Superior Classification II

paradise inn lobby has arguably one of the best lobby atmospheres in the national parks

Above, the lobby circa 2008. Photo by Ian Poellet.

2008 re-opening

Front of the Inn during its 2008 re-opening. Photo by DarkRavag3r

Paradise Inn Mount Rainier National Park, July 1, 1917
Classification II
Location:
Paradise Valley, Washington
Theme: National Park Rustic "Parkitecture" with overall T-shape floorplan, Swiss Chalet structure.
Structure: 50,000 square foot, 2 1/2 story, log frame structure on rubble masonry foundation. Cedar shingle roof, cedar log lobby. Annex is 3 1/2 story, timber frame.
Original Architect: Heath, Grove, and Bell, Tacoma WA.
Annex Architect: Thomas and Harlan, Seattle WA.
Construction: Rainier National Park Co.
On-site Furnishings Carpenter: Hans Fraehnke
Light Shade Paintings (present): Dale C. Thompson
2008 Reconstruction: Architect, Fletcher Farr Ayotte Architects, Portland; Structural Engineers: KPFF Consulting Engineers, Seattle; Wash.; General Contractor, Watts/Korsmo, JV, Tacoma Wash.

Known Timeline:
Stephen Mather authorizes new accommodations at Mt Rainier, 1915
Rainier National Park Co. formed; Chester Thorne, Board President, March 1916
Construction, 1916-1917
Original furnishings purchased (new) from Old Hickory Co. and (used) from Jones Building, Tacoma, 1916-1917
Lobby carpentry details, clock, some desks & chairs constructed on site by Fraehnke, 1916-1923*
Inn opens, July 1, 1917
Bungalow tents built for additional guests, 1917
Clock constructed by Fraehnke, circa 1919
Piano encased in rustic woodwork by Fraehnke, 1919
Annex constructed, adding 100 rooms (58 w/bath), 1920
Bungalow tents removed, 1920
Paradise Guide House built, 1920
Mezzanine added to lobby, 1925
Paradise Lodge constructed, 1928
Registration area painted w/forest & icicle theme, circa 1929-30**
Japanese lanterns replaced with rustic theme shades, circa 1929-30**
Kitchen wing demolished & reconstructed, 1930 or 1935*
9-hole golf course opened, August 1, 1931
Additional furnishings purchased from Old Hickory Co., 1931
Inn used sparingly (most guests shifted to Lodge), 1933
Lobby porch enclosed, converted to gift shop, 1935
Inn hosts Winter Olympic ski trials, 1935
Ski rope tow installed, 1936***
Ski tow powerhouse constructed by CCC, 1937
Annex renovated, 1937
Funicular ski lift proposed, 1940
Dormitory "ski lodge" completed, December 1941
Tourist cabins sold & removed for military use, 1944
President Harry Truman plays lobby piano, 1945
NPS agrees to buy Inn from Rainier National Park Co. which will continue as concessionaire, 1950
Sale of Inn completed, 1952
New hotel, ski chairlift proposed for Paradise, 1953
Dept of Interior rejects new hotel & ski area expansion, 1954
10-story hotel/services complex proposed to replace all Paradise structures, 1957
Congressional bill introduced to fund yet another new hotel, 1959
Employee cafeteria added to kitchen wing, 1962
Paradise Lodge razed, 1965
Inn renovated, 1973
Ski rope tow closed, 1975
Inn renovated, sprinkler system added, 1980
Buttress logs reinforced with steel, 1980 Paradise ice caves closed, 1981
1930s era light shades replicated & replaced, 1989
Inn renovated, 1992
Numerous original Old Hickory Co. chairs re-caned, 1994
Inn renovated, 1997
Guide House renovated, 2003
Inn closed and renovated, structural stabilization, 2006-2008
Current room count: 121
Concession operated by Guest Services Inc.
* indicates conflicting sources; date uncertain.
** it is unknown if Japanese lantern replacement coincided with the new paint scheme.
*** The NPS gave permission for a rope tow to be installed for the 1937-38 season. Some sources indicate a tow in use as early as 1936; it is possible this was a "temporary" tow.

Observations

For most of its existence, Paradise Inn was the Rodney Dangerfield of park lodges: No respect. Grumblings about demolition were voiced as early as the 1930s, and by the 1950s the consortium that built it said "enough" and gave the maintenance-intensive structure to the American people. Park Service studies repeatedly trotted out recommendations to torch the Inn to make way for a modern, full-service resort hotel. Destruction was a virtual fait accompli during the Mission 66 years, but somehow the old building survived.

