fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password


GOLDENDALE, Wash. — Sam Hill, an entrepreneur and businessman, didn't live to see his Eastern Washington hilltop mansion completed as the Maryhill Museum of Art in 1940. But he likely would have been just fine with a recently completed, $10 million expansion of the museum.

New outdoor spaces offering sweeping views of the Columbia River Gorge are what visitors will notice most about the Mary & Bruce Stevenson addition to Hill's 1914 European Beaux Arts-style mansion.

The centerpiece of the contemporary new wing is the Cannon Power Plaza, a grand outdoor Columbia River viewpoint that previously was used as a parking lot. As president of the Washington State Good Roads Association, Hill, who died in 1931, promoted the idea of building highways, but the view is one he likely would have favored saving for people rather than cars.

Intentionally designed not to be seen from key vantage points is an airy new glass-enclosed pavilion connecting the new wing to an entryway and gallery space in the original building. Credit an architectural sleight-of-hand. From Interstate 84 on the Oregon side of the river and Highway 14, a scenic Washington state route that skirts the Columbia River, the mansion appears to still be sitting alone on a hillside, the way everyone who ever has passed this way remembers.

"From an architectural point of view, the addition had to be quiet and respectful of the old building," says architect Gene Callan of Portland's GBD Architects.

"The challenge was, 'How are we going to essentially double the size of the museum and not take away from the existing building and take advantage of the famous Columbia River view?' "

Nearly half the new space is underground, below the plaza and the pavilion, in an area carved into the hillside for use as an art-education center, offices, collection-storage areas and a small gallery space. The most striking feature is the Broughton & Mary Bishop Family Terrace, a second overlook, incorporating outdoor-cafe seating and a small amphitheater.

"It gives you a chance to just sit there and absorb a number of elements down below that you could never really see before," says Callan.

From this lower vantage point, visitors look down on vineyards and a geological mound called Sugarloaf. There's Miller Island, part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, and a lagoon where Callan, who grew up in Goldendale and was married on the grounds of Maryhill, remembers water-skiing.

To the west is snow-covered Mount Hood. To the east is a life-size replica of Stonehenge that Hill built as a memorial to local men who died in World War I.

Maryhill's executive director, Colleen Schafroth, calls it "the best new view in the Columbia River Gorge."

Sam Hill, born a Quaker, first dreamed of establishing a Quaker community on his 5,300 acres of land around Goldendale. When that failed to materialize, he followed the advice of a group of well-connected friends who suggested he turn the mansion into an art museum.

Among the influential patrons were Loie Fuller, a pioneer of Parisian modern dance; Queen Marie of Romania, the granddaughter of Great Britain's Queen Victoria; and Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, the wife of San Francisco sugar baron Adolf Spreckels.

Fuller helped obtain a collection of more than 80 works by her friend, French sculptor Auguste Rodin.

From Queen Marie of Romania came Orthodox icons, furniture and a crown studded with amethysts, turquoise and rubies.

A 1957 exhibit curated by the museum's director, Clifford Dolph, led to the creation of a permanent exhibit of 100 international chess sets.

It wasn't long before Maryhill outgrew its eclectic collection of American, European and American Indian art.

The 40,000 to 50,000 visitors who tour the museum every year see only about 10 percent of the museum's treasurers, says Steven Grafe, curator of art. The rest is in storage. Some works, such as a collection of art nouveau glass by French artist Emile Galle, are displayed in hallway nooks labeled "visible storage."

Although the new wing contains a surprisingly small amount of new gallery space — the Laura and John Cheney Gallery on the pavilion level and a small display area on the terrace level — it frees up room in the main house for bigger and better displays of the permanent collection.

"The goal is to completely revamp all the permanent exhibits," says Grafe. It's a project that will require hiring consultants and designers, and depend on grant funding, so there's not timetable as yet. In the meantime, visitors anxious to experience more of what's new will want to explore more than 11,000 square feet of outdoor-interpretive space added near the front and side of the mansion for displays of contemporary-sculpture pieces. Among the works is "Roll & Play," a newly acquired yellow flame-cut steel piece by Portland artist Alsia Looney, set in the middle of the plaza. Talk of expanding Maryhill began in 1993, says Schafroth. At the time, Mary Hoyt Stevenson a longtime supporter who died in 2008, donated money for much-needed building maintenance, "but what she really wanted to see was a new wing."

A $2.6 million gift/bequest from Stevenson for the expansion kicked off a fundraising campaign that included a $1.5 million grant from the Washington state Building for the Arts program.

The idea of attaching a modern pavilion to the 72-year-old house that many locals remember as being unchanged from their childhood days wasn't without controversy.

"There were a few people locally who felt we were committing a crime by doing this," says curator Grafe. "I think they have to come visit it to make up their minds."