On-line Book


Table of Contents


I. In the Beginning: 1872 - 1916

II. The Landscape Influence: 1916 - 1918

III. The Formative Decade: 1918 - 1927

IV. Maturity Achived: 1927 - 1932

V. Roosevelt's Emergancy Programs: 1933 - 1935>

VI. The Decline: 1935 - 1942


Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

National Park Service
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Rustic Architecture:
1916 - 1942

V. Roosevelt's Emergency Programs: 1933-1935

In retrospect it is clear that the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the Presidency of the United States opened a new period in the history of the National Park Service. Under Roosevelt the NPS grew rapidly and took on responsibilities far beyond its previous spectrum of activities. The impetus for this change was the Great Depression.

During the Hoover Administration the NPS had succeeded not only in preserving itself in the face of considerable pressure to reduce the size of government, but it had actually grown in number of areas, staffing, and funding. Not until the last year of the Hoover presidency did the NPS suffer a budget cut, and even then the professional design staff of the Landscape Division was preserved intact.

The NPS continued to be favored with presidential attention under the new administration. 1 Initially Roosevelt's interest in the NPS lay in incorporating the expertise of the well-organized and highly professional bureau into his expansive relief schemes. FDR had given serious thought to relief projects during the months prior to his inauguration, and he presented the concept of a "Civilian Conservation Corps" to his staff only hours after his oath of office. As proposed by FDR, the "C. C. C. " would be an army of young men sent to attack the enemies of erosion and deforestation. The new organization would be a multi-departmental affair. As organized under the March, 1933, "Emergency Conservation Work (E. C. W.) Act, " C. C. C. enrollees were recruited by the Department of Labor, organized and transported by the War Department, and put to work by the Departments of Agriculture and Interior.2 The National Park Service was one of the bureaus designated to receive enrollees under the Interior allotment.

FDR had conceived the C. C. C. as a conservation army doing the simplest type of manual labor. To the several bureaus who would administer the field work, however, the C. C. C. represented an opportunity for accomplishing much more than simple tree planting or gully filling. The NPS, in particular, was quick to sense these potentials. Several days after FDR's first announcement of the C. C. C. program, a selection of officials from the various departments and bureaus involved collected at the Interior building to hear Rex Tugwell explain the President's new program. After Tugwell introduced the simple manual labor concept of the C. C. C., NPS Landscape Architect Charles Peterson pointed out that all such work in the national parks and monuments would be done underthe control of landscape architects and suggested that the other bureaus using C. C. C. crews do the same. 3 Thus the landscape professionals of the NPS made it clear from the beginning that emergency park development would go forward under the same standards that had controlled previous work.

The first C. C. C. camp opened in Virginia in mid-April, 1933, under the supervision of the Forest Service. The first camp in a western national park opened at Sequoia on May 15, when 25 enrollees and an army officer set up camp at Potwisha. 4 This and similar programs in the other parks grew rapidly. By middle summer 70 C. C. C. camps were operating in the national parks and monuments. 5
Although the field landscape architects were deeply involved in the C. C. C. program in the parks, the C. C. C. did not at first participate fully in all parts of the landscape program. Specifically, the C. C. C. was not a major constructor of rustic buildings in its early phase. The skills required in rustic construction were thought to be too complex for efficient execution by young and generally unskilled enrollees. Another factor which prevented the early C. C. C. from undertaking major structural projects was an administrative dictum that structures erected by the C. C. C. could not cost more than $1,500. 6

The contribution of the early C. C. C. to park development was not negated by these limitations, however. In the western parks thou- sands of enrollees labored on road and trail work. As organization improved and available skills were better identified, small structural projects were initiated. During the first summer, these consisted mainly of small, wood frame buildings of simple design. Manyof these were intended for C. C. C. temporary use; a few were permanent NPS structures. Generally the permanent park buildings were not intended for public view and use and were not highly stylized. Designed by the Landscape Division these maintenance sheds, barns, and cabins were usually non-intrusive only in that they displayed rough-sawed wood exteriors and were finished in various tones of brown or gray.

