This is the third in a series of blog posts celebrating American Archives Month 2016, using King County records to highlight the history of King County parks. For more, see “Athletes with Disabilities: King County Parks as a Recreation Pioneer.” and “From Coal to the Cold War: Cougar Mountain Regional Wildlife Park’s Former Nike Missile Sites”
Lake Wilderness and Gaffney’s Resort
In the early 20th Century, lakes in the Maple Valley area were popular weekend destinations.
Kane Gaffney, a musician, reportedly had been inspired to establish a resort at Lake Wilderness after performing in an outdoor concert there.
So, in 1926, Kane and his brother Tom founded Gaffney’s Resort, which grew (taking over two other resorts on the lake) and prospered into the 1940s. At its peak, Gaffney’s saw upwards of 9,000 guests in a day.
Kane Gaffney, 1907. Series 467, Park System Photographs, Box 23, King County Archives.
Gaffney’s Resort offered cabins, water slides, a dance hall, and a roller rink, and over time was expanded to include a golf course and an air strip.
Postcards showing Gaffney’s Resort waterfront and cabin interior, circa 1940-1955. Series 472, Cultural History Research Project, Natural Resources and Parks, Department of: Recreation, Aquatics and Fairgrounds Division / Interpretive Program, Box 1, Folder 12, King County Archives.
People from nearby cities and towns travelled to the resort by automobile, and during wartime gas rationing, many came by shuttle. Vacationers stayed in the lodge and in cabins, while locals would frequent the dance hall for weekend nights out.
Plans for a new highway that would link the area to Seattle and Tacoma promised even more business, and, anticipating changing demand, the Gaffney’s invested in a new 20,000 square-foot lodge that could serve as a modern conference facility.
Pacific Northwest Modern
View of lodge from across Lake Wilderness, 1997. Series 1803, Photograph files: historic landmark nominations, Office of the Executive: Office of Business Relations and Economic Development / Historic Preservation Program, Box 2, Folder 10, King County Archives.
Designed by architects Young & Richardson, Gaffney’s Lodge earned a National Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1952, and architectural trade journals lauded its modern design. In 2003, the lodge was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as an early example of the Pacific Northwest Regional Style of the Modern movement.
Young & Richardson’s plans showing elevations of the sections of Gaffney’s Lodge, 1948. Series 1848, Parks plans, Department of Executive Services Facilities Management, Real Estate Services, King County Archives.
Integration with the landscape
A principle of Modernism held that a building should not be imposed upon a space but should instead relate to the landscape and reflect its locale. With its asymmetrical design and use of local materials, the Lake Wilderness Lodge responded gracefully to its surroundings.
Plot plan for Gaffney’s Lodge, 1948. Series 1848, Parks plans, Department of Executive Services Facilities Management, Real Estate Services, King County Archives.
The lodge interior related to the out of doors by providing a dramatic view of the lake from a convention hall that could seat 600, as well as a quiet transition from sleeping quarters to a forested area outside.
Side view of lodge, 1997. Series 1803, Photograph files: historic landmark nominations, Office of the Executive: Office of Business Relations and Economic Development / Historic Preservation Program, Box 2, Folder 10, King County Archives.
Form and Function and a Northwest Regional Architecture
Another tenet of Modernism was to reject superficial ornamentation. Beauty was seen in unity of design, material, and purpose. Manufactured furnishings and structural features such as support beams and joints were not hidden, and their display demonstrated respect for materials and their utility.
Though at the time the architects described the building as resembling “Swiss Alpine” architecture, Gaffney’s Lodge helped define an emerging Northwest Modern style. Industrial, manufactured elements, such as concrete posts, steel pipes, and large window panes, were combined with regional materials like hand-split cedar from local forests, and the overall design centered around an artwork based in the region’s Native American traditions.
The Dudley Carter Column
Detail from drawing for column and main stairway of Gaffney’s Lodge, 1948. Series 1848, Parks plans, Department of Executive Services Facilities Management, Real Estate Services, King County Archives.
Artist Dudley Carter sculpted the central column that spanned three stories and served as the lodge’s central structural support, rising to the ceiling through a free-standing staircase.
In describing the work, Carter explained how traditional Northwest Native American design and technique aligned with Modernist principles.
Carving the Column
Dudley Carter carved the column from a 35-foot cedar trunk that was five feet in diameter at the base. He worked in public at the 1949 King County Fair, held in Enumclaw. The photographs here show the carving in progress.
Carving of pole for Gaffney’s Lodge by artist Dudley Carter at King County Fair, 1949. Series 468, Park System History Files, Box 1, Folder 9, King County Archives.
Carter documented the significance of each figure in the column. The human at the top represented the lodge’s host, who “seems to be gazing out across the Lake Wilderness toward Mt. Rainier and wishes for someone else to hold up the roof while he goes fishing on the lake.” (Click on the below detail for more descriptions.)
