For 90 years Tacoma’s Lake Cushman has obscured a secret. More than 150 feet beneath its surface lie the remains of the Antlers Hotel, a hunting and fishing lodge that drew well-to-do outdoorsmen—including Teddy Roosevelt—near the turn of the twentieth century. The City of Tacoma razed this rustic resort in the mid-1920s before building a dam that flooded the area, and ever since its legend has lured divers to the lake. Among them is Port Orchard native Dan Warter. Along with DCS Films partners Carl Stieglitz and Scott Caldwell, Warter has been capturing his deep-diving expeditions on camera for two decades, exposing less adventurous locals to the murky depths of our wreck-strewn waters. Later this year, he’ll release a full-length documentary that explores the history of that storied structure, and offers a first-time glimpse of the watery grave to which it was condemned.
What can you tell me about the doc?
I don’t want to give away too much, but there is structure left and a lot of artifacts. You dive down in that area and you’ll find water pitchers, farm equipment, things that were inside the hotel. It’s pretty fascinating.
Did you love shipwrecks as a kid?
When I was growing up, I hated history. It was only when I started doing this that I grew to love it—because it was such a treasure hunt, a detective hunt. I couldn’t get enough and I couldn’t stop myself.
You have no formal camera training. How do you sharpen your skills?
I look at other ways people are filming and try to incorporate that. Skateboarding filming, as an example, is always motion driven, whereas a lot of times diving filming is just kind of looking at something. So I try to think about how I can incorporate movement into filming underwater.
Describe what it’s like to go on a deep dive. Actually, what even is a deep dive?
To me, a deep dive can be 130 feet. There’s a place in West Seattle near Alki called Cove Two. That was one of the first places I ever went deep. You dive 40 feet—it’s black. So at 130 feet or 140 feet, it’s no sound, no sight, just blackness. There can be a day where you have a foot or a foot and a half of visibility and, all of a sudden a 10-foot shark comes right at you. That’ll get your blood going. But any depth can kill you, okay? So any depth is deep.
When you enter a shipwreck, you come in a certain way, and you have to exit the same way. Well, if silt gets stirred up, all of a sudden you don’t know what end is up and what end is down. People start panicking, trying to figure out where the door is at. People die that way. I had friends die on dives with me. I’ve seen with my friends dying how that affects all of us and their friends and family, and I don’t want to put my friends and family through that. You definitely question if it’s worth it.
You’re still doing it, though.
I still have the drive to be the first on an unknown wreck, to solve a mystery.