Titlow Lodge is a lot of things to a lot of people.
It is a wedding venue, a picnic site, and a glimpse into Tacoma’s rich and colorful past.
But to Betty Martin, Titlow Lodge was home.
Martin, 79, spent her childhood living in Titlow Lodge with her parents, Carl and Geneva Larson. Her father was hired as the assistant superintendent of parks for Tacoma in 1945 and moved into the historic lodge that summer. When Carl was killed in an automobile accident in 1955, Martin’s mother remained caretaker of the property until her retirement in 1973.
“Titlow Beach was a different community,” Martin said. “Everybody knew everybody.”
The Martins were among many local residents, city officials and historical decedents to celebrate the centennial and grand re-opening of Titlow Lodge on June 18.
The celebration kicked off with a tour of the recently renovated lodge, discussion about its transformation from a high-end hotel to a public gathering place, and historical tidbits about its caretakers and former owner Aaron Titlow.
“The lodge isn’t just a building,” said Melissa McGinnis, historic and cultural resource manager for Metro Parks. “It’s a caretaker of memories.”
A century-old Craftsman style lodge started in 1911 as a three-and-a-half story Swiss chalet-style destination known as the Hotel Hesperides. The hotel was the centerpiece of a waterfront resort owned by lawyer and entrepreneur Aaron R. Titlow. It was designed by well-known Tacoma architect Frederick Heath. Heath also designed Stadium High School and Lincoln High School, the former National Realty Building (currently Key Bank regional headquarters in downtown Tacoma) and the Central School Building.
The hotel offered many luxury amenities for its time, including hot and cold running fresh and saltwater. The main dining room, now used as a public gathering place, was adorned with 20 Tiffany ceiling lamps. The hotel offered fresh milk, eggs, chicken, vegetables, fruit and berries from the on-site farm also located on the 200-acre property.
By the 1923, the hotel was no longer profitable, and Titlow closed it.
“Sometimes it is all about timing,” McGinnis said. “Maybe it wasn’t the right time to try and launch a big cap adventure like this.”
Following his death in 1928, the hotel was acquired by Metro Parks Tacoma and was renamed Titlow Beach Lodge.
With financial issues plaguing the park district during the Great Depression, in 1937 a Works Progress Administration project removed the top two stories of guest rooms and reconfigured the main floor as a public space for community use. The lodge reopened in 1941 and four years later, the Martin family became caretakers of the property until 1973. Charnell Scotton moved into the lodge in 1973 and was the last parks employee to live there until 1990.
THE PUBLIC’S LODGE
A century after its doors first opened, the lodge received its newest renovation this spring, which included a new roof, floors and restoration of the original windows. The last major renovation work on the lodge building was done in 1992 and included structural, mechanical and electrical upgrades.
At the centennial celebration and grand re-opening last Saturday, decedents of Titlow, Heath and the lodge’s caretakers shared stories and memories.
While Martin was growing up, the lodge always had a steady stream of visitors, she said. It served as a local train stop, and it was located near a main ferry terminal with rides to Gig Harbor. She never thought growing up in a public park was unusual.
“I thought everyone lived just like I did,” Martin said.
When she got older and married, Martin brought her children to the lodge to spend time with her mother and celebrate holidays.
“It’s been fabulous to be a part of this history,” said Pete Mayer, great grandson of Aaron Titlow and parks and recreation director for the city of Vancouver, Wash.
“This lodge has been a fabulous asset. I know what an asset like this can bring to a community,” he said.
McGinnis said many pieces to the Titlow historical puzzle have been lost or forgotten over time. The celebration not only showcased restoration work to the lodge, it helped shed light on its history.
“We’ve really never been able to get a real handle on the Titlows’ history,” McGinnis said. “It’s been wonderful to hear the family stories.”