On-line Book


Table of Contents


I. In the Beginning: 1872 - 1916

II. The Landscape Influence: 1916 - 1918

III. The Formative Decade: 1918 - 1927

IV. Maturity Achived: 1927 - 1932

V. Roosevelt's Emergancy Programs: 1933 - 1935

VI. The Decline: 1935 - 1942


Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Author's Note

National Park Service
National Park Service Arrowhead

Rustic Architecture:
1916 - 1942

III. The Formative Decade: 1918- 1927

An enormous task faced newly appointed Landscape Engineer Charles Punchard when he arrived in Yellowstone in July, 1918. Not only was each of the western parks desperately in need of roads, trails and structures, but many of the parks were already the site of existing eyesores in the form of poorly planned or located facilities. Punchard applied himself to his task with a vigor that belied his poor health. His responsibilities included not only the design of new NPS structures, but also the supervision of concessioner facility design and construction, the development of local area plans for NPS utility yards, housing complexes, and administrative site, the planning of campgrounds, and consulting with the NPS Civil Engineering Division to assure proper landscape sensitivity in road and trail projects.

Although he inspected landscape problems in Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Mount Rainier, Crater Lake, General Grant, Sequoia, and Hawaii National Parks during the following year, most of Punchard's work was done at the first two locations. Yosemite, in particular, received the benefit of his talents. Punchard spent seven and one half months during the winter of 1918-1919 in the park. This long assignment reflected Director Mather's personal interest in the Valley. The Director often admitted that Yosemite was his favorite park, and it was one of his goals to turn it into the showplace of the national park system. Such a transformation required extensive landscape work, for Yosemite Valley had been intensively developed during the period when the State of California administered the area as a state park (1864-1906). Hotels, stores, cottages, corrals, barns, slaughterhouses, and worse, were scattered about in careless disregard of the landscape. Some progress in correcting these evils had been made since 1915 when the Interior Department first gained exclusive administrative control of the area, but the landscape still offered large opportunities for improvement.

Of particular interest to Mather was the relocation of the existing commercial village to anew site on the north side of the Valley. One of Mather' s first actions as Director was to initiate a search for anew village site. Punchard was assigned to this task during his first stay in the park. During the winter he also spent long hours re-arranging the campgrounds landscaping existing facilities and traveling as conditions permitted to out-lying portions of Yosemite Park and to some of the other California parks. At the same time he tried to find time to work on problems he had identified during his summer visits to the other western parks and to review the large number of concessioner plans sent to him for approval.

A veteran landscape architect with considerable city park experience in Washington, D. C., Punchard, nevertheless, had much to learn about national parks. Like Mather, he doubtlessly was influenced by the concessioner structures built in the parks prior to 1917. During his first visit to the Grand Canyon in January.. 1919.. he met with architect M. E. J. Colter of the Fred Harvey-Santa Fe interests. Although the main purpose of their meeting was to talk over the future development plans of the Harvey Company in the about-to- be-created national park, Punchard could not help but have taken note of the rustic stone structures Colter had designed for the south rim. 1 (See Chapter I).

If Mather hoped that the appointment of a landscape engineer would resolve the backlog of landscape projects in the parks, he was wrong, for the appointment of Punchard led instead to the identification of large numbers of new problems. Mather admitted as much in his 1920 Annual Report:

    "The establishment in 1918 of the landscape engineering department has been fully justified by the excellent results achieved by our landscape engineer, Charles P. Punchard, Jr. The demands for expert advice on landscape problems, however, became so insistent from many directions that it was practically impossible many times during the year to give immediate attention and the proper amount of study and thought to many of the problems presented. " 2

An improvement in funding for the 1920 fiscal year allowed Mather to hire an assistant for Punchard. The Director chose Daniel P. Hull of Milwaukee for the new position of Assistant Landscape Engineer. 3

During the summer of 1920 Director Mather built a "Ranger's Club" in Yosemite Valley at his own expense. He hoped that this structure would serve as a model for similar buildings in other parks to be paid for by the government. Since it was built with private funds, Mather employed an outside architect, Charles Sumner, to design the structure. 4 Sumner designed a multi- winged, two story wood-frame building with a steeply pitched roof. Dormer windows and jig-saw wood-cut patterns gave it a Swiss chalet appearance. In this respect it was reminiscent of some of the buildings the Great Northern Railway had erected in Glacier Park.

