Category Archives: Cultural History

Happy Birthday Vista House – 99 years and counting!

Vista House Dedication May 5, 1918

Every year on May 5,  since 1918, there is a celebration for Vista House, the majestic, historic building perched high above the Columbia River on Crown Point, with such an incredible view.  When Vista House was dedicated 99 years ago there was much ado made over this beautiful building that was designed to be a “comfort station” for motorists. The Oregonian reported that this rest stop was “intended to be the finishing achievement for the greatest highway in America” and architect Edgar M. Lazarus turned the functional need for “facilities” into a grand building and a memorial to the settlers who made the arduous trek west on the Oregon Trail.

Come join us this year on Friday, May 5 from 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM as we celebrate 99 years with birthday cake, music, and visiting antique cars. Next year? Yes, there will be much ado made over the beloved building as it reaches the 100 year milestone, save the date!

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Trick-or-Treat? The Good Ghost of Vista House

Join us on for Trick-or-Treating at Vista House on Halloween from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm!  Details below.

 

October at the Vista House is always an interesting month . . .

From the shift in weather and beginning of the winter winds, to the outside weather (rain) making its way inside, to the shorter hours that the building is open, everything changes.  And this last change, being closed more often to the public, means that the local “residents” of Vista House have more time to be in their building alone.   Besides the mice, one of these local residents is (I believe) the ghost of the building’s architect, Edgar M. Lazarus.

Vista House_Haunted

Who resides at Vista House when all of the visitors go home?



Many staff who have worked in Vista House late night in the fall have reported feeling the presence of Lazarus.  I have felt it before, too.  However, I have never been scared of it.  It is a nice, almost nurturing, presence to me.  I feel that he is just there watching over his building.  Happy that we are there, too, keeping watch and taking care—which is why I think I don’t find it scary.  If I was causing damage at Vista House, it might be a different story.

One of the ways Edgar Lazarus makes himself known (other than just the “feeling” that he is there) is by playing with the elevator or “lift.”  The lift is situated in the basement level of Vista House—volunteers in the rotunda level push toggles and buttons to raise and lower the lift.  The control box at the main level desk is the only way to operate the lift.  That said, I have had times when the lift is completely powered off, I am in the building by myself in the hallway in the basement when the lift door will start to open and close.  Or times when I’m upstairs and can hear the lift door opening and closing even though I can see with my own eyes that no one’s hands are on the control.  At times, it is just the outside door opening and closing; at other times, both the inside and outside door start opening and closing.

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Vista House architect, Edgar M. Lazarus.

I have always attributed this lift movement to Lazarus.  When the renovations were made on Vista House in 2004, we kept everything original (or at least as originally designed) EXCEPT the addition of the ADA elevator or “lift.”  This was the only “modern” addition to the building.  I do not think that Lazarus is upset by the lift, more than he is interested in it.  I think Lazarus, being an architect with a quizzical mind, is intrigued by the lift—curious about how it works—and that he is simply playing with it.

I had always attributed the change in the temperature/weather as the sign that strange-ness was coming to Vista House.  However, upon further research, I recently found out that Edgar M. Lazarus died on October 2, 1939 after a bitter dispute over his fees for the design and construction of Vista House.

Is it just a coincidence that Vista House’s ghost-play starts in October?

Or does the spirit of Edgar M. Lazarus begin making his rounds each year on the day he died, taking up residence in Vista House—the building he is best known for and one he felt he was never fully paid for?

(Special thanks to Ranger Mo Czinger for this ghostly account.)

 

 

 

Vista House will be open for trick-or-treating from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm on Halloween evening.  Park Rangers will be passing out candy.  The store, espresso bar, and balcony will be closed.  The event will be cancelled if the wind gusts exceed 50 mph:  Wind at Crown Point’s Vista House

 

 

Bike Your (NEWEST) Park Day

This coming Saturday, September 24, is national “Bike Your Park Day.”  But before you start flipping through your mental files of favorite parks for one last fall ride, we’d like to suggest something different.

And new.

