Beaver Meadows Visitor Center at Rocky Mountain National Park

In true Frank Lloyd Wright style, Beaver Meadows Visitor Center fits well into its natural surroundings both in color and design. It is part of the National Park Service Utility Area, which is a Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On January 26, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Rocky Mountain National Park Act, establishing Rocky Mountain as a national park and securing its boundaries. Lodge keepers owned private lands throughout the park where they maintained roads, built trails, and were guides to visitors. When the first superintendent arrived, he too began to authorize construction of facilities to support visitors. As visitation increased after World War I, the simple park conveniences and private lodges became inadequate. Rangers helped build comfort stations, museums, and well-maintained trails to meet visitor expectations. After World War II, a surge of visitation to all National Parks called for updated accommodations. The Eisenhower administration agreed and approved funding for the Mission 66 program which aimed to improve park infrastructure by 1966, the 50th anniversary of the Park Service.

Rocky Mountain National Park’s Beaver Meadows Visitor Center was one of the last Mission 66 projects completed by the program. Planning for a new development started in 1956 but official proposals for construction did not begin until November 1962. Discussions over the design of the building were lengthy, but the real issue causing delays was location. Private land ownership throughout the park made finding a place to build the visitor center difficult. By September of 1962, the Park Service announced a location for the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center had been chosen after five years of debate. The tourist office was the first to be located outside of the park's main entrance and did not require an entry fee to access it. In March 1965, reviewing preliminary plans began and the Park Service announced official bidding for construction contractors. The Park Service contracted Taliesin Associated Architects, a firm made up of Frank Lloyd Wright’s apprentices, to design the new structure. On July 16, a groundbreaking ceremony officially launched construction. Issues concerning the forced air-cooling system delayed progress with production, and the center was not completed in time for the 1966 National Park Service 50th anniversary. Nevertheless, on June 24, 1967, the dedication ceremony and official opening of the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center took place. Despite being completed after the ten-year Mission 66 timeframe, this center is one of the most historically and architecturally significant National Park Service buildings in the country. 

Today the exterior remains largely unchanged from its original state. The concrete and stone exterior walls have not required any renovations due to their natural design and intention to age with the environment. The interior has experienced a few changes: originally the space to the right of the entrance had a fireplace surrounded by stone and concrete, contrasting the wood paneled walls on the adjacent side. On the left side of the lobby was a staircase that led down to the restrooms on the basement level. Also to the left was the auditorium which was the main attraction for visitors. A door on the southeast side of the room led to a balcony that provided a view of the highest mountain in the park, Long’s Peak. Now, the visitor's experience has changed. The fireplace has been covered and the area turned into a store, the balcony has been blocked by new additions, and the view of Long’s Peak is no longer part of the experience. Renovations to provide handicap access have been added, but the Park Service does its best to make sure new work conforms to the historic design of the exterior.

Images

Architectural sketch
Architectural sketch This sketch of the front elevation of the Headquarters served as a cover sheet for the set of "as constructed" drawings completed in March 1967. Source: "Figure 55." Allaback, Sarah. Mission 66 Visitor Centers: The History of a Building Type. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, 2000. https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/allaback/vc5b.htm. Creator: Taliesin Associated Architects
Beaver Meadows Visitor Center
Beaver Meadows Visitor Center The visitor center blends into its surrounding landscape with natural materials such as sandstone. The large glass windows and horizontal roof are staples of Mission 66 design. Source: "Beaver Meadows Visitor Center." David Benbennick, May 27, 2005. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beaver_Meadows_Visitor_Center_4.jpg. Creator: David Benbennick
Beaver Meadows in 1970
Beaver Meadows in 1970 Source: M. Woodbridge Williams, 1970. National Park Gallery. https://npgallery.nps.gov/AssetDetail/a40ce8aae14842f19317a68918dd1bf2. Creator: M. Woodbridge Williams
Interior, 1999
Interior, 1999 With an open floor plan and lots of natural light the interior of the visitor center is streamlined and functional. Source: "Figure 64." In Allaback, Sarah. Mission 66 Visitor Centers: The History of a Building Type. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, 2000. https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/allaback/vc5e.htm. Creator: National Park Service

Location

1000 US Hwy 36, Estes Park, CO 80517

Metadata

Jennifer John, Northern Arizona University, “Beaver Meadows Visitor Center at Rocky Mountain National Park,” Intermountain Histories, accessed February 28, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/517.