Fort Lewis: Red Shield Inn (Fort Lewis Museum)

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 5/08/2011
  • Essay 9647

The Red Shield Inn, located on present-day Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Mile 119 on interstate 5 (Pierce County), opened in December 1919. Camp Lewis had opened in September 1917 and soon was home to over 25,000 soldiers, creating a demand for guest housing to accommodate family visitors. In response to this need the Salvation Army war-relief effort built a 150-room hotel across the Pacific highway from the camp. In 1921 the hotel became army transient housing and served in that role until 1972, when it was closed due to safety issues. The former Red Shield Inn became the Fort Lewis Museum in 1973 and was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Today it functions as a museum and training center.

Protecting Soldiers from Sin

Driving interstate 5 from Seattle to Portland, motorists view an impressive Swiss Chalet-style structure. As they drive through the Joint Base Lewis-McChord section near milepost 119, the iconic building stands adjacent to the freeway's southbound lanes. Many are unaware that it was originally built as a hotel in 1919 and today serves as a museum.

Camp Lewis opened in September 1917 as a training and mobilization center where the 91st Division would prepare for service in World War I. The camp became home to 40,000 troops learning to soldier. These young men spent long hours in the field and in unit activities, but still had free time for recreation. Major General Henry A. Greene (1856-1921), the commander of the 91st Division and of Camp Lewis, assumed responsibility to protect his men from vice. In a dramatic move, Greene placed the entire city of Seattle off-limits for his troops on November 22, 1917, indicating that the city had not done enough to curb vice. Camp Lewis soldiers could not visit the city except on official business or for religious activities. (The off-limits ban was short-lived and was lifted on January 8, 1918.)

Good Clean Fun

Hoping to provide alternative, wholesome recreation, General Greene established an entertainment zone across the Pacific Highway (now I-5) from the camp. Here commercial businesses would provide soldiers recreational activities in theaters, a large pool hall, an ice cream shop, two waffle restaurants, a Chinese restaurant, and a photography studio. "Smileage books" purchased by Seattle and Tacoma residents and donated to soldiers provided coupons for free admission to the theaters and discounts at the businesses.

The amusement park opened in February 1918. Brigadier General Frederick Foltz (1858-1952) named it Greene Park to honor Major General Greene. Foltz had temporary command while Greene reviewed the battle situation in France, where the 91st Division would be headed once training was completed.

The park's contractor, Pratt & Watson of Tacoma, also was building a Salvation Army hut with an assembly hall, dining room, and 16 guest rooms on a second floor. This facility was intended to provide accommodations for families and friends visiting soldiers at the camp. The Salvation Army hut and all the buildings in Greene Park would be built in Swiss chalet style. Archibald Rigg (1878-1959) and Roland Vantyne (1886-1938), prominent Spokane architects, were the design team for the 50 buildings that Pratt & Watson would construct at Greene Park.

A False Start

While the construction of the Salvation Army hut was underway it became clear that a 16-room guest house would not nearly meet the demand. A Seattle investment group headed by businessman A. O. Benson planned to build a 560-room hotel at the site to provide hotel space for visitors and longer-term accommodations for officers assigned to Camp Lewis, who previously had considerable trouble finding local housing.

Benson's group broke ground in February 1918. The contractor dug a large basement, but then stopped work. With the anticipated departure of the 91st Division to France causing uncertainty about future troop levels at the camp, Benson’s syndicate abandoned the project. The excavated basement later was turned into a large swimming pool. 

In June 1918 the Salvation Army hut with its 16 guest rooms opened, and as expected the facility could not begin to meet the demand. On June 21 the 91st Division started its movement to Europe. The 13th Division replaced the 91st at the camp and trained for the war. That division was still in training when hostilities ended on November 11, 1918.

A Salvation Army Hotel

The end of the war did not immediately reduce the camp's population. The 13th Division had to demobilize and the 91st Division returned from France for the soldiers to be discharged. Also, injured soldiers came to the camp hospital for treatment, and the demand for guest facilities for families increased. The Salvation Army, through its war relief program reviewed, the situation and decided to construct a Red Shield Inn hotel at Camp Lewis. (Red Shield referred to the red and white signs identifying wartime Salvation Army huts and hotels.) The Salvation Army had already built Red Shield hotels at Vancouver and Bremerton to serve military and guests.  

In the spring of 1919, with the Benson project dead, the Salvation Army stepped in. It hired Rigg & Vantyne, who had designed Greene Park and a number of significant buildings in Washington and Montana, to draw up plans for a 150-room Red Shield hotel.  Lead architect Archibald Rigg had graduated from Columbia University and started his practice in Danville, Illinois. When his wife became ill they moved west for her health. Settling in Spokane, Rigg went to work for the distinguished architect, Kirtland Cutter (1860-1939). Personal affairs later took Rigg east, but he returned to Spokane and opened a practice with Vantyne. 

For the Greene Park development, Rigg & Vantyne opened an office in Tacoma, coordinating the firm's designs with the contractors, Pratt and Watson, who had also worked on Greene Park. In August 1919 construction on the Red Shield Inn started, and Pratt and Watson had the three-story hotel ready for guests on December 1, 1919. The Inn comprised 48,000 square feet and 150 rooms, and it was the largest Red Shield Inn of its kind in the nation. The Salvation Army had spent $107,000 to build it, and was so impressed with Rigg & Vantyne's work that in 1921 it hired the firm to design a Red Shield Inn in Spokane for laborers and single men.

