National Landmark Continues to Unveil Arizona Desert's Modernist Legacy
Last remaining Richard Neutra-designed structure in the National Park Service makes new strides in restoration efforts
Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation marks a milestone in the ongoing revitalization of the Painted Desert Community Complex at Petrified Forest National Park—the successful restoration of the Modern masterpiece’s original glass storefront. This achievement reveals the Complex’s original, forward-looking vision and builds on the increasing recognition of its bold design and innovative visitor center concept.
“We are excited to be a part of these efforts to protect and celebrate the Painted Desert Community Complex and its Modern architectural heritage, and we commend our partners on their excellent stewardship of this National Treasure,” said David J. Brown, Executive Vice President and Chief Preservation Officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The National Park Service’s dedication to the ongoing restoration of one of the earliest and best examples of Modern design within its parks will ensure it provides a spectacular experience for the site’s numerous visitors for years to come.”
The restoration of the Painted Desert Community Complex’s glass Oasis Building storefront, which once again features unobstructed views of the courtyard and Complex, was made possible in part by a $150,000 grant from American Express, secured by the National Trust to help undo the inappropriate alterations made to this prominent building decades ago.
“The partnership between the National Trust, American Express and the National Park Service to restore a part of the Painted Desert Community Complex serves as a national model for how we can leverage public private partnerships to preserve our most significant heritage assets,” said Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. “I am proud to see these partnerships operating in Arizona’s 22 national parks as well as the 35 parks that comprise our state parks system.”
Timothy J. McClimon, President of American Express Foundation, said, “American Express is a proud supporter of historic places in our country’s national parks and public lands.” He added, “The Painted Desert Community Complex is an architectural gem—one that has brought countless visitors together to revel in the beauty of the Petrified Forest National Park. We are thrilled to help continue this rich tradition for future generations.”
Since naming the Painted Desert Community Complex a National Treasure in late 2014, the National Trust has been quite active at the site to help raise its visibility and restore original design features. In partnership with Valspar Paint, the National Trust deployed a HOPE Crew—an initiative to train young people in preservation crafts—to return the striking original exterior paint colors to several buildings. The National Trust also enlisted Historic Resources Group, a California-based preservation consulting firm, to provide technical expertise on other restoration projects at the Complex. Additionally, the National Trust successfully advocated for the U.S. Department of the Interior to designate the Painted Desert Community Complex as a National Historic Landmark earlier this year. The National Treasure campaign has generated significant achievements for the Complex, due to the commitment of many partners such as: National Park Service staff at Petrified Forest National Park; Modern Phoenix; the Arizona Preservation Foundation; the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation; Docomomo US; the Arizona Conservation Corps; and the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office among others.
“The restoration of the beautiful, historic Oasis Building storefront allows the Painted Desert Community Complex to continue serving a vital role in educating and inspiring generations of visitors to the Petrified Forest National Park,” said U.S. Congressman Tom O’Halleran (R-AZ), representing Arizona's 1st district. “We are lucky to call this park our own. I want to extend my sincere gratitude to all who have worked so diligently to protect the iconic architecture of the complex and create an exceptional experience for visitors.”
With nearly 700,000 visitors to Petrified Forest National Park last year, the National Park Service has allocated upwards of an additional $7 million to complete the rehabilitation of the entire Complex by the end of 2022. Restoring the Painted Desert Community Complex’s historic integrity and addressing years of deferred maintenance will give visitors a new chance to recapture and experience the optimistic spirit of the original design’s intention.
“Arizona’s desert holds so many unexpected secrets, and the Painted Desert Community Complex is among them,” said Alison King, founder of Modern Phoenix. “The Complex’s clean, neutral lines and materials are a subtle framework that squares up the experience for park visitors—allowing us to experience nature and humankind’s essential role in nature, as a builder and shaper of materials and space.”
At an event on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, 1PM PT, at the Painted Desert Community Complex, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service will host a public reception to celebrate the restoration of the gleaming Oasis Building storefront and dedicate the National Historic Landmark plaque. The public and members of the media can hear from a roster of special guests, state officials and local partners about the recently completed work and importance of the Painted Desert Community Complex as a national model that integrates sustainable practices and the treatment of Mid-Century resources throughout the National Park Service.
"Reopening the original storefront—on the heels of a National Historic Landmark designation—represents another crucial step towards safeguarding the Painted Desert Community Complex as a key example of desert-based modernism and as the operational headquarters of Petrified Forest National Park for many more decades,” said Brad Traver, Superintendent of Petrified Forest National Park. “We’re bringing the national spotlight back to the Complex’s one-of-a-kind architectural legacy and visitor experience.”
The public is also encouraged to explore Petrified Forest National Park during National Park Week, the weekends of April 15–16 and 22–23, 2017, when all national parks across the country will waive admission fees.
To learn more about the Painted Desert Community Complex and ongoing restoration efforts by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and national and local partners, please visit: www.savingplaces.org/painted-desert-returns.
About the Painted Desert Community Complex
Dedicated in 1962 and completed in 1965, the Painted Desert Community Complex is an exceptional example of the National Park Service’s Mission 66 program, an ambitious effort to bring modern facilities to national parks in the decades following World War II. In a surprising move for its time, the Complex was designed by acclaimed modernist architects Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander as a 22-acre self-contained park community. Acknowledging the regional tradition of Puebloan Native American buildings and the dramatic landscape, Neutra and 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. Although virtually all the original buildings remain and continue to serve many of the same functions today, key elements of the groundbreaking design were obscured over the years due to alterations, lack of maintenance funds and the harsh desert climate.