Moving at a pace several months ahead of schedule, construction crews on Monday are scheduled to mark the end of a curious architectural era at Mount Rainier National Park.
Come 9 a.m. Monday the demolition of the old Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise is scheduled to begin. Park officials say the contractor will have a crane in place with a wrecking ball that is to be dropped on the building at several locations to ensure the its orderly collapse.
The demolition, coming five weeks after the "new" Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center opened, wasn't supposed to occur until spring. But, heck, why wait if the task can be completed now?
While Mount Rainier was a key focal point of the National Park Service's Mission 66 program, it's doubtful that many lovers of national park architecture will bemoan the loss of the old center. Alighting at Paradise in 1966, the old VC had a peculiar flying saucer shape, one that didn't seem to mesh smoothly with the setting. It might be hard to believe, but the Park Service spent $2 million on the building's construction, a then-princely sum that made the VC the most expensive building in the National Park System.
Over the years many -- including the Traveler -- have questioned some of the architectural decisions Mission 66 brought to the National Park System, and when the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center opened in 1966 some visitors were perplexed by the dome-shaped building.
The public's response to the new facility was mixed. The building's modern design pleased some and disappointed others. Designed by the two architectural firms of Wimberly, Whisenand, Allison and Tong of Honolulu and McGuire and Muri of Tacoma, the building's round layout and conical roof were supposed to relate the structure to its mountain setting. Other visual design features included "the swooping, bough-like shape of the beams, the branching 'tree' columns, the 'switchback trail' ramps, and the sloped 'cliffs' of the stone base."
To many people's way of thinking, however, the building did not harmonize with the landscape in the least. People complained that it looked like a satellite, pagoda, or flying saucer. Its weird, extraterrestrial effect was enhanced when Paradise was shrouded in fog, as was often the case. Or when snow still lay on the ground, people joked that the new visitor center looked like the Seattle Space Needle--up to its neck in snow. And when it became known that Senator Jackson had used his influence to get the Department of the Interior to contract with a Honolulu-based architectural firm to design the building, a legend grew among the park's devotees that the building had been designed for a site in the Hawaiian Islands but had been dumped on Mount Rainier instead.
Whether this legend perishes with the building's demolition Monday is hard to say. But the destruction, which is closed to the public, will most assuredly remove a key Mission 66 fixture from Mount Rainier.