Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/Beinlich Photography
The structural “spider legs” (left) and the storefront glass windows (right) of the midcentury architecture of the Painted Desert Community Complex plaza are spotlighted in this 1962 photograph.
By Nolan Madden
The National Parks Service has recently begun work to restore the Modern-designed Richard Neutra Painted Desert Community Complex at Petrified Forest National Park. The project begins this month through a joint partnership with the Arizona Conservation Corps (AZCC) and the nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation’s HOPE (Hands-On Preservation Experience) crew.
On a national scale, the HOPE crew program rehabilitates historic landscapes, buildings and national treasures across the country, while the AZCC focuses on connecting local youth, young adults and recent era military veterans with conservation service work projects on public lands, making the alliance a perfect pairing.
Park Superintendent Brad Traver said the National Trust for Historic Preservation was eager to assist with the project.
“In October of last year they recognized our Richard Neutra Community Complex by designating it as a National Treasure, effectively forming a partnership with us to rehabilitate the property. So our next step was to bring in one of the HOPE crews, and we decided on a painting project that would restore the original colors to the public areas of the complex,” Traver explained.
Sitting just steps from historic Route 66 and located inside one of Northern Arizona’s most archaeologically rich and scientifically significant natural landscapes, the Painted Desert Community Complex was a once overlooked Modern treasure.
Designed by noted Modern architects Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander, the pair fashioned the radical collection of 36 steel, glass, and masonry buildings with flat roofs, low silhouettes, primary colors and native plantings to balance with the stunning vistas that surround it. Neutra and Alexander’s unique design set an innovative style of park architecture, which became known as Park Service Modern. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
Virtually all of the original buildings remain, and they continue to serve many of the same functions today. But a reported lack of funding for repairs and maintenance, combined with the harsh desert climate and neglect, took a toll on the dramatic Modern buildings and landscapes.
Traver said the complex’s headquarters building was an important part of the building’s construction in the early 1960s in preparation for the National Park Service’s 50th anniversary in 1966, but the building had fallen into serious disrepair. “With the HOPE crew we’re making a concerted effort to restore it to its original character, and part of that is restoring the original colors to the plaza,” he noted.