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Timberline Lodge Celebrates 70 Years Since FDR's Visit

OPB | Sept. 27, 2007 7:09 a.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:19 a.m. | Portland, OR

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By Colin Fogarty

Friday marks the 70th anniversary of the official opening of Timberline Lodge.  On September 28, 1937 President Franklin Roosevelt spoke to a crowd gathered on Mount Hood.

70 years later, the lodge has become an icon of the Northwest and a show case for Depression-era artistry.  Only a few of the people who worked on Timberline Lodge survive today, as Colin Fogarty reports.


Douglas Lynch is a spry 94-year-old graphic artist. You may not have heard of him.  But back in 1937, he was a bit of a local celebrity in Portland.  Lynch designed the window displays for major department stores.  Openings for his displays were huge events.

TimberlineDouglas Lynch: "At the time it was such a big thing, people got on the Rose City streetcars and came down…mobs, elbow to elbow, hip to hip…come to town to see this big event."

Lynch’s department store artistry landed him the job that crowds of people see at Timberline Lodge to this day.  12 murals, some as long as 10 feet hang on the walls in the restaurant.  They depict mountain scenes – skiing, camping.  They’re made of linoleum, painstakingly carved for texture and stained with colors.

Douglas Lynch: "There was reverence for the mountain which I don’t think exists right now.  And people — the craftsmen and the artists regarded it as a cathedral, the community cathedral.  And there was that kind of feeling about it at the time."

Douglas Lynch was fairly successful in 1937.  But it was the Depression and the roughly 400 craftsman, artists, and laborers who created Timberline Lodge were desperate for the work.

Sarah Munro: "People were so glad to have a job.  They put a lot of love in that building.  And almost all the people I’ve spoken to who worked on Timberline Lodge hold that experience as one the premier experiences of their lives."

Sarah Munro is writing a book about the history of Timberline Lodge. She says in 1937 Democrats wanted to demonstrate results of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs.  So when Timberline was almost complete, they quickly organized a trip by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

 FDR
 President Roosevelt being helped out of his car at Timberline Lodge.

When they arrived, Munro says George Henderson, the Lodge’s public relations manager, was there.  He had hadn’t been briefed on Presidential protocol and snapped an unauthorized picture.

Sarah Munro: "The press was told that you never take a picture of the president displaying his disability. Consequently, as the President was being helped out of his car, George began to take a picture.   And at that moment a security officer pointed at him and said, 'don’t take that picture'."

But it was too late and the photo survives today as a rare image of Roosevelt’s disability, which was not noticeable from the balcony where he spoke.

Sarah Munro: "Well he began by saying ‘ Here I am on the slopes….

Franklin Roosevelt: "Here I am on the slopes of Mount Hood, where I’ve always wanted to come." (applause)

Sarah Munro: "I really love that particular phrase because I think it shows Roosevelt as the ultimate politician.  Another thing that I thought was interesting was that he talks about in the future many recreational opportunities in the forest."

Franklin Roosevelt: "We as a nation are coming to realize that the summer isn’t the only time for play. And I look forward to the day when many, many people from this region of the nation are going to come here for skiing and tobogganing and various other form of winter sport."

Sarah Munro:  "When Roosevelt was thinking of recreational opportunities, he was thinking about people being able to get away from their jobs and going into the forest.  At that time, there was no idea of the economic value of tourism and the impact of a lodge such as Timberline can have on the public, a place that is visited by more than two million people a year."

Timberline Lodge wasn’t the only stop on Roosevelt’s trip to Oregon.  He also dedicated a much bigger public works project, the Bonneville Dam.  It too is celebrating a 70th anniversary.

At Timberline, the celebration is fairly low key.  Birthday cake will be available in the lobby.  The lodge is saving the big celebration for the 75th anniversary, five years from now.

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