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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Historic Wonder

Historic Wonder

Crater Lake Lodge celebrates 100 years

Story by Lee Jullierat

Crater Lake Lodge, one of Oregon's landmarks, will celebrate its 100th anniversary this summer. A series of celebratory events, including a mid-June gathering featuring speakers and historians, is planned. And, marking its centennial, the lodge is on the cover of the book, Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges, by Kay L. Scott.

Good stuff.

It's almost hard to remember there was a time it seemed likely that the iconic lodge, built on the rim overlooking Crater Lake, would be torn down. Long-standing structural defects led the National Park Service to order the lodge closed in 1989, shortly before it was scheduled to open for the summer season, because engineers feared the second floor guest rooms might collapse of their own weight. It was the fatal strike following a series of studies that called for removing the lodge, which had suffered decades of problems because of sub-standard construction.

Protests from people who had stayed at the lodge, combined with uproar from newspapers throughout Oregon and the Historic Preservation League of Oregon, helped sway members of Oregon's congressional delegation to support and pass an appropriations bill to accelerate the lodge's planning and design work.

The lodge's overhaul began in 1991, with crews working 60-hour weeks because of the short construction season at Crater Lake National Park, which typically receives 485 inches of precipitation annually, most of it as snow. Engineers emphasized the lodge was restored, not rehabilitated. “As we take it apart, it’s scary to see how little was holding it together,” said Ray Todd, the Park Service’s project superintendent.

The lodge reopened July 7, 1995, with music, classic cars and renowned speakers, including Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield.

The cost for restoring the lodge was $18 million, but, as one supporter stated, “I don’t think people object to seeing positive things come out of their tax dollars. The lodge is part of our heritage and part of our collective responsibility.”

That near-closure is history. For the past 20 years, the classic lodge, which retains its 1920s architectural style, has embraced and enhanced old and new traditions. This summer, as in summers past, its 71 guest rooms are mostly reserved. Seats in the dining room will again be at a premium.

The anniversary isn't an excuse to look for business. Mike Keller, the general manager for lodge concessionaire Xanterra, says it will be a time for celebrating. "We're very excited about the anniversary," he says.

Details are still being worked out, but he says a three-day celebration with speakers and events involving lodge visitors past and present is targeted June 19 to 21, the kickoff time for the summer season. Other programs, in cooperation with park managers, are scheduled in mid-August. "We're really in the planning stages," he emphasizes.

For Keller, one of his most anticipated activities will be a forum for people to share stories of their visits to the lodge.

"There's a generational connection with this place, with the lodge," he believes.

Early visitors didn't always simply drive their vehicles up to Rim Village and the lodge. When it opened June 28, 1915, Oregon Governor James Withycombe and a party of dignitaries drove within two miles of the lodge "after bucking and shoveling some snow." The governor and his group walked the final miles to lodge, sometimes over snow.

"After [Withycombe took] a good look at the lake, the new lodge on the rim was formally opened in honor of the governor and party and the first meal, a 6 o'clock dinner, was served," a reporter for The Oregonian wrote. "It was a sumptuous repast and included trout caught in Crater Lake."

"The effort people took once upon a time to get to the lodge was pretty challenging," says Keller, noting the park lacked modern equipment to plow and maintain roads.

He believes people have a wealth of memories of the lodge and lake because he has his own treasured recollections. Keller was a young boy when his family first visited Crater Lake. Although he doesn't believe they stayed in the lodge, his memory is imprinted with images.

"I remember seeing this beautiful old hotel sitting on the edge of the caldera and going, 'Wow!' I remember getting up in the morning and walking along the rim."

For people with cherished Crater Lake Lodge memories, this summer will be a time for remembering and revisiting. For those making their first-ever visit, it will be a time for creating new memories.

 

SIDEBAR

There aren’t many openings, but people hoping to book a room at historic Crater Lake Lodge should call toll-free 888-774-2728 or look online at www.craterlakelodges.com. The lodge has 71 rooms. Phones and televisions are not provided and not all rooms come with a shower and tub. Lodge guests receive priority for dinner reservations in the lodge dining room. People not staying at the lodge can often be seated for breakfast or lunch.

As an alternative, guests may order beverages, cold and hot appetizers, soups, salads and desserts in the lodge’s Great Hall, adjacent to the dining room.

Reservations can be made at the lodge for ranger-guided lake boat and cable car rim tours. Several hikes of varying difficulty are available, including the 3.5-mile round-trip Garfield Peak hike, which begins and ends near the lodge.

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