Located on the south side of Mount Hood in Clackamas County, Oregon, 60 miles east of Portland, the Timberline Lodge is a thing of beauty and a work of art. It has been praised numerous times for its architectural features, design, its Native American art, and exquisite carving.
Publicly owned and acknowledged as a living museum and a National Historic Landmark, today it operates as a resort hotel and a ski center that attracts over two million visitors a year.
Timberline Lodge is a four-story structure that spans approximately 40,000 square feet at an elevation of 5,960 feet. The ground-level exterior walls are made of heavy rubble masonry, heavy timber is used from the first floor up and the central head house section is hexagonal and 60 feet in diameter. Two wings, running west and southeast, flank the head house; each of the six fireplace openings is five feet wide and seven feet high. Hexagons also appear throughout the lodge, in the shape of coffee tables and the angled couches in the main lobby. Also, a type of curved post and lintel arch, what is now known as the “Timberline Arch”, is widespread in the lodge.
There is no doubt that the Lodge interior and exterior look is perfect in every way, but the road for the Timberline to become what it is today was very long and complicated.
Carved warrior Indian wood art at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, Oregon. Wikipedia/Public Domain
The Timberline Lodge construction began in 1935, funded with almost a million dollars from the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and additional financing from the Federal Art Project for furnishings and art. The funds were available in December and Gilbert Stanley Underwood was selected as the consulting architect. He had previous experience in designing lodges for several national parks. Working together with Underwood were Forest Service architects Tim Turner, Linn Forrest, Howard Gifford, and Dean Wright. They drew the construction plans and designs, including sketches for the wrought-iron detailing and some of the rustic wood furniture. Forest service engineer Ward Gano was serving as a structural designer. Margery Hoffman Smith, the assistant state director of the Federal Art Project in Oregon, was the interior designer. She made the designs for the wood furnishings, wrought-iron detailing, and textile patterns and Emerson J. Griffith, Oregon’s WPA director, came up with the idea for the decorative themes of pioneers, Indians, and wildlife. Murals, paintings, and carvings were commissioned from some of Oregon’s most accomplished artists.
When construction began, there were around 100 construction workers present on the site, many of whom were inexperienced. Eighty percent of the WPA’s $695,730 total building costs was used to paid the laborers. Materials costs were minimized by the skillful use of recycled materials. Very few women were hired under the WPA regulations. And because only one member of a family could be employed under the WPA, the women who were working were mostly unmarried, divorced, or widowed women.
On 28 September 1937, during an inspection tour of government activities in the western US, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated Timberline Lodge. Most of the construction was almost done by that time. After some minor interior details were finished, in January 1938, Oregon’s WPA Director turned the lodge over to the Forest Service, and the lodge opened to the public under operation by Timberline Lodge Inc, on 4 February 1938.
The Timberline Lodge closed when the US entered World War II. When it reopened, the lodge had four different operators, none of which maintained the estate properly and the Forest Service revoked the operating permit in 1955.
A few months later, Richard Kohnstamm asked for a permit to be the lodge caretaker. He was given approval and after he started operating, he succeeded in turning the place around. Kohnstamm cleaned up the lodge, re-established ski education programs, and planned festive events that made the lodge increasingly popular among Oregonians. He died at the age of 80 on 21 April 2006, but his family continues to operate the lodge till this day.