Timberline Lodge and Oregon State Hospital

June 30, 2009 — One’s a ski lodge; the other’s a mental hospital. Other than that, the two edifices at topic here have enough in common to be a set of matching bookends. For instance, they’re both nationally recognized historic buildings. They’re also both located in the state of Oregon. And, most randomly, they’ve both served as filming locales for classic movies starring Jack Nicholson. I visited them both in the span of an afternoon.

The Timberline Lodge was built on the outskirts of Portland in 1936 so close to the pinnacle of Mount Hood that if it were any closer it would be more see-saw than ski lodge. In fact, the very top of Mount Hood looms just behind the lodge in such a way that it makes me wonder what it’s like to have some sleeping Nordic god back up to one’s property. Since its dedication, which was presided over by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Timberline Lodge has been a haven for all those who love to go down inclined surfaces really fast in the cold.

Then, in the late 1970s, director Stanley Kubrick decided its exterior and setting looked just right to stand in for a place called the Overlook Hotel in a movie he was about to film. That movie was, of course, The Shining, and was based, of course, on the Stephen King book of the same name that told the tale of a snowbound off-season Colorado hotel caretaker who gets all axy on his family.

To either avoid or foment confusion (I don’t care which), I’m going to mention that the story was also made into a mini-series in 1997, although that one was filmed at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, and was bereft of anything close to the features of a good story. The one we care about here is the one that featured the murder of the voice of Hong Kong Phooey.

We visited the Timberline in early May, and although the weather was relatively pleasant, tons of snow still hid the ground. In fact, in some places, the snow slanted up in piles tall enough to reach the asymmetrical roof of the lodge, just like in the scene from the movie where Danny Torrance uses a snowdrift as an impromptu slide to escape from a high-up bathroom window right before Jack Nicholson’s Ed McMahon-with-an-ax impersonation.

In fact, the snow was so deep, and the ground on which the lodge sat so the opposite of flat that we couldn’t even walk around the hotel to better take in the whole thing. As a result, we basically hung around in the parking lot while hoards of snowboarders in plastic boots clunked around us like old-school Cylons.

The interior of the Timberline Lodge looks nothing like the interior of the hotel from the movie, which was actually filmed on elaborate sets in a studio in England. The inside of the hotel in the movie looks large and glamorous in an outdated way. The inside of the actual Timberline Lodge looks, well, like a lodge. Warm wood décor, giant stone fireplaces, cozy atmosphere, that kind of stuff. I probably don’t have to tell you no hedge maze outside, either, just an ancillary day lodge dating from the famed 1980s era of architectural achievement sitting incongruously in front and just across the parking lot from the Timberline.

The area has been a filming location for various other movies as well, although never so centrally and in no movie as famous as The Shining. However, one morbidly notable bit of cinematic trivia that could rock those scissors involves the death of Boris Sagal, best known perhaps for directing Charlton Heston in The Omega Man. During production for a mini-series that he was planning to film in the area, he walked into the still-spinning tail rotor of a helicopter that he’d just exited in the parking lot of the Timberline, cutting himself into the type of ribbons you wouldn’t want wrapped around your birthday presents. Of the 99 ways to die, helicopter propeller deaths rank among the most startling and stranger-than-fictions the axe-to-chest and freezing-in-a-hedge-maze deaths that combine to form the entire body count of The Shining.

Now, switching subjects to the much more pleasant topic of lobotomy, just 60 miles southwest of and a few altitude changes below Mount Hood stands the Oregon State Hospital, a grandiose, sprawling 130-year-old psychiatric institution used as the filming location for the 1975 movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which was based on a Ken Kesey book of the same name that illustrated how much it sucks to be trapped in a loony bin.

Starring in this film was, of course, Jack Nicholson, who can play crazy with the best, and often does so, from the aforementioned The Shining to Tim Burton’s Batman. However, in this movie he branched out a bit and played somebody not crazy pretending to be crazy, an effort that garnered him his first Best Actor Oscar from his peers.

Unlike my irregularly celebrated winter tradition of watching The Shining, I’ve only seen Cuckoo’s Nest once, so I don’t have much film commentary to add here. Basically, I can catch a Nurse Ratched reference when one is made and I know what Jack Nicholson looks like with a lobotomy scar. That’s it.

The fictional sanitarium in the book was set in Oregon, and the movie makers decided to film the movie on location there as well, choosing the impressive-looking Oregon State Hospital in the city of Salem.

Oregon State Hospital was built in 1883 and has the same back story of apparently every other historic asylum. Originally called the Oregon State Insane Asylum, it was built beautifully and massively out of brick and grand intentions before entering a period of inmate mis- and/or mal-treatment. However, instead of collapsing under social stigma, financial ruin, and the ever-present threat of residential development, as did its counterparts across the United States, the Oregon State Hospital instead merely caved to the weight of time, being deemed in 2005 as unsafe for continued use. The edifice is currently being demolished to make way for a more modern healthcare facility, although plans are in place to preserve a portion of the building as a museum dedicated to the history of the facility, including its use in Cuckoo’s Nest.

And that’s because unlike The Shining at the Timberline Lodge, Cuckoo’s Nest actually did film inside the Oregon State Hospital. In fact, the hydrotherapy device that Chief Bromden launches through the window when he titularly flies the titular cuckoo’s nest has been preserved by the hospital and will be included in that aforementioned museum. Snazzy.

As you can probably tell by that sudden and incorrect use of outdated slang, I don’t have much else to say about either the Timberline or Oregon State Hospital. That might be because I mostly just hung out in the parking lots of both of these buildings, but still...it seems like I should have more to offer since I stuffed a mountain, two historic structures, and a pair of classic movies into this article.

Actually, I do. These two sites and those two movies have one more thing in common, which I had forgotten about until I visited IMDb.com to double-check the spelling of “Ratched”: the already referenced Scatman Crothers, number one super guy. That is all.