Mountain Architecture: An Alternative Design Proposal
CHAPTER II - Part 2
As the educated city dweller of the middle nineteenth century began to feel the effects of the Industrial Revolution, the pressures of city life made weekend retreats and extended holidays in the mountains a popular destination for escape. Due to its proximity to the populous northern Atlantic seaboard, the Adirondack Mountains became one of the primary attractions of the wealthiest patrons of the out-of-doors (Figure 2.19). The lure was not only excellent hunting and fishing, but the natural beauty and healthy atmosphere of the mountains so lacking in the newly industrialized urban centers.
One of the outcomes of this trek to the wilderness was the development of the Adirondack Great Camps. Built as summer vacation retreats by wealthy individuals or private clubs dedicated to the purchase of large tracts of Adirondack Wilderness, these camps featured collections of individual buildings in a distinctive rustic style (Figure 2.20). The Adirondack Rustic style, as it was called, established itself as a representative of the growing sympathetic relationship to nature by both resurrecting the western pioneer spirit through the ubiquitous use of log construction and embodying the rough and picturesque images of the Romantic wilderness.(4) Local craftsmen were employed throughout the camp's active development, producing an identifiable regional style as well as giving it the qualities of a true vernacular.
The style was distinguished primarily by the conspicuous display of log construction, occasionally even simulated (Figure 2.21). This was in contrast to the conventional methods used in most other country homes of the period--Balloon Frame or Post and Beam. "The Camps had logs laid up as walls, framed as trusses, used as supporting purlins for the roof, and peeled as beams and studs. Extensions of log ends, coping of intersecting logs and cross bracing of poles became decorative elements." (5) The rustic use of individual wood members was also applied to the interior decoration and furniture construction, integrating the rugged simplicity of the outdoor environment throughout. (Figure 2.22)
The appearance of simple living conveyed by the rustic construction was somewhat deceptive but essential to the camp's character. Log construction was not easy or inexpensive, especially when compared to conventional techniques. The difficulties arose in part because the eventual "form largely depended upon the length of available logs . . . which had to be either cut on the site or transported across the lakes or through the surrounding forest." (6) In addition, the camps were consciously sited in remote areas, "in some cases surrounded by tens of thousands of private reserve," and access to them was usually quite difficult.(7)
The inherent difficulties of construction and site access may have actually been a motivation for the builders, "who were rewarded less by public acclaim than by personal satisfaction in taming the hostile environment and creating a civilized mode of living exclusively by one's own means." (8)
The deceptively simple atmosphere was also maintained by the staff, who at times outnumbered the guests by as many as three or four to one. The urban social rituals to which the guests were accustomed were not entirely abandoned during their stay at the camps. Formal dinner attire and service with silver and crystal was not uncommon--"life in the Adirondack camps was hardly simple, but great pains were taken to make it seem so." (9)
The Rustic, as a style, should not be directly linked to any particular archetype, although examples exhibiting characteristic details of the alpine Swiss chalet did appear (Figure 2.24). It is, in one sense, the same as any vernacular architecture: "the logical, inevitable convergence of local craft traditions and readily available materials." (10) But to the extent that this mode of building was consciously adopted after a period of time, and, in preference to other methods of construction, refined as a symbol for a particular life style in a particular type of setting, it constitutes a style; and thus transcends the notion of vernacular. The Adirondack Rustic style, based on the vernacular log buildings indigenous to any heavily forested regions, has become, in itself, an archetype. Its subsequent influence can be seen in the many "how-to" books of log-building plans published at the turn of the century, and the eventual adoption by the National Park Service in 1916 for its own lodges, camps, and out-buildings.(11)
