January 17, 2022
Project no. 28 in our countdown of our Top 100 projects is The Abbey Resort and Marina, located in Fontana, Wisconsin – a project that Epstein designed and engineered in the early 60s.
When The Abbey opened in May of 1963 it featured 225 guest rooms, multiple restaurants, convention facilities, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and a marina with 250 boat slips.
Built for $4 million ($36.4 million in 2021) on a 92-acre site along the west shore of Lake Geneva, The Abbey was constructed on a site that was originally peat bog and swamp. In order to construct the building, a 20-acre mooring pond was dredged to a 13 foot depth with the dredged materials removed through pipes. The 242,000 cubic yards of earth dredged up was then pumped back onto The Abbey property, raising the land six feet higher. The ground was then compacted, concrete pads were poured and gravel spread, and in some areas wood piles were driven.
The Abbey, which was constructed in 10 months, features an iconic 80-foot-tall A-Frame central building constructed of timber – a design that was singled out from 123 entries and received a National Lumber Manufacturers Association Best Wood Design award in 1963. This A-Frame design was meant to evoke the massive roofs of famed European Chalets and that was also the inspiration for The Abbey namesake.
As you can see from the photos, timber was the construction material of choice for The Abbey and is used throughout the structure. Wood was sourced from either the Pacific Northwest or the Mississippi Delta and, all in total, 1,068,000 board feet of lumber was used in construction.
To take advantage of the views of scenic Lake Geneva, two solid glass panels enclose the A-Frame and provide striking views of the lake, landscaped grounds and sky. The Abbey features four buildings, which were staggered to avoid monotony and the main lobby has 60 foot vaulted ceilings.
The Abbey was an immediate huge hit upon opening including serving as the stopover for the Detroit Red Wings who used the resorts various pools and saunas to relax and heal their muscles before games with the Blackhawks. Additionally, in the summer of ’64, the resort served as the roll-out spot for the American Motors Corporation’s American Rambler automobile line.