Crater Lake
Historic Resource Study
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VII. Concessionaire Development of Visitor Services

A. The Crater Lake Company Begins Construction of Crater Lake Lodge

The Department of Interior's involvement at Crater Lake at first encompassed only administrative duties. The responsibility for visitor accommodations rested solely with individuals or corporations who ran concessions subject to the control of the department. By 1903 William Steel was trying to organize a public corporation to be known as the "Crater Lake Improvement Association" to build a hotel and make other improvements that would attract visitors to the lake. Steel was unable on his first attempt to get permission from the government to build a hotel in the park because it was felt that the primitive condition of the roads did not warrant construction of a hotel at that time. He was licensed, however, to conduct camping parties from the railroad terminus at Klamath Falls to various tent camps in the park from May 1, 1907, to November 30, 1907. He also maintained permanent camps on sites designated by the superintendent during the 1907 season.

On May 22, 1907, articles of incorporation of the Crater Lake Company were filed with the Oregon secretary of state. The incorporators were Steel, as president and principal owner, Charles L. Parrish, and Lionel Webster. This company acquired the rights granted by the Department of the Interior to Steel to maintain permanent camps in the park. By the end of July 1907 a tent city had been established on the lake rim, accommodating fifty visitors. There people could obtain meals for themselves and feed for their horses. A site for the future hotel of the company was chosen on the rim edge.

By the summer of 1909 Steel had interested Alfred L. Parkhurst of Portland in the construction of a hotel and other improvements at the lake. Parkhurst became president and general manager of the Crater Lake Company and his first action was to pursue erection of a stone lodge on the rim of the lake. Initial plans called for a frame building, but the company later decided on stone: "The building will be 150 feet long, with an immense lounging room with four great stone chimneys, glassed porches, etc., overlooking the lake, and will be ornamental in design." [1] The building, to be known as Crater Lake Lodge, was planned with a frontage of 140 feet and a central guest hall with four huge fireplaces, plus one on the outside for campfire use. On the north side would be a wide veranda extending to the rim edge. While this structure was under construction, public accommodations were available at Camp Arant, the National Park Service administrative headquarters at Annie Spring, in the form of rows of white tents and eating facilities.

In 1911 work was proceeding slowly on the lodge due to the shortness of the season and difficulties in quarrying the rock for the walls and hauling it by wagon to the rim. Cost of the structure was increasing rapidly from the original $5,000 estimate. A booklet issued by the Crater Lake Company in 1912 described its future rim hotel as containing

a commodious assembly hall, and a dining room of sufficient size to seat 100 guests. There will be massive stone fire-places in both these rooms, and an immense one will be constructed on the outside of the Lodge. . . . A frame building, 30 x 40 feet, is now complete on the rim of the lake. It is equipped as a culinary department, and will be used, pending the completion of the Lodge. First class meals are served in a comfortable dining room, and sleeping accommodations consist of good beds in floored tents. Tents will always be used for sleeping apartments . . . nevertheless the Lodge . . . will have sleeping accommodations with all modern conveniences. . . . [2]

B. The Crater Lake National Park Company Takes Over Park Concessions

By early July 1912 the new rim hotel was half finished. On August 6 the Crater Lake Company surrendered its contract and obtained a lease from the Secretary of the Interior for a term of twenty years, starting June 1, 1912. A picture of the lodge in the Oregonian (Portland) of September 7, 1913, shows the first-floor stone level completed. Construction progressed rapidly during the summer of 1914 and the lodge became about 95% complete. Parkhurst hoped to have carpenters finish the interior so that the lodge could open in the summer of 1915. The lodge formally opened on June 28, 1915. The building was described as

50 by 120 feet, four stories high and faces the lake, being only about 50 feet from the rim. On the first floor is the dining-room 30 by 40 feet, office and lobby 40 to [sic] 50 feet, reception room 30 by 40 feet, and a modern kitchen . There are large fireplaces in the lobby and dining-room, and there is also a fireplace on the outside of the building. There are 68 bedrooms on the other three floors and all modern improvements are provided. Water is brought from a spring a mile from the lodge. Besides the lodge there are floored tent accommodations at the rim for 100 persons. . . . [3]

From the beginning it was difficult to make the lodge a paying proposition. Steep prices for food and high employees' salaries lessened profits considerably. This combined with short seasons and large crowds made it difficult for Parkhurst to bring the operation up to the standards he desired. Conditions ultimately became so unbearable due to overcrowding and bad management that the National Park Service decided that the public interest demanded aggressive action. In July 1920 Stephen T. Mather, director of the Service, announced that Parkhurst was being ousted from control of the lodge and the other tourist accommodations and had been ordered to release his concession within two weeks. After much discussion as to the proper course to follow on future management of the lodge, a new organization, the Crater Lake National Park Company, was formed in 1921, composed mostly of Portland businessmen.

The lodge was still considered incomplete at that time. A visitor remarked that the structure was a long, gray building of rustic design, with a first story of native stone and frame construction above. Inside was a great rustic lounge with a huge fireplace that could accommodate a six-foot log. The dining room was a huge apartment with ceiling and wainscoting of pine slabs covered with silver-gray bark. [4]

By the summer season of 1922 Crater Lake Lodge and the other concessions were completely owned by the Crater Lake National Park Company. This group also acquired Anna Spring Camp (old Camp Arant), with all associated buildings and outhouses; all property used in connection with the lodge, hotel, and camp; and the hotel, camp, and transportation concessions. On July 11 excavation commenced on a new $80,000 eight-room addition to the lodge, which upon completion would be used while the older section was reconstructed. The architectural style of the new wing closely followed the original lodge design, with stone foundations, stone blocks used for walls up to the second floor, and frame construction for the remainder.

