On July 1, 1917, a rustic and romantic park hotel, the Paradise Inn, located in Mount Rainier's beautiful Paradise Valley, holds its grand opening and the event's many attendees have the opportunity to examine what is the one of the Pacific Northwest's first high-elevation mountain resorts -- which is also among America's very first ski resorts. That same day, The Seattle Daily Times reports that "although much snow still remains in the valley, arrangements have been made to sleigh tourists over the snow from Longmire's Springs where cars may be parked." An unusually deep snow-pack for the month of July undoubtedly makes the summer excursion all that much more fun.
Paradise Valley -- located on the sub-alpine slopes of Mount Rainier -- had been a popular hiking, climbing, and camping destination since at least the late 1800s. In the wake of President William McKinley's (1843-1901) signing the document that created the Mount Rainier National Park on March 2, 1899 -- and the formation of the National Park Service (NPS) in 1916 -- visitorship to the area increased dramatically.
So much so that Stephen T. Mather (1867-1930) -- Assistant Secretary of the Interior in charge of National Parks (and, in August 1916, the NPS's first director) -- was among those who had grown concerned that the fragile terrain would suffer ecological degradation from overuse. Indeed, a meeting of the Rainier National Park Advisory Committee in Seattle in 1915 reached the conclusion that rather than allow rampant private commercialization and unregulated development within the park, it would be preferable to have all tourist accommodations managed by a "single company, a 'regulated monopoly'" (NPS Timeline).
Mather suggested, as an alternative to allowing well-financed business interests from the East Coast to muscle their way in, that a consortium of Seattle- and Tacoma-based business leaders form a company -- the Rainier National Park Company. This firm, after being formalized in March, would be granted a 20-year "preferential concession" lease with the right to build what would become the first major commercial structure within the park.
Peaks and Valleys
In 1916 those businessmen drove up to the end of the road at lower Paradise Valley, parked and took a quick hike up to scout out a suitable construction site. The picturesque setting they settled on provided stunning views of the valley, the Cascade's Tatoosh range, and the summit of Mount Rainier. Upon their return the company hired a Tacoma-based architectural firm -- Heath, Gove, and Bell. The firm developed a plan that included a hotel, several "bungalow" tents, a house for hiking guides, and a ski lift.
As with a few other early structures in various parks, Frederick Heath's design of the Paradise Inn actually represented an experiment "in finding a solution to the design problem of hotel architecture appropriate to national park settings. The awesome landscape of many of these park settings required new types of architecture, where forms and materials related not to other man-made structures as they would in the urban environment, but to the natural structures of the surrounding landscape" (Harrison).
An emphasis was placed on using native materials that would visually tie it to the landscape and also create a dramatic, yet rustic, exterior image and warm and welcoming interior spaces. On July 20 E. C. Cornell's construction crew broke ground. Built on a foundation of locally quarried stone, the two-and-one-half-story log-frame building would boast many beautiful features. Among those are the naturally weathered timbers that were harvested from a nearby grove (a few miles southwesterly down the road towards Longmire) known as the Silver Forest -- the site of an historic 1885 fire that killed off many Alaska cedar trees which had, in the years hence, seasoned nicely into a stand of glossy, silver-hued, and still-standing, bark- and branch-less logs.
Over the decades, numerous upgrades and changes have been made to the original building. It was originally limited to 37 guest rooms. Later the old tents were replaced by a new annex, and dining facilities for 400 were added. Yet many vintage features remain. Among them are a cavernous lobby with massive river-rock fireplaces; built-in peeled-log benches; a second-story mezzanine with log railings; and much decorative woodwork.
Logs and Legacies
A German carpenter named Hans Fraehnke was hired to do the woodworking. He created detailing around the registration desk that evoked "a gothicism reminiscent of woodwork from the Bavarian alps," and also handmade rustic still-extant log tables and benches for the lobby (Harrison). Beyond that, the craftsman built an incredible peeled-log-based grandfather clock and a piano -- famously played by President Harry Truman during a stay at the inn, and which today's visitors can still marvel over while exploring the designated National Historic Landmark building that now boasts 121 guest rooms.
In recognition of his visionary leadership to protect the integrity of Mount Rainier National Park (and others), Mather's memory has been honored locally with the naming of the Stephen Mather Memorial Parkway (State Route 410) in the park, as well as the Stephen Mather Wilderness in the North Cascades National Park.