It was the end of an era, this year, when Alpenfest had to move from its 40-year venue of the Edelweiss Inn to tents pitched at the Wallowa Lake State Park marina.
“It wasn’t condemned or anything, despite rumors,” Edelweiss co-owner Mike Lockhart said. “It just wasn’t in a condition to be used for events.”
He said the building’s roof is its biggest problem. Indeed, on Thursday, Oct. 3, one could see several places where melting snow was dripping inside.
“We’ve been fighting that for over 15 years,” Lockhart said.
He estimated it would be cost-prohibitive to refurbish the century-old structure.
“It’d be well into the seven digits,” he said.
Chuck Anderson, the alpenmeister of Alpenfest, said it was sad that the festival wouldn’t be able to return to the inn. The organization would plan to use tents again next year.
“We’re not planning to go back,” Anderson said. “We appreciate that it was available to us for 40 years,” noting that Alpenfest always had use of the building for free.
As for the Edelweiss, Lockhart and partner Bill Whittemore, of La Grande, have no definite plans for the building at this time. He said he’d like to build another similar building and use some of the Edelweiss Inn’s materials, though it wouldn’t necessarily be at the same site. He said a venue is needed for weddings, receptions and other such occasions at Wallowa Lake.
The Edelweiss was built in 1918, Lockhart said, with the intent of using it as an Elks Lodge. However, when Prohibition was implemented early in 1920, that fell through. With a solid wood floor and wide-open interior, the building was used as a roller-skating rink, a place for dances and receptions, and has largely sat idle for decades other than for occasional events.
“When we acquired the tram in 1984, it wasn’t in great shape then,” Lockhart said of the inn. “It never generated enough income to keep it going,” he said.
Right now, Lockhart and Whittemore are focused on upgrading the Wallowa Lake Tramway, now that it’s shut down for the season. They’re refurbishing it for next year; their crews adding new windows, fabric and seats to the tram cars; painting all 25 towers that hold nearly 2 miles of cable that are pulled by a 150 hp electric motor on the 3,800-foot rise to the summit of Mount Howard.
But Lockhart doesn’t really want to see the historic building torn down or scrapped.
“I’ve had lotta people calling in and wanting to salvage the stuff from the building, but we’re not interested in that,” Lockhart said.