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 5
National Park Service Arrowhead

Administration Building (Headquarters; Beaver Meadows Visitor Center)
Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, Colorado

On Friday July 16, 1965, Rocky Mountain National Park celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with the dedication of the Alpine Visitor Center at Fall River Pass, the first Mission 66 visitor center constructed in the park. [1] The location of the building was more impressive than its architecture. Visitors climbed Trail Ridge Road, the country's highest continuous highway, and were suddenly confronted with a modern visitor center in the forbidding tundra landscape 11,796 feet above sea level. Built of stone and concrete, with a shingled gabled roof and log beams, the simple building featured a glassed-in viewing area overlooking Chapin Creek and the Mummy Range. After the grand opening celebration, participants traveled back down the road and gathered at Beaver Meadows for an afternoon ground-breaking ceremony. The site was a meadow just up the hill from the utility area along the new road to the Beaver Meadows entrance station. George B. Hartzog, Jr., director of the National Park Service, local dignitaries, and Charles Gordon Lee of Taliesin Associated Architects witnessed Colorado Congressman Wayne Aspinall dig a few shovelfuls of dirt in honor of the future Administration Building. [2] Although Mission 66 officially concluded the next year, the development campaign it inspired continued until the end of the decade at Rocky Mountain with the construction of the Administration Building, commonly known as the Headquarters (1965-1967) at Beaver Meadows and the West Side Administration Building (1967-1968, later Kawuneeche Visitor Center) near Grand Lake. Together, these visitor centers represent the culmination of a decade of planning and designing modern visitor facilities. As one of the final buildings by a private firm, the Headquarters demonstrates the Park Service's continued eagerness to experiment with modern architecture in the parks and to engage in risky collaboration with well-known modernist designers. The Park Service commissioned Taliesin Associated Architects, Ltd., to design the Headquarters at Beaver Meadows, knowing that these devoted followers of Frank Lloyd Wright could only design an exceptional building.

Rocky Mountain drafted its Mission 66 planning prospectus in 1956 amid the excitement of a 320-acre park boundary extension and news of a new eastern approach road. [3] President Eisenhower authorized the addition to the eastern park boundary in June. The two-and-a-third mile approach road, a project first conceived in 1932, connected State Highway 262 with Trail Ridge Road, traversing an area known as Beaver Meadows. According to this plan, the new visitor center would be located on undeveloped land in Lone Pine Meadow just below the turnoff for Moraine Park. Park Service designers envisioned a "principal visitor center" adjacent the new road with facilities for both visitors and staff. The building was to house interpretive exhibits, an enclosed, glassed-in observation porch, and the information/orientation services currently handled at the entrance station. Indoor and outdoor auditoriums would supplement the museum interpretation. The cost of the new visitor center was estimated at $200,000. [4] This initial Mission 66 development proposal also included provisions for the expansion of a one-room facility at Fall River Pass jointly owned by a concessioner and the park. Thousands of people stopped in this area every day, but the building could only accommodate thirty at most. A new facility would provide concessions and interpretation relevant to the alpine setting. On the west side, similar services would be offered at "Grand Lake Visitor Center." Trailers equipped with information and exhibits were stationed at Rainbow Curve on Trail Ridge Road and Lake Granby Overlook off Highway 34 to determine the value of permanent visitor facilities in these areas. [5]

By 1958, planners were considering several alternatives for park development, all of which anticipated major changes in roads and traffic patterns around the eastern entrance. One possibility was a visitor center at Deer Ridge near the convergence of Highways 34 and 36. Since the Beaver Meadows entrance and the Fall River entrance guarded these primary access roads into the park, a visitor center between the two would serve the greatest number of visitors. However, because the chosen site included several inholdings, such as the Schubert family's popular Deer Ridge Chalet, acquisition of the property before the conclusion of Mission 66 was doubtful. A description of the proposed building mentioned standard visitor center components: a lobby, exhibit space, and audio-visual room. Significant architectural features included an elevated penthouse and viewing terraces, both of which related to the interpretation of glacial geology. In this scenario, the park headquarters building was to be located near the utility area, south of High Drive, and devoted exclusively to park administration. In the interim before the Deer Ridge Visitor Center was completed, visitor services could be offered from a nearby auditorium building. Although this plan was not adopted, efforts to acquire the desired property were eventually successful. [6]