C. Cafeteria and Cabins Added to Rim Village

On December 7, 1922, a contract was entered into between the Department of the Interior and the Crater Lake National Park Company initiating a new twenty-year lease to maintain hotels and other facilities, for tourist accommodation in the park. In 1927 a number of important decisions concerning future development at Crater Lake were made by the superintendent of the park, National Park Service Assistant Director Horace Albright, and other staff officers and representatives of the Bureau of Public Roads. One major action was approval of a general plan for rim area development, whereby the concessionaire would construct and operate in the next year a cafeteria, with a connecting general store for the sale of camp supplies, and a small group of rental cabins in the campground area away from the rim edge. By the 1928 season the new cafeteria and cabin group were a reality, the housekeeping cabins opening on July 15 and the new cafeteria on July 20. The latter was a large stone building housing food services, a store, and a photographic studio. Tent cottages were available on the lodge grounds as well for cheaper accommodations. Also during the 1928 season a new awning-covered veranda was constructed on the lake side of the lodge.

Illustration 11. Cold-water cabins behind cafeteria.

A brief summary of construction activity from 1922 to 1938 written by the park concessionaire mentioned that

In 1922 when our plans were drawn for the addition of the Lodge, the plumbing was put in at that time for the laundry plant. We started our building program in 1923 and continued until 1929. During that time the frame work of the Lodge was completed, the twenty-two cabins and the Cafeteria and Store. In 1929, the beginning of the depression, we stopped all new construction and did not start again until 1936. At that time we completed all of the rooms on the third floors [of the lodge] and in 1937 all of the rooms were completed on the second floor. Also during this time, all of the rooms in the older part of the Lodge were papered and painted. [5]

During World War II, the lodge and associated buildings were closed down, the Crater Lake Company deriving no revenue from the property. After January 1, 1941, improvements by the concessioner included construction of two deluxe cabins containing eight single units and refurnishing of the old cabins. In 1948 the twenty-two sleeping cabins near the cafeteria were described as single rooms, twelve by sixteen feet, equipped with cold running water, oil heaters, electric lights, one double bed with linen and blankets, and two half beds with linen and blankets. There were also deluxe units, containing four rooms each. Maid service was furnished and each room was equipped with hot and cold running water, electric lights, a private toilet and shower, automatic hot water, thermostatically controlled heat, one double bed, and two half beds.

Illustration 12. Four-plexes behind cafeteria. Photos by David Arbogast, NPS, DSC.

D. The National Park Service Purchases the Lodge and Ponders Its Future

In 1954 R. W. Price, after over thirty years at Crater Lake, sold his interest in the lodge to Harry W. and Harry C. Smith of Spokane, Washington. During the next three years certain refinements in lodge accommodations were made and more modern facilities at the rim were planned. Among improvements made were a new cafeteria addition, completed in 1956. By 1957 the lodge had 114 rooms and was able to accommodate 294 people, including about 90 employees. Other facilities at the rim included eight deluxe cottage units and nineteen cold water cabins. The operating concession again changed hands in 1959; the National Park Service finally purchased the lodge from the concessionaires in 1967 and drew up a thirty-year contract with them. On March 1, 1976, Canteen Company of Oregon bought the concession, which it still operates.

Through the years the National Park Service has made repeated demands for improved visitor services and fire safety facilities at Crater Lake Lodge, and although some minimal efforts were made to comply, concerns for visitor and employee safety continued to plague park management. A 1980 General Accounting Office report on facilities at several national parks and forests throughout the nation pointed out many problems with the lodge in terms of deficiencies in safety standards. This report coincided with a series of public meetings in the state soliciting comments on alternatives to assist the Park Service in determining the future of the lodge. Major problems of the building are structural, resulting from age, the use of poor construction techniques as it was being built, and severe impacts from weather over the years. Problems in regard to fire safety and reinforcement of the building's structural elements must be addressed. Several options for development of the rim area are now under study by the Service, with interim life safety measures being taken to keep the lodge in operation.

E. Importance of Crater Lake Lodge

The encouragement of tourism in national parks was a logical step after their establishment. The greater the visitation, the more income would be generated for the region in which the park was located. Tourism provided a solid economic justification for designating more parks in the future. Congress s earliest acts relating to parks included provisions for granting franchises for concession purposes to private concerns to erect hotels, install transportation systems, and provide other recreational service facilities. In the case of several national parks, facilities were established by railroads, which by offering cheap travel rates and pleasant accommodations for their passengers, greatly encouraged use of parklands. The situation at Crater Lake was somewhat unusual in that the recreational aspects of its development were initiated by private enterprise, first by individuals and then by a corporation of businessmen.

Crater Lake Lodge was built in accord with the concept that governed the style of tourist accommodations in our early national parks, which advocated spacious resort hotels that blended rustic simplicity with elements of the elegance inspired by European hunting lodges and the hunting camps of the Eastern United States.

Crater Lake Lodge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May 1981. It was included as being regionally significant as an example of the architecture associated with the early-twentieth-century movement for development of the western national parks. Much of the structure's appeal and importance is due to its being a relatively unaltered example of an early national park resort-type guest accommodation. Its exterior appearance and ground floor public areas have not changed substantially since the 1920s. It is an early example of the use of native materials in an attempt to blend the structure more harmoniously into its surroundings. This was done prior to implementation of the National Park Service rustic architecture program in the park. The building has exceptional significance in the development of tourism and outdoor recreation in the state because it encouraged visitor use of the park and strengthened the economy of southern Oregon. The lodge is the oldest major resort on public land in the state. Although the various concession operations at Crater Lake have had extreme difficulty in surmounting such hardships as severe weather conditions, a short tourist season, distance from supply centers, and high visitation, the lodge has been kept open through the years and is a nostalgic part of the Crater Lake landscape.

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Last Updated: 14-Feb-2002