Criterion Classification I

current image of Crater Lake Lodge

photo courtesy Xanterra

historic image of Crater Lake Lodge

public domain photo courtesy National Park Service

Crater Lake Lodge • Crater Lake NP • 1915, 1995
Classification I
Rim Village
Theme: National Park Rustic or "Parkitecture"
Structure: 4-story hotel w/basement. 1st story stone, remainder walls & roof shingled. Steep chalet roof w/dormers.
Original Architect: R. N. Hockenberry & Company
Landscape Architect, 1928: Francis G. Lange
Reconstruction Architect: National Park Service
Reconstruction Cost: $15,000,000
Known Timeline:
Preliminary construction begins, 1907
Foundation constructed, 1909
Majority of construction finished, 1912
Crater Lake Lodge opens with 54 rooms, July 3 1915
Major addition completed, 1918
NPS forecloses on lodge owner Alfred Parkhurst, 1920
Electric lighting replaces kerosene lamps, 1920
Gift shop, plumbing & registration desk added, 1921
Roof color changed to green, 1921
The Crater Lake National Park Company established to operate lodge, 1921
West Wing opens with 24 new rooms at a cost of $60,000, 1924
Lodge states 105 rooms, 20 with private baths, 1929
Electric power lines replace generators, 1931
Veranda & entry porch completed, 1932
Stone curbing added to grounds, 1934
15 private baths and laundry facility added, 1930s
Lodge closes due to WWII, July 1942
Lodge reopens, June 15 1946
Harry and “Pop” Smith purchase the Crater Lake Lodge Company, 1953
Ralph Peyton and Jim Griffin purchase the Crater Lake Lodge Company, 1959
Fire sprinkler system added, 1967
NPS purchases lodge, plans to reduce structure to 2-story visitors center, 1969
Lodge closed temporarily due to water/sewer contamination, 1975
Kitchen remodeled, 1975
Canteen Company of Oregon purchases lodge concession, 1976
New exterior shingling & fire escapes added, 1981
NPS proposes demolition, August 1 1984
NPS announces that it is reconsidering demolition, October 3 1984
NPS proposes restoration of main lodge & demolition of 1924 addition, 1986
Rebuilt lodge proposed with 60 rooms, 1988
Original lodge closed, 1989
Reconstruction/Renovation begins, 1991
Reconstruction/Renovation completed, 1994
Reopened to public, May 20 1995
Room count prior to reconstruction: 101
Current room count: 71


The most important thing to come to terms with is that the building we see today is not the original, historic Crater Lake Lodge. It is not on its original foundation, nor is it precisely in the same location. The layout of the guest rooms and overall construction techniques are both markedly different from the original.

The experience at Crater Lake Lodge, however, is either the same or better -- in some ways, significantly better -- than the original. Visually, the exterior we see today is historically accurate to the original. The interior is a modern hotel structure that preserves the historic appearance of the key public spaces. The decor is an eclectic mix of high quality craftsman and lodge styles recalling the early 1920s; these furnishings and appointments are undoubtedly superior to anything found in the original hotel. Add it all up -- the powerful appearance of the exterior, a stunning interior, a fabulous location -- and this new structure easily competes with any of the finest historic National Park lodges.

That wasn't always the case.

Crater Lake Lodge today

above, today's Lodge presents a historically accurate facade. Photo courtesy of Xanterra Corp.

Fortunately for Crater Lake Lodge fans, the NPLAS was only recently established. Prior to reconstruction, classification of this lodge would probably be a Class III or IV. The troubled history of the building has been well documented on numerous websites, so we won't rehash all of that here. We'll discuss the original structure only to establish the context for the current lodge, because the Criterion Classification relates to what we have today. Keep in mind that the NPLAS is not only about preservation -- but also utilization.

The original construction of Crater Lake Lodge was such a disjointed series of fits and false starts, it's a wonder that the building was completed at all. The original construction used impossibly undersized beams that couldn't support the weight of winter snows, and a lime-based mortar that couldn't weather the harsh environment. Because the original design firm was experienced in building structures for heavy snows in the southern Cascades, it's likely that costs prohibited adherence during construction. In other words, the structure was flawed, and by the late 1940s a series of blocks and cables were used to hold it together.

In addition to the poorly built structure, creature comforts were lacking. Rooms were incredibly small; the understanding of "rustic lodging" in 1915 was barely a notch above camping. In some cases, campers were better off. Guest rooms averaged 50 square feet (today's rooms are almost six times larger) and many of the walls were made of "beaverboard," a pressed particle wood that was popular for cheap renovations during the craftsman era. It resembles cardboard as much as any lumber product. The beaverboard gave Crater Lake Lodge a cheap, hastily-finished look, an impression that was quite accurate. Noisy and drafty, by the 1920s Crater Lake Lodge was regarded as a dump. Stephen Mather spent a cramped night as a guest in 1919; a year later the concessioner was kicked out. Plans were made to improve the young building, and it was modernized and expanded during the 1920s, but the pressures of the automobile age brought even more guests. Without any clear thought for parking facilities, the grounds around the lodge became a denuded wasteland.

Crater Lake Lodge in the early 1920s

The lodge in 1921, prior to addition of the west wing. Notice the haphazard parking.

Crater Lake Lodge in the late 1920s

above, Crater Lake Lodge in the late 1920s, after completion of the West Wing.

The lodge was expanded during the 1920s, and improvements were added slowly but surely. The 1930s saw a major undertaking by the CCC to improve the landscaping -- which was essentially non-existent prior to their efforts. Plumbing and electrical service were improved, room decor was updated from time to time, but there was no avoiding the fact that the building was seriously under-constructed. Crater Lake Lodge sat idle during World War II. Upon reopening, the Park Service was surprised to find the walls bowing and beams sagging, and made great efforts to shore things up. Thus it was the late 1940s when key personnel within the NPS began to suggest demolition.

