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Media Life: Eldorado County co-hosted Placer’s Squaw Valley1960 Olympics?

Squaw Valley Winter Games has a little-known quirk in its Placer County past
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at

and 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.

A little-remembered quirk of fate leaves El Dorado County to claim a backdoor but crucial link to the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympic Games.

The cross-country events were held partly in Placer’s neighboring county — at a location a 15-mile drive south of Squaw Valley.

And that fact has inspired Placerville’s Fausel House Gallery to celebrate the Olympic connection — and put together an exhibit that’s showing through March 9 that focuses on the mid-century modern illustration and design of the eighth Olympiad.

From the clean, linear tickets mimicking woodblock prints to magazine covers that celebrate the Squaw Valley Olympics, the Fausel House Gallery display is covering new ground for El Dorado County in a renewed look at the small but integral role a private landowner played in keeping the games on track.

 

Clear-cut fogification

There’s no argument that Placer County played host to the games. But El Dorado County’s participation muddies the sanctity of that host label.

Media Life reached out to the man who wrote the book on the Squaw Valley Olympics for the story on how the cross-country events — including the first biathlon at the Winter Games — ended up in what is now Ed Z-Berg Sugar Pine Point State Park at Tahoma. That’s El Dorado County, folks.

David Antonucci is author of “Snowball’s Chance: the Story of the 1960 Olympic Winter Games Squaw Valley & Lake Tahoe.” He’ll be discussing the Olympics, with a special focus on the Nordic events that took place in El Dorado County, at a talk starting at 6 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Fausel House Gallery.

Here’s what Antonucci has learned and writes about in his book:

The Placer contingent pulled the strings in 1955 to secure the 1960 Olympics but when the Olympic organizing committee arrived in 1958 they were shocked to see that the land approved for the cross-country skiing events had been subdivided for housing.

The committee found suitable land on the west shore but then the Scandinavian Olympic committees threatened to pull their teams out because they didn’t want an event separate from the Olympic village. They only relented when it was shown that the terrain was far superior and the snow coverage would be better.

 

Here comes the Army

The snow course on private land at Tahoma included bridges and trailed expressly created for the games. The Sixth Army encamped nearby built roads and target ranges. A year later, a pre-Olympics trial event at Tahoma expressly requested by the Scandinavians proved that the new off-site location was workable.

And so it came to pass that a snowy section of El Dorado County was shoehorned into Olympic glory. And then everything was removed and returned to the way it was, at the property owners’ request.

But the El Dorado County connection is being revived.

The El Dorado Arts Council’s Fausel House Gallery, 772 Pacific St. in Placerville, has some gems for perusal by even a neighboring Placer County booster bristling at the mention of cross-county involvement at the 1960s games.

Caitlin Thompson, gallery coordinator, points to a concept sketch on display by none other than Walt Disney’s right-hand illustrator John Hench of the statuary and Olympic Park — including the display of national flags.

A side note that has just come to light on Facebook. The Cal Fire station in Bowman has two of the flagpoles that were used in the Olympic flag display and obtained during the late 1960s.

In Placerville, Thompson said tickets, magazine covers and other ephemera show off the great design work that accompanied the Olympic Games, illustrating a definite 1960s style. Her personal favorite is a Shell map that’s illustrated with cartoonish characters camping, hunting, mining and recreating in the area around Squaw Valley. It’s like a rustic 1960s version of “Where’s Waldo,” Thompson said.

 

Photographs too

The photos by North Tahoe’s Bob Briner, still active at 90, are another highlight of “The Games of Winter: Art and Ephemera from the 1960 Winter Olympics.” Briner was the official photographer for the organizing committee and his black and white — and color — images breathe life into an event that is now 58 years in the rear-view mirror of time.

Gallery hours are weekdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The location is right off Highway 50 behind Buttercup Pantry restaurant — probably the only place in the area to still order the Gold Rush-era holdover Hangtown Fry. It’s walking distance from Main Street.

Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com and 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.