On-line Book
Book Cover to Mission 66 Visitor Centers. With image of Dinosaur NM Visitor Center, view from beneath ramp


Table of Contentss




Wright Brothers


Pertified Forest

Rocky Mountain

Cecil Doty



Appendix I

Appendix II

Appendix III

Appendix IV

Mission 66 Visitor Centers
Chapter 1
National Park Service Arrowhead

Anshen and Allen, Architects

Already the authors of a most stimulating and satisfactory building in one of our National Monuments (Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona, Arizona, Architectural Record, October 1956), architects Anshen and Allen have now designed an arresting and appropriate visitor center to house an "in-place" exhibit of America's largest deposit of dinosaur fossils. [29]

-Architectural Record, January 1957

The year Echo Park was saved, the San Francisco architectural firm of Anshen and Allen designed its most famous building, a small chapel in the Sedona desert. S. Robert Anshen and William Stephen Allen began private practice together in San Francisco about four years after their graduation from college in 1936. [30] Former classmates at the University of Pennsylvania, Anshen and Allen worked as a team, sharing the responsibilities of design and engineering. From the beginning, Anshen and Allen espoused no particular style or architectural methodology, but prided themselves on creating the "variety" that evolved naturally out of clients' desires and programmatic requirements. One of the partners' notable early buildings was a house designed in Taxco, Mexico, for Sonya Silverstone (1949). An article describing the residence inspired Marguerite Brunswig Staude to contact Anshen and Allen about the possibility of building her dream chapel in Sedona, Arizona. [31] The architects must have been intrigued when Staude, a sculptress, showed them her sketches of a Roman Catholic Church inspired by Rockefeller Center, a version of which was almost constructed for Hungarian nuns on Mount Ghelert in Budapest. Anshen and Allen began working on the chapel project in 1953. [32] Staude not only financed the chapel, but also provided accommodations for the architects at her Doodlebug Ranch in Sedona. When it was time to find an appropriate site, Staude, her husband, and the architects flew over the local hills in search of the perfect location. This type of collaboration between architect and client would also occur in the firm's work for the National Park Service.

The Chapel of the Holy Cross, a concrete and glass structure designed around a colossal cross, was built into dramatic red rock formations overlooking the town of Sedona. A serpentine concrete ramp leads the visitor out of the parking area and up to a courtyard in front of the chapel. Through the paned-glass entrance facade, the view extends to the concrete cross spanning the building's opposite wall and to clouds outside that seem to float above the altar. Anshen and Allen's chapel received praise in architectural journals, popular magazines, and newspapers soon after its construction. [33] Park Service architects must have known about this unusual structure located a short distance from Montezuma Castle National Monument and the monuments near Flagstaff—Sunset Crater, Wupatki, and Walnut Canyon. The chapel's textured concrete walls and sinuous ramp would foreshadow a similar use of concrete at Quarry Visitor Center. The glass wall that so successfully brought the outdoors into the building would be adapted to the conditions of the park site. Perhaps most important, the designs of both buildings would accommodate living rock. In its unadulterated simplicity, the chapel makes the most of modernist design, and Park Service architects might very well have hoped to see its secular equivalent in a national park. Architectural Record clearly saw the connection between the chapel's setting and the design challenges inherent in a park environment. The journal concluded its October 1956 story on the chapel with the following prediction:

It may fall to the lot of other architects to work with sites of similar grandeur, if plans for the Mission 66 program of the National Park Service do lead, as planned, to a substantial building program in the national parks. NPS and its concessioners in the parks will be dangling before architects just such problems in scale, in awesome scenery, color, lighting conditions. In an earlier day rusticity was the accepted answer, or chalet importations from another mountainous land. Contemporary architecture has not had much opportunity to test its tenets in such terrain, or, too much success when it has had the chance. The design of this chapel seems to suggest a better approach than we are used to in our national parks. [34]

