Rim Village Historic District Projects – Crater Lake National Park OR

Crater Lake National Park, OR

Site Type:
Civic Facilities, Parks and Recreation, Infrastructure and Utilities, Monuments and Memorials, Lodges, Ranger Stations and Visitor Centers, Paths and Trails, Campgrounds and Cabins, Roads, Bridges, and Tunnels

New Deal Agencies:
Public Works Funding, Work Relief Programs, Public Works Administration (PWA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)

John D. Bowdish

Francis Lange, Merel Sager, Thomas Vint


“The year 1933 brought many significant changes into the National Park system. Up until that time President Herbert Hoover saw to it that the national parks received their allotment requests for park operations and development. Budgets and staff for the national parks had increased substantially during his administration (Tweed, 75). But the Depression changed all of this when, in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt and a new administration came on board. A variety of innovative and comprehensive relief programs were introduced to alleviate the nation’s growing unemployment crisis. These programs, instituted under the New Deal, provided work opportunities for the unemployed. In March 1933, the Emergency Conservation Work Act was passed by Congress. The ECW program created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Originally conceived as a ‘conservation army’ to undertake the simplest kind of manual labor, the CCC eventually became more than tree-planting and ditch-digging crews. Government bureaus which benefited from the new labor force—one being the NPS—saw greater potential for these work crews. While the NPS recognized the tremendous opportunity this manpower provided, there remained the concern that the quality of work was at risk if unskilled laborers were allowed to build structures. NPS architect Charles Peterson firmly stated that all design work would be undertaken and supervised by professionals, while actual implementation could be done by the enrollees. Landscape architect E.A. Davidson agreed, advising against the use of the CCC for capital improvements because of the lack of skilled supervision at the time (Cutler, 87). But within a few years time, CCC crews demonstrated that if properly supervised, they were capable of constructing well-built structures. During the summer of 1933, 70 CCC camps were in place at national parks and monuments across the country, and two of these were established at Crater Lake (Tweed, 75-76, 88; Greene, 221).

Another relief program of the New Deal, the Public Works Administration, was created in 1933 with the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act. The PWA awarded grants (a way around the $1,500 limitation for CCC projects) to federal agencies for the construction of roads, buildings, and other physical improvements (Mark, oral interview, 2003). Because the NPS had development plans in place for the national parks, much of this grant money was directed into NPS coffers (Tweed 76-77). With renewed funds for development, additional staff was needed. The magnitude of the change during these years is somewhat staggering, particularly when looking at NPS personnel figures for the Branch of Plans and Design. Thomas Vint had a staff consisting of sixteen individuals in 1933; two years later his staff had increased to include 120 professionals, all hired to complete the tremendous amount of design work programmed for the national and state parks (Greene, 235). Along with a park’s resident landscape architect, the Park Service hired a landscape architect for each CCC camp (Cutler, 84). At Crater Lake, skilled supervisors were hired in great enough numbers to provide the oversight needed to complete construction projects according to the NPS’s high standards for design. What makes this period of development at Rim Village notable is that these work crews, particularly the CCC, were able to accomplish in one season work that would have taken regular park forces several years to complete. Without these ‘make work’ programs, the implementation and completion of Crater Lake’s master plan would have been brought to an abrupt halt (Unrau, 483). Furthermore, as landscape architect Francis Lange noted:

‘It would appear safe to say that the cost of this work would be less than that by the regular park method (day labor), and surely it would go without saying that the quality of work is better, as men trained in landscape work are in charge, resulting in carefully planned and executed work’ (Lange, to the Chief Architect, 1934).

