16 November, 2017

Deakin Archive: The Zephyr House at Lake Tahoe 1896

Photograph DA1896-027: The airship Iron Zephyr on approach to the Zephyr House. 19 October, 1896.

The Zephyr House was the American base of operations for the Society of the Mechanical Sun and also served as a home for Geoffrey Hawkins during the final few years of the 19th century.  It was an architectural marvel designed by Hawkins and Falynne Hyperion, rising above the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe on land that was part of the Ainsworth family's Timberjack Ranch.  The Zephyr House is showcased in three amazing photographs recently discovered in the Deakin Archive and now presented here as part of our online exhibition.

In 1895, Falynne Hyperion moved her airship engineering laboratory from England to Nevada, primarily to escape the industrial espionage perpetrated by jealous European rivals, most notably Ferdinand Von Zeppelin.  Nevada rancher Giles Ainsworth (and uncle to Society member Berkley Vanderzee) provided a large tract of land on his Timberjack Ranch that afforded Hyperion the necessary privacy to design and construct her fleet of Hyperion Zephyr Airships.  At roughly the same time, Geoffrey Hawkins was pursuing Enoch Cyncad across the American continent and he convinced Ainsworth to expand the newly created Zephyr Air Field by adding a large estate that could serve as a strategic headquarters for the Society.

Construction of the Zephyr House was completed during the summer of 1896.  While there are no existing records that provide specific architectural details about the imposing iron and steel edifice, we do know that the design included electricity via an early prototype hydroelectric generator, two elevators, a wireless telegraph and a high altitude dock to accommodate airship traffic from the nearby Zephyr Air Field.

Photograph DA1896-028: The Iron Zephyr docked at Zephyr House. 19 October, 1896.

On 19 October, 1896, photographers Jack and Timothy Deakin documented the maiden voyage of Falynne Hyperion's semi-rigid airship, the Iron Zephyr, as it approached and docked at the Zephyr House.  Photograph DA1896-027 was taken by Jack Deakin and provides a spectacular panorama of the structure from the nearby lakeshore. The Iron Zephyr can be seen approaching in the distance. With photograph DA1896-028, Jack Deakin captured another impressive vignette, pointing the camera up from ground level as the airship was tethered to the house dock. 
Photograph DA1896-029: The Zephyr House airship dock. 19 October, 1896.

The final photograph, DA1896-029, was taken by Timothy Deakin and presented an interior view of the house's airship dock. Shown in the photo are Geoffrey Hawkins and Falynne Hyperion.  In the background, a servant IA (intelligent automaton) can be seen approaching the tethered Iron Zephyr.

The Society maintained use of the Zephyr House into the 20th century, but it was largely abandoned following the disappearance of Geoffrey Hawkins in 1911.  The elevators were eventually removed, making the remainder of the building inaccessible from the ground.  It became something of a curiosity to Lake Tahoe tourists over the next two decades. In the mid-1930s, eccentric millionaire George Whittell Jr. purchased a significant amount of the Ainsworth family's Timberjack Ranch lakeshore properties including the Zephyr House.  In 1942, Whittell had the remains of the building demolished and donated the scrap iron and steel to the war effort.

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