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 2
National Park Service Arrowhead

Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center
Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

Although Mission 66 development was considered crucial for public use of national parks, its modern architectural style did not always coincide with social expectations for wilderness parks, battlefields, or desert locations. Park Service and contract architects attempted to conform to the regional landscape, address local traditions, and temper the modernist aesthetic with appropriate materials. If the national parks and monuments posed countless environmental challenges, however, the site of the first successful powered flight offered an ideal context for a modernist building. The wind-swept dunes of Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, suggested the clean lines of Mission 66 design, and, like the accomplishment it memorialized, the "new" architectural style represented innovation, achievement, and a future improved by technology. During the early 1950s, the Park Service designed an elaborate million-dollar aviation museum for the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Fortunately, funding could not be obtained for the proposed development, which would have overwhelmed the site with a sprawling modern complex. By 1957, the Park Service was ready to finance construction of a different type of facility. A new visitor center would centralize basic visitor services in a simple, compact plan. In accordance with Park Service practice, the modest visitor center would be built close to the "first flight" site, a location allowing visitors to view both the historic flight path and the memorial from the building's windows and exterior terrace. Small in scale and height, the building would not detract from the park landscape. The Wright Brothers Visitor Center was completed in the early years of Mission 66 and quickly became an example of what the development program could accomplish for a small park with limited resources.

The first organized preservation effort at the Wright Brothers site was launched in 1927 by the newly formed Kill Devil Hills Memorial Association. During its early planning stages, the Association imagined a future museum at the site, but a more immediate concern was the construction of an appropriate memorial atop its namesake sand dune. Congress authorized the Kill Devil Hill Monument National Memorial in March 1927, and the cornerstone for the structure was laid during the next year's anniversary celebration. Rodgers and Poor, a New York architectural firm, designed the 60-foot-high Art Deco granite shaft in 1931-1932. [1] Crowned with a navigational beacon accompanied by its own power house, the tremendous pylon was ornamented by bas-relief wing designs. [2] Kill Devil Hill was not the site of the Wright Brothers' achievement, but the launching point for earlier glider experiments and a location closer to the heavens than the Wrights' primitive airstrip on the flat land north of the dune. When the Wrights set up camp here from 1901-1903, this land was constantly shifting sands. The Quartermaster Corps used sod and other plantings to stabilize the sand hill when the area was still under the jurisdiction of the War Department. [3] In addition, the Kill Devil Hills Association marked the location of the first flight with a commemorative plaque. During the 1930s, plans for the Memorial included a park laid out in the Beaux-Arts tradition, with a formal mall leading to a central garden flanked by symmetrical hangers and parking lots. [4] An airport served as the flat land terminus of the axis, and the Kill Devil Hill memorial as its culmination; six roads radiated out from the monument to the borders of the park. Although this scheme was never implemented, the system of trails and roads constructed by the Park Service in 1933-1936 formed the basis for today's circulation pattern. A brick custodian's residence (1935) and maintenance area (1939) were built south of the hill.

When the monument was planned in the late 1920s, Congressman Lindsay Warren imagined a museum "gathering here the intimate associations," and "implements of conquest." [5] Almost twenty years later, an "appropriate ultra-modern aviation museum" was proposed for Wright Brothers during the effort to obtain the original 1903 plane, but funding was not forthcoming. [6] Such an ambitious construction project began to seem possible in 1951, when the memorial association reorganized as the Kill Devil Hills Memorial Society, and prominent member David Stick established a "Wright Memorial Committee." Stick realized that a museum could only succeed with assistance from the National Park Service, local boosters, and corporate sponsors. Among the committee members recruited for the development campaign were Paul Garber, curator of the National Air Museum in Washington; Ronald Lee, assistant director of the Park Service; and J. Hampton Manning, of the Southeastern Airport Mangers Association in Augusta. In preparation for the first meeting, the Park Service drafted preliminary plans for a museum facility dated February 4, 1952. [7] Regional Director Elbert Cox introduced the project as a "group of buildings of modern form" to be located off the main highway northeast of the monument. The proposed Wright Brothers Memorial Museum included a "court of honor," "Wright brothers exhibit area," "library and reception center," and funnel-shaped "first flight memorial hall" with outdoor terraces facing the view of the first flight marker to the north and Wright memorial marker to the west. The exhibit galleries were to contain "scale models of the various Wright gliders and airplanes, a topographic map of the area at the time of their experiments, scale models of their bicycle shop and wind tunnel, and photographic and other visual exhibits." [8] One wing of the complex housed offices for the museum curator and superintendent, workshop and storage rooms, and a service court. In elevation, the northwest facade is multiple flat-roofed buildings adjacent the double-height memorial hall, a slightly peak-roofed room with glass and metal walls.

Although it could not provide adequate funding for the museum, the Park Service entered into the planning process in earnest, producing revised plans and specifications in August 1952. Director Wirth looked "forward with enthusiasm to the full realization of the . . . program," and promised that the Park Service would operate and maintain the facility once constructed. [9] He even included cost estimates for the buildings, structures, grounds, exhibits, furnishings, roads, and walks. [10] During the summer, word of a potential commission spread and several regional architects notified Stick of their design services. [11] Despite much effort, however, the committee was unable to raise funds for the million dollar complex, which was originally slated for completion by the fiftieth anniversary. Several smaller goals were achieved in time for the December 1953 celebration: the monument was renamed the Wright Brothers National Memorial, entrance and historical markers established, and reconstructions of the Wrights' living quarters, hanger, and wooden tracks constructed. Though disappointed at the lack of financial backing for the museum, the committee "strongly felt that the original plans for the construction of a Memorial Museum at the scene of the first flight should remain an objective of the Memorial Society." [12] The establishment of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, also in 1953, may have contributed to their continued optimism.

Four years after the committee's initial attempt to fund an aviation museum, the National Park Service surprised all concerned with an offer to sponsor a scaled-down version of the facility. The committee met in Washington on October 23, 1957, only to learn that funds from the aircraft industry would not be forthcoming. During this meeting, Conrad Wirth outlined his Mission 66 program and revealed that a visitor center at Wright Brothers was included among the proposed construction projects. After further consideration, Wirth promised to make the Wright Brothers facility an immediate objective "by shifting places on the list with one of several battlefield visitor centers planned in advance of the forthcoming Civil War centennial." [13] Just four years earlier, the Park Service had planned a modernist museum for the site on the scale of a Smithsonian, with the free-flowing design of a public building typical of the period. The visitor center of 1957 did not have the aesthetic freedom of a such a museum. For its Mission 66 visitor center, the Park Service sought a smaller, less expensive, more compact structure with distinct components: restrooms (preferably entered from the outside), a lobby, exhibit space, offices, and a room for airplane displays and ranger programs (in place of the standard audio-visual room or auditorium). As designers of the new building, the Park Service chose a new architectural firm based in Philadelphia: Mitchell, Cunningham, Giurgola, Associates, which was soon known as Mitchell/Giurgola, Architects. [14] With its symbolism of innovation, experimentation and evolving genius, the building was an ideal commission for the fledgling firm.

CONTINUED continued



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