40 for 40: Pierce County
Sunrise Lodge at Mount Rainier

By David Strauss, SHKS Architectsprevious story | next story | all stories

At 6,400 feet, Sunrise Lodge in Mount Rainier National Park is at the end of the highest road in Washington accessible to cars, and closed annually in winter. It has been 22 years since the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation and the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation intervened to save the lodge from demolition.

The lodge, placed in the National Register in 1991, was built for day use and completed in six weeks in 1931. By 1953, two years after original foundations for a larger lodge were demolished, Governor Arthur Langlie made efforts to persuade the National Park Service (NPS) to improve facilities to compete with those at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon. The Park Service resisted: to the Park Service, preservation of the natural setting was more important than improving visitor amenities.

In 1956, the federal government funded the Mission 66 program of capital projects to increase visitation to the national parks before the 1966 semi-centennial of the NPS. “Naturalists” advocated for improvements to ameliorate the neglect the parks suffered during WWII and the immediate post-war. By 1957, the Park Service planned to phase out overnight facilities at Paradise, again to preserve more pristine environments at higher elevations.

In 1962, Senator Warren G. Magnuson supported funding a $500,000 facility to replace Sunrise Lodge. By 1966 (the year of the National Historic Preservation Act), the Park Superintendent told the Seattle Times, “Remember that this is one of the oldest parks. Some of the facilities were built in 1916 and are at the point where complete replacement is necessary rather than remodeling and maintaining them.”

Through the late 1960s and 1970s, Mount Rainier National Park capital funding was focused on work at Paradise. In 1982, despite a drop in visitation attributed to the economy (unemployment at 10.8%; prime rate 21.5%) and the weather, the concessioner made plans for “improvements” to facilities at both Sunrise and Paradise. By 1985, however, the Denver Service Center of the National Park Service advocated demolition and replacement of the lodge.

The Washington Trust board, with strong support from members such as Karen Gordon, voted to place the lodge on the Most Endangered Historic Properties List in 1992, the list's first year in existence, due to a threat of demolition by the NPS. Board member and attorney Bob Mack, who was monitoring the situation, learned that a “draft environmental assessment” had been received by the State Historic Preservation Officer. The SHPO recommended that the lodge not be demolished.


In 1993, a committee of three architects, a construction project manager, and Bob Mack, appointed by the National Park Service to review the historic significance, concluded “the building’s significance is not in its architectural form, detailing or pleasant spatial relationships” but in “the history of the relationship between concessionaire, local interests and the National Park Service in the development of national parks in general, and of the Yakima Park area in particular.”

Interest in demolishing Sunrise Lodge simmered again in 1994 when the National Park Service proposed demolishing the lodge, saying it would be “cheaper in the long run to replace the lodge than to renovate it.” In resistance to the park service determination, broad support for saving the lodge was voiced at meetings in Yakima and Tacoma in 1994.

By 1995, the park service, in spite of public opposition, decided to proceed with demolition. By 1996, the park service reported that the lodge remained due to insufficient funding for its demolition. Later in the same year, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the National Park Service, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the SHPO to allow “review of demolition.”

Sunrise Lodge was removed from Most Endangered status in October of 1996, and still stands today.

This story is part of a series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. This story highlights many of our programs and shows just how much need there is for strong preservation connections across the state. If you would like to support our work and spur more positive outcomes for Washington's historic resources, please consider making a special gift to the Washington Trust to support the advocacy work we do. Continuous stewardship is needed to protect that irreplaceable legacy for future generations – we appreciate and look forward to your ongoing participation and support.

The Washington Trust it current accepting submissions for its 2017 Most Endangered Historic Properties List. Please contact Jennifer Mortensen at jmortensen@preservewa.org with any questions!

Here's to 40 more years of saving places that matter across Washington! Please sign up for our special weekly e-newsletter to recieve stories like this in your inbox all year long.

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