National Park Service: The First 75 Years
Biographical Vignettes
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Gilbert Stanley Underwood

                                          by Rodd L. Wheaton

Gilbert Stanley Underwood

Gilbert Stanley Underwood represents the National Park Service's exceptional alliance with a private architect for developing park visitor facilities. After opening an office in Los Angeles, California. in 1923 (B.A., Yale, 1920; M.A., Harvard, 1923), Underwood became associated with the Park Service's Daniel Hull. Underwood was recommended to the Utah Parks Company of the Union Pacific Railroad to design lodge complexes at Cedar Breaks National Monument, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. In addition, he was contracted to design Yosemite National Park's Ahwahnee Hotel (1925-1927), probably his greatest triumph in the rustic style. During this period, until joining the Federal Architects Project in 1932, Underwood also produced Union Pacific Railroad stations, culminating in the art deco style Omaha station in 1929.

While working for the federal government in Washington, D.C., Underwood produced the preliminary designs for the Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, Oregon, and went on to design more than 20 post offices, two major federal buildings, and the U.S. State Department Building in 1939-1940. Working privately, he also designed the Sun Valley Lodge in Idaho in 1936. From 1947 to 1949, he was appointed as federal supervisory architect. Following retirement and utilizing an association with John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and the Williamsburg Lodge project in Virginia, Underwood designed as his last major commission the Jackson Lake Lodge (1950-1954), Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Working within the national parks, Underwood's greatest triumph was in defining the rustic style as envisioned by Stephen Mather. Trained in the California arts and crafts movement from 1911 to 1912, Underwood extended the concepts to the use of natural materials — stonework and log work — in natural settings. His buildings, rising from canyon floors on perched on canyon rims, reflect their site by blending into them. Inspiration centered on camp architecture and native American motifs. Throughout, his work contributed to the development of Park Service architectural design in standards for the 1930s Works Project Association (WPA) projects. Returning to the National Park Service in 1950, Underwood brought the newer ideals of the international style to the forefront by designing the Jackson Lake Lodge using textured and stained concrete in a natural setting, a style which helped set the tone for the massive building projects of the Mission 66 Program. In the beginning of his career and at the end, Gilbert Stanley Underwood helped set the tone for National Park Service architecture.

From National Park Service: The First 75 Years


Last Modified: March 27 2017 03:00:00 pm EDT

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