Amid talk of massive national infrastructure and transportation spending, it’s nice to see a small yet significant piece of midcentury roadside history get proper attention from preservationists.
Earlier this month, the Painted Desert Community Complex, a 22-acre, self-contained community and park complex designed by noted modernist architect Richard Neutra and Richard Alexander, began a much-needed facelift. The glass storefront of the complex’s Oasis Building was restored, the first step in a more than $7 million plan to totally rehabilitate the complex, a gateway into the Petrified Forest National Park, by 2020.
The storefront restoration helps showcase Neutra and Alexander’s original vision, and preserve a part of the National Park System’s design and architectural legacy. Funded in part by a $150,000 grant from American Express, the restoration undoes an inappropriate fix that was added during an earlier redesign effort, and ensures one of the modernist gems of the NPS, located steps from the historic Route 66, gets needed attention and maintenance.
“Arizona’s desert holds so many unexpected secrets, and the Painted Desert Community Complex is among them,” said Alison King, founder of Modern Phoenix, in a press release. “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.”
Taking cues from the landscape and Native American tradition, this collection of 36 modernist building was constructed in the early ‘60s and opened in 1965 as part of the Mission 66 program, a federal initiative to upgrade national parks during a time of increasing travel and tourism. Named after the year it was meant to be completed rather than the roadway, the program, and the buildings that resulted from this initiative, reflected the optimism of midcentury design.
Current renovations efforts hope to undo years of deferred maintenance and unfortunate alterations. The complex, which helped usher in the roughly 700,000 visitors who checked out Petrified Forest National Park last year, was named a National Treasure in late 2014.