April 24, 2007

McHistory, McArt, McFun

Sure, any Sunday Drive can take you to a regional art or history museum, where you can spend the day wandering past objects in glass cases or viewing carefully lit photos and art. But why not get your art and history packaged together, mix it with a little whimsy and fun and top it all off with a frosty glass of beer and a good meal?

A visit to any of the famed McMenamins lodging establishments in the northwest will give you that - and more.

Brothers Mike and Brian McMenamin began their domination of the hospitality business with a single Portland pub in 1983. More pubs followed, along with breweries, theaters and eventually hotels. Each featured local history and drew artists and craftsmen given the task of bringing the unique nature of the building - and its neighborhood - to life.

Forest Grove's Grand Lodge is the second-largest McMenamins hotel. Seventy-seven "European-style" (a fancy name for no attached bathrooms) are sprinkled throughout the main building, opened by the company in 2000.

From 1920 until 1999 the Grand Lodge was home for elderly Freemasons, their widows or children. Next door to the main building is the Children's Cottage, built to house Mason orphans but not used as such for long. Evidently, the old folks in the main building and the rambunctious children close by didn't mix well.

As it does in all of its establishments, McMenamins - besides restoring the building to its original splendor - thoroughly researched local history before opening the doors of the Grand Lodge. Inside, Mason history and imagery is everywhere, mixed with nods to the original native population, the Atfalati Indians, the retired mountain men and trappers with their native wives, the Dutch and German settlers, the Hispanic and Japanese influences that came with the establishment of Pacific University and the dominance of agriculture in the community.

The Lodge underwent very little remodeling during its nearly 80 years as a home for seniors and its history is evident around every corner. Up a wide and gradual ramp as grand as any splendid staircase (for the residents in wheelchairs - the Lodge didn't have an elevator for many years) is the auditorium. Once used for entertaining residents and Masonic ceremonies, the room is now a movie theater and venue for parties and weddings.

All the rooms in the Lodge are named for a former resident, a person of significance in local or Masonic history, or sometimes even a thing - such as the Boxer Room, for the university mascot. Quirky details can be found around every corner. Artists were commissioned to create paintings, murals and mosaics, many - but not all - paying homage to the building's history. The Lodge's sun rooms are as eclectic as the rest of the building. The Rounder Room is dedicated to American folk music, something with neither Masonic nor regional history but obviously close to the heart of the McMenamin brothers. Likewise the Equinox Room, which honors jazz musician John Coltrane. However, the Billy Scott Room pays tribute to the former Lodge resident, a published poet with pioneer ancestors.

The game room downstairs, which doubles as a small pub, was actually the game room for the residents and the dining room on the main floor is likewise serving the same purpose. Hallways on every floor are hung with historic photographs and original art dedicated to some aspect of life in Forest Grove or the Masonic brotherhood.

One of the more surprising historic and architectural elements - which are nearly sculptural in their grandeur - are the remaining fire escapes for the top floor. Enormous steel slides fall gracefully from upstairs balconies to the grounds below, each nearly five feet wide with tall sides. Signs ask visitors and guests to stay off, but it is surprisingly tempting.

The grounds of the Grand Lodge don't have as much bounty in the realms of history and art but are enjoyable nonetheless. Enormous hedges shield the property from the busy road out front and decades-old trees share space with a modern disc golf course.

The Grand Lodge is a three-and-a-half hour drive from Redmond, a sizeable distance for a Sunday Drive but worth the time. For a shorter history/art/fun outing shave off an hour by checking out to Edgefield in Troutdale or even Old St. Francis School - a mere 25 minutes away in Bend.

-- Story and photo by Leslie Pugmire Hole

1 comment:

Occidental Girl said...

The fire escape on the north side of the building is made of metal and slide-like in appearance so the elderly may alight from the building with assistance. One day after we'd had lunch there my dad joked once that it was for wheelchairs.

I guess it's not very nice, but the image of wheelchairs flying down the ramp (and ending with their occupants unhurt) was hilarious. The picture in the article of the knights with children coming down the slide reminded me of that story, especially sweet since my dad has passed away. He graduated from Forest Grove High School and attended Pacific University.

Forest Grove is worth a weekend visit, especially for Music in May at Pacific, or other event. It's beautiful!