TIMBERLINE LODGE

Timberline Lodge

After regretfully bidding a too-soon-goodbye to Oregon Caves Chateau, we wound our way back down to the Redwood Highway. Late evening found us at Gold Beach Resort where our 28th annual Zane Grey’s West Society convention was to be held. Two days later, my 28th keynote address had to do with Zane Grey’s greatest obsession in life: to become the world’s greatest fisherman. After five wonderful nights of listening to the waves thunder in, we re-packed the Lincoln. It was easier now that we’d shipped three boxes of our stuff back to Colorado—yet perversely the trunk remained full.

We drove up 101 to Reedsport, where we bade our adieus to the Pacific—the Oregon Coast has to be one of the world’s most beautiful stretches of sea and sand—and took Highway 36 East, feeling we had good company as Zane Grey’s river, the Umpqua, followed us. Then we were back on I-5. I recited my favorite freeway quotation: Charles Kuralt’s, “Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel coast to coast without seeing anything.”

Finally, we reached our road, Hwy 26, and angled east into Mt. Hood National Wilderness. Then it was six steep miles up to Timberline Lodge. Since it was late June it was a bit of a shock to see so many skiers, for in Colorado our ski-lifts had closed for the season some time before. After checking in, we carried our luggage up to our to-be-expected small room. A TV set peered out at us with a sheepish look, as much as to say, “I know I don’t belong here, but what could I do?” More in keeping with the times, in the room were an antique telephone and fan, and an old wind-up clock. And single beds.

Mt. Hood

While the rest explored inside the hotel, I shutterbugged my way across the snowfield above the hotel. From there, it seemed like you could see forever. I didn’t know it then, but it was, without doubt, the grandest panoramic view—I could see snow-capped Mount Jefferson; farther away were Mt. Washington and the Three Sisters—we’d see during our entire trip. Snowcats loaded with tired skiers passed me en route to the lodge.

Dinner in the Cascade Dining Room was all I hoped it would be. We were lucky enough to get a window table. Afterwards, we played Phase Ten, ruined by Connie’s whupping us! Then everyone else retired, but I needed to write cards to our children and grandchildren and catch up in my journal. But there was no fire in the fireplace. When I asked why, one of the clerks at the front desk answered, “Sir, we can make one for you—where are you sitting?” Not long afterwards, I had my fire, my evening complete.

TIMBERLINE’S STORY

The lodge was born in the depths of the Great Depression. I chronicle the story of that time-period in my book, What’s So Good About Tough Times? (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook/Random House, 2001). It began on October 24, 1929—known forever after as Black Thursday—and continued its downward plunge through October 29—Black Tuesday. The free-fall continued: thirty billion lost during two short weeks. Panic gripped the nation.

Day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year passed—things only got worse. By the time 1931 drew to a close, of the 122 million Americans, five million were unemployed; jobless rates reaching 50% in some areas. More than two million people wandered across the country as vagrants. Four hundred banks had failed and there was then no Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Everywhere one looked, once proud, self-sufficient men and women had been reduced to begging for enough food so their families could survive another day. Since there were no credit cards, one either had money or one did not. Not without reason were six words seared into American consciousness for all time: Brother, can you spare a dime?

Things only got worse. By January 1932, more than two thousand banks had failed and thirteen million people were out of work. That November, desperate Americans tossed Hoover out of the White House and elected Franklin D. Roosevelt. Now 25% of the nation was without jobs, five thousand banks had collapsed, and in that maelstrom nine million family savings and checking accounts disappeared forever. And it continued on and on, the economy not recovering until World War II in the 1940s. Roosevelt’s response was the New Deal, the Work Progress Administration (WPA), and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC); in these programs, FDR did his best to put the nation back to work. (Wheeler, 1-3).

In the midst of this Depression, Emerson J. Griffith, WA Director for Oregon, searching for ways to put Oregonians to work, came up with the idea of building a lodge on Mount Hood, at 11,235 feet, Oregon’s highest mountain, a mecca for mountaineers, skiers, and travelers. On Dec. 17, 1935, according to Christine Barnes, the WPA approved the project. The U.S. Forest Service provided the land, and Congressional and private funding was promised. Then began the search for an architect of note. Gilbert Stanley Underwood, who’d already left his mark on Yosemite, Bryce, Zion, and Grand Canyon national parks, was selected. But the U.S. Forest Service’s architects determined to have their say as well. In the end, both sides agreed to make Timberline a joint venture.

