The Story of The Red Shield Inn
The Fort Lewis Military Museum is fortunate to occupy one of the most historic buildings on the historic installation. It is one of two extant buildings on Fort Lewis which date back to the First World War era, and the only known structure which remains from the recreational area known as Greene Park.
When the United States entered World War I, the need arose for additional camps to train the new National Army. The area to be known as Camp Lewis was already under negotiation to be donated to the Army for use as a cantonment by the citizens of Pierce County who welcomed the military to the area.
The new camp was built for the lowest cost and in the shortest space of time of any cantonment in the country, and in September 1917, the first recruits arrived for training. By December 31, 1917, over 37,000 men, primarily of the Ninety First Infantry Division, were on post.
Although the Army made adequate provisions for training the soldiers, it was soon apparent that the "Doughboys" of Camp Lewis required recreational facilities to make the transition from civilian to soldier more tolerable. The Camp Commander, Brigadier General Henry A. Greene, recognized the needs of the troops, and in the fall of 1917 an amusement area on the fringe of the camp was established and named in honor of Greene.
Greene Park featured a wide variety of amusements for the soldiers of Camp Lewis. The Y.M.C.A. was particularly active and operated two large hostess houses in Greene Park. These facilities were popular with the troops since the female employees of the park and the nurses assigned to the post hospital were quartered there. Among other buildings in Greene Park were Boland’s Photographic Studio, the Waffle House, the Army Bank, McCoy’s Ice Cream and Lunch Parlor, the Hippodrome, the Greene Park Drug Store, Camp Lewis Fruit and Produce Company, Associated Jewelers, the American Novelty Company, the Knights of Columbus Club, Victory Theater, the Post Library, McCormick’s Bar, and a Christian Science headquarters.
The Salvation Army gained favorable national attention during World War I for its humanitarian work for the welfare of allied soldiers. Founded in London in 1878, it expanded into the United States during the late 1800’s and was firmly rooted in this country by World War I. In June 1918, the Salvation Army completed work on a comfort station in Greene Park. Locally known as the "Hut", it was a two story Swiss Chalet style building which contained reading and writing rooms, a 500 seat auditorium, a lunch room, and nineteen guest rooms. An article printed on December 20, 1918 in the Camp Lewis weekly newspaper, The Bugle, describes the functions of the hut as "established for the purpose of not only being a direct service to the soldiers, but also to accommodate mothers, wives, relatives and friends with a place to stay when visiting the Camp... it is one of the few placed in or near the cantonment where those visiting the camp can "put up" without having to go back and forth to town".
The hut proved to be so popular that it was soon obvious that larger accommodations were required to serve the needs of the soldier, his family, and friends. In 1918, the Salvation Army hired the firm of Pratt and Watson Construction Company of Spokane, and work began on the second building located adjacent to the original hut. This structure was to be known as the Red Shield Inn.
The new inn was built in the somewhat rare Western Stick style of architecture which was popular on the West Coast from about 1865 to 1920. The inn contained approximately 150 rooms and was 47,966 square feet in size, considerably larger than the hut. Begun in 1918, the Red Shield Inn was completed in August 1919, at the cost of $107,000. Although the First World War ended in November 1918, the post was still very active since thousands of soldiers were returning for demobilization. However, by the spring of 1921, the post had fallen into the interwar doldrums and the Salvation Army had little reason to maintain the inn. On July 1, 1921, ownership of the Red Shield Inn was officially transferred from the Salvation Army to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps for the nominal fee of one dollar. At the time of the transfer, the inn was being called the Fort Lewis Apartments. Its estimated value in 1921 was $172,240. Following the transfer of the inn to the Army, the post declared all the buildings in Greene park non-essential, with the exception of the Salvation Army hut and the inn. Between 1927 and 1938 the other buildings in the park were demolished. The Army continued to operate the inn under the name of the Camp Lewis Inn. When the post became permanent and was made a fort, the inn became known as the Fort Lewis Inn. During its years of operation as the Camp Lewis or Fort Lewis Inn, thousands of visitors to the post, temporarily assigned personnel, or military families in transit stayed in this historic structure. Many museum visitors or Friends of the Fort Lewis Museum can fondly recall residing in the inn during its years of operation. Over the years, minor changes to the building have taken place. In 1955, the exterior was covered with cement asbestos shingle siding, and exterior fire escapes replaced the original wood balconies. The plumbing, electrical wiring, and bathrooms also were upgraded. In 1962, the Post Engineer recommended that the inn be demolished and become the site of a new high school. Fortunately, his suggestion was not carried out. His successor ordered an extensive structural analysis which resulted in another upgrade in 1965. This renovation focused on the first floor lobby area and included installation of carpet, interior and exterior painting, construction of a new parking lot, landscaping, and the remodeling of two rooms adjacent to the lobby as a "Kiddie" room and a television lounge.
In 1967, the Post Engineer requested that a new facility known as the Fort Lewis Lodge be constructed to replace the inn. However, when the new lodge was completed in 1971, it was obvious that it was not large enough to handle the demand. The inn, which was slated for demolition, was saved once again and continued to be used for transient housing. However, in 1972, the Army condemned the building for use as an inn because of fire and safety concerns.
Colonel William Woodman proved to be the building’s guardian angel when he proposed that the inn become the home of the Fort Lewis Military Museum. In this manner, a historically significant building would be preserved as a post landmark. The renovations required for the museum’s move to the inn were limited to the first floor, and the most significant changes were that some partitions were removed to turn guest rooms into an open display gallery. The northeast corner of the first floor was also converted into office space. On July 18, 1973, the inn officially became the Fort Lewis Military Museum.
In the years which followed, the museum Curator, Barbara Bower, continually strived to improve the museum and its historic home. Under her guidance the museum grew from a small historical collection to a well respected Military Museum. In 1977, the museum was nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The inn’s placement on the National Register in 1979 recognized the building’s historical and architectural importance to Fort Lewis and indeed, the nation.
In 1983, the second floor of the museum was significantly upgraded to house the museum offices, a lunch room, a library and additional exhibit space. This major project added 5,000 square feet to the museum’s available workspace. In 1988-89 the museum underwent another period of renovation. During this period the building received a new roof, exterior wood replacement, repainting, and refurbishment of the front porch. During this upgrade an effort was made to return some details of the original building back to the present museum exterior. This resulted in the removal of the metal fire escapes added in 1955 and the fabrication of wood balconies. The distinctive extended rakes and globe lights seen in photographs of the original building were also restored. These improvements help evoke the true historical nature of this beautiful building.
The Fort Lewis Military Museum is justifiably proud of its historic home and will continue to preserve the heritage of Fort Lewis and the Army in the Pacific Northwest within its historic walls. This structure is an irreplaceable link to the post’s proud and historic past and will only increase in importance with the passing years. We sincerely hope that all those who value our priceless military heritage will continue to appreciate and protect this historic home: The Red Shield Inn.