Transcription of artist’s statement by Dudley Carter provided to Young & Richardson circa 1948-1949. Series 472, Cultural History Research Project, Natural Resources and Parks, Department of: Recreation, Aquatics and Fairgrounds Division / Interpretive Program, Box 1, Folder 12, King County Archives.
The lodge’s Tillicum Room lounge also employed motifs derived from Northwest Native American art.
Details from plan for the Tillicum Room lounge at Gaffney’s Lodge, 1948. Series 1848, Parks plans, Department of Executive Services Facilities Management, Real Estate Services, King County Archives.
Permanent Open Space
Some 8,000 people had attended the lodge’s 1950 opening celebration that included an air show utilizing the new air strip near the building. But over the next decade, the resort’s popularity declined.
In 1966, King County was able to purchase the property through federal grant funding under the Housing Act of 1961, which supported preservation of open space near growing urban areas. The same year, the Lake Wilderness Arboretum Foundation was established and began development of an arboretum adjacent to today’s Lake Wilderness Park.
A Comfortable Building for Intellectual Pursuits
King County managed the 100-plus acres of open space and leased the lodge to the University of Washington for its extension program.
From photocopy of clipping from the Everett Herald article dated March 1, 1969. Series 472, Cultural History Research Project, Natural Resources and Parks, Department of: Recreation, Aquatics and Fairgrounds Division / Interpretive Program, Box 1, Folder 12, King County Archives.
The Everett Herald described the center in 1969 as “a comfortable, modern building of glass and concrete….designed and operated solely to provide an atmosphere and surroundings to aid intellectual pursuits,” hosting over 70 academic conferences a year.
A Future for the Lodge
After 20 years, in 1986, the University did not renew its lease, and with funding needed for upgrades and asbestos removal, the County and the community debated the lodge’s future.
A private company, Sportsmind Inc., which provided coaching and training to corporate and military clients, bid to lease the building for weekend retreats. Senior housing was another possibility, and there was popular support for an “Unlimited Hydroplane Hall of Fame and Museum.” The lodge finally was retained and renovated by King County, including making newly required safety and accessibility improvements, and was operated as a community center. In 1997, King County designated the lodge an official historic landmark.
To the City of Maple Valley
Through its acquisition of the land and decades of stewardship, King County ensured preservation of not only the culturally significant Lake Wilderness Lodge, but also the swath of picturesque lakeshore that has served as a recreation spot for over a century.
In 2003, Lake Wilderness Park and the lodge were transferred to the recently incorporated City of Maple Valley. The park continues to provide open space and a variety of recreation opportunities in the rapidly growing suburban city, and the lodge remains a popular venue for weddings and other events.
An Aside for Rails-to-Trails Fans
The 1907-08 Timber Cruise map at the beginning of this post also notes the line of the Columbia & Puget Sound Railroad, labeled “C. & P.S.R.R.” In the 1970s, in an early rails-to-trail conversion, this line became King County’s Cedar to Green Rivers Trail that connects the Cedar River Trail to Lake Wilderness.
Related King County Resources
United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service National Register of Historic Places NRIS Reference Number: 03000163, Gaffney’s Lake Wilderness Lodge (http://npgallery.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/NRHP/Text/03000163.pdf)
The City of Maple Valley “Parks and Trails” (www.maplevalleywa.gov/departments-services/parks-recreation/parks-and-trails)
King County Archives Record Series
The below record series were used in researching this post. Series descriptions can be searched using our online collection database at archivesearch.kingcounty.gov.
Series 306, Motion Files, King County Council: Relating to the King County Park System: Adopt Lake Wilderness Master Plan, 12/18/1989.
- For early cultural history of Gaffney’s Resort, see especially
History of Lake Wilderness & the Surrounding Communities, Transcription of taped interview: Bud Byers of the Maple Valley Historical Society. Recorded 7/31/95 by Holly Taylor (PDF copy of document from Series 472).
Series 872, Document Collection: [Document 1296] Lake Wilderness Master Plan / Draft Master Plan Report, Executive Summary, King County Natural Resources and Parks Division (1989).
Series 872, Document Collection: [Document 4912] Artist-made building parts project / to revive, promote and encourage the integration of art and architecture / [catalogue] (1996).
Series 992 , Box 2, Charles Payton administrative working files, Cultural Resources, Office of: Landmarks and Heritage Commission / Office of Historic Preservation King County Comprehensive Cultural Plan, Lake Wilderness Conference Center, Preston: mill and proposed arboretum, Seattle Center levy.
Series 1067, Assessor’s Timber Cruise Reports, 1907-1908.
Series 1803, Photograph files: historic landmark nominations, Office of the Executive, Office of Business Relations and Economic Development / Historic Preservation Program.
Series 1848, Parks plans, Department of Executive Services, Facilities Management Division / Real Estate Services.
The theme chosen by the Washington State Archives for 2016 is “we love parks.” This is the third of a series of four posts from the King County Archives on the history of King County Parks.