How Higher Ground Breathed New Life Into a Park City Landmark
This winter, while skiing in McConkey’s Bowl or near the Pioneer chairlift at Park City Mountain, pull into Mid-Mountain Lodge, located on skier’s left toward the bottom of the Mid-Mountain Meadows run. With a deck that’s almost large enough to land a plane on, it’s hard to miss. Thirty years ago, the site stood empty, except for a concrete foundation. Then, on September 3, 1987, the 140-ton, former miner’s boarding and dining hall suddenly appeared on this spot. It has been used since as a place to dine and relax during a ski day or to get married against the backdrop of the spectacular Wasatch Mountains in the summer.
The Mid-Mountain Lodge almost didn’t make it, however. Back in the mid-1980s, previous owners of the resort planned to bulldoze it as they had so many other mining-era structures. But a group of history-minded locals fought to save it. The lodge’s original location was just above where the bottom terminal of the Bonanza chairlift resides today; a sign referencing where it once stood can be seen on the right as you board the lift. That concrete hut burrowed into the hillside was the building’s safe, used to hold the miners’ payroll.
The Silver King Boarding House was constructed in 1896. The Park Record was impressed, observing that “it has hot and cold running water, electric lights, and every modern improvement. It is a monument to progressive management of the company.” Later, the (now defunct) Salt Lake Mining Review was even more amazed, running a story about the building that read, in part, “All miners have heard of the famed dining hall, which is run at a loss to the company of several thousand dollars a year.” In addition to feeding the miners in style, the structure’s second floor housed offices and bedrooms used by mine executives when they had to stay overnight.
Early pictures show the building with a grass lawn and white picket fence. Interior shots show Chinese waiters clad in impeccable white aprons serving rows of tables seated with hungry miners. Thomas Kearns was one of the owners of the Silver King, one of Park City’s richest mines. The Mining Review asked, “Why such extravagance?” and then answered with “Mr. Kearns insists no food is too good for men who do hard labor.”
The boarding and dining hall was closed in the 1950s following the decline of silver mining. The US Ski Team housed its athletes there briefly in the 1970s, but the lodge was drafty and hard to get to. By the mid-1980s, the building had sat unused for years.
At the same time, snow-grooming machines were getting bigger, and resort snowcat drivers found the old boarding house was in the way. When local historian and then-Park City Museum director (and former editor of this magazine) David Hampshire, caught wind of the resort’s plans to tear it down, he rallied support to save it. He went first to the city’s Historic Preservation Committee, where he got a sympathetic ear from committee member and builder Harry Reed. Reed convinced local entrepreneur Vince Donile and resort owner Nick Badami that the historic structure deserved a second life. Badami had just opened new ski terrain with the installation of the Pioneer lift and needed a restaurant and restrooms nearby. Donile agreed to fix the place up and run it as a restaurant on a 20-year lease.
The next step was to move it without the whole thing collapsing. The almost 100-year-old building had to travel 3,000 linear feet while climbing 500 feet. Resort staff cut a road to fit the building through the forest. House mover Bob Wells, a gruff, no-nonsense expert at such feats, estimated the building’s weight at 140 tons and ordered a fleet of bulldozers, lining them up on the downhill side of the building to push as well as act as a brake if the whole thing started rolling backwards. (It turned out only one bulldozer was needed to push the building while five others were held in reserve.) When the old building had been moved only about 10 feet, the gathered crowd heard a loud explosion and thought the worst.
It turned out that it was only a flat tire on one of the trolleys placed under the building. Donile asked how many spares Wells still had for the job. “One more,” Wells replied, while Reed cracked up at the reaction on Donile’s face.
But one was enough. After changing the blown tire, the slow move resumed without a hitch. Within an hour, the newly christened Mid-Mountain Lodge arrived at its current home. Donile photographed his dog with its leash tied to the lodge and told everyone it “only took seven cats and one dog to move it.” It then took a year and a million dollars to restore it. Donile ran the Mid-Mountain Lodge restaurant, well-known for its mashed potatoes served “swimming” in gravy, until 2007. The restaurant is now part of Park City Mountain’s food and beverage operations and is renowned for the Mid-Mountain burger.
It took risk-takers with a love for Park City’s rich history to save the lodge 30 years ago this winter. We all owe them thanks for one of the ski world’s more interesting places to wolf down a burger.
Larry Warren, a longtime Park City writer and recently retired general manager of Park City’s public NPR radio station, KPCW, witnessed firsthand the amazing feat to relocate the Mid-Mountain Lodge on September 3, 1987.