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Architecture in the Parks
A National Historic Landmark Theme Study
National Park Service Arrowhead

Southwest Regional Office Bldg
Southwest Regional Office Building, National Park Service, 1985.
(Photo by L.S. Harrison)

National Park Service Southwest Regional Office

Name:National Park Service Southwest Regional Office [preferred]
(National Park Service Region III Headquarters)
Location:Santa Fe, NM
Agency:General Services Administration
Condition:Good, altered, original site
Classification:Building, public, accessible (unrestricted/restricted), government

Builder/Architect:Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration (builders), Cecil Doty (architect), Harvey Cornell (landscape architect)


The Southwest Regional Office building of the National Park Service is on a site of just over eight acres at a bend in Old Santa Fe Trail. Native vegetation around the building includes pinon, juniper, chamisa (rabbitbrush), and native grasses -- all common to the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo range.

The entire feeling of the building is Spanish Colonial. The building is an adobe structure of 24,000 square feet, built with an irregular plan around a central patio. The layout and room configuration are romantically reminiscent of a mission compound. The architecturally dominant section of the building is two stories in height and houses the impressive entrance, the lobby, the upstairs offices for the regional directorate, and some offices tucked back toward the central patio. The remainder of the building is one story with a small wing of offices and the conference room to the east, and the large central patio and surrounding division offices to the west. Most of the offices in the west wing open directly on to the portal (veranda) surrounding the patio, but also have connecting doors on interior walls allowing room-to-room access.

The foundations of the main building are stone. The battered adobe walls vary from 4.9 to 3 feet thick and are finished with cement stucco. The flat roof sections are edged with parapets and drained with canales (scuppers) that extend out from the exterior walls. The roof is supported by vigas (peeled log roof beams) and hewn squared beams. Viga ends protrude from the exterior walls. Most of the windows are multi-light double hung type, capped with hewn lintels. Floors in the lobby/conference room wing are varnished flagstone. The floors of the portal surrounding the patio are also flagstone. Remaining offices on the first floor have concrete floors, now covered with wall-to wall carpeting. Areas on the second story have wood floors, also with wall-to-wall carpeting. Posts supporting the roofs above the portal are peeled logs capped with decorative corbels and hewn lintels. The entire portal is surrounded by a colonnade of that type of construction.

The main entrance into the building is at the northeast, through a gate in a large adobe wall that leads down a flagstone path to the front doors. The double doors are flanked by massive buttresses, again mimicking southwestern mission structures. The doors each have twelve inset panels, sandblasted and marked with saws to appear as if they had been constructed with primitive tools. This attention to fine detail is evident throughout the structure. A large hewn lintel spans the opening above the door. The wall surface of this main entry is recessed from the buttresses and surrounding walls and painted a cream color emphasizing its indentation. The entry leads into the lobby. Important features of the lobby include the impressive hewn beams of the ceiling; the hammered-tin chandeliers that light the cool, dark space; the hand-carved furniture of Spanish Colonial design; and the lighted painting of Stephen Mather (first director of the National Park Service) that hangs in the lobby in an eight-foot by nine-foot recess at the end of the room opposite the doors. The painting of Stephen Mather, done by Oden Hullenkramer in 1939, originally hung in the conference room but was moved to this location at some time after 1940. An enclosed information booth with carved panelling and grillework at the west side of the lobby now houses a computer. This lobby is a most impressive entrance, and sets the tone for the other fine architectural spaces of the building.

The conference room and the offices of the directorate are less imposing spaces. The high ceilings of the conference room, again embellished with tin chandeliers, receive natural light through the french doors at the north. The pale finish of the massive hand-carved furniture contributes to this lighter feeling. The doors open to a portal and a small patio. Upstairs, a long hallway on the east wall provides access to the offices of the directorate. Most noteworthy of these is the office of the regional director, at the north end of the hall. The architectural details such as the exposed vigas, corner fireplace, window sills two feet thick, and the decorative details including the Navajo rugs, hand-carved furniture, and Pueblo pottery give the room its feeling of importance. Three other offices on that floor also have corner fireplaces and similar architectural details, but none is as large or as architecturally expressive as the regional director's office.

The other offices throughout the building tend to be more utilitarian in nature. Many have ceilings of exposed vigas interspersed with coved plaster on metal lath. In other rooms the ceilings have insulation board attached to the underside of the viga, giving the appearance of a flat, plastered ceiling. Doors providing access into the courtyard from the offices are multi-light wood frame. The door from the lobby to the patio is a multi-light wood frame double door, with sawn grilles for decoration and security. Doors on interior walls are often heavy (three-ply) vertical board wood doors. Nearly all have original hardware.

Other amenities incorporated into the building's design contribute to its appeal. The patios, for instance, are roofless rooms that exemplify the indoor-outdoor quality of this style of architecture. The focal point of the central patio, for instance, is a small pool (complete with carp) in the southeast corner. The pool, along with the planters in the northwest and southwest corners of the patio are all edged with bancos (built-in benches). The abundant vegetation and convenient benches have historically made the patio a place for employees to congregate during breaks, lunches, and special gatherings. Besides the main patio, the building has several other small courtyards--in the northeast corner, in the center of the east wing, and at the south and west sides of the main building. The courtyard at the south even has a small corner fireplace built into the enclosing walls.

