Friends of Timberline

About Timberline Lodge


Timberline Lodge, on the south slope of Mt. Hood in Oregon, is unique in America. It is the only twentieth-century public building of its size constructed and furnished entirely by hand with original craft work in wood (both carved and inlaid marquetry), wrought iron, weaving, applique, painting, mosaic, carved linoleum, and stained glass.

The lodge is an inn, but it is also a museum in the sense that it houses a permanent, catalogued exhibition of American design, painting, and craft work of the 1930's, created under extraordinary circumstances for a special purpose: to furnish and decorate a mountain lodge for skiers, hikers, and nature lovers.

Materials from the region were used: wood from forests for construction and for furniture, carvings, and marquetry; stone (andesite) from nearby slopes and quarries for the exterior and the fireplaces; locally grown flax and wool for upholstery, bedspreads, and draperies (recycled materials, including cotton and wool blankets, were used for the hooked rugs).

The maintenance and renovation of the lodge is a blend of public, private, and non-profit efforts and money. Situated in the Mt. Hood National Forest, the lodge is administered by the U.S. Forest Service. The hotel and ski facilities are operated under a lease from the Forest Service. Richard L. Kohnstamm became area operator in 1955 and formed the RLK Company. His son Jeff assumed responsibility of the RLK Company operation at Timberline in 1996. Friends of Timberline, organized in 1975 as a nonprofit organization, works with the Forest Service and RLK Company in preserving and restoring original art and furnishings.

Timberline Lodge was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1978. The increased attention and care bestowed on the lodge since Friends of Timberline was organized, including the creation of an exhibition center on the ground floor of the lodge and the devotion of a full-time curator, has encouraged numerous Northwest residents to contribute art and craft work to the lodge. Some of this work is contemporary with the building of the lodge, and some is more recent. Although not originally intended for the lodge, all is in the spirit of the original. As you see the lodge today, it houses a harmonious blend of original, renovated, and new arts and crafts. It hosts over 1.4 million visitors annually from around the world (only 225,000 are skiers).

Brief History

"The Timberline Lodge project was distinctly an get away from the leaf raking type of project; and this was the spark that fired the imagination of those who planned Timberline Lodge... It was to be a monument to the skill and industry of the unemployed and it is a monument the world will have to acknowledge." E. J. Griffith, State WPA Administrator

Timberline Lodge was built by hundreds of hands eager to work after months or years of unemployment in the 1930s. Ninety percent of the men and women who built and furnished the lodge were hired by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the federal agency created in 1933 to provide work for the hundreds of thousands of Americans idled by the Great Depression. The remaining ten percent were foremen employed by Lorenz Brothers, the supervising contractor for the WPA, or U.S. Forest Service personnel. Some of the WPA workers were skilled, such as some of the stonemasons, but others were taught skills to prepare them for jobs in the private sector.

Building the lodge was a major undertaking. A primitive road existed between Highway 26, near Summit Meadows, and Phlox Point, about one half mile below the site. U.S. Forest Service workers with heavy equipment labored for three months in the spring of 1936 to remove snow from this road in order to provide access for delivery of WPA workers and materials to the site. At Summit Meadows, building and road construction workers lived in a tent city. Building trade laborers received the top rate of 90 cents per hour, and unskilled laborers 55 cents per hour. Each day, canvas-covered trucks took workers to the construction site, a trip that could take as long as an hour in unfavorable weather. Three hot, well-prepared meals were provided, and the noon meal was transported up to the work site. Morale was high and few workdays were lost.

The initial survey was made on the site in 14 feet of snow during the spring of 1936 by Ward Gano, who became the U.S. Forest Service resident engineer, assistant architect Linn A. Forrest, FAIA, and landscape architect Emmett Blanchfield. Forrest completed drawings for the design of the lodge, and Gano participated in the structural design of the building. Fortunately, the summer was a very long one, enabling the workers to get the building enclosed before winter and the worst of the cold weather.

Not all the exterior stonework was completed while the mild weather lasted, however. In the late fall and early winter, portable stoves were provided so the stonemasons could warm fingers stiffened by the cold. Most of these workers were already skilled masons. Some of them were Italians who had come to this country in more prosperous times. Their beautiful work may be seen not only at Timberline, but also along the old Columbia River Highway and other Oregon highways. Construction workers at the lodge probably numbered about one hundred at any given time, but the jobs were rotated (except for highly skilled workers) in order to give work to as many of the unemployed as possible.

Construction work was done in a remarkably short time. The first architectural drawings were made in early 1936. Ground was broken on June 11 after removal of three feet of snow covering the site. The wings of the building were constructed first and the head house fit between them. Construction continued through the winter and 1937. Only fifteen months were needed for construction and furnishing of the lodge. President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the completed building on September 28, 1937. Some interior details remained to be completed on that date, but the bulk of the work was done. A Portland architect has said, "We could hardly get the paperwork done in that time today!" By February 1938, the lodge was ready to open to the public. The press, invited to the opening, were treated to a surprise extended visit due to a snowstorm.

