Park City's Washington School House Makes Going Back to School Cool Again


This fall, I went back to school (sort of).  As September's crisp breezes brought the first fall of snow to Park City, Utah, I hunkered down in one of the town's newest boutique hotels, the Washington School House.

The property derives a lot of its guests' delight from its dated fame for being one of three original school houses in Park City. Named after America's 1st president, the name for the little hammered limestone building stuck, despite the school's near burning during the city’s Great Fire in 1898. Although the school house was sold and bought again during the 1900s, the integrity of the structure remained; and was reopened by a quiet couple from La Jolla, CA in 2011 as a luxury boutique hotel. The couple commissioned fellow Southern Californians to reinstate the school as “one of the finest in the territory," according to an 1889 copy of The Park Record.

Now registered with the National Register of Historical Places, Architect Trip Bennett — a fan of historic buildings and resident of La Jolla — designed 12 suites within the property. The nine-foot original windows and the reclaimed oak wood floors elicited images of its past, perhaps a busy staircase with eager students scurrying across the floor and peeking out the same windows to catch a glimpse of snowfall. The main dining and reception area, warmed at night by a massive fireplace and white antler chandelier, is basked in the daytime with incredible sun that fills the 16-foot tall room. Bennett also installed a spacious heated pool among spruce and pine trees in the back alongside some cozy patio areas highlighted by a fire pit created with a 2002 Olympic torch. (Park City was home to the Olympic Winter Games that year).

Interior design team Paul and Shannon Wehsener of Paul Allen Design filled the hotel’s motifs with on-point care and consideration. Antique, but chic, is the mantra at this school, and the Wehseners executed it brilliantly. Period fixtures, collected from around the world, fill each light-gray adorned suite and stunning white common areas. A long gold-framed mirror (an antique bought from a French opera house), hangs gloriously in the entry way. Inside the guest rooms, heavy wood closets, stark white marble bathrooms, and plump bedding all make for cozy accommodations.

Unlike many of the large lodge resorts in the area, the Washington School House is decidedly private, making its small fleet of accommodations the perfect escape from the busy Park City ski scene. The dining, ski lounge and boutique store are completely exclusive, just for guests (up to 34 when fully booked). Personally, I enjoyed being able to wear thick, hooded robe to breakfast for some homemade muffins and granola. Guests can also explore the boutique, filled with fun Washington-inspired era trinkets. Despite its penchant for seclusion, the Washington School House is situated just two blocks from the city’s cute main street, filled with restaurants and shops.

Park City is home to a variety of local farms and ranches, including Blue Sky Ranch, an expansive rolling ranch home to baby cows and 50 or so exquisite horses. The Washington School House also offers an adventurous “Cowboy for the Day” package, allowing guests to slip on some chaps and boots and learn some basic cowboy skills. After a weary day of herd wrangling and riding, guests can toast with a whiskey shot made from local distillery, High West before savoring a Western-inspired dinner back at the hotel. And who knows, a visit to the property might just have you thankful to be going back to school.