Los Alamos Historical Society

Fuller Lodge Room 234

Bed in room 234The Los Alamos Historical Society, with support from Los Alamos County, has turned Room 234 of Fuller Lodge into a museum exhibit, showcasing items that might have been used by one of the Ranch School masters.

Fuller Lodge, built in 1928 as a dining hall and masters' quarters, is the landmark building in Los Alamos and one of the most spectacular bulidings in New Mexico. An upright log structure designed by John Gaw Meem -- one of Santa Fe's most renowned architects, the lodge now serves as a cultural and community center for Los Alamos.

As the Los Alamos Ranch School’s enrollment grew, director A.J. Connell needed more space to house his staff and his students. In early 1925, he began making plans for a new school building to accommodate a kitchen and dining facilities, the infirmary, and meeting rooms, as well as rooms for himself and a few masters.

Before construction could begin, though, Connell faced financial obstacles. He turned to a longtime supporter of the school, Philo Fuller, for help. Fuller, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, had established a small empire in furniture manufacturing. The wealthy family had strong ties to the school. Fuller’s son, Edward, had been a guest at Ashley Pond’s Los Alamos Ranch in 1917, before it was transformed into a school. Edward Fuller had polio and was slow to get around, but, an excellent horseback rider, he enjoyed the outdoor life of the ranch. The climate of the Pajarito Plateau restored some of his health, and Fuller stayed on at the ranch after it became a school. He worked as a general supervisor to the younger boys, eating meals with his charges and taking on the role of surrogate parent.

Ranch School master's belongings

Edward Fuller died in 1923, but his father kept up his friendship with Connell. Philo Fuller gave Connell’s new building financial support, and Connell decided to name the building for his deceased friend. From early in the planning process, the new facility was called Edward Fuller Lodge.

In the spring of 1927, a year before construction began, Meem and Connell began the selection of pine logs to be used in the lodge. Each log was selected for the exact location it would occupy in the structure. Meem, Connell, and an official from the Santa Fe National Forest went into the surrounding forest to choose the trees for the lodge.

A total of 771 logs were needed. About 200 of them had to be 20 inches in diameter, some of which were to be 38 feet long. In addition, 262 young aspens, ranging from 8 to 32 feet, were needed for facing in between the larger logs.

Chair in Room 234Workers cut the logs in the summer of 1927 and allowed them to season for a year. Actual construction began in the spring of 1928.

The building is a marvel, a symbol of the classical education combined with rustic living that the boys enjoyed at the school.

Meem designed a great portico on the east side of the Lodge, facing the sunrise and across cultivated fields to a spectacular view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The impressive structure symbolized the outdoor life of the school and served as the location for graduation ceremonies.

Boys and their parents found the inside just as spectacular as the outside. The main interior feature of the ground floor was a two-story dining hall. The 19-foot ceiling, highlighted by exposed, non-structural trusses, became a Meem trademark. Navajo rugs decorated the mezzanine.

Because of the two-story dining hall, the second story of Fuller Lodge proved more of a mezzanine lined with nine rooms than a “floor.” A grand wooden staircase connected the stories, and a portrait of Ashley Pond on horseback, painted by May Connell, graced the first landing. On the mezzanine level, Connell included a small suite for the matron on the south end. Next was Headmaster Lawrence Hitchcock’s suite. (Next to that, we believe, is Room 234.) On the other side of the stairway leading to the third floor, a small suite served as the nurse’s quarters. The infirmary sat above the main lobby at the north part of the building.

When the Army arrived in 1942, it used Fuller Lodge as a place for “transient housing and messing of post and technical personnel.” Starting in February 1943, the lodge was managed as a hotel by H. M. Archer as a contractor with the Corps of Engineers. Bachelor staff members were housed in the Lodge, as were distinguished visitors. It was then that Room 234 received its numerical designation.

Dorothy McKibbin picnic basket

The Zia Company continued to operate the Lodge until 1966 when the AEC allowed construction of the Los Alamos Inn and guaranteed that the Lodge would closed down within ten days of the opening of the new hotel.

With a new modern hotel in town, the AEC needed to find a use for the Lodge. At the time, it was also investigating how to withdrawal its ownership of buildings in Los Alamos. Some suggested selling the Lodge to a private owner. A strong “Save the Lodge” movement kept the monument to the Ranch School from sharing the fate of the Big House. The Save the Lodge Committee recommended Fuller Lodge be transferred to Los Alamos County for use as a cultural center and museum.

The AEC gave the county a one-year contract to operate the lodge as a community center. The first public event, the County Fair, was held at the Lodge on August 26, 1967. County operation of the Lodge was a success, but it took the government until October 24, 1974 to cut through the red tape and finally transfer ownership of the Lodge to the county.

Today, Fuller Lodge serves a variety of purposes for the community. It houses the Fuller Lodge Art Center and gallery, the Los Alamos Historical Archives, and offices for the Los Alamos Historical Society and the Los Alamos Arts Council. It serves as a meeting place for the community, as well as the site of big band dances and numerous weddings in the still-spectacular dining room, now called the Pajarito Room.

(Most of the text on this page is from Of Logs and Stone: The Buildings of the Los Alamos Ranch School and Bathtub Row by Craig Martin and Heather McClenahan.)

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