Crater Lake Lodge in the 1940s

By the 1940s, landscaping efforts were paying off. This colorized image was produced when the lodge reopened following World War II.

Through the 1950s and into the 1970s the Crater Lake Lodge survived, although by the late 1960s it was assumed by the Park Service that the structure wasn't long for this world. A flurry of different proposals were made through the 1960s and 1970s, and by 1984 the NPS said "enough" and announced that the building would be razed.

Crater Lake Lodge in the 1950s

Crater Lake Lodge circa 1958, looking virtually the same as today's reconstruction.

Public reaction to the planned demolition was swift and severe. Nevermind that the building was inherently unsafe by modern standards, or that it was inherently unstable by any standards. The citizens of the United States loved the old building, and the citizens of Oregon proved to be downright manic about preserving it. Facing overwhelming opposition from citizens and legislative bodies at the state and national levels, the NPS was quickly forced to re-think its plans. A variety of recommendations were made throughout the balance of the 1980s, but by the early 1990s it was clear that the original structure could not be saved.

The NPS came up with a solution that preserved the integrity of the Crater Lake Lodge history and experience: Save only what could safely be saved, and replicate the original exterior, and rebuild from the ground up.

To bring the hotel up to modern standards, it would've been easier if the architects changed some of the exterior dimensions. Instead they worked within the space available, and the room count fell dramatically as a result. To make it all work out, the kitchen was now on two levels -- and so were some of the guest rooms. Rooms were expanded upward into dormers that had served as attic space in the original lodge. To retain the character of the original, the public spaces were carefully recreated using most of the original stones -- reconstructed in their original positions. Building materials were carefully inventoried and restored wherever possible. Staircases and elevators were added, new basements were excavated. And although all new plumbing, electrical, and safety conduits were installed, the original ceiling heights were preserved.

Crater Lake Lodge is a historic treasure that, for all intents and purposes, is a completely new building.

standard guest room

current appearance of standard room. Note that the walls and ceiling panels retain a spartan appearance, echoing the original painted beaverboard. Photo courtesy of Xanterra.

The lodging facility houses 71 guest rooms. These are decorated in a mix of modern southwestern/mission furnishings with rustic appointments. The rooms are not original; all have been modified with new entries and walls. Since the reconstruction of 1994, each room now has a full bath.

guest room at crater lake lodge

Some of the modern rooms make interesting use of angles created by the roofline and dormers. Photo courtesy of Xanterra

The public areas, particularly the great hall and dining room, somehow manage to avoid the "overdone" look that unfortunately seems to be the hallmark for most new lodge-style construction. The style is solidly arts & crafts/park rustic, and is obviously new. By sticking to historic style and dimensions, NPS designers managed to avoid the overstated beams and overdone schnizzle-schnazzle typically found in contemporary "rustic" properties such as resort hotels and ski lodges. Although the mix of styles isn't true to any real period or style, the public spaces at Crater Lake Lodge manage to be "just right."

The Experience

A world apart

This is one of a select few hotels that provides a definitive, classic National Park lodge experience. The great room at Crater Lake Lodge is what every great room should be -- a comfortable, visually stunning place conducive to lively conversation, board games, and laughter. Put your I-pod away and join in. Stepping onto the veranda with its sweeping views of Crater Lake, you are transported to an earlier, less-hurried time. Park concessionaires are easy targets for critics, but in the case of the Crater Lake Lodge, Xanterra is clearly providing the finest product in the history of the property. If you are fortunate enough to procure lodging, you will find that room quality and cleanliness are both superb. Room rates are generally lower than expected and are a very good value for this hotel. The dining room is a multi-sensory experience. The decor throughout the public areas, eclectic within the craftsman vernacular, is ideally suited to the building and the location. Spend as little time in your room as possible.


Criterion Classification I

The Crater Lake Lodge exemplifies the ultimate standard for a National Park Lodge. It is visually compelling, historically significant, architectonically unique and an integral part of the Crater Lake experience. For these reasons, the Crater Lake Lodge is classified in the highest tier by the National Park Lodge Architecture Preservation Society.

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on the veranda

Photo courtesy Xanterra

Location, Location, Location.

Architectually speaking, the Crater Lake Lodge is arguably the least significant of the Criterion Class I National Park Lodges. There are certainly more significant properties in Class II and possibly even Class III. The structure itself is not historic, it is only visually historic. Although the exterior is striking, upon careful consideration it reveals itself to be little different from a college dorm building that has had a variety of additions shoehorned on over the years. While the rooms are modern, clean, and well maintained, they are also the least notable of the Class I lodges.

Thus the significance of Crater Lake Lodge is not one of architecture or luxury, but rather one of experience. Part of it is the veranda, part of it is the community experience in the great room, part of it is just the sensational surroundings. Add it all up, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Outdoor Fireplace

The above close up on the 1921 image gives a good view of the outdoor fireplace, built for evening talks and entertainment. Legend has it that this was a hazardous proposition; updrafts supposedly lifted burning embers and deposited them on the roof. Examination of the full photo reveals none of the usual log seats or other features usually found around a national park campfire; it appears that the fireplace was little or no longer used by 1921. A year later the point was moot -- the west wing addition eliminated the outdoor aspect of the fireplace. The indoor fireplace (now safely gas fired) was reconstructed using the same stone work. Its lobby location is essentially the same as it was in this photo, although the orientation is of course opposite that of the outdoor fireplace. The "new" fireplace is shown in a color photo above in this column.

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