Location: La Junta
County: Otero County
Date Constructed: 1933-1941
Built by: CWA, WPA
The La Junta City Park is rectangular in plan, occupying four city blocks in the middle of La Junta’s historic residential section. The overall dimensions of the park are 1313’ by 591’. The park is naturalistic in design, with trees scattered across open, level lawns. The park is simple without any elaborate landscaping plans, reflecting the functionality of the Civil Works Administration (CWA) and Works Progress Administration (WPA). The primary visual features of the park are a lake in the northwest corner and the Rustic stonework found throughout the park. The WPA walls, benches, caretaker’s house, and restrooms are all constructed of multi-hued sandstone slabs laid in random courses with beaded grapevine joints.
Though land for the La Junta City Park was donated in 1905, the park as it exists today is primarily the work of the CWA and WPA, which carried out a series of improvement projects in the park from 1933 to 1941. The focus of the CWA project was improving drainage in the park. The WPA carried out a more extensive rebuilding and landscaping of the park which included laying drives, planting trees, building the lake, and constructing rustic stone walls and buildings.
The construction of stone walls was part of the first WPA project for the park, proposed in 1935 and begun in 1936. The second park project, approved in 1938 and completed in 1941, also included the construction stone walls. Low stone walls run along the entire perimeter of the park and border the paved drives. Roughly 6,000 linear feet of stone walls were constructed by the WPA. The Rustic Style walls are constructed of tan and buff colored sandstone slabs, laid randomly with beaded grapevine mortar joints. The walls are topped with concrete slab coping with rounded edges that resembles the beaded mortar joints. The walls slope upwards at openings. The walls do not include the red hued stones used for the park buildings. In a few locations, the continuous slab walls are interrupted by posts composed of rows of cobblestones held together with heavy mortar and capped with concrete. These posts rise several inches above the slab wall. The quality of masonry work varies greatly within the park, with some sections appearing more polished with precise mortar joints and carefully arranged stone slabs, and other sections much rougher. This is reflective of the fact that most of the work was done by laborers with no masonry experience who were learning on the job.
The caretaker’s house is in the Rustic Style with elements of the Pueblo Revival Style incorporated into the design. The Rustic Style is most evident in the building’s stone construction. The walls are composed of red, tan, and buff slabs of sandstone, laid randomly with beaded grapevine mortar joints. The mortar at the entry of the caretaker’s house was tinted black. Elements of the Pueblo Revival style include wood vigas and the flat roof surrounded by crenellated parapet walls (though the original roof design has been partially obscured by the later side-gable roof). Located to the north of the caretaker’s house, the two stone restroom buildings appear to have been constructed concurrently with the caretaker’s house. The buildings rest on a foundation of ashlar blocks. Like the caretaker’s house, the restrooms’ walls are composed of red, tan, and buff slabs of sandstone, laid randomly with a beaded grapevine mortar joint. Flagstone paths lead from the restrooms to the paved drive located to the west.
La Junta City Park meets Criterion A for its significance in the area of Social History for its association with the Civil Works Administration (CWA) and Works Progress Administration (WPA). New Deal built resources in eastern Colorado are significant in the area of Social History for their association with President Franklin Roosevelt’s legislative agenda to rescue the United States from the Great Depression. This agenda included the creation of an unprecedented number of policies, programs, and agencies to provide relief, employment, converse natural resources, and assist in construction of public works—all with the greater goal of stimulating the devastated economy. Constructed by the CWA and the WPA over 9 years, La Junta City Park presents an important record of the federal relief programs administered in eastern Colorado during the Great Depression. Although all of Colorado was affected by the dire economic conditions of the 1930s, the agricultural-based economy of the Eastern Plains was especially hard hit due to the drought conditions that led to the Dust Bowl. The public works jobs helped families as well as communities survive during the Depression years, and constructed infrastructure that would not have otherwise been built. The New Deal construction programs emphasized projects providing civic, educational, and health benefits for a community, and a large number of projects were related to recreation, athletics, and health. During the difficult times of the Depression, New Deal agencies also recognized the psychological benefits of recreational and cultural activities. Under the CWA and WPA, life in La Junta was enhanced through the conversion of an underutilized and poorly drained park into a welcoming space that was a source of pride for the community.
