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Mackinac Island — One of the most iconic destination hotels in the state is becoming a touch grander by going back to its 19th-century roots.

The Musser family, which has owned the iconic white pine Grand Hotel for 85 years, has long dreamed of restoring the world’s largest summer hotel to its original 1887 appearance. 

The third floor had dormers then, but the roof was eventually rebuilt and the dormers removed around 1915.

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Dan Musser III and his late father, Dan Musser II, had ideas of how to use the space on the top floor with suites. And so the dream to rebuild the roofline to its former styling began at the end of the hotel’s guest season in 2013 and is now nearing completion.

Named after a huge cupola on the roof that features a bar and extraordinary views of the Straits of Mackinac and Lake Huron, the Cupola Suites are situated on both sides of the structure. They are along the new roofline, which has been slowly emerging with nine new suites with 24 dormers on the top floor, returning the roofline from the late 1800s.

“As soon as our doors close every winter, we get started on various projects throughout the hotel to get ready for our guests the next season,” said Musser III, president of the Grand Hotel. 

“The Cupola Suites project is one that amazes me every season we’ve worked on adding the suites. The work of our construction team, architects and interior designer, Carleton Varney, work endlessly to bring it all together."

Over the past four winters, the space has been converted into one- and two-bedroom luxurious suites, some with parlors. The Musser Suite on the hotel’s west end was completed in 2014, with more suites added in 2015 and 2017. This winter’s project will complete the dream of restoring the hotel’s appearance and make 397 rooms available.

“As soon as the hotel closed last fall, we began tearing out carpeting, moving furniture and getting ready to tear off the roof to complete the project,” said Andy McGreevy, construction project manager at the resort hotel.

Empty hotel rooms in the hotel were filled this past fall with materials either removed from the storage area on the fourth floor or for new materials to be used in the construction of the suites. 

In 2015, the hotel added larger suites for guests needing additional space. All Cupola Suites provide one-bedroom and two-bedroom options with parlors. Over the 2015-16 winter, the west end of the porch and the iconic stairs were rebuilt with new subflooring and a waterproof membrane cover.

“We purchased almost all of our construction materials from local businesses in St. Ignace over the fall, and we have shiploads of material stored on the island prior to the beginning of construction,” McGreevy said. “Construction materials are stacked and stored all over the facility waiting to be used.” 

The drywall in the hallway on the fourth floor was removed, carpeting torn up, joists tripled in strength and floors doubled in thickness, according to McGreevy. Sections of the roof are removed by a crane and the new dormers and roofline are built.

“We have a lot of 30-yard dumpsters we fill,” he said. 

As the walls and new roofline are completed, electricians and plumbers feed miles of wire and pipes to the rooms. Carpeting and furniture, colors and patterns different in every room are added to complete the work.

The completed rooms have an airy feel to them with views of the Straits of Mackinac — the dormers being the highest elevations of any rooms in the hotel. Steps lead up to the windows in the parlors, and the décor is colorful and plentiful. The modern baths add to the ambiance with soft lighting.

The luxury doesn't come cheap. Cupola Suites rates start at about $1,400 per night for a one-bedroom and $2,400 for a two-bedroom.

"It is truly special, and I’m excited to finish the project this year in time for our guests in May,” Musser III said.

John L. Russell is a writer and photojournalist from Traverse City.

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