Beauty transcends the economic value we place on things. That’s what Glenn Echols learned when he moved to the Frio River Canyon with his wife, Mary, in 1983 to work as a foreman on a maintenance crew. The first project he worked on was the construction of the women’s restroom and the bookstore at Laity Lodge. Thirty-three years and countless projects later, Glenn serves as the Executive Director of Property Planning and Stewardship at the H. E. Butt Foundation. He’s the guy who makes sure what’s been planned on paper gets done by specified deadlines—at (hopefully) close to the specified cost.
We met with Glenn to talk about his history with the Butt family, his work on the Laity Lodge renovation, and how he decides when beauty is a priority.
You are someone who’s very trusted, who knows the Butts’ ideas and visions towards spaces and things built. How did you develop that understanding?
It grew fairly rapidly because of my work on projects. When I first came to work here, Mr. Butt’s right-hand man was Sam Fore, and Sam worked closely with me as a go-between because the Butts weren’t out here much except in the summer. Sam worked closely with Mrs. Butt on all things aesthetic, and my understanding of the value of beauty comes from Sam and Mr. Butt.
Mr. Butt would say many times that beauty is not always convenient. Beauty sometimes requires extra effort or extra expense, but it’s worth it. A good example is the fence around the Laity Lodge tennis courts. It’s a wood, rustic fence. When Jim Keeter specified and designed that wood fence, I told Mr. Butt, “You know, that’s going to be hard to maintain. It would really be better from the maintenance standpoint if we did a pipe fence. We could paint it black or green or something.”
In his very patient way, he said, “Glenn, that wouldn’t really be in keeping with the feel and atmosphere we want to create. I understand and I hear from you that it’s going to mean an investment year after year in time and money to maintain that fence, but here’s an example of where the beauty is worth the effort.”
What does a typical day look like for you in regards to the Lodge project?
I often speak with Doug Reese, the general contractor, at Laity Lodge first thing in the morning to see what his schedule is and what he and I need to communicate about. Then I’ll walk the site, check progress, answer questions, and work with Doug on what’s on tap for tomorrow—what subcontractors he has coming out. So far, it’s just the demo crew.
Have you discovered any structural elements that are surprising?
It’s a bit unusual for a remodel to get to this point in the demolition and not really have found many surprises, but some of that is because we have the original drawings. We can look at them and say, “Well, this is what’s supposed to be there.” Actually, so far, it’s pretty accurate. Some of the dimensions are off a bit, but otherwise, what the plan says is there has been there.
Some of the methodology of construction up there is unusual. The main water line in the ground is copper. The drain pipes in the walls are copper, which is very unusual. The shower drain to the main sack is copper. Unless somebody has a better plan, the maintenance guys will salvage it, stockpile it, and then take it to a salvage yard and sell it.
So, if a long-term Laity Lodge-goer showed up today, what would they experience looking around the site?
I’m guessing there’d be mixed emotions by most folks. Even I find myself experiencing mixed emotions. This isn’t going to be what it has been for my 30 years and its 60 years, but it’s going to be great. It’s going to serve the guests in a more current way than it is right now, so that’s exciting.
We’ve been intentional in the design process to try and capture enough of the old to satisfy those folks who will miss the old, but then also incorporate the new in some ways that serve and work.
If you were to walk through a Lodge room right now, what would you see?
When you walk up there now, the walls are open from rock-end to rock-end. Because we’ve never seen it from that perspective before, it’s interesting, and it does have impact, and you go, “Whoa!” First of all, this is really happening. And second of all, it’s just a totally different way to experience the building than any of us ever have, to get a different sense of its scope and scale.
Photos by Michael A. Muller