Mountain Architecture: An Alternative Design Proposal
CHAPTER II - Part 4
Resort accommodations at remote parks such as Glacier and Yellowstone relied almost entirely, in their early years, on promotion and service by the railroads. Roads in many cases were non-existent thus travel in pre-railroad times was often restricted to those individuals with great determination or a lust for wilderness living. But the parks west of the Rockies were different. Automobile access was established early and most of the lodges were built to capitalize an their location's already well established popularity. In several cases (The National Park and Paradise Inns at Mount Rainier National Park to cite two), the completed structures were, even at the time of their openings, unable to provide a sufficient number of guest rooms for their enthusiastic visitor. The solution, to erect tents as supplementary accommodations, was met with satisfaction, underscoring the fact that a shortage of luxury accommodations was no deterrent in the face of easy access.(50)
The first substantial permanent settlement along the twenty-six mile rim of Oregon's Crater Lake was not erected until 1909, despite nearly fifty years of visitation by adventurous sightseers. The winters are long and hard; at an elevation of 8,000 feet, the rim often retains snow well into July, reducing the building season to only a few months in the summer. In fact, it took four years of construction to complete Crater Lake Lodge, forcing tourists in the meantime to settle for tents or tent-cabins until its opening in 1915.(51) By that time, Crater Lake had been designated a National Park for over thirteen years.
Crater Lake Lodge was erected by the National Park Service, but the plans have been attributed to a Portland architectural firm, R. L. Hockenberry and Company (Figure 2.61). Their intentions for "half- timbered" and stuccoed upper stories were modified into a less stylistic and restrained form with closer ties to the popular Shingle style and a conservative National Park rustic: Projecting from either end of a four-story central block were three-story wings with outside end chimneys. Tiers of shed-roofed dormers, shadow-casting overhanging eaves of the hipped roofs, rows of window openings and the contrasting strata of stone and shingles created horizontal lines which tapered into the landscape through the wings and helped anchor the lodge visually to its rimside site.(52)
The interior has a more rustic feel with its unbarked fir slabs and logs lining the lobby and stairways. Another scheme for the Great Hall, lavishly decorated with painted Indian motifs, was submitted by a San Francisco landscape engineer, Mark Daniels (Figure 2.62).(53) It was rejected probably along with, or for the same reasons as Hockenberry's original half-timbered proposal.
Not much has changed since the Lodge was extended in 1923, by the addition of a west wing, in the same style as the original construction. The building has, however been brought up to current fire and safety standards with the unfortunate loss of the immense fireplace as a functioning amenity and the addition of external fire escapes.
Crater Lake Lodge is unassuming and unpretentious. As an example, it serves well the thrust of the National Park Service objectives, outlined by its director Arno B. Crammerer in the forward to the 1935 edition of Park Structures and Facilities:
Many structures over the years have been built within the three areas in Mount Rainier National Park allowing major building construction; Longmire, Paradise and Sunrise. Longmire was the first access point into the park and also the site of the first hotel, the National Park Inn. The hotel's existence was short lived, opening in 1911 only to be destroyed by fire seven years later. Fortunately other structures that had already been erected to accommodate the ever increasing number of park visitors managed the overflow.(55)
The current National Park Inn dates from 1926 but shares none of the architectural characteristics of its predecessor, only its name. The original structure was a shingle-sided, thirty-six room rectangular building similar in character to, but larger in scale than the basic Park Service buildings being erected at the time (Figure 2.63). The National Park Inn was undistinguished in itself, but being the first lodging on the mountain helped to establish the character of buildings to follow.
Many of the buildings erected within Mount Rainier National Park are typical of the rustic style adopted by the National Park Service for mountain wilderness locations. They commonly featured rectangular, gable-roofed configurations and, if multi-storied, were pierced by numerous shed or gable dormers. Shingle or board siding was common, depending on material availability, and very often unpeeled, tree-trunk columns and beams provided the structural support as well as the requisite rusticity. Rough, locally quarried stone usually formed the foundations of these buildings but was occasionally used for the entire first story (Figure 2.64). The structures were simple and direct in plan, often with a single large, multipurpose public room where groups could gather for dining, meetings or entertainment (Figure 2.65). Sleeping rooms and other private spaces were generally disproportionately small and sparsely furnished.
Almost all of these characteristics are common to park buildings constructed before the second world war. Collectively they represent a style which has been applied by the Park Service to projects ranging in scale and visibility from privies to hundred-room lodges.(56) Many examples of buildings in the National Park Rustic exist at Rainier, of which the Community House at Paradise is as typical as any (Figures 2.65 and 2.66). Others include the administration building at Sunrise, modeled after an early fort (Figures 2.67 and 2.68), and the park's largest structure, Paradise Inn.
