Great Lodges of the National Parks
Pacific Northwest: Crater Lake
More than any other person, William Gladstone Steel shaped the visitor experience of Crater Lake and its famous Lodge. Steel first saw the lake in 1885, after hiking to the rim with friends. He would spend the rest of his life engaged in preserving and promoting the Park.
In 1907, Steel formed the Crater Lake Company, and set up a modest tent city offering primitive facilities and hot meals. But Steel wanted a grand hotel, two if possible. His plans were waylaid when a series of funding schemes failed.
Steel finally found a financier in Alfred L. Parkhurst, a developer from Portland, Oregon. But there still wasn't enough money to do the job properly. As a result, there have actually been two Crater Lake Lodges. The first was merely a dreamer's phantom, but the second emerged as the dream come true.
The project was estimated at $5,000, but costs rapidly soared to $30,000. The contractor had problems getting supplies to the building site on the crater rim, and competition for labor was fierce during the summer work season. Shortcuts were taken to save money, with disastrous results during construction (and for decades after). The Lodge finally opened in 1915, 3 years behind schedule.
In 1989, the old Lodge was closed due to structural dangers. Fortunately, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, making it difficult to raze the Lodge. Strong public opinion persuaded the NPS to rehabilitate the structure. But rehabilitation became reconstruction, literally from the ground up, at a cost of $15 million. On May 20, 1995, Crater Lake Lodge reopened to the public, just as Steel had envisioned it.
The original Lodge plans were drawn by Portland architect Raymond Hockenberry. In his defense, it should be noted that other high-elevation lodges came later, so he had no models to follow. But Hockenberry greatly underestimated the forces of nature, and provided his "auto-lodge" with an inadequate wooden frame. Visually, the design worked surprisingly well, in part because he used native stone and wood.
The second Lodge is also the work of Portland architects. The firm of Fletcher Farr Ayotte had originally been asked to design a new Lodge, but then switched gears to handle the reconstruction. Despite the shortcomings of the old Lodge, the lead architect on the project noted, "What it did have was a history that came from people's emotional attachment." That history lives on in the new building.
When Crater Lake Lodge opened in the summer of 1915, the exterior was covered with tarpaper. Flimsy fiberboard separated the guest rooms. Bathrooms were shared, and a generator provided occasional power. But visitors were glad to pay generously for the spectacular views that the Lodge offered.
In 1922, Lodge operators began a series of extensions and additions. But through the decades, there was small improvement in the quality of the construction, or overall appearance. By the '30s, the Lodge grounds were mud or dust, depending on the season.
Ugly as it was, visitors remembered the old Lodge fondly, and their memories spurred the reconstruction efforts.
When the new Lodge opened on May 20, 1995, there were 71 lovely rooms to welcome guests. A 1920s aura permeated the building. And Steel's dream was finally realized.