Two Buttes Gymnasium

Location: Two Buttes
County: Baca County
Date Constructed: 1937
Built by: WPA


The Two Buttes Gymnasium is located on a large lot near the center of Two Buttes. The lot is grassy with scattered trees. A frame school building was located adjacent to the gymnasium when it was constructed but this has been removed. The lot is bordered by 6th Street to the west and 5th Street on the east. Dirt and gravel drives run across the lot; the drives run parallel to the  gymnasium on the west, south, and east sides. The drive is diagonal on the north side.

The Two Buttes Gymnasium is rectangular in plan, measuring 60’ x 130’. The walls and foundation are constructed of sandstone. The sandstone is brown in color and cut into quarry-faced ashlar blocks. The blocks are roughly uniform in appearance though closer inspection reveals some rows of varying height and stone of varying length. The roof is flat, surrounded by parapet wall with castellated corners. The parapet wall is stepped on the east and west sides (photo 9).

The gymnasium building is single-story with a partial basement and balcony. The main floor is divided into four sections: the vestibule, which contains a ticket booth, concession stand, and storage area; the gymnasium, with bleachers lining the north and south wall with balconies above; the stage and dressing rooms; and the assembly room/Odd Fellows Hall. There is also a basement with a meeting room and kitchen located beneath the stage and assembly room. The basement features a fireplace constructed of stone and petrified wood (photo 19).

Centered at the cornice line on the east side are three decorative stone plaques (photo 11).  The central plaque has a segmental arched top with “DIST No. 2.”  It is flanked by two smaller diamond plaques with “19” on the left, and “36” on the right.  The plaques have been covered with a dark brown stucco which is stippled.

A 16’ x 40’ vestibule is centered on the east (front) side of the building (photo 9). The entrance is centered on the east side. The vestibule copies the design of the main building with castellated corners and a central raised parapet.   Centered on vestibule are deeply recessed, paired entry doors which are deeply recessed.  The segmental arched opening has an oversized keystone, which has the stippled stucco coating surrounding a dressed-faced stone shield plaque inscribed with “WPA  1936” (photo 10).  Wide concrete steps with a metal railing lead up to the entrance. Single window openings, covered with boards, flank the entrance. The windows have segmental arch openings with enlarged keystones. The sills are concrete.

On the north side (photo 2), there is a single, segmental arch window on the vestibule; it has been boarded over. There are four segmental arch window openings (photo 3) on the main gymnasium level. The openings contain double, rectangular windows with a wood panel filling the arch above the window. The wood-framed windows are five-over-five sash windows with vertical lights. Above these windows on the balcony level are four rectangular window openings with concrete lintels and sills. They have been covered with boards. There are three windows on the main level illuminating the stage/dressing room and assembly room areas. The wood-framed, rectangular double windows are four-over-four sash windows. The windows are set in rectangular openings with concrete lintels and sills. There are three window openings on the basement level. Two openings are double width and one is single width. The window openings have segmental arch openings. They have been covered with plastic. Two openings have been cut in the parapet wall to allow for the installation of drainage pipes.

On the west side, a door is located on the northern end. The door leads to the assembly room/Odd Fellows Hall (photo 5). Concrete stairs with stonebalustrades lead up to the door. A stone chimney is centered on the west side. A stone extension with a shed roof is located at the southern end. The extension covers a staircase leading up from the basement; a door is located on the south side. Two windows are located on the main level, one on either side of the chimney. The segmental arch openings contain double windows. The wood-framed, four-over-four, sash windows are topped by arched wood panels. Two windows are also located on the basement level, one on either side of the chimney. These small, segmental arch openings contain fixed, four-light, wood frame windows. Arched wood panels top the windows.

The fenestration on the south side (photo 7) is almost identical to that on the north side. The exception is in the number and placement of the basement windows. On the north side there are three windows with the smaller window is in the middle. On the south side there are four windows, with the eastern two windows smaller than the western. The other difference on the south side is in the addition of an entrance. The door leads to the stage area; concrete steps with stone balustrades lead up to the entrance.


