This presentation is part of A Century of Design in the Parks: Preserving the Built Environment in National and State Parks, June 21-23, 2016, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Abstract and Presenter’s Bio

Leslie Gilmore, CTA Architects Engineers

Lesley Gilmore: All right, so I don’t know how you have… woven this web, but you’ve set me up with everyone who came before is leading up to this point it seems so I really want to thank Tim, and Dave, and Cesar, and the panel that just presented because you’ve all set the stage for Mission 66, making my job a lot easier because I wasn’t going to go into all that detail. So now you all have a great background for what we’re going to discuss. I do need to thank the NCPPT and the Yellowstone National Park and Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the concessioner, for the honor of working on this project.

Now this is a different story than what you’ve been hearing about Mission 66. It was a joint effort by the Park Service and Yellowstone Park Company, the concessioner at the time, and it was also the inaugural project for Mission 66. They were using it as a prototype to figure out is this the right way to do it, in terms of design, in terms of process, and frankly I think it all happened way too quickly so I don’t know that it … I’ve never been able to find that it was actually really used as a prototype for any future projects beyond that. So if any of you know of any, please let me know, I would be very interested to know.

This is also a story of conservation and that’s something that we haven’t talked about so much with Mission 66 today or yesterday. This was a project that removed structures from the stunning natural feature and relocated them so that they could conserve the natural resource. There we go. Oh, right. So that was pretty cool.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, as depicted by Thomas Moran 1893-1901

This is canyon, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. And this is one of the, two of the foremost heavily visited sites in Yellowstone and it’s one of the reasons that prompted the establishment of Yellowstone National Park as a national park in 1872. This stands as a reminder of the tangible connection that we have to using Mission 66 as a development program in Yellowstone, to conserve this resource. And we’ll go into a bit of what resources, sorry, accommodations, were on the rim of the resource. Worth..in fact …] did state…regarding this project, that Mission 66, this was during the groundbreaking, “Mission 66 was in fact a conservation program and not a disguised public works program”, and that really did play a strong role in this project here.

This also was based on a 1935 master plan. So a lot of the Mission 66 projects that you hear about did not just balloon forth in 1955 through the sixties. A lot of them might have been in the planning stages a long time before they … can I do that as well? … before they were actually brought forward for Mission 66.

So here’s our canyon looking west. We have two falls, they’re spectacular. The canyon itself is about 100 feet deep, the lower falls, 300 feet, which, you know, if you’ve been to Niagara, this is taller than Niagara by a couple of times. And then the upper falls are 109 feet, so we have resources that are … accommodations that are within a quarter mile of the rim. And they were built as early as 1883, there was a tent camp. You might know about the tent camps in Yellowstone. They actually … oh, I can use a pointer, that’s right, let’s see …

Up here, there was a tent camp that accommodated 75 people in 1883, a big dining tent. They were very well served, they were really fine accommodations, but they didn’t buffet the wind and the snow very well, so as early as 1888 and 1891, wood frame hotels were built. The Canyon Hotel that everyone knows and loves, which I will not show you a photo of because I don’t want you to think about it … it is in addition to the 1899 hotel. And it is not within the sacred zone however, it’s more than a quarter mile from the rim. However, it was on very poor soils. So, we’ll keep that in mind.

The Grand Canyon Lodge, so I’m…what I have to try and do is not confuse you because we are talking about the Canyon Lodge from Mission 66. There was a preceding lodge, the Grand Canyon Lodge from 1925, and it was within a quarter mile of the rim, as were various other concessioners’ buildings, stores, photo shops, gas stations, parking, and all that. So this is what the Park Service was trying to protect.

I love this map. It’s this three year frozen point in time when we still had Canyon Hotel before it was finally demolished in 1960, actually after a fire during demolition. And we have the new Canyon Village. This was the whole goal to remove everything from around the canyon, way over, a whole mile away, to Canyon Village. And this, as I said, was planned as early as 1935. This map however, was given to all the … attendees at a 1957 conference that was reviewing National Park Service development and they went to Grand Teton and they went to Yellowstone Canyon specifically and there are pages and pages of their comments, and these are comments by Park Service professionals, superintendents, by architects, and by concessioners, how they are responding to what was built at Canyon Village and at Teton as well.

