Historic Classification V

Giant Forest Village

public domain

Giant Forest Village 1980

Gilbert Stanley Underwood's design was still working nicely in this 1980 photo. NPS photo/public domain

Giant Forest ranger residence

Merel Sager's vision of a park ranger residence, also taken in 1980. NPS photo/public domain

Giant Forest Village Sequoia NP, circa 1926
Classification V
Location:
Near Giant Forest, Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP
With the exception of the timeline, all information below refers to 1920s era structures at Giant Forest Village.
Theme: National Park Rustic.
Architect: Gilbert Stanley Underwood; various; some by Branch of Plans and Design.
Landscape Architect: Merel Sager
Interior Design: Rustic
Exterior Features: Wood shingles, horizontal wood siding, plywood; varied by structure. Remaining Giant Forest Market building (now museum) features intersecting gable roofs, wrought-iron hardware, herringbone patterns.
Known Timeline:
Original Round Meadow camp constructed, 1899
Road access, 1903
Giant Forest Lodge, 1915
Cabins erected & Camp Kaweah established, 1921
Relocated Village, 1926
Giant Forest Market (museum) constructed, 1928-1929
Gas station constructed, 1930
200 known structures, 1930
Ranger's Residence built, 1931
Comfort Station built, 1933
Storage warehouse added to rear of Market, 1936
Barbershop added to Market, circa 1936
180 known structures, 1940
Various buildings rehabilitated, 1962
First hydrology report citing negative impact of structures, 1962
Gas station & post office removed, 1970
Complete removal proposed in Giant Forest Development Concept Plan, 1971
248 total room count, circa 1971
Market original shakes re-roofed with aluminum, 1976
Barbershop removed, circa 1976
Village registered as National Historic Site, 1978
Removal approved in Giant Forest Development Concept Plan, 1980
Village razed and removed, 1997-1999
Giant Forest Market renovated, 1999
Market reopened as Museum & Visitors Center, 2001

Observations

The removal of Giant Forest Village was one of the more controversial moves by the National Park Service, although today the issue has settled down considerably. The controversy stems from the fact that many of the village structures were on the National Register of historic places, and lifelong vacationers mistakenly believed that this provided eternal protection for the village. The NPS continues to state that the fragile ecosystem of the sequoia grove was under tremendous stress from the village complex, and that it was just a matter of time before one of the behemoths would topple and crush some hapless tourists like bugs. GFV fans said otherwise; in the end the village was removed.

It is difficult to say whether or not the removal was warranted. If the scientists were correct, the answer is yes; certainly the sequoia grove was worth protecting at the expense of the less-than-spectacular lodging facilities that GFV offered. Unfortunately the lodging built to replace it, Wuksachi, is far too sterile to provide the charming experience once enjoyed at Giant Forest.

Giant Forest Village

Above, the village plaza in the 1950s. The main structure is the museum today, and interpretive signs help reconnect the past. Below, the village plaze circa 2007.

Giant Forest Village

Giant Forest began as a camp-style lodge, riding stable, and other buildings in Round Meadow, just north of the later village. There was nothing particularly valuable nor historic about these structures, and the original NPS Director Stephen Mather correctly decreed that the offerings needed to be upgraded. The replacement village was erected around the site of today's museum and parking lots in 1926. A more modern motel/lodge was eventually constructed on the hillside behind the museum. The original lodge lingered long after it outlived its usefulness and safety. Today, after extensive reforestation and renaturalization efforts, there is virtually no trace of any of these structures, with the key exception of the museum.

Camp Kaweah at Giant Forest Village

Above, Camp Kaweah at GFV circa 1921.

This building, which was once the main store and visitors center, was the vibrant center of the village. Today it has been fully restored to a completely charming visitors center/museum. Walking around and through this classic example of parkitecture reveals how wonderful the village must've been. It retains plenty of exhibits and photos of the village, making it possible to visualize what once was. Additional interpretive signs around the property are also helpful, however the contrast between then and now is so extreme that some visitors will find it too much of a stretch to fully appreciate what once was, and how carefully it has all been returned to a natural state.

Giant Forest Village

Giant Forest Market (now museum) under lingering snow.

Some NPS personnel will explain that the Grant Grove Village remains, and that it offers an experience similar to the one "lost" at Giant Forest. Don't buy it; although the general concept was the same, GFV was in and among the sequoias while GGV is merely in a charming forest. Giant Forest Village had substantially more "atmosphere," and more camaraderie around the lodge and cabins. They will also point to Wuksachi Village, which is a modern motel/lodge complex with rustic window dressing.

The Experience

Remnants of what was

Even though only a few structures remain, the first impression visitors have of Giant Forest Village is like something from a fairy tale. Gilbert Stanley Underwood's "market" is the key remaining structure; it appears to be perfectly nestled in the forest. It appears that way because it is -- Underwood's placement and design are simply stunning and totally unexpected for first time visitors. Today, with no parking or vehicular traffic directly in front of the museum, Gilbert's vision is even more in harmony with the surroundings. Perhaps man's imprint should never have been made at all in this section of the park, but it was, and the architectural art that remains must be preserved.

Giant Forest Village

One of the lost structures at Giant Forest Village.

Classification

Historic Classification V

The Giant Forest Village played an important role in the history of park lodging at Sequoia National Park. It is classified by the NPLAS because of its historic value, particularly the unique atmosphere and location of the facility, and the classic examples of Underwood and Sager "parkitecture."

Please click here for additional historic photos of Giant Forest Village in the NPLAS collection.



Top of Page

NPLAS Dedicated to the Preservation and Appreciation of National Park Lodges

NPLAS Home Page Classifications Lobby Bellhop Bookstore Concierge



GFV Historic District

Above, one of the lodges, circa 1965

The NPLAS has linked to a few more photos of Giant Forest Village here, and one of the best repositories of photos of the old Giant Forest Market is found here, on the Library of Congress' Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) and Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) collection. The museum itself is an excellent resource for historic photos as well.



Sequoia & Kings Canyon NP Lodges

Sequoia & Kings Canyon Lodge Resources

Recommended Reading