Nakoma Clubhouse and Resort
By Jordan Venema
A Wright Welcome
By Jordan Venema
Photos courtesy of Nakoma Resort
In 1923, Nakoma Country Club of Madison, Wis., commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design its clubhouse, and then, well, nothing happened. The club went with another architect, and though Wright had finished the design, his plans were scrapped and archived within his estate.
Then in the mid ‘90s, Dariel and Peggy Garner approached Taliesen, Frank Lloyd Wright’s School of Architecture, wanting to use Wright designs for a real estate venture in California. The couple was shown the design for the long-shelved Nakoma clubhouse, which they loved, so they purchased the rights and eventually built the structure in the southern corner of Plumas County in 2001.
In a metaphorical sense, Wright’s forgotten plans seemed destined for an area also known as the Lost Sierra, but in a physical sense, the design also complements the area’s geography and landscape, as Wright would have intended. Resting on the crown of a hill, Nakoma’s three conical towers follow the natural ascent of its environs, harmonizing with the surrounding pines and peaks. Even the high plain of neighboring Sierraville seems more reminiscent of Midwestern landscape than the California Sierras.
Suited to its geography and also paradoxically out of place, the Native American-inspired design feels at home in nature while the comfortable amenities offered by the resort also make it something of an oasis.
Jamie Bate, who runs marketing for the resort, says the clubhouse “just kind of pops up out in the woods.” There’s an element of isolation, but it also includes the charm of neighboring Graeagle, Sierraville and Quincy, old lumber towns and glimpses of Americana, populated by generational cattle ranchers and offering respite from the tourism of Tahoe and Truckee.
Two statues, Nakoma and Nakomis, based off Wright’s original drawings, greet visitors to Nakoma Clubhouse, which includes the resort’s bar, restaurant and spa. Guests can purchase massages and other treatments in the spa, but also have free access to saunas and a treading pool.
Guests also flock to the resort to “slay” the Dragon, a renowned mountain golf course that hugs the Feather River, while staying in one of the 42 bedrooms in the Lodge at Nakoma, which was built in 2015. Owners are also constructing a new recreation center, which they expect to be completed in July. It will include a climbing wall, heated pool and gym equipment, all of which will be free to Nakoma guests.
The real gem at Nakoma, of course, is its clubhouse, whose every detail has been marked by Wright’s hand. The building’s three spires were inspired by Native American teepees, and are decorated with hand-painted ceramic beads and crowned with copper and rose-colored volcanic stone.
Low-ceilinged entrances and hallways open to soaring spaces, most notably the 56-foot-wide and 60-foot-high Wigwam Room, whose central fireplace rises like a supporting pillar around which diners enjoy their meals.
The food served at Nakoma’s clubhouse could compete with any distinguished chef from New York, and the meals are only overshadowed by panoramic views of the valley below, and by the soaring interior design above. Exposed beams rise in geometric patterns against a colored wooden frieze and painted glass.
To dine in the Wigwam Room feels like entering the hollow of a mountain, expansive and yet enclosed, and one becomes aware of the building’s historical significance, though it is relatively young, thanks to the architect’s small touches. Adding an element of romance between the distant mountain peaks and the property’s remote location is the thought that Wright had chosen this location specifically to keep his design hidden, but finally actualized.
As much as the Nakoma Clubhouse is its own beacon and destination, it is because of its location in the Lost Sierra that its comforts are enhanced. Not that the resort does not stand on its own, but here it stands alone. And yet there is an interconnectedness between the community and its guests that isn’t usually found at resorts. Local residents regularly attend Friday night gatherings alongside guests of the resort, sharing wine, appetizers and conversation, and local musicians perform in the Wigwam Room on the weekend. The resort also serves locally brewed beers by Brewing Lair.
“Their place is really cool,” says Bate. “You go up this little dirt road off the 70, and they’ve got a beautiful brew house up there, with terraced decks, and during the summer you can bring and barbecue your own food. There are hammocks, and a nine-hole disc golf course.”
Of course the area has every outdoor activity from snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter to mountain biking, hiking and fishing in the summer, making the location as much an attraction as the resort.
“We’re in a really unique area,” agrees Bate, adding, “the Lost Sierra area is really the hidden gem of the Sierras.” Which would make the Nakoma Clubhouse a hidden gem within a hidden gem. And it is.