Twentynine Palms Historical Society
29 Palms, California
Joshua Tree National Park Visitors Center
On 10 August 1936 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation that designated 825,000 acres as Joshua Tree National Monument. James Cole was appointed as the first superintendent in 1940, prior to that the Monument had been administered by the superintendent of Yosemite National Park. On October 18, 1940 an article in the Desert Trail stated "Contractor Walt Berg is completely remodeling the professional building in the Desert Properties tract, part of which will be utilized by Superintendent James A. Cole of the Joshua Tree National Monument." When the remodeling was completed the rear portion of the "professional building," located at 73554 Twentynine Palms Highway, became home to the first Monument headquarters offices. The front portion of the building held other businesses including the "Condor Inn" which Bob Lake says featured "super hambergers."
In April of 1945 the headquarters was moved to the then "new" fire house at 6562 Adobe Road. Page one of the April 13, 1945 edition of Desert Trail carried an article announcing the Park Service had leased space in the county owned fire house for $30 per month. Paragraph three of the article says "This week Mr. Cole and his assistant "Ketch" Ketcham have been busy putting their new home into shape, the transferring of ream upon ream of data and information, pictures, aerial photos and maps galore, as well as a garage full of fire-fighting paraphernalia and such equipment necessary to maintain a large preservation." The article goes on to say: "This move brings the two fire-fighting agencies–that of the National Park Service and the State Forestry, under the same roof, and should prove more effective in an emergency, according to officers in charge." National Park Service records from 1940 contain conceptual architectual drawings for employee housing and administrative office space just outside the Monument. However, funding constraints delayed actual construction until the 1950s.
In 1950 the monument's size was reduced by 265,000 acres to exclude some mining property. That same year the eastern portion of the historic Oasis of Mara was deeded to the National Park Service by the Twentynine Palms Corporation "with the stipulation that the land be used in connection with the administration, protection, and maintenance of the park" sadly, funding for the first building was not provided until 1953. This first building (referred to as the Headquarters Office) was designed by Cecil Doty of the National Park Service's Western Office of Design and Construction (WODC) and completed by contractor Lester R. Cross in 1954 was originally intended to serve as much-needed office space with a separate public "comfort station" with restrooms. While it served its original purpose for a couple of years, by 1957 the space was also serving as a museum public information space for the growing numbers of visitors.
In a memo from 1960, Monument Superintendent Supernaugh claimed: "Visitor use has increased 378% in the past ten years without adequate facilities." So in 1963 plans were finally made for the addition of a "public use wing" to the existing Headquarters. This building was designed by R. Newcomb of the WODC. The new Visitor Center building was constructed by Heathman Construction Company out of Palm Springs and was completed by March 1964. The new structure was quite similar in design to the existing Headquarters building, having a low, horizontal profile with concrete block walls and a flat roof. It contained a public lobby space, an exhibit room, a library, a conference room, four offices, and employee restrooms, the new building greatly alleviated the administrative growth pressures at Joshua Tree. With some minor alterations and renovations this Headquarters and Visitors Center is still in use.
In 1976 Congress designated 420,000 acres within the monument as wilderness.
On October 31, 1994 the Desert Protection Bill elevated the Joshua Tree National Monument to National Park status and added 234,000 acres to its boundaries. Of the park's current 794,000 acres, 585,000 is designated wilderness.
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