Punchard's health failed during the fall of 1920, and he died in November. (He had joined the NPS hoping that the drier climates of the west would help his tuberculosis.) Hull was promoted to the position of Landscape Engineer and the assistant's position was filled by Paul P. Kiessig. 5 The 1921 fiscal year witnessed some improvement in park funding and the need for park buildings of all sorts gave a high priority to construction projects. The administration of this new program fell to Daniel Hull.

Shortly before Punchard's death a headquarters for the NPS landscape program had been established in Yosemite Valley. 6 So it was from that location that Hull and Kiessig planned their 1921 work. Although they were stationed in Yosemite, that park did not receive major emphasis during the 1921 season. Instead nearly every park benefited from their efforts.

Sequoia received major attention. Plans were drawn for an administration building, the first in the park's thirty-one year history, and that structure was erected during the summer. 7 Standing among the Big Trees of Giant Forest. the new headquarters was distinctly rustic. The exposed frame of the low, gable-roofed structure consisted of hand-split redwood posts; the space between the posts was filled with sequoia bark paneling. Shakes covered the pole-raftered roof. Both in coloring and in exterior textures the building harmonized well with its arboreal setting. Nearby, a superintendent's residence and several employee cabins were also erected. In design concept all of the 1921 buildings in Giant Forest were patterned after the Giant Forest warehouse of 1917. (See Chapter II).

Grand Canyon National Park was also the site of major landscape activity. Created in 1919, the park received its first government structures in 1920 when several simple wood frame buildings were put up for temporary use. During the summer of 1921 the NPS erected several permanent structures. In contrast to the situation in Sequoia. the landscape division did not enjoy carte blanche at Grand Canyon with respect to design. The Santa Fe and Fred Harvey had already constructed large plants, so the new NPS facilities were forced to seek harmony with existing pre-park structures. Fortunately the existing buildings were generally of high quality.

Following a precedent set by M. E. J. Colter of the Harvey Company at Phantom Ranch. Hull sought a mixed stone and wood frame solution to their problem. The Grand Canyon National Park Administration Building of 1921 was basically a frame structure, but with one wing built of stone. The stone wing and several stone columns in the frame portion gave the building a visual tie with the surrounding terrain. Inside, the “Brooklyn Eagle Information Room " was floored and walled with locally quarried limestone. A fireplace and split-level floor emphasized the rustic pioneer atmosphere, an impression strengthened by the exposed hand hewn roof beams.

The Sequoia and Grand Canyon administration buildings were typical of Hull's first attempts to develop non-intrusive park building designs. Smaller buildings erected that same summer in other parks show similar concern for local materials. At Yellowstone, for example, a fire lookout and visitor shelter was erected on the summit of 10, 100 feet tall Mount Washburn. Located near timberline, this two-story structure was built entirely of local stone, appearing similar to a small south- western Indian pueblo. In Rocky Mountain National Park a pioneer style log cabin entrance station was placed at the Fall River entrance. Small log cabins on each side of the road were joined by a large log-framed canopy topped with a gently sloped gabled roof. Roughly shaped stone foundations supported both the two end cabins and the vertical logs pillars of the canopy. 8 These structures are representative of the Service's early attempts to house modern functions in structures with a traditional appearance.

