Buildings reflect park history

Posted 10/19/10

Those were some of the standout bits of information among many presented during a tour of historic buildings of in Yellowstone last month, sponsored by the Wyoming Humanities Council.

Rodd Wheaton, a former employee of the National Park Service, …

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Buildings reflect park history


{gallery}10_14_10/ynpbuilding{/gallery}Participants in a cultural history tour of Yellowstone National Park visited Lake Hotel and several other historic buildings in the park. Pictured above is the sun room at Lake Hotel, which Wyoming columnist Bill Sniffin said many folks claim to be one of the most “centering” places on the planet. Attempts now are under way to have the hotel put on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Tribune photo by Ilene Olson Although few people visiting Yellowstone National Park realize it, several of the historic buildings they see were designed by the same architect. Robert C. Reamer designed the Old Faithful Inn (1903-04) and its west wing (1927), the Lake Store (1919), the Lake Hotel (1922-23), the Upper Hamilton Store in the Old Faithful area (1929), the National Hotel (now the main wing of the Mammoth Hotel) at Mammoth Hot Springs and Mammoth Hotel Cottages (1938). Reamer also redesigned the National Hotel in 1936 after a fire, and may have had a hand in the design of the stone arch leading into Yellowstone from Gardiner, Mont.

Those were some of the standout bits of information among many presented during a tour of historic buildings of in Yellowstone last month, sponsored by the Wyoming Humanities Council.

Rodd Wheaton, a former employee of the National Park Service, served as tour and interpretive learning guide for the group.

Aside from a few early buildings, the park's first architecture was designed for the U.S. Army after the Army was called in to manage the park and deter poachers and chase out usurpers, Wheaton said.

Those efforts began near Mammoth Hot Springs, eventually leading to the establishment of Fort Yellowstone. Buildings at Fort Yellowstone included duplexes in Officers' Row, the Haynes House (later demolished), and buildings that now serve as park headquarters and the post office, among others.

Many of those buildings were built of stone in an authoritarian style, he said.

Meanwhile, other building styles made their way into the park as well.

Remer, who mastered several architectural styles, sometimes is referred to as Yellowstone's “resident wonder boy.”

Reamer's building styles in the park ranged from the ornate Queen Anne (Old Faithful) and Colonial Revival (Lake Hotel) to more rustic designs such as prairie, stick and art-deco, Wheaton said.

Wheaton said Lake Hotel was designed and built to “provide guests a little bit of civilization in the wilderness” including beauty shops and other services many were accustomed to.

Another hotel, the Canyon Hotel, also was designed by Reamer in 1929. That hotel was sold for salvage in 1959, and it burned to the ground in a fire in 1960.

Reamer's designs generally comprised materials that were obtained easily in the park or nearby area, such as logs and stones.

Later, a rustic building design trend now known as “Parkitecture” arose within Yellowstone. The Park Service has defined the building elements of the style, which Wheaton listed for those present:

• Buildings were to be in harmony with their surroundings

• All buildings in an area should be similar in design and materials.

• Horizontal lines should be dominant.

• Avoid rigid, straight lines.

• Stone, log and timber work should be in scale for a well-balanced design.

• Buildings occasionally were oversized to prevent them being dwarfed by their surroundings.

Four museums in the park were built in the Parkitecture style, designed by Herbert Maier and paid for by the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Foundation. Three of them — museums at Norris, Fishing Bridge and Madison — still stand today. The Fishing Bridge Museum still displays the same wildlife exhibits designed in 1931.

Many of the buildings in the park before World War II were constructed through the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps program. But, with the advent of World War II, that program ceased and building in the park came to a halt, as did much of the travel in the country.

Then, in the 1950s, tourism resurged and became more common — but, by then, travelers had changed. They drove their own cars, and they wanted better accommodations than in the past.

After more than a decade of no new building and inadequate maintenance, Yellowstone Park wasn't ready for those changes.

To better meet the needs of the traveling public, the National Park Service started the Mission 1966 program — a massive 10-year program beginning in 1956 designed to accelerate building and modernization of facilities in national parks.

Mission 66 was responsible for many building projects in the park — as well as the demolishing of several historic structures, Wheaton said.

Projects completed during that time included new visitor centers at Old Faithful and Canyon Village, both of which recently were replaced with new facilities.

Mission 66 also include infrastructure projects, such as the Old Faithful bypass.