The earliest public resort hotels in the mountains appeared in the ranges closest to New York City: the Catskills and Shawangunk. Riding the wave of popularity for scenic resorts which had been firmly established by the 1820s, a stock company was formed to build the first of these mountain resorts--the Catskill Mountain House, a small guest house designed to take advantage of the majestic view available from South Mountain (Figure 2.25). The 1823 structure was described in the Gazetteer of New York as "a superb hotel, of 60 by 24 feet, three stories, elegantly furnished and attended, erected . . . with a capital of $10,000." (12) The hotel was later enlarged and remodeled (1840) under the influence of the popular Greek Revival style and the accommodation standards set forth for elegant hotels by Boston's Tremont house. A Corinthian colonnade was added to the front of the building imposing "an over all order upon the patched and lengthened facade".(13) The result was only slightly better than a lowland resort hotel transplanted to the mountains. But despite its fashionable architecture it was unique and did show the effects of being situated in a mountain setting:
The food was excellent, not often the case with the other resort establishments, with an emphasis on freshness; fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. Even fresh meats, imported from the local village every morning were part of the daily regimen. Physical and spiritual reinvigoration were clearly part of the resort's image and attraction. The architectural imagery was too strong and complimented well the magnificent scenery, as this excerpt from a letter by Bayard Taylor written to a friend in 1860 suggests:
Later in the century, and not far from the Catskill Mountain House, evolved another of the Northeast's grand mountain resort hotels--the Mohonk Mountain House (Figure 2.26). Situated to the southeast of the Catskills in the rugged, "more arrestingly spectacular" Shawangunk Mountains, it nudges the edge of Mohonk Lake, which itself "perches precariously in a cleft of rock near the crest of the mountain ridge, facing on one side the peak known as Sky Top, and on the other the broad expanse of Roundout Valley." (16)
During the thirty years after its purchase by a Quaker school master in 1869, the modest tavern-guesthouse grew into a "vast building, nearly one-eight mile in length, a soaring mass of towers and turrets, balconies, verandahs, and gables--built in some parts of wood, in others of brick or stone--surrounded by lawns and broad beds of flowers. If King Ludwig had built the Mountain House on a slope of the Bavarian Alps, the pile would have been taken as evidence of royal dementia." (17)
The hotel still thrives today, serving throngs of summer vacationers and winter skiers alike. Its purpose has, however, been extended beyond the traditional roles of a resort hotel. In keeping with the owner's (the Smiley family) Quaker faith it also functions as a center "to promote international peace and understanding through conferences and informal exchanges of ideas in the inspiring Mohonk setting." (18)
The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) completed the first line over the Rockies on November 7, 1885. With service now coast to coast, two new problems arose: stimulating enough passenger interest to support the line; and then supplying for those passengers their basic needs throughout the journey. As there was no shortage of spectacular scenery along the route, it became evident that both problems could be solved at once by building modest "pavilions" to exploit the views and give the passengers a comfortable place "to repair and refresh from time to time along the tedious journey." (20)
The year 1886 saw the construction of three small mountain hotels for the railroad. They were all in British Columbia and were designed to attract tourists and relieve the burden of transporting heavy restaurant cars up the steep grades. The three hotels, Mount Stephen House at Field (Figure 2.27), The Fraser Canyon Hotel at North Bend, and Glacier House at Glacier (Figure 2.28), were of similar plan and, in their day, quite popular small resorts in their own right, especially Glacier House which sported a view of the head-wall of Great Illecillewaet glacier 500 feet in the distance (Figure 2.29).
Howard Kalman describes them in his monograph, Railway Hotels and the Development of the Chateau Style in Canada as follows:
Glacier House became the most popular of the three hotels (Figure 2.30). One visitor commented that, "the view from the verandah and windows of the little hotel . . . was one of fairy-like beauty." (22) Its popularity justified enlarging the hotel several times over the years, but when the CPR moved the main line in 1916, tourist visitation declined. Not long after, the once prominent glacier receded out of sight, and, as both of the reasons for the resort's initial construction had disappeared, Glacier House was demolished in 1930.
Coincident with the construction of Glacier House, a much larger hotel was being built at the site of a recently discovered hot springs near Banff, Alberta. The architect commissioned for the new hotel was a New Yorker, Bruce Price, who had recently been retained by CPR's aggressive vice president and general manager, William Van Horne to design another building for the railroad, Windsor Station in Montreal, Quebec.