The New Deal, then, totally changed the momentum of construction activity at Rim Village between the years 1933 and 1941. The work programs supplied the necessary manpower to complete much of Sager’s proposals and act on other tasks that required attention. Sager continued to work at Crater Lake in the early 1930s (Sager transferred to Hawaii in 1933), but he was assisted by others. By 1934 Armin M. Doerner was the park’s Resident Landscape Architect, who oversaw non-CCC projects, and Emergency Conservation Work crews were supervised by NPS Landscape Architect Francis G. Lange. In Doerner’s absence, Lange watched over other work in the park and also assisted with the ‘architectural work on the buildings’ (Doerner, to the Chief Architect, 1934). In addition, from 1934 until 1939, Crater Lake had a number of landscape architects employed on various construction projects (Unrau, 496). Lange sometimes had two assistants, but the other landscape architects were funded by contractors, but were subject to Lange’s approval.

At Crater Lake, CCC enrollees participated on a variety of projects, beginning with roads and trails work. During the course of a work season much of their time was spent firefighting, planting fish, and doing general clean-up tasks around the park. After NPS landscape architects became more confident that the CCC laborers could undertake more sophisticated projects, CCC projects were expanded to include small-scale construction projects. Storage and equipment sheds, ranger cabins, checking stations, comfort stations, warehouses and garages, and a messhall were just some of the facilities built by these crews at Crater Lake (Greene, 222,233; Unrau, 496-7).

The landscaping program at Rim Village remained a major activity for CCC crews. Enrollees hauled peat and topsoil up to the site for the revegetation effort. Additional plants from other areas in the park were established at the site to enhance the naturalization work that was already in place. In his report to the Chief Architect that year, Merel Sager wrote:

‘One of the most gratifying phases of this rim landscaping is the fact that we have accomplished the great objective aimed at three years ago, that is, of bringing back vegetation between the road and the rim all the way from the head of the trail to Crater Lake Lodge’ (Sager, to the Chief Architect, October 1933).

The first year the CCC crews undertook landscaping, particular attention was paid to the area between the Kiser Studio and the lodge. The following year, 1934, the area on the north side of the lodge received attention as did the cafeteria building. The lodge, with an exterior appearance that was ‘one of the most distracting sights that greeted the tourist as he arrived at the Rim area,’ was naturalized, ‘improving the appearance of a poorly designed and unattractive building’ (Lange, to the Chief Architect, August 1934). Curbing stone was prepared and placed around the Cafeteria and in front of the Lodge in 1934. The beds created by the new curbing were planted with a variety of native plant materials (Lange, to the Chief Architect, September 1934). By 1935, landscaping efforts were considered complete on the north side of Rim Village Road. Work was then directed to the south side of the road. In 1936, topsoil was brought in, and landscape architect Francis Lange focused on improving the landscape around the Community House. 850 shrubs were transplanted in this area in 1936. Even though the planting program was considered to be approximately 75 percent complete, peat, topsoil, sod, trees, and shrubs were hauled up to the village, with more than 2000 plants transplanted in 1938 alone (Lange, to the Chief Architect, August September 1938).

Roads, parking areas, walks, and curbing continued to be important areas of concern for landscape architects during the CCC era at Crater Lake. One new feature incorporated into the site was the construction of a triangular traffic island (for a road wye) at the west end of the village. This was added in 1935 at the road junction where the main Rim Road and the Rim Village Road intersected. NPS landscape architects felt that this feature would not only help control traffic, it would also serve to break up a large expanse of pavement and permit planting within the bed of the triangle. Abandoned roads leading to Rim Village east of the lodge were obliterated (with exception of the road between the dorm to the lodge) by work crews beginning in 1937. Large rocks, logs, and plants were brought in and placed over the road remnants in attempts to hide the old routes.

The grounds around the Lodge received renewed attention during this time. In 1933, CCC crews built a new parking area and entry platform on the south side of the Lodge. The following year, a redesigned entrance route for cars driving to the hotel was constructed because the original design was not functioning as planned. The new design alleviated the congestion that was increasing in that vicinity. In 1938, walks and cut stone steps linking the tiers of parking together with the Lodge entrance were incorporated into the design of the new parking area. These features added a picturesque and ‘finished’ quality to the landscape around the hotel. Additional paved walks and stone curbing were constructed in 1933 and 1934 at the village. Frustrated by the different workmen assigned to building the curbs, ‘each [one] trying to express his own ideas in masonry’ thus making it hard to get a uniform type of stone curbing, the park landscape architects and inspectors from the Bureau of Public Roads agreed on a single style and credible work progressed (Lange, to the Chief Architect, July 1934). Shortly after the stone curbing was installed, it became the target of criticism. Dr. Harold C. Bryant, Assistant Director of the NPS, visited Crater Lake during the summer of 1935 and prepared a field report for NPS Director Arno B. Cammerer. Bryant noted that while the most conspicuous improvement at the park continued to be the landscaping at the rim, he added:

