Historic Valhalla Boathouse Theatre

December 8, 2022
    Art SceneHistory

The historic Valhalla Boathouse Theatre is a unique cultural resource in the Tahoe Basin. Guests sitting in the theatre are treated to a view of the lake like no other, through the floor to ceiling window behind the stage. The interior, preserved with exposed beams and wonderful natural acoustics, is both intimate and grand creating an experience unrivaled in performing arts venues.

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Valhalla Boathouse History

The Valhalla Boathouse was built in the late 1800’s by William Tevis as part of his 75 acre estate. Due to a bad financial investment and bankruptcy, the then Tevis Estate was purchased by George Pope, Sr. of the Pope & Talbot Lumber and Shipping Company. George’s pride and joy was his motorboat, The Sheik, which he named after his friend and frequent guest Rudolph Valentino.  The Sheik was the biggest and fastest boat of its time on Lake Tahoe, and was housed in the Valhalla Boathouse during that period.

In 1924 George Pope, Sr. sold 3.3 acres of his property to Walter Heller, a San Francisco financial broker.  The contract and sale of the property was conducted in winter, however the official survey of the property was not conducted until the following summer. To Mr. Pope’s distress it was discovered that his boathouse had been included in the sale of the property to the Heller’s in error!

The boathouse originally had four bedrooms and a bathroom on the second level that today contain the restrooms, tech room and small storage rooms.  Over the years it became dilapidated, used primarily for storage until the late 1980’s when the Tahoe Tallac Association (now Valhalla Tahoe), with the support and vision of Dr. Leo Buscaglia, turned it into a thriving and unique theater.

The Valhalla Boathouse Theatre is Born

In the late 1980s, Carol Spain, the founding Executive Director of the Tahoe Tallac Association (now Valhalla Tahoe) was pouring wine at one of the organization’s arts events when she was introduced to Leo Buscaglia who was attending.  Carol shared her dream with Leo to transform the Valhalla boathouse into a community theatre and Leo loved the idea. He committed half of the proceeds from his next book and, along with Carol Spain, committed to developing the project and raising the funds.

This effort was truly a community one, with countless individuals and organizations investing in the project with Spain and Buscaglia and the Tahoe Tallac Association Board of Directors leading the charge. Many bureaucratic, financial and design and engineering hurdles had to be cleared that involved complex negotiations with the Forest Service and funding appropriations from congress.

Carol Spain and David Kurtzman made three lobbying trips to Washington DC in the early 1990s, but it wasn’t until Kurtzman heard that Senator Harry Reid would be speaking at a Stateline, NV Rotary Club meeting that they were able to get past the staff line and meet with Reid face to face. The Nevada senator was then on the Senate Appropriations Committee. From that meeting Spain and Kurtzman secured $250,000 to transform the boathouse into a theatre.

Tremendous community outreach locally in the Tahoe Basin as well as Northern Nevada and California was undertaken to cement support for the project and raise funds. In 1996, twenty years ago, the project was complete and Valhalla open the theatre for its first summer season.

Today the Boathouse Theatre is home to the Valhalla Art, Music, and Theatre Festival, hosting productions that range from world-class musicians to dramatic and comedic theatre.  Located on the shores of beautiful Lake Tahoe, this performance space offers a special experience to all who visit. For a schedule of events, click here.