U.S. Highway 395 was originally an Indian trail used to enable trade among a number of tribes. The Native Americans traveled the trail on foot and sometimes on wild ponies, when they could catch one. Soon curious explorers, trappers and scouts made use of it. When gold was discovered in California, thousands of miners, merchants, camp followers and other folks came along. Naturally, many carried all their belongings in covered wagons. Therefore, the road was made wider. So many people traveled through the area, that it became necessary to develop toll roads that could be properly maintained. There were four such toll roads in Mono County, one, “El Camino Sierra”, ran right in front of Tioga Lodge.
In the late 1890's, J.P. Hammond originally homesteaded the property where Tioga Lodge is today. The registration building and the restaurant were moved 15 miles to their present location from the old mining town of Bodie around 1897. The registration building arrived first and became known as the Hammond Station. It was soon the commercial center of the Mono Basin. One attraction was the telephone. It was one of just a few in the basin. He also operated a successful and very popular bordello! But, the main attraction was gambling. Jack Hammond held huge “stud poker games” and served high proof “redeye” whiskey.
Hammond also operated the toll road on what is now Highway 395. He located another building in nearby Lundy and had it moved to his property. It became the saloon. At one time the creek ran right beneath this building. The beer was kept cold in the creek. To serve his customers, Jack would open a trap door in the floor and hand them a cold one.
There are many stories told of Tioga Lodge. But the one which aroused everyone in the county was one concerning the needless killing of the highly respected sheriff James. P. Dolan (Video). As he was chasing a band of drunken bandits on a wild rampage in Mono Basin, he was shot near the shore of Mono Lake. He was badly wounded and brought to Hammond Station were he died. A posse was quickly formed. Those responsible were hunted down.
A gun battle ensued and they dispatched rather quickly. In 1918, William and Ruby Cunningham bought the station from Jack Hammond. They changed the name of the business to Tioga Lodge. They made many changes over the years.
By 1918, the Lodge was known for its excellent food and service. That tradition is continued today! Mrs. Cunningham's waiters were of Chinese descent. They were all attired in white jackets as they served their customers. Even the Governor of California was a happy customer. Beautiful rose gardens grew on the lakeside of facility where the restaurant was located.
Another building was moved to the property and it became the first Post Office in the Mono Lake area. Soon a number of cabins, a motel and for tent cabins for camping were added. A gas station was built to serve those with “horseless carriages”. In time a marina was constructed. It was very popular with water skiers and the Lodge hosted several boat races. A pavilion was built along the shores of Mono Lake to cater to those enjoying music and dancing. Mrs. Cunningham's thriving facility could accommodate about 60 guests per night.
After many prosperous years, a devastating flood roared down on Tioga Lodge from the canyon above in 1955. In just a few minutes, a five foot high wall of water washed away most of the resort.
Ruby Cunningham was naturally heartbroken. She had every intention of rebuilding, but was never able to reach her goal of bringing Tioga Lodge back to the way it once was. The property was turned over to James Hathaway, then to Gloria Ma. Before long, Gloria had to relocate to San Diego. She closed the doors to Tioga Lodge with the hope that at some time and under the right circumstances, the right person would come along and return the property to its former glory.
As luck would have it, in the early 1990s, Walter Vint and his wife, Lou, were working in the area and wondered why this wonderful resort was closed. Where others might have seen disrepair and an abundance of overgrowth, Walter saw a beautifully restored resort, complete with restaurant, cabins, manicured grounds and much more. He found Gloria Ma, explained his vision and together they created a partnership to bring the facility back to life.
The cabins have been completely remodeled. Walter's daughter, Deanna, personally scoured many antique shops, looking for just the right period artifacts for the various rooms. Each has been furnished distinctly with a unique theme décor, depicting the history of the area. A custom signature bridge was designed by world-renowned artist John Dunn and installed over the Andy Thompson Creek. The creek flows through the resort and on to Mono Lake.
Today, you'll see the Hammond Station Restaurant in full operation. It was reopened in July 1998. The kitchen has state of the art equipment and is ready to serve the hungry traveler and statesman alike. Visitors enjoy the unobstructed view of Mono Lake as they savor the many healthy delicious meals offered at the resort, including gourmet vegetarian and spa cuisine.