Paradise Inn is situated on the southern flanks of Mount Rainier at the 5,000 foot level, giving access to the park's most popular recreation areas and the easiest, most direct route to the summit (Figure 2.69). It also has the unusual task of coping with some of the world's greatest accumulations of snow, the average being over 600 inches a year.(57) Occasionally the entire lodge will be completely covered with snow requiring that winter access be made through a long corrugated steel culvert.
Buildings existing under such severe weather conditions can never escape damage completely, but the original Paradise Inn has weathered well since its construction in 1917. The Annex, which added upon its completion three years later 92 rooms with baths to the previously insufficient thirty-six, has fared less well however. Among other problems, the tall, unbroken wall surfaces leave it exposed to the racking effects of snow creep, apparent in the connecting section between the newer and older portions of the building complex.
Recalling the forms of the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone, the dominant architectural feature of the Paradise Inn is the broad gabled roof, punctuated by rows of dormers (Figure 2.70). Similar also to the original National Park Inn at Longmire, but more protective in appearance and function, the Inn's single, enveloping roof illustrates a more suitable adaptation to a region of heavy snowfalls.
On the interior, a single volume, open to the rafters, forms the rectangular lobby whose upper reaches are crisscrossed by Alaskan cedar logs salvaged from a local 1885 forest fire (Figure 2.71). Its character is derivative of the open rustic lobbies at Yellowstone and Glacier, but the effect is noticeably different. One more readily senses the protective nature of the roof as both roof planes appear, even from the interior, to extend nearly to the ground. Light sneaks in under the eaves through a band of full height windows along the lobby's edges furthering the impression that all the protection from the elements is provided by the roof form and not the walls. The soaring expanse of space present in the Old Faithful Inn lobby is diminished a Paradise by the addition of logs extending directly across the lobby from the balcony, conspicuously necessary as resistance to the unusual environmental forces.
Another lodge, typical of the scale and style of mountain resorts of the 1920's was the Mount Baker Lodge (Figure 2.72), a summer resort built in Heather Meadows a short distance from Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan in northwestern Washington.(58) The wilderness around the two mountains had attracted tourists for a number of years from the town of Bellingham, 70 miles to the west. Mount Baker, the dominant of the two was first climbed in the summer of 1868, but it was the publication of the exploits of Oregon's Mazama climbing club that "crystalized" local interest in the mountain.(59)
Construction of a road to Mount Baker with a resort hotel at its terminus had been proposed as early as 1909 along with other ideas, including reserving a portion of the Mount Baker region as a National Park. The park idea was dropped when it became clear that the construction of the road and hotel could be assured if the National Forest bureau retained jurisdiction. Road construction began in 1921 and two years later a lease was signed for the hotel site.
The Mount Baker Lodge project enjoyed the enthusiastic support of the people of Bellingham. Stock was sold in the Mount Baker Development Company with the help of numerous flattering and persuasive front-page articles in the Bellingham Herald. In only two hours over one third of the 2,500 shares available were sold at $100 each. Within six days the entire subscription had been sold out.
Several notable local businessmen were involved from the beginning, but the man who seemed to garner the most public acclaim was Bert W. Huntoon, a local professional engineer and photographer.(60) His stunning photography of the Baker-Shuksan region was likely the key factor in persuading those influential few, necessary to back a large scale resort project, to invest their support. The public too, was treated to an early view of the beautiful mountain scenery.
Completion of the Mount Baker highway in 1926 greatly facilitated construction of the lodge whose plans by Seattle architect Earl Morrison had been publicly presented in Bellingham the spring before. Few difficulties were encountered during construction and the lodge officially opened on July 14, 1927.
Mount Baker Lodge reflected the obvious influence of the National Park Lodges, especially in the early schemes (Figure 2.73), with its broad, gabled roof forms, ubiquitous dormers, and log and shingle construction. The lobby also followed the National Park model (Figure 2.74). It was a large, central, socializing space complete with the requisite peeled-log colonnade along each side, although it lacked the balconies common to the earlier Park lodges. The stone fireplace that filled one end of the "nave" was so large that it could accommodate logs of up to ten feet in length.
