Great Lodges of the National Parks
Pacific Northwest: Paradise Inn
Paradise Inn, 1917
Among the finest and oldest mountain resorts in the Northwest, Paradise Inn is the handiwork of Stephen Mather, first director of the NPS. Mather first climbed to the summit of Mt. Rainier in 1905. Ten years later, he was back, and trying to unify operations on the mountain.
Mather wanted a lodge suitable to the setting, but funding was a problem. Railroads couldn't make it up the mountain, so they had no incentive to build. Mather had to persuade someone else to construct his lodge on Mt. Rainier. So he invited a group of regional leaders on a trip around the peak – and then told his guests to form a local company and build a lodge, or he would bring in "Eastern" capital to do the job.
His plan worked, and even before the Rainier National Park Company was incorporated, drawings for a lodge were nearly final.
Rock and timber were stockpiled for the short building season. Work on the stone foundation began in July 1916, followed by a post and beam framework. The use of naturally weathered logs was unique in NPS construction. Stone quarried from the mountain was used for massive fireplaces, capable of burning a cord of wood a day. The exterior was covered with cedar shingles; on the gabled roof the shingles were painted green, but outside walls were allowed to weather to soft gray.
The Inn opened in July 1917, with 37 guest rooms. Additional construction began almost immediately, including a 4-story annex in 1920.
Built to last for just 20 years, the Inn was never intended to endure the downward and sideways pressure of tons of ice and snow. Resulting structural problems nearly resulted in deconstruction of the Inn.
In 1915, the RNPC gave the Inn's design contract to Tacoma architects Heath, Gove and Bell. In March 1916, Frederick Heath presented the plans to RNPC directors (a more modest version of a hotel he designed in 1911).
Heath's concept was heavily influenced by the work of Frederick Law Olmsted, widely recognized as the founder of American landscape architecture. As a result, the Inn can be seen in the larger context of natural features and elements.
The "forested" lobby is the Inn's most impressive space. Exposed cedar logs provide structural framework. French doors in 14 bays allow summer breezes to enter. Natural light comes through dormer windows on the second story, augmented by hanging lamps.
The 4-story annex, built in 1920 and designed by RNPC architect Harlan Thomas, provided 100 new guest rooms, 58 with private baths.
Paradise Inn opened on schedule, July 1, 1917. The road was still choked with snow, so visitors rode sleighs or horses up the valley. Waterproof boots were available for guests who wanted to hike in.
During the Depression, visitors demanded cheap "housekeeping cabins" near the Inn. To stay in business, the RNPC complied.
Soon after the 1934-35 Olympic trials at Paradise Valley, the Inn opened for its first full winter season, and a portable ski tow was installed. During WWII, nearby regiments trained at Paradise, monopolizing the rope tow on weekdays.
Over the decades, Paradise Inn has welcomed thousands of guests, including a number of movie stars and dignitaries including Sonja Henie, Shirley Temple, Tyrone Power, Frances Farmer, Cecil B. DeMille, a crown prince of Norway, and President Truman.