In 1909, Earl Douglass, a paleontologist from the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, discovered a site riddled with fossilized dinosaur bones in the northeastern corner of Utah and created a camp where he began excavating remains. In the following six years Douglass sent over 700,000 pounds of fossilized bones, including full skeletons, to museums throughout the country. The discoveries caught the attention of President Woodrow Wilson, who proclaimed the site Dinosaur National Monument in 1915. Douglass began envisioning a museum which would display excavation sites in their original state, and in the 1920s planning for a structure over the quarry began. However, funding insufficiencies delayed building such a museum for the next three decades.
Finally, in the mid 1950s, the Eisenhower administration funded a ten-year program to upgrade the National Parks system in response to the huge visitor boom after World War II. The program was part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the Park Service that would occur in 1966, and it come to be known as Mission 66. By May of 1955 the Park Service produced preliminary plans, and a push for funding the project took place. March 1956 saw the announcement of new financing that covered roads, water, housing, and an information point. By May, the Park Service provided the first sketches of the new building. The National Park Service contracted the Anshen and Allen architectural firm from California in 1956 to design the Quarry Visitor Center, and in July Anshen and Allen provided the first seven-page document of preliminary sketches. Included in the sketches was a study of the sun’s movement throughout the year which was imperative to a glass building with sharp angles. However, Park Service Director Conrad Wirth denied the proposal due to budget constraints. After further negotiation, Park Service and Anshen and Allen agreed on plans for the Quarry Visitor Center, and construction began in early 1957. In May 1958, the R. K. McCullough Construction Company of Salt Lake City completed construction at the quarry site, and in June the center opened to the public.
Today the Quarry Visitor Center remains mostly in its original state. Despite some structural renovation in the 1960s due to shifting soil under the foundation, the aesthetic qualities of the building have been untouched. As visitors enter the courtyard there are restrooms and a covered patio, and an “oasis porch” of shaded space with benches. To the left is the entrance to the lobby where small exhibits share a space with the information desk and shop. To the right is the auditorium which is used to show the orientation movie. The building includes laboratory facilities, a research library, storage, and a dark room. The museum still features many of its original exhibit panels and displays with the addition of a few new ones over the years. The second-floor viewing deck remains open to visitors to explore the quarry site that has been incorporated into the building. Even though excavations are no longer taking place inside the museum, paleontologists left behind their tools, allowing visitors to reminisce on times now past.