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A Scandinavian Architecture In The United States

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The Hidden Castle: Vikingsholm

 Known As Lake Tahoe's Hidden Castle And Is One Of The Best Examples Of Scandinavian Architecture Found Within The United States

Up Close Look Of Vikingsholm

Known as Lake Tahoe's hidden castle, Vikingsholm – looking out onto Emerald Bay – is one of the best examples of Scandinavian architecture found within the United States. Granite boulders embedded in mortar, carvings around the door and a sod roof with wildflowers beholds an interior full of Scandinavian motifs like Nordic fireplaces and carved dragons on beams and along the ceiling.

Built in one summer's time by a work force of 300 craftsmen brought in from around the world, Vikingsholm was completed in 1929 and became the summer home of Lora J. Knight, a land owner who chose the Vikingsholm location because of its natural beauty. According to Executive Director of Sierra State Parks Foundation Heidi Doyle, Emerald Bay reminded the well-traveled woman of her trips to Scandinavia.

“When you stand in Emerald Bay at the front porch of the house, you see how the Bay was carved by glaciers,” said Doyle. “That vista reminded her very much of the vista she saw when she traveled in Scandinavia. She was very conscious to build this castle to fit into the particular landscape. She instructed the architects to not disturb any large trees. It's irregular in nature the way the outside is shaped, to avoid trees growing on the property.”

The retreat provided a “calm, quiet, relaxed way of life combined with an elegance that is rarely found today.” That elegance is thanks to the furniture and décor, which was specifically chosen by Knight because it resembled the interiors she saw in Scandinavia. Guests of Knight's enjoyed swimming, hiking, horseback riding and trips around the lake, enjoying the natural scenery and serenity of the location at that time.

The Bay [Photo Credit: JBrew-CC]

“Throughout the four owners of the house, the furniture is relatively in tact from when  she and the architects designed the house,” said Doyle. “It's considered one of the finest examples of architecture and one of the finest collections in California state park systems because it's so whole.”

So who was Knight?

“Many people assume that Mrs. Knight was of Scandinavian origin because of her decision to build Vikingsholm, but she was actually of English decent,” noted Doyle. Knight was born in Illinois to a wealthy family with the ability to travel around the world. “Even today, when you start traveling you get the buzz,” Doyle continued. “But most of us bring home smaller souvenirs, not build replicas.”

While Knight is best known for her building of Vikingsholm, many also remember her for her generous contributions to youth groups in California and Nevada and her support of local women.

“When I think about what she went through after her first husband died and her second marriage ended... this was in the 1920s. She did all of this on her own without a husband, which most women leaned on at the time. She completed her dreams,” said Doyle. “She supported generations of women through college. She was a benefactor of Mills College in Oakland, CA, an all-woman's college, which she attended herself. She has provided scholarships for many other women to attend as well.”

The Vikingsholm Home

The generosity to her community continued through the building of churches. Knight and her husband also actively promoted Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic and were the prime financial backers of the infamous flight.

If the beautiful architecture and extraordinary, unique interior isn't enough for visitors to make the steep hike to Emerald Bay, Doyle hopes the importance of Vikingsholm will draw in some curious travelers.

“I want the next generation of Californians to experience it and see the significance of our heritage,” said Doyle. “It represents an era of days gone by. There's the natural heritage of Emerald Bay, an unspoiled coastline. We have preserved this natural landscape. The house itself is significant because it's architectural gem for people to learn about construction and traditions that were the vision of one woman, of one very special woman.”

Calling Emerald Bay and Vikingsholm a “beautiful, magical” and “memorable” location, visitors are often drawn to the area because of its natural beauty and stunning architecture. The two combined create a unique experience that can only be reached by a hike or by boat.


Olivia Richman

A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.

Lake Tahoe KOA

Make Sure To Stay At:

Lake Tahoe KOA, offering a relaxing stay with dozens of activities. Swim, boat or cruise the lake, visit the casinos, go hot-air ballooning, horseback riding, hiking, biking and golfing.

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