Great Lodges of the National Parks
Pacific Northwest: Oregon Caves
Glancing at the Chateau from the Parking lot, people see a building of 3 stories, set in a tiny and remote National Monument. On closer examination, visitors discover there are actually 6 stories to the Chateau, and that this is one of the most architecturally exciting lodges in the entire Parks system.
Crossing the span of a woodland ravine, the Chateau makes exceptional use of the land's natural contours, and a stream runs through the dining room. The lodge was designed and built by local folks, with an emphasis on natural materials. Much of the building's original siding of shaggy Port Orford-cedar bark is still intact after 70 years.
This remarkable structure owes its existence to a group of business leaders from a nearby town, which formed the Oregon Caves Company to stimulate the region's depressed economy.
There were a few existing structures near the Caves when plans to build the Chateau were announced in 1929. The Depression put a temporary stop to the project, but work finally got underway in the fall of 1931. Construction took 3 years, partly due to cash flow problems, the remote site, and a small crew (never more than 20 men).
Workers began with a reinforced concrete foundation, followed by post and beam interior supports. Locally harvested timbers included several different tree species. The bark siding was a byproduct of a nearby railroad-tie operation. Material for the stone fireplace was taken from the bedrock on site, quarried as part of the site preparations.
Small details of craftsmanship are found throughout, including lapped and dovetailed blind joints, and decorative wooden plugs.
Most of the great lodges were designed by "name" architects. In contrast, the Chateau is the work of Gust Lium, a local area builder. Lium had already designed some cottages and a dormitory for the Caves area, partly because his brother-in-law was a founder of the area's concession company.
But Lium's creativity and expertise shouldn't be underestimated. A jagged roofline and asymmetrical features echo the rugged setting. Interior spaces often parallel the natural forms of the Caves; public rooms are long, low and intimate.
Lium also used Cave Creek in his design, taking water from a pond above the lodge, and guiding its flow through the dining room before allowing the stream to continue its fall down the ravine. A man of small acclaim in his own time, today Gust Lium is called a genius of environmental architecture.
The Chateau experience has changed little over the past 70 years. Occasional coats of paint have been removed, and the beauty of the original hand-finished woodwork shines again.
Much of the furniture stands exactly where it did when the Chateau opened in 1934. Sadly, some of the pieces were lost in a frightening 1963 event that nearly destroyed the entire Chateau.
There are no phones or TVs in the rooms. But guests can take a stool at the wooden counter in the '30s-style coffee shop, chat with other visitors, and enjoy an old-fashioned soda-fountain treat.
Luxury is not the keyword here. Fire-retardant Firtexon lines guest room walls, and the exposed sprinkler system hangs over head. But anyone willing to seek out this remote little jewel will be rewarded with the charm and ambiance of a bygone era.