Tahoe Characters


TAHOE NUGGET #247: SALACIOUS LUCKY BALDWIN Following the warmest August on record in Reno, Nevada, September 2012 also went down as the toastiest in the Biggest Little City since 1888, with an average temperature more than 5 degrees above normal. Sacramento set a new Sept. record with 26 days at or exceeding 90 degrees.


Following the warmest August on record in Reno, Nevada, September 2012 also went down as the toastiest in the Biggest Little City since 1888, with an average temperature more than 5 degrees above normal. Sacramento set a new Sept. record with 26 days at or exceeding 90 degrees.

Ironically and testament to California’s diverse range of microclimates, San Francisco was extraordinarily chilly at more than 6 degrees below normal in September, setting a new record for the lowest monthly mean temperature at 58.1 degrees. The average daily maximum temperature in the City by the Bay was only 64 degrees, definitely not beach weather in what is normally a mild month on the coast.


Near record high temperatures will ebb as approaching low pressure brings cooler weather and a slight chance of showers at Lake Tahoe for the start of next week. If any rain does wet the bucket, it will be the first measureable precipitation for the 2013 water year.

The summerlike conditions in the lower elevations translated into one of the most pleasant Septembers at Lake Tahoe in memory, with high temperatures around 80 degrees and lows in the 40s. The warm spell extended summer fun in the mountains all the way into October.

The balmy weather and clear blue skies have made outdoor activities a real treat, especially since the crowds of summer are gone. Autumn is the perfect time to visit one of Lake Tahoe’s hidden treasures, a spot that is often bypassed by today’s fast-paced visitor. Nestled in the Tallac Historic Site located just a few miles north of South Lake Tahoe are the remains of the Baldwin Estate.

The Baldwin Estate leads to a series of Old Tahoe mansions that harken back to Tahoe’s Golden Era.

You can spend a relaxing day at the Tallac Historic Site touring early 20th century lakefront estates, visiting the museum, and playing Frisbee with your dog on nearby sandy beaches. In high season beautiful Baldwin Beach prohibits pets, but the crescent strand affords spectacular views.

Baldwin Beach on October 1, 2012.

This charming and beautiful location was once a lavish resort built by a character named Elias “Lucky” Baldwin in the late 19th century. In the summer of 1879, Baldwin visited a Tahoe hostelry owned by Ephraim “Yank” Clements. He walked beneath the unspoiled stands of old growth timber and strolled along the sandy beach.

This gremlin-like tree burl was an unusual attraction for the merchant and miner clientele that patronized Yank Clement’s Tallac Point House, as was the spring-mounted dance floor that made guests dance “whether they knew how or not.”

The demand for tunnel supports for Comstock silver mines had already taken a terrible toll on the majestic pine forest that once cloaked the mountains around Lake Tahoe. The next year Baldwin bought Yank’s 2,000 acres, small hotel and one mile of lakefront, which was lost to foreclosure. Baldwin re-named the property the “Tallac House” for a nearby mountain. 

Baldwin named his resort after 9,785 foot Mt. Tallac, the highest mountain along Lake Tahoe, and one of the best hikes in the region. The snowfield at the upper right portion of the peak is a popular backcountry spring skiing challenge.


Baldwin’s new resort soon became the pride of Lake Tahoe and one of the classiest resorts in the country. The bold move helped usher in Tahoe’s golden age of deluxe vacation accommodations for the High Society of California and Nevada.

During the 1880s, high country tourism was still in its infancy; Tahoe City’s permanent population was 25 people. Baldwin’s upscale hotel and casino would boost Tahoe’s reputation as a “destination resort” for travelers looking to be pampered in luxury rather than experience the rustic backwoods fare common at that time.

One female correspondent for the San Francisco Bulletin who visited Lake Tahoe in August 1886 reported that the folks she met were “a queer class of people—old hunters, miners, and inn keepers of [primitive hostels]. Their knowledge of the inclinations and desires of tourists is exceedingly limited.”

Ironically, Baldwin’s moniker “Lucky” came from a windfall of $2 to $5 million dollars realized from his investments in those very Comstock mining operations that had decimated the Tahoe Basin.

