By the end of Mission 66, the programmatic design of visitor center
buildings had become almost systematica 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.
Figure 61. Rocky Mountain Headquarters,
(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.  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.
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.
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.
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.
 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.
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
(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.  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.