The buildings erected during 1921 to plans developed by the Landscape Engineering Division were the first well-developed examples of a new architectural species, "NPS-rustic.” They were a specific response to the commitment made in the 1918 policy statement. Like many pioneering attempts, they were far from perfect. The Grand Canyon Administration Building was pleasing when viewed from the front, but a side view disclosed an unbalanced mixture of massive masonry and light frame construction. The pueblo-like Mount Washburn Lookout seemed oddly out of place a thousand miles from its cultural inspiration. The Sequoia administration building was well designed environmentally, but poorly located in relation to its intended function. Within several years it was converted into a museum.

The awkwardness of some of the early NPS rustic designs was overcome in the next year or two as Hull and Kiessig gained eloquence in the new styles they were pursuing. Hull designed two ranger station-community centers for Yellowstone in 1921. The following summer a third similar structure was erected at Yellowstone Lake. In his Annual Report for 1922 Mather spoke with pleasure of the new Lake facility calling it " a triumph of woodland architecture. " Superintendent Albright of Yellowstone described it in more detail:

    "The plans for this building, developed by the landscape engineering division of the Park Service, have given us a structure unique in type and at the same time well suited for its requirements. The large community room forms an octagon in plan which is slightly less than 40 feet across. In the center is a great stone fireplace, open on four sides, which will present a campfire effect. Awing 26 by 38 feet provides quarters for rangers. ...Logs have have been utilized in the construction of the station, with a roof of sawed shakes and a broad terrace of flat stones. The Lake Station has become one of the most talked-of structures of the park. "9

The Lake Ranger Station also documented the development of another facet of NPS-rustic architecture. Not only was it designed to harmonize visually with its immediate environment, but it was also intended to harmonize in a cultural sense. Local woodsman Merritt Tuttle employed pioneer building techniques and standards in its construction. Mather himself ordered that the building be finished in what he called "trapper cabin" style, that is with exposed log ends chopped rather than sawed. The goal was to build a structure that reinforced the historical patterns of the Rocky Mountain region. This theme of regional cultural content as a part of non-intrusive architecture would grow to include not only log cabins, but also Indian Rueblos, Spanish colonial adobes, and "New England colonial" frame structures.

Other park buildings erected between 1922 and 1924 document the continued improvement of rustic design. An administration building and checking station erected in Zion National Park in 1922 recalled the then-recent contributions of pioneer Mormon settlers in southern Utah. Built of native red sandstone, the two-winged complex was somewhat reminiscent of the pioneer masonry houses of Utah's Dixie region. 10 In General Grant National Park local cultural content was ignored in the design of a chief ranger's residence. Seeking harmony with the surrounding forest, the structure was built of massive, hand cut and planed redwood planks several inches thick and several feet wide. Placed in a vertical fashion with a log porch and a large stone fireplace, the result was unique, to say the least.

As Hull and his assistant improved their grasp of park conditions, they attacked larger problems. Sequoia had long lacked a proper administrative site. The 1921 administration building, although located in the most visited portion of the park, was at too high an elevation to be a good all-year administrative facility. The logical site for such a complex was near the parkl’s western boundary in the canyon of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River. Here Hull had one of his first opportunities to plan an entire community. Unlike Yosemite Valley or the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, this area was totally undeveloped. Hull responded with a carefully planned community of shake-covered wood-frame buildings. An administration building, a utility yard, and several residences were erected along a network of gracefully curving roadways. To avoid overpowering the foothill environment with its scrub oak and chapparal f1ora, the buildings were light in appearance and rather small. Half a century later, despite extensive later building on the site, “ Ash Mountain” remains one of the most handsome residential areas in the national park system.

Mather's pet project of relocating Yosemite Village proceeded slowly despite the work Punchard had put into it. The Ranger's Club had been a first step in the implementation of the new plan, but the enormity of the project and the press of work in other parks had prevented further progress. During 1923 the Landscape staff finally completed their proposals for the new village, which were accepted and authorized by Mather. The plans called for an administration building, a post office, a museum, several concessioner studios and stores, and a hotel. A11 were to be located on the north side of the Merced River. It was the most ambitious project the Service had undertaken to date.