The style adopted for the exterior was unusual for a mountain resort. Most lodge designs had avoided any historic reference to past styles after Robert C. Reamer introduced the rustic aesthetic at Yellowstone in 1902. But Mount Baker Lodge, however, followed a different course in its executed design displaying freely elements derivative of the gothic (Figures 2.75 and 2.76). Emphasis on the vertical was unmistakable: the steep roofs; large, vertically arranged, tripart window assemblies reminiscent of cathedral stained glass windows; and most conspicuously, log pilasters, running uninterrupted from their base to the eaves giving a modified half-timbered effect. To complete the image, a square observation tower rose from the ground to well above the highest ridge line. Fortunately, sufficient restraint was exercised to avoid domination of the design by self-conscious gothic imagery. The lodge and site appeared to have enjoyed a harmonious relationship.
Fire destroyed the lodge on August 5, 1931, reducing it to cinders in a little more than two hours. Due to the Depression, it was decided not to rebuild, although costs were estimated to be only half of that required the first time. Since then, a number of structures were built as the transition to a largely wintertime operation took place.
Yosemite's "deep grassy valley," or Ah-wah-nee as the Indians called it, was a fitting location for the largest, most opulent and pretentious hotel ever constructed within a National Park.(61) The specific site chosen for The Ahwahnee (the "The" is always capitalized and the pedestrian word "hotel" is always omitted in the title) was at the time occupied by the tiny village of Kenneyville. There was little reluctance to give this "superb" site over to more modern uses as the influx of automobiles had diminished the viability of the settlement, which up until then had been dedicated to horse and stagecoach service. But the real attraction was that the Kenneyville site offered the best collection of scenic views in the valley--views of Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point and Half Dome, in particular.
Several hotels had served Yosemite valley over the years, but by the 1920s, only three remained: Yosemite Lodge, Camp Curry, and the Sentinal. Unfortunately, even the best of them, the Sentinal, was in no condition to attract the wealthy and influential guests frequenting resorts in other parts of the country. In addition, none of the three was suitable for occupancy during the winter months, an important issue since the "All-Year Highway" into the park was completed in 1926 increasing the demand for year-around accommodations.(62) The solution came when the two concessionaires serving the valley, the Park Service and the Curry Company, merged in the early months of 1925. A provision was included in their contract which called for construction of a new, modern fireproof hotel.
Final impetus to build a first-class hotel was later provided by the director of the National Park Service, Stephen T. Mather, "reportedly no less a personage than Lady Astor had disdained the Sentinal Hotel as primitive, and thereafter Mather, who had always known wealth, had been determined to have a hostelry that would satisfy the most fastidious guest." (63) Yosemite was his favorite park and he was determined to see that it had the best roads, trails, and accommodations.
The agreement between the National Park Service and the Yosemite Park and Curry Company stipulated that "The National Park would own the land and structure, and set the rates for a hotel; the Company would build the lodge, furnish it, and operate it under a renewable twenty-year contract." (64) The Curry Company's directors selected an energetic, young architect from Los Angeles, Gilbert Stanley Underwood, for the project, with the instructions that he design for them a "hotel that fits the environment." (65) The directors envisioned a luxurious structure with 100 bedrooms with baths, a well equipped kitchen, a spacious lobby, and a dining room capable of seating 500-1000 people; all for the sum of $300,000. Cottages to add a hundred more rooms would also be built, but not until after completion of the main structure. In July of 1925, Underwood was retained "for one year at a fee of $2,500 plus a three percent commission on building costs." (66)
Underwood came to the project with "exceptionally favorable recommendations"--a Master's degree from Harvard, and two medals for design excellence. He was, at the time, consulting architect for the Union Pacific Railroad and also familiar with Southwest Indian designs, a factor considered relevant as an Indian theme was under consideration for the hotel. Underwood saw The Ahwahnee as a valuable commission, so much so that he was willing to "move his entire office force to Yosemite" if necessary to secure the position.(67)
Preliminary plans submitted by Underwood lived up to the expectations of the Directors, but were wrought with problems (Figures 2.77 and 2.78). Nevertheless, the building would be impressive and befitting of a first-class hotel.
