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Wright Brothers


Petrified Forest

Rocky Mountain

Cecil Doty



Appendix I

Appendix II

Appendix III

Appendix IV

Mission 66 Visitor Centers
Chapter 4
National Park Service Arrowhead

The Painted Desert Community

The Painted Desert Community, estimated to have been completed by July 17, 1962, was finally finished in the last week of April 1963. During the course of construction, Inspector Mott noticed a change in attitude toward the building as people became more accustomed to the style and began to appreciate some of the design decisions. [67] He concluded his final report with the following statement: "When this housing project was first begun and up until the residences were occupied, I heard many critical comments concerning their design. Now I hear more favorable comments. After nearly two years in the area I'm satisfied that the walls are definitely required to combat the high winds and dust. Others are finding this to be true also." The completion of the new $1,460,000 facility was celebrated at a dedication ceremony on October 27, 1963. The event, co-sponsored by the Holbrook-Petrified Forest Chamber of Commerce, began at 1:30 p.m. with a musical prelude and national anthem performed by the 541st Air Force Band. A speaker's stand was erected on the plaza facing the visitor center, and guests sat in the space surrounding the planters. After a general welcome by Superintendent Humberger, Director Wirth and Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior Orren Beaty, Jr., said a few words. The dedication address was delivered by Dr. Edward B. Danson, Jr., secretary of the Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments. Superintendent Humberger then invited guests to tour the facilities and witness the ribbon cutting ceremony at the visitor center. Richard Neutra posed with park officials in front of the un-cut ribbon. [68]

Painted Desert Visitor Center
Figure 50. Visitors entered the Painted Desert Visitor Center from the parking lot and the Fred Harvey Building from the courtyard.
(Courtesy National Park Service Technical Information Center, Denver Service Center.)

The new visitor center was the highlight of the celebration. In the drab desert environment, its bright white concrete and aluminum buildings sparkled. No one had ever seen anything quite like it. Upon pulling into the visitor center parking lot, visitors immediately read the sign, "Painted Desert Visitor Center" and recognized the Park Service's arrowhead logo. Restrooms were prominently located to the right; although actually within the visitor center building, they were entered from outside. The high walls screening the maintenance area from the parking lot, the Fred Harvey building, and this section of the administration building were "desert-colored" concrete block. In contrast, the entrance to the visitor center was indicated by a smooth white exterior and floor-to-ceiling windows, which provided a glimpse of the spacious lobby. Visitors entered double glass doors and were naturally drawn towards the information desk near the center of the room. On the wall above the desk, metal capital letters attached directly to the wall announced that "Petrified Forest National Park is one of many areas administered by the National Park Service within the United States to serve the inspirational and recreational needs of this and future generations and to insure perpetual preservation of a heritage rich in superlative scenery and significant historical and cultural landmarks." On either side of the desk, exhibit panels, which Neutra called "translucency illuminating boxes," were arranged at eye-level and a map and "slide illuminating case" mounted directly on the exposed concrete block walls. The floor was shimmering blue tile. A wall of floor-to-ceiling windows and steel columns faced the courtyard. It was an open, elegant, functional space.

second floor apartments
Figure 51. The second floor apartments viewed from the courtyard outside the Visitor Center.
(Courtesy National Park Service Technical Information Center, Denver Service Center.)

Richard Neutra chats with a resident of
the Painted Desert Community
Figure 52. Richard Neutra chats with a resident of the Painted Desert Community in her apartment.
(Photo by Beinlich Photography. Courtesy Petrified Forest National Park archives.)

As they strolled around the plaza, visitors must have wondered about the cantilevered steel balcony above the visitor center. A stairway at the far end of the lobby led up to the second-floor administrative offices. The rooms on the courtyard side opened out onto the terrace, which also connected to the corridor running parallel to the upper level of Park Service apartments. From the plaza, visitors saw this corridor as a horizontal strip window above a masonry wall—a facade without any hint of domesticity. Although the Park Service employees' private and public spaces were located in close proximity to the visitor center, park visitors were unaware of this secret world.

In their wanderings outside the visitor center, visitors were also expected to examine the reflecting pool in the far corner of the plaza, an exotic spot in this desert environment. The architectural firm and the Park Service collaborated in the design of the plaza, and in February 1962, Neutra and naturalist Philip F. Van Cleave exchanged ideas about its landscaping. Initially, Neutra overwhelmed Park Service personnel with plans for a lush "Triassic" garden, but in subsequent correspondence, the architect explained that he merely hoped to demonstrate the "degeneration" of the giant prehistoric species into petrified specimens and the "tiny relatives" of the present day. Superintendent Fagergren agreed that the planters and pool might be devoted to such an exhibit. In describing his ideas for the central space, Neutra explained that the entire scheme was based on the mesa shelters of the Puerco Indians. Through careful planning and landscaping, the buildings would harmonize with the landscape and relate to the region's history.

