It's been sold, closed, moved, reopened, burned, built on, burned, closed, reopened, slated for demolition, rewired, renovated and remodeled...in other words, the National Park Inn simply refuses to die.
It began life across the street as part of the original but largely undesirable Longmire family Mineral Springs operation. Starting with a modest camp in the 1880s, the Longmires eventually had a sprawling collection of shanties and sheds billed as "Longmire Medical Springs Hotel." None of the buildings actually qualified as a legitimate hotel; what the complex lacked in quality, it made up for with tackiness. Park supervisors despised it, and wanted it gone. Finally, after founding family members had all passed on, younger Longmires leased the property to a group of Seattle/Tacoma investors. This group spiffed up the place and built a nice new, albeit totally uninspired, hotel in 1916.
That investment group was eventually absorbed by the Rainier National Park Co., and the Longmire operation was torched -- with the exception of the 1916 building. That hotel structure was moved across the street and shoehorned into the National Park Inn complex, where it became offices, stores, and an annex for overflow lodging. And since 1926, this "annex" has masqueraded as The National Park Inn.
Above, the "original" 1906 National Park Inn, destroyed by fire in 1926. Below, the Longmire Springs Hotel, with additions and a front porch, was transformed into The National Park Inn within a month of the fire.
Here are a few details to help you better understand the backstory at the National Park Inn. At the turn of the 20th Century, park officials pleaded and negotiated with Elcaine Longmire to clean up the family's dismal operation at Mount Rainier. After six years of Elcaine's stonewalling, the fledgling park went on the offensive and struck a deal with the Tacoma Eastern Railroad Co. The railroad received an attractive lease on a choice piece of park land...across the street from the Longmires.
The railroad was sold on the concept because of new and successful lodges recently built at other parks. Old Faithful Inn and El Tovar were projects by other, admittedly larger and better funded, railroads. To put the icing on the cake, Louis Hill was openly planning to build a series of Swiss style chalets and a handful of massive lodges at the soon-to-be Glacier National Park. Tacoma Eastern wanted in on this opportunity, and agreed to build a fully modern hotel. In the process, park officials hoped, they'd put the unsightly mineral springs out of business.
The National Park Inn went up in 1906 with every conceivable convenience. Electric lighting, hot and cold baths, a magnificent dining hall, and up-to-date decor. Guests at Longmire had been used to sing-alongs at a bonfire; guests at the new National Park Inn enjoyed nightly entertainment by an attractive indoor fireplace. The Inn was new, it was clean, and it took the best customers.
The Longmires responded by opening a tawdry saloon and cutting prices. The quality of their clientele diminished, and the appearance of the property followed suit. Rainier National Park legally ordered the saloon to be closed, so the Longmires replaced it with a scandalous pool hall. Park officials steamed.
Above, another view of the original Inn. Early guests raved about the veranda, and complained about the mess across the street.
It wasn't until Elcaine Longmire's death in 1915 that park officials were able to make any headway with the family. The Longmire property was leased out, cleaned up, and the new hotel was built in 1916. Unfortunately the various shed structures were still in use, and the newly formed National Park Service maneuvered to make further changes.
Meanwhile the Tacoma and Eastern Railroad, operating as the National Park Hotel and Transportation Company, was learning that a park hotel was not the cash cow they originally expected. They shied away from further investment at Mount Rainier. The Inn did steady business; other than the Longmire's and a few rugged "camps" it was the only game in town. But unlike Old Faithful and the Glacier lodges, it was never a destination unto itself. Although modern and boasting an expansive veranda, the National Park Inn was still a basic rectangular western transient hotel. Tacoma and Eastern lacked both the funds and the imagination to do it any differently.
Following Stephen Mather's vision of making the park experience a complete escape from everyday life, Rainier brass now conspired to remove both non-conforming concessioners from the village commonly known as Longmire. To do this, they gathered a group of Tacoma businessmen and explained that unless they stepped up, tourist services at Mount Rainier National Park would be run by city folk from the east coast. To the provincially-minded Washingtonians, the idea that decisions would come from -- and profits would go to -- a bunch of easterners was outrageous.
In March 1916 the Rainier National Park Co. was formed by Chester Thorne and a group of Puget Sound investors. They began drafting plans for Paradise Inn, and opened it a year later. At first, National Park Hotel Co. president James Hughes put his selling price beyond the reasonable reach of RNP Co., but as time went on and Paradise began gobbling up the summer occupancy, the price came down.
Promotional advertisements indicate that there was some relationship between the new Longmire Springs operators and National Park Inn at this time, perhaps to counter the momentum Paradise Inn was enjoying. Either way, Hughes agreed to sell out some time in early 1918. Negotiations were entered into with the Longmire Springs leaseholders, and by 1919 the Rainier National Park Co. controlled everything on both sides of the road. As mentioned above, in 1920 the 1916 Longmire Springs Hotel was jacked up and hauled across the road to become part of the National Park Inn, while the rest of the Longmire dilapidations were demolished.