The plans were revised numerous times and finally accepted in late March of 1926. Skirting the time consuming bidding process, the directors selected a reputable San Francisco contractor, James L. McLoughlin, to begin construction immediately. McLoughlin promised to have the building completed "on or before December 15, 1926" at a "maximum cost of $525,000." (69)
Over the course of construction, delay after delay pushed the completion date back more than seven months and raised the eventual cost to over one million dollars. One might have reasonably expected some delays due to difficulties encountered trying to build such an elaborate structure on a remote site, but while those problems did exist, they were, by comparison almost insignificant. Aside from being overly optimistic as to the time required to complete a structure of The Ahwahnee's complexity, McLoughlin had kept his end of the project well under control. For example, to his credit the huge task of stocking the site with the bulk of the building materials (1000 tons of steel, 5000 tons of stone, 30,000 feet of logs, and most of the fixtures and furniture) was hailed as "one of the most remarkable accomplishments in California's automotive history." Instead, the delays were caused, in McLoughlin's words, by the "chaotic conditions created by the owners and their agents." (70)
Don Tresidder, president of the Curry Company, plagued the contractor with numerous changes of mind and delayed decisions, but it was the architect, Underwood, who was ultimately responsible. He "had not kept his promises . . . instead caused endless problems by his stubbornness, absences, incomplete plans, and disloyalty to the Curry Company." (71)
The difficulties and delays during construction notwithstanding, The Ahwahnee became the luxurious, first-class hotel envisioned by Mather. All aspects of the design received meticulous attention. In addition to Underwood's masterful handling of the form and rustic detailing, two nationally known art historians and an interior designer were retained to coordinate the appointment of the interior in the chosen Indian theme.(72) An appropriate balance was struck between the massively scaled, picturesque exterior and dining room, and the refined elegance of the lobby and Great Lounge (Figure 2.79). The Ahwahnee, in contrast to the early National Park hotels at Yellowstone and Glacier, did not rely totally upon adaptation of rustic elements from the landscape for its architectural character. It also drew from the tenets governing urban and lowland resort designs to provide the guests an atmosphere of exclusive luxury (Figures 2.80 and 2.81).
When finally completed, The Ahwahnee differed markedly from the plans first presented by Underwood and accepted by the Directors. The dining room seated only 350 people, less than one-third the original intention, and the rooms were cut to ninety-two in number. Tresidder ordered the porte-cochere completely rebuilt on the north side of the building only days before the official opening. It had been "suddenly and belatedly" realized that automobile noise would disturb the guests in the rooms directly above it had it been left at its original location. "The new construction was so hurriedly executed that it is only a slight exaggeration to state that the carpenters were only a few feet ahead of the painters and the painters almost collided with the arriving guests." (73)
The snobbery of The Ahwahnee was uncharacteristic of hotels within the National Park system and an irritation to the many who felt that this attitude was wholly inappropriate. But the elitism didn't last long, the Depression reduced patronage to a mere trickle which virtually ended its reliance on exclusivity. The Ahwahnee was to finally forced to advertise for patrons.
Still today The Ahwahnee maintains much of the original air of exclusive luxury, but no longer experiences a shortage of guests. It also did add a feather to Underwood's cap, as he expected. He was later appointed architect to the U. S. Treasury Department and during this tenure selected as the architect for Mount Hood's Timberline Lodge--a position secured substantially by his success in Yosemite.
Since the beginning of the Modern movement in architecture in the 1930s, the range of building styles seen in the mountains has greatly diversified. As the popularity of mountain oriented winter sports grew, so did the number of public recreational facilities. Many of the structures were built in styles that reflected the influence of the National Park Rustic or the European Vernacular (Figure 2.82). But just as urban architecture tended away from regionalism and historical tradition, buildings in the mountains also followed a similar trend.
In Europe, the International Style had a tremendous impact on mountain building, especially where entire towns were created as ski resorts; Flaine, near Chamonix, France, for example, by Marcel Breuer, begun in the late 1960s (Figures 2.83 and 2.84). Other, more established mountain towns saw the construction of large scale, formally shaped structures, usually hotels, added to their modest profile (Figure 2.85).
New technology made unconventional and heretofore impossible building configurations commonplace, and, in the climate of "a brighter future through technology," often sought after (Figure 2.86). Both in Europe and the Americas, flat roofed structures began to appear especially during the 1960s (Figure 2.87). Substantial structures were also built where nothing but the "new technologies" would have allowed them previously (Figure 2.88).
The phenomenon of building-technology as a primary determinant of form in a mountain building is perhaps best illustrated by the 1965 visitors center at Paradise in the Mount Rainier National Park (Figure 2.89). While it is described by some as "a contemporary expression in mountain-like form," (74) it is just as likely that the form is simply an expression of the then current fascination with the new potentials of glu-lam construction and man's conquest of space.
Fortunately, in the 1970s mountain architecture began to see a return to forms which more faithfully reflected the influences and characteristics of the environment around them. Even the large European resorts, though definitely modern and not reliant on traditional forms for their character, exhibited this trend (Figure 2.90). Resorts in North America also began to incorporate the picturesque diversity characteristic of mountain structures from the earlier part of the century. For the most part, a conscious effort was made to place the structure within its setting--as part of it, not in spite of it (Figures 2.91, 2.92, and 2.93).
Master of Architecture Thesis