Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander's Painted Desert Community Complex Named National Treasure

The Painted Desert Community Complex Plaza photographed in 1962 shows the spider legs to the left and the storefront glass windows on the right.
The Painted Desert Community Complex Plaza photographed in 1962 shows the spider legs to the left and the storefront glass windows on the right.
Petrified Forest/Flickr

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has designated Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander's Painted Desert Community Complex at Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park a National Treasure. Chris Morris, field director of the National Trust's Los Angeles office, made the announcement on Sunday, October 12, at "Night of Neutra," hosted by Modern Phoenix in conjunction with Docmomo at Shepley Bulfinch's new office space in the beautifully renovated south rotunda of Phoenix Financial Center. The event featured Morris, Petrified Forest superintendent Brad Traver, and ASU university architect Ed Soltero.

The designation means that the National Parks Service will work to restore the desert-modern complex with help from the National Trust, which will raise awareness of the architectural gem and encourage the public to visit it.

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This post card pictures Alison King's depiction of the newly designated National Treasure.
This post card pictures Alison King's depiction of the newly designated National Treasure.
Photo by Becky Bartkowski, Print by Alison King

Arizona is home to three National Treasures, including the Painted Desert Community Complex. The other two are the Great Bend of Gila, which the National Trust is working to make a National Monument, and the Mountain View Black Officer's Club at Fort Huachuca, one of the few remaining pieces of architectural history from the segregated U.S. Army.

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Located near Holbrook and Wickenburg off Route 66, the Painted Desert Complex is the only standing park design by Neutra and Alexander. The other was the Cyclorama building at Gettysburg, which was demolished in 2013. Both the Cyclorama and Painted Desert structures were built as part of the Mission 66 program to better and expand National Park visitor's centers between 1956 and 1966.

Traver said that plans for restoring and improving the Painted Desert Complex include removing the complex's roof, which was not part of the original design, stabilizing its foundation, restoring the original color scheme, removing panels to reveal a an all-glass storefront, and constructing a shade parking structure outfitted with solar panels.

Soltero discussed why the building is significant from an academic, architectural standpoint. He said Neutra's cerebral approach kept the complex and its landscape distinct but also inseparable by framing views with its large windows and tentacle-like spider legs angled over the low roof.

The Painted Desert Visitor Center will remain open throughout the restoration process. Park road hours vary throughout the year. Admission to the Petrified National Forest is $10 per private vehicle. For more details about the park, visit www.nps.gov/pefo. To keep tabs on the National Trust for Historic Preservation, visit www.savingplaces.org.

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