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
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The Visitor Center

By the end of Mission 66, the programmatic design of visitor center buildings had become almost systematic—a series of required spaces gathered around the central lobby and viewing decks or large windows installed as dictated by the location. The rooms tended to be spacious, well-lit and functional. At the Headquarters building, Taliesin Associated Architects inserted an element of intrigue into the required formula. Visitors entered what appeared to be a single-story building through a low entrance. The center of the lobby space featured a higher ceiling emphasized by a pressed steel "cornice" similar to the exterior steel facia, which marked the transition from the lower section of the building to the central space. Depending on the time of day, the building could be quite dim. On the northwest side, a clerestory window cut into the raised area emitted natural light. Artificial lighting was hidden behind the steel cornice, creating a glowing effect as light bounced off the ceiling. Visitors were immediately confronted by the large relief map in the center of the room, and to its right, the information desk. Beyond was a wall of windows facing the Rocky Mountains.

Rocky Mountain Headquarters
Figure 61. Rocky Mountain Headquarters, entrance, 1999.
(Photo by author.)

When the building was first opened, the space to the right of the entrance was an alcove lined with benches facing a stone fireplace. [54] This resting place was sparsely furnished with a coffee table, a few pictures, some reading material, and a guest register. The walls around the fireplace were left rough stone and concrete, but the facing wall was wood paneled. The alcove faced the information desk. A small space behind the desk was provided for the store, and sales were conducted from the information counter. On the left side of the lobby was a stairway down to the restrooms, apparently located in the basement. The auditorium to the left of the lobby was the main interpretive attraction. From the interior balcony, visitors could look down on the main auditorium, watch the movie, and walk out onto the viewing balcony encircling the auditorium. A door in the far southeast corner of the room led to the balcony, where visitors enjoyed a spectacular view of Long's Peak, the highest mountain in the park at 14,255 feet. The structural supports on the three sides of the open balcony, in plan the corners of the auditorium space itself, formed triangular spaces for dioramas. Although they appear in drawings and the spaces were built, the dioramas were never installed.

Rocky Mountain Headquarters, path from parking lot to entrance
Figure 62. Rocky Mountain Headquarters, path from parking lot to entrance, 1999.
(Courtesy National Park Service.)

Before venturing downstairs to the restrooms and auditorium, visitors might not realize that the building is actually two stories. The stairway leading to the first floor is wood paneled and illuminated with lighting in the steps, which allows the rest of the space to remain dark in safety. As they come down the stairs, visitors are surprised to see natural light emanating from a wall of windows in front of them and a glass door leading to an exterior porch. To the left is the entrance to the auditorium and to the right, the restrooms. The low ceiling of the first floor landing becomes even lower upon entering the restroom area. A door in the vestibule between the men's and women's restrooms opens into the first-floor office wing.

Rocky Mountain Headquarters, service road and employee entrance
Figure 63. Rocky Mountain Headquarters, service road and employee entrance, 1999.
(Courtesy National Park Service.)

The Headquarters is a very different place for park employees, most of whom enter the building from the rear. From this entrance, the facade is two stories with double walls of windows that expose the building's administrative function. Low stone walls, a stone planter, and boulders contribute to the landscaping, but this side of the building has an aura of efficiency. The primary entrance to the office wing is not the auditorium porch, but a central door opening into the main hall and facing the stairway. The first level contains museum offices and work spaces, while the upper floor accommodates administrators, the superintendent, and a conference room. On both levels the hallways have low ceilings that actually become lower in the center, like pitched ceilings turned inside out. In contrast, the offices are spacious and so full of light that special curtains are required. Customized light panels cover the entire ceiling of each office, adding a sculptural quality to the rooms. Although the offices were formed by movable partitions, the fine materials employed give the spaces an aura of permanency. From inside the office wing, the administrative function appears entirely separate from the visitor services; in practice, the public has easy access to the park offices and park employees can step out of the office wing into the visitor space in a moment.

The bookshop now occupies the original seating area
Figure 64. The bookshop now occupies the original seating area, 1999.
(Courtesy National Park Service.)

In 2000, the visitor center appears much as it did upon its dedication in 1967, but elements of the visitor's experience have been significantly altered. In an effort to free the information desk from increasing customer interruptions, the fireplace in the alcove space was boarded up and the area converted into a store for the Rocky Mountain Nature Association. [55] While this change might have solved that problem, it also significantly reduced available lobby space. Not only is the lobby typically overcrowded, but alterations to the auditorium and balcony have redefined the visitor circulation pattern. The installation of a new movie projector sealed access to the exterior balcony. The circuit around the balcony and through the auditorium was permanently closed, and access to the viewing platform was limited to the single door at the extreme southwest corner of the lobby. In 2000, visitors who actually find this entrance and walk around the balcony are forced to retrace their steps. Although a seemingly minor element in the overall plan, this circuit of park views was a crucial part of the building's program as originally designed. Without such free and easy circulation through the spaces, the sense of interior and exterior space is disturbed; the box is no longer broken. Perhaps most important, the dramatic view of Long's Peak ceases to become part of the visitor's experience.

Outdoor Mezzanine
Figure 65. According to the original circulation plan, visitors passed from the lobby to this outdoor mezzanine, circled the east end of the building, and entered the auditorium from the south facade. The square set into the concrete pillar was intended for a diorama, most likely with information about Long's Peak, which would have faced the visitor at this vantage point.
(Photo by author, 1999.)

Planning for the first repairs to the building began in August 1968, when modifications were designed to improve the faulty heating system. An alteration in the auditorium's central light fixture was also planned at this time. The working drawings for these improvements include details for constructing a new cupola on the auditorium roof as part of the heating and cooling system. Recent aesthetic and functional issues have been resolved through consultation with preservation experts. When light panels were in need of replacement in 1997, historical architects from the Intermountain Region suggested replacing the original lighting units with reproductions. Rather than install powerful T-10 hanging fluorescent lights, which would have significantly changed the office space, the park replaced original fixtures with panels that appear identical on the outside, but are textured on the inside to more effectively distribute light. [56] Unlike many Mission 66 buildings, the Headquarters has been maintained by a park staff that understands its historic and architectural value.

The Headquarters was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Utility Area Historic District in Rocky Mountain National Park's 1982 multiple resource nomination. In 2000, the park is in the midst of a rehabilitation project, which will provide an exterior comfort station and equip the area for handicapped visitors. These changes will involve a significant re-configuration of the parking lot, the creation of a plaza area, and new pathways between the restrooms and visitor center. The restrooms on the first floor will be replaced with park exhibits. In the design of this alteration, the Park Service has taken pains not only to maintain the integrity of the original building, but also assure that contemporary work conforms to the historic design.



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