This presentation was part of A Century of Design in the Parks Symposium, Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 21-23, 2016.
By Lesley M. Gilmore, AIA, LEED AP-BD+C
Canyon Village in Yellowstone National Park was the first official Mission 66 project endorsed by the National Park Service (NPS) in 1955. It represented a joint planning and construction effort by NPS and Yellowstone’s key concessioners. This development introduced several new concepts to the visitor experience: services located away from the natural resource, a sole building dedicated to the visitor center, roadways and parking lots accommodating the automobile and the shopping experience, and the “motel” concept with lodge and cabins.
Canyon Village was intended to set an example for other national parks, establishing design parameters, design process, and methods of construction. Several other large national parks were developed similarly as part of the Mission 66 program.
Canyon Village today generally appears as it did when completed in 1960, yet has suffered from a lack of appreciation for the modern building style. The NPS Visitor Center was replaced in 2007 with a building more akin to Yellowstone’s rustic style, a perceived rejection of the origin of the visitor center as a typology and the mid-century style. While NPS appears to have been slow in appreciating Mission 66, Yellowstone is now trying to embrace the strong presence of Mission 66 remaining at Canyon Village. In a Memorandum of Agreement with the Wyoming SHPO, NPS has agreed to restore many of the Mission 66 features of Canyon Village Lodge. This MOA was prompted by the decision to remove 54 pre-manufactured plywood cabins behind the Lodge. Interestingly, the rustic style hotel lodges, being erected in their place, are also comprised of pre-fabricated units.
Canyon Village Lodge was designed by a prominent architect from Los Angeles – Welton Becket Associates – who was well known for design of sleek shopping centers, department stores, and corporate offices. Canyon Lodge is a massive building constructed with modern materials and methods. The volumes, colors, and furnishings were integral components of the mid-century design style, yet only the volume remains today. The spirited character of the building has been watered down gradually over time, greatly diminishing interpretation of this Mission 66 landmark. I will present the current renovation plans that include the return of color and character to this building. It is hoped that this project will become a prototype for the treatment of Mission 66 buildings in our other national parks.
Lesley M. Gilmore, AIA, LEED AP-BD+C, is Director of Historic Preservation Services for CTA Architects Engineers, a multi-disciplinary firm with offices in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Washington, Texas, Louisiana, and Minnesota. She is a licensed architect with over 29 years of experience in various aspects of historic preservation, preservation planning, and related architectural design and coordination. Ms. Gilmore prepared the Historic Structure Report for Canyon Village Lodge, a mid-century Mission 66 building in Yellowstone National Park, and is the project manager for its upcoming renovation.