Rehabilitating Crater Lake Lodge

Rehabilitating Crater Lake Lodge

By C. Craig Frazier


Congress created Crater Lake National Park in 1902 to protect and celebrate the deep clear lake formed in southern Oregon when Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed approximately 4860 BC. After several years of temporary campgrounds, a private company was formed to build permanent visitor facilities. Construction of Crater Lake Lodge began in 1909, but was troubled by cost overruns and repeatedly extended construction schedules. Difficulties were due to the shortness of the construction season-three to five months depending on how early the fall snows close the roads, and due to the isolated location of the site-at 7100 feet up winding roads of the southern Cascade Mountains.

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Perhaps the most important historic character-defining feature of the lodge is its peculiar personality, an eclectic quality formed by the differences in what was envisioned initially and the reality of what was built over an extended period. Just when it was almost complete, there followed a struggle to make life-safety improvements and repairs merely to keep it from falling down. Although the lodge opened in 1915, construction continued through most of its life: fire escape ladders were added in 1919; electric lighting replaced kerosene lamps after 1920; plumbing for lavatories, a gift store, and a registration desk were added in 1921, the same year that upper level exterior walls were shingled, and the roof was stained green. In 1922 construction started on an 80-room addition. By 1929 the Lodge boasted 105 guest rooms, but only 20 had private baths. Between 1929 and 1932 an 80′-long verandah and an entry porch were built, and new water supply and new electrical power were installed. During the 1930s, the site was landscaped, more rooms were finished, some rooms were wallpapered, 15 more rooms were fitted with bathrooms, and a laundry was built in the basement.

During the 1940s, life safety deficiencies, material deterioration, and structural dilapidation began to outpace the building operator’s improvements. In the 1950s supplemental columns were placed under exposed ceiling beams because of excessive sagging, and a system of cables with steel beam strong-backs were installed to keep the walls from spreading further. By the 1960s, due to fire safety deficiencies and structural concerns, the National Park Service (NPS) recommended many more improvements or the option of removing the upper floor levels. But there were cost-benefit compromises. NPS finally bought the building from the concession operator, installed a sprinkler system (1967-68) and restricted guest use to lower floors. However, by the early 1970s, because of progressive deterioration and the history of modifications, Crater Lake Lodge had become a clearly substandard hotel.

NPS was entertaining options to tear down the lodge in 1976, but the Oregon historic preservation community nominated it to the National Register of Historic Places and requested it be retained. Public hearings and a planning process ensued. While awaiting the outcome, NPS implemented stop-gap repairs (adding external fire escape stairs, fire-rated stair enclosures and doors, smoke detectors and alarm system). Historic interest in the lodge, a honeymoon destination for 70 years, prompted the decision for preservation. The plan for improvements to the park’s Rim Village was approved in the spring of 1988: the lodge was eventually to receive full rehabilitation. The schedule to carry out the rehabilitation was accelerated dramatically when, on the advice of consultant structural engineers in spring 1989, the lodge was closed. The risk of operating it without substantial structural reinforcement was not warranted. Park improvement emphasis shifted to the lodge and its early re-opening.

The NPS Denver Service Center undertook several studies to clarify character-defining features, inventory salvageable fabric, and to update the historic structure report. Structural, mechanical and electrical systems were assessed, and a design program for the rehabilitation was developed and based on the Secretary of the Interior’s Rehabilitation Standards. A consultant team, Fletcher Farr Ayotte, was procured, and quickly prepared schematic and preliminary designs by summer of 1990. The work was phased, requiring construction documents to begin on the first phase while the design development was still under way for the second. The first phase contract was awarded in April 1991. The second phase construction contract was awarded in May 1992. For the two rehabilitation phases, 302 construction drawing sheets were required. Completion is expected by summer 1994.

A radical intervention strategy was undertaken due to the substandard life-safety conditions, deteriorated historic fabric, and indeterminacy and distress of the structural systems. Extensive intervention was also required to fulfill the rehabilitation program necessary to return the lodge to serviceability under contemporary standards.

