The temperature in Phoenix is slowly and inevitably rising toward 105 degrees, which is a serious incentive for me to hop in my car and start driving north toward the mountains and the much cooler weather at the Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert. But I really don't need much incentive, because I've been waiting for this for a long time. A small HOPE Crew team has been working at the Painted Desert Community Complex for the last two weeks with the National Park Service staff, Supt. Brad Traver, and craft expert David Charlesbois, on a painting project. And while a painting project may not sound like much to get excited about, at this site it is making a huge difference.
The Painted Desert Community Complex was a groundbreaking approach to providing visitor services and meeting staff needs as a part of the NPS Mission 66 program. Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander were commissioned to design a single complex of over 30 buildings as a Modern oasis in the middle of a strange and beautiful geological landscape. The low, crisp lines of Neutra's buildings and the limited color palette of sparkly white stucco surfaces with small accents of silver, dark red, turquoise, and yellow were intended to carefully complement and contrast with the rolling hills and valleys of reds, purples, blues, and browns that surround it. But over time NPS made some less-than-sensitive changes and repairs that gradually altered the Complex. One of the most dramatic changes was the decision to repaint the entire Complex in the standard tan and brown associated with the more tradition, rustic NPS architecture (think the colors of a NPS ranger uniform). The brown paint made these lovely Modern building look odd, unremarkable, and very un-Modern.
From our earliest meetings with Supt. Traver and NPS, we all wanted to find a way to restore the original paint colors of the Painted Desert Complex because we knew it would be a radical and important transformation. Enter the HOPE Crew, Valspar, and Historic Resources Group (HRG). Earlier this summer HRG completed a detailed analysis of the paint colors and their locations in and around the courtyard, which is the primary public space that visitors see. Our craft expert did a site visit so he could carefully define the scope of work to ensure that the proper repairs and preparation were done on the stucco and steel surfaces so that the paint finishes would be flawless. And Valspar custom-matched the original paint colors for us and donated the paint.
The eight members of the HOPE Crew have been hard at work for nearly two weeks and they completed the repainting of the Administration Building, the Oasis Building, and the apartment wing on August 19th. Now--for the first time in nearly 4 decades--the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come through the Park will have a chance to see Neutra and Alexander's Complex in something much closer to its original form, and can start to have an understanding of and appreciation for the Modern architecture legacy of the Painted Desert.