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 4
National Park Service Arrowhead

What Will the Neighbors Think?

In 1949 Neutra appeared on the cover of Time magazine above the caption "What Will the Neighbors Think? [29] Almost ten years later, Neutra and his partner, Robert Alexander, designed the Painted Desert Community in Petrified Forest National Park. As his presence in the popular magazine indicates, Neutra had finally become a mainstream, if eccentric, modern architect. This changing cultural attitude toward modernism was reflected in housing trends over the next decade. Superintendent Fagergren "noted with interest" an article in the September 22, 1958, issue of Life magazine about the conservation benefits of row housing. [30] The article featured Edward D. Stone's design of residential units for eight hundred and sixty-five families and a fifty-acre park, and illustrated how his plan utilized the same area occupied by a conventional housing tract without any green space. The row houses were compact, but light and airy, with elegant concrete grills for privacy, patios and views of a central park. As models for his residential design, Stone looked to ancient Pompeii, French villages, and, closer to home, "the first radical improvement in American community planning," Radburn, New Jersey, designed by Clarence Stein and Henry Wright in 1929. [31] For Neutra, who had grown up among row houses in Vienna, such design was hardly something new. But for Fagergren, who found "the principles stated . . . very similar to the proposed housing for the Painted Desert area," the article provided welcome reassurance. Neutra and Alexander's Painted Desert plan received approval from Park Service officials in early February 1960. [32] The architects were to produce working drawings in preparation for construction beginning that July.

The exceptional nature of the Painted Desert's row housing, at least within Park Service circles, is indicated by a February 17, 1960, memorandum from the Director to the five regions, EODC and WODC. Because recent budget cuts limited park housing expenditures to $20,000 per unit, all future park residences constructed throughout the park system were to be one of five standard plans, including two exclusively for superintendents and one duplex. This direction allowed for no variations except for substantially completed projects under the $20,000 limit. The proposed housing at Painted Desert, which was "to be completed in accordance with the approved Neutra plan," was an exception. The Neutra/Alexander row housing was singled out for special attention because it was "dictated in the interests of economy and good judgment." [33]

The standard plans the Park Service developed for all park employee housing, in place by March 1960, proved to be slightly less restrictive than first announced. Each region was sent the proscribed plans along with a list of "selective components," structural and aesthetic elements, from which it could choose. In addition, allowances could be made for houses on slopes, though it was strongly suggested that architects save money by choosing sites on level ground. The five house plans were all one-story rectangles with horizontal wood paneling covering the exterior and identical windows and doors. The four-bedroom superintendent's house included a two-car garage, and a living room with fireplace and dining area opening onto a terrace in the rear. The other houses had living rooms in the front with dining relegated to an undefined space off the kitchen. The three-bedroom superintendent's residence was identical to the standard three-bedroom except that it included a fireplace and two full baths. In the duplexes, cars were stored in a central carport so that residents could park and enter the house from the kitchen. Although the Park Service invested considerable effort in the development of easily built, low-cost housing, it did so at the expense of individual creativity, the architect's prerogative. [34]

In March, the park received a memorandum from Sanford Hill enumerating the extra costs required by the Neutra-Alexander housing designs. Fagergren feared that funding might be withdrawn if the park exceeded the budget, and explained that local contractors estimated higher costs for Park Service projects because they demanded better materials and included an extra charge for "government red tape." He suggested that the "justification data" for the Neutra-Alexander residences emphasize additional expenses—such as the region's higher union wage, expenses for travel to and from the site, and the high cost of skilled laborers in Arizona since the strike of 1959. [35]

Superintendent Fagergren was responsible, in large part, for promoting the Neutra and Alexander plans within the Park Service. In April 1960, he wrote to the Regional Director in defense of the concrete walls enclosing the Painted Desert Community.

The Neutra-Alexander hous [sic] plans, particularly their proposal for a high wall enclosed yard or patio, have provoked considerable discussion. Hence I was and thought you might be interested in a comment made by Superintendent and Mrs. Jim Eden while I was visiting them at Page last week. They are building a solid wood fence about 7' high and said, "Everyone in Page, who can, is building a fence to protect themselves from the wind." Wind conditions at Page and Petrified Forest I would judge to be comparable. [36]

The Chief of Operations, Jerome C. Miller, responded to Fagergren's letter with his own thoughts on wind resistance, noting that Page had to deal with sand as well as dust. Finally, after discussing the matter with a colleague, he was convinced "to some extent." [37] Although Miller was most concerned with the effectiveness of the wind block, Fagergren's remarks suggest that criticism of the walls was as much aesthetic as functional.

The row housing remained the most controversial aspect of the plan, and in February the Park Service suggested a new arrangement for the residential units, as illustrated in a representative sketch. [38] Neutra and Alexander's original plan included three different housing unit types—"A" at 1280 square feet and three bedrooms, "B" at 1032 square feet and two bedrooms, and "C" at 1346 square feet and three bedrooms. [39]WODC Chief Sanford Hill sent Neutra and Alexander floor and plot plan revisions and requested their assistance in producing new working drawings and specifications. Rather than using three "A" and three "C" units in each six-unit grouping, WODC preferred flipping the C's and using them for all units. [40] This arrangement had the advantage of providing "access to each patio without having to go through each respective house." The new plan would allow the park to build additional housing adjacent the "A" units, which had been considered in the January 1958 drawings. After approving the architects' revision of these corrections, Superintendent Fagergren suggested some further alterations, including a window in the kitchen for the housewife to observe her child in the courtyard and a "dinette" in place of the "pass through" in the kitchen area. [41] By this time, the Park Service appears to have been resigned to the aesthetics of row housing and concerned only with functional issues.

Preliminary site plan, Painted Desert Community
Figure 43. Preliminary site plan, Painted Desert Community, January 1959.
(Courtesy National Park Service Technical Information Center, Denver Service Center.)

(click on image for larger size)

Perspective from Plaza, Painted Desert Community
Figure 44. "Perspective from Plaza," Painted Desert Community, January 1959.
(Courtesy National Park Service Technical Information Center, Denver Service Center.)

(click on image for larger size)

The designs Neutra and Alexander finished in January 1959 contained all of the elements laid out by Park Service planners, but the arrangement was very different. In-house designers were equally modern in their depiction of streamlined, concrete housing, concrete walls, and simple, rectangular buildings. All these choices depended on adherence to a modernist aesthetic. But the modern aspect of Neutra and Alexander's plan lay in the organization of spaces and the separation of public areas from administrative and residential zones. The parking lot provided easy access to the two places most important to visitors—the visitor center and the concessioner's building. Park offices were located above the public spaces and maintenance in the rear. The public buildings formed two sides of a courtyard, and although apartments for employees formed a third side, these were hidden by a concrete wall. The fourth side of the courtyard opened up to park apartments carefully hidden by planters and a landscaped area. Most unique for a plan of this type, housing was organized into four rows of one-story units just a short walk from the rest of the complex. In principle, the design achieved the Mission 66 goal of concentrating development in a limited space and therefore conserving natural resources. [42] The Painted Desert Community received a residential award citation from Progressive Architecture in January 1959, when the complex was still only a set of drawings. The magazine praised the most extraordinary aspect of the Community, its "compoundlike grouping of L-shaped houses with wind-shielding walls to the south and west and small high-walled patios where devoted care can produce oases of natural growth." [43]

CONTINUED continued



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