Walking Tour of South Tahoe Murals and Street Art

By: Anne Sutterfield

Lake Tahoe has a long tradition of doing art and doing it in a public way where anyone can see it, and there is, frankly, so much public art in Lake Tahoe that if you go by car you’re gonna miss a lot of it. So I’ve taken the trouble of laying out a public art walking tour that most anyone can do.

Though there’s a lot of hills and mountains in Lake Tahoe this particular route is 3 miles of very flat walk. There is great public transportation all the way along the route so that if you get tired you can just hop a bus back to wherever it is you were staying. It is not a very difficult walk. Just about anyone who can walk three miles can do this tour, and it’s a really good tour. There is so much great public art here in Lake Tahoe: all the way from Stateline all the way to far, far into California. This particular tour covers the area from Stateline to the American Legion.  you can see everything in the interactive map below.

We begin our public art tour with one of the most recognizable pieces of art on the south shore of Lake Tahoe: The Harrah’s Pony Express statue.  This statue was dedicated by Bill Harrah himself in 1967 to celebrate the centennial of the Pony Express.  There used to be a Pony Express stop about 1/4 mile up the road near Edgewood at Friday’s Station, where the Pony Express riders would refuel, change horses, and get ready. The Pony Express, if you don’t know, was such a dangerous job that they would only hire orphans because they didn’t want to have to pay compensation to the families of those who died delivering the mail in the dangerous mail conditions of the 1860s.

Little-known fact about this statue: in the base of the statue is a time capsule – put there by Harrah’s in 1987 that can only be opened in 2037.

Pony Express Rider Statue at Harrah's Lake Tahoe
Pony Express Rider Statue at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe

Chainsaw Sculptures by Jerry Toste

Chainsaw Sculptures by Jerry Toste
Chainsaw Sculptures by Jerry Toste

One of the art forms that Tahoe is most strongly associated with in people’s minds are the chainsaw bears. There’s a company down in Carson City called Timeless Scluptures, that employs an artist called Jerry Toste, who, whenever one of the trees is taken out, dead, and there would otherwise be a big ugly stump that couldn’t be easily removed; instead of leaving a big ugly stump they have a chainsaw artist come up and carve it into bears, eagles, and all sorts of other forms. Read more here about how he makes his sculptures here:  “From a mighty redwood a Statue was carved” article on Chainsaw artist Jerry Toste of Pollock Pines by The Mountain Democrat.Now, after this, I would suggest you check out the fabulous chainsaw bears in front of Heavenly Village and that you go into the Heavenly Village and check out the famous fountain. The next stop on our Public Art walking tour is Heavenly village.

Lightbox Art at Heavenly Village Cinemas:

There is a lot of other great public art that is available to anyone, just for visiting Heavenly Village. The Heavenly Village cinemas also has some really amazing public art.  The lightbox art in front of Heavenly Village cinemas is some of the best lightbox art in town.  It was done by DreamsAndVisionsArt.com and they did a truely amazing job.

Lightbox Art at the Heavenly Village
Lightbox Art at the Heavenly Village

There are two major art groups doing lightbox and dumpster art in Lake Tahoe. Most of the lightboxes at Heavenly Village and the theatre are by Dreams And Visions Art.

Art Galleries in the Village Center

Also, if you’re the sort of person who likes to see their art in a gallery, right across the street from Heavenly Village at the Village center, there are 4 different art galleries of 4 different kinds of  art. Scott Wyland has a gallery where you can look at some of his famous paintings of the whales and dolphins in California and Hawaii.  There’s an Untamed Art gallery in that space that does a lot of local artist’s art. There is also a Jon Paul gallery which shows Lake Tahoe photography from photographer Jon Paul. There’s also a Marcus Ashley gallery that shows a lot of local artists and does a lot of paintings of Lake Tahoe.If you’re not a strong walker and you’re looking to skip a part of the walking tour, catch the bus across the street from the Village center to the Ski Run Marina, where the next major collection of art is. If you’re willing to keep walking do the extra mile of walking because there is some really amazing lightbox art along that mile that you really wouldn’t want to miss unless you weren’t a really strong walker.