The first floor of the relocated structure became a series of shops and offices, and a U.S. Post Office. The second story was to be used for "overflow" guest rooms as needed. It was connected to the 1906 building via covered walkway, and nicknamed "The Annex."
The Park Service realized its dream of having a controlled monopoly control its lodging, yet it didn't solve the Longmire problem completely. It was now cleaned up, of course, and steadily losing business to the more glamorous Paradise Inn. The RNP Co. wasn't interested in competing with itself, and resisted further investment in the National Park Inn.
Above, a US Post Office was built in the Annex in 1920, and has been a fixture ever since. National Park Service photo.
Trying to convince RNP Co. to expand the National Park Inn, the Park Service went so far as to propose redevelopment of the Longmire Mineral Springs as a destination health spa and resort complex. Someone on the RNP side of the equation must've questioned the medical validity of the mineral springs, because the NPS sent samples to Washington for testing. When the water was found to be nothing more than water, the plan was scrapped. James and Elcaine Longmire were probably chortling in their graves.
The scene at RNP Co was a bit unsettled in the 1920s. The company was making a profit on Paradise Inn, but their associated canvas camping cabins were mainly empty. Fussier guests wanted to stay inside a proper building, and the more rustic guests opted for the free public campgrounds operated by the NPS. Again ignoring the National Park Inn, the RNP Co. focused on building additional lodging at Paradise, which was finally approved and completed in 1929.
A bit of a boom came to the National Park Inn in the mid 1920s when the Park Service agreed to open the road as far as Longmire for winter sports. The Inn quietly tested winter operations for the first year, then opened winter weekends in 1925.
Winter operations in the mid to late 1920s were a full-fledged commitment by the RNPC. A tobaggan chute and ski jumps were built at Longmire, and dog teams and horses brought in for sled and sleigh ride concessions. Unfortunately the activities and Inn were only open on weekends, so employees had to be trucked in each Friday. The winter scene was a popular success and an economic failure. But it would prove to be the National Park Inn's last great moment as a leading hotel at Mount Rainier.
In June 1926 a kitchen flue fire deposited cinders onto the roof of the National Park Inn, and the 20 year old structure was soon ablaze. The original Inn and an adjacent structure were completely destroyed. The Annex, however, survived the conflagration with minimal damage. The Longmire legacy would live on.
While it would seem that the Rainier National Park Co. should've been thrilled to be rid of the Inn, there must've been more to the story. Whether it was to take advantage of bookings, or a negotiation to build the second lodge at Paradise, or both, the RNPC moved immediately to dress up the Annex to function as a replacement Inn.
History tells us that the Annex was remodeled and opened as The National Park Inn in less than a month. This involved removing office and gift shop walls to create a dining room, converting other offices to guest rooms, and adding a veranda to the front and a kitchen to the rear. Business proceeded, but with a fraction of the room count prior to the fire.
The National Park Service, meanwhile, put more resources into Longmire than nearly anywhere else at Mt. Rainier. Park headquarters and a sprawling campground were located near the Inn, and a terrific service station with a gasoline island was built in 1929. This fine example of parkitecture still stands adjacent to the Inn. During the 1930s, with the Civilian Conservation Corps seemingly at its disposal, the Longmire area saw a flurry of construction activity. It was during this time that the guest room interiors were remodeled at the National Park Inn.
Above, a service station in the "parkitecture" style was built in 1929. Although it stands empty today, the structure is protected. National Park Service photo.
When America finally pulled itself out of the Great Depression and the Park Service had the funds (and politicians the will) to spend on improvements, the National Park Inn was an easy target. But just as the call to remove and replace was gaining momentum, World War II gave the Inn yet another reprieve. This was to be a recurring pattern for the National Park Inn...various superintendents and authorities would declare it obsolete, proposing modern "auto camps" and then motels as time went on. But because the Inn was sort of a forgotten stepchild, the NPS tended to pass it by in favor of more glamorous things, just like the majority of the public motored past, bound for Paradise Inn.
A minority of the public, however, continued to head for the quieter, warmer scene at the National Park Inn through the years. And so it limped through the 1960s and into the 1970s, when a thing called "nostalgia" began to gain a foothold across the land. Indeed a majority of guests headed for Paradise -- or opted for the cookie-cutter motels outside the park. But a few said no, this little lodge is old and quirky; we prefer that. By the end of the 1980s it was treasured; a decade later it was protected. Thus, despite repeated efforts to kill it, the humble National Park Inn is a survivor.