Updated September 17, 2021 - 7:49 pm
For Las Vegas Valley residents, the Mount Charleston Lodge was a setting for wedding photos, a primo picnic spot and a place to visit to escape the summer heat or enjoy the beauties of fall while enjoying a nice meal or sipping a drink amid the pines.
For those who live on the mountain, the lodge was all that plus a corner bar, a community gathering spot, a surefire place to impress visiting guests and even, for some mountain kids, the site of their first real jobs.
The lodge’s history incorporates the memories of the countless visitors who stopped by over the years. And even if Friday’s early morning fire destroyed the beloved Mount Charleston getaway, it does nothing to singe the memories that are sure to remain.
For as long as the valley has hosted humans, Mount Charleston has been a place to escape the heat. As early as 1915, valley residents had begun trekking to the mountain for recreational purposes that typically involved day trips or camping, said Mark Hall-Patton, local historian and former Clark County museum administrator.
By the mid-1930s, the mountain and its attractions even were included in advertising efforts, with brochures “advertising going to Lake Mead and going to Mount Charleston and going horseback riding and those outdoor kinds of activities,” Hall-Patton said.
In January 1962, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported how, in 1915, E.W. Griffith opened the earliest iteration of a Mount Charleston lodge — the story calls it both a “resort” and a “lodge” — made up of 15 wood-floored tents and a corrugated iron dining room.
“Set deep in the pines, with a tiny stream flowing past the resort, Mt. Charleston lodge was a success from the start,” the paper said.
Meanwhile, other news reports indicate that a previous lodge on the site of the current lodge had been in operation since at least 1948. In December 1961, the building on the site was destroyed in a fire, and construction of a new lodge began in 1962.
In 1974, Collie and Barbara Orcutt bought the lodge. The Orcutts were true owner-operators who “lived down the street from the lodge,” said Angie Tomashowski, who, with her husband, Garry, has lived on the mountain for 33 years. “They were very involved in the community.”
The lodge, too, was a key part of the community. It was where locals gathered, Tomashowski said, and “where mountain kids got their first job. (The Orcutts) were very supportive.”
In 2018, the Ellis Island casino in Las Vegas bought the lodge. Collie Orcutt has died, Tomashowski said, and Barbara moved out of state.
“We’d have different community get-togethers there, whether supporting the elementary school or the volunteer fire department,” Tomashowski said. “We’d have fundraisers. It was just a special place, too, for locals who just want to go down the street and have dinner.”
“I used to go (there) all the time,” said Paul Bowler, who’s from England and has owned a cabin on the mountain since 2012. “It was really nice for me because they used to do a nice fish and chips, and it was only 20 minutes from my cabin.”
The lodge offered “a good, community feel-good factor,” said Bowler, who expects its absence will be “massive for tourism. There are, I think, a lot of people who go to eat there after a nice hike.”
Its loss, he said, “is going to make a huge difference.”
Also missed will be the lodge’s authentically rustic feel. It saw “some improvement over the years, but what really made it so special was it’s still very authentic in how it’s always been,” Tomashowski said.
“They had the original ’60s wood paneling,” said Garry Tomashowski.”That was never changed. The original fireplace, the original single panel windows. It was literally a blast from the past. Nothing ever changed.”
“It’s been a real treasure for a lot of Southern Nevadans,” Angie Tomashowski said.
So what if the Mount Charleston Lodge may not have the frontline historical oomph of some other Las Vegas landmarks. There’s no reason to think Bugsy Siegel ever stopped by. Evel Knievel never jumped a motorcycle over it. Frank and Dino never took over the room at midnight.
But none of that makes the loss of the Mount Charleston Lodge any less significant.
“I think from a historical standpoint, as part of the history of the mountain and the cultural history here, yes, it has a role in local history,” Hall-Patton said, and its loss “is a loss to local history, certainly.”