And this is … the master plan of the Canyon Village itself and you can see it’s a shopping plaza. Wonderful parking with … your one-stop shop all around. And this is the main lodge that we’re talking about at this point with its what we call cabin registration. So the lodge is not a place that you go and stay, it’s where you have dining and where you have … there was a lovely bar, there was a beauty shop, a beauty salon, and a cafeteria, a whole diner kind of thing. And so you would … that’s where you hung out and ate. This is where you registered for cabins. They started out with a plan for 300 cabins, little cabins all along in here and then you also had these long buildings or dormitories. This is your real commercial area though, your … As I mentioned the lodge, this was … I love the fact that it’s in pink because it’s future although it never came to be and you’ll be sorry when you see what it could’ve been. And we’ll talk about why that didn’t happen, the general store, the photo shop, which wasn’t completed until 1960, and the visitor center right by the entrance. Although, sometimes it’s hard to really know where the entrance is. Sometimes you drive all the way through here and then you realize you’ve missed something, so signage is very key here.

Welton Becket & Associates’ October 1955 rendering of the Canyon Village Lodge lounge.

Oh, it looks like I’m doing this without my notes, so this is great. So, Welton Becket & Associates … If you haven’t heard of them, I can’t exactly say, “shame on you,” because they actually are just rediscovering Welton Becket in L.A. at this point. They were a very promising, actually more than promising, firm based at this point in L.A., San Francisco, they had a Kansas City and a New York City office at that point. They had more than 200 employees, they were a large firm, which ended up becoming an international firm, ended up being bought out by … sorry, merged with Ellerbe Becket and now they are under the auspices of AECOM who has actually graciously lent us the use of these images and these give you a great idea of the design goal and driver behind these …the buildings.

This is the main lodge here, and I like to think it’s a cross between really a … they were doing Bullock’s department stores at the time. This is a cross between, you should see … I should’ve brought an image for one of the Bullock’s department stores because it’s just like that, a cross between that and a ski lodge. And then they’ve got their money-makers, which are the cabins. And they were engaged actually by the Yellowstone Park company … I think I missed a slide. I did. They were engaged by the Yellowstone Park company as early as September 1955. The prompting of… one of the reasons Yellowstone was selected as the inaugural project is because their 20-year contracts were up at the end of 1955.

So they’re in the planning stages, trying to figure out which park are we going to have a … you know, they looked at a number of pilots, Yellowstone and Rainier and the Everglades. There were a number of pilots that they looked at and determined that this first national park would be a great place to start because they had these 20-year contracts. And, whoa, they really tied the Yellowstone Park company’s hands into this project. Yellowstone Park company had been working in the park since, under different names but this was their successor firm, since 1891. They had planned at this stage to be spending about $350,000 a year on improvements. They were asked to spend $3.5 million on the Canyon Village project alone. They ended up spending 5.5 million. This was the first time they had to start taking loans out. They had to get loans very quickly, in fact their contract … the negotiations took a while and there were some other complications that we won’t go into but it wasn’t signed until February 1956. They needed to start working on the cabins in … April and they had groundbreaking in June. So the drawings had to be prepared very, very quickly. So, that’s one of the reasons why I think it might not be the prototype we all really expected it to be. The design was very quick and the construction was very quick as well.

…so these are the two images we’re going to see in the next slide and this is, oh, where you get an idea of the colors that they’re looking at and the type of spaces and volumes that they’re aiming for. Here’s the recreation hall, and here’s a reflecting pool. So this is where Frank Madsen, landscape architect for the Yellowstone National Park, came into play. He had been with the Park Service since 1931 in various capacities right after he graduated from school, and he’d been involved in some of the earlier master plans. He essentially was the design-reviewer for these projects, and I love what he had to say about these.

The proportion of the roof … So, now we’re talking about Canyon Lodge itself, which is … the big long building here, so it’s a lot of roof, right? The projection of the roof, which is one continuous plane, and exposed to view, is somewhat of a shock. In direct elevation, 80 percent of the main is roof. For the recreation hall, he had to say, “Those of us who have worked in parks for some period may become obsessed with the idea we wish to see structures subordinated to the terrain. Therefore, a building which does appear more or less completely stable has greater appeal than one which does not. Do others see the broken back and the poise for flight which has already been expressed?”

Don’t we love it though? But he doesn’t. He makes no mention of the reflecting pool. What he ends up saying is that the plants do not fit well with the park’s scheme and he recommended that a lot of changes would have to occur in order to make it comply. As I said, the design time period was very tight so things didn’t change a whole lot and actually this perspective doesn’t help so much because it is a very long building. I’m not a football fan but I understand that it’s couple football fields long. If it’s 320 feet long … what’s the length of a football field?

Audience: 360 feet.

