Originally it was a Salvation Army Inn with 155 rooms. During World War I, this Salvation Army war project provided hotels near Army camps where families could stay and visit Soldiers in the hospital. These hotels were built in a few other Washington locations but this is believed to be the only one in the country to survive. Now it’s a museum and state-of-the art training facility for Soldiers. But just as renovations began, workers discovered the building was missing a very important part: an adequate foundation. The Corps helped build one to last for years to come.
It's known now as Lewis Army Museum and houses artifacts including the late Gens. Norman Schwarzkopf’s Jeep and George Custer’s undergarments. From 1919 to 1972, the historic structure served as a guest house and temporary housing for newly-arrived officers. It’s been called the Red Shield Inn, Fort Lewis Inn, and briefly Camp Lewis Apartments when Joint Base Lewis-McChord was still called Camp Lewis. And shortly after Fort Lewis Lodge opened in 1972, it became Fort Lewis Military Museum.
Though it’s now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, time took its toll on the structure and its future was uncertain. Numerous restoration challenges were identified, including funding the project.
When money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act came through in 2009, the scope was revised to include adding a 15,000 square-foot training facility on the vacant third floor, according the Jeff Halvorson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, project engineer.
Adding classrooms helped solve the lack of training space on base, helping build a strong foundation of knowledge Soldiers need, according to Myles Grant, Lewis Army Museum director.
Once the funding issue was resolved, other problems surfaced.
"When I joined the project, the initial design didn’t take asbestos into consideration and contract modifications had to be done," Halvorson said. "With any major upgrade, especially on a building like this, there are a number of things you can’t see until you start taking the walls apart. Because the building was on the National Historic Register, we had to be able to restore everything to its original condition."
With Building Strong being the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers motto, they were the right people for the job, according to Duane Denfeld, architectural historian for JBLM’s cultural resource program.
"It can be difficult to even find craftsmen who can replicate 1920s work," said Denfeld. "Today we don’t usually plaster anymore—the hardest thing is finding people with skills like stonework and masonry work. The Corps works with contractors to find people who have the right skills."
Many things needed upgrading to meet current codes, including electrical power; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; and sprinkler systems. Each item posed unique challenges.
"We had to upgrade to meet the seismic code and found virtually no foundation," said Halvorson. "We found large cantilever timbers, which we wouldn’t use today, so we had to pour a concrete foundation."
"On almost every one of these (historic renovation) projects, there is some big surprise the Corps has to solve," Denfeld said. "Years ago, the contractor might have put something on the architectural drawings that didn’t actually exist. That’s why the Corps is great—they never say they can’t proceed; they say there has got to be a way to solve the problem."
The third floor wasn’t without problems either as it was blocked off after a fire and was later overrun by three bat species.
"A specialist had to come in and relocate the bats and clean up the waste," Halvorson said. "It was really an amazing transformation to a fully functioning facility with modern training classrooms and full internet connectivity."
Some people might wonder why they didn’t just tear the building down. According to Denfeld it’s about sustainability.
"We had a really shabby building and people are really surprised to see this great building we have," he said.