Table of Contents
I. In the Beginning: 1872 - 1916
II. The Landscape Influence: 1916 - 1918
III. The Formative Decade: 1918 - 1927
IV. Maturity Achived: 1927 - 1932
V. Roosevelt's Emergancy Programs: 1933 - 1935
VI. The Decline: 1935 - 1942
I. In the Beginning: 1872 - 1916
The first national parks were a response to the romanticism that restructured the American concept of wilderness in the nineteenth century. As seen in the artistry of John James Audubon, James Fenimore Cooper, Thomas Cole, George Catlin, William Cullen Bryant and others, the idea of wilderness developed during the course of the nineteenth century from an entity to be feared and conquered into a resource that should be preserved and treasured. As early as 1832, the painter George Catlin proposed: "What a beautiful and thrilling specimen for America to preserve and hold up to the view of her refined citizens and the world in future ages ...a nation's park, containing man, beast in all the wild(ness) and freshness of their nature's beauty. "1 Besides preserving the land, Catlin's proposal also encompassed the protection of the American Indian in his natural setting. The early wilderness preservation philosophies--expressed through painting, poetry, essays, and later photography--helped lay the foundations for the acceptance of the first national parks.
Beginning with Yosemite in 1866 and Yellowstone in 1872, public lands were set aside as parks. Early administration of these reserves was haphazard. Yosemite fell prey to a politicized board of state commissions, while Yellowstone was given an unpaid superintendent and no appropriations.
In 1883, because of extensive poaching and political scandal, the Army was authorized to protect Yellowstone although it was not called upon by the Secretary of the Interior to do so until 1886. The Army stayed in Yellowstone in an administrative capacity until 1916. After 1890, the Army also was called on to protect Sequoia, General Grant and Yosemite. In each of the Army parks, the War Department was compelled to erect basic facilities for its own use. Fort Yellowstone, Wyoming, was the most important of these complexes. The army buildings there were constructed to standard Army specifications. Many were similar to buildings erected at other non-park military installations of the period. The Fort Yellowstone stables, for instance, were nearly identical to those at the Presidio of San Francisco, while the Double Officers Quarters were similar to those constructed at Fort Lapwai, Idaho and Fort Spokane, Washington. 2
Typical of the later structures built by the Army at Yellowstone was the second hospital. Completed in 1913, this enormous symmetrical building combined vaguely Georgian and neo-classical elements with a hip roof and projecting dormers reminiscent of early mid-western Prairie Style architecture.
The second Fort Yellowstone hospital and the other Army buildings in the National Parks were constructed by an organization concerned primarily with park protection and administration, rather than scenic values. The Army had no direct interest in the landscape, and this was echoed in their architecture.
In those early parks where the Interior Department retained administrative responsibility (including Crater Lake. Mount Rainier and Glacier) government buildings usually were limited to primitive, vernacular expressions of facility need. Crude frame shacks. log cabins. or tent frames usually sufficed. These early government facilities could be simple because responsibility for housing and transporting the park visitor was delegated to the park concessioners.
The early park concessioners received little supervision. Their structures were typical make-shift frontier efforts. Not until after the completion of the northern transcontinental railroads in the 1890s, did more advanced concessioner facilities appear in Yellowstone, for example. Among the first of these was the Lake Hotel, constructed by the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1890. The formal classicism of this structure, with its ionic columns, three projecting porticos and symmetrical façade, made it clear that the building owed nothing to its setting.
The railroads brought the first major developments to the parks. At the same time, as apart of this process, they also introduced their architectural and engineering expertise. The first railroad design responses to park situations tended, like the Lake Hotel, to ignore the natural setting. But during the first decade of the twentieth century, the railroads began to respond more positively. Doing so, they discovered, was only good business. Distinctive hotels in romantic settings drew more patrons.
The railroads' search for architectural styles suitable for park settings occurred at a time when landscape architecture was beginning to exert major influence on architectural design and theory. In 1842, landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing had publicized his ideas on "picturesque" landscape and the importance of nature in architectural design in his widely- distributed book Cottage Residences. Several decades later, Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., a friend and pupil of Downing, working in conjunction with architects such as H. H. Richardson, strengthened the connections between architecture and landscape architecture. Their buildings were constructed of "natural" materials, including native stone, timbers, and shingles. The building forms responded to their sites, and landscaping became an integral part of the design.
