This presentation was part of A Century of Design in the Parks Symposium, Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 21-23, 2016.

By Tim Mitchell, AIA, LEED GA


This presentation will provide an overview of the characteristics which contribute to the significance of the Mission 66 visitor center, provide case studies of rehabilitation projects at Sequoia-Kings Canyon and Olympic National Parks, discuss the benefits of a rehabilitation treatment, and propose guidelines for assessing, preserving and sensitively altering these unique buildings.

This presentation will focus on Mission 66 visitor centers because:

  • They are a unique building type invented by the NPS during the Mission 66 era;
  • They are public buildings from the Mission 66 era;
  • The greatest design efforts were applied to visitor centers;
  • Their modern character-defining features vary from those found in NPS rustic buildings and are often difficult to identify;
  • The construction materials used on these buildings are approaching or have exceeded their intended lifespan and will require different preservation efforts than those conducted for previous building eras;
  • They are in jeopardy of significant modification and demolition due to changing visitor and park expectations as well as a general lack of awareness regarding their significance.

Learning objectives for this presentation include:

  • Acquire an understanding of the Mission 66 period and its relevance in the continuum of National Park Service design;
  • Learn to identify typical materials and systems found in Mission 66 visitor centers with an emphasis on character-defining features and preservation of integrity;
  • Learn to recognize the intangible qualities associated with modernist architecture and their expression in Mission 66 visitor centers;
  • Learn to craft rehabilitation strategies that align with the Secretary of the Interior’s rehabilitation standards and sustainability guidelines.

The Mission 66 period of development in the National Parks created a new multi-purpose building type previously unseen in park architecture to house, centralize, and streamline visitor services – the Visitor Center. Prior to the Mission 66 era, visitor services such as park information, restrooms, museum displays, and concessionaire facilities were randomly scattered in ranger stations, park museums, hotel lobbies, and gift shops. The new visitor center buildings provided visitors with a single location to find park information, enjoy interpretive programs and exhibits, purchase mementos, and utilize restroom facilities. Through intentional planning and steadfast modern design, the visitor center served as the embarkation point for visitors to understand and enjoy the park within a sequenced framework of organization and efficiency. Though not immediately apparent to visitors already familiar with the National Park Service rustic building tradition, the modern-style visitor centers were designed to harmonize with park landscapes while enhancing connections between park resources and visitors. While the majority of the 112 visitor centers built during the Mission 66 program are still functioning and serving visitor needs, many have been irreparably altered or demolished to accommodate changing park requirements and increased visitation numbers. Consequently, there is an imperative need to understand both the unique significance and the requisite preservation of these park resources.


Tim Mitchell, AIA, LEED GA, is a historical architect at Hennebery Eddy Architects in Portland, Oregon and has been studying, preserving, climbing under, and enjoying National Park Service buildings and landscapes for the greater part of his twenty-six year career in the architectural profession. He holds both a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture degree from U.C. Berkeley and a Masters of Architecture degree from the University of Oregon. His preservation work includes rehabilitations of the National Historic Landmark Paradise Inn at Mount Rainier National Park, sixteen rustic cabins at Curry Village in Yosemite National Park, the 1962 Cecil Doty designed Mission 66 Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center in Olympic National Park, and the 1964 Ash Mountain Visitor Center in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
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Email: ncptt[at]
Phone: (318) 356-7444
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