The La Junta City Park also meets Criterion A for its significance in the area of Entertainment/ Recreation. The CWA and WPA park projects provided La Junta citizens with a space for outdoor recreation. La Junta City Park is significant as the primary park for the city of La Junta. The land for the park had been donated to the city in 1905, but few improvements had been made to the land. The WPA project proposal stated: “The city of La Junta at this time has no playground or recreational center for children. This Park will be equipped with playground equipment when completed and will be used by adults as well as children for picnics, and other recreation.” The CWA and WPA improvements provided a vital morale boost to a community suffering during the Depression. According to The WPA Worker:
Because of the parks and playgrounds built by the WPA, millions of people who can’t afford to belong to country clubs can now swim and play golf, tennis and other healthful outdoor games. . . . Eighty percent of the distressed people whom the WPA must employ are unskilled, yet suited to the building of recreational and sport facilities. That is why a large part of WPA’s effort now goes to building and improving parks and playgrounds, swimming pools, gymnasiums and amphitheatres.
The park meets Criterion C in the area of Landscape Architecture as an example of WPA park design influenced by the Rustic Style. The Rustic Style originated with park structures designed for the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service and emphasized the use of native materials, low building profiles that blended with the landscape, and the adaptation of indigenous or frontier methods of construction. This design philosophy was an ideal fit with the philosophy of the WPA. The WPA used native materials because they were usually the least expensive. For the La Junta City Park, the WPA only had to pay for the labor needed to quarry the stone, thus fitting with their goal to spend as much as possible on labor and as little as possible on materials. Traditional construction methods were used to save the cost of power tools and large machinery and because they provided more employment. Characteristic elements of the Rustic Style present in the park structures include the use of native stone, traditional construction methods, evident hand craftsmanship (such as the grapevine beaded mortar joints), and simple, functional design. The materials and construction methods are reflective of their origin as public works programs designed to be labor intensive. La Junta City Park includes many of the features common in New Deal era parks including naturalistic landscaping, stone walls, water features, caretaker housing, and tennis courts.
The history of the La Junta City Park dates back to 1905 when this parcel of land was sold to the City of La Junta for $1.00. The land was to be used “for a public park or public pleasure grounds.” However, few improvements were made to the land. On November 27, 1933, the Civil Works Administration (CWA) commenced what would become nine years of work to improve the park by federal relief agencies. The CWA was organized in late 1933. It was designed to be a public works program that could put people to work quickly, providing immediate relief to help people through the winter of President Roosevelt’s first year in office. Jobs were typically small, since the projects were intended to last only 90 days. Road improvements, flood control, and recreational facilities were popular projects in Colorado.
A 1933 article in the La Junta Daily Democrat reported, “As La Junta citizens know seepage in this park has made it next to impossible to grow grass and trees there and provide a park as was originally intended.” The work done by the CWA was focused on developing a drainage system, placing drain tile in ditches filled with sand in order to carry off alkali seepage water. The total cost of the project was estimated at $6211. La Junta city engineer, George E. Hine, supervised the project. The workers laid 8,000 feet of 6-inch tile to assist in the drainage. In addition, the workers also replaced shale with “good soil” around the park’s band stand so that grass would grow. The work was originally projected to be completed mid-February 1934. But this was evidently not enough time since a second CWA application was filed at the end of February to continue the project. In early March 1934, the La Junta Daily Democrat reported that the drainage work was nearly complete, though there was still much other improvement work that needed to be done in the park.
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was the next New Deal agency to take on the improvement of La Junta City Park. Although the early programs of the New Deal had relieved the suffering of some Americans, it was clear by the end of 1934 that the economic depression and problems of unemployment were not going away. Most New Dealers believed that working was better than the “dole.” The Roosevelt administration thus proposed to replace a program of direct relief to the states with a broader relief and recovery program known as the “Second New Deal.” Central to this new phase was a work relief program for the unemployed, established as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) on May 6, 1935. The WPA became the major source of public jobs for the unemployed during the latter part of the thirties. Its main goal was to put the unemployed back to work and off of the relief rolls. “Small useful projects” were designed to provide employment for a maximum number of needy “employable” workers in the “shortest time possible.”
A WPA project proposal was submitted on August 24, 1935 to rebuild and landscape the park. The planned work included constructing walks, driveways, and walls, rip-rapping four lakes, and creating a picnic area. The landscaping plan called for grading and filling 8 acres of parkland, moving and transplanting 750 trees and shrubs, graveling walks and drives, laying pipe for irrigation, building two “rustic” bridges, and improving the park with new plant life and general gardening. The estimated date of completion was June 1936. The plans were drawn up by “experienced landscape man,” Kenneth E. Rice, and again, George E. Hine supervised the project. According to an article in the La Junta Daily Democrat, the plans for the park also included a new gazebo and a caretaker’s house. The proposal called for a federal contribution of $37,108.71 and a local contribution of $4,480.05 from the City of La Junta for a total cost of $41,588.76. The final adjustment for the project, dated 7 December 1938, was slightly higher with the federal allocation at $40,339.70, and the sponsor contribution at $5,395.47.
