Witness sorts fact from fiction about Hotel Bret Harte
Compiled and arranged by Peg Presba
Mountain Democrat, April 9, 1998
(Text used by permission)

          No history can ever be writ­ten in its entirety. Lack of information, untimely deaths different interpretations and many other contributing fac­tors often make fact appear as fantasy and just as often turn fan­tasy to fact.

        So it seems with the history of "Deer View."

        Often we take the written word for fact and rewrite those very words as fact, when in reality it was not history as it really was or should have been written in the first place. These written facts are then in turn handed down to the future and presented as factual history for them. Often this chain is never broken. It is easier to repeat a good story as it has been told 10 times before than it is to raise an objection and change it for history's sake. Most often this is because we have become com­fortable with the telling as we know them.

Deer View fantasy

            Deer View become one of these historical fantasies, full of truth, error, fantasy and even legend, all combined to create a "great story."

          Long after the death of A.P.T. Elder, the dreamer of "Deer View," it seems easier to repeat them again. But for the sake of true history and in an effort to add to the written word, I went searching and found someone who was there.

 

Bringing the truth to light

          In the spring of 1981 Bev Cola made arrangements for me to meet with Bob Bergantz. Bob had read some articles I had writ­ten on "Deer View" and made the remark that I was making the same mistakes in my "Views on Deer View" that have been made for countless years past. With that in mind my husband, Bud, and I traveled to Bergantz' Placerville home and taped his reflections on this wilderness hostelry as he remembered it best. Bob was not only quick to shed light on a number of aspects of the "Deer View" history, but raised a few very important questions for us  today.

          Bob Bergantz pointed out sever­al misconceptions that have been brought to the reading public over the past three-quarters of a century.

 Hotel Bret Harte in Deer View

Four or five stories?

            One fact that has been mistakenly repeated is the height of Bret Harte Hotel, which is often mis­takenly called "Deer View." Bob said that "Margaret Kelly and oth­ers have quoted the building as five stories high. The hotel was not five stories, but only four. There was no full basement under the hotel. I was under there many times and there was none." The windows in the rock work have misled many to think this, whether they were put in for ven­tilation - or to give this false impression - is another fact we may never know.

            These first-hand recollections Bob had of the hotel and lodge come from the fact that he spent considerable time there as a youth. Len Dormandy was an old prospector and hired Bob to escort him to the old mine site on the "Deer View" property. "When I graduated from high school he hired me to do pick and shovel work for him up there." Bob even spent three months living in the "Deer View" Lodge itself. Although he didn't recall a whole lot about the man A.P.T. Elder personally, the details of this home away from home stood out clear.

 

Elder the eccentric was extremely brilliant

          When Elder couldn't get anyone else to take him back to "Deer View" when he would get into town, he would get a hold of my dad, Louie Bergantz, who was familiar with all the road condi­tions around the country. Dad got a lot of background information on Elder, and we were over there many times.

        "What Elder had in mind," said Bob," is something you would have to dwell on extensively. He was an eccentric, but he was also an extremely brilliant man. He knew what he was going to do with "Deer View" and Hotel Bret Harte. He was going to pack the hotel with 500 of his friends from the East and their memberships in the hunting lodge and then sell it.

        "This is what he had in mind, I read about it in his diary. He was planning on completing the hotel and having a grand opening and inviting all his wealthy friends from the East and packing it full and selling the place to promoters from Los Angeles. It would have worked. No way could it have failed, because he would have had the 500 memberships from the hunting lodge and their families there, and these were extremely wealthy people. As I remember, the membership in the lodge was $500."

 

Elder's untimely death

            His death stopped that," said Bergantz. As for Elder himself , the builder and dreamer of "Deer View," he said, "The glory of achievement, the ecstasy of see­ing one's dreams come true, is sufficient reward for effort and anguish endured."

        Elder had seen many dreams come true, including his thriving Boston newspaper and the completion of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, said to be one of the biggest, best and most spectacular of the day. His sudden death in 1924 left his most cher­ished dream unfinished - The Hotel Bret Harte - mistaken by most as "Deer View Lodge." Elder's unfinished dream became known as "Elder's Folly." His heirs, uninterested in the fabulous structure, requested everything that wasn't nailed down to be sold. Many of the pieces of furni­ture and plumbing found their way into the homes in the Mosquito and Georgetown area.

Deer View Lodge and Hotel Bret Harte

         The "Deer View" Hotel was never completed. They were confusing the Michigan building, (which was the Deer View Hunting Lodge) which was a complete building, and was brought there and put together the same way it had been constructed at the Pan Pacific Exposition, and they confuse the lodge with the hotel. Yet the hotel was never completed. It did have the windows in it as stated. This was part of his eccentricity."

 

Pino Grande train trestles underpin hotel

          Bob also told how Elder pil­laged the nearby Pino Grande logging camps, tearing down and scavenging all the old train trestles in the area. "Elder wrecked every trestle in that country, and some of them were literally huge, measuring 14 by 14 inches and bigger around, " Bob said. "He used them for underpinnings for his place and he didn't care whether they were good or not. I have actually poked my finger in those underpinnings and they were so rotten that they couldn't have withstood much in the way of weight over the years"

 

Correcting more errors

                      "I do remember being up at `Deer View' once when the construction crews were working. The plumbers were busy putting in the plumbing on the fourth floor before the first, second, or third floors were completed. The outside was a shell. Part of this weight on the outside was what started it to collapse when the snows came."

          When he died there were still boxes and crates of furniture waiting to go in. It was said that there were "plumbing fixtures and bathtubs scattered all around the grounds, ready to go in."

          "Another error that has been repeated," said Bob, "is that they say the kitchens were built into the banks. Only root and wine cellars were built into the bank. This way he was getting the effect of refrigeration."

Bird-s-eye view of Hotel Bret Harte and Deer View Resort          Included in this series is a Bird's Eye-View of "Deer View" which Elder had drawn up. From this you can see that Bergantz's information is correct. It clearly shows the "Cooks house and kitchen connected with the main house [Deer View Lodge] by butler's pantry." Nestled in the bank behind are two doors leading into the bank with no windows, some­thing no state-of-the-art kitchen of any era would be without. When Dwaine Schrader took me up to "Deer View" in 1981 he pointed out these stone walls. They were quite impressive, but definitely not a kitchen, but rather root cellars or wine cellars. Fireplace inside Deer View Lodge

 

 

         "Another thing I see repeated over and over again," said Bergantz, " is the `two-story grand ballroom covered with murals.' That wasn't so. Margaret Kelly says she saw this, but she didn't. What she saw was the murals on the walls in the lodge. This did have murals and it was two stories, but not over the dining room, as has been told."

            Bob Bergantz had much more to say about "Deer View" and his personal experiences there.

 

 

 

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