Historic Fuller Lodge in springtime. Courtesy/Los Alamos Historical Society Archive
By SHARON SNYDER
Los Alamos Historical Society
On Sept. 17, 1928, the Santa Fe New Mexican ran a headline: “Los Alamos School Opens, Fuller Lodge Is Completed”. The article referred to a beautiful log edifice two and a half stories high, with “its most striking feature being the long and lofty portal on the east front, facing the Jemez Plateau with the Sangre de Cristo range in the far distance.”
The first plans for Fuller Lodge were sketched in 1925 and preliminary drawings were finished in 1927, showing a building that would blend with the first Los Alamos Ranch School building, a two-story log structure called the Big House. The new lodge also would have vertical logs with contrasting horizontal log placements to coordinate with the Big House architecture.
Santa Fe architect John Gaw Meem was selected to carry out the project, and it was to use materials found on or near the Pajarito Plateau and the Jemez Mountains—ponderosa pine and aspen logs along with Bandelier tuff for the stonework.
Special permission was needed from the U.S. Forest Service to cut the trees, and a ranger was sent to determine which trees could be used. The ranger, accompanied by the school’s director, A.J. Connell, selected trees in the area and marked them, but in one area, Connell didn’t agree with the trees that were selected. He thought the trees in that grove added to the beauty of the campus. As the story goes, Connell wanted those trees preserved, so he waited until late that night and visited the site again, removing the markers and selecting other trees farther away! In all, 771 logs were used in the construction of Fuller Lodge.
The Fuller Lodge of 1928 provided a large dining hall, a kitchen, rooms for masters and the director, and an infirmary with a room for the school’s nurse. It was the showpiece of the ranch school and was named Edward P. Fuller Lodge in memory of a staff member who had helped the school financially but died at a young age.
For almost a decade and a half, boys took their meals in Fuller Lodge, with a master seated at each table. Meals were looked at as an occasion to learn table manners and etiquette as well as partake of healthy food. The large dining hall was also ideal for other uses, among them instrumental musical performances, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, dances, and holiday celebrations.
As pointed out by Craig Martin and Heather McClenahan in their book, Of Logs and Stone, “Fuller Lodge became the focus and symbol of the ranch school. Its carefully planned design made it the ideal facility for Connell and his staff. Never did anyone imagine that after only 14 years, the casual conversation of boys and masters would be replaced by complex discussion of nuclear physics by the world’s brightest scientists.” Oh, to have been a fly on the wall near one of those discussions!
During the Manhattan Project era, unmarried staff members and distinguished visitors were housed in Fuller Lodge, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served. After the war, the building was converted to a hotel and named The Lodge. The Zia Company assumed control and hired W.C. Kruger and Associates, the major architect of postwar Los Alamos, to carry out extensive remodeling. They modernized rooms and met the goals of the Atomic Energy Commission while keeping the original charm of the building. The Lodge was expanded in three directions.
The wings were constructed of native stone for the floors at ground level, and the stones were carefully selected to match the original fireplaces and chimneys. The Lodge had a capacity of 75 guests as well as a manager’s office, a barbershop, a cocktail lounge, and an expanded kitchen. The hotel opened in 1949. A single room could be had for $7 a night and a double for $9.50. Ownership of The Lodge eventually transferred to Los Alamos County, and today it houses the offices of the Los Alamos Historical Society, the Arts Council, the Fuller Lodge administrative office, and the Fuller Lodge Art Center.
In 1966, Fuller Lodge, a building that represents so much of our history, was placed on the United States National Register of Historic Places and registered as a New Mexico Cultural Property. May it long survive as the centerpiece of our community.