Building a legacy log by log
In every community, there are families whose names have been revered for decades, if not centuries.
Boring is still home to the family of the town's namesake. Generations of Sandy's founding families — the Proctors, Meinigs, Ten Eycks, Jonsruds and others — have remained in their ancestral community, but on Mount Hood, one name is synonymous with the settlement and historical architecture of the area: Steiner.
Henry Steiner, an immigrant of Germany, settled with his family in Brightwood in the early 20th century. He is best known for the 100 or so log cabins he and his sons built all around Oregon, from Rockaway to Roseburg to Rhododendron between 1925 and 1952.
At least 80 of those structures still stand today, under the ownership of several different families. They are maintained as a tribute to a simpler way of life and the architectural feat and talent of the Steiner family. For 18 years, the Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum has offered an annual tour of these cabins, with the presiding families around to answer questions and help with the tour. It's become almost as well-known as the name Steiner. Tickets for the tour sell out within hours of going on sale, as many from all over the state have made it a tradition to attend the event.
While the COVID-19 crisis has postponed the annual Steiner Cabin Tours for this year, the history and tradition the cabins hold, remain with those families who've come to call them home (or home away from home).
Just a short drive off of Highway 26, in Rhododendron, is a cluster of Steiner Cabins, nestled among other mountain residences and fir trees.
One such cabin, owned by Brad and Jewel Stockli, is called Laughing Bear Cabin, and is actually one of the few Steiners available to rent.
Though the Stocklis only purchased the cabin in 2001, the log structure was built in 1930. Buying the cabin was a way for Brad to relive some of his best childhood memories.
"Since I was a little kid, my favorite show was 'Grizzly Adams,'" Brad explained.
Growing up in Alaska, Brad's family would often take a floatplane from their home to stay in one of the several Forest Service cabins in remote parts of the state.
"Back then, I thought one day I'm going to build my own cabin in the woods. I have very fond memories of those days in Alaska," Brad said.
In the early 2000s, the Stocklis were travelling over Mount Hood when they stopped at the Zig Zag Inn (built in the style of William Lenz, a contemporary of Steiner) for a bite to eat.
"We didn't know this area," he said. "We'd only passed through."
But during that meal, they couldn't help but note and admire the log cabin feel of the mountain restaurant, and eventually, after 12 years of living in Portland, they felt called back up to the mountain.
Though the Stocklis don't live in their Steiner cabin, they have fond memories from parties and holidays spent there.
Over the years, they've spent ample family time at the cabin, making memories with family members who've since passed. Brad remarked that he was happy to have had the Steiner while his father was still around. Throughout his childhood, Brad's father had created many happy memories around cabins for him, so being able to bring him to his own cabin felt full circle. They've also made it a custom that every winter they furnish the cabin with a living Christmas tree, which is decorated with handmade ornaments then later donated or planted.
"I just have the best memories as a child of those places," Brad said. "This cabin was a compromise, as for comfort and convenience, but still has that historical feel."
Since they rent out the cabin the majority of the time, the Stocklis are mostly there for holidays, like their annual Halloween bash, but they enjoy renting it to allow other people enjoy the cabin.
"We try to keep the place feeling like the period in which it was created," Brad said. Besides a more modern metal roof, insulation, electrical, a few kitchen fixtures and an added staircase, the cabin is mostly in its original form. When repairs or renovations are made, the Steiner style is taken into consideration. "Here we've been maintaining this thing and trying to keep it as historical as possible. If you want to fully experience a Steiner, you'd have to do it with us."
Renters have also made some far less permanent additions over the last few decades. For rhyme or reason unknown to the Stocklis, it has become a tradition that people add to the collection of plush bears the couple inherited when they bought the house. This collection is displayed in the cabin year-round.
"We must have a few hundred," Brad said. "And we've never bought one ourselves."
Had the tour gone to plan this year, the Laughing Bear Cabin would have been among those featured. The Stocklis have participated in the tour already three times and enjoy not only the consequential advertising they receive but the social aspect of the affair.
"The people that come through are just the most pumped up individuals," Brad explained. "We also get to meet other cabin owners. It's fun to see people excited. We hear a lot of 'We just didn't know until we came up here.'"
