This presentation is part of A Century of Design in the Parks Symposium, Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 21-23, 2016.
Panelists: Robert Stokes, Ph.D., Steven Moffson, and Jeff Pappas, Ph.D.
In late 2014, New Mexico State Parks put forth design plans to renovate the Navajo Lake –Pine River visitor center—a seemingly plain mid-century modern building constructed in 1965—because it was no longer sufficient to accommodate growing public interest in outdoor recreation at Navajo Lake State Park. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) is the principal custodian of the visitor center as the land owner, though they work in close partnership with New Mexico State Parks who manages the recreation aspects of the reservoir. Construction on the dam began in 1957, which happened to coincide with the NPS Mission 66 program, an aggressive building campaign led by Conrad Wirth who directed the NPS from 1951-1964. It’s been argued that Mission 66 was the largest and most profound infrastructure program in NPS history, a remarkable makeover to accommodate a robust post-WWII touring public. But perhaps more important, the Mission 66 program introduced to the national parks an entirely new architectural heritage, one that spoke very closely to a mid-century design that was in stark contrast to the earlier rustic style prominently adopted at such parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite.
Part of the history of the NPS is their deep and abiding commitment to state parks, partnerships that were first approached by Steven T. Mather in 1919, a tradition carried on by Wirth throughout the Mission 66 years. It’s little surprise then—though not initially recognized by New Mexico State Parks and Reclamation—that their modest mid-century modern visitor center, after conducting some research and conferring with staff, was indeed a Mission 66 building. Originally three Mission 66-designed visitor centers were built by the NPS at Navajo Lake, of which only the Pine visitor center remains today. In fact, it is the only known Mission 66 visitor center in the entire New Mexico State Park system. The original visitor centers and other Mission 66 buildings and structures (such as comfort stations and picnic pavilions) were designed and funded through a cooperative agreement between Reclamation and the NPS, sister agencies under the U.S. Department of the Interior. Fortunately for New Mexico State Parks, they had on staff persons familiar with the Mission 66 program and with historic buildings who asked the right questions at the right time.
Our panel will utilize a contemporary consultation between New Mexico State Parks, the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation over the proposed renovation of the Mission 66 visitor center at Navajo Lake State Park. The presentation will be organized into four sections: 1) a brief description of the consultation, 2) how New Mexico State Parks came to recognize and understand the historic importance of the visitor center through archival research, 3) how the visitor center fits historically within the early growth and development of Navajo Lake recreation facilities built by the NPS, and 4) how New Mexico State Parks and Reclamation astutely moved to preserve the visitor center because of its association with Mission 66.