'Bonanza' creator reacts to ranch deal

An impending deal to sell the 548-acre Ponderosa Ranch to a consortium of government agencies has generated shock and surprise from people across the country.

The ranch, which was built by longtime Incline Village resident Bill Anderson in 1968, is based on the setting of the popular TV Western "Bonanza," which ran from 1959 to 1973.

While few scenes from the show were shot at the ranch itself, the producers made good use of the surrounding property, featuring Lake Tahoe as its centerpiece.

David Dortort, who created ''Bonanza" in 1959, said the idea to shoot locations in the North Shore area was essential to his vision.

"This was to be the first show shot in color, and I couldn't think of a more beautiful place than Tahoe," Dortort said. "I think the show spread the message of how beautiful Lake Tahoe is to the rest of the world."

Asked about the proposal to sell the ranch, Dortort, who lives in Southern California, said, "Well, my feeling is one of regret. We had a lot of fantastic years up there. But I'm in favor of it being restored back to what it was when we first arrived and had Bill Anderson building roads so we could move our equipment. I just hope developers don't get their hands on it. That would be tragic."

Ponderosa Ranch President David Geddes recently announced the company is looking at selling the property to a coalition of government agencies for potential use as a public area, with access to surrounding forests.

Terra Firma, a Minden-based consulting firm, was called in by the ranch to study the possibility of a deal with the U.S. Forest Service, the Nevada Department of Conservation, the Nevada Department of Transportation, Washoe County, Incline Village General Improvement District or the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

In addition to the beautiful setting, Dortort credits the success of the show, which in a recent TV Guide poll was named the greatest television Western, to its positive message.

"I think it was always one of love, but not in a sentimental way, but in a strong way," Dortort said. "People respond to that, and I think that's why the show has become sort of an American institution over all these years."

Dortort said, "We are in the midst of shooting a prequel to 'Bonanza,' called 'The Ponderosa.' So far, we have about 20 hours done."

He said the current edition of the show is being shot in Australia, "and there's not a pine tree in sight."

Joan Markowitz worked for Dortort when he was developing the pilot for "Bonanza," and was instrumental in a key component of the show.

"I named the ranch," Markowitz said from her Apple Valley, Calif., home.

"David was writing the script in long hand and I was typing it for him," Markowitz said. "One morning at about 3 a.m., David and some of the other people involved in the project starting arguing about the name of the Cartwright ranch. David was calling it 'Panamint' (an obscure mining term.)

"Finally, I blurted out that the show was about this big, strong like-a-tree man who was surrounded by trees on his property. So I suggested, name the ranch after the trees. Call it Ponderosa," Markowitz said.

She has visited the ranch on a few occasions, "I think it's an enjoyable place. It's too bad it's changing hands. I hope it won't get torn down," Markowitz said. "Maybe they could move the house to a place like Universal Studios. Or, with so many fans around the world, they could each chip in a few bucks and by the place."


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