& Historical District
Zion National Park, Utah
The Zion Lodge Historical District:
Here we are in beautiful Zion National Park! Among the natural beauty of soaring red cliffs there are 61 registered historic structures remaining in the park. If you like old buildings, bridges, walls, trails, etc., there are plenty to see here at Zion! For this tour, we're going to focus on the concession buildings associated with the Zion Lodge complex. These buildings were all built by the Union Pacific Railroad to promote use of the railroad by tourists. Visitors rode the train to Cedar City, Utah. From there touring cars or buses took them to the Zion Lodge.
Unless noted, all photos above were taken on approximately April 16-18, 2007. Some photos have been digitally altered to hide the identities of people in the photos.
Gilbert Stanley Underwood:
Most of the historic buildings featured in this article were designed by the famous architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, and represent some of his earliest work. Mr. Underwood is considered a master at taking the rustic architectural style used by the park service and translating it for use on the larger, more complex hotel buildings found in many of the National Parks. If you compare these buildings at Zion to his later work at Bryce Canyon and The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, you can see the progression of his skills as he refined them over the years. (He also had bigger budgets to work with on some of the later work, which allowed the use of more architectural detail!)
The Original Zion Lodge:
Underwood's first design for the Lodge was a typical large hotel building. The Union Pacific Railroad wanted a large upscale hotel suited to the wealthy tourists they desired would ride their trains to the park. The Park service had the right to review and approve the building designs, since the facility was going to be inside Zion National Park. However, Stephen Mather, the Park Service Director, rejected this first design. Mr. Mather pushed Underwood to create something simpler, more in harmony with the site. He wanted to see something smaller, and more like the rustic architecture already used on the Park Service owned buildings that existed within the Park.
A new plan was developed by Underwood, consisting of a compromise. A central lodge building would contain the guest lobby, rest rooms, a store, and a restaurant. Two groups of cabins provided for guest accommodations, a group of basic cabins without baths, and another group of upscale cabins with baths. A pool and pool house (now removed), bakery, barbershop, employee dorms, and a few miscellaneous buildings completed the Lodge Complex design. A separate support complex a short distance away at Birch Creek would house vehicles and horses.
The proposed architecture for the buildings was a cross between the rustic park service buildings, with lots of sandstone masonry, and the clean lines of the wood frame hotel desired by the railroad. The building designs were standard wood-frame construction, but to make them feel more rustic (and save lots of money!) they would not have exterior siding. The wood frame studs would be open and exposed on the outside, rather than on the inside like most inexpensive tourist cabins of the time. (See our photos of the cabins at Grant Grove Village in King's Canyon N.P. for an example of typical cabins of the era.) To add to the rustic look they would also have sandstone foundations, chimneys and columns. This new plan was approved by the Park Service, and the Zion Lodge and Birch Creek complexes were built and operated by a subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad under the name Utah Parks Company (to make it look less like a railroad monopoly!)
The New Zion Lodge:
This is the new lodge building that stands today.
The new lodge was hastily constructed in 1966 after the old lodge burned. Built at the same location as the original, it was a very plain box building, hastily erected in an effort to get the lodge back open as quickly as possible. Ugly was one of the kinder descriptions given to this replacement building. Fortunately renovations over the years have added much of the original lodge's exterior features to the "new" lodge building. The pitch of the roof on the new building is not as steep, but other than that the overall look is now very similar to the original lodge building. Notice how the sandstone rock on the building matches the canyon walls above the lodge.
The Historic Deluxe Western Cabins:
The Western Cabins are historic and were formerly called the Deluxe Cabins. There are two basic cabin layouts, duplex and fourplex. The duplex cabins were built in 1927; the fourplex cabins were added in 1929. All of the historic cabins were designed by the famous architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood. Like the other Zion buildings designed by Underwood, they have open walls with exposed exterior framing. The cabins have been updated and, to some degree, restored. They had been modernized at one time leaving little of the original interior appearance. Those "improvements" have since been removed and the interiors now are much more like the original design.
The cabins have 2 double beds each. Baths have been updated. The original walk-in closets have been converted into dressing rooms with a second sink, which is very convenient. The furniture in the cabins is rustic and fits in well with the cabin style. Each cabin has a porch with a nice wood bench. The cabins have been remodeled since these photos were taken in 2007, they now have new paint colors, new furniture, and new fabrics.
Pioneer Family Cabins:
Originally there were a group of standard, or family, cabins. These cabins were smaller and did not have private baths. All of these standard cabins were removed in 1984. The Lodge complex also originally had a swimming pool and bathhouses designed by Underwood. Both have been removed.
The historic cabins are not the only lodging units at Zion Lodge. There are also two modern hotel buildings. The architecture of these buildings blends well with the historic cabins. The rooms are what you would expect in a typical two-star rated establishment. Most rooms have two queen beds, a few rooms have a king bed. We'll take a quick look at the hotel units, then get back to the historic buildings. The hotel/motel units have been remodeled after these photos were taken, they now have new paint colors, new furniture, and new fabrics.
Other Historic Buildings adjacent to The Zion Lodge:
The side of the women's dorm building. Note the sandstone rock-work on the foundation and chimney.
Birch Creek Support Facilities
When the Zion Lodge was built, support facilities that might be noisy or smelly were located a short distance down the canyon from the Lodge Complex at Birch Creek. This included the vehicle maintenance and storage areas, as well as the horse stables. Birch Creek is located 1.1 miles south of The Zion Lodge adjacent to the Court of the Patriarchs viewpoint.
There are many other historic buildings in Zion N.P. including a number of historic ranger residence buildings, restroom buildings, bridges, canals, amphitheater, trails, etc. I have photos I took of most of them but didn't want to overwhelm you with my excess! I've already gone beyond my normal limit of 25 photos. Wikipedia has a good list of them: Historical buildings and structures of Zion National Park.
All photos and text by JessStryker, 2007, text updated 2018.