County: Prowers County
Date Constructed: 1936-1938
Built by: WPA
The gymnasium is constructed of Niobrara limestone and measures 125’ x 77’. The regularly courses ashlar masonry has a sawed finish and rests on a raised concrete foundation. The building consists of three sections—a large gymnasium with two smaller extensions off its west (facade) and east (rear) ends. The facade extension contains a lobby and two classrooms; the rear extension has a raised stage and dressing rooms. The gymnasium is covered by a truncated gable roof sheathed with asphalt shingles. The upper portion of the gable ends are stuccoes. The flat-roof extensions have stepped parapet walls trimmed with coping.
The Holly Gymnasium meets Criterion A for its significance in the area of Social History. Construction of the gymnasium was an important work relief project that provided employment and increased job skills for the unemployed in and around Holly. The project also reflected the social improvement aspect of the WPA, which emphasized projects providing civic, educational, and health benefits for a community. The gymnasium was prominently features in WPA newsletters, area and Denver newspapers, and WPA photo records.
The gymnasium also meets Criterion A for its significance in Education. School building was a major focus of New Deal construction, and a combination auditorium/gymnasium was a common New Deal project. The Holly School District did not have adequate room for athletic training and rented the armory for use as a gymnasium. The WPA provided the town of Holly with a more “progressive” educational facility. It not only provided for athletic education, but also was used for the hot lunch program and music classes.
Additionally, the gymnasium meets Criterion A for Entertainment/Recreation. President Roosevelt was a believer in the health benefits provided by recreation, and in the difficult times of the Depression, New Deal programs recognized the psychological benefits of recreational activities. The gymnasium provided Holly residents with a space for indoor athletics and community gatherings.
The gymnasium meets Criterion C for Architecture as an example of WPA Modernist building. It is a good example of the functional design of the WPA. The Holly Gymnasium was also constructed of local materials, another characteristic of WPA work. Niobrara, the chalk-like stone was used for the gymnasium walls, was quarried ten miles north of Holly, Cut as “easily as wood” with hand saws, this limestone hardened once exposed to air. The gymnasium’s hand-hewn stones with their sawn finish typify the high degree of hand craftsmanship evident in WPA projects.
The WPA approved the construction of a gymnasium for Holly on December 24, 1935. The WPA would provide funding of $17,616, which included all labor and half of material costs. The Holly School Board was the local project sponsor, and the project architect was John Y. Brown. Apparently, there was initial disagreement over the gymnasium’s material. A WPA index card said that the gymnasium would be adobe, and a newspaper article asserted that the gymnasium would be stucco. However, the final construction choice was Niobrara limestone quarried ten miles north of Holly. This type of stone comes out of the ground very soft and could be quarried using a power saw and finished with a hand saw. After quarrying, the stone quickly hardens and is very durable. However, it must be kept dry so, so the gymnasium was constructed a a seven-foot high foundation of waterproof concrete. The interior walls of the gymnasium were constructed of the same stone, eliminating the need for “any plastering or painting as the white stone will present a finished effect.” Niobrara limestone was also used in the construction of Holly’s other WPA project, the Holly City Hall.
According to the Lamar Daily News, construction began April 12, 1936. George Slater, the project timekeeper, told the paper that the project should take eight months. The superintendent of construction was W.C. Simpson. The project started with a work crew of 28, who were later classified as 6 skilled, 9 semi-skilled, 1 truck driver, 1 teamster, and 11 laborers.
The gymnasium could not be completed under the first project authorization and a second application was made on September 9, 1936. The second application stated that the gymnasium would only be 65 percent complete when the initial funding ran out and requested $7,666 for an additional four months work. The second application was approved and, in November 1936, the Lamar Daily News reported that the gymnasium should be completed in approximately three months. However, the additional funds were still not enough to fully finish the building and on August 12, 1937 a third application for improving the gymnasium was approved, including “placing baseboard, plastering foundations, laying flooring, constructing cabinets, closets, booths, lockers, benches, shelving, window and door screens.” With the delays and multiple applications the seems to have increased along with the WPA contribution. A newspaper article in the Rocky Mountain News reported total school board contributions as $4,099 while WPA records report a total of $6,649 spent by the sponsor.
All but the community rooms seem to have been completed under the third project application, In October 1938, the Holly School Board authorized the completion of the front rooms, including laying oak flooring and installing gas heaters. The Board also planned to use these rooms during the school day for music instruction and for community gatherings. One of the rooms was equipped with a kitchen, which the WPA used on school days to prepare hot lunches. The WPA’s school lunch program provided nutritious hot meals to children as well as employment to those serving the lunches.