The scheme for the Banff Springs Hotel presented by Price was decidedly picturesque: "The steep hipped roofs, pointed finialed dormers, corner turrets, and oriels seem to have been freely derived from a medieval castle, and it was as such a romantic structure that Price wished his hotel to be viewed" (23) (Figure 2.31). The specific origin of the style is not clear, however. Some maintained that the prototype was a French Loire chateau, while others saw a closer connection with the Baronial castles of Scotland, a style largely derivative of the Loire chateaux. The CPR literature expressed in its promotion a preference for the latter interpretation, pointing out that the name "Banff" was derived from the Scottish birthplace of the railroad's president, Sir George Stephen.(24)
The five-story wood frame structure accommodated 280 guests and was laid out in plan "in the shape of an 'H' with an additional wing extending from the centre of a long side towards the scenic Bow River. A large central hall dominates the ground floor, which consists largely of public space. Tiered verandahs at the ends of the wings provide visual access to the mountains" (25) (Figure 2.32).
Price's involvement in the design of the Banff Springs Hotel is significant in that it was through this "tentative version of a chateau," along with his design for Winsor Station, that the Chateau Style was introduced into Canada.(26) Essentially a revival of the medieval French chateaux of the Loire Valley, the development of the style reached its peak through his designs, and is best exemplified by Price's Chateau Frontenac, located in Quebec City, which was begun in 1892 (Figure 2.33). Also a Canadian Pacific Railroad Hotel commissioned by Van Horne, its influence on Canadian architecture was wide spread. It had risen to be what Van Horne had predicted, "the most talked about hotel on this continent." (27) The effect was to establish the Chateau style in its various forms as a national style representative of Canada.
In the years 1912-14, (some ten years after Bruce Price's death), the Banff Springs Hotel began a program to enlarge and replace the original wooden building, which itself had been enlarged prior to 1905 (Figure 2.34), with a fireproof structure. A center wing was added, along with a fourteen-story tower both designed by an active chateau-style architect, W. S. Painter (Figure 2.35). When the remaining wooden wings were destroyed by fire in 1925, the rest of the original structure was finally replaced. The new wings, added by CPR engineer J. W. Orrock, brought the building into the form it maintains today (Figures 2.36 and 2.37).
The Scottish influence mentioned above dominated this later construction. All reference to the French medieval features distinguished in Canada's other Chateau style buildings did not appear on the Banff Springs Hotel. The continuity of style, apparent despite the different building periods, stems from this consistent deviation from the French Chateau style established by Price.
The historical development of the Chateau Lake Louise, also a CPR hotel in the Alberta Rockies, followed a similar course as the Banff Springs Hotel. The first hotel at Lake Louise was a modest wooden chalet, built in 1899, but was "superseded by a far more ambitious half-timbered building" within the decade.(28) (Figure 2.38) When the building was again enlarged in 1912-13 it was done so by W. S. Painter who was currently at work on the first of the Banff Springs Hotel fireproof additions. The new concrete wing on Chateau Lake Louise abandoned the Chateau style as it had been developed by Price in favor of a more modern approach (Figure 2.39). "The new wing had a flat roof and no dormers. It only vaguely recalls the Empress Hotel (Victoria B.C., 1904-08) with its flat-arched 'loggia', actually the dining room windows, between two towers, one of which seems to have been inspired by an Italian villa; and by the slight projection of the upper story." (29)
With the demolition in 1924 of the wooden portion of the building, a return to the traditional Chateau style was mandated. "By this time the style had achieved symbolic value over and above that of a simple hotel. It had come to signify things Canadian, and Mr. Harkin (the National Park Commissioner responsible for realization of the Lake Louise project) presumably believed that any building in a National Park, Hotel or not, must be in the Chateau style." (30) The new addition was designed by a Montreal firm, Barott and Blackader, whose selection was, at least partially, a reaction against the less traditional direction taken by Painter twelve years earlier (Figure 2.39). The final result, while described by Rogatnick in his article "Canadian Castles" as a "splendid edifice," (31) lacks the continuity both in form and style, of the Banff Springs Hotel, and seems less well suited to its spectacular mountain site (Figure 2.40).
Master of Architecture Thesis