JACKSON, Wyo. — A proposal to replace 172 windows of an iconic hotel in Yellowstone National Park has preservationists worried about the potential harm to the building's historic character, a concern acknowledged by park planners.
The window swap, which will help the property better withstand earthquakes, is just one part of a building rehabilitation project for the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Other proposed upgrades include redoing floor plans and interior finishes, replacing hot water and electrical systems and adding insulation and new fire detection and suppression systems.
But it's the updates to the Mammoth Hotel's windows that drew the concern of the Wyoming Historic Preservation Office, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported.
"We agree that the historic Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in Yellowstone National Park will be adversely impacted," Wyoming historic preservation architect Linda Kiisk wrote in a Jan. 23 letter to the park. "We recommend that (Yellowstone) develop a memorandum of agreement specifying the terms under which the adverse effects to the historic property will be minimized and mitigated."
National Park Service officials publicized the Historic Preservation Office's determination in a press release issued Friday. The public is being asked to brainstorm "potential mitigations to resolve this adverse effect," according to the press release.
The Mammoth Hotel dates to 1913 and was added onto in 1937. The rehabilitation work targets the 105-year-old four-story "guest room wing," which does not meet current seismic standards and is in danger of collapse in the event of an earthquake, park documents say.
The window part of the project would replace 172 one-over-one, double-hung wooden windows with new wood windows that imitate the same style.
Yellowstone planners say the windows will not only hold up better during an earthquake, but they will also improve room ventilation and energy efficiency. Heating the building with the existing windows requires nearly 950 million BTUs (British thermal units) an hour, an engineer's assessment found. The new wood windows would slash that energy in half — to about 480 million BTUs an hour.
The Park Service has already invested about $8 million in upgrading the historic hotel by remodeling the lobby, gift shop, map room and heating and air conditioning. The ski shop has been integrated into the gift shop and a vestibule has been added to the front doors to help control drafts.
The map room now contains a coffee bar that transitions to a regular bar in the evenings. The map itself, a large wooden replica of the United States constructed of 15 different woods from nine countries, has been restored.
"For people who are into that stuff, they say it's never looked better," said Rick Hoeninghausen, director of sales and marketing for Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the concessioner at the hotel. "It's a pretty cool atmosphere there in the evenings."
As part of the first phase, Xanterra's offices on the second floor of the hotel were removed and one large conference room was built that can be divided in two.
To replace the lost room, Xanterra has remodeled the old Haynes Photo Shop across the parade grounds from the hotel. The structure, now called the Haynes Administrative Building, cost about $5.7 million to remodel, Hoeninghausen said. The renovations certified the building as LEED Gold, for its cost-saving green building technology. Xanterra also spent $177,00 on the map room's new bar.
Phase II of the Park Service's work on Mammoth Hotel will start after Labor Day weekend. The plan is to have those rooms upgraded by the winter of 2020.
"It's such a big change to the hotel," Hoeninghausen said.
"Once things are all done we're looking at extending the season into the fall to use the meeting room."
Being in Yellowstone National Park, after all, brings an amenity to meetings that few places can offer, he noted.
Despite the recent government shutdown that caused visitor confusion, Hoeninghausen said visitation to Xanterra facilities in Yellowstone this winter has been "one of the better seasons since the '90s." Looking ahead to the summer, he said he didn't see a park entrance fee hike to $70 as detrimental to Yellowstone's visitation.
"There are others in the tourism industry who are concerned," he said. "But it's such a great value."