BY FRED LEESON
If you undertake a little internet research about the Lake Quinault Lodge in Washington’s Olympic National, you’ll find phrases such as “reminiscent of” and “in the style of” the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park.
Hogwash. One glance tells you the two have nothing in common architecturally, save for some split cedar siding. Their footprints, heights, materials and ambience are distinctly different.
So why the comparison? Simple answer: They were designed nearly 35 years apart by the same architect, a quiet, self-effacing man named Robert Reamer who, perhaps because of his introspective demeanor, is little remembered.
To the extent he is known, Reamer is remembered today primarily for his work in Yellowstone Park, which at one time numbered approximately 25 buildings large and small. Many have been destroyed by fire or demolition over the years, but not his best-known work, the amazing Old Faithful Inn.
The Inn, a stunning log-framed lodge whose dizzying lobby rises to a height of nearly seven stories, was Reamer’s first major commission in 1891 at the tender age of 29. Trained since age 13 by apprenticing in architectural offices, he had been working in San Diego designing furniture when he came to meet a key executive in the private company that planned to build the lodge. Reamer’s creation at Old Faithful made from raw logs (later shaved as a fire prevention measure) was the first dramatic example of a general style that came to be called “National Park rustic.”
Despite his success on the many Yellowstone projects, Reamer’s career was not commercially stable. He wound up in Seattle late in his career after several earlier stops. The opportunity to design the Lake Quinault Lodge arose after a fire in 1924 destroyed a two-story log structure that had served as a rudimentary hotel at the edge of the scenic lake.
The developers wanted the building finished in one building season, which is short in the Pacific Northwest rainforest. Lake Quinault averages 12 feet of rain per year. Reamer’s design was executed in a mere 53 days in 1926, by two crews working 12-hour shifts non-stop.
The wonderful result bears no resemblance to Old Faithful. Instead of seven stories, Lake Quinault is 2 and ½. There is not a single log in the place, shaved or raw. The grand fireplace is red brick, not stone. The lobby is a single story without any balcony, let alone tiers of them as at Faithful. All the wood finishes are planed smooth and varnished.
Yet there is one interesting similarity in siting philosophy. Reamer never wanted his work to try challenging the best of nature. He faced the front of Old Faithful Inn away from the famous geyser, in deference to its magnificence. At Quinault, the shape of a flattened V of the original building opens to a grassy meadow leading down to the spectacular lake. This is the real focus of the building, not the plainer face that greets the visitor approaching along the narrow highway. The steeply-pitched roof planes include a few dormers and an interestingly-proportioned cupola, both said to be favored Reamer elements.
Unlike many old lodges that suffered hard times as years went by, the Quinault Lodge apparently has been steadily viable economically. It appears to have its original multi-paned windows and wood doors, elements that often are the first to go when someone decides to “upgrade.” The current manager, Aramark Resorts, has restored light fixtures and curtains to match those displayed in historic photographs that dot the lobby. The original wicker chairs, however, have been replaced with undoubtedly-more-comfortable overstuffed leather chairs and couches.
The most significant change to the lodge was an expansion of restaurant seating decades ago. A shed roof was added to the first story on one wing of the “V” facing the lake. The original shake siding remains on what is now an inside wall. For the viewing pleasure of diners, unobstructed windows were installed rather than the multi-paned windows that dominate the rest of the lodge. While the reasoning is clear, the bigger windows add a jarring note to the façade.
Guest rooms in the lodge are small but pleasant. The painted, wood-panelled walls and ceilings appear to be original. The room we stayed in was about 14 feet square with room for a queen double, one chair and a small table. There are no televisions or phones in the old lodge. Newer, reasonably well-hidden units on either side of the original building are more modern. If you like old lodges or rustic architecture, this one should be on your list.
If Reamer, who died in 1938 at age 64, could enter the lodge today, he would feel comfortable, right at home and no doubt pleased by its condition.