The creation of the Public Works Administration in June, 1933, temporarily diverted those interests that might have attempted to remold the early C. C. C. into a major park development program. Created as apart of the National Industrial Recovery Act, the P. W. A. was charged with broad responsibilities including the awarding of grants to various Federal agencies for the construction of roads, water and sewer systems, buildings, and other physical improvements. 7 The object of the P. W. A. was to stimulate both industrial production and the employment of skilled labor with the ultimate goal that of rehabilitating the general economy. Roosevelt instructed the administrator of the new agency to proceed with all possible haste in the allocation of grants. In response. the P. W. A. turned to several Federal agencies which habitually prepared plans well in advance of actual construction opportunities. When the P. W .A. invited project proposals in June. 1933, the NPS forwarded major portions of each park's six year master plan to the new agency. In response, on July 21, the first P. W .A. building allotments included 106 major building projects in the western national parks and monuments. The September, 1933 allotments authorized 58 additional projects in the same areas. 8

The structures erected in the western parks with funds granted in the July and September. 1933 P.W.A. allotments represent a significant chapter in the history of national park building design and construction. Although the 164 allotments included funds for such unspectacular projects as equipment sheds, garages, and campground layouts, the allotments also funded over 150 permanent structures. Designed mainly as a part of the master plan process prior to the creation of the P. W. A. , these buildings were products of the design staff Vint had assembled since 1927. Stylistically, the buildings of the July and September allotments were a diverse lot, varying widely in design style and emphasis. To a high degree, however, they followed the definition of non-intrusive design that had matured under the direction of Tom Vint.

Vint's definition required that each structure be individually designed for its specific site. A road checking station located at the Desert View entrance of Grand Canyon National Park, for example, required several specific design adaptions. The building needed to harmonize with its immediate natural setting, with other buildings in the vicinity, and with the general architectural themes utilized by the NPS at the nearby South Rim area. Previous public buildings at the Grand Canyon had utilized large logs and/or native stone. Some had displayed distinctly Indian features while others incorporated gable roofs and alpine details. To complicate the issue further, the Desert View site contained environmental elements not present at the main South Rim area. including a distinctly different vegetative cover. The presence near the entrance of M. E. J. Colter's Desert View Watch Tower, around concessioner-built masonry tower loosely modeled after prehistoric Indian structures, also was a design factor.

As advanced by Vint's shop. the design solution to this difficult situation was a gable-roofed, stone structure. The pueblo Indian motif was apparently rejected because such a building at Desert View would not share a sufficient design unity with the more alpine NPS structures at South Rim. On the other hand the lack of alpine forest trees at Desert View made alpine features equally out of character, so the roof rafters, brackets, and window trim were boldly scaled rough-sawed timbers. The stone walls gave it a superficial similarity with nearby pueblo style structures while the gable roof tied it stylistically to the administrative and residential buildings at South Rim. The Desert View entrance station was clearly a compromise dictated by a complex series of factors.

The September allotment contained monies for the construction of ranger station and barn/garage at Toroweap in the newly established Grand Canyon National Monument. Here the design requirements were completely localized. Toroweap was so far removed from the NPS developments at neighboring Grand Canyon National Park that there was no need to seek unifying themes. Moreover, Toroweap, located north of the Colorado River on what is known as the Arizona Strip, was in an area which contained cultural values and themes foreign to the South Rim. The Arizona Strip had been settled by Mormon pioneers coming south out of Utah. Following the precedent set a decade earlier at Zion National Park, the Toroweap Ranger Station probably took its inspiration from the pioneer masonry of the Mormon frontier. The Mormons had turned to masonry as a logical building material in their arid domain. Stone was readily available and provided good insulation against the extremes of the region's harsh desert climate. The same advantages held at Toroweap. The residence also contained design features outside the Mormon tradition, especially the low, ranch style profile. In this case Vint's concepts of visual non-intrusiveness overruled the historic style. In sum, the Toroweap house was a solid, well-insulated masonry structure incorporating a low visual profile and some local cultural content in its attempt to be non-intrusive. Like many park buildings of its time, it was characterized by pains- taking craftsmanship both in its masonry and woodwork.

