What is old is new again. The popular television series, Mad Men, brought the Mid-Century modern style of the ’50s and ’60s back into the public’s eye, and you’ll find it gracing the covers of magazines and in trendy stores. Urban Gen-Xers and Millennials have embraced the smart, clean lines which fit well in small apartments and living spaces.
The nostalgia also extends to older generations with their memories of Route 66 and the optimism of the time. The country was experiencing great prosperity after World War II. More families could now afford automobiles and were exploring the country in huge numbers. Route 66 drew tourists west popularized by tunes and TV shows, and motels, auto camps and diners were there to accommodate their needs.
Among the most heavily visited places were national parks. Since the National Park Service had been created in 1916, the primary mode of transportation for tourists to get to the parks before WWII had been trains. Roads had been built around horses and carriages, not automobiles. This problem is also what the Eisenhower administration recognized and tried to solve through the interstate highway system that was born in the 1950’s. The parks were now completely inundated and unprepared for the deluge of automobile traffic that descended upon them after the war.
By the mid-50s, it was obvious that the park system needed a major overhaul to their entire infrastructure. So a ten-year program was put in place called Mission 66 that would update and expand not only roads, utilities and employee housing, but also, and as importantly, included the new concept of visitor centers.
It was during this Mission 66 program that Petrified Forest’s Painted Desert Community Complex (PDCC) was constructed. Renowned Modernist architect Richard Neutra, along with Robert Alexander, was hired to design a community of buildings that would include staff housing, office space, maintenance facilities, meeting areas, retail and dining areas as well as a visitor information center. His design even included a school for the park employees. It was a completely self-contained community for the remote national park.
After 50+ years of use and some degradation and neglect, PDCC was designated a National Historic Landmark in December, which will provide protection to this unique facility and is expected to help secure funds to save it as an important chapter in America’s story.
Read more about this important designation on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s site: Painted Desert Community Complex’s Return to Its Modernist Roots.