Although proposed in August 1935, the actual work on the park did not start until mid May 1936. The La Junta Daily Democrat reported that “the plans for improvement are very elaborate and if they are all carried out this park will be transformed into one of the most beautiful places in Southern Colorado.” Around forty men were put to work when the project started, many of them transferred over from a completed WPA city storm sewer job. The work was interrupted at least twice and took much longer than the originally estimated eight months. In October 1936, a newspaper article reported that the work was resuming after being “stopped on account of men taking up private employment.” Presumably, these men took time off for seasonal agricultural employment, which was a common practice.
For the historic structure assessment, an interview was conducted with La Junta resident Ralph Koop who worked on the WPA project. Koop described several of the construction methods used. The stone used in the construction was quarried near Higbee, sixteen miles south of La Junta on Highway 109. The stone was delivered to the park from the quarry in random sizes. The masons chose the stones that roughly fit together and then used a masonry hammer to adjust the fit more closely. For the stone walls, two courses of stone were laid. The flatter sides faced outwards, with the rougher sides adjoining each other inwards. The interior of the wall was then filled with a mix of gravel, loose stone, dried mortar and concrete. The wall was then topped with concrete coping with rounded edges. The amount of concrete used inside the walls was minimized in order to save money. To create the grapevine beading, the masons used a tool made out of a cut piece of pipe with a handle attached. The mortar was five parts sand to one part mortar. Koop recalled that the blocks lining the curved edge of the steps in front of the caretaker’s house were constructed of colored concrete. The texture was created by covering the wet concrete in wooden forms with a piece of carpet and then pulling the carpet up and leaving the rough texture produced. After the concrete dried, the edges were struck to create a tooled appearance.
In February 1937, an article in The WPA Worker, described the park as “vastly improved.” The new picnic grounds constructed as part of the project were described as accommodating 250 people and were projected to be widely used by community churches, clubs, and other civic groups. Then on “Decoration Day” 1937, now known as Memorial Day, La Junta and the park were hit by a substantial flood. Flood waters flowed down Santa Fe Avenue directly into the park before continuing downtown. The flood put work in the park on hold for over eight months. It also increased the scope of the project since the flood damage had to be repaired in addition to the completion of buildings in the park. The City of La Junta contributed an additional $500 to the project to help pay for the repairs. Resumption of the project was announced in January, but work did not begin again until March 11, 1938 when 46 WPA workers were transferred from a completed underpass projects.
On July 22, 1938 a second WPA project application was submitted to complete work in the park. The WPA contribution was $27,908.00 with $5,030.00 from the City of La Junta for a total of $32,938.00. The project application once again called for rebuilding and landscaping the park. Projects mentioned in the application include the construction of stone masonry walls, concrete tennis courts, picnic and playground areas, grading and surfacing park drives, installing a sprinkler system, rebuilding four small lakes, and completion of caretaker’s house and rest rooms.
In November 1939 the La Junta Daily Democrat reported that the park improvements were well underway. One concrete tennis court was completed and two more would be finished soon. In March 1940 it was announced the laying of pipes through the park was almost completed, so that irrigation could soon begin. Work was also beginning on improving the lakes, which had been drained three months previously. The WPA cleaned out the lakes, making them deeper, and lining the side walls with stone. Deepening the lakes was done by hand. Apparently the WPA also decided to turn multiple lakes into one lake. Up to this point, sources mention four lakes in the park. But in January 1941, an article in the La Junta Daily Democrat stated that the “lake” at the park was nearly complete and that the two small lakes previously in the park had been combined and enlarged. There is no mention of what happened to the other two lakes that were apparently once part of the park design. Presumably they were filled in; possibly they were so damaged by the flood that WPA decided this was easier than recreating them. The new lake was described as an “ideal place for boating in summer and skating during the winter.” According to WPA files the project was completed February 26, 1941.
In March 1941 the La Junta Daily Democrat announced that a third WPA project for work in the park had been approved. The WPA would contribute $9449 and the sponsor’s share would be $3162 for a total of $12,611. The project was to complete park improvements that had been underway for several years. Work was to include leveling the ground in the south end so that it could be seeded. It was projected that work would begin in April. It is not clear if this project was ever carried out; no record of the work has been found in the WPA files.