In many parks the master plans called for further development at sites where initial improvements had already been made. In such situations architectural themes were established, and the design problem became one of adapting existing themes to fill necessary functions. The Naturalist's Residence at Casa Grande National Monument is a good example. An architectural theme for Casa Grande had been developed in 1931 when the administration building and superintendent' s residence were erected. (See Chapter IV) The master plan called for additional facilities in the same style. The July, 1933 allotment contained funds for the construction of a naturalist's residence that was a part of the six year plan. The new residence was similar to the superintendent's residence but smaller by one bedroom. Like its predecessor, the new structure was a one-story adobe in the southwestern style.

Ideally each park building was individually designed for its site. In practice, this was not always possible. The July, 1933 allotment, for example, contained funds for the construction of a naturalist's residence at Manzanita Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park. This area, which had not been added to Lassen until 1929, was lightly developed. The only major structure built in the area since its addition to the park was the Manzanita Lake Lodge which had been built in 1933 by two former park rangers, who had gone into business. Don Hummel and Charles Keathley seem to have been influenced in their design by Landscape architect Merel Sager's work at nearby Crater Lake National Park. Their lodge, designed by Eldridge T. Spencer of San Francisco, strongly resembled the residences Sager had constructed in the headquarters area of Crater Lake in 1932.

With this borrowed theme already in place. it was logical for Sager to turn to his Crater Lake designs for the P. W. A. -financed Manzanita Lake naturalist's residence. As built, the Lassen residence was an almost exact copy of the Crater Lake naturalist's residence of 1932. The transfer of design from one locale to another was relatively successful because both settings were alpine. volcanic environments.

Not all the P.W.A. buildings of 1933-1934 were as highly stylized as those at Lassen Volcanic or Casa Grande. A dormitory built at Lodgepole in Sequoia National Park, for example, is stylistically much less extreme than the Manzanita Lake residence. From a design standpoint the two sites shared a number of environmental factors; both were in conifer forests; both were rocky; both were areas that lacked cultural themes that could easily be adapted for larger buildings. The most important difference between the two was that the Lodgepole dorm was well away from public view, located on the end of a service road that passed through a maintenance area. This factor lessened the importance of extreme rustic styling on the site. Nevertheless, the dormitory was carefully designed to harmonize with its natural setting. A steeply pitched roof enclosed the second story, providing protection against heavy snows and giving the building a conifer-like profile when viewed from the side. Rough-sawed lap siding covered the exterior. The general impression was faintly Swiss. While these simple devices were several degrees removed from the rustic style of the Lassen residence, they were sufficient for the site. Interestingly enough the simpler design of the Lodgepole dorm was not less expensive than the highly stylized Lassen residence. The final bookkeeping sheets for the 1933-1934 P.W.A. accounts show that the Manzanita Lake residence cost $3.15 per square foot while the Lodgepole dorm cost $4.00 per square foot. 9

The P.W.A. allotments of July and September, 1933 were particularly generous with Yosemite National Park. This generosity was probably a response to the intensive planning effort initiated in the park by Mather and Albright. Both wanted to make Yosemite a showplace of national park values. Design problems in Yosemite were influenced by a large number of factors including the wide variety of natural environments within the park, the large distances between some of the developed areas, and the stylistic disparity of the existing structures. Laboring under these divergent inf1uences, resident landscape architect John Wosky realized the impossibility of developing a single architectural theme appropriate to the whole park.

