National Park Service Mission 66 Era Resources

Park Cultural Landscapes Program

Updated Cultural Landscapes , Historic Structures

We would not recognize the developed areas of the national parks today without the visitor centers, roads, housing, and other facilities acquired and built during these years. Mission 66 greatly enlarged the park system and expanded entire categories of parks, including national recreation areas and national seashores (Carr 2007, 15).

The “Mission 66 Era” was announced by the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., during a Mission 66 Research Working Meeting in May 2003. In 2015, the National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation titled “National Park Service Mission 66 Era Resources” was completed and signed. The documentation provides extensive background of the three phases of Mission 66 park planning and descriptions and guidance about the types of Mission 66 properties that can be eligible for the National Register.

Three Phases of Mission 66 in National Register Document

Courtyard area with trees, sidewalk, and pond
Courtyard at Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park

The first phase of the Mission 66 era, “pre-Mission 66” (1945-1955), provides context which includes the vastly increased visitation after World War II, the overuse and deterioration of park facilities, and the increased feasibility of using ten-year funding programs as evidenced by other federal agencies. In the pre-Mission 66 period, design experimentations in the Modern Movement style were being planned and conducted in the parks for the following phase.

After the establishment of the Eastern and Western Offices of Design and Construction in 1954, the design and planning processes were carried out in Philadelphia and San Francisco. The Modern Movement style formed the basis for architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, and construction during the National Park Service’s “Mission 66 program” (1956-1966). The Mission 66 program was the largest construction program in the history of the agency. This phase was intended to conclude with the celebration of the National Park Service’s 50th anniversary in 1966. After the “close” of the Mission 66 program, a long list of projects remained incomplete, and new parks were planned, designed, and constructed. As a result, the program was extended under a new name, “Parkscape USA” (1967-1973).

The third phase authorized the conclusion of the construction program in time for the Yellowstone National Park centennial celebration in 1972. The end of the Mission 66 era came also with the closing of the Eastern and Western Offices of Design and Construction and the consolidation of personnel into the Denver Service Center in 1972. The entire era represents the National Park Service’s presentation of a new way for the American public to experience national parks.

National Register Criteria and Associated Property Types for Mission 66

Criterion A – To be considered eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, Mission 66 era property types should be considered under Criterion A as potentially significant examples of the changing visions for national park planning and development during the period of significance.

Criterion B – It would be highly unlikely for a property, such as a visitor center, to be listed Criterion B because establishing association with an architect, landscape architect, or engineer’s productive life, primary residence, or place of work is improbable.

Criterion C – These property types should also be considered under Criterion C as potentially significant for their association with the design precepts and construction techniques of the Modern Movement style. The style became known as “Park Service Modern” and was practiced by National Park Service architects, landscape architects, planners, and historians during the Mission 66 era.

Criterion Consideration G – A property achieving significance within the past 50 years is eligible if it is of exceptional importance and if it meets the following tests for listing on the National Register under the Multiple Property Listing, “National Park Service Mission 66 Resources.”

Entryway to building with wall, shrubs, and covered walkway
Forecourt of Museum at Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park

Associated Property Types:

  1. Visitor Center
  2. Administration Buildings
    • Administration Buildings
    • Maintenance and Utility Buildings
    • Ranger Stations
  3. Park Employee housing
  4. Other Property Types
    • Comfort Stations
    • Public-Use Districts, Campgrounds, and Day-Use Areas
    • Interpretive Service Structures, Entrance Signs and Stations, and Wayside Exhibit Shelters
    • School and Community Buildings
  5. Concession Buildings, Park Lodges, and Commercial Areas
    • Concession Building Districts
  6. Partnership Buildings: Public Health Services (Hospitals and Clinics) and U.S. Postal Service
  7. Park Roads, Trails, and Parkways
  8. Mission 66 Historic Districts and Park-Wide Historic Districts
    • Historic Districts
    • Park-Wide Historic Districts

The National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation form includes descriptions of Associated Property Types and guidance on determining National Register eligibility for Mission 66 resources.

Allaback, Sarah. Mission 66 Visitor Centers: The History of a Building Type. Washington, DC: National Park Service, 2000.
Carr, Ethan. Mission 66: Modernism and the National Park Dilemma. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007.

Can’t find what you need?   Contact the Park Cultural Landscapes Program via email or the program lead in your region.

Write a Review

  1. The National Park Service Mission 66 Era Resources page gives a brief outline of NPS Mission 66 and basic preservation under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NRHP), however it could be a bit more informative about the requirements for each type of structure.

    The 36 CFR § 60.4 Criteria for Evaluation (Significance) section is incorrect in stating under Criterion (B) that it would be “highly unlikely” for one of these property types to be associated with “an architect, landscape architect, or engineer’s productive life, primary residence, or place of work” and that is not the case.

    Many of the Mission 66 Visitor Centers in the west have plenty of documentation showing connections to Cecil J. Doty, who was responsible for designing at least twenty-four properties during the Mission 66 Era. Ancillary structures are notoriously more difficult to associate with significant people.


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