Brand new.

How about a ride through the awe-inspiring Columbia River Gorge on the newest section of State Trail in Oregon?

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Be among the first to check out this view!  (Photo credit:  Ken Denis, Friends of Columbia Gorge)

We cordially invite you and your family and friends to join us on Saturday, September 24 from 10 AM to 12:30 PM as we dedicate the newest segment of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail: a 1.2 mile, car-free stretch from Starvation Creek to Lindsey Creek.

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Scout out all the rest places to share later with friends!  (Photo credit:  Ken Denis, Friends of the Columbia Gorge)

Be among the first to experience the graceful design of this new paved trail, with its stone walls, overlooks, picnic nooks, and new bridge that all mirror the elegant Historic Columbia River Highway.

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Beat your co-workers to the view of Warren Creek from above!  (Photo credit:  Ken Denis, Friends of Columbia Gorge)

The official ceremony begins at Viento State Park (I-84 exit 56) at 10 AM.  Following the dedication, you can pick up a “passport” and tour from Viento to Starvation Creek to Lindsey Creek, visiting information stations and collecting stickers along the way.  At the turn-around, be sure to grab a selfie as we ceremonially break ground for our next project—three more miles of trail.

Bike Your Park Day:  Gorge Style

BEGIN:  Take I-84, exit 56 for Viento State Park.  Arrive by 9:30 AM for good parking.

CELEBRATE:  State Trail dedication begins at 10 AM.

RIDE:  Approximately 2 miles one way, paved and car-free from Viento State Park to Lindsey Creek.

ALONG THE WAY:  Meet with key players and collect stickers for your Passport.  Take photos of the Gorge’s newest trail!

TURNAROUND:  At Lindsey Creek, take part in ground-breaking for the next 3 miles of trail, then head back 2 miles to your vehicle!

WANT TO SEE MORE?  Head west to exit 44 for 6.5 miles of paved, car-free riding from Cascade Locks to John B. Yeon Trailhead OR head east to exit 64 for 4.5 miles of paved, car-free riding from Mark O. Hatfield West Visitor Center to the East Trailhead.

BONUS:  This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Historic Columbia River Highway.  You will literally be traveling through time!

LEARN MORE:  About the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail

 

Recollections from the Old Road

(Special thanks to Kristen Stallman of the Oregon Department of Transportation for this  feature.  ODOT encourages you to share your story:  kristen.stallman@odot.state.or.us

The 100th anniversary of the dedication of Historic Columbia River Highway this year provides an opportune time to remember what life was like along the Historic Highway back in the day (1916 – late 1950s) when this was the only road between Portland and points east.

It is certainly hard to imagine this bucolic life today as we speed 65 mph on I-84 and to imagine  only seventy or so years ago, all the car travel through the Gorge was forced to the narrow, two-lane, scenic highway.   It must have been an incredible 30 mile per hour drive punctuated with breathtaking views and dotted with roadside cafes, souvenir shops and service stations.  However, it wasn’t always stress-free.  Stories of getting car sick, terrible weather, and flat tires were quite common and add to the lore of this historic road.

 

Mike and George Johnson share stories of their grandfather’s highway businesses.

 

Mike Johnson (Vancouver, Washington) and his cousin George Johnson (Hood River, Oregon) surely remember what life was like along the Columbia River Highway.  Mike and George’s grandparents operated Johnson’s Café and service station located on what is now the parking lot at Vista House at Crown Point.  They spent their childhood at Crown Point.  Mike and George shared their stories with Kristen Stallman in Troutdale on July 25, 2016.

The Johnsons family’s black and white photos dated as early as 1926 fill albums made of black paper pages bound together with string.  These pages document a family history linked to the Columbia River Highway.  In fact, George lived in the basement apartment below the store with his mom for the first several years of his life while his dad fought in Pacific during World War II.  Mike’s baby album is so organized and thorough it was as if his mom was doing her best to capture every stage of her new-born baby’s life to share with his proud dad upon his return from the war.  These meticulous photo albums celebrated generations of Johnsons which included snapshots of their thriving businesses and a host of characters along the Historic Highway.