The July, 1933 allotment contained funds for the development of facilities at Chinquapin. Wosky's ranger station and comfort station designs for the site developed a cultural theme unknown in the other mountainous parks of the West. The two structures were simple frame buildings with lap siding and gable roofs. The simplicity of the box-like, white painted buildings was reminiscent of colonial New England. Actually Wosky was responding to the nineteenth century building tradition of Yosemite. Many of the region's tourist structures, including the Sentinel and Wawona Hotels, were distinctly reminiscent of earlier East Coast architecture. At Chinquapin, located on the road between the Sentinel and Wawona Hotels, Wosky chose to emphasize the history of the Yosemite region. 10

Several other buildings constructed in Yosemite during 1933-1934 with P. W. A. funds exhibit much less cultural content in their attempts to harmonize with their environments. The Merced Grove Ranger Station, located in the midst of a towering grove of giant sequoias, was a traditional, if highly stylized log cabin. Using logs scaled to the surrounding forest, the cabin sought oneness with its environment through the use of native materials. In his Tuolumne Meadows Campground comfort stations. Wosky again developed a non-cultural theme emphasizing native materials. Responding to the alpine environment and to the nearby Tioga Pass station erected several years previously. Wosky chose a heavy masonry design for the facilities. Adapting a plan used two years earlier at another site in the park. Wosky gave maximum emphasis to the horizontal nature of the massive granite buildings. Jerkinhead roofs and battered walls added to the almost geological character of the structures. Viewed from a short distance, each comfort station appeared similar in color and shape to the alpine skyline of Sierran peaks.

Despite the large scale of the P. W. A. program in the national parks in 1933-1934, pressure continued from many field personnel to take advantage of the structural development potential of the C. C. C. The response of the NPS landscape architects and the C. C. C. administrative staff varied considerably in different parks. In Sequoia, C. C. C. crews were undertaking building projects before the end of the summer of 1933. Carefully supervised by the resident landscape architect and his C. C. C. assistants, the enrollees built several acceptable structures including a patrol cabin at Hidden Springs and a residence at Atwell's Mill. This latter structure was not particularly rustic. but its complexity and size demonstrated that C. C. C. crews could build well if properly supervised. 11 The success of the Atwell's Mill project led to the construction during the following year by C. C. C. labor of the Hockett Meadow Ranger Station in Sequoia. Located in an alpine meadow surrounded by dense stands of Lodgepole pine and red fir, the Hockett station was a well-executed log cabin. Sensitively styled to be formal yet not objectionable in a wilderness setting, the structure rested on a rustic foundation of native granite and was topped with a staggered shingle roof. The log work in the porch supports and rail was especially successful. An adjacent tack room shared the same architectural themes. 12 Despite misgivings expressed by resident landscape architect Thomas Carpenter in his 1934 report about the suitability of using C. C. C. enrollees in permanent building construction, the Sequoia staff continued to use enrollees in this manner. Several excellent rustic structures resulted in the following years. 13

Glacier National Park. to present another example, followed a similar pattern. During the summer of 1933, the Glacier C. C. C. was used as conceived, that is almost entirely for landscape improvement and cleanup. During 1934, however, the park staff began to experiment with the use of C. C. C. crews in small building construction. Landscape architect E. A. Davidson objected to this use and recommended that the park staff wait for regular appropriations or P. W .A. grants to meet their facility needs. 14 Need overrode patience, however, and after 1934 the C. C. C. played a major role in building construction at Glacier.

The C. C. C. continued to erect structures in the national parks into 1942, when the program was abolished. These structures, however, represent only a small portion of the building construction effort of the Corps. Other Federal bureaus made extensive use of the enrollees for construction purposes. The E. C. W. Act of 1933 also authorized the President to use C. C. C. crews on state and municipallands, and this became a major part of the E. C. W. program. FDR had sought this authority for the purpose of encouraging and assisting the development of state and county park systems. In April 1933, when existing agencies had been assigned responsibility for various portions of the new program, the NPS was designated to supervise those projects undertaken in various state, county , and metropolitan recreation areas. This responsibility was not placed under Tom Vint, but rather under the Branch of Planning supervised by Conrad Wirth. Within a matter of months the state park assistance program had grown to the point where it was designated as a separate “State Park Division” under supervisor Herbert Evison. 15. The growth of the program continued and the State Park Division was soon regionalized.

