Vagabond Lodge grows, stays connected to ‘50s origins

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VAGABOND OWNER Grant Polson is working throughout the fall and winter to improve the grounds and Columbia River overlook on the north side of the 7-acre property.

Vagabond Motel only looks like a classic motor court motel like those popular in the 1950s.

Of course, the landmark Gorge lodging was popular in the 1950s, when Lucy and Clarence Cranmer built the place, but after 40 years of occasional additions, it’s getting a third larger this winter, with the addition of a two-story, 15-unit wing.

Project: Vagabond Motel, Westcliff Drive, Hood River

Owner: Grant Polson

Who’s Building It: Dana Hale Construction, Hood River

Expansion size: 9,000-square-foot, two-story, 15-unit wing on east side of the 7-acre property

Completion date: certificate of occupancy expected by mid-March, or earlier

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The Vagabond lodge.

The 1950s look largely remains in the original one-story building parallel to Westcliff Drive and Interstate 84. More units were added in the 1960s and 1980s under Lucy’s tutelage (Clarence died in the 1960s). A two-unit cottage was added in 1998, but despite the popularity of the Vagabond that was the extent of the growth; Lucy liked the Vagabond the way it was.

Polson explained, “We had nothing computerized until 2010; everything was done on paper in the system she had had for decades, and she knew if we got larger we’d need to get a computer and a lot of modernizing. She was pretty well set and comfortable in what she had going, and that was fine.”

Liking the routine, Lucy would come to work each day even after retiring. She died in 2007, and the late Jerry Cranmer took full ownership along with his nephew, Grant Polson, who is now overseeing the first expansion of the Vagabond in nearly 20 years, a two-story wing with oversized rooms. It’s a project he and Jerry Cranmer dreamed up 10 or so years ago. Jerry was murdered in the hotel office in September 2010.

“We’ve been doing a lot of upgrades over the last few years but Jerry and I were going to do an expansion in 2008, and a lot more in 2009, and start construction in 2010, but then he was murdered and that derailed all that. A few years later, we went back and started working on this. It’s plans we’ve had a long time and had worked on a long time together. It’s nice do the things we wanted to get done, even if I’m the only one left to do them.”

How much of Jerry does Polson feel in this?

“It’s not just him, or my grandma, but everyone who’s been here for 20 years or more,” he said. Many of his employees have worked there at least 15 years, and Polson considers them, and his guests, as partners.

“It’s not just me or the family but everyone else. Everyone has been involved in one way or another, and it’s more for them than it is for me or anything like that.”

“A lot of it is a sense of things; we get guest feedback all the time, we hear a lot about what guests would like and how they’d like to enjoy the space,” Polson said.

“If (employees) have ideas on whatever they would like to see, I try to incorporate them as best I can. I brought in the carpet samples and other things, and it’s nice to get their input.”

The new wing has seven units on the first floor plus storage and housekeeping, and eight units up, each with a balcony view of the courtyard.

“They’re definitely larger than standard hotel rooms, and they’re well-made,” Polson said. “On the top floor, halfway into the room it tips up, with a second set of windows, so there is more light and openness out into the corridor area.”

You can see the new wing from Westcliff but Polson is making other improvements on the north side of the 7-acre property, between the lodgings and the cliff overlooking the Columbia River. He cleared out a large blackberry expanse, where he will plant a lawn this spring. He added plantings and landscaping, and built a new pathway to an overlook that provides a panoramic view of the Columbia, and upgraded the fence along the cliff.

“It’s a little deceiving because from the front you can’t really see the rest of the property. There is plenty of space out back,” Polson said.

However, there’s another improvement that will be visible along the road this spring, when the addition is expected to be finished: Polson will rebuild the split-rail fence, removed in the 1990s, that graced the front of the motel when the road was known as “Highway 30 State Route Frontage Road.”

Polson said, “My grandma renamed it Westcliff, sometime in the 1950s.”

He said the fence will restore part of the motel’s original look and “tie it into other improvements being made on Highway 30.”

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