A vocal minority of impassioned Paradise Inn fans refused to let the building go without a fight. Thought of at first as wacky preservationists, it was simply a matter of time before the American public woke up and realized the importance of the old lodges. By the 1980s and certainly the 1990s, the "no respect" was a fading memory as Paradise Inn was once again a destination unto itself. It must also be noted that the Park Service, once firmly in the demolition camp, is now the leading protector of historic structures such as Paradise Inn. [Unfortunately the nearby visitor center from the Mission 66 era was not deemed worthy of preservation. Ironic, considering the Inn was eyed for demolition by the same folks who cut the ribbon on the infamous "spaceship" -- Editor]. Although there are many guests today who simply don't "get it" that the Paradise Inn is a sort of living museum, and instead are quite perturbed that it lacks the plush conveniences of a modern Holiday Inn.

the original lobby of the paradise inn

These vintage postcard images were used first as a black-and-white, then in the colorized format seen here. The image above was sold and mailed by thousands of visitors well into the 1950s, even though the image dates from circa 1917. The giveaway is the absence of the mezzanine, which was installed in 1925. Look closely at the beams at the mezz level in this image, then compare to the large photo at the top of this webpage. Below, another view of the same general area, this one from mid 20th century.

mid century image of paradise inn lobby at mount rainier national park

Paradise Inn is closely tied to man's history and experience in the park, probably more so than any other National Park lodge. Early guests would often spend a week at the Inn, enjoying horseback riding, golfing, and other leisure activities offered. These faded as more adventurous recreation gained popularity. Paradise Inn hosted Olympic trials, and at one time was the foremost winter sports destination in the Pacific northwest. It offered one of the first ski lifts in the region, a rope tow that operated into the 1970s. In the late 1960s, famed mountaineer Lou Whittaker was the Guide Service contractor, and his alpha male presence added a certain outdoorsy elan to the Paradise complex. The Inn and Climber's Guide Service long had a symbiotic relationship (the Guide Service building was constructed and furnished by Rainier National Park Co.) and to this day the Inn is the site of many congratulatory post-climb meals. It was, and continues to be, second only to the mountain as the average visitors' most identifiable memory of Mt. Rainier National Park.

vintage view of the paradise area with guide service lodge

Above, this vintage view shows the Paradise-Inn styled Guide Service building in the foreground. Part of an old canvas cabin complex is visible in the left-hand side of the photo. That area is now a parking lot.

Most of all, the location has a palbable remoteness unlike other lodges. By comparison, The Ahwahnee has the hum of Yosemite Valley activity right outside the grounds, El Tovar has the constant canyon rim traffic, and even the Old Faithful Inn is part of a sprawling village complex. Not the case at Paradise, where despite the proximity of the guide service, visitor center, and other facilities, nighttime feels as if you might as well be on the moon.

one of the comfortable nooks on the mezzanine

Above, one of the cozy nooks built into the mezzanine. Photo courtesy the National Park Service. Below, early 1950s guests warm by the fire at the south end of the lobby, where Hans Fraehnke's massive clock dominates the decor. Although the attire and some of the furnishings have changed, this scene is repeated almost daily.

one of the comfortable nooks on the mezzanine

Rainier's famous fog often conspires with the evening air to create a chilling dampness. Even at the height of the summer solstice, nighttime occasionally brings snow flurries to Paradise. Thus -- unlike the other great lodges mentioned above -- guests rarely head outside for an evening stroll. While the patios at many lodges are frequently filled to capacity, Paradise guests head indoors. The lobby, although vast, takes on the warm intimacy. Decorated with massive fireplaces, hand-carved tables and decor, it conjurs visions of a great Nordic lodge hunkered down for the winter.

This great room isn't cozy by design, but when guests sink into one of the massive couches in front of the fire, it's hard to convince them otherwise. On the other hand, it is far from being the most impressive of the great lodge lobbies. Yet somehow Paradise Inn manages to convey the feeling that it is both intimate and grand at the same time. And if you happen to be behind the doors when the weather is nasty, it has the added dimension of feeling like a safe haven. Add it all up, and it's understandable that although Paradise Inn is seldom rated as the best National Park lodge, many rank it as their personal favorite.

view from the lake

Above, this mid-1960s photo gives a good view of the relationship of the 1920 Annex to the original lodge. The transition from one building to another is obvious as you cross a "bridge," but it is close and seamless -- and some find the layout confusing -- that many guests don't realize that their room is actually in the Annex.

No discussion of Paradise Inn is complete without mention of Hans Fraehnke, the fabled German craftsman who hand-built many of the odd wood creations located throughout the great room. The passing of time has understandably romanticized Fraehnke, he is oft-described as "mysterious" and "little is known," etc. Today this humble carpenter has become a legend of mythical proportions. Some authors have mistakenly perpetuated the story that he worked alone through the winters while the Inn was being constructed; others claim that he reported to work faithfully on the 1st of March each year, regardless of weather conditions.