 

1916 View of the W. A. Johnson Cafe

1926 view of the W.A. Johnson Café with a view of Vista House in the distance.

These small black and white photos feature the Johnson family at holiday gatherings, neighbors such as the Hendersons (Crown Point Chalet) and Dimitts (Postcards), favorite customers (State Highway Patrolmen, truck drivers), locals and staff, not to mention the famous pets such as “Muggins” the famed café cat.  The pages of photos document the many epic weather events that were truly unique to living and operating a business at Crown Point during the winter months.  Photos of ice encrusted Vista House and piles of snow were common as were traffic accidents.  A long truck didn’t do so well as it tried to make the famous figure eight curves east of Vista House. Could 60 mph gale force wind be to blame?  The familiar rock walls and Vista House’s circling steps are featured in these historic family photos.   It is easy for one who is familiar to with the site to pick out the same locations todays and step back in time.

 

Cat

“Muggins,” the famed cafe cat.

Bear

Do YOU know the story of this bear on the Columbia River Highway?

 

George Johnson and Mike Johnson have a love of the Columbia River Highway and the Gorge. Their stories and photos make the highway come alive for all of us who appreciate its history and beauty.  They did leave us with one mystery.  The albums portray the Columbia River Highway bear.  Stephen Kenney, a local historian, shared similar story to of a bear shackled at a gas station near the Stark Street Bridge, but the photos make it appear like it was someplace at higher elevation.  If anyone has information on the Columbia River Highway bear please share!

 

Crown Point Businesses

Celebrate 100 years of the Historic Columbia River Highway

Your Parks "Go Guide"

Events this summer

VistaHouse More than 700,000 visitors each year stop at the iconic Vista House at Crown Point along the Historic Columbia River Highway.

Hailed “King of Roads,” Historic Route 30 was officially dedicated on June 7, 1916, with a dazzling affair that drew the attention of the nation and the world. This summer, we invite you to explore and rediscover the historic highway and the beautiful Columbia River Gorge it traverses. Take a drive, hike or bike ride. View magnificent waterfalls and vistas and stop by the communities along the way–many are hosting  events to celebrate the centennial. Here’s our guide to four new experiences you can have in the Gorge this summer.

1.Music in the Gorge. This summer brings opportunity to attend some not-so-traditional concerts in some unexpected venues.

  • Sing-along, play along, or just sit back and enjoy the Song Circles at Vista House at Crown…

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Planning for the Big One-Oh-Oh

On June 7, 2016 (and during the months that follow) the Columbia River Gorge will be celebrating.  Our favorite traveling companion is turning 100!  And what a long, winding road it has been.  

Literally.

Antique autos parked below Multnomah Falls as they might have in the 1920s.

Autos and owners from left to right:  Steve Knepper’s 1929 Model A Ford Roadster, Edward DeVito’s 1918 Model R-1 Hupmobile Touring Car, Donn Snyder’s 1912 Reo Touring Car — all parked at Multnomah Falls as they might have in the 1920s.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Historic Columbia River Highway (HCRH).  Begun in 1913 and fully completed in 1922, the scenic byway was dedicated on June 7, 1916 with celebrations at both Vista House on Crown Point and Multnomah Falls.  And in recognition, this year the entire Gorge is hosting a series of events throughout the summer months.  And you’re invited.  

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Add Warrenite paving and take out the railing, and this is about how things would have looked 100 years ago!  1918 Hupmobile (left) and 1929 Model A (right).

Want to learn about the Highway?  Visit the Troutdale Historical Society or Maryhill Museum to delve into the “King of Roads'” historical past.  Want to revel in the Highway?  Attend one of the summer’s many HCRH-themed festivals.  Want to experience the Highway?  Take a leisurely drive or, better yet, bike or hike one of the reconnected HCRH State Trail segments.  Want to breathe the Highway?  Sign up for one of the many Gorge runs and rides.  Want to see the Highway through the eyes of yesteryear?  Come out to watch antique autos parade by as they caravan from Troutdale to The Dalles on the July 23, 2016.