Sphere of Influence lightbox and dumpster art:

As you walk down highway 50 in Lake Tahoe you will see a lot of the lightboxes have been painted up. In 2009 and before Lake Tahoe used to have a terrible grafitti problem when it came to people drawing on the lightboxes. So, they decided: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” and they hired a local group called Sphere of Influence that diverts kids from graffitti art into doing legitamite street art on the lightboxes.

Lighthouse box painted by local artist

Most of the lightboxes along US 50 and Ski Run were put in by Sphere of Influence, a local nonprofit that has a contract with the city to cover up grafitti with art.

Over the last 3 years the City of South Lake Tahoe has commissioned Sphere of Influence to cover almost 50 lightboxes all over South Lake Tahoe.

Ski Run Marina:

Our next stop on the Public Art Walking Tour is the complex at Ski Run.  Ski Run Marina has an amazing collection of public art that you can see totally for free just for walking in.

Bear vs Eagle Bronze Statue at Ski Run Marina
Bear vs. Eagles bronze Statue at Ski Run Marina

There is a wonderful chainsaw sculpture in front of the Riva Grill that depicts an American Eagle with the “United we Stand” logo.  It was made in 2005 by chainsaw artist Toste who has done a lot of the chainsaw art in Lake Tahoe.  He also did the bears in front of Heavenly Village. There is also a lovely mixed-media map of Lake Tahoe on the side of the Riva Grill building, a very impressive fountain, and most importantly of all, this is one of the concentrated places where you can find galleries in Lake Tahoe.

Dirk Yurkitch has a lovely photography gallery in this complex. There is also the Tahoe Art Connection gallery where you can buy some lovely paintings.  In the summertime they have meet the artist events at both galleries, and there’s a lot of great stuff to be seen here.

Also, while you’re here definitely check out the Tahoe Queen, which is usually docked at Ski Run marina. If you’re interested in seeing more of the Tahoe Queen click here to see my original video of the “Dixie vs. Queen Sternwheeler race” that we have every year.

El Dorado County Building

Mural on the El Dorado County Building Lake Tahoe

Those of you in my audience who are history buffs will really enjoy this next mural on the side of the El Dorado County building. It depicts the S. S. Tahoe, which was the first ever steam powered tourist boat on Lake Tahoe and is one of the most famous shipwrecks in Lake Tahoe.  it depicts a woman with a period camera waiving goodbye, presumably to the last voyage of the SS Tahoe from Glenbrook.  It’s a really awesome mural, it was put up in 2001 by Don Gray and his partner.

Lakeview Commons:

I’m here at Lakeview Commons, which is one of the great public art locations in Lake Tahoe.  First of all, it is one of the most photographed sites in the area.  If you want to take a good vacation photo of yourself in front of Lake Tahoe, Lakeview commons is a great place to do it.  Click here to see the story of Lakeview Common’s building delays and how they almost caused environmental disaster.

Lakeview commons just happens to have one of the most overlooked pieces of public art in Lake Tahoe and it’s really much less famous than it deserves to be.  There is a great tile mural at Lakeview Commons that actually predates Lakeview Commons itself.

Wall Art Lakeview Commons Lake Tahoe

It was originally proposed by Patrick Ferris Bennett in 1996, unfortunately he didn’t live to see it completed.  It was dedicated in 1997 by then vice president Al Gore as the centerpiece of the very first Tahoe Summit.  The front of it depicts the view from Lakeview Commons and what all of the fish in the lake are, what all of the mountains that you can see across the lake from Lakeview Commons are, but I strongly encourage you to look at the back of the mural.

Mural Art

The individual tiles on the back of the mural were made by individual high school kids in South Lake Tahoe, and there are tiles from some rather famous people.  Famous college basketball player Jared Hass who is now a commentator on ESPN has a tile on there.  There’s a tile commemorating Tahoe Tessie, there are many, many other great tiles. You can learn a lot about the people of Lake Tahoe in 1997 and the cool thing is that because I went to south Tahoe High School I was in high school with most of  the kids who made the back of this mural. It’s really cool.