Like most legends, the Fraehnke stories are based on shards of information that greatly distort the truth. Fact is that Fraehnke was a fairly well known craftsman in the region, who had a carpentry and custom furniture shop in Fife. Originally from Luebeck, Germany, he was an extremely private man. Keep in mind that he began working at the Inn during the height of World War I -- a time when many things "German" were being re-named to remove any stigma -- and it stands to reason that he kept a low profile due to the political climate.

The most reliable sources (including the NPS) generally agree that Fraehnke was involved from 1916 through 1923. Fraehnke was interviewed for a 1949 feature article in a Tacoma newspaper, but he remained a man of few words. That article was the source of the annual March 1st trek, but the claim did not come from Fraehnke.

What we can safely record as historically accurate is this: Next time you visit Paradise Inn, take a moment to reflect on the artistry and craftsmanship in the tables, the clock, the piano, the mail drop, and other Fraehnke creations. Recognize that they were constructed by an honorable man who was devoted to his work, who would require no recognition other than your quiet appreciation for his efforts. That seems to be the way he would want it.

The Experience

Otherworldly

Paradise Inn is one of the great preservation success stories in the National Park Service. Maintaining this structure is constant battle that, considering its age, is nothing short of miraculous. The lobby area is the key to enjoying the Inn, particularly if you can find an open table in the mezzanine for a card game with family and friends. The rooms, while meticulously clean and well-maintained, preserve a lodging experience that is definitely a throwback to an earlier age.

At the time it was constructed, luxury mountain lodging consisted of dormitory style rooms with shared bath facilities. At most lodges, guests chose between a private room or a suite. The "suite" as it was in 1917 was often smaller than a typical hotel room of today. While suites had toilets and a clawfoot tub, private rooms were more spartan. These usually had a bed, a chair, a bureau and a sink. Restrooms and showers were usually located in individual "closets" throughout the lodge. These had a locking door, a tiny changing area with a wood stool, and a small shower stall.

Paradise Inn had four such showers -- and still does today. If you can handle taking a shower down the hall, those few rooms are the best value and most authentic experience in the Inn. Housekeeping also provides fluffy robes and slippers for these rooms, which adds a touch of class to the process.

As for the rest of the rooms, which includes virtually all of the annex, the private baths are adequate but by no means state-of-the-art. Furnishings are dated, walls are authentic: Paper thin. It's a step back in time, and it's fantastic -- assuming you set your expectations accordingly.

Unfortunately many travelers today are put off by the tight quarters and complete lack of luxury. As good as the impression is upon entering the lobby, visitors are sometimes mortified by the outdated guest rooms. Water stains on the ceiling are not unusual; but rather than look down your nose, consider the structure and the snow that it endures.

The restaurant, like many of the older park lodges, is usually staffed by college kids or 20-something outdoorsy types who work to pay for their hiking or climbing. As such the service is understandably uneven, which is understandably maddening when you consider the pricing. The food won't win any "top chef" contests, but again, you have to keep in mind all the forces at work trying to maintain and operate a kitchen in a century-old facility, hours away from civilization. Leave your urban service and culinary expectations at home, and it becomes immensely enjoyable.

The balance of the public areas, including the lobby, mezzanine, etc. are quite possibly the ultimate park lodge experience for escaping the cares of the day.

To really gain full appreciation for Paradise Inn, step outside some night when the wind is howling and snow is falling. The Inn appears to be an oasis, something completely unexpected, out-of-place. Step back inside, where guests lounge comfortably by the fire, completely unconcerned by -- and probably unaware of -- the maelstrom just outside. It's at that point that Paradise Inn becomes "otherworldly," as you find yourself in a place so totally at odds with your prior experiences and the everyday norm.

Classification

Superior Classification II

An overnight stay at Paradise Inn will be an unforgettable experience; the design and decor is an important example of National Park Lodge architecture. Time spent anywhere in this lodge and on the grounds affords you new sensory experiences, sights, and discoveries. Judged solely on public or common areas, external appearance and ambiance, the Inn would easily earn "criterion" status -- many NPLAS members call it their favorite. Because we must consider all aspects of the facility, Paradise Inn is ranked "superior," the second highest classification by the National Park Lodge Architecture Society.

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contemporary room at paradise inn

Typical room decor at Paradise, uses current materials to recreate the 1920 experience.

Shared Baths

This type of lodging arrangement was quite common and accepted when Paradise Inn was built, but began to fall out of favor during the 1920s and 1930s. As Americans became more mobile, efficient roadside "motor hotels" with small but private showers and baths sprang up, and expectations began to rise. What was once common and accepted slowly became archaic. Americans were also being warned more and more about the horrors of some unseen organisms called "germs," and the perception was that private baths would be much more sanitary. Incidentally, if you are fortunate enough to reserve one of the few remaining rooms at Paradise Inn with a shared shower, a quick spray of common white vinegar will probably render things more germ-free than your home shower with weekly cleanings.



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