by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation
With all the talk in the news about the economic crisis, stimulus proposals, and plans to create more jobs, I can’t help but be reminded of a similar situation that happened sixty years ago: The Great Depression and the creation of the Works Progress (later Projects) Administration, or WPA.
The WPA was a New Deal program that focused on providing jobs for the unemployed by funding a variety of public projects, including constructing buildings and roads and funding the arts. From 1936-1939, almost $7 billion was spent on WPA projects, and almost 8 million jobs were created. The WPA continued until 1943 when the onset of WWII provided employment in war production.
The Fort Collins Museum has special ties to the WPA: through it, $18,881 was allocated to help fund the construction of our precursor, the Pioneer Museum, which stood at the east end of Library Park from 1941-1977. Back then the Carnegie Library (the current home of the Fort Collins Museum) was located on the west end of Library Park, so the current locations of the museum and library are opposite of where they started out.
In 1976 a new library was built in a U-shape around the Pioneer Museum, the Carnegie Library was turned into the Fort Collins Museum, and in 1977 the Pioneer Museum was demolished (apparently it had to be done in that order because the books from the old library had to be moved into the new library before the artifacts from the old museum could go into the new museum, which had been the old library).
The sandstone lintel inscribed with “PIONEER MUSEUM” over the door of the Pioneer Museum was supposed to be saved and moved to the new museum, but the “PIONEER” part was shattered during the demolition. “MUSEUM” and the corner stone inscribed “Works Projects Administration 1940,” were saved and can still be seen in the planter in front of the museum’s west steps. Neat side story: the wedding suit of the man who cut and hauled the stone the cornerstone was shaped from was just donated to the Museum’s collections.
Other WPA projects in Fort Collins include the City Park Nine Golf Course and the Municipal Power Plant on North College Avenue. Both the plant’s retaining wall along the south bank of the Cache la Poudre River and the fountain on its grounds were WPA projects that are now local historic landmarks. You can read more about the fountain at the “Lost Fort Collins” blog.