Slight changes in building levels are distinguished by steps--two steps up to the conference room level, two steps down to the patio offices. These slight changes in levels and the irregularity of the plan show the informal and additive qualities of that type of architecture--other characteristics of Spanish Colonial and Spanish-Pueblo revival structures.

The entire building is richly textured with movable and built-in decorative elements: hand built furniture and hammered tin fixtures of Spanish Colonial design. The furniture and light fixtures were designed by Cecil Doty to complement his architectural design of the building. The furniture is of mortise-and-tenon construction with spindles carved in spiral designs. Major pieces are the conference room tables and chairs, which Doty patterned after some drawings of early New Mexican furniture in the Palace of the Governors. Other pieces are the benches around the edges of the portal, the small conference table and chairs in the regional director's office, and various tables and desks. The hammered and pierced tin lights are all electrified and vary in size from large chandeliers in the main lobby to small one-bulb lanterns in the portal.

In addition to the Stephen Mather painting in the lobby, the building houses other artwork. Among the pieces are:

20 ceramic vessels, all dating circa 1940 by Maria and Julian Martinez of San Ildefonso, Lela Gutierrez of Santa Clara, Agapita Quintana of Cochiti, and Eulogia Naranjo of Santa Clara;

14 paintings (oils and watercolors) by E. Boyd Van Cleave (PWA), Victor Higgins (PWA), Odon Hullenkramer, Chris Jorgensen, Joe Garcia, Lawrence Cata, Joseph Fleck (PWA), Milton Swatek, "Artie" (full name not known), and Nelvin Frank Salcido;

12 drawings (ink and pencil) by Cecil J. Doty, Joe Garcia, C. Salvados, N. Salcido, and Samuel R. Romero;

5 etchings by Gene Kloss (PWA);

3 lithographs by Bjo Nordfeldt (PWA);

10 block prints by Ruth Connely;

47 rugs, mostly Navajo (some probably Pueblo and perhaps Sonoran (Mayan?), all about 1940 or earlier.

Most of the artwork was acquired through the Federal Arts Project or with other types of Federal Relief funds.

Parking lots for employees and visitors are on the east and west sides of the building. Those on the east are edged with adobe walls and, though slightly enlarged, are part of the original design. The employee parking lot on the west side of the building was added in the 1950s and is well-screened by vegetation. Adobe walls, one with an entrance sign, flank the entrance road following a gentle curve into the visitor parking areas. These walls provide spatial definition -- the visitor senses that he is entering a compound.

A small service building is attached to the southeast corner of the main building. The north and east walls of the building are vertical logs with metal lath and cement chinking. Other walls are adobe.

Landscaping throughout the site includes the walls and patios mentioned above and appropriate plantings of native vegetation, designed by Harvey Cornell. Approximately 80% of the original planting configurations remain, but have grown up considerably since construction.

Alterations to the building over the years have been relatively minor, and have done little to change its architectural integrity. New stair treads were constructed on top of the original uneven log stairs in 1941. An addition was constructed on the service building in 1941. The service building was remodelled again in 1956, when fluorescent lights were installed, interior walls were plastered, insulation was added, and doors and windows on the building's front elevation were changed. That same year, the file room in the west basement of the main building was remodelled to create an additional office space. A few additional pieces of furniture of Spanish Colonial design were built for the lobby in 1964. Repairs to the main building in 1967 included repair and replacement of vigas, wood posts, and canales; repair and replacement of windows and the addition of screens; and demolition of the old greenhouse and construction of a smaller one. The east parking lot was expanded and the west parking lot added in the 1950s. Most of the offices have had carpeting installed over original finishes, and fluorescent lights added. In 1983 new, more efficient heater units were put in replacing the old ones and a fire detection/suppression system was added. That year a permanent ramp for wheelchairs was built under the portal in the south corner of the patio to provide an alternative for the stepped grade changes.


The National Park Service Southwest Regional Office Building is the largest known adobe office building and one of the largest secular adobe buildings in the United States. The building is a masterpiece of Spanish-Pueblo revival architecture, ranking among the best examples in the Southwest. The building illustrates the design principles set forth in the 1930's National Park Service publication Park Structures and Facilities: use of onsite or locally available materials; harmony with the surrounding landscape; strong ties to local architectural traditions; and the appearance of having been constructed by native craftsmen using primitive tools. This design ethic, which its practitioners called "parkitecture," "frontier architecture," or "rustic architecture" is evident in the site plan, architectural plan, furnishings, and fixtures.

