Dan Taylor and his Steiner cabinThe ongoing legacy of Mount Hood’s archetypal architecture posted on 08/01/2018
Henry Steiner didn’t imagine his cabins would last
generations. Constructed around Mount Hood during the first half of the 20th
century by the German master craftsman and his family, the cabins were intended
as vacation homes for Portlanders that would last for 20 or 30 years before
succumbing to the elements.
“(They) didn’t think the cabins would be there … they were
trying to send people home with a paycheck,” said log cabin builder Mark
Fritch, relaying his conversations with Henry’s son, John Steiner, about the
construction of the acclaimed cabins, many of which were crafted during the
hardships of the Great Depression. Fritch formed a friendship with John during
John’s later years and works to repair and maintain the family-built cabins.
Nestled on the banks of Henry Creek in Rhododendron, two
Steiner cabins have recently seen dramatic restoration. One cabin has been
thoroughly modernized as a contemporary family retreat while maintaining the
classic details of Steiner craftsmanship. The other is in the midst of a lengthy
renovation to return the cabin to its 1935 condition.
Both cabins will be part of the 14th annual Steiner Cabin
Tour on Saturday, Aug. 11. The tour is conducted by the Mt. Hood Cultural
Center and Museum and is currently sold out.
Fritch said that John Steiner described to him how the
scarcity of the era had led the family to employ resourceful building methods
that utilized available materials in the surrounding land, with little thought
of creating a lasting historic impact. Now the nearly hundred-year-old
structures are praised for their artistic and skilled construction, have been
recognized on the National Register of Historic Places and stand as iconic
examples of the Oregon Rustic Style architectural movement.
Two thoughtful restorations
Dan Taylor fell in love with Steiner cabins during college
in the seventies while staying at his friend Dan Kavanaugh’s family cabin. The
two school friends ran power to an old outbuilding on the property they
nicknamed “The Natural High” and used it as a summer hangout for their
adventures on the mountain.
Years later when the opportunity to purchase a 1932 Steiner
cabin down the street from his friend’s place came up, Taylor jumped on the
opportunity, purchasing the cabin with his brother and sister. The vacation home
came with a quirky midcentury remodel with orange shag carpet, lime green vinyl
flooring and a stove with only three working burners. It served as a happy
family get away for many years.
After years of family use and with children growing up and
going off to school, Dan and his wife Mary Kay found themselves the sole owners
of the cabin. They embarked on an extensive restoration to modernize the cabin
while retaining the original Steiner character with the aid of Fritch and
Portland designer Rhoda Divers.
The rehabilitation involved plumbing and electrical updates
and hefty structural repairs, including replacing rotting support logs in a
corner of the house. The Steiner cabins were constructed without foundations
and frequently develop rot in the sill logs on the ground level.
“We tried to match and maintain the integrity of the
original look,” Taylor said while describing the intensive process of sanding
and staining replacements to match the existing logs after 80 years of exposure
to the elements.
The Taylors pulled up the carpets and vinyl flooring in the
kitchen to reveal beautiful fir floors and stained the wood interior of the
cabin to create a warm and inviting living space. Foundation rot in the kitchen
posed another challenge and required enlisting a mill to source wood to match
the old fir planks and cut new flooring.
They discovered masonry constructed by John Steiner behind a
hearth added years after original construction. They also restored the original
windows, maintaining the signature Steiner red frames.
Other elements of the cabin have been brought into the
modern era, including opening up the living space with a kitchen island with
granite countertops, replacing the old three-burner stove, restructuring of the
bathrooms and adding space-efficient cabinetry to the mudroom. The rear deck
has been expanded to flow down to the creek and add additional room for
congregating in concurrence with Henry Steiner’s intention that the stream
would be a focal point for cabin life.
The end result is a home the family loves that maintains the
comforting elements of a classic log cabin while adding modern elegance and
“It’s a cozy, fun home … it’s very enjoyable,” said Taylor
about the finished cabin.
Further downstream lies George and Binnur Jutras’s 1935
Steiner cabin, also undergoing major rehabilitation. George discovered the
cabin while on a mountaineering trip to climb Mount Hood and is determined to
return the cabin to its historic state for use as a base camp for his climbing
trips and explorations of the region.
The Jutras’s cabin had not been heavily altered by previous
owners and was in close to original condition when the family acquired it,
although in need of major repair.
“It’s not just a log cabin … it’s a lot of history
involved,” George said while describing his approach to the restoration. “I
want to bring it back to the condition it was in after the last nail was
George is also working with Fritch to address structural
issues the cabin faces. Two large firs towered over a corner of the cabin when
purchased, and their roots caused the cabin to tilt at a precipitous angle.
“If you put a ball on one end it would roll to the other,”
Jutras said about the extent of shifting that had occurred to the cabin.
The firs were laboriously excavated and removed before the
cabin was leveled and placed on a new foundation. The foundation repairs
revealed that the sill logs, as well as some vertical logs in the kitchen, were
plagued with rot and had to be replaced.
The roof has been returned to cedar shake, while the Jutras
family sourced materials from a dilapidated Steiner cabin on Hwy. 26 to replace
five rotted-out windows with originals and provide replacement planks for the
The cabin features many notable Steiner design elements
including a sunburst gable, a snow-bent log bannister, doorknobs and curtain
rods fashioned from gnarled tree roots and bay windows in a kitchen alcove
opening onto the creek. It contains signature masonry work by John Steiner, who
used basaltic fieldstone to construct the fireplace.
The cabin had slowly settled over the past 80 years, causing
the fireplace to tilt and eventually split and crack along the back. While
leveling and reconstructing the cabin, Fritch discovered large scorch marks on
the logs in the wall behind the fireplace. “It was two or three large fires
away from burning down,” Fritch stated.
With these issues resolved, the cabin is well on its way to
returning to its original state. The Jutras have even procured a 1934 stove
refurbished to use propane and a retrofitted 1930 refrigerator to painstakingly
recreate the detail of the era.
“I want to make it feel like you’ve stepped back in time,”
George said about his family’s project of transforming the historic Steiner
cabin.By Benjamin Simpson/MT