The desert planting for example, around the project at the entrance of Petrified Forest National Park was to be brought right to the wide enclosure walls in more or less desert colored brick. Most window openings would turn to interior patios or circumwalled garden courts protected against the desiccating and evaporating desert winds. The center plaza was to become a demonstration of such wind protected planting area, as it is also exemplified by the Puerco Indian village which in archeological finds and ruins is being inspected by the visitor. [69]

These ancient residents crowded together in underground dwellings that provided both "wind-stillness" and shade. The park still contained remnants of prehistoric settlements sprinkled among the petrified trees, and colorful pieces of rock recalling the area's Triassic past, when the deserts were verdant with growth and wildlife. In the plaza space, Neutra hoped to introduce visitors to this ancient park history with a glimpse of the region's incredible transformation from lush forest to arid desert. Relatives of prehistoric trees, such as the ginkgo biloba and araucaria were arranged alone and in pairs, along with the "resurrection plant," horsetails or equisetum and other appropriate native species. [70]Neutra hoped that the plaza landscape would include a "living lungfish, so that one could show it off to the visitors and give them a chance to grasp what this region had been like so long ago." [71] This "prehistoric" landscape was intended to re-establish a lost connection with the past.

The preliminary study for the plaza produced by the Park Service landscape architecture office in March implemented many of these planting ideas. A low planter ran parallel to the front facade of the visitor center; unidentified trees in tubs lined the glass wall of the Fred Harvey building. There was a rectangular planting bed in front of this row of trees and a bench-high planter featuring a specimen sycamore. Across the courtyard, two ginkos sheltered the apartments. The corner nearest the visitor center featured a petrified tree exhibit. To the north, the reflecting pool was supplemented by a Triassic swamp exhibit, a more naturalistic body of water with representative flora. Neutra consulted professors of botany and paleontology at the University of Southern California, the University of California at Los Angeles, and San Jose State College, both to determine his selection of plants and their suitability to the patio environment. After his research, he felt confident that the garden would not require special maintenance. By January 1963, Neutra had discussed the landscaping plans with Volney J. Westley and forwarded recommendations to the regional director, Thomas Allen. Screen planting was an important part of the overall scheme. Plantings south of the entrance road were necessary to block the view of visitor carports; chamisia would be useful in achieving this purpose. From February to April, the Park Service produced additional planting plans, including landscaping of the open area between the residences and the courtyard. Drawings for "the plaza and related areas" included specifications for benches—both wood and stone slab—waste paper baskets, drinking fountains, and planters. Special attention was paid to the texture of surfaces, the pebble-finish concrete of the plaza, and the combed concrete of the raised planters, also used as a transition between the plaza and the community area. Selected riverbed stones filled the flush planters. [72] If used according to plan, the plaza would become an extension of the park's interpretive program, as rangers describing the evolution of the landscape could point to miniature examples growing in the planters outside.

Painted Desert Community
Figure 53. Painted Desert Community, exterior view of Visitor Center and plaza. The pool in the foreground was intended to house the "living lungfish."
(Photo by Huntsman, July 1969. Courtesy National Park Service Technical Information Center, Denver Service Center.)

The Painted Desert Community of 1999 bears little resemblance to the pristine white complex completed in 1963. The early years of the Community are fondly remembered by the park's chief of maintenance, Charlene Yazzie, who grew up in unit #213. When the family moved into the new row housing in 1964, Yazzie's father had just begun his thirty-one year career in the park maintenance department. The family enjoyed the benefits of a close-knit neighborhood, with public services such as a post office and public branch library located within the Community. Yazzie and her three brothers and sisters attended elementary school in the same classroom each year, moving up a row of chairs as they advanced through each grade. The children played tennis and basketball in courts behind the school, but also explored the Painted Desert canyons, yards, and community spaces. An unspoken agreement kept them from the visitor and administration areas, except to visit the Fred Harvey popcorn machine. On Friday nights, residents gathered at the community building for movies. Barbecues and other social events were commonplace, and sometimes students performed plays on a stage erected in front of the movie screen. During these early years, every apartment was full, with at least three children to each household. But, beginning in the early 1970s, the families stopped coming and things began to change. There were no longer enough children to require a school. Occupants of the row housing were increasingly transient, usually temporary researchers and seasonal employees. Today, Yazzie works in the offices once occupied by her father. Although many aspects of her job are similar, the emphasis is no longer on maintaining the existing facilities, but on preserving them. [73]

CONTINUED continued


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