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As the Old Faithful Inn Approaches its 100th Anniversary
in 2004, It Remains a National Park Icon
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, November 10, 2003 - When the Old Faithful Inn was constructed, probably no one envisioned it would become a national park icon, would inspire a new architectural style and would even be the model for a hotel in a place called a "theme park." As it approaches its 100th anniversary in 2004, the Old Faithful Inn is recognized for all that and more.

Like many of the great national park hotels, the Old Faithful Inn was built to provide accommodations for customers of the railroads. Early hotels were usually simple and provided little more than a bed and meal.  Through money provided by the Northern Pacific Railroad and to satisfy a demand for luxurious accommodations, the Yellowstone Park Association made plans to build a hotel near Old Faithful geyser. 

Braving the Elements

In the winter of 1903 and under the direction of architect Robert Reamer, some 40 craftsmen began constructing the Inn. The goal of the Yellowstone Park Association was to open in June 1904, thus the reason for starting winter construction on a site where temperatures were often below zero and snow drifts of 20 feet not uncommon. Nails were even heated so that they would not shatter as the carpenters pounded them in.

Cutting logs from an area about four miles south of Old Faithful geyser and quarrying stone from the Black Sand Basin and other nearby areas, the crew began assembling the building. Many materials were brought into the park, including roof shingles produced in the state of Washington.

The original structure, now called the Old House, featured 140 rooms with such luxurious amenities as electricity, heat and plumbing. Some of the rooms even had private bathrooms for the high-rollers. A wood-burning steam generator provided heat.

The long sloping roof over the 76-foot high lobby featured a total of 11 dormer windows - five leading to guest rooms, four providing light to the lobby and two false dormer windows that were added by Reamer to make the appearance asymmetrical. The front door was painted the red and black corporate colors of the Northern Pacific Railroad.
The lobby was - and still is - a tremendously dramatic room with four levels of balconies surrounding the atrium. Gnarled branches gathered and fitted individually to make the railings have fascinated guests ever since. 

The stone chimney was constructed of 500 tons of rhyolite quarried within five miles of the Inn and features eight fireboxes. The clock on the side of the chimney is fourteen feet tall. High in the lobby, almost to the roof, is the "Treehouse" where musicians used to entertain guests. Stairs also lead up and out to the Inn's roof, but they are no longer open to the public because of structural damage caused by the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake.

During the early days of the lodge, women who did not have a male escort used to watch geyser eruptions from windows located via a special walkway under the Treehouse. At the time, it would have been considered unseemly for a woman to wander the park - even just to watch a geyser eruption - without the company of a man.

Changes through the years

Most of the original Old Faithful Inn remains intact, but several additions were made through the years. Among the most significant were the addition of the East Wing in 1913, the current dining room in 1922 and West Wing in 1927. What is now the Inn's snack bar was built in 1936 as the Bear Pit Lounge. Celebrating the end of Prohibition, the Bear Pit featured wood panels with carved animal figures in a variety of humorous nightclub scenes. The panels were later recreated in etched glass and now separate the dining room and current Bear Pit Lounge. In 1940 the bark was stripped from both structural and decorative logs, and the logs were varnished in 1966.

An inspirational building

The rustic design of the Old Faithful Inn is now known as an original example of "parkitecture," the term given to the most breathtaking and architecturally significant of the national park lodges. Throughout the National Park system are examples of buildings and lodges that display more than just a minor nod to the Inn's design.

Visitors to the Wilderness Lodge in Walt Disney World in Orlando see several features that were inspired by Old Faithful Inn. The long roofline, flags on the roof and porte cochere are the most immediate and striking. 

Today the Old Faithful Inn as well as other lodges, campgrounds, restaurants, retail shops and activities are operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts. The Inn is open mid-May through mid-October. 

Xanterra Parks & Resorts operates lodges, restaurants and other concessions at national parks and state parks and resorts. Xanterra is the country's largest national park concessioner. The company operates concessions in the following locations: Yellowstone National Park, the North and South Rims of Grand Canyon National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Death Valley National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Everglades National Park, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial; and at the Silverado Resort in Napa, Calif.; Gideon Putnam Hotel in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. and eight Ohio State Parks. 

Old Faithful Inn

Also See: Preservation of Legendary Old Faithful Inn Reflects Old-fashioned Ingenuity of Preservation Crew / Oct 2002

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