Miss Ehrman Named Her Belle Isle Bearcat “CHEROKEE” – A Legendary Lake Tahoe Boat
A few weeks ago when we were at the South Tahoe Antique & Classic Boat Show, the nice folks from the Lake Tahoe / Northern California ACBS Chapter invited Woody Boater to attend the Sunday Picnic and Boat Show Awards Presentation at Sugar Pine Point, on the west shores of beautiful Lake Tahoe. Sugar Pine Point, which is now a California State Park, was once the summer home of the Hellman-Ehrman Family on the grounds of the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion.
When we arrived at Sugar Pine Point on Sunday morning with Lee Chase aboard “Mountain Lyon” we met with fellow Woody Boater Brian Robinson, who said “Hey Texx – You have to see whats in the boat house, I’ll show you…” (Notice in the above photo the rail tracks hidden just below the sand on the beach that lead in to the boat house)
In 1897, San Francisco businessman I.W. Hellman began buying property at Sugar Pine Point and by 1913 had acquired nearly 2000 acres. His grand but informal summer home, called Pine Lodge, was completed in 1903 and was considered to be one of the finest in the high Sierra. His daughter, Florence Hellman Ehrman inherited the estate and she and her husband Sydney spent many summers here entertaining family and friends.
During the late 1920’s & 1930’s Miss Ehrman was an avid power boat racer and liked competing in the annual regattas of the Lake Tahoe Power Boat Club.
Now that the property is a California State Park, it’s common to see families down at the beach enjoying the summer weather and crystal clear water of Lake Tahoe, many unaware of what is even inside the adjacent boat house.
Brian led me to through the small side door of the boat house which is open to the public.
And inside the boat house sits “Cherokee” a 1925 – 25’10” Belle Isle Bearcat, the actual boat that Miss Ehrman used to compete with in the late 1920’s and 1930’s. The boat is protected from the public by a chicken wire fence with a cardboard placard describing the history of “Cherokee” which also also stuffed behind the fence. But I was able to find a hole in the fence just big enough to squeeze my small digital camera through so we could get some clear images of “Cherokee”.
The cardboard placard in the boat house includes a well written story by Carol Van Etten describing the history of “Cherokee” – Here’s the story…
“CHEROKEE” – By Carol Van Etten
“COMET” (their 1922 Stephens sedan) was three years old when the Ehrmans took delivery of a mahogany runabout which was to be the toy of Miss Esther Ehrman. While the family sedan was well-suited to meeting the train at the Tahoe City railhead, a runabout was required for skimming across the waves with the wind in one’s hair, and to compete in the regattas of the newly-formed Lake Tahoe Powerboat Club.
The new boat, which Miss Ehrman named “CHEROKEE”, was a product of the Belle Isle Boat Company in Detroit. She was the 25’10” Bearcat model, powered by a Hall-Scott LM-6A engine. Herb Haley, who for many years served as the Ehrman’s resident Hall-Scott mechanic, kept the engines of both “CHEROKEE” and “COMET” in optimum running condition. In later years, the Hall-Scott from A.K. Bourne’s Luders cruiser “REVERIE” was installed as a replacement engine in “CHEROKEE”, the original powerplant having worn out.
It was perhaps the influence of the Hall-Scott Engine Company which brought three other Bearcats to Tahoe. These were Lee Scott’s “MOHAWK” and Herbert Fleishhacker’s “WASHOE”, both rated at 250 hp, and Miss Heller’s “SIOUX”, an annual entry in the 125-150 hp race. Unfortunately, of this promising group, none is known to survive today but “CHEROKEE”.
Miss Ehrman, who married Claude Lazard in 1931, liked competing in the annual regattas of the Lake Tahoe Power Boat Club. Over the next decade, she would bring home enough trophies to put a strain on any mantelpiece. In fact, from the time of the boat’s delivery through the outbreak of the Second World War – a span of over 15 seasons “CHEROKEE” had the distinction of having been entered in every regatta held at Lake Tahoe.
