Women’s History Month: Lora Knight's contribution to Emerald Bay State Park | Cal Parks

Women’s History Month: Lora Knight's contribution to Emerald Bay State Park

Published: March 3, 2022

If you’ve ever traveled to Emerald Bay State Park in Lake Tahoe, you may have noticed a large Scandinavian castle nestled among the pines, this is Vikingsholm. Vikingsholm is a 38-room mansion now preserved for the enjoyment of visitors, which wouldn’t have been possible without the contributions and vision of Lora Knight. 

Lora Knight - photo from Vikingsholm.com

Lora was born in Illinois in 1864 and grew up in the town of Galena. She eventually married James Moore, who was a partner at his father’s law firm. The firm became extremely successful and Lora and James accumulated a vast estate. The Moore’s loved to travel, and frequently went on trips throughout California and internationally. 


The couple eventually fell in love with the Lake Tahoe area and acquired a parcel of land in 1914 where they lived until James’ death two years later in 1916. Lora was left with a considerable amount of wealth, estimated at $15 million. 


A few years later, Lora remarried Harry Knight, a short marriage that only lasted about six years, until 1928. Lora’s love for the Lake Tahoe area continued and she had a life-long reputation for her generous hospitality, philanthropy, and numerous financial contributions to youth groups in California and Nevada. After her divorce, Lora purchased 240 acres of land at the head of Emerald Bay and commissioned the construction of Vikingsholm. The original design for the house came from Lennart Palme, a Swedish architect of whom Knight was related by marriage. Over 200 craftspeople from Scandinavia worked on the property. With so many workers, Vikingsholm was finished in just one summer season. Every detail was painstakingly handcrafted to Knight’s satisfaction, and Vikingsholm came to be known as one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the U.S. The house was furnished with goods and furniture shipped from Scandinavia, and Knight frequently entertained with large parties and dinners. The exterior garden was also kept up, with wildflowers among the towering pines. 

Lora Knight spent 15 summers at Vikingsholm, and passed away there in 1945. After her death, the property went through multiple owners, and fell into a state of disrepair and vandalism before it was eventually donated to the state of California. 

Today, Vikingsholm is open year-round and hundreds of thousands of people have been able to enjoy Knight’s legacy at the 232-acre property. You can learn more and plan your visit today at https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=1158. California State Parks Foundation has been active at Vikingsholm by providing funding for the residence’s electrical system, hosting volunteer workdays, and advocating to keep the park open during the 2009 budget crisis.