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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of Nov 26 - Dec 2, 2003


Reflections on
Bald Mountain
Lodge’s heyday

Ketchum’s first destination
resort boasts rich history

Express Staff Writer

As work crews deconstructed parts of the historic Bald Mountain Lodge earlier this month, a few longtime residents of Ketchum found themselves flooded with memories reminiscent of the resort’s 20th-century heyday.

During its heyday, the Bald Mountain Hot Springs attracted large crowds of swimmers and bathers. In this photo by Martyn Mallory, circa summer 1930, scores of onlookers gathered to watch a swim race in the hot mineral-water pool. Photo courtesy of The Community Library Regional History Department

For others, the alterations to the resort property inspired more forward-thinking thoughts, those of a new 80-room luxury hotel planned for construction on the high-profile site near the southern entrance to Ketchum.

Regardless of what Wood River Valley residents think of the demise of the Bald Mountain Lodge, one thing is certain: The once-famous resort boasts a history that is certainly as rich and deep as that of any other venue in Ketchum’s vintage core.

Anne Zauner, a director of the Ketchum-Sun Valley Historical Society, said the resort—formerly known as the Bald Mountain Hot Springs Motel—attracted throngs of visitors to its public pool in the 1950s. "I learned how to swim there," she said. "I think that’s how a lot of people remember it."


A plan is hatched

The Bald Mountain Hot Springs Motel was built in 1929 by Carl E. Brandt, an executive with J.C. Penney Co. who once managed a J.C. Penney store in Hailey.

Brandt in 1927 purchased the Guyer Hot Springs Hotel, an early 1880s-era resort northwest of Ketchum that by the late 1920s had fallen into disrepair. Worried that the hotel’s distance from town was discouraging visitation, Brandt hatched a concept to establish a new, more profitable hot springs resort on Ketchum’s Main Street.

The Bald Mountain Hot Springs Motel dominated the west side of Main Street in Ketchum for decades in the mid 20th century. In this undated photo from the Hyde Collection, the façade of the resort is seen looking south from downtown Ketchum. Photo courtesy of The Community Library Regional History Department

To design the Bald Mountain Hot Springs Motel, Brandt commissioned the Boise-based architectural firm Tourtellotte and Hummel, whose architects had designed the state Capitol building in central Boise. Plans for the property included 31 log-cabin apartments and a 200,000-gallon concrete pool to be filled with water piped from an immense underground reservoir at Warm Springs.

During construction, crews installed a series of wooden pipes to transport 160-degree water three miles from Warm Springs to the so-called "plunge" in Ketchum. The piping system was eventually used to provide hot water and heat to numerous residences in the Ketchum area.


Build it, and they will come

The resort—which is estimated to have cost more than $100,000 to build—became the most expansive development in Ketchum and one of the premier tourist attractions in Idaho. Visitors from throughout the region flocked to the U-shaped string of cabins, attracted by the rejuvenating mineral-water pool and surrounding wilderness.

In the resort’s early days, men and women did not swim together. Separated by a privacy wall, the men swam naked while the women bathed in long dresses and pantaloons.

Count Felix Schaffgotsch, the Austrian aristocrat who was appointed by Union Pacific Railroad Chairman Averell Harriman to seek out the perfect location for a destination ski resort, stayed at the Bald Mountain Hot Springs Motel during his visit to Ketchum in 1935. The count later convinced Harriman that the Ketchum region was the perfect site for Sun Valley Resort.

During construction of the Sun Valley Lodge in 1936, Union Pacific officials, project engineers and a handful of workers resided at the Ketchum resort.


Taking the plunge

In the mid-20th century, the "plunge" was a focal point of social activity in Ketchum. The American Red Cross sponsored swimming classes at the site. Families drove from the Magic Valley and other distant points to stay in the resort’s rustic cabins and relax in the acclaimed pool.

"It was our identity for so many years," said Zauner, who settled in Ketchum in 1951. "It was just a good, fun time there. There were always lots of kids."

In 1964, the resort was purchased by Phyllis Houk, who managed the site for 32 years before turning it over in 1996 to the family of Ketchum attorney Brian Barsotti.


The Barsotti era

Barsotti said the resort—finally named the Bald Mountain Lodge—was terribly deteriorated when he assumed ownership. "When we bought it, the main roof had caved in, the buildings were run down and the pool had been closed for about 10 years."

Barsotti said he decided to tear down the defunct pool’s structures and renovate the cabin buildings to restore the appeal of the resort. The former pool—which could not effectively be reconnected to a reliable hot water source—was transformed into a wine-storage facility.

Despite the efforts, the lodge had difficulty competing with Sun Valley Lodge and other, more-modern hotel facilities. "We spent a lot of money trying to make it work," Barsotti said. "But the rooms were just very hard to fill."


The future is now

Last September—after a long public debate—Barsotti received permission from the city of Ketchum to construct a new 80-room luxury hotel on the approximately one-acre Bald Mountain Lodge property.

If built, the approved three-story, 47-foot-high hotel would include a 3,800 square-foot conference room, 1,000 square-foot board room, retail space, an underground parking garage and a fitness center.

Barsotti on Monday said he is progressing in his quest to acquire financial backing for the project. "We’re looking forward to moving ahead with our plans," Barsotti said. "I think it would be pretty exciting for the town if we can make it happen."

Three of the structures from the Bald Mountain Lodge—which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places—have been transported to a site near Hagerman, where they are being incorporated into a waterfowl hunting club operated by Ketchum resident Bill Lehman.

Barsotti noted that he is generally supportive of plans to save the renovated cabins, but never received an offer that was substantial enough to preserve the entire lodge property. "We really had to accept (Lehman’s) offer," he said. "We just couldn’t sit on those buildings any longer."

Barsotti said the remaining structures will likely be left on the site until spring, when their future will be determined.



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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.