Origins of Bear Creek
The Beginnings and Personal Reminiscences
Sometime about 1960…
John McClintock Reily had a house in Squaw Valley and, from the top of KT22, had often looked into the Ward Creek Basin and envisioned a great skiing development there. Mike Erickson, Ski Editor of Los Angeles Times, in writing in an article for Ski Magazine, wrote: ‘The arduous journey to a successful ski resort lies between the Scylla and Charybdis of resort skiing: lack of money and enthusiasm on the part of the public. The prospective developer goes it alone; part huckster, part evangelist, part utopian visionary, he sets about generating enthusiasm and money for his project’.
Except for the ‘going it alone’ part, John was all of that. He set up the Alpine Meadows of Tahoe Corporation on December 4, 1959. He arranged a master lease for Section 5 with the Southern Pacific Land Company, a permit with the Forest Service for the development of ski lifts and a lodge, and secured an easement through Section 4 owned by Mrs. Gunby, whose late husband had done some logging in the area. John also engaged the John Graham Company of Seattle to do an analysis of the area, showing projected ski lifts, with comparison with Squaw Valley elevations, and a comprehensive economic projection of costs and income levels. This book became an effective selling tool for Alpine Meadows stock. An initial permit to sell stock in Alpine Meadows of Tahoe was obtained on February 26, 1960. However, no efforts were made to sell stock at that time except for the sale to some directors of $50,000 worth for funds to cover startup costs.
In the Fall of 1060, it was decided to move aggressively on the sale of stock. An amended stock sale permit was obtained from the Commissioner of Corporations on October 20, 1960, said permit to run for 6 months, until April 30, 1961. To help sell the stock, a meeting was publicized to be held in a downtown San Francisco insurance company. I had come in touch with this whole promotion through an office, which John had set up at 420 Market Street with his son, John Milner Reily, in charge. I was in the office equipment business then and had rented a stencil-duplicating machine to the Alpine Meadows office, and had gotten to know John, Jr. very well, and through him to know John Reily, Sr.
Having done considerable skiing in the East before WWII, I had always been interested in having a piece of the action in a ski area; I was very much interested in what I saw developing with Alpine Meadows.
My skiing background went pretty far back. In the early ‘30’s, before skiing became popular, I had a ladylove and friends in Boston who liked to ski in Vermont. I would get on the Friday night train to Montreal at Grand Central Station, the only person on the train with skis, and get off the next morning at White River Junction, in Vermont. There my Boston friends would pick me up and we would drive to Woodstock, Vermont, where we would ski on the Bunny Bertram’s hill with the 1st rope two in America. Sunday night I’d board the New York train and be back at work at the Central Hanover Bank on Monday morning.
American Skiing then (1930’s)
Skiing then was being carried on largely by the Dartmouth and Harvard Ski Clubs. All that changed with the (1939) arrival in America of Hannes Schneider, the Austrian Ski Meister, and a cadre of handsome, muscular young ski instructors who immediately captured the hearts of all American womanhood, young and old. Hannes Schneider was welcomed at North Conway through an archway of crossed ski poles, with attendant publicity, and skiing in America would never be the same. The cry of ‘ben zee nees, two dollars please’ echoed across the rudimentary ski slopes of the day. Ski trains were inaugurated from New York to the various ski areas in Vermont and New Hampshire and day trips were scheduled to Pittsfield, Mass., and other closer-in hills. The overnight trains took us to Waterbury, Vermont, where we would disembark, take the bus to Mt. Mansfield, carry our skis two miles up the toll road for a single road for a single run, or at most two, back down to the bottom. There was no lift at Stowe then.