A more expedient alternative, considering the land ownership situation, was the construction of a visitor center building at Lone Pine, the site suggested two years earlier. This proposal described a 10,200-square-foot building for visitor facilities, which included an optional auditorium and naturalist's operating headquarters and workshop. A headquarters for administrative functions was planned about a mile down the road. At this time, planners imagined the administration building in conjunction with the utility area and distinct from anything having to do with visitors or interpretation. This "master plan development outline" was reviewed by Lyle Bennett, WODC architect, and recommended by Chief of Design and Construction Thomas Vint in 1958. During the master planning process, the park was also considering a visitor center at the Grand Lake entrance. In April 1958, Cecil Doty submitted a prototypical Mission 66 design for what would later become known as both the West Side and Kawuneeche Visitor Center. The most prominent feature of the proposed wood frame building was a flagstone porch; the restrooms on the left side of the building extended to the edge of the porch, while an administration wing on the right was flush to the lobby entrance. Porch flagstones continued inside the lobby. Directly behind the lobby was an audio-visual room and to the left, an exhibit room. The visitor center constructed nearly ten years later would only resemble Doty's drawing in its adherence to programmatic requirements. [7]

The new eastern approach road opened in 1959 but the Thompson River entrance remained in use until 1960, when the Bear Lake cut-off was completed and the old entrance closed. Park planners predicted that the new entrance would result in increased use of the Moraine Museum, a former lodge constructed in the early 1920s. The museum's centralized site was viewed as more important than the rustic building, which could "be razed and replaced by a modern, fireproof structure with space-heating for all-year operation if required." In its place, the park envisioned a two-room exhibit facility, an overlook porch equipped with audio-visual equipment, a lobby and information desk, restrooms, and a few small offices. Although the Moraine Museum was spared, as Mission 66 planning progressed, the Park Service increased efforts to acquire inholdings, remove old buildings, and restore the natural landscape as much as possible. Between 1958 and 1962, the park purchased Fern Lake, Bear Lake, and Spragues Lodges; two private "guest ranches," the Fall River Lodge in Horseshoe Park and the Brinwood Hotel in Moraine Park; and the Stead Ranch at Moraine Park, site of the Deer Ridge Chalet. [8] The buildings were demolished in the name of wilderness conservation, but many Estes Park residents and seasonal visitors lamented the loss of favorite vacation resorts. To complicate matters, the park's environmental preservation efforts were carried out just a few years after a controversial new ski facility opened at Hidden Valley. In light of the effort to remove private development and thereby enhance the natural surroundings, the Park Service ski concession was questioned by both locals and environmentalists.

While other parks upgraded concessioner facilities inside their boundaries, Rocky Mountain was able to take advantage of its proximity to Estes Park for visitor accommodations and most services. This close relationship between the park and the town dated back to the park's founding in 1915, when a rented downtown building became the first headquarters. In 1921, the Estes Park Women's Club resolved to loan a parcel of land in town to the park, and once an act of Congress passed the bill, a superintendent's office was constructed on the city lot about three miles from the park boundary. [9] During the Mission 66 development and planning process, maintaining good relations with the town was of considerable importance. Superintendent Granville Liles understood that the design of the new visitor center should reflect the close ties between the park and the community of Estes Park.

During the first four years of Mission 66, Rocky Mountain spent over three million dollars on improvements, but had seemingly little to show for it; a large portion of the budget went towards "invisible" repairs, such as updating sewage and water systems. The summer of 1960 brought the first Mission 66 structure, the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station, as well as enlarged campgrounds at Endovalley and Glacier Basin, complete with "lecture amphitheaters." [10] Road repairs, turn-outs, and additional roads were under construction. But the featured visitor centers existed only on paper, as Park Service architects and planners continued to discuss visitor circulation, building location, and other issues crucial to the park's preservation and use.

