The Jordan Pond House building in Acadia National Park, located at an idyllic site where tea and popovers have been served since the late 1800s, will have to be replaced in the next several years, according to a senior park official.
The restaurant and gift shop complex — which includes a second-story outdoor deck with a view of the tea lawn, Jordan Pond and The Bubbles mountains in the distance — was built 40 years ago, after the prior restaurant and gift shop building burned down in a fire in 1979.
But the building has design flaws that have resulted in water infiltrating the support structure, said Keith Johnston, the head of Acadia’s facilities management. Although the parks service has been making repairs, it’s still deteriorating. The restaurant and gift shop are run by Ortega National Parks, a private concessions firm that handles daily maintenance of the building, but the park itself owns the building, he said.
If the park were to completely reconstruct the restaurant, attached gift shop, deck and public bathrooms, he estimated it could cost somewhere between $10 million and $20 million. That would include a complete redesign of the vehicle entrance and parking area in front of the building.
“The building itself needs to be rebuilt,” he said.
Johnston said the tea lawn and the adjacent landscaping around it, which was redone a few years ago, likely would stay as they are.
If the park chose to pursue a major renovation and upgrade of the existing building, the cost still could be as much as 75 percent of what it would cost to build an entirely new facility and parking area — but it likely would not significantly extend the lifespan of the building, Johnston said. The more prudent approach would be to build something new that could accommodate millions of visitors for decades to come without incurring major repairs or upgrades.
The park is also looking to connect the restaurant into a water distribution system that provides water from Jordan Pond to the nearby village of Seal Harbor, he said. Currently, the Jordan Pond House is served by a well. That project is already in the planning stages, Johnston said, and would not be part of the restaurant rebuild.
Johnston said the park does not have a specific time frame in mind for when it might rebuild the restaurant, or how long the project might take. A proposal will need to be submitted to the National Park Service and then funding would be needed from Congress before it could begin, he said.
“It’s several years out,” he said.
The existing building opened in 1982, three years after the original restaurant — which was known for large, rustic birch bark panels on its walls — burned to the ground. The early morning fire broke out in the gift shop area of the building but did not cause any injuries.
The prior building had been constructed in 1847, decades before the national park was established in 1916. The site had been developed in the 1830s as a sawmill business but by the 1880s was being used primarily as a place for wealthy seasonal visitors to Mount Desert Island to dine and enjoy the scenery of the surrounding mountains and nearby pond, according to a National Park Service history of the site.
In recent years, as visitation to Acadia has increased, the restaurant, pond and nearby trails have become increasingly popular with summer tourists, resulting in occasional parking and congestion issues on the nearby Park Loop Road.