Following the precedent set when Sumner designed the Ranger's Club, the Service again turned to an outside architect for assistance in planning the individual structures for the new village. The main consultant was Myron Hunt. Hunt was a well-known southern California architect whose work included Mission Revival designs. 11 Educated at Northwestern University and MIT , he had come west after practicing for a time in Illinois. Hunt's most important effort in the new village was the Administration Building. Erected in the fall of 1924 at a cost of $34, 465, it was a two story, wood frame building over 100 feet long. A battered stone veneer encased the lower story , giving the appearance of structural masonry. The upper story was shingled and trimmed with logs. The total effect was horizontal, especially in relation to the surrounding cliffs. The stone and log work showed Mather's preference for pioneer style workmanship. The two-story Post Office echoed many of the same themes but with subtle variations. Again a wood frame second story rested atop a first floor that appeared to be made of stone. The only major variation was the absence of logs in the rafters and brackets.

The relationship between Hull and Hunt in the design of these buildings is unclear. Hunt probably was responsible for the final design, but he must have consulted extensively with Hull during his work. As a trusted assistant to Mather, there was little built in the parks that Hull did not review.

Another non-Service architect was responsible for the design of the new museum building in Yosemite. In the early 1920' s the concept of national park museums was still in its infancy. Several parties and organizations including the American Association of Museums (A. A. M.) were interested in the development of such facilities, however. The A. A. M. was particularly interested in a museum for the new Yosemite Village, and it hired a young architect named Herbert Maier to prepare a proposal. Maier, who had attended the University of California at Berkeley, was then employed by the Buffalo Museum of Science as an exhibit designer. Most of his previous work experience had been architectural, however. His Yosemite proposal for the A. A. M. was presented to the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial Foundation which responded with a grant of $75, 000 for the construction of a Yosemite museum.

Maier's architectural proposal was influenced by several obvious constraints. The most obvious was that the museum had to harmonize with the other new structures on the site. Another limitation was the requirement of the Memorial Foundation that part of the resulting structure must be fireproof. The funds available were not sufficient to construct a fully fireproof structure, so compromise was necessary. Maier adapted the two-story (one stone, one wood-frame) village motif to his own needs. The first story of the new museum was not merely a wood framed stone veneer, but rather a massive stone and concrete vault, fireproof in every respect. Above this heavy concrete and granite structure he placed a lighter, wood-frame second story containing offices and workrooms. As in the adjacent Administration Building, shingles and logs gave a natural texture to the building. The museum was definitely subordinate to the grand natural setting. Maier wrote:

    "To attempt altitudinal impressiveness here in a building would have meant entering into competition with the cliffs; and for such competition the architect has no stomach. The horizontal key, on the other hand, makes the museum blend easily into the flat ground. ..." 12

The three major structures erected at the new Yosemite Village in 1924-1925 represent the approaching maturity of the NPS rustic styles. In a period of several short and busy years Punchard, Hull, and their collaborators had taken a general and vague criteria for park development and developed it into a practical methodology. The Yosemite Village project also demonstrated that the rustic styling was appropriate to larger buildings.

The Maier-A. A. M. -Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial partnership continued to bear fruit for several years after the completion of the Yosemite museum in 1926. Next to be completed was the Yavapai Point museum in Grand Canyon National Park, which was designed by Maier in the spring of 1927 and opened in 1928. This structure was as significant departure from Maier's rather traditionally shaped Yosemite Museum. Taking his inspiration from some of the existing M. E. J. Colter buildings of the Fred Harvey Company, Maier designed the new museum along distinctly Indian lines. Flat roofed, and built low to the ground with battered stone walls, the pueblo-like structure was particularly unobtrusive in its canyon rim setting. The large, roofed observation terrace was shaped to conform almost exactly to the rim of the canyon.