When the Ehrman family sold their Tahoe property to the State of California in 1965, the contents of the buildings were auctioned off, including the family boats. Since that time, “CHEROKEE” has had several owners, among them Gordon Hooper, Dick Clarke and Larry and Sue Metcalf. Donated to the State of California by Mrs. Metcalf, the boat has now come full-circle, returning to her native boathouse to serve as its perfect centerpiece.
Carol Van Etten
Here’s some additional historical information on the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion / Sugar Pine Point from the California State Park web site.
In 1897, San Francisco businessman I. W. Hellman began buying property at Sugar Pine Point and by 1913 had acquired nearly 2000 acres. His grand but informal summer home, called Pine Lodge, was completed in 1903 and was considered to be one of the finest in the high Sierra. His daughter, Florence Hellman Ehrman inherited the estate and she and her husband Sydney spent many summers here entertaining family and friends.
The building site was originally a sand hill. Tons of topsoil were brought from the back country to provide the base for lawns and gardens. Most of the building materials for the house were obtained locally; the granite from Meeks Bay and the lumber from Hobart Mills, north of Truckee.
The house, designed by Walter Danforth Bliss, was equipped with the best and most modern utility systems including electric lights and complete indoor plumbing. Steam generators produced electricity until commercial power was available in 1927. Water was obtained from General Creek and later pumped directly from the Lake.
Outlying buildings include a caretaker’s cottage by the lake, the children’s house by the tennis court, maids’ quarters, butler’s cabin, ice house, coach house, power house, a dressing room, a pump house, two boat houses, and the boatman’s cabin. The Ehrmans owned two boats, Comet and Cherokee.
Comfortable wicker lounge furniture and a billiard table were to be found on the porch. The north stone room was used for luncheons and furnished with an oak dining set. The south stone room was a game room and displayed the family’s collection of Indian baskets and Navajo rugs.
The fireplaces in the living room and the dining room were the primary source of heat for the house. The living room was furnished in dark, overstuffed furniture with matching floral drapes. The dining room paneling is hand-woven strips of redwood and the upper paneling is of hand-woven grass. The elevator was installed in 1958 to ease access to the second floor.
The wing to the northwest contains the kitchen, pantry and staff dining room. Two full time cooks and several helpers were employed to prepare meals for the family, their numerous guests and a live-in staff of twenty-seven. Wood stoves and an ice box were used in the kitchen until 1945 when a large commercial gas range and refrigerator were installed.
The spiral staircase rises to the second floor where a hall runs north and south joining the eight bedrooms and seven bathrooms. The family and guests would stay here in rooms furnished simply with brass beds and Navajo rugs. The wing over the kitchen contained a sewing room, linen closet and storage rooms. A back staircase leads to the 3rd floor staff quarters consisting of four bedrooms, one bath and many storage closets.
Guests of the Ehrmans participated in various activities on a regular basis. Mrs. Ehrman usually scheduled hikes, swimming, riding, fishing, boating, tennis, picnics, croquet and other games.
In 1965 the house and 1,975 acres of the estate were acquired by the California State Park System. Today the house is maintained as a house museum and as an example of the opulent tradition in Tahoe summer homes.
Stay tuned to Woody Boater for more stories and Live-ish updates throughout the weekend from the Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance at Sierra Boat Company, and the Gathering of the Gar Woods event on Monday from legendary Obexer’s Marina.
How did they feel about you driving the woodyboatercycle through the hall ways? Your a machine Texx… Dear god this alone is a week long story!!!
Does Cherokee ever see the water anymore?
What a boat….What a story……What a reporter! Way to go Texx!!
Who needs rails to launch that Bearcat, when there’s probably plenty of saliva from whomever sees her. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Meanwhile, way up in Hessel, the boats are assembling. Be still my heart.
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I have 360 degree panoramic shots of this house. Great tour.
My uncle, Herb, loved those two boats, and the Ehrmans loved Herb. “Cherokee” was the first boat I was ever in, and the sound is still under my skin … 73 years later.