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Earth Notes

Earth Notes: Cecil Doty And Mission 66

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National Park Service
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In 1956 the National Park Service launched Mission 66, a major effort to upgrade deteriorating infrastructure and meet demands of increasing visitation. The program was completed in ten years, marking the agency’s 50th anniversary—and its arrival into the modern age.

The buildings that came out of that decade signified a new architectural style. It was a dramatic departure from the trademark “Rustic” log and rock lodges and buildings of the park service’s early years.  

Oklahoma architect Cecil John Doty was one of the Mission 66 project leaders. He joined NPS in the 1930s under design director Herbert Maier in the Santa Fe regional office. Doty went on to design visitor centers for parks and monuments throughout the Southwest, including at the Grand Canyon, Wupatki, Sunset Crater, Canyon de Chelly, and several others still in use.

His structures employed clean, bold lines and plenty of concrete, steel, and glass--and fulfilled their utilitarian functions. Doty was conscious of relating to the surrounding landscape, for example adding high windows framing an expansive view of Walnut Canyon. But critics felt the modernist style was a misfit in the natural settings of parks.

At the end of Mission 66, Doty received the Department of Interior’s distinguished service award. He then moved East to work on the National Mall before retiring to California after a 35-year career.

Architectural historians see Cecil Doty and his contemporaries as mirroring the times they lived in—a postwar age of skyscrapers, satellites, and mass production--and an ever-growing number of people discovering the lure of national parks.  

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