WALLOWA LAKE — Residents in Wallowa County have long hoped that the iconic Edelweiss Inn at Wallowa Lake could be restored. But it’s looking less and less like such a miracle will occur.
“The cost is what’s making that thing impossible to restore. It would be a virtual rebuild,” co-owner Mike Lockhart said. “It would be a fairly major job.”
He said work is needed on the century-old building’s foundation, roof, flooring and nearly everything in between.
Lockhart and co-owner Bill Whittemore even looked into grants offered by the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office for work on historic properties and archaeology projects.
The annual Preserving Oregon grants provide up to $20,000 in matching funds. But they require that buildings be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Such a listing would be too restrictive for the partners’ liking, Lockhart said.
Ten years ago, Lockhart and Whittemore had a construction company look at fully restoring the Edelweiss. The estimated cost was around $1.5 million.
“There just isn’t enough business to fund that kind of development of the building,” Lockhart said. “We’d need a lump sum of $3 million to redo that building.”
“I can’t say we would turn down a very large grant, but that’s what it would take,” he said.
He and Whittemore have owned the Edelweiss and the adjacent Wallowa Lake Tramway since 1984, along with the 14 acres they’re situated upon.
Lockhart and Whittemore have considered other alternatives that they can’t discuss right now, but will know more sometime next month. They’ve been working with possible partners in the project for a couple of years.
One possibility is to dismantle the current Edelweiss and use its unique materials in something smaller.
“We’d like to take a lot of the materials in that building to build something like a replica,” he said.
Chuck Anderson, alpenmeister of the annual Oregon Alpenfest, looks favorably on the idea of a new venue that includes at least some historic vestiges of the old building. Until last fall the Alpenfest had taken place in the Edelweiss, and on its grounds.
The Oregon State Parks Department has a revised comprehensive plan that calls for a new event center to be built on part of the Wallowa Lake Marina parking lot, where the 2019 Alpenfest was held under rented tents. But it just won’t be the same, Anderson said.
Anderson and Lockhart agreed there’s a need for an events center at the lake, such as the Edelweiss has been. In addition to the Alpenfest, it’s also served as a venue for weddings, meetings and a variety of gatherings.
“The use of that building is something we really see the Wallowa Lake Tourist Association wanting to see how we could” restore it, Lockhart said.
However, there’s also a need for more parking in the Wallowa Lake Village, and particularly at the tramway.
“The tram business is growing and it needs the parking,” Lockhart said. “Also, the village needs more parking in general.”
Lockhart and Anderson lamented the end of an era during which the Edelweiss hosted the Alpenfest since 1975, as well as dances and rollerskating in its 1920s-1950s heyday.
“It’d be beautiful if we could continue to use it but it’s just too old,” Anderson said. “I feel sad about that, but it’s just a fact of life.”
“I hate to see it deteriorate,” Lockhart said. “Something’s got to be done. It’s just not a viable building.”