During 1928 the Memorial Foundation also provided $118, 000 to the A. A. M. for the construction of trail-side museums in Yellowstone. That summer construction started on the first of these, located at Old Faithful, and three additional structures were eventually erected at Madison Junction, Norris Geyser Basin, and Yellowstone Lake. 13 (See Chapter IV)

If Hunt and Maier were instrumental in adapting the rustic ideal to larger structures, it remained for Gilbert Stanley Underwood to produce a truly mammoth rustic edifice. In 1923 Underwood, who had just received his Master of Architecture degree from Harvard, was employed as a consulting architect with the Union Pacific Railroad. During 1923 the Union Pacific had organized the Utah Parks Company to operate the concession rights the railroad had won in Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, and in Bryce Canyon National Monument. 14 Zion Canyon was closest to the U. P. lines, so the Utah Parks Company began its development program there. During the spring of 1923 Hull met in Zion with an architectural representative of the railroad (probably Underwood) to discuss development plans. During their meetings Hull emphasized the importance of harmonizing the new facilities with the natural setting. A hotel proposal was drawn up and sent to the Fine Arts Commission of Washington. D. C., an organization which Mather often consulted. 15 In this case however. Mather chose to ignore their recommendation that the hotel be built as designed.

    "I was never favorable to this project and although plans drawn for the proposed hotel was approved by the Fine Arts Commission I felt that the construction of a large hotel in the canyon was not the proper development. I am glad to say that construction of the hotel was abandoned and instead an ample central building with cottages for sleeping quarters conveniently located nearby is now being constructed. " 16

The central building that the Utah Parks Company and the NPS finally agreed on was considerably larger than the new administration building in Yosemite, though not nearly as large as the proposed hotel would have been. Housing a lobby. a kitchen and a dining area, the central building of the Zion Lodge was a one and two story structure tucked at the base of the towering cliff which forms that south wall of Zion Canyon. The design features were somewhat reminiscent of a complex of similar purpose though smaller scale, erected two years earlier by the Fred Harvey Company in the Grand Canyon. That complex, at Phantom Ranch, designed by Colter, displayed an interesting use of both masonry and wood frame patterns. Rustic native masonry was used in the main building at Phantom Ranch for lower wall sections, pillars and full wall sections near corners and/or windows or doors. The remainder was wood frame.

Mather had not wanted a major hotel in Zion Canyon, but he had another park that was crying for such a structure. Since 1915 he had been trying to organize the construction of a modern hotel in Yosemite Valley. The old Sentinel Hotel, built in the 1880s, was still the main hostelry in the Valley. The Desmond Company had built a modern hotel at Glacier Point in 1917 and had actually begun work on a similar facility for the Valley floor before financial problems halted the company's development program. In anticipation of a new attempt to construct such a structure, Mather had ordered his landscape engineers to choose a new hotel site as apart of their plan for the new village area. Finally, in 1925, the merger of the two major park concessioners into the Yosemite Park and Curry Company made a new hotel possible. Familiar with his work on the ill-fated Zion Hotel effort, Hull apparently recommended Underwood to the Y.P. & C. Company.

Working together on the Zion project, Hull and Underwood had become fast friends. Each apparently saw in the other new ideas and concepts. Late in 1923 Hull asked permission of Director Mather to move the office of the Landscape Division from Yosemite Valley to Los Angeles, where he could work closely with Underwood. Mather authorized the move, and Hull and his small staff soon were subletting a portion of the Underwood and Company offices at 730 South Los Angeles Street. 17 Hull justified the move as giving access to the 'best architectural and engineering talent...."18

As soon as the Zion Inn opened in May, 1925, Underwood turned to the Yosemite hotel project. By fall, he had completed preliminary plans. The new hotel, the "Ahwahnee, " was to be a five-story, irregularly shaped structure described by its designer as "megalithic; (with) cyclopean stone piers. ..."19 The new structure, opened in July, 1927 , was indeed built of large stones, not to mention concrete and steel, but the total effect was not at allover-powering. Set among the cliffs of Yosemite Valley, it seemed almost small.

