On-line Book

Book Cover
Presenting Nature








Design Ethic Origins

Design Policy & Process

Western Field Office

Park Planning

Decade of Expansion

State Parks

Appendix A

Appendix B


Presenting Nature:
The Historic Landscape Design of the National Park Service, 1916-1942
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III. A POLICY AND PROCESS FOR DESIGN, 1916 TO 1927 (continued)


In 1915, Stephen T. Mather. an assistant to the secretary of the interior, assumed leadership of the national parks. He was aided by the superintendent of national parks, Robert B. Marshall, until December 31, 1916. In a pioneering report of 1916, Progress in the Development of the National Parks, Mather set forth his early impressions of the conditions and future needs of national parks. Mather's report was the first comprehensive look at the condition of national parks as a system, with common purpose and goals. To many, Mather's appointment was a hopeful sign that park matters would gain increasing attention and that the much-needed improvements would receive congressional funding.

Accessibility was the foremost concern. Mather was particularly interested in bringing the public to the national parks. He felt that the federal government had an obligation to pursue a broad policy for the extension of road systems in the parks and to encourage travel by railroad and automobile. Mather put great effort into developing cooperative relationships with the railroads, some of which, like the Santa Fe and Great Northern, already had a strong presence in the parks, and with the automobile associations, or "good roads" associations, that were emerging across the nation as the automobile gained in popularity and Americans began to satisfy their urge to see the country, The parks were not isolated places, but rather objectives in large regional and national networks of scenic highways.

Mather wished to open up spectacular areas of parks not previously penetrated by roads. At Mount Rainier, he called for opening up new sections of the park, particularly the northwest, from which Spray and Moraine parks on the northern slopes of the mountain could be accessible. A road had been surveyed up the Carbon River Valley that would provide access to this side of the mountain. He called for public roads in Yosemite and talked of building a road across the continental divide in Glacier National Park and expanding that park's western boundaries. Gateways held particular importance. Mather urged the construction of gateways to mark the entrances to the parks as soon as possible. Gateways were to be simple, dignified, and in harmony with their environments; they were not, however, to be costly structures. The gateways were envisioned not only as physical barriers marking park boundaries but also as points of transition orienting the visitors to an environment where nature predominated and amenities were rendered inconspicuous through harmonious structures. Mather wrote: "It is with a thrill of pride in our great national playgrounds that the average visitor passes through these gates and beneath the Stars and Stripes waving over them." "Most impressive," in Mather's opinion, were the gateways already constructed at Yellowstone's Gardiner Entrance, a great Roman arch fashioned from clinker-style stonemasonry, built by engineer H. M. Chittenden in 1903, and the Nisqually Entrance to Mount Rainier built about 1910, with posts made of massive peeled trunks of native western red cedar. No two archways differed as greatly as the Gardiner and Nisqually gates, each reflecting a different method of construction and feeling of the picturesque. The two sites—the grass-covered high plains of Montana and the deep ancient forests of Mount Rainier—boldly contrasted.

drawing of entranceway
Built about 1910, the first gateway to Mount Rainier National Park was fashioned from mammoth logs of western red cedar having the same proportions and character as the trees of the surrounding forest. This style of entrance continued to be used for the park's other entrances through the 1930s. It was featured in Park Structures and Facilities, a portfolio published by the National Park Service in 1935. (Park Structures and Facilities)

The gateways introduced an architectural theme that harmonized with the natural setting of each location and could be carried over into the development of similar areas elsewhere in the park, giving a consistent identity to park structures. Administration buildings, which would give the government an identifiable presence in the park, were likewise needed throughout the park system. [3]

Mather closely examined the concessionaires' facilities in each park. He praised the system of hotels, mountain chalets, and teepee camps built by the Glacier Park Hotel Company, and he exclaimed that proprietor John Lewis's hotel on Lake MacDonald in Glacier was "unique in sylvan architecture." At Glacier, he also praised the recently improved trail system and noted the attractive designs of shelter cabins along the trails. [4]

Although most of the parks needed better provisions for water and sanitation, conditions and needs varied from park to park. At Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park, needs included the acquisition of additional stands of giant trees, the construction of hotel accommodations and an administration building, and a water system. Mesa Verde National Park needed a museum to display the many artifacts gathered from the park's prehistoric ruins. And Yosemite needed public roads.

Continued >>>

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Last Modified: Mon, Oct 31, 2002 10:00:00 pm PDT

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