By Brett French

Billings (Mont.) Gazette

Historic Yellowstone hotel had many updates

During the past 150 years, visitors to Yellowstone National Park’s headquarters have seen the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel take several forms.

On Friday, the National Park Service will reopen the hotel with a ribbon-cutting and tour of the building, which has undergone an “extensive” renovation, according to a press release. As the park celebrates this remodel, take a look back at the hotel’s many renovations throughout its lifetime.

The first structure at Mammoth Hot Springs to host visitors was known as the National Park Hotel, Horr and McCartney’s Hotel, and now Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, according to the book “Roadside History of Yellowstone Park.” Ferdinand Hayden, leader of a government exploration of the park in 1871, called the building “very primitive.” Visitors were allowed to sleep on the floor but had to bring their own blankets.

A grand hotel

Beginning in 1882, a more substantial Queen Anne-style structure was being built by the Yellowstone Park Improvement Co. By the following year, 141 rooms were ready to appeal to train passengers arriving at nearby Cinnabar via the Northern Pacific Railroad’s newly completed spur line. From the railroad station, visitors were shuttled eight miles by six-horse coaches.

It wasn’t until 1886 that the structure was completely finished, partly because the carpenters working on the structure went on strike for five months in 1884, according to Geyser Bob’s Yellowstone Park Historical Service. By the time the hotel was finished, the Yellowstone Park Improvement Co. was in bankruptcy and new owners had taken over.

The building was considered one of the first “grand” hotels in any national park. According to Geyser Bob the four-story hotel measured 414 feet long and was 54 feet wide. The structure was painted green with a red roof.

Growth

Between 1911 and 1913, the hotel underwent a major reconstruction overseen by architect Robert Reamer, the man responsible for designing the Old Faithful Inn. This renovation saw a new east wing of guest rooms (still standing today), the demolition of an entire floor, and a new, flat roof. The additional space increased the facility’s capacity to 600 guests with 124 more rooms.

new style, new name

Yet another major renovation by Reamer began in 1936 under the Yellowstone Park Hotel Co., with most of the old hotel torn down. The $200,000 remodel essentially cut the hotel in two — leaving the dining room separate from the new lobby and Map Room and the 1913 east guest room wing. Reamer also added a recreation hall and the cottages, still located behind the hotel today. The building was painted a light gray and remodeled in what is known as the Art Moderne style.

Art Moderne is an architectural style of the 1930s and 1940s characterized by streamlined, horizontal structures with flat roofs and curved walls or rounded corners. The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel remains one of only a few art moderne hotels in the National Park System.

The cottages were added behind the hotel between 1937-38 to appeal to the growing number of motorists visiting the park. By the 1950s the hotel’s name was changed to the Mammoth Motor Inn to reflect Americans’ love of driving, according to Geyser Bob.

Earthquake ready

The most recent remodel, a partnership between the park and concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts, cost $30 million and took four years.

The work emphasized sustainability and reducing the park’s carbon footprint while updating utilities, increasing accessibility and strengthening the structure to meet seismic standards in a region known for its numerous earthquakes.

The work also adds new private bathrooms to guest rooms, new windows and new conference rooms to make the site more amenable to hosting large events, such as the park’s annual science conference.

Prior to all of that work, trained NPS restoration specialists rehabilitated architect Robert Reamer’s famous wooden map in the Map Room.

Yellowstone and Xanterra partnered to preserve the historic look and feel of this important art moderne structure, one of the few in the NPS. In total, the project brought the “shine” back to this beautiful, elegant gathering space that will operate nearly year-round.

The project is a great example of Yellowstone’s ongoing efforts to reduce deferred maintenance and improve the condition of important historic resources. In 2018, Yellowstone reported a deferred maintenance backlog exceeding $586 million. Park managers believe this is a conservative estimate. The park and its partners will continue making significant investments in a wide range of infrastructure projects in upcoming years.

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, Wyo. — With its interior walls torn out and old wiring exposed, the Mammoth Hotel’s skeleton seemed eerie to Dean Heppner as he helped with renovation of the 106-year-old building during the past four years.