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Driving along the Historic Columbia River Highway’s iconic white fence.

For a list of tours, rides, runs, festivals, and events visit the Oregon Department of Transportations’s website:  HCRH Centennial Events

For a sneak peek into the July’s antique auto tour, take a look below at some photos from our January test-drive!

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My “ride” for the day, a 1929 Model A Ford Roadster.

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The view at Vista House from the passenger’s seat on a rainy, blustery day in January.

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Even the license plate is cooler.

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Three cheers for the Portland chapter of the Horseless Carriage Club for an amazing day!

 

Mystery Photo Answer: Where’s Sam

Did you find Samuel Boardman?  Tucked off to the left of the towering trees?  Congratulations to all of you who did!

Sam Boardman

Samuel H. Boardman, Oregon State Park’s first Park Superintendent, exploring Silver Falls State Park in 1941.

This photo was taken at Silver Falls State Park while Boardman was scouting for an amphitheater site.  More than one site was proposed, so we are not entirely sure where this spot is within the park.

Boardman Files at State Archives

For boxes of Boardman files were donated by Oregon State Parks to the Oregon State Archives so that they would be available to the public.

Boadman's Masterpices

Boardman’s finest writings are compiled in folders simply called “Masterpieces.”

 

Stay tuned for an update in April after we at second time with Sam’s relatives.  Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more, Oregon State Archives in Salem has boxes of Boardman documents for your reading pleasure!

 

Mystery Photo: Where’s Sam?

Much has happened since my last post about Oregon’s first State Park Superintendent, Samuel H. Boardman.  On Friday, few of us from Oregon State Parks had the honor of meeting with the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Samuel Boardman.  Over a cup of coffee, they shared stories, books, photos, letters, and newspaper articles about Sam.

We were star-struck to say the least are planning to meet again to record some of the Boardman family’s stories.  And in preparation for the next get-together, we have been digging through the Oregon State Park archives to find interesting items to share with Sam’s relatives.

Forest Panorama with Samuel H. Boardman

Do you see Oregon’s first State Parks Superintendent, Samuel Boardman?  Can you figure out which park this is?

Yesterday, I found a gigantic photo file and let my computer work on it overnight.  I arrived this morning to find this photo of Sam Boardman.  At first I thought it must have been a mistake.  Where was Sam?  It took me a minute, but I assure you that he is there.  Here is your challenge:

 

Part One:  Find Sam in the photo.

But don’t tell us yet!  Let others try, too.

 

Part Two:  Take a guess at where the photo was taken.

Hints:  This forest panorama was taken at a proposed amphitheater site.  The park has an amphitheater today, as well as a campground — something Sam never allowed during his tenure at State Parks.  Sam was very influential in acquiring and developing this inland (not coastal!) park.

 

Can you tell us where Sam is?

 

An Ode to Sam Boardman

We have all been asked the question before.  “If you could have dinner with a famous person (dead or alive), who would it be?”  Over the holidays, we were sitting around with friends, and someone pulled out a “TableTopics” conversation starter game.  The dinner question was the first one.

Oregon State Highway Commission at Vista House_Sam Boardman

The Oregon State Highway Commission at Vista House. Sam Boardman is third from the right. 1943.



My mind raced just like yours might be now.  Robin Williams, my favorite actor.  Teddy Roosevelt, my favorite conservationist President.  John Muir, my favorite West Coast naturalist.  Sigurd Olson, my favorite Northwoods naturalist.  My grandmother, who passed when I was in elementary school.  I thought for a moment.  Samuel Boardman.  I would like to have lunch with our very own Sam Boardman.

Samuel H. Boardman was the first Parks Superintendent for Oregon State Parks.  He was around for the birth of our Oregon State Park system, and our system grew mightily under his watch.  (Between 1929 and 1950, Oregon State Parks blossomed from 46 to 181 park properties with acreage swelling from 4,000 to 66,000 acres.)  As charismatic as Robin Williams, as passionate about conservation as Roosevelt, with the heart of a naturalist, and the wisdom of a grandparent, what I wouldn’t give to be in presence of “the father of the Oregon State Parks system.”

