Historic Paradise Inn in Mount Rainier National Park reopens after two years of rehabilitation work.

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MOUNT RAINIER — The Paradise Inn’s buckling oak-parquet lobby floor is gone, along with the sandbags the maintenance crew once used to keep it flat.

When the Mount Rainier landmark reopens Friday after a massive, two-year rehabilitation, visitors will stroll across glossy fir.

The $22.5 million project was an extensive overhaul to the nearly century-old building, but to most it will appear as more of a touch-up. The Glacier Lounge is gone, and there are new, wheelchair-accessible rooms. The rustic, carved piano in the lobby has a new soundboard and now plays in tune.

“It looks the same, but I can spot the differences,” said Patti Fowler, who worked at the lodge in 2005 and will run the gift shop this season. “It’s the same warm feeling when you walk through the doors.”

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Paradise Inn opened in 1917, as the country entered World War I and ships had begun passing through the Ballard Locks. As one of two hotels in the park, it provided cozy lodging in 121 rooms from May to October and easy access to a multitude of park trails and the visitor center. It’s listed on the National Historic Register.

But after almost nine decades, the building was tilting several inches and needed reinforcement for earthquakes. It closed in 2005 for extensive upgrades. The inn was tugged upright. The grand floor-to-ceiling fireplaces now hide reinforced concrete and new foundations.

“If you were 91 years old, wouldn’t you want a face-lift too?” said the hotel’s operations manager, Melinda Simpson, of Mount Rainier Guest Services.

But in the most important ways, Paradise remains the same. Crackling fires are roaring again in the lobby’s stone fireplaces. The old grandfather clock, carved by German carpenter Hans Fraehnke, sits in the same corner. The shades painted with local flora and fauna glow warmly in the rafters. A bear with a mail sign sits atop a stump, greeting visitors by the gift shop.

“It’s just a little bit cleaner and brighter,” Simpson said.

Ellen Gage, an architect for the park, kept close tabs on the project to preserve the lodge’s historical value and ambience.

Each fireplace rock was numbered before the chimneys were taken apart, rock by rock, then put back in the exact same spot. The historical furniture, including the clock and tables, was stored nearby. Wainscoting in the dining room was removed and then put back in place.

“It was a little scary there because so many historic pieces were taken down and stored,” Gage said. “But I look through the doors of the dining room and I wouldn’t know we’d done any work there.”

Guests who stay in the unimproved annex, a building added in the 1920s that includes most of the guest rooms, will be more likely to notice the difference between the old and the rehabbed. The annex with its 93 guest rooms was cut from the original rehabilitation project because there wasn’t enough money. The park plans to rehabilitate the annex later. A new visitor center adjacent to the inn is set to open in the fall.

This week, the hotel’s staff members were consumed with the intensity of opening day and dealt with obstacles uncommon to most openings.

Simpson, for example, escorted thousands of pieces of furniture from storage near Olympia three weeks ago. Telephones were being installed with fewer than 36 hours left before the opening gala Thursday night, and workers were still painting railings.

The inn is booked through the weekend, and with sunny weather in the weekend forecast, Simpson is expecting hundreds more to visit.

Maintenance chief Steve Wilson, who has been through 33 openings at Paradise, sent construction photos to one regular guest to keep her updated on the progress. The guest, who recently turned 90, has stayed there regularly since she was a baby.

Returning to the building and bringing in furniture and other historical pieces is like “moving back into your mansion,” he said.

“To see what they’ve accomplished is mind-staggering.”

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or ntsong@seattletimes.com

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