The Pilot Butte Inn’s grand alpine silhouette dominated Bend’s skyline for more than 50 years.
Home to weddings and funerals, balls and banquets, the inn was Bend’s social center and more from the time of its opening in 1917. The inn was Bend, old-timers said.
Overlooking the comings and goings of businessmen and ladies’ auxiliaries, travelers and tradesmen, famous guests from Eleanor Roosevelt to Ty Cobb, was a wooden boar’s head that jutted from the end of a sign post on the front of the inn. A traditional symbol of hospitality, the boar’s head was a defining symbol of the Pilot Butte Inn.
And when the inn was demolished in 1973, the boar’s head disappeared.
This week, the Deschutes County Historical Society accepted the boar’s head into its collection.
Kelly Cannon-Miller, executive director of the Des Chutes Historical Museum, called the boar one of the “holy grails” of local history — long lost, long sought. She said there were many “happy shouts” in the historical museum upon its arrival.
All this time, the boar has been in the home of Bob and Virginia Shive, longtime Central Oregon residents who serendipitously came into possession of the boar in 1973, and now want it to live on in Bend.
“It has never been out of Central Oregon,” they said in their deed of gift granting ownership of the boar to the museum. “It is our wish that the boar’s head never leave Bend, Ore.”
In June of 1973, a 5,000-pound wrecking ball brought down 150-plus rooms of local stone and native timber that had stood above the Deschutes River at the corner of Wall Street and Newport Avenue for as long as most could remember. Now, the curves and copper of the Columbia River Bank Building stand on the site.
Built like a Swiss chalet with a steeply pitched roof, hewn timber siding and white wood-framed windows, the Pilot Butte Inn had once been Bend’s finest hotel, the grand hotel east of the Cascades. Dirt streets crossed at its front entry, where lumbermen strode in to stay while buying tracts of forest land, and hunters hung dead deer for photo ops. The inn accommodated all of Bend’s early players — ranchers, hunters, railroad men, timber barons. It originally had 60 rooms, with a large dining room, private ladies’ dining room, music room, billiard and card room, and a secret wine cellar in the basement. It had steam heat and its foundations were built to support five stories. Additions in 1925 and 1930 expanded its size to 150 rooms. The boar’s head, Cannon-Miller said, was “a great indication of the level of detail that building had.”
But time and neglect took their toll on the Pilot Butte Inn. Lack of maintenance, absentee owners and back taxes left the once-grand hotel without a steward. It went into receivership in 1965. Soon after, the state fire marshal restricted its use by the public to the ground floor. The upper, wooden floors were too unsafe without a sprinkler system, the marshal said.
Between 1965 and 1973, the inn sold four times, including twice at public auction on the courthouse steps.
Several community groups attempted to save the inn, but no one could make it work. Ultimately, the hotel met its end in a heap of rubble.
Pieces of history
“The inn is kind of the thing that broke everyone’s heart in that really, historical preservation is something you only get one shot at,” Cannon-Miller said. In today’s preservation-minded climate, the inn may have been saved. But in 1973, there was little support for the movement to preserve it.
But plenty of people wanted to save parts of it. Before the demolition, Central Oregonians picked the inn apart, taking souvenirs from the hotel in the form of doorknobs, dishes, key fobs and more.
“When it was coming down, everyone was gathering bits from it and saving it,” Cannon-Miller said.
It was at that time that the Shives inquired about buying the boar’s head from the hotel owner. They were told the boar had already been promised to a local dentist, according to the story accompanying their deed of gift.
“A few days later, we were in our Volkswagen Beetle in the intersection and there in the middle of the road was the boar’s head!” they wrote. “Without thinking, we jumped out of the car, ran and picked up the boar’s head and as many pieces (as) we could get.”
The owner later told them they could keep it, they wrote . “And the boar’s head has been with us since.”
It remains damaged. The boar is missing its right ear and tusk and some other pieces from that region of its face, Cannon-Miller said.
“The wood is very dry,” she said. “He’s beyond the point of restoration. We’ll leave it as-is — the destruction is part of his story.”
The boar is being cataloged in the museum’s collection processing area, but later this year will join other Pilot Butte Inn memorabilia in a second-floor exhibit about the inn. Among the items on display are menus, keys, dishes, a party invitation, and the original Pilot Butte Inn sign the boar watched over for all those years.
— Reporter: 541-383-0308, email@example.com