NPS to proceed with ill-advised restoration of Many Glacier Hotel Staircase

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Today’s news release from NPS Glacier National Park notes that restoration work on Many Glacier Hotel is continuing, especially in the annex (officially annex 2) where many rooms will be refurbished; the kind of structural, safety and stabilization that were done in the main annex of the hotel will also be carried out in annex 2. This coming summer, half of the hotel’s rooms will be closed during the project’s completion.Original double-helix staircase - NPS photo

In a separately funded project, the long-removed spiral staircase will be returned (rebuilt) in the hotel’s lobby connecting the main floor with the lake level rooms below.

As I’ve written in my blogs previously, I would have opposed the removal of the staircase in 1957 had I been working there at the time. While many old timers have (rightfully) mourned the loss of that staircase which had been in place in 1915, I firmly believe restoring the staircase now is not only a huge mistake by violates one of the preservation standards of the NPS’ parent Department of Interior.

Why This is a Mistake

  • The NPS is not removing this porte cochere to make the front of the hotel look like it once did.

    The NPS is not removing this porte cochere to make the front of the hotel look like it once did.

    The Department of Interior’s preservation standards state that “Changes to a property that have acquired historic significance in their own right will be retained and preserved.” This means that you cannot, within preservation best practices, convert a structure to the way it was in an earlier time since it’s ambiance, usage and looks have evolved over time. Buildings evolve, and the lobby without the staircase has more years of history than the lobby with the staircase.

  • The rebuilt staircase will alter the rooms below. The St. Moritz room stage will be removed, making it impossible to set up musical groups, much less return to the historic summer musical productions that were a long-time and historically significant offering by hotel employees. Ranger Naturalist talks will also be removed from the hotel, because the lake level renovations will remove their Lucerne Room venue when the gift shop is moved from the lobby downstairs.
  • The gift shop will probably not fare as well in the lake level where it will be out of sight and out of mind.
  • Others have complained that the staircase will be an open vertical “corridor” that will carry noise and cooking odors from the lake level up into the lobby.
  • To be consistent with the logic replacing the “historic” staircase, the NPS would also have to replace the former Many Glacier swimming bool and remove the added-on  porte cochère at the main lobby entrance that protects car and bus passengers from rain upon arrival. Other smaller-order changes have been made to the hotel since I worked there: I note that the NPS isn’t advocating returning those areas to their original as-built configurations. While I understand the urgent need several years ago to stabilize the hotel’s foundation, taking the historic “kinks” out of the lake-level “stagger alley” hallway was a very non-preservationist in approach. Does NPS plan to restore these kinks?

My comments to the Department of Interior and NPS-Glacier National Park about the park service’s justification for the violation of the standard prohibiting the return of buildings to earlier configurations have received no response. It appears that the NPS has overlooked its own standards in favor of sentimentality.

As a former Many Glacier Hotel employee, I’m done with the hotel because the new eyesore in the lobby will be nothing I want to see. As a former Historic Preservation Commission chairperson and preservation grant writer, I dislike the precedent of this violation of standards. Once the staircase is returned, anything can be returned and that’s a mess I don’t want to contemplate at Glacier National Park or any other unit in the system.

Malcolm

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