An Expensive Restroom?
Perched atop Crown Point, one of the most majestic vantage points in the Gorge, Vista House offers tourists a combination of natural beauty, striking architecture and colorful history.
The octagonal building stands 733 feet above the river and serves mainly as a rest station, observatory and pioneer memorial. Designed by Edgar M. Lazarus and completed in 1918, Vista House consists of a basement with restrooms and a gift shop below a ground floor rotunda with stairs leading to an elevated viewing platform. The exterior is sandstone with a green tile roof over stained glass windows. The interior features marble, bronze and numerous architectural details.
Cannon fire highlights the highway dedication and Vista House groundbreaking event at Crown Point on June 7, 1916. (Oregon State Archives, Oregon Supreme Court Photos)
A crowd gathers for the dedication of Vista House on May 5, 1918. (Oregon State Archives, Oregon State Highway Department Photo No. 4525)
Originally budgeted at $12,000, expanding design goals caused costs to balloon to $100,000 by completion. Multnomah County picked up most of the expense. Legend has it that some critics, outraged by the bill, deemed the building the “$100,000 Outhouse.”
While the enthusiastic approval of millions of visitors from around the world proved the critics wrong, the building has cost a great deal of money to maintain over the decades. Winds of over 100 miles per hour are not that rare on the exposed Crown Point. The vagaries of freeze-thaw cycles also wreak havoc on the structure. State officials tried several restoration projects over the decades, with some attempts causing further damage. In 2001, officials finally closed Vista House for almost five years to comprehensively restore the site and make it more accessible.
The ceiling of Vista House. (Oregon State Archives, Scenic Image No. 20150618-3576)
A vintage postcard shows Vista House and Crown Point. (Wikimedia Commons)
Reinforcing the beauty of the site as built, a Vista House plaque notes 1915 plans for “a massive hotel to wrap around Crown Point.” This inspiring place could have been very different.