Saving America's Historic Sites
Painted Desert Community Complex
The Painted Desert Community Complex is an exceptional example of Mission 66, a nationwide infrastructure program undertaken by the National Park Service between 1956 and 1966 that resulted in a radically new Modern style of Park architecture. Prior to this time, visitors’ services were scarce or even non-existent in our National Parks and Monuments, which were becoming increasingly popular.
In a surprising move, the Park Service hired architect Richard Neutra, best known for his striking midcentury modern homes in Southern California, to imagine a new complex for the Petrified Forest National Park. The Community Complex Neutra developed with Robert Alexander represented a new and innovative approach to providing visitor services, offices, maintenance, community services, and employee housing all in one location inside a Park.
Sitting just steps from historic Route 66 and located inside one of Northern Arizona’s most spectacular and scientifically significant natural landscapes, the Painted Desert Community Complex is an often overlooked Modern treasure. Noted Modern architects Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander carefully designed the collection of 36 steel, glass, and masonry buildings with flat roofs, low silhouettes, primary colors, and native plantings to harmonize with the stunning vistas that surround it. Neutra and Alexander’s bold design set a precedent for a new style of park architecture, which became known as "Park Service Modern."
Virtually all of the original buildings remain, and they continue to serve many of the same functions today. But a perennial lack of funding for repairs and maintenance, combined with the harsh desert climate and earlier inappropriate alterations, took a serious toll on these dramatic Modern buildings and landscapes.
Thanks to assistance from the National Trust, HOPE Crew, and a grant from the American Express Foundation, a number of restoration project were completed including restoration of the original aluminum frame windows, repainting the Complex in the original color scheme, and restoring the large glass curtain wall of the Visitor Center and restaurant. Additional restoration work is currently being planned at the PDCC, thanks to a multi-mullion dollar grant through the Great American Outdoors Act.
Today the Complex is one of the earliest and best examples of Modern architecture within the entire National Park system, and the only remaining example of a Neutra-designed building within the Park Service. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 and became a National Historic Landmark in 2017.
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