Tahoe Daily Tribune Building

Here on the side of the Tahoe Daily Tribune building you will find one of the most impressive local history murals in town.  It was painted by Alan Wylie and Mike Svob about 10 years ago.  It depicts the famous Tahoe Hotel at the peak of it’s popularity in the 1930s.  It’s got a great 1930s automobile, some wonderfull people in Great Gatsby era dress. It’s a great thing! Also, if you’ve worked up a bit of an appetite doing this walking tour — I know I have, just walking down here. You will definitely see some great restaurants just walking by here. There’s a sub sandwich place less than a block from here.  There is also the Sno-Flake Drive in, which is famous for having some of the best milkshakes and season fries in town right next door to the tribune building, so you can eat and be satisfied before you continue on or go home from your walking tour.

Tahoe Visitor’s Center, Historical Society Museum, and Tahoe Art League

One of the reasons I recommend the visitor’s center is that there is a lot of very interesting public art right in front of the visitor’s center on your way there if you’re walking. There is a great big metal bicycle that was put up to celebrate the America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride and the Amgen Tour of California coming to Lake Tahoe a couple of years ago.

Wooden Sculpture Tahoe

There is also another fine example of a chainsaw bear, this one with an eagle on it. There is also a lot of other really cool art that is within walking distance of the visitor’s center.

And here we come to the end of our walking tour of Lake Tahoe for most of you, unless you’re a really strong walker, because we’ve covered most of the public art on this side of town. I choose to end it at the history museum partly because you can get all of your questions answered right at the Tahoe Art League next door to the history museum, and the history museum will teach you a lot about the great public art that we have in Lake Tahoe and our long tradition of public art.

Tahoe Historical Society features a mural showing the story of the discovery of Lake Tahoe
Tahoe Historical Society features a mural showing the story of the discovery of Lake Tahoe

We have here at the Tahoe Historical Society museum a fine example of a mural in Lake Tahoe. This one depicts the discovery of Lake Tahoe by Kit Carson and John C. Freemont in 1844.  In February of 1844, John C. Freemont and Kit Carson crossed over the Carson Pass to Lake Tahoe, to the very first sighting of what they called “Lake Bigler” after the then governor of California.

And it is a really, really interesting story.  John C. Freemont, if you don’t know, went on to become the very first Republican candidate for President of the United States. He was opposed to slavery 20 years before it was trendy, and Kit Carson has become so famous that they have a statue of him in Carson City in front of the Nevada Legislature.  Carson City, the Carson River, and the Carson sink are all named after Kit Carson, and, as Mark Twain said: “When they erected the statue of Kit Carson in Carson City, they made sure the horse’s ass faced the legislature.” Yeah, that is still how Nevadans feel about their legislature.

This is a good place to end our tour because there’s good public transit access here and you can catch the bus back to wherever you came from from right in front of the visitor’s center. Also I would strongly encourage you to stop by the Tahoe Art League’s art center and gallery where they can answer any of the questions you may have come up with over the course of this
walking tour.

C. Meeks Lumber and the American Legion

Wall Mural

Though I told you that a good place to end your walking tour is the museum, there’s actually a lot of great material after the museum going towards South Lake Tahoe.  Here on the side of Meeks Lumber is one of the most impressive murals in town.  It’s from the Art 4 Tahoe project and was painted exclusively by local kids with paint that DeVoe and Meeks donated for the process.  It’s actually one of the most impressive murals in town, and if you’re willing to cross the street, usually the American Legion Hall  in the summertime has meet the artist maker fairs where you can meet artists and actually buy some stuff, and there’s a bus stop that’s convenient to get you back to Stateline right there.  It’s almost as convenient as ending at the Tahoe Arts Project but a little longer walk.

Originally posted by Jack Durst Fabulous Lake Tahoe Blog Please note: Some businesses may have moved or changed names, etc.

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