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National Park Service Region III Headquarters Building
Santa Fe, New Mexico
The largest adobe office building in the United States stands on an eight-acre site in Santa Fe along the former path of the famous Santa Fe Trail. The National Park Service Region III Headquarters, also known as the Southwest Regional Office Building, blends in so well with the historic built environment of the region that the casual onlooker might never guess its construction date was 1937, well after the Spanish-Pueblo period referenced by its architecture. The building is a masterful work of Spanish-Pueblo Revival architecture, a tribute to the vision of top National Park Service officials. It is also important in the administrative history of the agency, embodying the significance of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the Federal Arts Project.
The building was one of the first constructed in response to new National Park Service guidelines of the 1930’s, which called for structures and facilities to be in keeping with the surrounding landscape, local materials, regional architectural heritage, and local craftsmanship. This became known as “parkitecture,” “frontier architecture,” or “rustic architecture.”
The Federal Government built the 1930s-era office complex in the Spanish-Pueblo style, a common sight in New Mexico since the early 17th century. It stands today as both a nod to this original heritage and a superb mid-20th century time capsule. It remains an NPS administrative building in near-original condition with its Spanish-style furnishings and also houses an outstanding art collection of items produced by the 1930’s Santa Fe art colony, including Pueblo pottery, Navaho rugs, paintings, and etchings.
In the early 1930s, the Southwestern regional office of the National Park Service was in Oklahoma City. NPS Director Horace Albright sought to both expand and round out the National Park System by increasing NPS-managed lands in the American Southwest. To help him accomplish his goals, he called for moving the regional office to Santa Fe, a more central location for the growing organization.
By 1937, Albright was working in collaboration with NPS regional director Herbert Maier and Civilian Conservation Corps director Robert Fechner to plan the building for the new Santa Fe-based office. The State of New Mexico donated the land for the project. Cecil Doty, the NPS regional architect in Oklahoma City, designed the headquarters. Aiming to create a building that looked as though it had literally grown out of the landscape itself, Doty determined that the building should be in the Spanish-Pueblo revival style and constructed of natural, local materials that people in New Mexico had built with for centuries.
Adobe bricks (used first by American Indians, and later by Spanish colonists) were an obvious choice as the main building material. Most of the bricks in the building were made of the very soil unearthed in the excavation for the headquarters’ foundation. Logs for the wooden ceiling beams (vigas) were from trees cut from the Santa Fe National Forest, and the flagstone for the floor arrived from a ranch in nearby Pecos, New Mexico. Civilian Conservation Corps workers cut and shaped the wood, formed the adobe bricks, and constructed the building, while Works Progress Administration workers instilled the mechanical systems and assisted in other ways. Doty worked closely with his construction foreman, Carlos Vierra, on the building’s overall concept and detailing. Vierra was an expert in Spanish missionary architecture in New Mexico, having studied it for the State’s exhibit in the 1915 World’s Fair. The resulting building is a reflection of the Spanish Colonial coupled with the American Indian heritage of the American Southwest.
The 24,000 square-foot building has a slightly irregular plan around a large, central patio. This inward-facing design was a configuration meant to evoke similarly planned Spanish mission compounds of the 17th and 18th centuries. The dominant portion of the building is two stories in height and features heavy, battered adobe walls and neutral-toned finishes that reflect the colors of the surrounding landscape. Inside, the main building core houses an impressive lobby, ground-level offices, and the office of the regional directorate located upstairs. Single-story wings of more offices ring the rear patio. Most of these open directly out onto the portal (veranda) that surrounds the inner courtyard, but the rooms are also accessible internally via connecting doors.
Inside, the Spanish/American Indian influence continues with exposed vigas overhead and corner fireplaces in many rooms. Doty also designed hand-carved furniture, influenced by early New Mexican pieces at the Palace of the Governors, and had hammered tin light fixtures in a Spanish Colonial style installed. Federal Arts Project funds purchased an impressive collection of both New Mexican and American Indian art. Paintings, etchings, lithographs, pottery and woven rugs enhance Doty’s architecture throughout the building.
National Park Service regional landscape architect, Harvey Cornell, is responsible for the landscape design. Cornell and Doty worked closely together to create unity between the building and the landscaping, using juniper, pinon, rabbitbrush, and native grasses from the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in abundance. The design of the central patio and other adjoining courtyards is reminiscent of old missionary patios. They feature shaded benches for respite from the heat, native vegetation, and, in the case of the central courtyard, a small pool complete with carp.
The finished National Park Service Region III Headquarters is a Spanish-Pueblo Revival masterwork, making the best use of contemporary funding sources and new ideas about National Park Service architecture, while recognizing the region’s significant Spanish and American Indian architectural heritage.
The building is still in use by the National Park Service – though the regional headquarters is now the Intermountain Regional Office in Denver, Colorado. The building remains in remarkable condition with a high degree of historic integrity and only minor changes in recent decades to accommodate basic repairs, better insulation, fire safety systems and wheelchair accessibility.
While the building is not a museum or tourist center, visitors are welcome during regular business hours. Often a friendly NPS staff member will guide curious visitors through the halls, show off the art, and allow access to the central courtyard, which retains roughly 80% of its original plantings. The lobby is open to visitors and is one of the most impressive rooms in the building. Overhead, hand-hewn beams line the ceiling and Doty’s original tin chandeliers light the cool, dim space. The original hand-carved furnishings still adorn the room, as does a 1939 portrait of Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service.