‘A considerable change has been made in the parking area, the logs having been supplanted by rock curbing. The more I see of these parking spaces, the more they look like city parking spaces transplanted to a mountain setting. We are evidently getting away from simple rustic improvements’ (Bryant, Report on Crater Lake National Park, 1935). This statement should be viewed in the context of debate about NPS expansion into assisting with other types of parks (Mark, written comment, 2003).

New walks were added around the Cafeteria in 1936 to facilitate and direct visitor circulation. Also in 1936, stone markers (so called ‘pilasters’) were placed at the corners of walkways where they met curbs, directing pedestrians onto the walkways and away from the newly planted vegetation (Lange, to the Chief Architect, September 1936). By this time a number of the walks built earlier at the site had fallen into disrepair. Some of these paths were constructed under adverse weather conditions and the proper setting of paving materials did not occur. The addition of an underground water lines at the rim and the landscaping work in general had also damaged some of the walks. CCC crews were put to work on the rehabilitation and/or repair of these features during the 1936 work season (Crater Lake National Park, Six Year Program 1939-1944).

Beginning in 1934, the Rim Campground became the focus of activity for CCC workforces. The campground was an area of concern for both NPS landscape architects as well as professional consultants working outside of the Park Service. Dr. Emilio P. Meinecke, a pathologist employed by the Bureau of Plant Industry in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was one of the specialized professionals the NPS employed to assist them in development of this area. In 1933 Meinecke visited the park to confer with various park officials concerning ‘campsite preservation and general forest conservation’ (Superintendent’s Monthly Report, September 1933). His advice and recommendations were outlined in his ‘Camp Planning and Camp Reconstruction,’ and included everything from general site layout and planning to specifics on individual campsite features (Report to Chief Architect, July 1934). Following Dr. Meinecke’s suggestions, parking would be restricted. Meinecke provided guidance on the appropriate types of stoves and fireplaces to use in parks. In 1933 the superintendent noted in his monthly narrative report:

‘Fire places of a permanent nature are also being installed so that automobile driving and camp fire burning cannot occur indiscriminately and destroy the forests. It is hoped that by this regulated parking and driving through the camp ground that the sustenance for the beautiful hemlock trees may be preserved and that the growth and longevity of the forest cover will be aided’ (Superintendent’s Monthly Report, September 1933).

The next year work was underway, and twenty-five individual units were developed. Each unit was comprised of a stove, a fireplace, space for a tent, a table, and an area for parking one automobile. For the ‘permanent fireplaces,’ the park followed Meinecke’s designs for an elaborate type of stove-fireplace unit that required an inordinate amount of time to erect. Meinecke’s influence in the design of the Rim Village Campground, however, reached well beyond the design of the fireplaces. One of Meinecke’s ideas was to to separate camping from main developed areas and to use planting to stop trampling and social paths. His ideas were applied at Rim Village (after formulating campground policy for the USFS in 1932) where individual campsites were designated by placement of tables, fireplaces, and tents. A key piece of this was the confinement of car parking by means of a ‘garage spur’ from the main campground road which was intentionally kept narrow and one way to limit damage to vegetation. The parking at a campground was indicated by placement of logs and rocks imbedded so that campers couldn’t move them. The Meinecke campgrounds allowed for expansion through loops that went outward and were quickly adopted by the NPS (Rim Village was a good example, where camp sites could be built as a group one year, then opened the next). The idea of a set number of individual camp sites resulted in the possibility of ‘full’ campgrounds for the first time, as well as posted stay limits (in days). This could make experiencing nature in the national parks a more rigid (or at least structured) experience than previously and was not accepted by some visitors at first. The NPS (at Crater Lake National Park) responded with secondary campgrounds that could accept overflow, such as the one at Annie Spring (this campground did not become Mazama) and Cold Spring. One could even argue that reconfiguration of the Rim Campground during Mission 66 simply was a continuation of the Meineke model, with new loops aimed at expansion (Mark, correspondence, 2004).

