By Seth Sjostrom
If you have ever driven along Interstate 84 through the Columbia River Gorge and looked north, you have likely seen the enormous concrete mansion towering above. A sentinel among the hills along the river’s cleft; Maryhill looms above, a mysterious and intriguing landmark for travelers along the mighty Columbia.
For over 70 years, Maryhill Museum of Art has stood vigil high on the northern bank of the Columbia River Gorge. Built in 1918 by pioneer and transportation visionary, Sam Hill, it was to be a residence for he and his wife, Mary. Presiding over his planned ranch in Washington, the mansion was never settled into as a home. Instead, years later, it was transformed into a museum which opened to the public in 1940.
Despite its majestic size and architecture, Maryhill’s Executive Director Colleen Schafroth comments, “It has always been 5 inches too small.” Designed to be a house, carved into many smaller spaces, presents challenges for a museum. Utilization of space itself was the primary issue. Collections had to be stored in countless rooms and closets scattered throughout the structure. Viewing, cataloguing and utilizing those works was an unnecessary challenge. With no large space appropriate for bigger groups, educational programs took place among the gallery. This meant during a program, that area would have to be shut down for visitors. It also meant, the wonderful hands-on programs for young artists were also in the midst of the gallery. A dozen children with paint brushes in range of priceless art (not that their efforts weren’t priceless themselves) was cause for concern.
Enter the decision to add on to the building for the first time in its architectural existence. No easy task when you are talking about a building which has stood as such a geographic icon for the better part of a century, one that has been on the National Register of Historic Places for more than three decades and is perched on the edge of national scenic area.
Situated on the cliff in the Gorge presented additional issues. How do you not take away from the natural beauties which you are afforded but rather take advantage of that wonder? For the building itself, how do your respect the integrity of the original architecture while adding on to it? Those questions set forth the design goals. Delineate new from old, make the new structure complementary but not try to match or detract. Preserve the views which the property is graced with- from the east, west and south. Easy right?
Roughly $10 million and two years later, I walk around the updated facility and feel confident that they have succeeded with all over their goals. GBD Architects and Contractor Schommer and Sons Construction, both of Portland, combined to create over 25,000 total feet of new space. Gene Callan of GBD, also a Goldendale, WA native was excited to be a part of the renovations. The introduction of which leads you through 1700 square foot passage that links the new wing with the existing structure.
As you walk from the old to the new, you see the transition, stripped to its stone and concrete core, visitors pass through the seam that unites the past and present. The new wing leads you through a corridor of glass which provides visitors with amazing views in nearly every direction. Some of the corridor affords the museum with additional gallery space. At the end of the passage, you are delighted with a massive outdoor plaza which serves as a jaw-dropping overlook, a competition to the human art housed inside the museum itself. Mt.Hood, the Columbia and the sweeping lines of the Gorge. A new café, Loie’s, is nestled just inside the patio, offering more efficient and upgraded services than previously available. On the opposite end of the wing is a large educational hall equipped with state of the art audio/visual tools.
Most of the new wing is buried underground- a safe, practical haven for the Museum’s many collections. The new part of the building, named the Mary and Bruce Stevenson Wing, is being evaluated for LEED Gold rating status. Much of the new structure was created from recycling the natural resources pulled from the excavation of the site. The concrete floors provide thermal efficiency and utilizing spring water from the property acts as a source of energy, reducing the need for electricity and natural gas.
Perhaps even more amazing, the project was completed with zero debt. A major gift from Mary Hoyt Stevenson and award granted by the Washington State Building for the Arts fund launched the campaign. Pledges from the Cannon Power group and the Mary Hoyt Stevenson Foundation powered with donations from a variety of supporters funded the expansion in its entirety. Compromises such as Gold versus Platinum LEED certification and a few items tossed from the wish list kept the project in budget.
Aesthetically, the new wing fits in with the original structure like a younger sibling. It is distinct, yet related. It is beautiful in its own right, but heeds to the status of its senior. Cantilevered into the hillside, the Stevenson Wing yields to the original structure. Almost all of the original southern façade is retained, preserving the icon view from travelers to the south. The main entrance was kept original; assuring the nostalgia of past visits would be maintained.
The next time you are faced with the question of how to transform an icon, how to create new while respecting the original, look to Maryhill Museum of Art. As many museums are, Maryhill is a work of art in and of itself.
About the contributor: Seth Sjostrom is a local resident and author. His thriller Blood in the Snow, is currently available and Seth releases his holiday title Finding Christmas in September. For more information on Seth or his books, visit www.wolfprintpublishing.com.