The result was a central wigwam roof, with two wings; at the center would be a massive octagonal fireplace—later changed to hexagonal. Instead of Underwood’s preferred great log exterior, park architects chose a board-and-batten, clapboard, and stone exterior, typical of some of Portland’s grandest mansions. The lodge was designed to grow right out of the mountain, the 92-foot high central conical head-house fireplace looming above the lodge roofline in the same manner the mountain itself juts up from its base. Wisely, they positioned the hotel at 6,000 feet, at the foot of the Palmer Snowfield, to capitalize on its potential to thereby attract skiers. Hundreds of unemployed were now put to work.

Underwood’s two-entry concept had to do with separating two potential clientele: skiers used the ground entry, and recreational visitors used the upper. The great hexagonal chimney sports six fireplaces, three in the lower lounge and three in the upper one. Griffith and park architects concluded that blacksmithing, wood-carving, and weaving would complement the architecture; a stroke of genius had to do with enlisting Portland interior decorator Margery Hoffman Smith to bring a “woman’s touch” to the project; she it was who brought stylistic harmony to the interior. What makes the lodge extra special is all the whimsical wood carvings of animals of the Northwest, some even in the balustrades.

One of the hand carved owl balustrade on the stairway.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to harness all these creative people who were longing to make a difference and desperately needed the work. What no one had anticipated was the resultant explosion of creativity on the part of the artisans; the result was much the same as what made Europe’s soaring Gothic cathedrals such masterpieces: each workman, even if carving or sculpting a portion of the structure far above the ground level—if it were but a gargoyle—gave it his all as if it were to last forever. Griffith, in a telegram, put it this way: “These men indeed feel they are putting their skill into a cathedral. Coming up from the depths of despair they work with a spiritual exaltation that sometimes amazes me.” (Barnes, 69).

President Roosevelt was there, on September 28. 1937, to dedicate Timberline Lodge to the nation; the ceremony was carried live on radio. It cost far more than estimated: $1,000,000 instead of $250,000. But today, a million visitors a year flood in. Because of this, the lodge is continually re-created with craftsmen who replace the furniture, drapery, bedspreads, ironwork, leatherwork, etc., in order to preserve the original look, quality, and condition. One of these contemporary ironworkers, Darryl Nelson noted that “The best compliment they can give us is when we see someone looking at iron we just put in and they’re saying, ‘Boy, they don’t make stuff like this any more.’” (Barnes, 71).

Like most of these wondrous old lodges, Timberline went through its tough times: it was closed during World War II; after the war, mismanagement forced it to close its doors for nonpayment of utility bills. It was saved only because of the single-minded passion of Richard Kohnstamm; his son, Jeff, keeps the dream alive today. Today, when its now world-famous Palmer Snowfield that retains its snow year-round makes Timberline home to one of the most energetic ski and snowboard scenes on the planet. Here organized training camps from all over the world work on their skills all through the summer months in the longest ski season in North America. (This section, Barnes, 61-71).

* * * * *

Miraculously, this one-of-a-kind treasure of a lodge is still with us. It is different from most other old lodges in that it is urban (only minutes away from Portland); like it or not, it is loved to death by millions. If people like Bob and Lucy Earp, Connie and me feel outnumbered by the skiers, if we miss the great unified lobbies of sister lodges, and the serenity that keeps them alive into a new century, we ought not to begrudge sharing Timberline with others who cherish it for different reasons than we do.

SOURCES

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Parks I (Bend, Oregon: W. W. West, Inc., 2002). [Be sure and secure a copy of this book, for the “rest of the story”!]

AAA book on Oregon [an invaluable source].

“The Art of Timberline,” (Portland, OR: Friends of Timberline, n.d.

“Timberline” (Timberline Lodge brochure).

“Timberline Lodge—an Expression of Hope and Purpose” (U.S. Forest Service brochure)

SPECIAL NOTE

Next Wednesday, we move on to Paradise Inn on the slopes of Mount Rainier.

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It is almost painful to read about these majestic places and yearn to see them.

  2. Kathleen,

    Well, my dear, you aren’t very far away! What’s keeping you at home?

    Joe

  3. George is dedicated to finishing the shuttle program and won’t take time off of work.

  4. How SAD!

    Joe

  5. I am very happy and proud of him, not sad, that he is committed to finish his work in spite of our limited ability to travel at this time.


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