Another route was to North Conway where the skimobile, a kind of golf cart traveling on a wooden platform, carried you to the top of a pasture hill for your ski down. The popular faster destination was Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mount Washington where the snow hung in late in the season. The Ravine was reached from the Appalachian Mountain Hut in Pinkham Notch, where Joe Dodge was the majordomo. From there skis had to be carried two miles up a steep and muddy trail, with a steam-crossing half way, to the floor of the Ravine. The only shelter was a barn-like structure dubbed the “Howard Johnson” after the chain of that name was just getting established in New England. Reaching the floor of the Ravine was just the beginning. You then faced the Headwall, a 55-degree slope more than 1000 feet high. It was so steep that, in climbing it, you risked pushing yourself off if you put your arm out. Once up over the lip, you put your 7-foot skis on, with their cable bindings, took a deep breath and hoped you’d make the first turn over the lip. Two climbs of this Headwall were generally enough and as the Headwall faced East, the sun went out of the Ravine in the early afternoon.
Getting to the top of the Headwall late one afternoon, I looked back and found that I was the only one left there. Rather than risk an accident if I skied back down to the Lodge and not being found by anyone, I put my skis on my back and climbed the rest of the way, to the Summit, where there was a hut and men maintaining the radio transmitter, which was then a weather station and part of the Yankee network. They radioed down to Joe Dodge the message that I was up there and safe. The next morning broke bright and clear, and I skied back down, meeting early climbers on their way up. It’s interesting that the top of Mt. Washington is at just about the same elevation as Alpine Meadows, an elevation from which we start our lifts.
With all this skiing experience back East, I was very interested in what might be developing at Alpine Meadows. In the fall of 1961, John Reily. Sr. held a meeting in an insurance company meeting room to promote his plans for Alpine, and to recruit salesmen for his stock. I heard about it, and of course went. John had his directors there and put on a fine slide show of the Alpine Meadows area and his plans for lifts. To sell stock, John was offering every buyer of $1000 seventy-five dollars in lift tickets a year, over what period of time I don’t recall. I signed on as a salesman and was given a stack of cards of persons who had inquired about the plan. I made the calls but soon found it was a tough sell.
One thousand dollars was a lot of money to put into a proposal that was still on the drawing boards, with no guarantee whatever that it would ever materialize. I made a few sales, but my pre-war experience in professional fund-raising in New York made me question whether we would ever raise the necessary money by John’s program of small investors. My experience told me that, in any campaign, 60% of the money has to come from large investors and the 40% balance from small investors. John’s program was skewed the wrong way.
John Reily’s permit to sell stock was due to expire in April, so time was running short. In January, my wife Marion and I had been skiing at Squaw and staying at the Deer Park Lodge (now the River Ranch) and I saw John in the parking lot, leaving. I stopped him and told him of my concerns about the fund raising plan we were using and told him I had a proposal for getting more ‘big money’ in. John asked me to write him in Los Angeles and he would consider whatever I had to suggest. My close friend Bill McKleroy was socially well-connected and I wrote John that we should have a dinner at the University Club in San Francisco to which would be invited some big money people, and where John would show his slides and make the ‘big pitch’.
John agreed to the dinner but not, I found out later, without considerable reservations. The dinner was planned in great detail. Each Director was seated at a different table, together with guests whom he knew personally.
The (epic) University Club Dinner and The Tables
Table 1: John Reily, Sr.
Table 2: Mr. and Mrs. Reily, Jr.
Table 3: Mr. and Mrs. Kimball
Table 4: Peter Klaussen
Table 5: Fred Smith
Table 6: Mr. and Mrs. Breuner
Table 7: Jack Beglen
Table 8: Don Wolter
Table 9: Eric Johnson
John gave a great presentation, the slide show went over very well and the invited guests evidenced enthusiasm. Some of those present were part of the Sugar Bowl crowd and had previous experience with the ski area.
After the University Club dinner, things rapidly took shape. John Reily was unable to raise the funds necessary to finance the development prior to the Forest Service Interim Permit deadline that was: ‘build the resort in 1961 or you lose the permit’. Due to this pressure he assigned the lease rights to a part of Section 5 to the newly formed Bear Creek Association. The Southern Pacific agreed to the assignment pursuant to the assurances of the new group taking over. This group consisted primarily of Larry Metcalf, Byron Nishkian and Bill Evers. Larry Metcalf was named President of the new Bear Creek Association.