Just down the road from the Laughing Bear is the Still Th'air, owned by Steve and Judi Graeper. Ownership of the Still Th'air has been a family affair since 1942, 10 years after it was commissioned and built for Susette Franzetti, original owner of the Rhododendron Inn, which was very popular in its day.
Steve explained that Franzetti had once owned the entire peninsula where his and several other Steiner cabins on Road 20 now sit. Franzetti, Steve said, subdivided the land for summer homes before commissioning Henry Steiner and his sons, John and Fred, to build cabins. The Graeper's cabin was bought shortly after by a Mrs. Bratt, a theater owner from Portland, and a friend of the Graeper family.
As someone also in the business of building cinemas and interested in buying Bratt's theater, W.A. Graeper (Steve's grandfather) went to strike a deal with Bratt. When he asked about buying the Oregon Theatre, she said: "No, but do you want to buy a mountain cabin?"
W.A. Graeper then encouraged his son William to buy the Still Th'air, which he did — for $1,500.
"It's been in the family ever since," Steve said. "My entire life I spent summers up here. The last day of school, we'd always pack up the station wagon and go up the mountain. Then around Labor Day we'd pack it all back up, winterize the cabin, and go home."
Steve still resides full-time in Portland but enjoys regular trips up the mountain. While some men buy boats in their retirement, Steve has the Still Th'air to maintain.
"Because of growing up up here, my heart is up here," Steve explained.
Though he lives in Portland, Steve is very involved in the Rhododendron (Rhody) community, serving for years as president of the Rhododendron Community Planning Organization and a member of the Rhododendron Water Association board, while also leading the Rhody Rising group to revitalize the community. "I have no real skin in the game other than I just love this area."
Similar to the Stocklis, one of Steve's fondest memories of the Steiner cabin is a Christmas he celebrated there in the 1960s with his parents and siblings.
"We spent a Christmas here just after the Columbus Day storm," he explained. A tree had come down on the family's Portland home, so they retreated to the cabin. "Spending Christmas up here with the family was really special."
His father, William, took the opportunity of being there for Christmas to fell an old fir he'd been wanting to be rid of and chopped off the top for a tree, which the children then decorated with popcorn and paper chains.
Other memories Steve holds dear include childhood rendezvous with his first girlfriend as a pre-teen and swimming in the Still Creek swimming hole with other boys from the neighborhood.
"The cabin, to me, is like an old grandma who lived by herself, but when people come to visit, she breaks into a big smile and wraps her arms around and welcomes everyone," Steve said. "It's almost like a living breathing entity. It's not just a house."
After his mother died in 2000, Steve gained pride of ownership, and he already has a plan to pass the house down to his daughter Melyssa.
"She has the same feel that I do about (this cabin)," he explained. "She comes up here whenever she needs to get away."
Besides his obvious bias from years of family memories made at the Still Th'air, Steve says there are numerous other qualities that make the cabin unique from other Steiners.
For example, the Still Th'air is a single-wall cabin, as opposed to the typical log construction the Steiners were known for. It wasn't until this year that the structure received a metal roof and insulation to help it weather its next 88 years.
"I take a great deal of pride in having ownership and maintaining the Steiner," Steve said. "I want to be true to the Steiner tradition."
That uniqueness is part of why Steve has happily participated in nine of the 18 annual cabin tours.
"(I enjoy) meeting the people that come through and have a love and appreciation for Steiner cabins," he said. "I like being able to show them the uniqueness and beauty of what the Steiner is."
In the final years of his life, Henry Steiner's son John, who worked on about 50 of the 100 cabins Steiner built, visited the Still Th'air and talked with Steve.
Steve says it was always his father William's desire to meet the man who built his cabin, who he believed was Henry Steiner.
But, while talking to Steve, John said he had done the lion's share of the work himself.
"It was built in 90 days," Steve explained. "John said: 'We built it cheap and we built it fast' and he was surprised it was still standing (in 2006). And I fulfilled my dad's dream of meeting the man who built this house."
The Steiner Cabin Tour is planned for next year, August 6, 2021, and will be particularly special since the community will also be celebrating a belated centennial.
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