The Northwoods is rich in both people and places that are considered legends. One of the standouts in Vilas County is the historic Gateway Lodge in Land O’Lakes, WI. Next to the border to Upper Peninsula Michigan, The Gateway Inn was built in the 1930’s by John King, a radio and theater magnate. The original cost was $100,000, a vast amount during that decade. (Keep in mind that the tradesmen who built the structure made 37 cents an hour.) All the beams were made of hand-hewn timber that had been charred, then varnished to create a burnt brown finish. A novelty at the time, neon lighting was installed under the eaves and around the gables. The resort grew: a billiard hall, bowling lanes, a large dance hall with nightly live entertainment, a banquet room, and gambling areas (legal at the time) were added. Next came a 9 hole golf course, which straddles the border between Wisconsin and Michigan, a gun club, and in 1939, the one-of-a-kind in the Midwest ski jump.
In the early 1940’s, a small regional airport was built near the Gateway Lodge in Land O’Lakes. This enabled bigger acts to come and entertain guests there: Bob Hope, Lawrence Welk, Mitzi Gaynor, and Bud Abbott & Lou Costello to name a few. During WWII, the buildings were used for military training. In 1952, John King died and his family ran the Gateway Lodge complex until 1961. In the 1960’s, Walter Williamson bought the lodge and added a second floor, an indoor swimming pool and sauna. After the Apollo 8 mission, astronaut Jim Lovell used the Gateway as a retreat. Gambling became illegal during the decade and profits dropped
The resort went through a series of owners and is now governed by the Master Association through a Board of Directors elected from its membership. The most wonderful thing about the entire story of the Gateway Lodge is that it still stands, offering guests comfortable overnight accommodations and diners excellent cuisine at their restaurant. Next time you’re Up North, stop by and start up a conversation. You may just hear a story or two!
(Many thanks to the Land O’Lakes Historical Society for the information.)