I fell in love with Samuel Boardman while working at Silver Falls State Park.  Early on, I found in the park archives a lengthy letter dated November 1951 from Sam to his successor, Chester H. Armstrong about the history and future of Silver Falls.  I read, reread, highlighted, and read to others my favorite passages in this letter.

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Samuel H. Boardman. Oregon State Parks Superintendent from 1929 to 1950.

Most memorable for me was the two entire pages Sam took justify the need for a “carving unit” at Silver Falls—a wonderfully colorful, poetic, and passionate piece with the gist of the argument being that humans have an innate need to carve—and rather than have them desecrate restrooms, picnic tables, and trees, we should designate a place for them to do so.  Further, Boardman believed that such a project for open, rather than covert, carving could actually be shocking enough to change a person’s ways:

To make people think, you must jolt them.  Can’t you see the carriage of this lesson of preservation lingering with the visitor throughout the day, after he has stood before this shrine of destruction?  Can’t you see this same conservationist, after imbibing his entry lesson, stepping up to some carving vandal and requesting him to desist?

Somewhere, somehow, the lesson of preservation must be put over to the American people.  Somewhere a start has to be made.  If through a log, a privy, then so be it.  If you know of a better way of preachment, the house tops are yours for the asking.  This merits your deepest consideration for an American principle of “To have and to hold” is at stake.

It seems like too small of a detail to even mention, but Boardman was passionate about all aspects of parks and the preservation of them.  He touches all in his letter, leaving Armstrong with these final thoughts:  “A recreational kingdom is placed in your hand.  Build unto it.  Guard that which has been [built].”

Upper Latourell with Bridge

Upper Latourell Falls in the early 1900s when there was a bridge across the middle of the falls. OSU Digital Archives.

In other letters and essays, Boardman writes about the Columbia River Gorge.   A place, no doubt, near and dear to him as he was the founder of the town of Boardman at the east end of the Gorge.  It was at Latourell Falls that Boardman learned what would to him prove to be one of his most valuable lessons.  Guy Talbot State Park has two waterfalls.  Latourell Falls—easily seen from the highway—and Upper Latourell Falls—only visible by trail.  The upper falls is a double fall (having a whirlpool in the center), and Samuel Boardman thought it a good idea to build a trail in the middle “where the hiker could stand between the two falls.”  And so, Boardman blasted in a trail.  And the result was, in his mind, awful:

The very foundation upon which depending the beauty of the entire picture has a great gash across it.  The aesthetic sense of the individual curdled before reaching the beauty spot.  …  [The experience] taught me that man’s hand in the alteration of the Design of the Great Architect is egotistic, tragic, ignorant.  …  From then on, I became the protector of the blade of grass, the flower on the sward, the fern, the shrub, the tree, the forest.  …  I found man could not alter without disfigurement.  Take away, disfigure, and you deaden the beat of a soul.  (Oregon State Park System:  A Brief History.  Samuel Boardman.)

Upper Latourell_St. Andrews

Upper Latourell Falls today, largely unmarred with vegetation hiding scarring from Boardman’s attempted trail.

For those familiar with the Columbia River Gorge, the above might sound a bit familiar.  Samuel Lancaster, who designed the Historic Columbia River Highway, is quoted saying something similar about planning and building the road:

When I made my preliminary survey here and found myself standing waist-deep in the ferns, I remember my mother’s long-ago warning, ‘Oh, Samuel, do be careful of my Boston fern!  …  And I then pledged myself that none of this wild beauty should be marred where it could be prevented.  The highway was built so that not one tree was felled, not one fern was crushed, unnecessarily.  (The Columbia:  America’s Great Highway.  Samuel Lancaster.)

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Samuel Lancaster designed the Historic Columbia River Highway about a decade before Samuel Boardman became Oregon State Parks first Superintendent.