Original construction simply underestimated the design snow loads—which can amount to 350 pounds per square foot (up to 60′ of snow can be encountered per season)—and used techniques and materials common at much lower elevations. Weather conditions at the altitude of the lodge are brutal. The lime based mortar employed 80 years ago did not stand up well and had become friable and was falling out of the walls. The double hung sash could not keep out blowing snow. Floors sagged. Gaps had grown to nearly 3″ between partition walls at upper floors where they intersected deformed exterior walls. Some rafters, and dormer headers, were cracked and, even with subsequent shoring, were bowed under snow loads. The great hall wing, at the center of the older portion of the building had to be entirely rebuilt. Structurally, it was most deteriorated being held together by 1950s cables and shoring. It was also very crucial to the lateral stability of adjacent wings. A full basement was constructed before the wing was rebuilt to provide a connection between the dining wing and annex basements. The wing was originally under designed. Therefore, 24″ steel beams replaced 14″ wooden first floor beams, 18″ steel replaced 10″ second floor joists, and 7 x 9 glue-lams replaced 2 x 6 rafters. In addition, the stone walls of the lower floor became stone veneered cast-in-place reinforced concrete walls. The external appearance, however, duplicated the original great hall wing.

The lobby wing also had only a crawl space. Installing a basement under it required shoring the entire wing to excavate and pour new concrete walls. This was partially facilitated while the adjacent Great Hall wing was removed and its basement built concurrently. The new basements and the deepening of existing basements to create additional head room provided space for service and utility equipment and plumbing and mechanical runs where none had existed.

Two techniques were employed for stabilizing un-reinforced stone masonry walls of the lodge (see details). The stone appearance was sacrificed where the interior could not be seen by visitors. A 4″ reinforced application of shotcrete anchored to the interior side of the repointed stone wall provided the necessary reinforcement. Where both interior and the exterior stone surfaces of walls would be seen, the exterior was thoroughly pointed, then the inner wythe was dismantled. A reinforced shotcrete core was built and the inner wythe, after stone trimming, was then relayed. All 700 perimeter feet the building’s stone walls were underpinned with a 5′ spread footing, after initial masonry stabilization. This was done in nominal 6’ increments involving excavation, impacting soils, forming and pouring reinforced concrete, waterproofing, and backfilling. Throughout the building undersized floor members were replaced with bigger ones or ‘sisters’ installed to enhance the strength of floor diaphragms.

The design significantly alters the interior room configuration to increase guest room size from an average of 50 square feet to 280 square feet. This reduced the overall room count from 105 to 72, but the new room size apaches contemporary visitor needs, permits the desired range of room sizes, accommodates historic window locations, and eases the proper introduction of shear Is. The increased room size was also necessary to nit the installation of bathrooms where most rooms none.

Two new stairs and two elevators were installed, cut into available guest room floor area. However, the rehabilitation includes creative use of the dormered attic spaces to help increase the floor area for guest room use approximately 20%. The attics above three of the wings were large enough to accommodate guest rooms.

However, introducing two means of code egress from the attic level of the great hall wing was so convoluted, it was decided, initially, to abandon that attic. Then it was decided to place the designated larger guest rooms on the floor below the attic and allow them, room-byroom, to enter the attic as a second level. Thus, several of the (programmed 15%) larger guest rooms became interesting 2-level suites. The attics of the two Annex wings were also physically constrained by the roof configuration, dormers, and width of the wing, but two stairs and the elevators could be squeezed in. Thus, the annex and annex wing will contain 10 rather small rooms, but with the most interesting shapes and character.

The design required retrofitting heating and cooling systems, plumbing, fire sprinkler, smoke detection and alarm systems, and electrical service that the original building was not designed to carry. Every rehabilitation designer knows the extent of gymnastics required to squeeze these modern systems into historic buildings while trying to maintain original ceiling heights. In the kitchen wing, with all of its new equipment, it was necessary to completely gut the three level wing and deepen its basement 3′ to install a fully modern kitchen. This was done, forming a two-level kitchen connected by new stairs and dumbwaiter. Chimneys here (and elsewhere in the lodge) were converted to carry both exhaust gases and to provide make-up air. The result is not “pure restoration” by any means, nor could this extensive rehabilitation achieve such a goal however, from the outside, Crater Lake Lodge will completely resemble its historic appearance. The interior will be a modern hotel while maintaining important aspects of the historic character of a 1920s eclectic rustic style including the historic appearance of the main public spaces, the great hall and dining room. The 55,326 square feet rehabilitation cost $11.8 million net or $213/square foot, not including site work and furnishings.

C. Craig Frazier is a historical architect with the Western Team, Denver Service Center, U.S. National Park Service.

From Cultural Resource Management Magazine, Volume 15, No. 6