Bass Lake's rich history -- birth of a new community 99 years ago

By Marc Sobel / Guest CommentaryApril 24, 2013 

Bass Lake as a reservoir in Crane Valley began its life as a recreation site with hydro-electric use about 1896. Immediately following that date the plan was developed to increase the capacity of the lake by 10 times to the current level.

In the several years following, Albert Graves (A.G.) Wishon bought the land in the valley for the power company, San Joaquin Light & Power Corporation. Among the contracts executed during those years was one on April 26, 1904 when A. G. Wishon, San Joaquin Light & Power Corporation and William B. Day entered an agreement for Mr. Day to lease the property (we know it as the Pines Tract) from the power company to build a hotel and cottages "to the water's edge." There was no lake nearby until a decade later when the dam was completed to its current height. On Feb. 15, 1915 the same three parties revised the contract to be a 99-year lease beginning April 26, 1914, so that Mr. Day could allow subleases of portions of the leased property for a few people to build cabins on the property he leased from the power company.

At the end of the 99 years, either Mr. Day would buy the fee land at an appraised value or if not done by Mr. Day, the power company could pay Mr. Day for the value of the improvements.

Over the years, the Pines shopping center and a very few other properties were removed from the lease, but until the 1980s few people realized the consequence to the Pines Tract homeowners (actually they were subleasees) of the remaining term on the 99-year lease. The Pines Civic Council existed to represent lease holders.

In the 1980s Barney Bernard convinced a small group of lease holders to form a new organization with the purpose to find a way to buy the land under the homes. The existing council had no interest in the project. This small group was actually a dock association which became the Bass Lake Homeowners Association with Mr. Bernard as president, and charter members Dennis Jones, Margaret Austin, Larry Bridges and Al Reed. Jim Ackroyd became the administrator during the transition period. Ted Frame was the groups attorney for the new Association.

They determined that the Williams family as successors to the rights of William B. Day should be persuaded to sell the home sites and cabins to the homeowners/subleases who had built them and occupied them in the summer or year-round. The process of persuading the Williams to sell was substantial litigation which ended with surveys of all the Pines Tract properties and the sale of those homes and land to the homeowners through helpful participation by the County of Madera and by PG&E.

The actions of Mr. Bernard, Mr. Frame and others in the 1980s completely changed the meaning of the date of April 25, 2013 -- the end of the 99-year lease. Whether the Day family or Williams family would have bought all the land from PG&E or the power company would have bought all the improvements, the outcome would not have been all the beautiful homes owned by the families of the Pines Tract as now exist.

So on April 25, 2013, appreciate and celebrate the foresight and strong actions of Mr. Bernard, Mr. Frame and others for all they did for all the families who enjoy their homes in the Pines Tract at Bass Lake.

Today, Bass Lake is a thriving community. Most of the homes have been substantially remodeled. Many in fact have been torn down and rebuilt. Economic activity has spilled over to surrounding communities. Bass Lake is Madera County's wealthiest neighborhood and the Bass Lake Homeowners Association now represents members throughout the Bass Lake area.

-- Marc Sobel is president of the Bass Lake Homeowners Association

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