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Great Lodges

Great Lodges of the National Parks

Canyon Lodges: Bryce Canyon

Lodge | Setting | Trivia


Bryce Canyon Lodge was the second structure in the Union Pacific Railway's "Loop Tours" building program. By this stage, the architect, NPS, and Railway were accustomed to working together. Even so, the Bryce Canyon development presented a few trying moments.

The UP wanted to build the Lodge on the very edge of the Canyon. But the NPS refused permission. As a result, the railroad treated the Lodge as a temporary structure, to be used only until a rim site was authorized. The short-term building techniques would lead to future problems.

The Bryce Canyon Lodge complex was designed and built over several years, expanding in response to increased visitor demand. Two guest wings were added in 1926, and an auditorium in 1928. The Standard and Economy Cabins were finished by 1927; Deluxe Cabins were completed by 1929.reat natural amphitheater, encircled with walls that appear to close behind as one enters. The floor is lined with deciduous trees accompanied by a remarkable assortment of other vegetation. In the center of the circle stand two large stone pillars. The larger is the altar, the smaller one the pulpit. The south side of the altar bears the profile view of a great stone face known as the Guardian of the Temple, and is chiefly remarkable for the change of expression which takes place as one enters the sacred confines which he guards."

A site was selected in 1923, and the UP immediately began stockpiling local timber, lumber, and stone. By choosing not to import wood from the Northwest, the UP was able to save considerable money. More importantly, hiring local companies and laborers helped to garner community support.

Building stone was quarried just a few miles from the site. Believing that the local timber would be of inferior quality, the railroad told the architect to specify stone walls "up to the snow line." But the blueprints only indicated masonry for the foundation, chimneys and steps (which were eventually made with brick). The stonework façade was a later addition.

Actual building got underway in 1924, and the main Lodge was ready to open in the summer of 1925. Attention then turned to construction of 15 Deluxe Cabins and 67 Standard and Economy Cabins.

The Architect
Although the Bryce and Zion Canyon Lodges are distinctly different, Gilbert Stanley Underwood applied the same architectural principles to both properties. His design concept in both cases centered on a main building with satellite cabins. His choice of local building materials complemented the landscape, matching the palette and textures of each Lodge's immediate surroundings.

The Bryce Canyon Lodge and Cabins are typical of Underwood at his best. Repeated columnar forms and an irregular floor plan are reminiscent of the geology in nearby canyons. A low portico, topped with a single 52-foot-long beam, provides a firm horizontal sightline that echoes the surrounding mesas.

Underwood's use of natural building materials, combined with his unique flair for rustic design, was ideally suited to the emerging NPS attitude about architecture in the Parks.

The Union Pacific made generous use of advertising to tell the traveling public about the tours and accommodations that would soon be available in the Southwest. Both Bryce and Zion Canyon Lodges opened in the summer of 1925, and the response was tremendous.

After a day spent touring the countryside, guests could relax in the lobby. A gently rustic ambience was provided by hickory furniture, chandeliers crafted of logs, and a stone hearth with a hood of hammered copper.

When guests were ready to leave, all of the employees would line up in front of the Lodge to raise their voices in rousing choruses known as "sing-aways."

At the end of the opening season, the UP's concessions director contacted Railway headquarters in Omaha, requesting more facilities and doubled capacity at both Zion and Bryce Lodges.