The Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park has a great new look this summer, with millions in new renovations that include the restoration of a spectacular spiral staircase that was torn out more than 60 years ago.
The hotel has seen $42 million in work over the past 15 years, including straightening the building, remodeling the rooms and restoring the dining room to historic standards.
The most recently completed work included a $13.5 million contract by Swank Construction to remodel the lobby and the south annex of the building. Swank subcontracted the staircase to Northwest Cabinet Works of Kalispell.
In addition, concessionaire Glacier National Park Lodges invested $5 million into the hotel, including room remodeling, new furniture, light fixtures and carpeting and other amenities.
The project also saw both private and public philanthropic donations. The Glacier National Park Conservancy donated more than $358,000 toward the staircase and lighting.
The hotel opened for guests at noon on June 13 and it was nip-and-tuck.
As the front door opened, “we were taking cut off pieces of carpet out the back door,” said Glacier National Park Lodges general manager Marc Ducharme.
The lobby is the showcase of the 102-year-old hotel, with soaring beams of Douglas fir and a large fireplace.
The original double helix staircase, which went from the lake level of the hotel to the lobby, was torn out in the mid-’50s to make way for a gift shop. But with the most recent remodel, the staircase was restored and the gift shop was moved to the lake level of the hotel.
The staircase wasn’t quite done as of last week — it still needs a coat of stain and finish — but should be finished this week.
Northwest Cabinet Works owners and partners, Tony Dawson and John Hale and their crew spent the winter building it.
The backbone of the double helix staircase is steel — each stringer is 1,100 pounds, meticulously welded together by Dawson’s 83-year-old father, Bill. He was an ironworker at the Anaconda Aluminum Co. in Columbia Falls and also worked on the Libby Dam. He does all of the welding and metal fabrication for the cabinet shop, but the staircase was a particular challenge.
Bill worked closely with Zane Smith, a local woodworker who specializes in spiral staircases.
It took a month for the pair to take the raw steel from Chicago and form it into one staircase. The second set took about 10 days — they got the hang of it the second time around.
The work is precise — the risers are within an eighth of an inch of one another, Dawson and Hale said in an interview earlier this year.
But the public will never see the steel. It’s concealed under Douglas Fir woodwork, the lumber sourced locally from RBM Lumber of Columbia Falls.
While the Park Service provided some plans for the project, the company gained greater insight from the hotel itself. When Swank took down the gift shop and peeled away the carpet, it revealed the pattern on the floor of the old staircase.
The company was able to take careful measurements and replicate the new staircase almost exactly. There are some modifications — the original staircase had a hand rail that was wider than what is allowed by code today, and the pickets have been modified to meet code as well, Dawson and Hale explained.
While the new staircase now sits where the musical stage used to, the hotel will still have Hootenannies, Ducharme said. The weekly performances of live folk music — a tradition at the hotel — will now move to the Lucerne room, he said.
He said the renovations have “literally transformed the lodge.”
Ducharme said the lodges in Glacier are booked through the summer, though there are a few openings left at its Cedar Creek Lodge property in Columbia Falls.
The Hotel has 214 rooms and typically houses about 450 to 500 people a night.
There still is some finish work to be completed — the south annex will get a fresh coat of exterior paint this fall.