Lake Wilderness Lodge
The content below is from the 2001 National Register of Historic Places Registration Form from the National Park Service and a 2016 King County Archives blog post.
In the 1920s, resorts were developed on many of King County’s woodland lakes. These privately-operated lake resorts typically offered cabins to rent for overnight stays, docks and improved swimming areas, boat rentals, and activities such as dancing to the music of touring orchestras or bands. In the early 1920s, three small family resorts, Dieckman’s, McKinleys, and the Kingen brothers, operated small resorts on the northwest shore of Lake Wilderness.
In 1926, Kain and Tom Gaffney purchased the Kingens’ property, intending to improve the rudimentary resort. The Gaffney brothers were originally from Sprague, located in Eastern Washington’s wheat country. Kain’s interest in music brought him to the Puget Sound area, where he toured with an orchestra. Following an appearance of his orchestra at Lake Wilderness, Kain sought an opportunity to invest in a vacation resort on the lake. In 1925, he leased land on the northeast part of the lake from Robert and Curley Kingen, and, with his brother Tom, purchased the parcel the following year. When the Gaffney brothers purchased the resort, little existed in the way of improvements—just a few crude cabins, a muddy beach, and little beach equipment. Soon the brothers brought in sand to create a pleasant beach, extended a dock to create sheltered swimming areas, built more cabins and a dance pavilion, and created tennis courts, picnic areas, ball fields, and playgrounds. An advertisement in the 1927 Seattle Times announced that the resort could be reached in less than one hour from Seattle, and that the site had been “greatly improved.”
Following the end of World War II, the Gaffneys decided to modernize their resort facilities by building a new lodge and rental cabins. They envisioned that a new lodge would attract weekend visitors, as well as conference business. Several factors influenced their decision to build a new structure. A new state highway was slated to pass through Maple Valley, connecting Interstate 5 west of Auburn with Interstate 90 near Snoqualmie. Via the highway, the lodge would be 27 miles from both Tacoma and Seattle, Puget Sound’s largest cities.
The Gaffneys selected the Seattle firm Young and Richardson to design their new lodge building. The record is not clear about what led the Gaffneys to select the firm. The Lake Wilderness Lodge embodies many characteristics of the Northwest Style of architecture. It reflects a regional interpretation of the architectural vocabulary of the international modem movement—glass curtain walls, planar finishes, and floating horizontal slabs, combined with emerging values in Northwest architectural design, such as a site-specific design with an emphasis on light and vista, and the use of native materials. The connection with local tradition was also emphasized by the central position of a substantial carved cedar pole inspired by Northwest Native American art forms.
The Lodge was carefully sited and configured to take advantage of picturesque views of Lake Wilderness and Mount Rainier beyond. The building sits atop a rise at the north end of the lake. The main section of the building, with a steep gable roof, mimics the lines of Mount Rainier. The integration of the building with its site was a key design element. A visitor’s experience of the building’s integration with the site was enhanced by the large areas of plate glass blurring the division between interior and exterior spaces. Like the northwest residences of the post-war era, the entry side of the lodge is not the “primary” facade. While it contains the entry, and the covered walkway from the driveway helps define the entry, the total design is only revealed from the rear, lakeside elevation, which opens to the lake with a broad expanse of windows. Native northwest materials—particularly fir beams were featured in the interior in juxtaposition with modern furniture, detailing, and design aesthetic.
The lodge was designated as a King County Landmark in 1997 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
The Building and Site
The Lodge sits on a low rise between a higher forested knoll to the northwest and the lakeshore. The exterior appearance of the asymmetrical building reflects the original interior uses of the spaces, which are divided between the public gathering spaces, offices, and the original hotel rooms. The building does not present a “primary” facade. Rather, it is designed to be viewed both from the entry side and from the lake side. The designs of the two main elevations reflect their distinct purposes—welcoming and entry at the front, and recreation and scenic vistas at the back.
The building has two main sections, which join at a central vertical core. The center vertical section, clad in white cement stucco over wood frame walls, contains the stairs and other service elements. The vertical core has large textured glass windows lighting the stairwell on the south side. Visually, it serves as a solid anchor for the steeply sloped built-up tar roof of the southern portion of the building. The roof rests on walls composed of large fir-framed glass panes. Dark stained hand split cedar, used as an exterior finish material on the solid walls of the structure, accentuates the contrast with the white stucco. A long canopy projects horizontally across the entry drive from the main (central) entrance of the lodge. The canopy defines the primary entry, as well as providing shelter for visitors. The canopy is supported on a welded steel box running its entire length and resting on three slender exposed steel pipe columns.
The Lodge’s lakeside elevation presents a very open appearance with vast expanses of glass walls blurring the distinction between the interior and the exterior. The center section features a prominent gabled two-story projecting volume with few solid wall areas. This space, containing the dining room, is continued visually on the exterior by a large cantilevered concrete wrap-around deck, which floats above the lawn. The concrete is supported on two rows of concrete columns and concrete beams. The basement is above grade on the lake elevation. With stucco walls and more limited use of windows, the basement appears as a solid base for the building. From the lake, the “bridge” function of the flat-roofed lodging wing is particularly evident. However, on this elevation, this wing is also opened to the view by large windows and private decks for each room.
The use of the center pole reflected a desire to integrate decorative elements and the physical fabric of the building. Dudley Carter, who received the commission for the center pole sculpture, was well-known in the region for his massive timber carvings. Carter often produced his work in full view of the public. He carved the Lake Wilderness pole with a broad axe at the King County Fair in Enumclaw from a 7.5-foot diameter cedar logged from the slopes of Mount Pilchuck, providing the publicity-minded Gaffneys an opportunity to promote their new lodge. The pole was lifted into place with a crane before the roof and upper walls were constructed. Architect John S. Detlie, who worked on the Gaffney’s project for Young & Richardson, later observed that this type of integration of art and architecture reflected a tremendous opportunity in American art. Carter drew on the principals of the Northwest Indian Totem poles for his design.
The Architect, Young, Richardson, Carleton & Detlie
The original Young & Richardson firm was established in the 1930s by architects Arrigo Young and Stephen Richardson. To meet postwar Seattle’s growing needs the Young, Richardson, Carleton & Detlie partnership was formed in 1952 when William Carleton and John Detlie became full partners.
The firm produced a wide variety of projects including several building for the University of Washington, the Seattle parks Department Administration Building (1948), and the Seattle Children’s Orthopedic Hospital (1953).
Their projects were highlighted in publications featuring Modernist architecture including Architectural Record’s A Treasury of Contemporary Houses series in 1953.