These campground units, once in place, quickly proved to be too expensive, and after eight of the more sophisticated versions were built, fireplaces of ‘less elaborate design’ were put in (Report to Chief Forester on E.C.W. Conditions, Crater Lake National Park, 1934).

In addition to these functional features, portions of the campground were naturalized with the addition of shrubs, herbaceous plants and a fine ground cover of ‘rush’ or sod (Juncus sp.) (Lange, to the Chief Architect, October 1934). The following year, more plants were added and additional parking and fireplaces were built to accommodate the large numbers of tourists staying at the camp. By 1935, the campground had more than seventy-five camping sites. It was at this time that consideration was given to developing the south slope of the existing campground, as an ‘overflow’ area for campers. Francis Lange noted in a 1935 report that ten fireplaces and parking stalls were erected in the area but the area would remain closed until it was a fully developed campground (Lange, to the Chief Architect, October 1935). Throughout the development, site ‘furniture’ was added to the Rim Campground. After ‘experimenting’ with a particular type of log table—one designed to be more ‘fitting to an area of this nature than the usual milled type of table,’—a number of table and bench combinations (picnic tables) were constructed of Port Orford cedar and placed throughout the campground (Lange, to the Chief Architect, November 1935). In 1936, additional picnic tables, twenty fireplaces, and thirty more sites were added. Over the next few years, replanting efforts continued, log tables and benches were brought in, and a general maintenance program was underway for the area. Log and stone barriers were added to the campground beginning in 1938 in the hopes that they would prevent cars from hitting trees, running over vegetation, and in general, control parking within individual campsites. New sites and additional parking areas were added as late as 1939 (Lange, Report to the Chief Architect, 1934).

Only one building was constructed at Rim Village during this second period of development. In 1937, a rustic style comfort station was designed for a site at the east end of the large parking area fronting the Cafeteria. This building was intended to serve both campers and day visitors. Francis Lange supervised the construction of the building which was to be built of native stone and timber ‘in keeping with the park type of structure’ (Report to the Chief Architect, May 1937). He purposefully set the building back from the curb approximately 30 feet so not to give ‘a crowded appearance to the building in relation to the entire area’ (Lange, to the Chief Architect, June 1937). CCC crews brought in oversized boulders for use as a veneer over the building’s wood frame structure, placing the largest stones on the bottom and decreasing their size as the walls rose. A stone mason named John D. Bowdish completed the exterior stone work, and Lange was so impressed by the CCC enrollee’s skill he remarked in a final narrative report that it represented an excellent piece of work and ‘the type of stone work on this building will serve as a basis for future stone construction on later Rim buildings’ (Lange, to the Chief Architect, Final Report for 1937). Wood siding was used above the stones on the gable ends of the building. It blended nicely with its surroundings and Lange felt the structure was a success, both functionally and aesthetically. The comfort station and pedestrian walks around the building were completed in 1938.

The construction of signs was another aspect of CCC work at Crater Lake (these signs did not last long under the extreme climatic conditions on the rim). Francis Lange found that logs with letters routed into the wood were both effective as signs and they produced the rustic appearance desired for these site details. Large circular slabs of pine, 4 feet in diameter were cut and letters then carved into the wood surface, to provide visitors with necessary park information or directions. In turn, the slabs were set on cut, unpeeled logs to keep them off the ground and improve their visibility. The first three such rustic signs were made for the Rim Drive, the Sinnott Memorial, and the park’s Naturalist service. In 1938 an outdoor workshop was established in one of the CCC camps, and under the supervision of a foreman following approved drawings, the enrollees carved additional rustic signs for placement within the village and throughout the park (Lange, to the Chief Architect, October 1935 and July 1938). These signs had raised letters, special fonts, and orange-yellow in color (Mark, correspondence, 2003).