Regardless of the Park Service's admiration for the Sedona chapel, initial contact between architects and client appears to have occurred as a result of the Mission 66 effort to find suitable contract architects for visitor center commissions. The WODC advertised its need for architects and, about six months after Anshen and Allen interviewed at the San Francisco office, the firm was hired to design Quarry Visitor Center. The partners chose Richard Hein as project architect. [35] From the beginning, a certain amount of collaboration was implied, but Anshen and Allen welcomed the challenge offered by their unusual client. In accepting the project, the firm was taking on decades of in-house planning, not to mention the responsibility of an early high-profile Mission 66 project. Anshen and Allen soon realized that the Park Service's expectations for its new building were influenced by the traditional park museum model; preliminary Park Service designs depicted a fully enclosed, windowless building lit exclusively by artificial light. When Anshen visited the site, he recognized the importance of opening up the building so that people could see the environment surrounding the covered quarry section. Together, Hein, Anshen, and Allen begin to plan an exhibit shelter

as open as possible in order to achieve a maximum integrated relationship of the remains to the site. The shelter was conceived as a totally glazed structure. This conception had the additional advantage of creating the least intrusion of the building on its natural surroundings which had been one of the Park Service's principal requirements. The administrative and utility areas were to receive a subordinate location and treatment to the main Exhibit Shelter in order to detract as little as possible from the public's view from the site. [36]

Technical aspects of the design were addressed by Robert D. Dewell, a civil and structural engineer based in San Francisco.

According to project architect Hein, the original concept for the visitor center made use of the site's natural landscape features by spanning the "v-shaped cut" in rock formations with "a series of suspension cables on a catenary curve." [37] Because the region's severe climatic conditions fluctuated up to 150 degrees throughout the year, the architects were forced to abandon this plan. The new scheme evolved from the original idea, but supported the asymmetrical butterfly roof with a more substantial rigid frame system. This solution solved the basic requirement of covering the quarry face, but departed radically from the Park Service's shed-like design.

Quarry Visitor Center was an original design by Anshen and Allen but it was also a collaborative effort with the National Park Service. In an oral history interview over twenty years later, Cecil Doty not only took credit for the original design, but remembered details of the collaboration process. With drawings to illustrate his points, Doty showed how he revised the building plans "on the basis of my second preliminary [drawing]" after Ronnie Lee pressured him to remove all glass from the exhibit gallery and make provisions for artificial lighting. Doty claimed that Anshen and Allen restored the glass, borrowed his shell and truss design, and then "went high tailing to Washington" and got approval for the building. As this controversy illustrates, work between private and Park Service architects often blurred the lines between client and architect. [38] In a feature article on "Recent Work of Anshen & Allen," Architectural Record described the building in glowing terms as a highly successful revision of "the Park Service's original design." [39]

The firm produced a seven-sheet set of preliminary drawings in July 1956. Because of the large amount of glass in the plans, preliminary drawings included diagrams indicating the angle of the sun at various months and hours. "Sun patterns" were shown in plan and cross section. These solar studies were directly related to building features, such as the shape and extent of roof overhangs. The building consisted of three main areas: the concrete cylinder or "circular element" housing facilities for visitors, including the lobby, restrooms, and service staff; the one-story administrative office and laboratory wing; and the double-height gallery, which included the fossil exhibit. From the parking lot, visitors entered by following the concrete ramp as it wrapped around the cylindrical building and emerged adjacent the entrance to the exhibit area. The two floors were connected by a narrow stairway in the rotunda and by a stairway at the far end of the gallery; visitors were intended to use the ramp entrance, discover the restrooms to the left of a small lobby, walk along the upper gallery and then take the stairs down to the lower viewing area. This gallery included a window into the paleontologists' preparation and storage room, part of the administration wing. The first floor also housed the library and conference room, geologist's office, darkroom, employee lockers, and mechanical equipment. Visitors concluded their tour of the lower gallery at another lobby space, now a crowded bookstore. Additional Park Service offices were arranged in the semicircle around the lobby. The exit was located at the far end of the exhibit space. This route provided efficient circulation through the building and back to the parking area.

Evidently, Director Wirth was not entirely pleased with the preliminary drawings and, in July, refused their approval. Anshen responded by offering to "restudy the problem in accordance" with Wirth's comments. [40] The acting chief of design and construction reported his extreme doubts that a building satisfying the desired functional requirements could be designed and built with the available funds. As the architects worked on revisions over the next few months, they also demonstrated that their glass and steel building could be completed within the alloted budget.

cross section of Quarry Visitor Center
Figure 12. A cross section of Quarry Visitor Center showing the position of the sun at various times during the day. This was part of a seven-sheet set of preliminary drawings completed in July 1956.
(Courtesy National Park Service Technical Information Center, Denver Service Center.)

