Great Lodges of the National Parks
Canyon Lodges: Zion Park
Zion Park Lodge stands in southeast Utah, some 100 miles north of the El Tovar (built in 1905), and about 300 miles east of the Ahwahnee (built in 1927). All three lodges are curiously linked by people, events, and above all, the railroads.
It began with the Santa Fe's construction of El Tovar at the Grand Canyon. Their success inspired the Union Pacific to create a loop of lodges in southern Utah. And the UP had the funds that Stephen Mather, Director of the NPS, needed for proper development of his young National Parks System. It was Mather who promoted Gilbert Stanley Underwood as the architect for Zion Park Lodge and, later on, for the Ahwahnee.
Together, these players defined early tourism in the Southwest. The most dramatic contribution of the Union Pacific was their famed Loop Tour, which started in Zion National Park.a replica of the Canyon designed to be seen from cars that would carry tourists along the "rim" for 25¢ a trip.
The construction site on the Canyon floor offered riverside shade and spectacular views, as well as good vehicle access. The lodge was designed to stand for 25 years, the length of the concessions contract.
Sandstone was easily quarried nearby, but timber arrived in a peculiar way. Trees were cut on the flat land above the Canyon rim, and lowered to the site on cable works.
Four squared columns of native sandstone blocks provided both an entry portico and support for a second-story balcony. Centered behind the columns on both floors, full-length, multi-paned windows allowed natural light to flow into the building. Tongue and groove siding covered the exterior.
Under pressure from the NPS to accommodate the new trend in car travel, the UP also built 10 duplex-style Deluxe Cabins in 1927, and 5 more four-plex Deluxe Cabins in 1929.
An architect on the UP payroll drew up the first plans for a lodge at Zion National Park. The design was blocky and had no sense of connection to the setting. The plans were rejected by Stephen Mather, Director of the NPS, and Daniel Hull, a senior NPS landscape engineer.
Hull then advised Gilbert Stanley Underwood to apply for the job. Hull and Underwood had become friends at the University of Illinois. In May 1923, Underwood was hired and sent to survey both Zion and Bryce Canyons.
Underwood's first proposal used a standard lobby-with-wings design. Once again, Stephen Mather rejected the design. Mather wanted a structure that would blend with the environment, and serve the needs of automobile travelers. Underwood responded with a lodge surrounded by artfully placed cabins. This format became a hallmark of Underwood's designs in Utah.
For over 40 years, visitors enjoyed a special sense of "place" at Zion. Spectacular views were as near as the front lawn, and people still speak fondly of the old Lodge. But that Lodge no longer exists. On January 28, 1966, the main building was devoured by fire.
The blaze was started by a work crew that was removing some old vinyl flooring. They were apparently using blowtorches to soften the vinyl's adhesive.
A UP crew fought the flames until an NPS team arrived with a pumper truck. At the end of the day, only the stone fireplace and pillars were left standing.
The UP decided to raze the remains and rebuild on the site. Plans were drawn up in a hurry, and a new "hideous" building was opened just 108 days after the fire. A 1992 remodeling project restored some of the original Lodge features, including the sandstone portico pillars.