By Michael Yengling and Suzanne Tripp
The poster will focus on the historical and architectural significance of fire lookout towers on parks land, particularly in the American West. Beginning with an overview of the origins of fire lookouts worldwide and covering their development, typology, use, and near-obsolescence in the face of air pollution and modern technologies, it will underscore the importance of preserving a frequently overlooked utilitarian resource. An examination of the evolution of these structures, from early vernacular examples to pattern-built prefabricated models, will illustrate the embodiment of distinct architectural styles associated with larger trends in parks architecture including the CCC era, “Parks Rustic” movement, and even mid-century modern.
Threats to existing lookouts include functional obsolescence, fire, exposure to the elements, lack of documentation, and inadequate funding for rehabilitation and maintenance. From the National Register-listed 1912 Prospect Peak Lookout in Lassen Volcanic NP, one of the earliest surviving fire lookouts on U.S. federal land, to the rustic-meets-the-future 1970s designs of USFS architect Robert Sandusky, evaluations of significance – including that of properties less than 50 years old – will be discussed. Further preservation challenges such as extremely remote locations, controversy over the incompatibility of lookouts within wilderness areas, and minimum tool requirements will also be addressed. Finally, the role of public-private partnerships in repurposing extant lookouts will be examined using current examples that highlight inter-agency collaboration as well as opportunities for interpreting these unique structures.
Michael Yengling is an architectural historian by training and has worked as an environmental planner with California State Parks since 2013. His vocation has taken him to locales as far-flung as Norway, Italy, Jamaica, the backwoods of West Virginia, and 43 different counties in Iowa. An avid explorer of his surroundings, he likes to keep a keen eye open for lesser-known resources and hidden gems. The seed for this evolving project was likely planted in the distant reaches of the mid-1990s, when he worked as a cabin caretaker in the Green Mountains of northern Vermont. He is currently working on a National Register nomination for the Carrizo Gorge Railroad Bridge, the largest freestanding wooden trestle in the world, as well as a website, California Obscura, that captures his love of architecture, history, and photography in the context of the Southern California-Mexico borderlands.