Historic photo of the chalet ca. 1915 by R.E. Marble. Image: Courtesy of Glacier National Park Archives.
From the Ashes: Sperry Chalet, Restored
By Dan Larson, Anderson Hallas Architects
When Sperry Chalet, a 1915 mountain lodge deep in the heart of Glacier National Park, burned in the 2017 Sprague Fire, it was mourned by people around the world. As with the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, the response from visitors enchanted by the chalet’s architecture and environs was immediate and impassioned.
All that remained of the chalet were the century-old stone walls and two slender chimneys, still standing, but in imminent danger of collapse. An emergency stabilization effort safeguarded the structure against the impending snowfall, and the National Park Service began to assemble a design team to craft a more permanent solution. Our firm, Anderson Hallas Architects
, specializes in historic and high-altitude preservation and restoration, and had just completed a major rehabilitation of the Many Glacier Hotel at the same park. We knew the challenges of working in such a remote, precious location, but Sperry Chalet, inaccessible by roads and buried in snow eight months of the year, would up the ante.
Sprague Fire 8/31/2017 at Sperry Chalet. Image: courtesy of Glacier National Park.
Sperry Chalet, a National Historic Landmark, sits on a cliff at over 6,000 feet in altitude. No roads reach the site, increasing its charm to the many visitors who braved the trek, often year after year and generation after generation. This condition is less charming from a construction logistic perspective, and our team set to researching options from mule transport to helicopter access. The chalet sits in an enclave within a vast wilderness area, meaning no machinery, no power, and no utilities—and not disturbing the robust local grizzly bear population seemed in the best interest of all. These were just the first of many issues we would tackle in this complex restoration.
At an NPS public meeting in spring 2018, four wide-ranging approaches to Sperry Chalet’s renaissance were proposed, including a new structure elsewhere on site, a contemporary structure at the same location, a restoration to the historic condition, and an innovative option to lodge park visitors in tents. In the end, stakeholders overwhelmingly chose to restore the chalet and its unique visitor experience.
Post fire, pre-stabilization; Image: courtesy of National Park Service
The immediate task facing the Anderson Hallas design team was to balance preservation of the remaining stone walls, restoration of the unique character and experience, and reconstruction of the entire interior to meet current code requirements. To comply with modern code for seismic, snow, and wind loads, the team had the timber log beams and rafters of the original structure recreated from local timber, but with sections of steel carefully concealed inside. Helicopter was the chosen transport for these items despite the eccentric load, and that served as the on-site crane to lift the steel-laden rafters into place.
Fire protection was of course a top priority. A fire suppression system was not possible due to the lack of water supply at this remote site, however the cedar shingle roof was innovatively upgraded to a Class A roofing assembly. Inside, the twin stairs were designed to meet egress code, requiring a tricky deviation from the original floor plan. Walls between guest rooms were redesigned as one-hour fire partitions before receiving the familiar wood plank finish.
Throughout the project, the design team conducted extensive research on historic details to restore the building as closely as possible to its cherished original state. On site, mountain goats were frequent guests, inspecting the work for authenticity. The wood casement windows were reconstructed with high authenticity, sporting single-pane true divided glass, but invisibly tempered for resilience.
The local inspector reviewing the progress. Image: Anderson Hallas Architects.
The rehabilitation of the standing but fire-damaged masonry walls was a special focus. The team spent several trips on-site assessing the masonry condition, resulting in detailed damage mapping that the masonry contractor could use to plan and execute their delicate work. Where stone replacement was necessary, masons hiked to the nearby historic quarry to hand select the stones, which were then transferred by helicopter directly to the masons’ scaffolding.
Sperry Chalet fall 2019, nearing completion. Image: courtesy of Alpha Corporation.
Now, the restoration of the chalet is nearly complete, awaiting the next snow melt and accepting reservations for the grand reopening in July of 2020, when this unique mountain chalet will usher in its next century of service.