Although the building's primary significance is architectural, three other aspects of regional significance are worth noting. First, the building is a keystone in the administrative history of the National Park Service. The expansion and reorganization of the system in the 1930s brought about the need for a central office in the Southwest and triggered its construction. The structure is the only building constructed by the National Park Service for a regional office--all other regional office spaces have been leased. The building is still used for the purpose for which it was designed. Second, the building holds an outstanding art collection in addition to the furnishings and fixtures constructed as part of the work program. The collection, primarily acquired through emergency relief funds, includes significant examples of Pueblo pottery, Navajo rugs, and oil paintings and etchings by members of Santa Fe's art colony of the 1930s. Third, the building stands as a monument (and still a source of civic pride) to the hundreds of local young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) who cut and shaped the timbers, formed the thousands of adobe bricks, and erected the building, and to the skilled workers of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) who put in the mechanical systems and contributed other aspects of the finished product.

During the early 1930s, National Park Service Director Horace Albright concentrated his efforts on expanding and rounding out the National Park System. Even as early as 1932, Albright saw a need for a regional headquarters in or around Santa Fe--a more central location than Oklahoma City for the new areas to be developed. By autumn 1937, Regional Director Herbert Maier and Conrad Wirth, then coordinator of all CCC projects in National Parks, cornered CCC Director Robert Fechner and quickly obtained permission to construct the new regional headquarters. Their plan was to use CCC and WPA funds and labor to construct the building on a site donated by the Laboratory of Anthropology, an agency of the State of New Mexico. Five days after Fechner's pro forma approval, the foundations were being dug. Fechner did not know that Herb Maier had moved a handful of key personnel to Santa Fe several months earlier.

Cecil Doty had been chosen as architect for the building. Doty graduated from Oklahoma A & M in 1928 with a degree in architecture. He worked with various private architects in Oklahoma and Kansas and taught at the University of Oklahoma for a short time. Herbert Maier, a brilliant architect in his own right, hired him in 1933 or 1934 to help with architectural designs for museums in national parks. Among the buildings Maier designed were the museum at Yosemite and four museums at Yellowstone. Maier also oversaw the Civilian Conservation Corps program for state and county parks in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and other areas of the central United States. Maier's approaches to architectural design served as models for many other "rustic" buildings in national parks. Doty even admitted that some of his early designs for other buildings were "cold copies" off Maier's work. Doty picked up on the use of heavily battered walls and natural materials that made the buildings look as if they had grown out of the landscape. By 1937 Doty was regional architect for the National Park Service in Oklahoma City, where he did the preliminary design for the Region III headquarters building even before seeing the site. Doty chose Spanish-Pueblo style for the Region III headquarters in Santa Fe because he felt it was the only appropriate style for the building in that geographic location.

Harvey Cornell, regional landscape architect, was chosen to design the site and patio spaces. Cornell had degrees from Iowa State and Harvard universities, and was in charge of the landscape architecture program at Harvard for a short time. Cornell was assisted by John Kell, another landscape architect. Doty and Cornell worked closely together to unify the building's interior and exterior spaces.

Most of the soil needed for the adobes came from the excavations required for the massive building foundations, although some adobes were purchased already made. Logs for the vigas, beams, and corbels were bootlegged from the CCC camp in Hyde State Park in Santa Fe National Forest. Through a verbal agreement, the camp cut more logs than needed, and somehow the logs ended up at the site for the regional office building. The flagstone for the floors came from a large ranch near Pecos. The rest of the building (mechanical systems, electrical systems, etc) was completed through purchase orders--each coming in under $1,000 to bypass the need for approval from Washington.

One person hired as a construction foreman on the job was Carlos Vierra. Vierra had studied the missions of New Mexico in detail for New Mexico's exhibit at the 1915 World's Fair in San Francisco. Doty drew upon Vierra's knowledge of the finer details of New Mexican architecture in designing the details of the building.

John Gaw Meem, a southwestern architect in the private sector was a consultant on the project, presumably because of his connection as architect for the Laboratory of Anthropology next door, but his involvement was minimal. Doty said that Meem came to the NPS office only once to review the drawings. Meem's review did cause Doty to redesign the buttresses around the front entrance to the building.

When the building was nearly finished, Doty and landscape architect John Kell went to Albuquerque and Gallup with $400 of Federal Arts Project funding and bought Navajo rugs that they felt were suitable for some of the building's architectural spaces. Other artwork for the building was acquired through additional Arts Project funds, although the details are sketchy.

As Doty noted, this building could not have been constructed at any other time under any other regional director than Herbert Maier. The timing was right, and Maier took advantage of it. The magical combination of Maier's administrative brilliance, the immediate availability of a strong work force and associated CCC/WPA funding, the use of local materials, and Doty's and Cornell's artistic sensibilities about architecture, created this masterful building.


Burke, Steven M. and Marlys Bush Thurber, Historic Structure Report: Southwest Region Headquarters Building, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe: National Park Service, 1985.

Correspondence, Cecil Doty to Laura Soullière, August, 1976.

Interview with Cecil Doty, March 10, 1985, conducted by Laura Soullière Harrison.

Phone interview with Cecil Doty, April 10, 1985, conducted by Laura Soullière Harrison


The landmark boundary is the same as the property line, shown in part on the attached sketch map.


Southwest Regional Office Bldg
Southwest Regional Office Building (lobby), National Park Service, 1985.
(Photo by L.S. Harrison)

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Last Modified: Mon, Feb 26 2001 10:00:00 pm PDT

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