You can read a large collection of Sam Boardman’s essays by reading his book, Oregon State Park System:  A Brief History, available online through the Oregon State University Library.  Although, I must mention that I noticed by comparing Sam’s November 1951 letter to Armstrong about Silver Falls to the same section in the book, that book is a meticulously edited version of his original writing—the overall content is the same and reads seamlessly, but some of Sam’s quick wit and humorous storytelling is, at times, watered down or missing altogether.  I can only imagine how every other essay must have read before the editors made their marks!  How I would love to sit down with Sam and ask the man, himself!

I will link to the book here and leave you with an excerpt of the book’s last paragraph, written about (you guessed it) the Columbia River Gorge.

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1957/9271/Ore_Sta_Par_Sys.pdf?sequence=1

The Gorge has so many stops and goes, unscored notes, so many varied choruses that it could be blended into a symphony.  …  The woodwinds in the swaying tree tops.  The flutes in the mist of the waterfalls.  The bases in the steady roar of wayward gales.  The Rhine lives in the historical music composed through the centuries.  There must be a composer who could blend the mists, lights, caprices, the songs of the waterfalls, the ripples of the brooks, the sonnets from the tree tops, the boldness of the cliffs into a symphony of the Columbia Gorge that will live in the souls of the generations to come.  It is a challenge to Destiny to give birth to a maestro.  Who will write a score that will make the Gorge musically unforgettable through the centuries?

Haunted (Vista) House

October at the Vista House is always an interesting month . . .

From the shift in weather and beginning of the winter winds, to the outside weather (rain) making its way inside, to the shorter hours that the building is open, everything changes.  And this last change, being closed more often to the public, means that the local “residents” of Vista House have more time to be in their building alone.   Besides the mice, one of these local residents is (I believe) the ghost of the building’s architect, Edgar M. Lazarus.

Vista House_Haunted

Who resides at Vista House when all of the visitors go home?



Many staff who have worked in Vista House late night in the fall have reported feeling the presence of Lazarus.  I have felt it before, too.  However, I have never been scared of it.  It is a nice, almost nurturing, presence to me.  I feel that he is just there watching over his building.  Happy that we are there, too, keeping watch and taking care—which is why I think I don’t find it scary.  If I was causing damage at Vista House, it might be a different story.

One of the ways Edgar Lazarus makes himself known (other than just the “feeling” that he is there) is by playing with the elevator or “lift.”  The lift is situated in the basement level of Vista House—volunteers in the rotunda level push toggles and buttons to raise and lower the lift.  The control box at the main level desk is the only way to operate the lift.  That said, I have had times when the lift is completely powered off, I am in the building by myself in the hallway in the basement when the lift door will start to open and close.  Or times when I’m upstairs and can hear the lift door opening and closing even though I can see with my own eyes that no one’s hands are on the control.  At times, it is just the outside door opening and closing; at other times, both the inside and outside door start opening and closing.

Lazarus_portrait

Vista House architect, Edgar M. Lazarus.

I have always attributed this lift movement to Lazarus.  When the renovations were made on Vista House in 2004, we kept everything original (or at least as originally designed) EXCEPT the addition of the ADA elevator or “lift.”  This was the only “modern” addition to the building.  I do not think that Lazarus is upset by the lift, more than he is interested in it.  I think Lazarus, being an architect with a quizzical mind, is intrigued by the lift—curious about how it works—and that he is simply playing with it.

I had always attributed the change in the temperature/weather as the sign that strange-ness was coming to Vista House.  However, upon further research, I recently found out that Edgar M. Lazarus died on October 2, 1939 after a bitter dispute over his fees for the design and construction of Vista House.

Is it just a coincidence that Vista House’s ghost-play starts in October?

Or does the spirit of Edgar M. Lazarus begin making his rounds each year on the day he died, taking up residence in Vista House—the building he is best known for and one he felt he was never fully paid for?

 

(Special thanks to Ranger Mo Czinger for this ghostly account.)