had to offer and was especially smitten with the stunning beauty of Lake Tahoe. Although his family moved away from Oakland to spend his formative years in France, Paul never forgot his great love for Lake Tahoe.
After earning his undergraduate degree from Harvard, Paul entered Harvard Law School, where he met and courted his classmate’s sister, Frances Morgan, the youngest daughter of banker and financier John Pierpont Morgan. Marriage to Frances and a career in law would mean settling in New York.
Eager to share the beauty of the West with his bride, Paul brought Frances to the shores of Lake Tahoe in 1917 while on their honeymoon. They stayed at the Tahoe Tavern, touring the lake by steamer during the day. Frances, who had never been to California, was as enchanted as Paul had hoped, and they vowed to return.
Nineteen years later, and with six children in tow, Paul and Frances returned to Lake Tahoe in July of 1936. The family had traveled out west so they could see the California of Paul’s childhood. Through his childhood connections, Paul had arranged for his family to stay at the Ebright place south of Emerald Bay. He had also been in touch with another acquaintance, Howard Fletcher, who was then living in Berkeley with his wife and young family.
Howard and Kathryn Fletcher invited the Pennoyer family to spend the day with them at their summer home on Rubicon Bay, where Howard had been charged with assisting in the sale of an adjacent property on Rubicon Bay, then owned by the bank for which he worked. The families enjoyed each other enormously, and the children were similar in age. Gradually, the conversation about the breathtaking beauty of Rubicon Bay led to Paul and Frances expressing an interest in seeing the available property.
A short drive down a dirt road, past a serene mountain meadow with meandering, ephemeral streams brought Paul and Frances and their children to a lakeside parcel of indescribable beauty. The parcel was undeveloped save for the remains of the pier, which once moored the steamers as they circumnavigated Tahoe and stopped with passengers and supplies at the old Rubicon Park Lodge. Staggered by both the beauty of the lakeshore property and the opportunity to spend summers at Lake Tahoe with their family, Paul and Frances immediately and excitedly agreed, that very same afternoon, to purchase the 400 feet of lakefront with the pier and just over 7 acres of backlands.
Family lore suggests that Frances offered to pawn her engagement ring to secure the property. Fortunately, Paul’s friendship with Howard Fletcher was of sufficient duration that a handshake and a “letter of intent to purchase” were all that was necessary to effectively seal the deal.
Before boarding the train to New York, Paul and Frances met with an architect from Berkeley named Roland I. Stringham. They arranged to meet at the train station in Sacramento and confided in Stringham their dreams for a simple yet spacious summer home that could be informally enjoyed by their large family. The consultation lasted not more than a couple of hours, and the family then boarded the train heading east to their home in New York.
Once home on Long Island, Frances Pennoyer removed from safekeeping a large Cartier ruby pendant which had been given to her by her late mother. She sold it to her younger brother Harry S. Morgan, who in turn gave it to his wife Catharine. The proceeds were then used to fund the purchase and development of the property at Lake Tahoe, which became known within the family as “Paradise Flat”.
Mr. Stringham journeyed to the newly purchased property and began designing a home suitable for a large family to use in the summers at Lake Tahoe. He had been encouraged by the Pennoyers to use local materials wherever possible, to hire local craftsmen and to keep the design simple while taking full advantage of the stunning setting.
Returning to his office in Berkeley, Mr. Stringham designed a home in a style he referred to as “mountain craftsman”. The result was a two story home with a cedar board and batten exterior, dormered windows under a steeply pitched roof, and plenty of bedrooms and bathrooms to accommodate family, guests, and household help.
The design was approved, the contractor hired, and work began on the foundation for the house in the fall of 1936. Stopping for the winter, construction resumed in the spring of 1937. The Pennoyers, still in New York, were assured the home would be complete and ready for them to live in by July.
All communication between the Pennoyers, the architect, and the contractor took place via handwritten letter and sometimes via Western Union Telegram. A few change orders, a graciously written contract, and a warm respectful tone is embedded in each piece of correspondence, indicative of the courtesy and consideration belonging to a bygone era.
Back in New York, Frances undertook the colossal task of furnishing a house she had yet to see. In keeping with the rustic simplicity of the house and the remote location, the furniture she selected was simple and largely made of unfinished pine. Most of the furnishings and household supplies were purchased through Macy’s, and Frances arranged to have everything shipped and in place by the time the family arrived to take up residence.
Meanwhile, after continued discussion with Howard Fletcher, Paul and Frances added in separate transactions two more contiguous parcels to their original 400 feet of lakefront. Their total investment in Rubicon Bay became 4 separate parcels consisting of approximately 800 feet of beachfront and 21 acres of backlands.
Paul’s younger brother A. Sheldon Pennoyer, a noted artist and Monuments Man of World War II (a story with many tellings, most recently the 2014 movie directed by and starring George Clooney titled “The Monuments Men”), arrived on the property later in the spring of 1937 to oversee the final stages of the construction. The arrival of the Pennoyers was preceded by the arrival of the household help, who had traveled west with the family dogs. With Sheldon’s capable oversight, all the furnishings were moved into place on July 16th.
The family then arrived at 7:15 in the morning at the Sacramento train station, having enjoyed the second ever run of the transcontinental train “The Forty Niner”. Sheldon was there to greet them and reassure them that except for a few minor details, the house was ready for them to inhabit. The family journeyed that day by motorcar to Rubicon Bay, seeing for the first time the breathtaking reality of the summer home they had dreamed of all through the cold, snowy New York winter.
