The Paul Bunyans
Westwood, CA  •  Viola, CA  •  Klamath, CA  •  Grants Pass, OR  •  Shelton, WA  •  Puyallup, WA  •  Portland, OR

Viola, CA

On the opposite side of Mount Lassen from Westwood is Viola, population
94, and the home of the Lassen Pine Retreat Center, a Christian summer camp and weekend retreat. Four people staff the Center, and it’s hard to figure out where exactly the other 90 residents of Viola live. As Pastor Gordon, the founder of the Retreat Center, says, “We are Viola.”

The Retreat Center is on the grounds of the old Viola Resort, a tony getaway through the 1950s and early ‘60s until it went bankrupt. At the Viola Resort, guests took dinner in the Lodge’s elegant but rustic dining hall, with knotty pine paneling and a floor-to-ceiling fireplace of volcanic rock. A few steps away was the dance hall, with another mammoth fireplace and a stage for the band. A postcard from the resort’s glory days shows red and aqua sedans pulled up to the hewn-timber fence in front of the lodge.

The lodge and dance hall still stand at the Retreat Center, but they have been covered with cheap siding and painted an institutional blue. The halls now buzz with fluorescent lights. The volcanic rock fireplace remains impressive in the dining hall, but now it is ringed by tables with oilcloth covers and vinyl chairs. In the dance hall, Enterprise High School’s band, The Enterprise Starship, is finishing a week of music camp with a concert. The dance hall is full of parents who have driven in from Redding to see the kids perform.

Deep on the Center’s grounds, past the empty cabins, past the teepees with their worn foam mattresses stacked inside, past the defunct petting zoo, is a Paul Bunyan statue. This Paul stands 20 feet tall and surveys the abandoned canoes tied up at the pond nearby. He holds a double-sided axe across his chest. His red shirt and denim-painted pants are spotted with mold, and kids have punched holes in the crotch of his pants. Fungus sprouts from his face like acne.

The Lassen Pines Retreat Center’s statue was made by International Fiberglass in California from the mid-1960s until 1974. Statues of this sort are commonly called “muffler men” because many of the statues were outfitted with mufflers rather than axes and were stationed outside muffler shops, just as giant bears advertised root beer and the Big Boy advertised Bob’s. Paul Bunyan was one of several styles of muffler man. Customers could also order a cowboy, an Indian chief, a bikini-clad surfer girl, or a style called the “half-wit” that looked like Alfred E. Newman.

The Retreat Center’s Paul Bunyan originally stood outside the Paul Bunyan Restaurant on Market Street in Redding, California. Market Street was once called the “Miracle Mile” by locals. When Interstate Highway 5 was built through the eastern part of town, the Miracle Mile foundered, and the Paul Bunyan statue was donated to the Retreat Center in 1971. Members of the North Valley Baptist Church hoisted the statue onto a flatbed truck for its ride up the mountain.


backward! onward!