The new structure, opened in July, 1927 , was indeed built of large stones, not to mention concrete and steel, but the total effect was not at allover-powering. Set among the cliffs of Yosemite Valley, it seemed almost small.

The success of the Ahwahnee attracted the attention of the Utah Parks Company. Mather had vetoed a hotel in Zion Canyon, but he had no objections to a large structure on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. By 1927 the Grand Canyon Lodge was under construction at Bright Angel Point. Even more fantastic than the Ahwahnee, Underwood's new hotel was a veritable limestone castle perched on the rim of the gorge. Like the Ahwahnee, it was crowned by an observation tower, but even the view from the tower was bested by the panorama obtained from the hemispheric solarium. Exterior stone played a larger role in the Grand Canyon Lodge than it had in the Ahwahnee. Another significant difference was the split-level floor plan of the new hotel. Structurally , the two hotels were strikingly dissimilar. The Grand Canyon Lodge site was over 200 miles from the nearest railroad and thus hard to supply with concrete and structural steel. As a result the Grand Canyon Lodge made much more extensive use of logs and wood in its structural frame. This reliance on wood proved to be ill-conceived when the Lodge burned in 1932.

Overwhelmed with work, the small landscape staff of the National Park Service did its best to meet its rapidly growing workload. Even so, Hull did not donate all his time to the parks. Especially during the winter months, when most of the western parks were snowed in. he continued his private landscape practice. Kiessig resigned and was replaced in March. 1923. by Thomas C. Vint, who had joined the landscape staff as a draftsman the previous fall. Vint served as Hull's chief assistant through the remainder of the Los Angeles period. An able designer and manager. he soon proved himself invaluable. By 1926 he was in charge of the day-to-day operations of the landscape program; John Wosky, who joined Vint as an architectural draftsman in March, 1926, reports that by that time Hull was only a "part-time" employee. 20 This situation came to an end in 1927 when the Landscape Division was transferred to San Francisco where it was housed in a joint "Western Field Office" with the NPS Civil Engineering Division. Hull declined to leave his Los Angeles private practice and resigned. Mather appointed Vint to take his place. The formative decade was over.

1. National Park Service, Report of the Director (1919), 226.
2. National Park Service, Report of the Director (1920), 92-93.
3. Ibid., 170.
4. Charles Sumner, designer of the Ranger's Club, was originally named Charles Sumner Kaiser, but he dropped the past part during the World War I.
5. National Park Service, Report of the Director (1921), 56.
6. Ibid., 275.
7. Ibid., 276.
8. Ibid., 73.
9. National Park Service, Report of the Director (1922), 105.
10. Ibid., 55.
11. Albirght letter.
12. Herbert Maier, "The Purpose of the Musuem in National Parks," Yosemite Nature Notes, (May 1926), 38.
13. Department of the Interior, Annual Report of the Secretary of the Interior (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1928), 167; Albright letter.
14. Inconclusive evidence suggests that G. S. Underwood worked for Daniel Hull as a NPS draftsman in 1922.
15. National Park Service, Report of the Director (1923), 183.
16. National Park Service, Report of the Director (1924), 62.
17. National Park Service, Report of the Director (1925), 62.
18. National Park Service, Report of the Director (1924), 152.
19. Phyllis Ackerman, Mary Curry Tressider, and Jeanette Spencer, The Ahwahnee (n.p.: Yosemite Park and Curry Co., 1970), 15.
20. Interview, John B. Wosky by William Tweed, August 8, 1976.


William C. Tweed, Historian
Laura E. Soulliere, Architectural Historian
Henry G. Law, Architect

National Park Service
Western Regional Office
Division of Culutral Resource Management
February, 1977

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