The Crater Lake
Crater Lake Lodge was built
to encourage tourism to Crater Lake National Park and
southwestern Oregon. It opened to guests during the summer of
1915. Its clientele has included people from all over the world.
Most guests have had fond remembrances of their stays, even
though the lodge was often in an unfinished state. Throughout
its history the lodge lacked expected hotel standards for
comfort, privacy, and service, and suffered from neglect.
Before construction of the lodge began in 1909, William G. Steel
and other supporters of a hotel had a difficult time finding a
developer that would commit to the project. It was not an easy
undertaking to build and operate a major lodging facility on the
edge of the caldera overlooking Crater Lake. The harsh climate
with severe winter weather for more than eight months of the
year was daunting. At the time, the area was not very
accessible. A trip to the park was an arduous journey over many
miles of unpaved and poorly constructed roads.
convinced Alfred Parkhurst, a Portland developer, to take on the
project. However, Parkhurst had no experience constructing
buildings that needed to withstand the weight of 15 foot snow
depths that accumulate during Crater Lake’s long winters. Unlike
at Portland, construction work was limited to a short three
month summer season. Labor and materials had to be brought great
distances into the remote and largely undeveloped park. These
and other obstacles combined to cause long delays, driving up
the cost of the lodge.
Spiraling costs forced Parkhurst to find savings elsewhere in
the project. When the lodge opened in the summer of 1915, the
furnishings seemed spartan. Exterior walls were clad in tar
paper. Interior walls of the guest rooms were finished with thin
cardboard-like “beaver board.” There were no private bathrooms,
and a small generator provided electricity.
Although business profits lagged due to high operational
costs, Crater Lake Lodge drew large crowds. Early 20th century
visitors probably accepted the substandard accommodations
because of the rigorous trip needed to reach the park. Though
the lodge lacked amenities and atmosphere, visitors were
compensated by the magnificent views of Crater Lake and the
surrounding peaks of the Cascade Range.
When it was enlarged and upgraded from 1922 through 1924, the
number of guest rooms more than doubled. Plumbing was expanded,
and as a result most of the rooms in the new annex and annex
wing had private bathrooms. However, a lack of investment
capital plagued the expansion. Many guest rooms were left
unfinished. The lodge suffered with the decline in visitation
and business during the early 1930s, the worst years of the
Great Depression. Little was spent to keep up the facility. It
was not until the mid 1930s that guest rooms on the second and
third floors of the annexes were finished. The lodge was
situated in a barren and very dusty environment. Cars had
destroyed most of the surrounding vegetation.
One of the great improvements made during the 1930s was the
development of a landscape for Rim Village which included
plantings around Crater Lake Lodge. In contrast to the privately
funded hotel, this publicly funded project was accomplished by
the National Park Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The new landscape included hundreds of indigenous trees and
shrubs, and helped to blend the structure into its surroundings.
As part of the project, new paved parking areas and walkways
were built adjacent to the lodge. This significantly reduced the
blowing dust and erosion problems around the building and gave
the area a more “natural” appearance.
Both the park and Crater Lake Lodge were closed for most of
World War II. After the war, park visitation increased
dramatically, as did business at the lodge. However, age and
many years of neglect took a heavy toll on the building.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the National Park Service
continually prodded, with mixed results, the lodge’s owners to
upgrade utilities and fire prevention measures. After fifty
years of severe winters on the caldera’s edge, the lodge’s
inadequate structural system was showing signs of advanced
deterioration. Cables stretched between the north and south
walls to try to keep them from bowing. Floors and ceilings were
sagging, and cracks appeared in the masonry. Only small amounts
of money were invested in piecemeal fashion to keep the lodge
open every summer. This Band-Aid approach left utility systems
and life-safety measures lagging behind contemporary codes and
The National Park Service acquired ownership of Crater Lake
Lodge in 1967, but the building continued to deteriorate.
Despite being listed on the National Register of Historic
Places, the National Park Service felt that it was too expensive
to fix and maintain. The agency failed to implement a proposal
to demolish the building once it found public opinion to save
the lodge too strong. Consequently, the agency approved a plan
to save Crater Lake Lodge as part of the comprehensive Rim
Village Redevelopment Program in 1988.
Engineers contracted by the National Park Service monitored
the structural integrity of the lodge through the 1980s. In the
spring of 1989, just before the lodge was to open for the summer
season, the engineers advised the park that the Great Hall wing
was unsafe for occupants. They predicted this part of the
building might collapse of its own weight, bringing down the
rest of the lodge with it. This compelled the National Park
Service to keep the lodge closed and begin a comprehensive
The plan to rehabilitate Crater Lake Lodge called for
returning the exterior appearance and interior public areas to
that of the late 1920s. After nearly two years of planning and
design, construction work began in 1991. Some original
materials, such as the masonry stones, were salvaged for reuse,
but very little of the original building could be saved. The
Great Hall wing was dismantled and rebuilt. Most of the rest was
gutted. A steel structural support system, utilities,
life-safety systems, and modern hotel standards were built into
the new facility. The rehabilitation of Crater Lake Lodge was
completed in the fall of 1994 at a cost of more than
On May 20, 1995, Crater Lake Lodge reopened to the public.
Patrons and visitors could again enjoy its accommodations and
services safely, and in an atmosphere reminiscent of the 1920s.
For the first time since its original opening eighty years
before, Crater Lake Lodge was a project finally completed.
- Written by Kent J. Taylor, former chief of
interpretation, Crater Lake National Park