By Tim Hauserman
Across the street from The Cobblestone in Tahoe City is the Commons Beach. Once you stroll down the granite steps you find a playground, restroom facilities and paved pathways. You can walk across maintained lawn to the beach, or lounge on the picnic benches in the sun while enjoying that incomparable view of the lake. In the summer you can join the hundreds who flock to the Commons for the concerts, movies or Farmers Market. During a mild winter, it’s a place for a quiet lakeside stroll. The Commons was not always a place to relax and play, however. In fact, even though it was “given to the people of Tahoe City” in 1878, for much of it’s history it was a privately run commercial-industrial zone.
In 1864, a 100 foot long wharf was built out from the Commons Beach by James Chesroon. By the 1870s, according to The Saga of Lake Tahoe, “a wharf, an over water saloon, post office and billard parlors,” had been added. Apparently it was called The Custom House because the custom was to come there for a drink.
By the 1880s a rock and crib pier reached out 250 feet onto the lake, with extensive moorings for boats. Later, the Tahoe Mercantile Building was constructed over the water. This large, rustic, two story building set adjacent to the railroad tracks that ran across the beach. The Bliss Company, which built the Tahoe Tavern Hotel nearby, not only owned the tracks, but also had railroad maintenance facilities and lumbering operations on the beach.
While all of these buildings violated the town’s rights to the Commons, the railroad and the buildings were an important part of the local economy and so were allowed to continue. It was a fire and a changing economy that gave the public its chance to enjoy the Commons for public recreation. The Mercantile Building and the wharf on which it was located burned in October of 1937. A few years later the railroad, which at one time was the primary means of access to Tahoe City, lost it’s battle with the automobile, and was sold for scrap metal during World War II.
In 1947, local townspeople asked the Tahoe City Public Utility District to assume basic maintenance of the property, but for many years it was a lightly used facility. In the 1960s, The Tahoe City Women’s Club installed BBQ pits and an outdoor fireplace on the beach, and the TCPUD installed restrooms. Then a major effort began to upgrade the beach to what we see today, with the first major phase completed in 2002, followed by the completion of the Lakeside Trail in 2012.