Mission 66: Where Are We Now? The Preservation + Re-use of Mission 66 Visitor Centers

Historic Preservation Thesis

Rebecca Kinsley

Theo Prudon, advisor

Mission 66 was a National Park Service (NPS) program designed to revitalize the national parks and to accommodate the increase in visitors after World War II. The program introduced a new building typology, the visitor center. Over 100 visitor centers were built for the NPS during Mission 66, all in the “Park Service Modern” style. This was a distinct departure from the more rustic designs of earlier decades. Since the time of their construction, these visitor centers have been, in many instances and for different reasons, a source of contention in the parks. The functionality, siting and programming has been questioned in recent years. In addition, the very architectural style of the visitor centers has been challenged as inappropriate. In 2003, the NPS launched a major research initiative to evaluate the origins of the program and to create a basis for evaluation and stewardship of Mission 66 resources. The result was a study of Mission 66 visitor centers, a Mission 66 context study, and an investigation of National Register eligible resources. Since then, many Mission 66 visitor centers continue to be demolished or threatened.

This thesis evaluated the current state of Mission 66 visitor centers. What, if anything, has changed about their interpretation and significance since the initial study? Recognizing the continued increase in visitation, changing standards within the NPS, and visitor expectations as a whole, how can these buildings be preserved and what are appropriate uses for them today?