Friday, November 19, 2010
In 2004, Yellowstone celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Old Faithful Inn, an originally quaint, now Byzantine wooden hotel that sits exactly one eighth of a mile from Old Faithful Geyser. Begun in the summer of 1903, construction was finished in time for the Inn to open the following season and it has been one of the most famous buildings in the West ever since.
That precise distance from Old Faithful Geyser is no accident. It was as close to the geyser as they could legally build. However, one notable, if often overlooked, feature of the Inn is that it is aligned to direct visitors' attention away from the geyser and toward the rest of the geyser basin. If you stand outside the front door, or lounge on the observation deck above the porte-cochere, you have to make a 90 degree turn to the right in order to look at the geyser. Looking straight out presents you instead with an invitation to discover the rest of the amazing Upper Geyser Basin, full of wonders such as Castle Geyser, Grand Geyser, Morning Glory Pool, and -- not the best, but my favorite name -- Spasmodic Geyser. If you come to the Inn and don't discover there's more to Old Faithful than Old Faithful Geyser, it's your own danged fault.
Unfortunately, the two huge wings added to either side in 1913 and 1928 spoiled the balanced appearance that the Inn originally presented (as well as blocking the view of Old Faithful from the dining room). Besides sprawling like overturned tractor-trailers off both ends of the "Old House," they abandoned the log construction of the original, as well as the A-frame roofs.*
However, the interior is still a delight. What I like in this photo is the number of distinctive Inn features I was able to gather into a single image. The distinctive wooden supports, both in full view on the opposite side, and close up so as to show the beetle scorings that create the most incredibly artistic-yet-natural effect; the US flag hanging over the lobby; the old electric lights; and, for the anniversary season, the large banner suspended from the ceiling and one of the smaller banners hung from the balcony. I rather regret the speaker in the lower right corner, as well as the light coming in from the dining room, but otherwise I enjoy the harmonious composition. This is one of those photographs where I spent a good twenty minutes fussing because the tripod was six inches too far to the left, or had raised the camera four inches too high.
The immense open space in the Inn lobby has been known to scare the hell out of modern structural engineers who venture into the building. The supports in the upper reaches look, shall we say, spindly, and they all seem to run mainly lengthwise, implying that the seven-story roof has no cross support. Apparently, that support exists elsewhere and the building is safer than it looks, and considering that it has stood for over a hundred years in a seismically-active region, and, survived the 7.4 Hebgen Earthquake, it would have to be.** Nonetheless, the recent renovation project has addressed some of the structural concerns, as well as making many aesthetic alterations. I left Yellowstone just as they were beginning and haven't been back in the meantime, but you can learn about them here.
Quinn, Ruth. Weaver of Dreams: The Life and Architecture of Robert C. Reamer.
Reinhart, Karen Wildung, and Jeff Henry. Old Faithful Inn: Crown Jewel of National Park Lodges.
* The flatter roofs are much friendlier to the winterkeeper who has to go up remove the snow that the high-pitch roof is supposed to shed, but doesn't always. In the film version of The Shining, we're told that a winterkeeper has nothing to do but putter around and keep the heat running; the truth is, there can be some hard work involved.
**I have heard it claimed, albeit not directly from an expert, that this was mainly because of the luck that the ground wave was traveling from northwest to southeast; had it come from another direction, the Inn would probably have collapsed.