The success of the Alpine Meadows stock sales objective was dependent on the success of the drive for members in Bear Creek, since every member of Bear Creek had to buy $5000 of Alpine Meadows stock. Investors who had subscribed to the Alpine stock offering at the $1000 level were invited to join Bear Creek by purchasing additional Alpine Meadows stock to the required $5000 level. Those who declined were offered prior rights to obtain lots in Section 4.
Bill Evers became the lawyer for the group and managed to get the Commissioner of Corporations to approve of a scheme wherein those who bought $5000 worth of Alpine stock (common) would be entitled to choose an undeveloped lot in Bear Creek. The lot was a leasehold for 55 years.
The early organization of Bear Creek Association is defined in this report by Larry Metcalf:
Bear Creek Association
2990 Vallejo Street
San Francisco CA
I can report the following progress since my last letter.
Southern Pacific Lease
Negotiations with the Southern Pacific for a lease are progressing very satisfactorily. It appears the lease will have a 50-year term. The rental may be renegotiated on the 15th year, the 25th year and every 5th year thereafter. The renegotiation will be based upon mutual agreement and if the Southern Pacific and the Association cannot agree, the matter will be submitted to arbitration. In addition, the Southern Pacific will allow the Association to recover up to 50%, of the cost of water, power, road and sewage improvement during the first fifteen years by abatement of the rentals up to 50%. In effect, this means the rentals per living unit during the first fifteen years should be $60 per year.
The Southern Pacific informs us that we will have a revised draft of the Lease in our hands by early next week.
Home Site Development
The Planning Committee consists of Daniel G. Volkman Jr., Chairman, Sherwood Stockwell and Byron Nishkian, who have started work on a master plan. They will have aerial topographical maps of the 85 acres early this week. A questionnaire concerning your desires as to the type of residence, land-use and community facilities will be sent to you soon. Target date for a preliminary Master Plan is July 1, 1961.
The following has been firmed up. When there is a transfer of interest in unimproved land, the member may recover all assessments, plus $1000 and any further proceeds will be shared with the Association equally. The purpose of this restriction is to discourage speculation but also to protect the member who is forced to sell due to circumstances.
Remember that this is a non-profit Community Association, control of which will be vested in its members. Any important decisions will be made in the future by the completed membership. The bylaws can be amended. We want and need your thoughts and suggestions.
There will be a membership fee in order to provide funds for engineering of $200 which will be collected around July 15th to 30th.
In the event someone wishes to sell their lot and/or home after the initial complement of membership has been completed, the person to whom they sell it to must be approved by the Board and must own 250 shares of Alpine Meadows of Tahoe, Inc. common stock.
We have been informed by Alpine Meadows of Tahoe, Inc. that those listed below will qualify for membership after the stock sale;
Bill Evers, Henry Grandin, Byron Nishkian, Jim Dietrich, Jr., Bob Hunter, Edwin A. Seipp, Dan Volkmann, Louis Riggs, Tom Witter, Theodore Griffinger, John Eidell, Bill Layton, Roger Steele, Jim McClatchy, Bill McKleroy, Sherwood Stockwell, Don Westerbeke, Walter McNiff, Harold Pischel, Dick Cahill, Larry Metcalf, Jim Gault, Austin Morris, Ken Oliphant, Jim McPherson, Ken Beer, Fred Coolidge, Ray Huston, Herb Kahn, Gerry Burrill, Bob Cheesewright, Stirling Colgate, Bill Dodds, Ed Martin, Jim Robertson, Karl Schultz, John Bryan, Joe Weiner, Mort McMichael, Jr.
If everyone who receives this letter would add one name to this list, our job would be done.
Any questions you may have will to be only gladly answered. Just communicate with me or John Reily, Jr. 420 Market Street, San Francisco, CA.