Another expression of rising concern about the relationship between a structure and its site developed in the San Francisco Bay area of California. Several California architects, including Bernard Maybeck, searched for innovative ways to use natural materials. Every feature of its [the group's] buildings, from the basic mass to the smallest detail, was coordinated to harmonize with the landscape. Ornament for its own sake often became unnecessary for some members of the group as they explored the textural richness derived from juxtaposing materials and shapes. For others, ornament became a way of adding color to the composition or of going a step further to the symbolic or story-like.3 The relationship of Bernard Maybeck to later National Park Service rustic architecture still lacks clear definition, although the similarity of architectural theory is too great to allow complete separation.
It is clear that Maybeck and his associates began to influence park architecture after 1900. In 1903, the Sierra Club erected LeConte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite Valley. Designed to serve as the Club's summer headquarters, it contained a library and a club information center. Weathered native granite dominated the symmetrical Tudor Revival building, which bore the strong imprint of Maybeck in an exaggerated roofline which comprised more than half of the height of the structure, a huge granite fire-place, and its rough-finish exposed roof beams. The Sierra Club Bulletin stated that the building was designed by “John" White, but the Maybeck influence is so obvious that the building was undoubtedly the work of Mark White, brother-in-law and construction supervisor for Bernard Maybeck. 4
The development of railroad hotels in national parks and other western areas of scenic beauty accelerated after the turn of the century. At Yellowstone National Park in 1903, the Northern Pacific Railroad constructed the Old Faithful Inn. This six-story resort was in the Swiss Chalet-Norway Villa tradition, but executed in a very western frontier manner. The exterior of the log frame structure was sheathed with shingles, and the building was heavily articulated with logwork piers and corners. Two stories of projecting dormers protruded from the enormous main gable, which was the dominant architectural feature. The combination of the logwork, shingles, and form resulted in a masterful structure. The Inn was designed by Robert Reamer, who is said to have "sketched the plans while coming shakily out of a monumental submersion in malt, and some authorities claim to be able to read that fact in its unique contours.” 5
In Arizona, in 1901, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe completed a branch from its Chicago-Los Angeles main line to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, several years before Grand Canyon National Monument was proclaimed. In partnership with the Fred Harvey Company, the railroad built a luxury hotel, El Tovar, at the south rim in 1904. The Santa Fe retained Charles Whittlesley of Topeka, Kansas, to design the building, which boasted more than one hundred bedrooms. It opened in January, 1905.
Built with turn-of-the-century eclecticism, El Tovar incorporated, according to Fred Harvey literature, exterior elements of the Swiss Chalet and Norway Villa, with an exotic combination of interior motifs, including a fifteenth century dining room, and a series of "art rooms " which contained Thomas Moran paintings. Navajo rugs, and other Indian artifacts. The hotel was "stained to a rich brown or weather-beaten color, that harmonized perfectly with the grey-green of its unique surroundings. It is pleasant to the eye.” 6 Thus, even within the eclectic design, thought was given to the relationship between the hotel and its setting. Such a concern represented a distinct departure from strictly functional railroad architecture.
Hopi House, directly adjacent to El Tovar. was constructed by Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe in 1905. The building was designed to serve as a gift shop where Native Americans could sell their wares. In that way, it provided an outlet for the Hopi who lived within part of it as well as for the Navajo who built traditional hogans adjacent. Hopi House closely copied the Hopi pueblo at Oraibi, Arizona, and was probably designed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, architect for the Fred Harvey Company. The building was constructed in the traditional pueblo style. an idiom well suited to the setting. The Hopi House work had a lasting effect on park architecture, and on contemporary southwestern architecture, although later pueblo adaptations were generally less concerned with authenticity. The stylistic choice on the part of Miss Colter and the Fred Harvey Company was primarily commercial, designed to stimulate interest in Indian goods. Judged by such standards Hopi House was successful; it served as a handsome marketing facility. Hopi House symbolized the partnership between commercialism and romanticism that typified so much of Fred Harvey architecture.
