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Jackson Lake Lodge Site History

The construction of Jackson Lake Lodge was a major undertaking, not only because of its size and expense, but because it signaled a new direction in architecture in the National Park. The previous period building in the early days was financed and promoted by railroad companies with interests in the West, such as Union Pacific and the style was rustic based on European alpine models.

These rustic structures were filled by thousands of Americans coming by train and car to enjoy the natural wonders of National Parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone. The inter-war years saw the steep decline of budgets and staff, and the buildings began to reflect the deferred maintenance. Accommodations were lacking basic amenities, sanitary conditions were deplorable, and roads were in very poor condition. In spite of this, the number of visitors to the parks after the Second World War was even greater than before. It was clear that a new approach was needed; one that would be modern, efficient, and would still take advantage of all that the National Parks had to offer.

Old Faithful Inn
The Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park was rustic and more in keeping with the traditional architectural style used for large scale buildings in the National Park system prior to the construction of Jackson Lake Lodge.

The Grand Teton Lodge & Transportation Company had been formed to manage and operate concessions in the newly created Grand Teton National Park. Washington, D.C. –based architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood was hired to propose a plan for the Jackson Lake Lodge development. In 1950, he presented A Scheme for the Development of the Public Concessions in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, in which he made a strong case for the construction of a new tourist complex that would make Grand Teton National Park a true tourist destination, rather than a pit-stop on the way to Yellowstone. Underwood was well-suited to this task, having designed lodges for the National Park Service in the 1920s, his most well-known being the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park. However, the Lodge he designed for Jackson Hole Valley was a strict departure from the romantic, rustic style of his previous lodges, emphasizing efficiency, convenience, and modernism.

Right: A view of the  north elevation during early construction in the summer of 1955. The building was constructed from south to north so the construction in this view extends only the the southern side of the main lounge. The  Teton Range is out of view to the right side of the image.

Building Construction
A view  towards the southeast corner of the Employee Dining Room during construction. As the site exists today this view is impossible due to large trees that have grown up during the intervening years.
The complex is composed of a large, three-story main lodge, surrounded by one-and-two-story guest lodges that flank a central parking lot.  The guest lodges, employee dormitories, and recreation center are all light frame construction but the main lodge is steel-framed, cast-in-place concrete. The exterior concrete was formed with a decorative finish that Underwood called “Shadowood”. It was created by casting the concrete against pieces of plywood that had been sand-blasted to raise the grain. The resulting impression was of a wood-grained surface. The concrete was then colored with three colors of acid stain to create an integral, varied appearance that blended with the natural, wooded surroundings.
Jackson Lake Lodge’s International style design set the standard for National Park architecture for the next ten years. A National Historic Landmark, it remains one of the best examples of Modern architecture in the Park Service.
Winter with Lobby
Above: Looking west towards the Teton Range, this view from the winter of 1955/56 shows interior building features such as the load bearing support columns of the main lounge as well as the "Crow's Nest" exposed to the elements. Additionally the construction of the entire northern wing of the building containing the Explorer Room has not yet begun.
Building under construction