Glacial architecture

As Greta has repeatedly learned to her dismay, we can always find architecture to look at, even out in the wilderness.  This was true at the Grand Canyon, where Mary Coulter’s superb buildings for the Santa Fe Railroad took up most of my attention, or at the sublime Old Faithful Inn, which resembles Piranesi in logs.  Linda and I even got married at Timberline Lodge, as we considered it the best building in Oregon.  So it came as no surprise that we found many buildings to appreciate at Glacier, while Greta often sat in the car (unless there was a meal  involved.)

As at the Grand Canyon, all the lodges and hotels at Glacier were built by the railroad, used to house the tourists who travelled there by rail.  They are all quite similar in style, with a more definite mimicking of a regional style – Swiss chalet alpine – than most other National Park lodges.East Glacier

Many Glacier

The exteriors are rather straightforward – large wooden boxes housing many guest rooms – and they don’t reveal anything of the large atrium spaces within.  Most of the interest from the exterior comes from their setting – such as here at Many Glacier – where the large lodges act as tiny scale buildings, almost follies, in the landscape.Many Glacier

Many Glacier

As demand increased, new wings of rooms were added, in the same boxy, solid style.  No modern architecture allowed.

The East Glacier Hotel (which is technically outside the park), was where most guests were housed after getting off the train.  This still holds true, and we heard bellhops discussing how 28 parties were expected momentarily when the train pulled in.  The main hall is spectacular, and must have made it clear to the new arrivals that they were now Out West.

All of the effort was put into the central atrium lobbies for the buildings, which are variants on log peristyle halls, in the classic Ionic style with log volutes. East Glacier

East Glacier

While the halls were internally focussed, there are always side aislesLake McDonald

or sunrooms which are oriented out towards the views.Many Glacier

I had visited the Many Glacier Hotel 22 years ago, when it had been in a depressing state of neglect, worn out, and with insensitive interventions.  So it was gratifying to see that it had recently been completely renovated. 

The most spectacular detail is this fireplace, which is hung from the roof structure, and open all around. 

There is a mechanism which allows the telescoping flue to be lowered.  My guess is that since it is notoriously difficult to control the draft even with even two-sided fireplaces, this adjustment makes it possible to fine-tune the airflow, or even act as a snuffer when the wind kicks up. 

The Lake McDonald Lodge is the smallest and most intimate of them all.  The atrium is only two stories, and feels on the scale of a large living room. 

Linda observed how attention had been paid to the lighting in all of them, with eclectic, Japanese-influenced lanterns that were typical for the time. 

Even with the large, south-facing clerestory window above the fireplace, this atrium was dark compared to the others;  we wondered whether the large skylights at many Glacier and East Glacier had been added during renovation, and whether this degree of darkness was more in line with the original design.

The dining rooms were elegant, serving variants on the same high-end menu.  (Since our modus operandi when trailer camping involves going out for good meals, then living off the leftovers for another day, we ate dinner at a couple of them).  The Lake McDonald Lodge has a view of the Lake.

At Many Glacier, the renovated dining room is tall and beautiful, with light streaming in from west-facing clerestories.  However, this direct light must have been too much for the diners, and a pergola-like shading device runs along the western side of the room.  We couldn’t tell if this was original or not – the timbers were huge, but it seems like an unusual solution for 100 years ago. 

The roof trusses are exquisite, with the tension members articulated as thin steel rods, while the compression members are logs. 

This question about the pergola highlights one problem we had – the lack of available information on the architecture.  Even when we found a book that was purportedly about the lodges, it was really a social history, and had very little documentation of the buildings themselves.

The lodges were not the only original buildings at Glacier.  The Granite Park and Sperry Chalets were built of stone and wood at high elevations, providing comfortable lodging for hikers.  Sadly, they have both been burned in recent forest fires, and the Park Service is considering what to  do with them.

The adherence to a historicist, rustic style in National Parks came to an end in the 1960s, and modern architecture was introduced.  This may not be as visible at other parks, as they have often been built-out in the earlier style, but at Glacier there are a few fine examples.  The Logan Pass visitors’ center has substantial framing members that provide much of the expression,

and big rooves to shed the snow,

while extensive glazing allows for views out to the landscape. 

The St. Mary visitors’ center is even newer, with asymmetrical shapes, driven by roof forms which deal with the wind and sun. 

So while the natural environment at Glacier was sometimes overwhelming, the lodge architecture provided a way to touch base with civilization and its emanations.  Especially important to three people trying to live together in 85 square feet.

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