To appreciate the Glacier Park Lodge requires an understanding of its history and original purpose. During the early 1900s, Louis Hill, President of Great Northern Railway, sought to establish the Glacier area as a National Park. His purpose was two-fold; in the first place he was a champion for protecting and preserving a region he was passionate about. In the second, he wanted to drive destination passenger business to his predominantly freight lines. Too often Hill gets saddled with the latter motive, and is not given enough credit for the former.
The "horn" shape of the Glacier peaks -- more like peaks in the Alps than the massive Rockies -- prompted Hill to envision a series of Swiss chalets. Based on the Swiss model, Hill conceived a series of large village lodges serving as a base for hiking and exploring, with smaller, remote chalets available for those who wished to hike farther into the mountains.
Thus the Great Northern Railway developed "base" lodges at Many Glacier and Two Medicine, and a smaller hub at St. Mary's. Far-flung chalets such as Sperry were built in more remote locations. To serve as the point of entry for all these locations, the Railway built Glacier Park Lodge adjacent to the tracks in East Glacier. Modeled on the phenomenal Forestry Building at the Lewis Clark Centennial, its rustic, tree-trunk interior was intended to function as an intermediary between civilization and wilderness. It was to serve mainly as a staging area for visitors whose ultimate destination was the huge hotel at Many Glacier and chalets beyond, and thus was not built to house too many overnight guests.
above, the lobby of the Forestry Building built for the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition. This structure, which was located near Portland OR and burned in 1964, served as the model for the Glacier Park Lodge. A 1916 image of the Glacier Park Lodge lobby is shown below.
It seems that Hill probably overestimated the number of visitors that would want to trek deep into the wilderness, and underestimated the appeal of Glacier Park Lodge. It was quickly filled to capacity, with many guests wanting to stay close to the comforts of civilization, and content to appreciate the mountains as viewed from the expansive (and safe) lawns and gardens of the grounds.
Glacier Park Lodge was undersized almost as soon as it opened. Overwhelming popularity demanded more rooms, and the 111-room "annex" was built within two years. A native American teepee village became an added attraction; guests enjoyed croquet, lawn tennis, archery, horseback riding and other pursuits right on the grounds. Many played golf, even prior to the construction of the 9-hole course in 1927. To the railway's surprise, the intended stage stop and transient hotel was a destination resort almost as soon as it opened.
When it opened in 1913, the Lodge was a single building. Notice the line of train passengers waiting to embark to lodges and chalets deep in the park. Below, the Annex in 1916. This photo was probably taken when the new section opened.
Above, an early image of the finished Lodge. The maturing gardens and fencing probably place this photo in the early 1920s.
Through the 1920s and beyond, the Lodge was the crown jewel of the Railway's Glacier Park hotels. It might've lost some luster in 1927 when the Prince of Wales Hotel was constructed across the border, but the multiple recreational opportunities and overall activity level at the Lodge kept it at the top in the perceived pecking order.
Swimming pool scene circa 1966. The pool remains one of the differentiating features that makes The Lodge a little more "genteel" than its more remote counterparts.
Lobby circa 1970. Note how the thoroughly modern furnishings set a rather different mood than the Mission/Monterrey style seen today.
The grounds at Glacier Park Lodge are an integral part of the overall "resort" feeling. The gardens and manicured lawns are more like the Grand Hotel than anything at Glacier National Park. They would certainly be out of place at all but The Prince of Wales and perhaps Lake MacDonald, but seem to fit the Lodge nicely. Although the Lodge isn't much different in terms of structure and amenities than the rambling Many Glacier Hotel, it comes across as much more "civilized" and resorty because of the grounds.
Teepee village during the 1960s. Diversions like the teepees contributed to a more touristy feeling at Glacier Park Lodge. Today one of these is located on a balcony in the main lobby.