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.
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, have taken a serious toll on these dramatic Modern buildings and landscapes.
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.”
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 is on its way to becoming a National Historic Landmark.
- Make many more people in the Southwest and across the country aware of the important Modern legacy at Painted Desert.
- Combine the knowledge of national experts and the passion of volunteers to preserve and revive the Painted Desert Community Complex.
- Create a model for the restoration of Modern buildings that integrates sustainable practices and serves as an example for the treatment of Mission 66 resources throughout the National Park Service.
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