As park concessioners experimented with park building design, regional variations began to appear. Hopi House represented one possibility. In Yosemite, two buildings erected by the Yosemite Valley Railroad between 1908 and 1910 set another local standard. By 1910, the railroad had constructed a depot at El Portal near the park boundary .and a stage depot in Yosemite Valley. Although the Y. V. R. R. operation was on a much smaller scale than those at the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, the railroad's buildings were significant expressions of local park architecture. Both structures were built in a rustic Stick Style reminiscent of nineteenth century Adirondack camp architecture. The wood frame buildings were covered with panels of decorative boughs. The diagonal brackets of the depot were small logs, complete with protruding knots. The Yosemite Valley Stage Depot, which also served as a telegraph office, had a steeply gabled roof, which comprised more than half the height of the building, and diamond- shaped window panes. Both structures were representative of a local movement of "rustic" architecture that developed in Yosemite after 1900. Several buildings at nearby Camp Curry shared the style.
No national park owes more to its early concessioner than Glacier. Beginning in 1911, when the park was created, the Great Northern Railway built the Glacier Park Hotel, just outside the park boundary, the Lake MacDonald Hotel, the Many-Glaciers Hotel, and nine mountain chalets in more isolated sites. Early Great Northern literature stated: "The chain of mountain hotels and chalet groups, operated by the Glacier Park Hotel Company, that has been established along Glacier Park's principal highways and trails, is one of Glacier Park's most interesting features. These hotels and chalet-groups are all remarkably in rhyme with this mountainland. "7
The Glacier Park Hotel at Glacier Park Station (East Glacier) had a capacity of 400 guests. Built at a cost of $500.000, the enormous log frame complex was four stories high, and six hundred twenty-eight feet long. Complete with Music and Writing Rooms. sun parlor and emergency hospital, the hotel boasted unpeeled log pillars up to four feet in diameter. Used on both exterior and interior, the logs brought nature inside for the pleasure and comfort of the guests. As described in contemporary promotional literature, the “Forest" lobby included an "open camp fire on the Lobby's floor; here tourists and dignified Blackfeet chiefs and weatherbeaten guides cluster of evenings about a great bed of stones on which sticks of fragrant pine crackle merrily.” 8 The structure included on its 160 acre tract a Blackfeet Indian camp. The tourist appeal of this romantic Catlinesque idea was apparent .
The chalet camps scattered throughout the park were log or stone structures, built "on the Swiss style of architecture. " Some were log cabin complexes while others, notably Sperry and Going-to-the- Sun, were stone buildings. Each of the isolated facilities had a "huge stone fire-place. 9 Spaced within easy travelling distance of each other the chalets were located in the most scenic portions of the park. Though not as impressive as the Glacier Park Hotel or the Many-Glaciers Hotel, they contributed much to the development of non-intrusive architecture through their sensitive use of native materials and architectural forms which were in proportional harmony with the surrounding environment.
About 19141 the Fred Harvey Company initiated a major expansion of its Grand Canyon facilities. One of the first new structures was the Lookout Studio, designed by M. E. J. Colter. Built of native stone, the canyon-rim structure had an uneven parapet roofline which matched the form and color of the surrounding cliffs. The historical romanticism and nostalgia evident at Hopi House had been tempered by fantasy--a metamorphosis away from archeological authenticity and toward pure romanticism.
Hermit's Rest another one of Colter's fantasy buildings was constructed at the head of the Hermit Trail in 1914 to serve as a refreshment stand and giftshop. Constructed of native stones and massive logs, the building seemed to have grown in its setting, and was carefully screened by vegetation. Its most impressive feature was its enormous fireplace.