Back in 1866, Baldwin possessed a security safe containing bundles of Hale & Norcross mining shares. At the time, the stocks were worth less than he had paid for them, but he didn’t want to sell at a loss. Before he left on a big game hunting expedition in India, he told his broker to sell his stock at a specific price. But later, when the broker tried to sell the shares, he realized that Baldwin had taken the key to the safe. Meanwhile miners at the Hale & Norcross discovered a rich vein of silver. The stock soared in value, and when he returned to San Francisco, Baldwin’s mining shares were worth a fortune and the nickname “Lucky” was his for life.

Tallac Hotel guests out on a 19th century boating excursion. The Tallac Hotel (background) served 8 course dinners to the music of a string-and-organ quartet and housed a gambing casino. The resort was expensive and offered activities and sports of all kinds.   

E. J. Baldwin was known more for his fondness for fast horses and young women than protecting the environment, but he saved the towering trees along the beach by building a sawmill on his property at Fallen Leaf Lake. The mill provided lumber for new construction, thus preserving the original forest in the area.


As the winter snowpack melts each spring on Mt. Tallac, a “cross-of-snow” emerges on its southeast face. The name “Tallac” is derived from a Washoe Indian term that means “large mountain.” 

Lucky Baldwin’s womanizing escapades are legend. He married five times (including his fourth wife who was only 16), had countless affairs and illegitimate children, and fought numerous breach-of-promise and seduction suits. To facilitate summer flings, Baldwin had a private two-story “love nest” built on the sprawling grounds of his Tahoe estate.

On January 5, 1883, Lucky’s cousin Veronica Baldwin shot him in the arm after he allegedly assaulted her and then fired her from his employ. The headline in the San Francisco Call read: “Yesterday at 10:00 o’clock a young woman shot E.J. Baldwin through the left arm at the level of the heart as he was leaving his private dining room on the second floor of the Baldwin Hotel [in San Francisco].  She fired at him from a distance of six feet, without warning. She was immediately disarmed and arrested.”

Veronica admitted that she tried to kill Baldwin because he had allegedly fathered her baby, but he declined to testify against her at trial and she left the state. Once described as “the most beautiful girl on the Pacific Coast,” she moved to Denver and opened a parlor in the city’s Red Light District.

Louise Perkins was 19-years-old when she sued E.J. Baldwin for an alleged sexual encounter.

Baldwin’s national reputation as a philanderer was well-deserved, but the libertine always claimed, “My public reputation is such that every woman who comes near me must have been warned in advance.” J.B. Marvin, first chief clerk of the famous Baldwin Hotel, agreed “Baldwin didn’t run after the women; they ran after him.”

Baldwin was 57 years old when sued by Ms. Perkins.

Lucky Baldwin died in 1909 at the age of 81 leaving a fortune of $25 million. After his funeral, San Francisco Examiner reporter Al Joy wrote “His was the only funeral of a famous man I ever covered where not a sob was heard nor a tear seen.” As one observer remarked, “Baldwin had friends, but they were outnumbered by his enemies.”

Baldwin’s 19th century land purchase protected old growth forest as well as these important wetlands. Tahoe’s diminishing water clarity is partially caused by the loss of these riparian zones which filter nutrient-loaded runoff sediment before it enters Big Blue.

Despite Baldwin’s somewhat unsavory personal character, locals and visitors owe him a dept of gratitude for saving a piece of old Tahoe and giving us beautiful Baldwin Beach.

My brother Tom checking out the water temperature at Baldwin Beach during his Sept. 2012 visit.

The Washoe Indian Tribe lost their traditional Tahoe lands during the cultural invasion of the 19th century. Recently there have been efforts to return some land and access to these First Nation people.


Baldwin Beach. Locals and savvy tourists know that September is one of the best months to be at Lake Tahoe. 

UPDATE: THIS JUST IN! Last week a school-age girl named Laney Brint found a silver quarter dated 1892 while she was wading in the water just 50 yards off the beach from where Lucky Baldwin’s Tallac Hotel & Casino was located. A guest may have dropped it during a 19th century boating excursion or maybe someone threw it in the lake for good luck at midnight New Year’s Eve. Either way, Lucky’s luck is now Laney’s!

 Laney Brint’s treasure from Lake Tahoe led her to the story of Lucky Baldwin!



By Mark McLaughlin

Mark McLaughlin is an award-winning, nationally published author, photographer and professional speaker with 7 books and more than 900 articles in print. Mark has lived at Lake Tahoe for 40+ years and is a popular lecturer and experienced field trip guide. Mark has been a frequent guest on National Public Radio and has appeared as an expert consultant on CNN, The History Channel, The Weather Channel, the BBC, and in many historical documentaries.

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