Lesley Gilmore: Oh, so it’s one football field. Oh, well then, it’s no so bad, right? The documents that Welton Becket prepared were completed in June 1956. Groundbreaking was June 24th, 1956. They actually started the cabins, as I mentioned, in April. And the project, the dedication was actually August 31st, 1957. If you’ve been to Yellowstone, you know that we do not construct in the winter, typically. There are some sites where we do: Old Faithful, Mammoth. In Canyon, we do not construct in the winter. So, the construction season ends, if you’re lucky, by the end of November and you don’t start again until mid to late May. We know that they extended the dedication date from July to August because they needed a little bit more time. Now Welton Becket also designed the Hamilton General Store here. And this area here is where the recreation hall would have been. They … At the time of groundbreaking is when they found out that their cost estimates had an error, a million-dollar error. So, that’s when they decided that they could not build …actually could I go, yeah…that they could not build this. Yet, they kept talking about trying to do it up through even 1964. They also realized that they could not build this long dormitory extension to the administration building so it became greatly truncated. And they …so obviously, these wonderful covered walkway…this walkway did not occur. This walkway did and it extends into this long walkway adjacent to the building.

So the cabins, these were the money-makers. This was part of the deal. If they were going to have to spend $5.5 million, they were going to need to build more cabins, so they built 512 cabins instead of 300. The cabins were prefabricated, as I said they couldn’t work in the park during the winter. So Gardiner, a town just on the outside of the park on the north side is where they had a warehouse and they constructed these parts. And you can see them, actually you can see a bit of gumbo here. They’re moving around in some pretty wet, muddy areas, and doesn’t that look pretty bad? But anyway, they’re all up on stilts and they were not plywood, which is what people loved to say. They were board and batten and there was actually a lot of design attention paid to these cabins, and they were insulated. They did have some construction issues. The Park Service was responsible for laying out the sites and doing a lot of the site work and the final grading, and they were very slow on that and they ended up … I don’t know if they actually had a lawsuit but there were a lot of letters back and forth about who’s really going to pay for this. McNeil Construction, a very large construction firm similar to the likes of Welton Becket & Associates, they were from California as well.

New hotel lodges have replaced the Mission 66 cabins at Canyon Village, out of view of the commercial area

So McNeil Construction is … takes all that site work on. So those are prefabricated. In 2013 there was a memorandum of agreement, which allowed for the demolition of all 512 cabins and there’s the good part about that is the mitigation. The mitigation was an HSR for Canyon Village Lodge and the administration building and a mandate of how that building would be renovated along the lines of great respect for Mission 66. With that the cabins were demolished and these new prefabricated hotels were constructed. One of the things about the cabins was that they were meant to be like motel units, and that’s what we really thought people wanted at the time, but we couldn’t call them motels because that was too similar to what it was outside in the other world, so they called them the lodge.

So now we have lodges, which are really hotels and they’re increasing the number of people. Or actually they’re being able to accommodate increasing numbers. You might have heard that we’re having, I think it’s four million visitors a year now. Four or five hundred thousand in the month of July alone. We did lose our visitor center in 2006 and as early as 1996 they looked at trying to remodel it. It wasn’t big enough. There wasn’t enough room for … I’m looking at Tim because…he’s expert in this … Not enough room for the interpretation displays … We have a foundation bookstore, no room for it. And the restrooms aren’t large enough either. They did have a few structural issues but it had been determined they could probably get around that. However, it was…this was before an MOA. There was a determination of eligibility yet they decided that this new village center…visitors’ center was a great melding of Mission 66 and Arts and Crafts and that they would have wayside exhibits that would talk about Mission 66. You can all be the judge of that. It’s a lovely visitor center designed by CTA so…I can promote them that way.

2007 Canyon Visitor Center

Where are we now? We’re in 2015. We have our long Canyon Village Lodge where it has received luckily a fair amount of work done on it over the years. It’s been seismically reinforced a couple times. The wood shake roof has been replaced. The fire sprinkler system, of which there was an original system, has been entirely replaced. The park service…wait … no, no a sneak preview… the Park Service is responsible for this kind of horseshoe-shaped stone plaza, patio things that I’m not keen on. But frankly, as long as the building is there, I think we have enough to work on. And we were engaged to do what’s called an FMB improvement. They need to get more and more people in there to eat food and drink beverage. So it’s an enhancement of that. Get them in, get them out. The building was originally designed to provide about 5,500 meals a day. They now have 16 to 17 thousand people going through Canyon in a day. Xanterra wants to grab all of them. They want to get them in the building, out of the building, keep them satisfied, keep every one of them satisfied from the millennials to … the retired professionals that are coming through and doing all … How many national parks do we have? 310 or whatever.

Lesley Gilmore: Thank you. Okay, great. There we go. So, what we do though is we have bare bones of a building, we have the cross section of the building and I liken this to… a bank barn because it was built into the side of the hill, so that this is facing the parking lot. This is how the public come in. This 19,000 square feet of the length of this building is all for the public. I liken this to a fireplace. We have one at either end. The wonderful wood boarded mantel essentially, a lot of plate glass, and obviously an incredible roof, an asymmetrical roof but it was actually obviously a very large component of the building. All the areas below, this is all service. And there were some dorms under there as well.