The Two Buttes Gymnasium, constructed between 1935 and 1937 under the Works Progress Administration (WPA), is being nominated under the New Deal Resources on Colorado’s Eastern Plains Multiple Property Documentation Form (MPDF). The Burlington Gymnasium meets the registration requirements of two property types delineated in the MPDF—Educational Buildings (subtype: Primary and Secondary School Facilities) andRecreational and Cultural Resources (subtype: Community Centers and Auditoriums/Gymnasiums).

The Two Buttes Gymnasium meets Criterion A in the area of Social History for its association with President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal 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, conserve natural resources, and assist in construction of public works—all with the greater goal of stimulating the devastated economy. Constructed by the WPA, the Two Buttes Gymnasium presents an important record of the federal relief programs administered in Colorado’s eastern plains during the Great Depression. Though the dire economic conditions of the Depression affected all of Colorado, drought and dust storms hit the agricultural-based economy of the Eastern Plains especially hard. The construction of the gymnasium provided much-needed employment in Baca County, one of the hardest hit by dust storms. The New Deal construction programs emphasized projects providing civic, educational, and health benefits for a community. During these difficult times, New Deal agencies also recognized the psychological benefits of recreational and cultural activities. The gymnasium also included meeting space which has held the local chapter of the Odd Fellows.

The Two Buttes Gymnasium also meets Criterion A for its significance in the area of Entertainment/ Recreation. This community building is a good example of the efforts of the WPA to boost moral during the Depression through the construction of buildings that the entire community could enjoy. Two Buttes residents attended school-sponsored activities in the building such as basketball games, music performances, and festivals. It was the first large, multi-use gymnasium and auditorium space in Two Buttes.

Additionally, the Two Buttes Gymnasium meets Criterion A for its significance in the area of Education. Educational facilities were a major focus of New Deal construction and a combination auditorium/gymnasium was a common New Deal project. The WPA created a much-needed modern facility for the Two Buttes School district providing a gymnasium with a full-size court, a stage for use by school theater and music groups, and a kitchen and dining hall.

The Two Buttes Gymnasium meets Criterion C in the area of Architecture as an excellent example of the WPA Rustic Style. Rustic characteristics featured in the buildings include the use of native stone, traditional construction methods, evident hand craftsmanship, and simple, functional design.  The rustic design originated with the National Park Service emphasized the use of native materials and adaptation of indigenous or frontier methods of construction. This design philosophy was an ideal fit with the WPA. The goal of these programs was employment, so the majority of costs were to be spent on labor. Native materials were used because they were usually the least expensive. Traditional construction methods were used to save the expensive of power tools and large machinery and because they provided more employment. Both rustic architecture and federal relief buildings were meant to be simple and functional.

The period of significance extends from 1935 to 1959. This extends from the school district’s submission of a WPA application through the continued use of the building by the community. The period of significance is ended at 1950 to conform with the fifty year standard.

Historical Background

The Two Buttes School District submitted a WPA project application (WPA 65-84-1524) for a “new school building” in September 1935. The total cost of the proposed project was $21,472 with $12,935 of the total coming from the WPA. The new building was to include a gymnasium and classrooms to be used by the combined high school and grade school.  According to the application: “The town of Two Buttes has no place for Public meetings or recreation. School is not large enough to take care of students nor have they any recreational center for school programs.” The district said this project would be impossible without assistance. Some materials would come from the buildings being demolished at Fort Lyons, including  old lumber and roof joists. The building plans were completed by S.C. Kempin, a contractor.