The architecture of the lodge has been described as Oregon Rustic, Stately Picturesque, Big-Stick Style, and Cascadian. Most agree that the design of the building is traditional, derived from European chateaux and alpine architecture. It is in the spirit of several National Park structures designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, an architect then employed by the U.S. Treasury Department who was selected by the U.S. Forest Service to serve as consulting architect on the Timberline project. At Timberline, the rooflines echo the steep mountain slopes behind the building. The lines of the building and the silvery-grey color of the weathered exterior, so close in tone to the rocky setting, give the lodge a special appropriateness and dignity.

The general concept of the building as a core from which two wings extend has been attributed to Underwood, although this scheme was subsequently modified by U.S. Forest Service architects. Early 1936 drawings by Underwood show an octagonal center section with two wings at an open right angle faced toward the mountain, and the front door placed on the north or mountainside of the building. Contemporaneous drawings attributed to W.I. "Tim" Turner, AIA, a U.S. Forest Service architect, feature the downhill view in two wings extending out from a large center hexagonal lobby. In correspondence, Turner expressed a preference for a hexagonal rather than octagonal head house, placement of the front door on the south side to preserve the mountain view, and no uphill right angles to avoid creating a catch-basin for snow. Turner's recommendations were adopted, and the final drawings for a lodge based on the hexagonal head house were completed by U.S. Forest Service architects, including Linn A. Forrest, FAIA, Howard L. Gifford, AIA, and Dean R.E. Wright, AIA, as well as Turner. Forrest wrote, 'The shape of the central lounge was inspired by the character and outline of the mountain peak. It was our hope not to detract from the great natural beauty of the area. The entire exterior was made to blend as nearly as possible with the mountainside."

Timberline's head house is the heart of the building. Above the head house rises the 750-pound bronze weather-vane which, workers report, was put up during a storm and nearly destroyed. There were other critical moments during the fast-paced construction with many untrained workers and severe weather often a hazard. Yet there were no major accidents during the entire period that William Wechner, who was project superintendent for Lorenz Brothers in the second season of construction, could remember. Wechner also worked on the site during 1936, under Frank Stalzer, who was project superintendent that year.

According to WPA records, construction costs totaled $695,730. Of this amount, $20,000 had been donated by the Mt. Hood Development Association, headed by Jack Meier, who had proposed the project to the WPA in 1935, and $9,623 for truck and machine rentals was given by the U.S. Forest Service, which was the sponsoring agency. There were other expenses besides the actual construction, and it is generally agreed that when the necessary road building and the development of the grounds were added in, the total cost was probably about $1,000,000.

The planning, construction, and furnishing of the lodge in less than two years, was an inspired team effort. The achievement is even more remarkable when it is remembered that the various teams hadn't worked together before, and that a great many of the workers were without experience in their assignments. Speed was necessary because of uncertainty over the continuance of the WPA. There must have been the usual hitches and wrangles, but survivors of the project and the written record both suggest that most of those who participated felt they were engaged in something unusual and important, and they gave it their best efforts.

Imaginative and energetic leadership made Timberline possible. E. J. Griffith, Director of the WPA for Oregon, was a man of vision and determination. He saw the need for the lodge and decided that it was an appropriate project for the work force he controlled. He envisioned a structure that would be handsome and functional, that would be a monument to the WPA, and that would be loved in the region.

Margery Hoffman Smith, a Portland interior designer, served as the State Fine Arts Administrator under the Federal Art Project and had the assignment of creating an interior that would be suitable to the setting and furnished entirely by handwork. Mrs. Smith's background in art and crafts made her sympathetic to the idea, and many of the designs for textiles and rugs are her own. She worked closely with the supervisors of the furniture and wrought iron projects and commissioned the art. She created the color schemes and the Art Deco details in the interior. Mrs. Smith wrote later, "The job was to be done and done in a hurry. There was no time; there were no facilities for blueprinting. It was a quick swing into action - and what action it was!"

Adapted from Timberline Lodge: A Guided Tour, © 1997 Friends of Timberline. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

In a state known for its rugged natural beauty, Timberline Lodge is a fitting monument to the pioneer spirit. Perched at the 6,000 foot level of snow-capped Mt. Hood, it is a grand example of Cascadian architecture. The Works Progress Administration built the lodge during the great Depression, employing hundreds of craftsmen. Inside and out the lodge is handmade: from its massive, hand-hewn beams to its hand-woven draperies.

Timberline Lodge is a living museum of arts and crafts inspired by pioneer, Indian and wildlife themes. The Friends of Timberline, a non-profit organization stated in 1975, has restored or faithfully recreated its furnishings and decorations according to plans and photos from the original project, using donations, time and skills of members, regional arts and craftspeople.

Your skills and your tax-deductible contributions make a difference. Timberline Lodge needs your help to preserve the integrity of its unique collection of arts and crafts. We need you to join us.

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