AKA: United States Government, Department of Agriculture (USDA), United States Forest Service, Mount Hood National Forest, Timberline Lodge, OR

Structure Type: built works - dwellings -public accommodations - lodges

Designers: Underwood, Gilbert Stanley, Architect (firm); Zaik-Miller Architects (firm); James A. Miller ; Gilbert Stanley Underwood (architect); Saul Zaik (architect)

Dates: constructed 1936-1937

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27500 West Leg Road
Mount Hood National Park, Timberline Lodge, OR 97028

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Building History

Gilbert Stanley Underwood--the architect of the Bryce Canyon Lodge (1924-1925) in Bryce Canyon National Park, and the Ahwahnee Hotel (1925-1927) in Yosemite--designed the preliminary features of this Craftsman-styled national park lodge for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Underwood assembled a team to design this large-scale rustic retreat: "Timberline was designed in a similar rustic style to the national park lodges, with their asymmetrical design, the use of native materials, and a roughness reminiscent of pioneer craftsmanship. Working with Underwood, Forest Service architects Tim Turner, Linn Forrest [1905-1987], Howard Gifford, and Dean Wright drew the plans for Timberline, including sketches for the wrought-iron detailing and some of the rustic wood furniture." (See "Timberline Lodge," Oregon Encyclopedia,Accessed 10/27/2014.) Margery Hoffman Smith, Oregon's Federal Art Project Assistant State Director, created the interior design. The Lorenz Brothers construction firm supervised the building tradesmen, most of whom were paid by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a short-lived Depression-era agency created by Congress on 04/08/1935. Some of the hardest manual labor--digging foundations, leveling terraces and road construction--was done by young men in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) billeted nearby at Camp Zigzag. All construction took place quickly in 15 months. While in the Pacific Northwest to open the Bonneville Dam, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt ceremonially dedicated the lodge before 150 guests on 09/28/1937; it opened to the public on 02/04-05/1938. The lodge's first 17 years were difficult financially (one might say "rocky"), with the facility changing hands four times, as different operators struggled with operating deficits. For a time during the 1940s until 1952, Timberline Lodge, Incorporated, owned by a syndicate of Portland businessmen, were able to balance the books; this changed after 1952, when the Timberline Corporation turned operations over to a series of resident managers. The U.S. Forest Service closed the building during the Winter of 1954-1955, because the last management leasee could not pay the electric bill. (Additionally, police had investigated charges of gambling and prostitution at the seedy mountain retreat.)

A New York City native, Richard Kohnstamm (1926-2006), a 29-year-old social worker who moved across country to work at Portland's Neighborhood House social support center after World War II, became enamored of Timberline Lodge and, in 1955, formed the RLK and Company that took over its management. (Richard came from a family that had, since 1851, H. Kohnstamm and Company produced food colorings in New York, a business that generated a significant fortune.) Kohnstamm stated in 2005: "'Financing always was difficult because the government owned it, and people were not willing or able to put money in it,' he says. 'We've put money into it as though it were ours.'" He and his wife, Molly, rejuvenated the lodge physically and put it on a secure financial footing during their years as stewards (1955-1992). Their son, Jeff, took over as head of operating company RLK and Company in 1992.

Building Notes

To support a year-round skiing season, the Timberline Lodge early on installed rope and chair lifts for skiiers. The Magic Mile chairlift, the first constructed by Spokane's Riblet Tramway Company, began operation in 11/1939. Riblet went on to become an industry leader in ski lift equipment. The Timberline Lodge became one of the select buildings listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1977. The lodge constructed the Palmer Express Chairlift to enable summer skiing in 1996.


The Timberline Lodge required significant renovations by 1955, and proprietor, Richard Kohnstamm undertook upgrades at this time. The book Timberline Lodge A Love Story, stated: "When [Richard Kohnstamm] took over the property, he expected the Lodge would need renovation and repair. He was appalled, however, to discover the full extent of the deterioration. Hand-woven draperies had been stuffed in broken windowpanes and hand-made furniture used for firewood. Costs for repairing scarred woodwork alone ran $15,000 per room. More than a thousand fire-code violations needed correcting. The only chairlife was in shambles." (See Timberline Lodge A Love Story, [Portland,OR: Graphic Arts Publishing Company, 1986], p. 49.) The renovation was concurrent with an upswing in business due to greater interest in skiing in the late 1950s. Between 1955 and 1965, the number of ski areas in the US went from 78 to 662. (See Morten Lund, "A Short History of Alpine Skiing: From Telemark to Today," Skiing Heritage Journal, Winter 1996, p. 18.) Various influences combined to encourage this expansion. Technological improvements in skiing equipment--sunglasses, bindings, poles, boots, skis--and clothing occurred rapidly during the 1950s-1960s. This new equipment markedly improved performance and Vuarnet sunglasses and new ski apparel became chic. Additionally, the first Olympics held in the US since Lake Placid in 1932 occurred at Squaw Valley, CA, in 1960. The Squaw Valley Olympics introduced new facilities [residential villages for athletes] and technologies, such as computer information processing, quartz time-keeping and refrigerated skating tracks, and were the first winter games to be broadcast [by CBS] in the US. Squaw Valley became something of a showcase for American technology during this intense phase of the Cold War.) American interest in winter sports got a significant boost from this national coverage.

By the mid-1960s, the lodge's popularity was increasing, and additional space for guests became necessary. In 1968, the Portland architectural firm of Zaik-Miller designed an addition to the Timberline Lodge.

Kohnstamm introduced new concepts to improve the lodge's profitability. The Oregon Encyclopedia stated: "When Kohnstamm lobbied Congress for funds to build a convention center and day lodge for skiers, he told congressional committees that Timberline was both a hotel and a museum. Running the lodge without a day lodge, he said, was "like trying to run an exclusive restaurant in the Lincoln Memorial." Congress added supplementary funds to the U.S. Forest Service budgets for the new wing and the day lodge. Based on their experience designing the 1968 wing, Zaik-Miller proposed a design for the day lodge that Kohnstamm rejected as being too expensive.

The C.S. Price Wing (named after an Oregon painter whose work is exhibited in the lodge), was completed in 1975, and the Wy'East Day Lodge opened for the 1981-1982 ski season." The C.S. Price Wing to the lodge was added in the same style as the original. The Wy'East Day Lodge had a more contemporary look, designed by the Portland architectural firm of Broom Oringdulph O'Toole Rudolf & Associates (BOORA).

National Register of Historic Places (November 12, 1973): 73001572 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 7298