Great Lodges of the National Parks
Pacific Northwest: Timberline
Both elegant and organic, Timberline Lodge is a remarkable example of Depression-era public works projects. Stained a soft gray, with a central peak that echoes the outline of Mt. Hood, the building seems a natural extension of the mountainside.
This National Historic Landmark exists because of Emerson J. Griffith, a Portland businessman. He spent a decade trying, and failing, to persuade developers to put a lodge on Mt. Hood. But then the Great Depression hit, and Griffith was named WPA Director for Oregon. His first funding request was for a "recreation project," a euphemism for the lodge he'd always wanted. In late 1935, the WPA approved the project.
The design phase was convoluted, involving several architects. In the end, the building would have two wings, extending from a hexagonal hub.
Timberline Lodge was built entirely by hand, starting in the summer of 1936. Workers were housed in tents, in a meadow about 1/2 mile below the work site. Concerned with teaching job skills, the WPA teamed each master artisan with nine junior workers.
Activity was intense during the short building season before winter. Instead of starting from the middle and working out, the 3-story west wing went up first, followed by the 2-story east wing. Finally the hexagonal head house was built between the wings.
By the end of the second building season, the exterior was nearly finished, and interior work was beginning. Then it was decided that President Roosevelt would dedicate the building in September 1937. The pace of work became frenzied. But the Lodge wouldn't be ready for real guests until 5 months after the dedication.
The spirit of Timberline Lodge was shaped by three strong forces: consulting architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, a team of Forest Service architects, and Margery Hoffman Smith.
Underwood was already renowned for his work on the Ahwahnee and other lodges in the national Parks. But since this was a Forest Service project, the USFS intended to use their own people. From the start, there were conflicts. In the end, neither Underwood, nor the USFS team, could claim the design as wholly their own.
The third player, Margery Hoffman Smith, was the defining force behind the interior décor. Smith expressed her vision in every detail, from carved ornaments to hand-woven textiles.
The resulting style, often called "Cascadian," is both refined and rustic. Ongoing restoration work helps to preserve this architectural gem.
Today, guests at Timberline experience a Lodge not much different than that enjoyed by the first visitors.
Guest rooms are still decorated in the style conceived by Margery Hoffman Smith. Her décor used 23 different motifs, often featuring local wildflowers. The motifs were applied to draperies, bedspreads, and rugs. The textiles have been replaced twice, each time with handcrafted replicas.
Much of the Lodge's original artwork remains. Restored paintings include works in oil by renowned Oregon artist C. S. Price, and watercolors by Karl Feuer, who produced 130 paintings of local wild plants.
Some practical updates have been required. For example, wrought iron stair railings were added for safety. But the additions keep faith with the founding vision, and visitors often find it hard to distinguish old and new.