The scenic beauty of the Olympic Peninsula attracts people from around the world. Visiting the Lake Quinault Lodge, an architectural masterpiece, is an unexpected bonus in the thinly populated wilderness at the southwestern end of the Olympic National Park.

For almost a century the Lake Quinault Lodge, celebrated architect Robert Reamer’s beautiful hotel, has inspired those who lived, visited or worked there. Reamer’s extensive resumé included other beautiful wilderness lodges, such as the famous Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park.

Situated on the south shore of Lake Quinault, the Lake Quinault Lodge includes more than 90 rooms, an elegant ballroom, lakeview restaurant and welcoming lobby. While care has been taken to preserve the historic country-inn style of the rooms, modern amenities have been added.

Photo by Katie McGregor

“We have no rooms without a view,” says front desk manager Kimberly Booth.” You either look out over the lake or over the rain forest.” Booth, of Neilton, has worked at the lodge since 1992. One of her tasks is giving tours, which is important because the lodge has a rich, historic past.

While there had been other hotels at Lake Quinault, it was in the 1920s that lumber baron Ralph D. Emerson decided to invest in a new hotel on Lake Quinault. (His father, George H. Emerson, the millionaire president of the Northwestern Lumber Company, was known as the Father of Hoquiam.)

Meanwhile Frank Lewis McNeil, who had experience in the hospitality industry, saw an opportunity. While working linotype for the Seattle Post Intelligencer, he had learned of the earlier Lake Quinault hotel’s destruction by fire.

With Emerson as his partner, McNeil secured a building permit from the Forest Service for a “modest structure.” In 1925, the partners built a two-story log hotel. But soon after opening, the new hotel proved to be too small. (The beautifully remodeled structure, now known as the Boathouse, still houses guests today.)

To build a larger structure, Emerson attracted a silent partner, Carl Morck, owner of the Morck Hotel in Aberdeen. Together they raised $75,000 to construct “the quintessential inn.” The Forest Service approved the project, especially when it became known that Robert Reamer was to be the architect.

While perhaps best known nationally for designing the grand Old Faithful Inn, Robert C. Reamer was also well known in the Grays Harbor area. In 1924, he had completed the magnificent Emerson Hotel in Hoquiam. And, while constructing the Lake Quinault Lodge, Reamer was also working on the Skinner Building, housing the Fifth Avenue Theatre in Seattle.

Reamer’s biographer Ruth Quinn admired his ability “to create magnificent spaces. … spaces that have become beloved by people for generations.” Considering the variety of stylistic elements, Quinn summarizes the lodge’s design as an early form of the Pacific Northwest style with “naturally stained wood shingles, a pitched roof, placement in a natural setting, and relationship with the interior and exterior environments.”

Photo by Katie McGregor

The two-and-a-half-story, cedar-shingled, wood frame structure is set back from the lakefront to avoid flooding. The building forms an open V-shape with the lobby at its center and large wings embracing the large lawn rolling down to the lake. Rows of floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides look out over the lake, or the rain forest, respectively.

Over the years, the forest has encroached upon the lodge, enhancing its beauty. The landscaping was planned this way. Many native and exotic species were planted on the 67-acre site, most notably the California redwoods in 1930. Towering far above the lodge’s roof, these giants are living proof of just how much the species Sequoia sempervirens can grow in 98 years.

In the expansive lobby, anchored by a massive stone fireplace, one wall displays 20 historic photos that document the stages of the legendary construction of the lodge. “It was built in 53 days to beat the rainy season,” Booth says.”  They were burning bonfires so that the crew of 45 craftsmen could work around the clock. They called it hotbed construction.”

The grand opening of the Lake Quinault Lodge was celebrated August 18, 1926, with 500 guests. All rooms were blessed by Sally Freeman, a Quinault medicine woman who lived on the lake.

Photo by Katie McGregor

The management was turned over to Frank McNeil and his wife, Estella. They lovingly completed much of the interior design in agreement with Reamer’s ideas for a Native American theme reflecting the art of the local tribes. With impeccable taste, Stella selected and purchased everything from wicker furniture for the lobby to Pendleton blankets for the guest rooms. She had become close friends with Freeman who had taught her basket weaving and the art of rock gardening.

The McNeils maintained good relations with their Native American neighbors, establishing a trend for the future.

Estella decorated the lobby with Quinault rock garden displays and beaded lampshades. Quinault Chief Howeattle and his people often visited. Their artwork was for sale on the premises. Today, the staircase leading to the second floor displays stunning historic photographs of Native American women, among them two women from the Howeattle family.

Yet, when it came to the décor, there was not much concern with cultural authenticity in the 1920s, Booth notes, pointing out the decorations on the old-growth fir beams in the lobby. The designs resemble Mayan rather than local Native American art. As Booth gives a tour, it’s clear the lodge includes history around each corner.

For instance, October 1, 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt lunched in the dining room, while visiting the area that had been proposed as a national park. Deeply impressed with the lodge, he remarked: “This is one of the most beautiful settings I have ever seen.” He promised to approve the establishment of the Olympic National Park, a promise he made true nine months later, on June 29, 1938. A menu signed by the president and photographs of the occasion are displayed on a dining room wall.

An adjacent wall section displays a canoe carved by another president, Joseph B. DeLaCruz, president of the Quinault Tribe from 1972 to 1993. It is flanked by paddles honoring other tribal members. In 1939, the McNeils left the lodge and Ralph Emerson sold it. Kimberly Booth points out structural changes introduced by a series of private owners after World War II – the extended dining area enclosing the terrace in front of the old dining room, the 16-unit fireplace annex and the indoor heated pool and game room.

The totem pole rain gauge on the outside of the brick chimney has become a landmark. Judy McVay, a pioneering Humptulips chainsaw artist, was commissioned to carve this beautiful piece of folk art in 1966. (McVay was featured in the Summer 2021 issue of Coastal Currents.)  It measures the rain in feet! The artist happily mixes native-inspired design elements with art-deco stained-glass motifs.

In 1988, ARAMARK, a national food and lodging concessionaire, purchased the lodge. The company added the 36-room modern Lakeside Annex. It’s now weathered cedar-shingle siding blends in beautifully with the main lodge’s architecture. At the foot of the stairs, in the entrance hallway, there is a carved Quinault Lodge sign in honor of Mike Turner, facilities manager from 2008-15.

Photo by Katie McGregor

With his great love for the building and local history, Turner is in great part responsible for how art, history and tributes to staff members are displayed in the lodge today. He teamed up with a like-minded friend from the Quinault Tribe, Justine James, to collect and curate local stories, photographs and artifacts. James contributed many photos and artifacts, including some dugout canoes.

“Mike was a great guy, always looking for ways to improve the place,” Booth said. He wanted decorations for the Lakeside Annex and asked if any of the staff were artistic. Booth herself responded, painting a beautiful Quinault eagle which now hangs on one of its cedar-shingled walls.

As Harvest Moon, Quinault basket weaver and storyteller, said about the lodge: “When people come here, it’s not just to relax and visit; it’s to make memories or begin memories.”

Architect Robert Reamer’s jewel set in the Olympic National Park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, ensuring that it will be preserved for future generations to meet and share their stories and creations.