History of Valhalla | The Heller Estate
The name “Valhalla” was taken from the Norse Myths of the Viking’s Heavenly Place. Valhalla, the name of the great hall of the Viking after life, provided an apt description of the Heller residence, which features a vaulted central living area surrounded by a horseshoe balcony, all of massive timber, and a forty foot stone fireplace, sufficient in size to accommodate several dozen people.
Walter and Claire Heller divorced in 1936, but their mutual love of Tahoe was undying, and they used the estate on alternate weekends despite the fact that Claire was given full title to the property in 1928. Shortly proceeding Walter’s death in 1956, Claire Heller Strauss sold Valhalla to Wilbur Kuhl. In 1960 Wilbur Kuhl sold the estate to Santa Cruz lawyer Raymond H. Goodrich, who sold two shares of Valhalla to two Santa Cruz dentists. In 1965, following the death of one of the co-owners, Raymond Goodrich and the remaining co-owner sold Valhalla to the South Tahoe Valhalla Corporation.
The South Tahoe Valhalla Corporation proceeded to form a Yacht Club offering membership to interested parties. The andirons placed in the massive Valhalla fireplace were boat propellers and are still in use today. Not enough memberships were sold to cover expenses, so in 1971 Valhalla was sold to the Department of Agriculture, US Forest Service for $550,000. The USFS had obtained the Pope Estate in 1965 for $750,000, and following Dextra Baldwin Winter McGonagle’s death in 1967 had purchased the Baldwin-McGonagle Estate for $650,000.
For many years the three estates were used as dormitories for summer USFS workers and firefighters. The estates were closed for a period of years until they were opened up and restored with the support of Valhalla Tahoe (founded 1979) and the Tahoe Heritage Foundation (founded 1996).
Today the three restored estates are open to the public. The Baldwin-McGonagle Estate is a working museum free and open to the public in the summer months 7 days a week. The Pope Estate has been restored to the 1920’s with vintage furniture and open to the public for a nominal fee with guided tours 6 days a week in the summer months. Valhalla is open to the public 7 days a week when volunteer docents are available in the summer months, and the Grand Hall is available for rental from mid-April through mid-December for weddings and other similar events.