There was a sense of urgency at the Many Glacier Hotel last week as construction crews bustled about making last-minute repairs and moving crews unpacked boxes and boxes of supplies, furniture and all the other amenities that make the lodge one of the premier destinations in Glacier National Park.
The north annex of the hotel has seen more than $10 million in renovations over the past two years, and work is finally wrapping up as the building is set to fully open to guests June 15. Federal stimulus money was used to pay for the work.
For the casual viewer, the crowning achievement of the recent work is the dining room. A drop ceiling that hid all the utilities running to the kitchen wasn't even close to the original design and grandeur that designers envisioned when the Great Northern Railway opened the hotel in 1915, said Lester Ashwood, of HDR Consulting, the firm overseeing the project.
The new dining room design emerged after consultation with Lon Johnson, the Park's historical architect, and the state Historic Preservation Office.
Over the past year, Swank Construction crews removed the drop ceiling, exposing the original timbers and steel trusses. The lighting has been also been restored in the spirit of the original Japanese lantern motif, and the massive fireplace is now fully functional.
While the dining room will certainly catch the visitor's eye, it's what's behind the walls that truly matters, Ashwood noted.
The north end of the building has new electrical and plumbing systems that comply with modern building codes, and the building has a state-of-the-art fire alarm and sprinkler system wired to the Internet. Fire alarms will not only notify Park officials and local fire companies but also the National Park Service's regional office.
Guests' rooms are also much quieter. While the hotel may appear majestic, guests could hear people in the next room speaking. The walls have been insulated, and rooms with bathtubs have a special touch - the bathtubs have been re-enameled by Kohler and the fixtures have either been replaced or restored. Remodeling six wheelchair-accessible rooms was included in the project.
The main lobby has also seen changes. The spiral staircase has been removed to make the space more open and quieter. Dining room and lobby windows have been replaced and repainted to their original designs. Ashwood said he and Johnson had to scrape layers of paint off the original wood to determine the color scheme that was used.
The north annex has also been bolstered against earthquakes. While tremblors are more common in the Yellowstone region, earthquakes have occurred in Glacier Park. Crews poured concrete seismic pilings in the ground, and concrete shear walls extend up from the foundation to the roof. High-strength steel tension rods extend from the foundation to the roof in several locations.
The idea is to keep the building from swaying in the event of an earthquake. Without seismic stabilization, a large structure tends to sway and tumble in upon itself.
Work remains to be done at the historic lodge, Ashwood said. The lobby is a main concern - it's built on giant coastal Douglas fir timbers that sit on concrete footings. In the event of an earthquake, the timbers could sway and break, he said. The south end of the building also is in need of new electrical and plumbing upgrades, Ashwood said.
The Many Glacier Hotel was declared a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 29, 1976. It has 214 guest rooms, and nightly prices range from $149 to $310 for a suite. Glacier Park Inc. runs this hotel and all the major lodges in the Park for the National Park Service.