The earliest extant graphic representation of the proposed east side "Administration and Visitor Orientation Building" is a November 1962 site plan by the Midwest Regional Office. [11] The drawing shows a building shaped like an angular polywog, its head to the west and crooked tail behind. Visitor parking is located on the south side, visitors entered the "head" of the building, and employee parking is provided in the rear adjacent to a central service yard. Because the road separates the new building from the utility area, the scheme did not allow efficient traffic flow. In an effort to remedy this problem, the office drafted a revised plan with a bridge over the entrance road linking the visitor center, to the south, with an administration building on the north side. The next month, a third scheme reunited the two functions in a U-shaped plan south of the entrance road, the side adjacent the utility area. The lobby and auditorium were located at the front and formed the widest section, with narrower central and eastern administration wings. Parking was divided—visitors in front of the building and employees on the east side. During this preliminary design phase, Cecil Doty drew elevations and plans for his version of the future administration building. [12]

Although the "pre-preliminary designs" Doty produced in February 1963 hardly resemble the final building, they anticipate several of its main qualities. The entrance facade of Doty's Administration Building features a single-story office wing, with a double-height auditorium and lobby on one end balanced by the south wall of an additional two-story office wing on the other. Employee parking is on the west side, and from this vantage point, the building appears to be two stories. Visitor services are located in the east end of the building, a segregation of visitor center and administrative functions that foreshadows Taliesin's treatment of visitor and employee use. On the exterior of his administration building, Doty imagined "cement block, stucco and precast panels with heavy exposed aggregate." The office windows were a seemingly continuous strip of glass with thin metal mullions spaced every four feet, and roofs were flat. The Doty scheme was dominated by its extensive office wing and might have seemed equally appropriate in either an industrial or wilderness park.

The park and WODC were not willing to accept Doty's plans without exploring additional possibilities for the new building. In April 1963, a Park Service architect named Roberson produced an "advance study plan for review and adjustment." This simple line drawing shows the first and second floors, and, in general outline, resembles the "polywog" plan of two months earlier. A partition separates the audio-visual auditorium from a lobby and exhibit space which together form roughly an oval shape. The administrative offices are arranged on either side of a corridor that emerges from the rear of the lobby. This 110-foot wing is joined to a 96-foot wing angled slightly towards the front of the building. Although the drawing is crude and the plan awkward, the general organization of spaces and hierarchy of services foreshadow those of the constructed building. During this time the facility came to be known as the administration or administration-orientation building (in the Headquarters area), perhaps to distinguish it from previous schemes involving two separate buildings. [13]

Park Service personnel were still discussing the building's location in February 1964. That summer, William Wesley Peters and Edmund Thomas Casey of Taliesin Associated Architects visited the park to examine potential sites. [14] According to Casey, the firm was contacted by Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall regarding design of a future Rocky Mountain Park headquarters. [15] The basic programmatic requirements were outlined by Superintendent Liles, and Taliesin was asked for advice regarding the building site. As resident landscape architect Richard Strait recalls, the park staff had focused the search for an appropriate visitor center site on Horseshoe Park or Deer Ridge, the site of the controversial private lodge and cabins. [16] Both sites posed circulation problems, however, and the cramped spaces were considered inadequate. Strait and the park planners preferred a building on the north side of the road, which would provide better traffic flow. When Casey arrived, the choice had been narrowed down to two locations, the one ultimately selected and another about a mile further into the park on the north side of the road. The latter site was finally rejected as less conveniently situated in relation to the residential area, and therefore a potential source of traffic problems. At the lower hillside site, the architects could envision a better segregation of visitors and administrative facilities. Although Strait and the park staff were not eager to build "on the wrong side of the road," they agreed that this was the best solution considering the many issues involved. In combination with the building's unusual design, these early planning studies gave rise to rumors that the two-story south facade, as eventually built, had been originally designed to face north. In fact, the building was designed and built specifically for the hillside site it occupies. [17]

During these early discussions, Casey remembers the superintendent's eagerness to improve the relationship between the park and the town of Estes Park. The superintendent hoped that a new headquarters closer to town might reduce some of the tension caused by the park's policy toward inholdings. As primary representative of the client, Liles not only influenced the location of the building, but also the development of its program. His hope that the auditorium might be used for city council meetings and other civic events materialized in the form of a larger theater space that included a cozy fireplace. In September 1964, the Estes Park Trail announced that, after five years of planning, the park had finally chosen a site for the building "such that it will serve visitors of the Estes Park area without requiring them to enter the National Park itself." [18] Rocky Mountain was one of the few parks that chose to build a Mission 66 visitor center outside its official entrance, enabling visitors to use the building without passing through a gate or paying a fee.

CONTINUED continued



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