News & Features

Glacier Park to Restore Historic Many Glacier Staircase

Glacier conservancy, foundation team up with National Park Service to revive historic hotel in run-up to centennial

It was a signature feature inside the Many Glacier Hotel: a spiral, double helix staircase that was a critical piece of Louis Hill’s vision when he helped design the legendary lodge in the early 1910s.

Historians have called the spiral staircase that connected the lobby with the upper floors of the hotel a “character-defining feature,” but sometime in the late 1950s it was unceremoniously removed from the hotel lobby to make way for a gift shop.

Now, the National Park Service is teaming up with the Glacier National Park Conservancy and the National Park Foundation to restore the Many Glacier spiral staircase. The staircase restoration has been identified as one of more than 100 projects that will receive over $26 million to celebrate the park service’s 2016 centennial. The money stems from a $10 million federal appropriation and donations from more than 90 partner organizations.

“This project will revive the historic look and feel of the hotel,” said Glacier Park spokesperson Denise Germann.

The Many Glacier Hotel, known as the “Gem of the West,” was constructed in 1914 and 1915 during a flurry of construction in the years after Glacier National Park was created. The hotel was one of a series of structures built inside the park by the Great Northern Railway, which was trying to market Glacier as the “American Alps” to attract passengers to its trains. Great Northern’s president at the time, Louis Hill, took a great deal of pride in developing the park and personally headed up numerous projects, including selecting the locations of the hotels and chalets.

In order to capitalize on that alpine theme, the Many Glacier Hotel and numerous other structures were built in the style of a Swiss chalet. According to a 2002 National Park Service structure report, the “stylistic unity” at Glacier distinguished it from the development at Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and other western parks.

The Many Glacier Hotel complex was first added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and became a National Historic Landmark about a decade later.

Germann said the park service has been looking at restoring the spiral staircase for a decade but that funding has always been an issue. Last year, however, it got a boost when it was listed in the Glacier National Park Conservancy’s 2015 park projects field guide.

The field guide was established as a catalog of park needs and conservancy president Mark Preiss said the first edition was a wild success, helping bring in more than $1 million to fund 33 different projects inside the park. Preiss said the 2016 field guide will feature even more projects and will be available sometime this spring.

The staircase project is benefiting from a $121,650 donation from the Dorcy Estate and a matching grant from the National Park Foundation. Germann said it is too early to tell how long the staircase restoration will take and notes that the project is still in the initial design phases.

Preiss said the staircase would add incredible historic value to the hotel. He also said that he is hopeful the staircase restoration would help launch the recreation of the Oriental lighting that was once hung in the hotel lobby.

“The staircase is just one element of this project,” Preiss said. “We want to help restore the lobby to its original look and the (staircase and lighting) are essential parts of Louis Hill’s vision.”

The Many Glacier staircase is not the only project to be benefitting from the park service’s Centennial Challenge. The foundation has also promised nearly $20,000 to help restore the first mile of the Highline Trail near Logan Pass.

“As the National Park Service approaches its Centennial in 2016, the National Park Foundation and local park friends groups have pledged to raise private funds to improve the facilities, accessibility, and programs of our national parks, matching the federal appropriation and resulting in a $26 million investment in the parks,” said NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis in a press release last week.

For more information visit

If you enjoy stories like this one, please consider joining the Flathead Beacon Editor’s Club. For as little as $5 per month, Editor’s Club members support independent local journalism and earn a pipeline to Beacon journalists. Members also gain access to, where they will find exclusive content like deep dives into our biggest stories and a behind-the-scenes look at our newsroom.