Parsons Memorial Lodge, constructed by the Sierra Club in 1915 at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite seems to share several design concerns with the Hermit's Rest complex. The building was designed by Mark White, brother-in-law of Bernard Maybeck, and presumed designer of LeConte Memorial Lodge. As the construction superintendent of many of Maybeck's buildings, White undoubtedly was influenced in his architectural work by Maybeck. Parsons Lodge was a wide building of low profile, whose walls appeared to be granite dry wall masonry. 10 Actually, White had experimented with a new construction technique so that the battered stone walls had concrete cores. This philosophy of using new building methods in visual imitation of pioneer building techniques matured in the 1920s in structures like Yosemite's Ahwahnee Hotel. Overall, Parsons Memorial Lodge was handsomely scaled in relation to its environment, a result of the parity achieved between the size of the logs and stones used and those surrounding the site. As a contemporary architect stated: "The building seems to grow out of the ground naturally and to belong there just as much as the neighboring trees and rocks." 11
Between 1914 and 1916, the Army returned day-to-day control of its western parks to the Interior Department, which attempted to implement a general park management program. Meanwhile, support was rising for a Federal bureau of national parks. (See Chapter II) This increased interest in the parks manifested itself in an enlarged program of hotel construction by the concessioners.
Construction on the Crater Lake Lodge in Oregon began in 1914, although numerous additions were built later. The hotel was constructed directly on the Crater rim approximately 1000 feet above the lake. The original plan was fairly symmetrical. The lower story which was constructed of stone, included handsome arched windows. The upper stories were shingled. The roof. interrupted by rows of dormer windows, had clipped gables at the ends. Although the hotel incorporated local materials into its design in an obvious attempt to subordinate itself to the site, the complex remained relatively intrusive, a result of its siting. The use of stone and shingles was thus apart of an unsuccessful effort, for the highly visible site negated the concessions to environment that had been made with materials.
Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park received a new hotel in 1917. Erected by the Desmond Park Company, the two and three story, shingle-covered structure had a distinctly Swiss chalet design emphasis. The steeply pitched roofs, numerous roof gables and intricate balconies added detail to this alpine structure. Although situated so that it had a magnificent view of the Yosemite high country, the hotel was sufficiently removed from Glacier Point proper to reduce its visual impact. Certainly it was not as objectionably sited as the Crater Lake Lodge.
By 1917, the year the National Park Service commenced operation, the national parks had been the site of a wide variety of architectural experiments. Hotels, railroad stations, studios, shelters, and residences had been built in styles varying from Swiss Chalet to Indian Pueblo. No single style predominated. Instead, a sampler of architectural possibilities had been assembled. Some of the themes and styles explored would be influential in the coming years and some would not. Among the most influential would be the fantasy pueblos of M. E. J. Colter, the “organic" buildings of Mark White, and the Swiss-alpine designs at Glacier. If there was a lesson available from the sample, it was that park buildings properly designed to harmonize with their natural setting were distinctly more appropriate. Such a lesson would be useful, however, only if a competent and efficient park bureau was created to apply it.
1. Roderick Mash, Wilderness and the American Mind (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973), 101.
2. D. G. Battle and E. N. Thompson, Fort Yellowstone Historic Structure Report (Denver: National Park Service, 1972), 72.
3. L. M. Freudenheim and E. Sussman, Building with Nature: Roots of the San Francisco Bay Region Tradition (Santa Barbara: Peregrine Smith, Inc., 1974), 3.
4. W. E Colby, "The Completed LeConte Memorial Lodge," Sierra Club Bulletin V (January, 1094), 66-69.
5. Robert Shankland, Steve Mather of the National Parks (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1954), 117.
6. G. W. James The Grand Canyon and How to See It (Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1910), 17.
7. Great Northern Railway, "Glacier National Park, Hotels and Tours," (promotional pamphlet, circa 1915), 3.
8. Ibid., 4.
9. Ibid., 7.
10. Sierra Club, "Report on Parsons Memorial Lodge," Sierra Club Bulletin, X (January 1916), 84-85. Corrugated metal roofing was used by Maybeck in 1923 in his remarkably similar Glen Alpine cabins at Lake Tahoe. See Esther McCoy, Five California Architects (New York: Praeger, 1975).
11. "Report on Parsons Memorial Lodge," 85.
William C. Tweed, Historian
Laura E. Soulliere, Architectural Historian
Henry G. Law, Architect
National Park Service
Western Regional Office
Division of Culutral Resource Management