As projects in Rim Village were completed, new ones were added to the park’s ever present list of ‘future work to be accomplished.’ In 1936 Francis Lange observed the need for sufficient camping, picnicking, and trailer facilities to be developed at the village, as the existing ones were already overtaxed by the park’s growing numbers of visitors (Lange, Report to Regional Landscape Architect on E.C.W. Work at Crater Lake National Park, September 1936). Lange’s monthly narrative reports repeatedly mentioned the need to remove the unsightly and poorly constructed Community House (each fall it required bracing to withstand the yearly snow loads and it did not accommodate the large crowds wishing to assemble therein) and the ‘less dangerous but just as unsightly’ Kiser Studio. Lange proposed the construction of a new Contact Building (a visitor center), one that would serve the tourists’ needs as well as the park’s administrative needs. With a new building in place—one properly located—the older structures could be removed and ‘the entire Rim area will then give a more striking appearance as well as serve a better and more modern need’ (Lange, to the Regional Landscape Architect, Final Narrative Report on the CCC, November December 1936). Other buildings proposed for the village included additional housekeeping cabins for use by the concessionaire. The existing cabins, Lange felt, were poorly arranged, disagreeable to occupy, and lacked many of the other customary accommodations that were typically found in the ‘better type of park operator’s development[s].’ The concessionaire’s lack of maintenance on the cabins was a source of contention for Lange throughout the 1930s. Although possible locations for this new development were discussed between the regional landscape architect (E.A. Davidson) and the park superintendent, new cabins were not erected for many years (Lange, to the Chief Architect, Final Narrative Report on the CCC, November/December 1937). By 1940, however, as part of a contract renewal for the concessionaire, two new deluxe or Ponderosa cabins were built (Mark, correspondence, 2003).

Future landscape work proposed for Rim Village included the need for additional plantings around the large parking area in front of the Lodge and around the Cafeteria; the improvement of the parking area in front of the Cafeteria; the addition of light standards in the campground and the placement of low lights along the south side of the Rim walk; additional log signs; the development of an overlook near the Rim Campground; and the moving of peat, topsoil, plants, shrubs, and sod where needed. Lange made mention several times of the need for maintenance and upkeep of the landscape work completed at the village. Watering and pruning the transplanted material was essential for the life and health of the new plants (Lange, to Regional Landscape Architect, 1936).

With entry of the United States into World War II, construction activity at Rim Village was reduced considerably and the intensive period of development at Crater Lake was over. Park staff and field personnel were lost to the war effort, the public works programs were disbanded, and the park itself switched to a summer only operation. A few small construction projects were completed during this time, all outside of the village proper. With so little staff in place, the Superintendent and his remaining personnel turned their attention to planning for future development during the quiet years ahead (Unrau, 497-8).

The year 1941 marked the end of an era for Crater Lake National Park, the most important era in the park’s history in terms of Rustic design and the implementation of the first master plan at the park. During this time, the park was at its zenith in relation to its importance within the NPS (Mark, written comment, 2003). Although changes to the historic designed landscape at Rim Village have occurred since 1941, they have not been extensive and the primary landscape features, patterns, and overall design character remains with a high degree of integrity. Rim Village is an outstanding example of a landscape that reflects the design ethic of a special period of development and of an era that espoused designing the built environment in a manner that was sympathetic and respectful of the natural landscape.”

–“Cultural Landscapes Inventory, Rim Village Historic District, Crater Lake National Park, 2004”

Source notes

"Cultural Landscapes Inventory, Rim Village Historic District, Crater Lake National Park, 2004," Crater Lake Institute online library.

Location Info

Rim Dr.
Crater Lake, OR 97604

Coordinates: 42.9125 , -122.149167

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