The summer of 1937 would be the first of many magical summers at Paradise Flat for Paul and Frances, for four subsequent generations of their extended family, and a most welcome array of guests and four footed friends (including horses, dogs, a parrot, and two Sicilian Donkeys)!
Memories were etched of large family lunches, buffet-style, on the lakefront porch. Summer evening beach BBQ’s with Grandpa Pennoyer at the helm, followed by his eagerly sought performances on the accordion. Time spent reading, playing cards or watching family movies in front of the fireplace in the evening. Horse and mule pack trips throughout the Sierras. Hikes to see the sunrise up Tallac and Rubicon Peaks. Fly-fishing in clear mountain streams. Watching movies and horseback riding and dancing were enjoyed at Meeks Bay. Tennis lessons were taken at the Ehrman mansion. Bears, Chipmunks, and other forces of nature vying with severe winter storms all became the stuff of family legend. In this way, twenty wonderful years would pass.
In the fall of 1957, Paul and Frances decided to simplify their lives and gift the property to their two daughters who had both met and married native Californians. Following polite discussions memorialized in congenial correspondence, Paul and Frances deeded the northern half of the property, including the house and the pier and the original 7 acres, to their daughter F. Tracy Schilling. They deeded the southern half of the property with its various outbuildings and its appurtenant 14 acres to their daughter Virginia P. Livermore.
The greatly enlarged and ever expanding Pennoyer family continued to enjoy the property at Paradise Flat throughout the summers. F. Tracy Schilling adored Paradise Flat and managed it and her growing family with graceful good humor and a firm grasp of the essentials of feeding an army. Tracy lovingly continued the tradition of opening the house in the spring, having her own family there, sharing it with her Pennoyer siblings, and then closing it up in the fall.
In 1976, Tracy began having some health issues that prevented her from spending as much time as she needed at Paradise Flat. Her daughter, Alexandra “Sandra” Schilling-Santos had often accompanied her mother on trips to Paradise Flat, and had become intimately familiar with the annual routine and assorted maintenance challenges presented by what was then an older and occasionally quirky summer home.
At that time, Sandra became the default “go to” girl for Paradise Flat, overseeing most aspects of the property. Quickly, a common interest became a shared passion. For the rest of Tracy’s life, nearly all conversations between mother and daughter included some manner of problem solving pertaining to Paradise Flat, to which they were both fiercely devoted.
In 1988, to meet estate planning needs, Tracy and her husband August H. Schilling changed the ownership structure of the property, placing Paradise Flat in a partnership. At that time, they designated Sandra as a managing partner, a role she retained until the property was sold out of the family in 2012.
The decision to place the beloved property for sale was difficult. The Schillings had mixed emotions: on one hand they hoped that a buyer would appreciate and respect the historical nature of the house and the pristine, beautifully preserved section of Rubicon Bay where it was located. But years of management challenges led them to appreciate that the house would most likely be drastically altered and modernized to meet the needs of the new owners, or possibly it would be demolished entirely. They placed no restrictions on potential buyers.
When Mr. John Mozart made an offer on the property and made clear his intentions to honor the historical significance of the property by donating it to a site where it could be enjoyed by the larger Tahoe community, he notified Sandra of his thoughts and plans. Sandra was at that moment helping to care for Tracy in her final days, and they were able to have one last conversation about their beloved Paradise Flat.
Both Sandra and Tracy were thrilled that the lovely old home, which had provided so much enjoyment for one large family over five generations, would not be torn down, or remodeled beyond recognition. Instead, this warmly inviting family home would be thoughtfully adapted for use by the larger Tahoe community, which consists of so many extraordinary and dedicated people who had helped both the Pennoyers and the Schillings maintain the house over many years.
In this way, the house can now belong to those who have largely made it possible to write this story. It belongs to the community of Tahoe, and the mountain craftsmen who have – to this day – helped keep it running just as it did in 1937 when it was first built.
Alongside family history, the Schilling Residence and the property at Paradise Flat embody an era when civility and simplicity were values cherished as cornerstones of everyday life. Lake Tahoe was a place to slow down, to relax, to enjoy extraordinary natural beauty, and a place where even a lady such as Frances Pennoyer felt free to (on occasion) wear pants.
Returning the house to the community feels emblematic of the gracious and kind way of doing things inherent in the story of Paradise Flat. Indeed, the house would not have stood the test of time without the kindness, the effort, the dedication and the generosity of the larger Tahoe community.
In 2015, Mr. Mozart donated the Schilling residence to the Tahoe City Public Utility District (TCPUD), who then worked in partnership with the non-profit Tahoe Cross Country Ski Education Association (TCCSEA) to accept the donation with the intention of adapting it into a much needed new Tahoe Cross Country ski lodge.
To transform the 1936 Schilling family summer home into the new Tahoe Cross Country ski lodge will require an immense amount of work, including the already completed deconstruction and storage of the building. It will require permitting, environmental studies, architecture and engineering, reconstruction, and most critically a capital fundraising campaign.
This opportunity to reinvigorate a piece of history, to lounge after skiing or snowshoeing on a deck that was milled on the shores of Rubicon Bay, to read or have meetings in the living room with redwood block flooring and hand-adzed Ponderosa pine walls, to feel what it was like to be in Tahoe back when railroads were still new and families summered for entire seasons together will be what an average day at the new Tahoe Cross Country Schilling Lodge will feel like.
If you would like to join our effort in creating a community center we can all take pride in, please feel free to contact us. We will also be sharing our progress and even more historical nuggets as the process continues, so stay tuned!