Guests at the new hotel commented on the comfortable setting. Its spacious lobby had deep leather chairs and a fireplace with the Red Shield emblem built in. The rugs and decorations were in vivid green and brown colors. Off the left side of the lobby was the men’s smoking room, and to the right was a women’s lounge. A dining hall near the men’s smoking room seated 100 persons, and meal prices were reasonable. Tablecloths, silverware, and china with the Red Shield emblem created a pleasant ambience.

Architects Rigg & Vantyne had designed the rooms so that all had exterior views, either outside or onto the courtyard, which had a fountain. The rooms were simply decorated with two chairs, bed, dresser, and sink. Bathrooms were located down the halls. The manager, Salvation Army Adjutant A. E. Baynton, came to the hotel from similar service in San Diego.  

The formal dedication was held on December 6th, with Salvation Army Commissioner Thomas Estill (1859-1926) giving a dedication speech. Major General John F. Morrison (1857-1932), the Camp Lewis commanding officer, spoke of the importance that the hotel would have for soldier morale. After Tacoma Mayor C. M. Riddell (1863-1941) made brief remarks indicating that the community supported Camp Lewis and that the inn would assist visitors and the military, the 35th Infantry band gave a musical performance.

On July 1, 1921, the Salvation Army retired from its Greene Park activities. Although the hotel had an estimated value of $172,240 for the building, furnishings, and equipment, the organization sold the Red Shield Inn to a Camp Lewis officers' cooperative for $1.00. Initially, the cooperative opened it as officer housing and called it the Camp Lewis Apartments, but a few months later the army took over and renamed it the Camp Lewis Inn. The Inn offered rooms for military personnel and their families, families arriving at the post  to visit, and distinguished guests. When the Camp Lewis became permanent in 1927, the hotel's name was changed to the Fort Lewis Inn, and it continued as the main housing facility for guests and military on temporary assignment.

The Park Closes, the Inn Goes On

Following the end of World War I and demobilization, Camp Lewis went into decline. During the early 1920s the installation's population dropped to about 1,000 soldiers. Greene Park was largely abandoned by June 1922 and most businesses were removed. That month the army proposed demolition of Greene Park’s Victory Theater, and despite local protests the theater was razed. Other businesses closed, and the army took over usable buildings for housing and offices. The former Salvation Army hut adjacent to the Red Shield Inn became Washington National Guard offices from 1922 to 1927, but the National Guard moved its headquarters to Camp Murray in 1928. 

The Camp Lewis Inn had its busiest time during the summer months, when the Citizens Military Training Camp (CMTC) held its training. Also, when the Reserve Officer’s Corp trained at the camp some officers stayed in the Inn. Hotel occupancy increased when Fort Lewis became a permanent post in 1927. The dining room hosted numerous social events, such as retirement parties, and the guest registry listed many distinguished visitors over the years, including Major General Robert Alexander (1863-1941), a retired World War I hero who stayed at the Inn in September 1928.   

From Inn to Museum

The Fort Lewis Inn became a temporary home for officers and enlisted men arriving at the installation. For example, when the new Fort Lewis commander, Major General Henry G. Learnard (1879-1937), and his family arrived in June 1929, they resided at the inn until their Fort Lewis quarters were ready. Many officer and enlisted families arriving at the post resided there until they could obtain permanent housing, and military personnel at Fort Lewis for temporary duty also stayed there.

During World War II the Fort Lewis Inn became an annex of the officers' club, offering rooms, a dining hall, and a bar. The fashionable dining hall hosted many special events, including some wartime weddings, and distinguished guests continued to stop at the Inn. In 1946, General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) stayed in the first floor VIP suite during a visit to Fort Lewis and Madigan Hospital.

Over the years only limited changes came with renovations. In 1955 the bathrooms were altered to be accessible from the rooms rather than from the hallways. The building was proposed for demolition in 1962, but was saved to provide needed transient accommodations. Additional renovations were made three year later, including a "kiddies" room where youngsters could play, and a television lounge. None of the renovations adequately addressed safety issues, however.

Safety concerns and the opening of a lodge on post led to the closing of the Fort Lewis Inn in 1972. The first floor of the building was turned into the Fort Lewis Museum. Offices and storage went to the second floor and the third floor was left unused. The museum had its grand opening on July 18, 1973. A 1979 listing on the National Register of Historic Places recognized its historic importance. The building represents a good example of Western Stick architecture, and it is one of the last surviving examples of the Salvation Army's military Red Shield Inns.

In 2010 the building’s third floor was converted into a state-of-the-art instructional facility, providing much-needed classroom space. A 2010-2011 construction project by Wade Perrow Construction of Gig Harbor will provide seismic upgrades and improvements, and the Fort Lewis Army Museum will reopen in late 2011.      

Sources: Myles Grant, "The Lewis Army Museum -- Where We Are Today," The Banner, Summer 2010, pp. 1-7; "Work on New Hotel Begun," The Oregonian, March 1, 1918, p. 3;  Alan H. Archambault, "The Story of the Red Shield Inn 1919-1990," Red Shield Banner, Fort Lewis Museum, March 1990, pp. 1-7; "Ban on Seattle Removed," The San Jose Mercury, January 10, 1918, p. 8; "Camp Lewis Notes, Ground Breaking for Hotel," The Seattle Daily News, February 28, 1918, p. 7; "Red Shield Inn," National Register of Historic Places website accessed May 6, 2011 (; "Salvation Army Hotel at Camp Lewis Open to Both Civilian and Soldier," The Tacoma Ledger, December 14, 1919, p. E-9; "Salvation Army Hotel At Camp Lewis Is Dedicated," The Seattle Daily News, December 7, 1919, p. 22; "Army Officers to Run Red Shield Inn," The Wyoming State Tribune, July 8, 1921, p. 4.

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