The form of the gallery covering the fossils appears to have been determined relatively early in the design process, but the cylindrical administrative building proved more contentious. The architects produced at least ten versions of the ramp and cylinder, with variations in the treatment of "skin" covering the two-story office space, the size and shape of the ramp and its termination. These are all drawn in soft pencil, with a similar background treatment, as if part of a series. [41] The most significant variations occur in the concrete pattern of the cylinder; the architects varied the spacing of verticals, in one case leaving half the wall completely smooth and in another proposing a textured wall of concrete block. Ramp possibilities ranged in the extent of curve—including an example that seems almost level. The architects experimented with the ramp entrance and toyed with the idea of a series of steps part-way up the ramp. As Stephen Bruneel, senior associate of Anshen and Allen, speculated in 1999, the drawings suggest that "the final round form of the admin/service wing was arrived at early on, but that there was uncertainty or resistance either within the firm or with the client. The result causing a long detour before the original scheme was returned to." [42] This "resistance" was most likely directed at the building's function, rather than its modernist aesthetic, and resulted primarily from the museum department's desire for traditional, enclosed exhibits.

Ronald Lee's Division of Interpretation preferred the use of artificial lighting in the visitor center, and his influence was a determining factor in early in-house conceptions of the building. An enclosed, darkened exhibition space would allow museum technicians to employ dramatic lighting affects without any external distractions, create a sense of mystery, and propel visitors back to the time of the dinosaurs. However tempting such a performance might have been for the museum division, this traditional approach to exhibition defeated the purpose of a site specific exhibit. Visitors could not see the relationship between the enclosed part of the quarry and the continuing rock face outside. As Hein subsequently explained, "the Park Service design, while being suited to the normal concepts of museum planning, was failing to recognize the unique aspects of this particular project." [43] By August 1956, when Anshen and Allen had already submitted the first sketches of their glass-walled building, members of the museum and park staff had not only changed their minds about the display technique but were arguing for a building "as light and open as possible. . . with glass ends." Although such a design was part of the Mission 66 planners' early concept, the museum branch's preferences had influenced preliminary planning and resulted in the alterations that so disappointed Cecil Doty. [44]

Quarry Visitor Center

Quarry Visitor Center
Figures 13 and 14. Quarry Visitor Center, lower and upper levels, from the set of working drawings submitted in November 1956.
(Courtesy National Park Service Technical Information Center, Denver Service Center.)

(click on images for larger size)

Despite strong approval from the WODC, Anshen and Allen's design had undergone revisions since its preliminary stage, and the architects were required to re-submit their plans to the park superintendent, regional office, museum branch, and Washington office. As Hein recalls, Director Wirth was torn between the opinion of the museum experts and that of the WODC. Wirth scheduled a design presentation in the San Francisco office, and after hearing the strong support of the Park Service architects firsthand, he accepted their consensus even though the working drawings submitted in November 1956 displayed no significant changes. The cylindrical element featured a pattern of vertical lines made by alternating strips of insulated glass, concrete panels, and areas of concrete masonry. [45] Its composition roof was topped with a plastic skylight. But the highlight of the design was certainly the massive glass wall on either end of the building. More than the butterfly roof or concrete ramp, the extensive use of glass and steel created an atmosphere suggestive of modern innovation. Porcelain enamel sandwich panels were installed near the base of these walls. The drawings also included plans for the traveling scaffold that was to be part of the working exhibit. The air conditioning and radiant heating systems were handled by Earl and Gropp, electrical and mechanical engineers based in San Francisco.

The "finish and color schedule" for the visitor center paints a colorful picture of the building's original interior surfaces. The visitor gallery walls and trim were surf green and the ceiling vernal green. The lobby was surf green with varnished birch trim, and the rotunda and stairway were also green. Offices had walls painted starlight blue and honey beige. Less significant spaces, such as corridors, vestibules, and storage spaces, were tusk ivory. These brightly painted surfaces were intended to relieve the monotony of the valley's gray surroundings and, perhaps, create the effect of an oasis in the desert. A similar effort would be made at the new facility in Petrified Forest National Park a few years later. [46]

During planning for the visitor center, the architectural firm was also busy with designs for employee housing and a utility building in the quarry area below the visitor facility. In June 1956, Hein drafted plans for the site, showing three residences and a four-unit apartment arranged in a small cul-de-sac of the road leading to the maintenance area. The buildings were one-story and the pitched roofs covered with asbestos shingles. A redwood fascia encircling the building under the roof line provided a decorative touch. Floors were specified as slabs covered in asphalt tile, and sidewalks and patios were of colored exposed aggregate concrete. Various drawings indicate that Park Service architects helped with this typical Mission 66 housing. [47] The concrete block utility building included areas for carpentry, auto maintenance, and equipment storage. [48]

CONTINUED continued



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