“It was a chance to see stuff nobody else could see,” said the Yellowstone National Park maintenance worker.

On Friday his grandson, 9-year-old Dominyk Weber of Huntley, got to celebrate the completion of that restoration work — overseen by general contractor Swank Enterprises — as he was the first through the doors following a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by about 100 people.

“I thought it was going to be pretty fun,” Dominyk said of running through the doors, his arms raised in celebration.

Shout-outs

Prior to that, dignitaries celebrated the partnerships necessary to accomplish the $30 million remodeling and rebuilding project for a hotel that annually hosts about 95,000 visitors. That shout-out included the hotel workers who daily greet guests, clean the rooms and make the beds.

“None of this happens easily,” said Cam Sholly, Yellowstone superintendent. “It’s people and partners who make these things happen.”

Investing in high-impact projects like the Mammoth Hotel is one goal of the National Park Service at a time when the agency is plagued by a $586 million maintenance backlog, Sholly added. With the work done, that backlog has been reduced by $10 million.

“We have some of the most important cultural and historic resources in this park right here,” he said.

Investing time and money in such projects is not only important to the park, but also to the country as a whole, Sholly added.

History

The original hotel Mammoth, called The National Hotel, was completed in 1883 as a place for well-heeled travelers from the East to stay while exploring the geysers, hot pools and fumaroles of Yellowstone’s wonderland via stagecoach and following a long train ride west.

“This (hotel) really set the tone for the visitor experience in Yellowstone,” said Mike Keller, general manager of Yellowstone National Park Lodges, the park’s hotel concessionaire and a partner in the remodeling.

The National Hotel was so upscale that when cottages were built behind the facility for visitors traveling by automobile in the early 1900s, those customers weren’t allowed inside. They couldn’t even enter the Map Room, featuring a map of the United States constructed out of 14 hardwoods in 2,500 pieces that together create a 10-by-17-foot wall hanging. The map had been commissioned by Adelaide Child, widow of the president of the Yellowstone Park Association, owners of the hotel.

“The Map Room was only for the guests of the hotel,” said tour guide Leslie Quinn, “not that riffraff staying in the cabins.”

Updated

Hotel guests back then, despite their prominence, had to share a bathroom. With the most recent remodel completed, that’s no longer the case. All rooms now have private baths.

“You can experience the history yet have modern conveniences,” said Peter Galindo, Yellowstone project manager.

It was Galindo who helped shepherd the project with architects, engineers and contractors while coming in at 3% under budget.

“We all realized this was our chance to get it right,” he said.

He compared the work — which included laboring in subzero winter weather — to raising a child.

“They get under your skin,” he said. “You take ownership of them.”

Reflecting

The changes were more than apparent to Tom Carter, who worked out of Mammoth for six summers as a tour guide in the 1970s.

“It’s beautiful. They did a great job,” he said.

Back in the ’70s, Carter said his shared office was painted a bland “government green.”

Now the same area has been converted into hotel rooms and conference rooms, the hallway featuring wood wainscoting and the curved handrails on the stairs hewn piece by piece by a Livingston craftsman.

“It wasn’t immaculate like this,” Carter said.

That was partly because the hotel hadn’t received a major update since the 1950s.

Prior to that, architect Robert Reamer had overseen two major remodels of the structure, the last occurring in the 1930s.

Remodels

Ruth Quinn, who authored a biography of Reamer, said those re-creations of the same building “illustrate to me how innovation and imagination can be used to alter buildings to suit our modern purposes by recycling and reusing what’s existing while still preserving the historic landscape.

“In the different times (Reamer) remodeled the hotel he was always incorporating something that was here already, but changing it to meet the visitors’ needs of that day.”

She thinks Reamer would approve of the Mammoth Hotel’s latest structural updates to make the facility more durable to withstand earthquakes while also adding details like light fixtures and insulation to lessen the hotel’s utility use.

“Reamer was always creative in his buildings, but he was also always recognizing his clients and what their desires were,” she said.

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