So going back to what the design goal was. We’ve talked about this a bit, but there’s a huge volume of space in here provided by 92-foot-long glulams and it’s 27-feet-tall. We have a great mix of traditional materials and it’s a very well-constructed building. It was meant to be durable and to be maintainable. So we’ve got stone, we have concrete, we have wood, we also have some more modern materials with the glulams with the, and I wish it could’ve happened this way, the glazing, full-height butted glazing like that. We are more … Oh that’s five minutes, I love it. Okay, so … the glazing, which was supposed to really provide this wonderful direct connection between interior and exterior is … You know the rendering is just better than the actual execution because what’s ended up happening … You all know that and colors always help incredibly. But there are a lot more wood mullions and all that so there’s a lot of wood to be able to hold the glass in place that’s detracting from that view.

I would like to say that Welton Becket’s two sons and his nephew are still alive and have been incredibly helpful in providing images and some recollection … Apparently a lot of their files were discarded and these … They were young men at the time, very young men at the time. They’re all architects and they know a little … They have some memories of the build and one actually went to the dedication. So what we’re left with now is a bit of a muting … As I said, we have the bones but we’ve lost some of that really rich and … maybe it’s subtle but I think it really has a huge impact. Our 1957 … You can see these wonderful kind of Shoji screen walls, they were meant to be translucent and they’re low. They were only eight feet tall so they really didn’t impact the volume because the volume was so important. Well, apparently they were very concerned about people getting into the gift shop so they put this solid wall above and they’ve put, I think its painted Masonite or plywood in instead of these translucent materials. And according to Jim McCaleb at Xanterra in 1985 they carpeted all of Yellowstone. And there it is. You can barely see it. We had a wonderful wood block end grain, very durable flooring in here, and apparently there’s like one couch left.

Canyon Village Lodge, 1957

So you see this wonderful bit with the lodge where you could just go and hang out and some of the photos have guys hanging out smoking because we’re talking the 50s. But look at those wonderful colors and the great visual through here. It’s all meant to really transmit you to the exterior. Although, you’re not looking at the resource, there’s no question of that. A lot of colors on these wonderful starlight chandeliers. They’re just painted over at this point. The sunburst was original … there was a firm from New York City that specifically designed and purchased all the furniture so it was specifically for this building. Kind of drab now, right? And new walls for telephones, which we don’t need anymore and we don’t have good service anyway. So when we do the HSR we were able to find some wonderful discoveries that the woodblock flooring with the wonderful Doug Fir color is still there and we did have someone from Worthwood, who made the original flooring, come to the site and finally vindicate me that, yes, we can restore it, instead of taking it all out, which would have killed us. There was one original couch left and the light fixtures when … There’s only like one paint of coat on and we’re going to be able to scrape off and get to the original real colors. We’re very excited about that.

Canyon Village Lodge, 2015

Okay, major loss was the bar. It was actually relocated in 1964, truncated. Look at that lovely knotty pine in place of the beautiful plywood and this wonderful blacklit kind of Moreau-like back bar… not even on the documents, construction documents. No idea where it is, and it disappeared in 1964 when they recreated, or relocated, the bar.

Their existing plan … We’re kind of busy. We’ve got these original restrooms. This is the fireplace, this is where the bar ended up and all this … The serving stuff always changes whether it’s coffee shop or serving it in a different type of fashion. I think it’s gone through three or four iterations. Restrooms added right in there so we lose a lot of space to actually dine. This is the kitchen, which we’re not messing with. So our big moves, outboard restrooms. We took them to the outside. This we shifted over because there’s a loading dock right here, which gets dumped with snow so they made us move it. And I’ll show you some images of what we’re looking at there but … We are cramming this building full. You cans see, I mean there’s a couple serving lines. We’ve got the bar restored over here and lengthened, little bit of dining.

They’re still trying to balance out how much do you need for sit-down versus getting people in and moving them through quickly. High stools, low stools, they have a branding expert helping with all this. And what the food should be and is it … Slow food, fast, all these things that I’ve never heard about. Oh, but keeping things away from the glass walls … any built-in. We really wanted to still give them their character and their expression.

So, I’m wrapping up. We looked at flat roofs for the additions. We have a lot of snow and this is exactly where that dumping snow comes. There’s a valley right here. We got our envelope group and our structural engineers together and worked out 230 pounds per square foot. We’re now doing sloped roofs. This is what we’re hoping for in the long-term, muted background colors with bringing the color back where it once was before and the screen walls and hopefully having a great dining experience that we really think the millennials are going to love.

There’s a group right now, a rock group in Boise, Idaho called Mission 66. We need to get them to the grand opening.

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
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