THE CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS AND

PUBLIC WORKS ERA

With the Great Depression of the 1930’s came

the first era of large-scale recreation planning

and development in the Forest Service. Beginning

in 1933, spurred on by the plentiful labor provided

through the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)

and other public works agencies, the Forest

Service began to employ professionally trained

landscape architects and architects to design

and implement plans on national forests across

the country.

 

Design guidance evolved quickly to ensure

consistent levels of quality and image

throughout the Forest Service. In 1935 and

1936, the Forest Service hired Albert D. Taylor,

president of the American Society of Landscape

Architects, to analyze problems and devise

solutions to recreation planning and design.

Taylor’s three-volume 1936 report included

drawings of many types of recreation structures

unknown to earlier Forest Service recreation

designers, such as bathhouses, shelters,

amphitheaters, and playgrounds. “Across the

country in the middle 1930’s, these types of

facilities appeared in national forests where

before there had been only privies and ranger

cabins” (Tweed, 1978, pp. 20-21).

 

At the same time, the National Park Service

contracted architect Albert H. Good to catalog

appropriate structures for use in the parks. In

1938, the Park Service published the definitive

work, Park & Recreation Structures, edited by

Good, which collected these and other examples

of rustic architecture.

 

By 1940, W. Ellis Groben, Chief Architect of the

Forest Service, had written Architectural Trends

of Future Forest Service Buildings. In it, Groben

decried the widespread use of inappropriate urban

styles on many forests. He advocated “buildings of

a more distinctive character…which both express

the purposes of the Forest Service and which are

more appropriate to their particular locales.”

 

All these guides emphasized the need for

harmonious design using local natural materials

such as timber and stone. They also called for

the use of trained design professionals.

 

The effects of this guidance, carried out by trained

professionals and labor forces, soon became visible

in the design and construction of forest roads,

trails, buildings, and public recreation sites. Stone

masonry and log structures predominated, and

the massive scale of structural elements and site

furnishings implied permanence and connection to

the landscape.

 

The style was generally referred to as “rustic

architecture.” It was based upon a canny

combination of pioneer building skills and

techniques, principles of the Arts and Crafts

movement, and the premise of harmony with

the landscape. The guides captured and codified

the prevailing design that already had been

practiced for many decades in natural settings

such as New York’s Adirondack Reserve and the

early national parks.

 

The work of the CCC influenced virtually every

national forest. While the architectural style

was consistently rustic, featuring stone and

massive timbers, regional variations that

reflected cultural context and the availability

of building materials did occur.

 

For example, in the Juan Tabo and La Cueva Picnic

Area on the Cibola National Forest in New Mexico

and in Sabino Canyon on the Coronado National

Forest in Arizona, picnic shelters, restrooms, and

bridges are made entirely of large granite boulders

and native stone. These fit well within the rocky,

arid character of the site.

 

“However, the highest expression of CCC-era

rustic architecture came in the Pacific Northwest

Region of the Forest Service. Both in quantity

and quality of facilities, this region surpassed

all others, including that of the National Parks

in the area. Rich in timber and volcanic rock,

the region’s architecture and recreation site

furnishings exhibited the classic elements of

rustic architecture—stone bases, massive

timbers, wood shakes, and incorporation of

handcrafted features. This expression of rustic

architecture in the Northwest became known

as Cascadian style” (Tweed, 1978, pp 21–22).

The most significant example of the Cascadian

style is the Timberline Lodge. Begun in 1936 by

the Works Progress Administration (WPA), this

massive rustic structure used native materials

and incorporated lavish use of handcrafted

regional decoration in the Arts and Crafts style.

With the onset of World War II, the public works

era came to an end. The built works and publications

of the era, however, established the

principles and tradition of rustic architecture

for parks and public lands. These principles,

summarized, were:

• Emphasis on horizontal form and avoidance

of hard straight lines.

• Combinations of harmonious exterior textures

and colors.

• Use of local natural materials sized in

proportion to the grand scale of the landscape.

• Appearance of pioneer building methods.

• Strong incorporation of handcrafted elements.

• Reflection of regional cultural influences.

 

The rustic style resonated strongly because it

reflected the character of the forests themselves

and stood in pleasing contrast to the increasing

“civilization” of the rest of the country. People

sensed a connection to the uniqueness of the

natural settings and to frontier traditions.

These bonds contributed strongly to the agency

image for decades. For many people, rustic

architecture represents the ideal for natural

parks and forests. Indeed, the work of the CCC

is a legacy we cherish to this day.

 

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