Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington

Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington, recently was expanded, but the new exhibit space doesn't intrude on the original building. (Dean Rutz, Seattle Times, MCT / May 18, 2012)

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 was previously 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 would likely 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 be still sitting alone on a hillside, the way everyone who has ever 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.