El Lagarto Coming Home to Lake George Area
El Lagarto, the Lake George boat that won three Gold Cup races, two of them on its home waters, will be exhibited locally this summer for the first time since it was donated to the Adirondack Museum in 1963.
Tumblehome Boatshop will display El Lagarto in its new showroom from July through September, when it will be an additional attraction of the Lake George Gold Cup Festival, the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the 1935 races that will be held in Bolton Landing from September 17 through September 20.
George Reis, El Lagarto’s owner, won the 1935 cup by defeating other legendary boats. Hotsy Totsy II, Delphine IV and Notre Dame, in a series of races in Bolton Bay.
According to Reuben Smith, the owner of Tumblehome, a series of programs about El Lagarto will be held throughout the summer at the showroom, which is located between Warrensburg and the Glen on Route 28. Plans also include parading El Lagarto through Bolton Landing, past Reis’s boathouse to the Sagamore, displaying it later at a site accessible to the public.
“El Lagarto won’t leave the Adirondack Museum for another thirty years, so this is a historic moment for the boat, for Lake George and for everyone who cares about the heritage of Gold Cup racing,” said Smith.
“It makes perfect sense to show this boat to the Lake George community on the anniversary of the 1935 Gold Cup Races,” said Todd Happer, a spokesman for the Adirondack Museum. “We’ve been entrusted with preserving a part of the story of El Lagarto for decades, and now we’re happy to share the boat with an event that has so much community support. It helps keep the story alive.”
The Adirondack Museum is reviewing several proposals to broaden El Lagarto’s exposure to the public while on view in Warren County, said Happer.
Teri Hoffman, one of the organizers of the Gold Cup Festival said, “We are incredibly grateful to the Adirondack Museum for its support. Generations of folks have never seen El Lagarto. They may have never known that it’s been right in our backyard.”
Prior to being displayed in Tumblehome’s showroom, El Lagarto will undergo conservation and preservation measures in Smith’s boat shop.
According to Todd Happer, a long-range conservation plan for the Museum’s boat collection was recently completed. With that assessment in place, the museum has a better understanding of what is required to conserve El Lagarto.
“It’s a pretty sensitive job; everything that is done will be done with the conservators’ approval,” said Smith. “As boat builders, we’re fascinated by El Lagarto’s design and technology, which enabled it to achieve the speeds that it did, so we’re very excited to be involved with this project.”
El Lagarto was built in 1922 as a runabout by John Hacker. When Reis found her three years later, she was known as a boat that no one could keep right side up. He rebuilt the boat, adding the steps or shingled bottom that caused it to leap 75 feet in the air before hitting water and, with a new supercharged Packard engine, to achieve speeds of 86 miles per hour.
El Lagarto won its first Gold Cup at Detroit in 1933. Reis’s victory at Detroit brought the Gold Cup races to Lake George in 1934, and kept them here in 1935 and again in 1936 when the crown passed to Horace Dodge’s Impshi.
“El Lagarto was the most important powerboat of the 1930s,” said Teri Hoffman. “It not only won three consecutive Gold Cup races, it was the boating equivalent of a Triple Crown winner, capturing the Gold Cup, the National Sweepstakes and the President’s Cup.”
Reis retired from racing in 1937. Gold Cup racing had ceased to be the gentleman’s sport it had been, and was soon to be dominated by professionals and corporate-sponsored boats. But Reis continued to spend his summers on Lake George, using El Lagarto as a runabout. He died at the Glens Falls Hospital in 1962 at the age of 73.