Happy Birthday, Vista House
Join us for Vista House’s Birthday celebration on Sunday, May 4th from 11 AM to 3 PM.
A second, smaller celebration will take place on Monday, May 5th – the day of Vista House’s dedication.
Recently, I visited the Pittock Mansion in Portland for the first time. A fascinating building, one of the things I was struck by was the similarity between Pittock Mansion and Vista House. Marble interior, sandstone exterior, mahogany woodwork . . . the buildings have the same sort of geometric lines and ornate flair. Undoubtedly, the same movers and shakers that were behind the Historic Columbia River Highway and Vista House were in the same circles as those in Portland. It’s a microcosmic era of architecture in a sense. And now, at both Pittock and Vista House, nearly 100 years later, the doors are open to all and visitors are traveling from afar, piling into these grand buildings, and standing for a moment in awe.
The other morning, as I was putting on my park uniform, I was thinking about Pittock Mansion and Vista House. And instead of wondering what everyone must see and think as they enter the doors, I started to think about the Vista House building, itself. What has Vista House seen since its opening? How have things changed since 1918? As we all know, if you spend enough time with an inanimate object (today, typically, a vehicle, computer, or phone) eventually, you gain a “sense” of that object—it begins to take on a personality of its own. Buildings, especially those with a rich history, are no different. Spend enough time with Vista House—wash her floors, scrub her toilets, patch her leaks, paint her walls, and set her clock—hang out with her through howling winds, torrential downpours, and stunningly silent sunrises and sets—and you start to get a sense of Vista House.
So, as we prepare to celebrate her birthday on May 5, imagine with me. What has Vista House seen over the past 96 years? What was life like in 1918?
Our U.S. history course remind us that in 1918, WWI came to a close on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month—taking 16 million lives in four years. The Flu Pandemic of 1918 took three times as many (50 million) in less than a year. As for every-day life, we Vista House fans know that in 1918, cars were becoming increasingly common as were the roads they traveled upon—although trains remained the primary mode of transportation.
In 1918, people relied on telegraphs and letters for their main communication. Telephones existed, but were expensive and unreliable. Radio existed, but commercial broadcasts did not. Americans spent their free time at roller rinks, pool and dance halls, movie theaters, and saloons. Films were silent and about 20 minutes in length.
In 1918, life expectancy was 53 years for men, 54 for women. Women began stepping outside of the home, working as teachers and secretaries; some, for the war effort, took traditionally male jobs in factories. Soon, women would be given the right to vote. Sports fans could tell us that the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 1918 and wouldn’t do so again until 2004. In July of 1918, revolutionary Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, was born. Mandela passed just last year.
Nearly 100 years. I can only begin to imagine all that Vista House has seen since her doors first opened. And all of the work that has been done to keep them open.
Here’s to Vista House—Happy Birthday; to you—“Thank you”; and to another 96-plus years of service for all of us.
Posted on May 2, 2014, in Cultural History, Programs & Events and tagged Columbia River Gorge, Crown Point, Historic Columbia River Highway, Oregon State Parks, park rangers, Vista House. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.