The Spokane Valley lost a curious and colorful piece of its past a couple of weeks ago.
The old Holiday Hills ski lodge, which sat on a lonely knoll just south of Interstate 90 near the Liberty Lake exit, was destroyed by fire on Feb. 25.
Investigators have determined that the blaze was started intentionally. That’s not a big surprise. Vacant since 1977, the place had, in recent years, become a party haunt, littered with broken bottles and beer cans, and plagued by vandalism and arson.
Sadly, it burned down just when it appeared as if there might finally be new life for the long-empty building.
The lodge and 581 surrounding acres were acquired in December by Jireh Development of Post Falls, which announced plans to build homes on the site. The 9,000-square-foot building was to have been rehabilitated and refitted to serve as a community clubhouse for the Highlands at Liberty Lake, Jireh’s planned subdivision of 600-plus homes.
“It had some history and it had some real character,” said Dale Smith, the engineer and planner who is managing Jireh’s Highlands project.
“We thought the building had the potential to be made into something useful and very nice, something that could really enhance the neighborhood.”
Smith has been around the area long enough to recall when the Holiday Hills lodge was something of a local showplace.
“Shortly after we moved to Liberty Lake in 1975, my wife and I went up there for dinner,” he said. “I remember it being quite nice - good food and a great view. The restaurant was just too far out of the way to succeed on its own and there wasn’t anything else out there at that time.”
Of course, that’s not the way things were supposed to turn out at Holiday Hills.
The lodge was built to be the centerpiece of a resort and recreation complex that promoters dreamed would one day be the “Disneyland of the Inland Empire.”
When Holiday Hills opened in 1971, it offered lighted ski slopes served by a Riblet chairlift, a half-mile oval track for snowmobile racing and a network of hilly trails on which guests could ride rented snow machines.
The sprawling lodge featured two restaurants, a ski gear and rental shop, and a day-care center. It offered overnight guests a choice of hotel- or dormitory-style rooms.
There was a swimming pool and construction was under way on a separate building that was to house an Olympic-size hockey rink.
And more - much, much more - was planned.
The master plan for Holiday Hills included a rodeo arena and riding stable, an amphitheater for outdoor concerts, a pitch-and-putt golf course and a fishing pond. At the base of the hill was to be “Frontier Village,” a Wild West-style theme town with an opera house and movie theater, a saloon and a “teepee motel” that would offer guests the option of sleeping in either canvas or fiberglass teepees.
The Holiday Hills campground and RV park opened in time for Expo ‘74, offering nightly rentals of Winnebago motor homes painted in the bright green-and-blue world’s fair color scheme.
Promoters of Holiday Hills banked heavily on Spokane’s enthusiasm for winter sports. Unfortunately, Mother Nature wasn’t very cooperative. While snow piled up in the mountains, precious little covered the ski runs at Holiday Hills.
The resort bought two expensive snow-making machines and built a 1-million-gallon reservoir to chill water for the snow sprayers, but the weather was rarely cold enough for the apparatus to function properly. When it did work, the resort’s snow-making equipment spewed out white stuff that sometimes was slushy, sometimes chunky and sometimes even extra-chunky, but hardly ever fluffy.
The ski hill operated off and on until the mid-1970s. By 1977, the resort had shut down completely. That year, Chuck Williams, the Spokane Valley entrepreneur who built Holiday Hills, sold the 880-acre site to a Seattle-based investment group.
Holiday Hills proved to be a huge flop, but Williams probably could afford the loss better than most. This was a man who also had enjoyed some huge business success. Williams, who died in 1993, invented the alternating time-and-temperature sign, which years ago became a fixture on America’s commercial landscape.
American Sign & Indicator Corp., which evolved from a neon sign company Williams and his brother Luke founded in the garage of their parents’ Greenacres home, grew to become the world’s largest electronic sign company.
All but one wing of the burned-out Holiday Hills lodge was bulldozed on Feb. 28, after Valley Fire District arson investigator Eric Olson had completed his inspection. What remains of the building likely will come down, too, Jireh’s Smith said.
“It’s really too bad,” Smith said. “I thought maybe the place still had some life left in it.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Arson blamed Valley Fire District arson investigator Eric Olson has determined that the Feb. 25 fire that destroyed the old Holiday Hills ski lodge was intentionally set. The building, vacant for more than 20 years, had often been a target of vandals and arsonists in the past. Its isolated hilltop location also made it a favorite place for drinking parties. Two fires at the lodge in October of 1997 were intentional, Olson said. “One was in the fireplace - probably just someone trying to get warm,” he said. “The other was in the attic. That one would certainly appear to have been started with some malice.” Olson said he isn’t sure whether it was drunken partiers who perhaps accidentally torched the place last week or someone with a more sinister intent. Valley Fire’s arson report has been turned over to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department. Olson asks that anyone with information about any of the recent fires at the Holiday Hills lodge call him at 928-1700.
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