From the beginning, the state park assistance staff looked to the work of Vint and his staff as a model. Wherever possible the E. C. W. regional offices of the State Park Division were staffed with professionals who had previous national park experience. For example, Herbert Maier, his work for the American Association of Museums ended by hard times, was appointed Regional Officer for the NPS state park office in Denver (soon moved to Oklahoma City). 16 For the next several years the state park buildings designed by that office often showed Maier's influence. 17 Building on the work of the pre-1933 Landscape Division, the State Park Division designed thousands of rustic structures for parks scattered from Maine to California. Constructed outside the national park system and therefore outside the scope of this paper, the state park buildings were nevertheless one of the major culminations of the National Park Service rustic architecture movement.

The national park design requirements entailed in the P. W. A. and C. C. C. programs placed heavy demands on Vint and his staff. As a result the Landscape Division underwent a metamorphosis. When the first P. W. A. allotments were allocated to the National Park Service in July, 1933, Vint's "Branch of Plans and Design" (it had been renamed earlier that same year) consisted of 16 professional personnel. (See Chapter IV) In the following six months the architectural portion of the staff alone was augmented with seventeen new men. Eight architects were added August 1.. 1933; one additional architect joined September 1, and seven architects, a structural engineer, and a mechanical engineer were added in December. 18 These men were all used in the Public Works program. The requirements of the C. C. C. projects added numerous landscape architects to the staff. By 1935 the Branch had 120 professional employees, and this total grew to 220 after some state park responsibilities were added in 1936.19

The rapid growth of the Branch placed inevitable strains on its organization. Perhaps the heaviest burden was the training and assimilation of these masses of newcomers. Before 1933 Vint had time to instruct each of his employees personally in the mysteries of park architecture. After 1933 this luxury disappeared. The buildings funded during the first two major P. W. A. allotments had already been designed or at least sketched prior to July, 1933. Working drawings could be completed by the new men without undue difficulty. Henceforth, however, the new staff members were faced with design responsibilities. Whenever possible pre-FDR veterans were placed so that they could exercise control over the new men, but the multiplicity of field projects made full control difficult. This situation was compounded by the demand for advice and assistance rising from the State Park Division.

Seeking a solution to its training problems, the NPS compiled a textbook of park architecture. Funded by the C. C. C. and edited by Albert H. Good of the State Park Division, Park Structures and Facilities was published by the Division of Planning in 1935. Divided into some twenty chapters addressing design problems as divergent as “Signs and Markers” “Concession Buildings, " and “Shelters and Recreation Buildings, " the 246 page volume was profusely illustrated with photographs and floor plans. In an introductory " Acknowledgement, " Conrad Wirth, Chief of the Division of Planning, identified the specific need the volume intended to fill. Few of the design personnel hired under the E.C.W. and P.W.A. programs "had any very extensive experience in meeting the special demands of park structure design as applied to natural areas; nor did any (appropriate) volume. ..exist. ...'20

In the first chapter of Park Structures and Facilities, Good addressed the question of defining rustic architecture. The resulting essay summarized the design philosophy perfected by the Vint staff.

    Successfully handled. [rustic] is a style which. through the use of native materials in proper scale, and through the avoidance of rigid, straight lines, and over-sophistication, gives the feeling of having been executed by pioneer craftsmen with limited hand tools. It thus achieves sympathy with natural surroundings, and with the past."21

