Imagine stepping outside your accommodations and finding yourself at the base of Mt. Hood staring up snowy slopes 11, 245 feet to the peak. It seems that close and you could simply walk up Oregon’s tallest and most famous mountain. That is the situation at Timberline Lodge which is more than just another ski lodge. Timberline Lodge is a national historic landmark for its history and beautiful artistry. Even for non-skiers and non-lodge guests, a visit is worth the effort to see Timberline and the outstanding views of Mt. Hood. Both are located within Mt. Hood National Forest on Highway 26 less than an hour east of Portland. The drive is part of a loop through national forests in the south and along the famed Columbia River Gorge scenic highway in the north.
Skiing on Mt. Hood has long been popular and there were plans to build a lodge in the 1920s but the depression ended that. Then those plans were submitted to and approved by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Timberline Lodge was constructed in just 18 months and dedicated September 28, 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in person.
After parking in the visitor lot and walking around the Wy’East Day Lodge (opened in 1980 to take pressure off Timberline), visitors are greeted by an unassuming stone and timber structure whose artistry and craftsmanship becomes impressive under closer scrutiny. The main entrance is up a flight of stones at the Indian Head Door. The design erred in the placement of the entrance as it is particularly prone to being buried in snow during winter. For years a tunnel was dug through the ice to gain entry and following World War II, a Quonset hut was used for decades. Today, a thermal tentlike thing is used during winter.
The great stone fireplace in the center greats visitors. The Rachel Griffin Historic Exhibition is the best place to start. A mountain rescue cabin is recreated with vintage objects. A large collection of antique wooden skis are displayed. A must is the video in the Coyote’s Den because it will arouse appreciation of the lodge and illustrate what to look for. The WPA project put to work hundreds of desperate unemployed workers during the darkest depths of the depression.
Construction began in springtime and the lodge rose swiftly before winter set in. Great timbers and cut stones were hauled up the mountain. There is nothing fancy about the lodge exterior as it achieves a rustic feel appropriate to the surroundings. When the snows began flying, it was time for 200 artisans to go to work in the interior. They made and built everything from handcrafted furniture to draperies and bedspreads. The beauty of Timberline is that it has been restored with most of the original furnishings and artwork. The wood chairs visitors sit on while watching the video are the very ones seen being made over 70 years ago.
In the Coyote Den is a watercolor landscape plan of the lodge from 1937. The main desk is flanked by two Charles Heaney oil paintings of Eastern Oregon scenes from the 1950s. Much of the artistry seen are not paintings. Observe the stylish curling metal log holders in the fireplace which are seen being made in the video. There are fabulous mosaics and murals. By the entrance is Thomas Laman’s glass mosaic “Spring on the Mountains” (1938) that is a colorful depiction of bears, deer and plants. In the Barlow Meeting Room are the abstract linoleum murals “Calendar of Mountain Sports” (1938-39) by Douglas Lynch. The theme of the Blue Ox Bar is depicted in Virginia Darce’s glass murals telling the legend of Paul Bunyan and his ox Babe.
Everything appears solid and built to last. The woodwork shows a craftsmanship not seen today. Stairs are wooden and iron handrails feature designs such as pine cones at ends. At the base of stairwells are sawed off power poles in which animals have been carved out of the tops. There is a wood relief titled “Pioneer Relief” seemingly carved into the wall on the first flight. On the main lobby level, there is another striking wood relief, “Forest Scene” by Erich Lamade (1938), adorning the Cascade Dining Room. This is the primary lounging area where guests can enjoy the fireplace, a stunning view of Mt. Hood and more C.S. Price and Charles Heaney paintings.
Predators are featured in Aimee Graham’s 1937 wood marquetries “Mountain Lions” and “Coyotes” and wood relief “Cougar Resting in Forest” (1936-37) by Florence Thomas. Opposite the Mt. Hood view is the Mt. Jefferson window and visitors can step outside onto the Roosevelt Terrace. This is the spot where President Roosevelt presided over the dedication and there is a plaque commemorating the moment. Upstairs in the mezzanine is the Ram’s Head bar and numerous more artworks with on a series of 1936 oils by Darrel Austin. More art is scattered throughout the lodge and some rooms feature vintage watercolors and lithographs.
The cumulative style is called Cascadian architecture employing native materials. All the stone, iron, textile and wood follow Native American, pioneer and animal themes. The gift store is not called gift store but the Timberline Gallery. More affordable and routine items can be found in the Wy’East Store and Tee-shirt Shop as well as the Black Iron Grill. You do not have to be a skier or snowboarder or even a guest of the lodge to enjoy Timberline. There are hiking trails and excellent photo opportunities of Mt. Hood.
Just take a moment to sit by the grand stone fireplace, write a postcard and drop it into one of the intricately detailed post boxes. Timberline Lodge was created by the downtrodden and they built a lasting monument of enduring beauty.