The project was approved December 5, 1935 and work started on December 16, 1935. The estimate date of completion was June 1936. According to the application, the project would give employment to a workforce ranging from 24 to 43 men over the next six months. WPA laborers were paid based on their skill level. Unskilled laborers (the majority of those on WPA projects since the WPA pulled from the unemployment rolls and the majority of the local population had been engaged in agriculture rather than construction) made $40/month. Truck drivers made $45/month along with mason helpers, carpenter helpers, and other semi-skilled assistants. Masons, carpenters, pipefitters, quarry men, plasterers, steel erectors, roofers, painters, electricians, and plumbers made $55/month. The timekeeper was paid $97.50 /month, the straw boss $100/month, the foreman $108/month, and the supervisor $120/month.  The total labor costs were $10,658 while the material costs were $9140. The WPA also hired trucks and horse teams with fresnos for the construction.

By early summer it was clear that the gymnasium was not going to be finished by the initial estimated completion date. The local quarry ran was exhausted, so stone to complete the building would have to come from a more distant quarry. This would greatly increase the unit cost of the masonry. On July 23, 1936 the school district submitted an application for a second project (# 165-84-2021) to complete the gymnasium. Work to be completed included “laying stone, lathing, plastering, painting, placing roof, and installing electrical and plumbing fixtures.” The project to complete the building had a budget of $10,010 with $9935 of this in federal funds. Work under the new project began October 2, 1936. According to WPA records, the previous project’s funds were not completely expended before the new project started. This meant that the first project actually came in under budget with only $19,264 of the original application budget of $21,472 spent. This combined with the additional project brings the total construction costs to $29,274.

In an inspection report from January 1937, Frank B. Page reported that “this will be a very fine building, but has been very slow and draggy.” He recommended that the project be pushed to finish soon, and construction was completed in April 1937. However, in a final inspection from May 1937, J. Palmer was not as impressed: “A stone building–relatively creditable but shows results of lack of adequate plans before undertaking work, for example windows are so spaced that steel trusses bear on stone work over lintel. . . Steps to bleacher seats at side are very poorly finished, if not actually hazardous. No down spouts or even chutes have been provided, so that water from roof simply runs thru parapet wall and down sides of building. This will probably result in rapid disintegration of masonry. But little more work and materials would be required to greatly improve this job.” The drainage issue was dealt with by cutting holes in the parapet wall for the placement of downspouts connected to drainpipes directing runoff water to the ground.

A letter to the WPA in Denver from a local worker, printed in the August 1936 issue of the “WPA Worker,” states that  “inrgards to the W.P.A work in this locality I wish to say this work is the most wonderful thing that ever happened in hard times I can say if it was not for this work thera would not be a store left open in Walsh Colo . . . now as I am a W.PA. worker on uncompleted stone building at Two Butes Colo I would invite any or all to come and see this peace of work this building is 130 ft long 60ft wide made of solid stone put up by mane strinth and awkward no mac used what so ever the morter is hauled up a step enclind by whelbars s is by the ade of a good forman.”

The gymnasium was dedicated on May 21, 1937. According to the application the gymnasium would serve the community of Two Buttes as well as the those in the surrounding 12 to 15 mile radius including Buckey, Blaine, Lycan, and Verdon. WPA file described the building as capable of holding 1000 people. Features highlighted include:” 2’ bearing walls carrying steel trusses which support the roof, 18’ ceiling of auditorium, large number of doors and windows . . . conducive to convenience and good lighting.” The basement features “an unusual and highly artistic fireplace laid up of vari-colored irregularly shaped rock, with a surmounting mantel of petrified wood 12’ in length.” The building also included a modern steam heating plant with many of the radiators and other materials coming from a wrecking project at Fort Lyon.

The Two Buttes Gymnasium was has served an important role as center for recreation, entertainment, and community events. The population of Two Buttes reached its peak of 158 in the 1930s and 1940s. Since then the population has been declining with only 67 residents at the 2000 census. After the Two Buttes School District was consolidated with Springfield, a recreation district was formed to manage the gymnasium. With fewer residents, the gymnasium is not used as much as it once was, but it remains at the heart of the community and still hosts reunions and other gatherings.

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