In any study of Grand Canyon Lodge, the most obvious, most essential factor in its significance is that it was originally designed by the legendary Gilbert Stanley Underwood. But the key to understanding Grand Canyon Lodge is to recognize that it is located at the North Rim -- far from the madding crowds -- and by definition is a much different experience than anything at the South Rim.
the Grand Canyon Lodge is set right on the rim.
The main lodge building is the hub for every activity except the actual lodging. Rooms include the lobby, dining hall, recreation room, a "western saloon," the amazing sun room, a cafeteria, kitchens, and offices. All bedding is found in various cabins, which range from simple to deluxe, all rustic in appearance. The atmosphere isn't that of a hotel; it feels more like a pricey Adirondack summer camp for adults. It was intended to be a rustic summer resort, and it fits the bill perfectly.
The main lodge building is nestled right on the canyon rim; from below it almost seems to cling to the cliff. Unlike the South Rim lodges that are buffered by walkways and lawns, Grand Canyon Lodge is separated only by railings or windows. The canyon itself presents a much different face here -- it doesn't reveal itself with the same massive vista found at the opposite rim. The Lodge is at the end of an arm that divides Roaring Springs and Transept Canyons, which are side canyons of Bright Angel Canyon, which of course is a side canyon of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. In any case, it simply means that you aren't peering directly down into the deepest part of the abyss as at the South Rim.
Underwood was undoubtedly influenced by Mary Jane Colter's practice of designing structures that seem to rise from the Canyon itself.
Parkitecture enthusiasts generally point to Grand Canyon Lodge as the most authentic, least-altered of all the great park lodges. They're arguably correct in that assessment, however, a strong case could be made for exactly the opposite. Considering that Stanley's original was destroyed by fire and rebuilt with significant differences, it could be said that Grand Canyon Lodge is actually a new lodge built on the site of the first. Completed in 1928, it was ravaged by a fire in 1932 that began when sparks flew from one of its massive hearths.
The main lodge was rebuilt a few years later using most of the original stonework, but it was with some striking differences that bear mentioning here. The original had a second story dormitory which was not rebuilt. Most significantly, the original had a massive, shallow roofline defined by a central observation tower. This gave the original structure a California/mission flavor. The rebuilt lodge had none of that, in fact using steeper rooflines with a greater emphasis on decorative logwork. The double-gable entry hints at the former styling, but that's the extent of it. The look of the "new" lodge is clearly National Park Rustic, and the joy is that it is virtually unchanged since 1937.
The front entry faintly echoes Underwood's original mission styling.
As mentioned above, there are no beds in the main lodge. Guests choose from a few different levels of cabins, priced accordingly. There is also a building with motel rooms; this is newer and not generally regarded as the most desirable lodging by park architecture enthusiasts. The layout requires longer walks to and from the main lodge building than would be expected in a typical hotel. Although this is one of the most charming aspects of Grand Canyon Lodge, it qualifies as more of a cabin and lodge experience than as a pure National Park type lodge.
Vintage black and white photo, also of the "new" 1937 lodge.