Then, after adding the basic point that individual park structures must always be subordinate to their natural settings and to the large park plan. Good proceeded to define the various concepts essential to a philosophy of non-intrusive park design. Buildings were to seek harmony with their physical setting through sensitive use of native and planted vegetation and through the incorporation of natural colors into the building's exterior. Such harmony could be significantly increased through foundations styled to appear as "rough rock footings" or natural outcrops. When appropriate, stone could be used for walls, and battered or buttressed walls presented a more natural appearance. The stones, logs, and other construction members must be carefully proportioned to the natural setting, that is natural materials should be similar in size to their natural correspondents. In mountainous areas, it was often necessary to overscale the members so as to more effectively harmonize with the massive nature of the landscape. Proper scaling and material use was not merely a matter of facade design, for park structures must be designed to be seen from all sides. Vertical emphasis was to be avoided, especially in the form of large, imposing roofs, whose smooth surfaces could demand attention to an unseemly degree. Simple use of local materials did not assure harmony with the environment, however, If the natural materials were too thoroughly processed or too unblemished in their appearance, the effect was lost. Logs with knots and whorls were superior to smooth, clean poles.

The use of rock was a particularly difficult problem. Boulders generally presented the appearance of instability when used in walls and usually were best avoided. Rectangular or irregular rocks were placed along their horizontal axis so as to resemble nature's bedding patterns. In larger walls the size of the stones should decrease as the wall rises. Regularity of rock size should be avoided; the variety of nature being preferable to the regularity of man.

Roofs for rustic structures were another problem. They must avoid dominating the scene, yet at the same time match the often massive nature of walls and footings. Oversized verge members assisted in this problem as did the use of heavy shakes in place of shingles. As in the rest of the structure, irregular rooflines were generally preferable to the precision of straight lines.

Finally, while seeking harmony with the natural setting and with the past, rustic structures were to achieve thematic harmony with other buildings in the same park or vicinity. This concept was a part of the tenet of the time that attempted to make parks separate and distinct from the larger world.

Although altered and enlarged for the 1938 volume Park and Recreation Structures, Albert Good's introductory chapter in the 1935 text remains the definitive statement on rustic or non-intrusive architecture as practiced by the National Park Service prior to World War II. Like most definitive statements of style. it came near the end of its movement, for by 1935 the NPS rustic architecture program had entered its period of decline.

1. During his first year in office, President Roosevelt also transferred numerous National Monuments and Battlefields to the NPS from the Department of War and Agriculture, as well as assigning the agency respondsibility for the operation of numerous Federal office buildings.
2. Civilian Conservation Corps, CCC, The Organization and It's Work (Washington, D.C.: Civilian Conservation Corps, 1938), 7.
3. Peterson Interview.
4. National Park Service, "Annual Report of the Supterintendent of Sequoia National Park, California), 13.
5. Department of the Interior, Report of the Secretary (1933), 157.
6. National Park Service, Branch of Plans and Design, Landscape architect's field reports for Sequoia National Park, (unpublished manuscript in the Federal Records Center, San Bruno, California, Box 306849), report of January 29, 1934, 3.
7. Nickel, 1.
8. Ibid., 2-6.
9. Ibid., sheet 2.
10. Wosky interview. Wosky's Chinaquapin designs were strinkingly similar to the contemporary historic reconstructions then underway at Williamsburg, Virginia.
11. Landscape architect's field report for Sequoia National Park, report of January 29, 1934, 10, 33, 37.
12. Ibid., report of January 16, 1935.
13. Ibid., "Introduction," 3.
14. National Park Service, Branch of Plans and Design, Landscape architect's field reports for the Glacier National Park, (unpublished manuscript in the Federal Records Center, San Bruno, California, Box 306854) report of December, 1934, 3.
15. Park Structures and Facilities, 2; National Park Service A Brief History of the National Park Service (Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1940), 37.
16. National Park Service, personnel file, Herbert Maier.
17. The Palo Duro Canyon State Park (Texas) building picture on page 101 of Park Structures and Facilities certainly shows Maier's influence. Compare it to the Yavapai Musuem at the Grand Canyon.
18. Nickel, 9.
19. A Brief History of the National Park Service, 2.
20. Park Structures and Facilities, 2.
21. Ibid., 3-4


William C. Tweed, Historian
Laura E. Soulliere, Architectural Historian
Henry G. Law, Architect

National Park Service
Western Regional Office
Division of Culutral Resource Management
February, 1977

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