Kevin: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast – the show that brings you the people and projects that are advancing the future of America’s heritage. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology & Training. Today we join NCPTT’s Jenny Hay as she speaks with Cindy Brandimarte, Director of the Historic Sites & Structures Program in the State Parks Division of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. In the first installment of this two-part series, they’ll talk about the iconic landscape of the Civilian Conservation Corps and their role in the development of the Texas State Park system.
jh: Thank you for joining me here today, Cindy. I just want to start with a pretty general question. What is the Civilian Conservation Corps, or the CCC, and why is it important to the Texas State Park system?
CB: Many people know that the CCC as abbreviated stands for the Civilian Conservation Corps, and it was one of the key agencies that FDR created during, as part of his New Deal for America. And it was generally young men, although there were some veterans from WWI and even the Spanish-American War, who were part of it. And they were in general suffering the slings and arrows of the Great Depression, and it was a works program. And it became very important to Texas State Parks because they, we always say the Corps built the core of our system.
jh: Wow – and what kind of work did they do in the parks?
CB: Well, some of it, if you went, it would be invisible. They cleared brush, they planted trees – we can’t really see those kinds of things, except the mature trees. That’s kind of invisible – even road construction. But then there are these beautiful visible elements of the cultural landscape that get so much attention – or that got so much attention back in the 1930s. So much material, so much labor was invested in them. They are the refectories, which are also called combination buildings or concession buildings, they’re cabins, there are picnic tables galore, fire pits, shelters, that create just a masterful and beautiful landscape. Texas State Parks, and I’m sure other state park systems, are grateful – at least in Texas, before the CCC came here, we had convicts who were sent in to help fix up the parks. There were no master plans, there were no talented designers and architects, there was no large workforce that could be relied upon. And that took place from about 1923 to ’33, when the Civilian Conservation Corps first made its mark on our parks.
jh: I see. And is there a distinctive CCC style?
CB: Yes. In many, but not all of the parks, it is commonly referred to as ‘NPS Rustic.’ It’s distinctive in its – it’s been inspired by natural forms, local materials. For example, timber in East Texas, and stone in the Texas Hill Country, where these materials are plentiful. There’s a lot of handcrafted woodwork, they are set unobtrusively in the landscape. As Jim Steely, who was talking about Herbert Meyer, one of the architects in the National Park Service that helped design our parks, there was a horizontality about them and Meyer talks about the horizontal key. So they tend to be low to the ground, they’re not these vertical Victorian resorts of the 1870s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. That said, the NPS Rustic which is distinctive, the CCC was very conscious of the local setting in terms of cultural settings and local history. For example, in the Davis Mountains which is far West Texas, we have a pueblo style hotel: the Indian Lodge at the Davis Mountains State Park. It looks a little West, to New Mexican architecture, to Native American architecture. And we also have what’s called Goliad State Park and Historic Site which is a reconstructed 18th century mission that’s very much a part of the local history of South Texas. And then I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the more modern design that came in at the end of the CCC. We’re talking 1940, ’41, right before World War II. There’s an architect up in Northeast Texas by the name of Joe Lair, and he executed a really remarkable, modern design for Tyler State Park that was a clear break from the NPS Rustic. So we have a gamut, and we have some highly distinctive NPS Rustic architecture within our parks.
jh: Yeah, that’s really fascinating – the wide variety of styles that you can see and yet the coherence that’s kind of woven through those parks. I’m going to bring us back up to today. The website “texascccparks.org” is an innovative website displaying the extensive documentation of the work of the CCC in the Texas State Park system. Can you tell me a little bit about the development of this resource?
CB: Well we were quite fortunate, because there was something in the air in 2006 and 2007 that caused us all to look at earlier architectural models. Whether it was an awareness of sprawl, whether it was a sense of economic crisis soon to come – whatever it was, certainly at Parks & Wildlife and in more broad circles, the CCC was seen to be a good topic and a topical one. We started writing grants and we were so fortunate to get several Texas foundations, the Hillcrest Foundation and the Sturgis Foundation interested in our project. We wanted to help, we wanted to model what we imagined, what we believed is good design in these CCC parks, and have architects, architectural students wherever they might live, locally, globally, have access to these places – at least visually if not physically. And we wanted to do that by means of a website. We wanted to grow our base of advocates. We were very concerned that as these gentlemen who worked in the CCC died, they had passed along the torch I you will to their families, friends and colleagues. But there are people that come to the parks purely for recreation. And they don’t have this other story, and they don’t have this other personal connection. So wherever they were, we wanted the ability to reach them. And I think what really helped us so much in addition to these generous private foundations was that the National Endowment for the Arts was offering a new category on design. And this really seemed like the perfect fit. That if we could build this website and talk about the history and the good design and the cultural context in which it happened, then we could have people who love these parks for a variety of reasons and we might inspire some future designers to build on this human scale.
jh: Are there other online resources that tell the story of the CCC in the Texas State Parks?
CB: Well you named one, and that is one that the Interpretive Services group at Texas Parks & Wildlife did. Sarah Lisle was the “A New Deal for Texas,” and that was geared, that was funded by Humanities Texas, and it is geared to assist teachers of Texas history in the 4th and 7th grade to talk about the phenomenon of change in the 20th century. Teachers in Texas had, are stressed with teaching everything. The idea was that once you get to the 20th century, you don’t get to the present. You may get to WWII, but there’s a gap in what’s covered. The interpreters thought that this geared toward 4th and 7th grade school children in Texas who take Texas history would be attractive. And it has proven to be. There’s a lot of more national ones – if you’re interested, Living New Deal at Berkeley, it’s just one word strung together: https://livingnewdeal.org/. There’s an individual by the name of Gray Brechin who’s trying to look at a lot – not just CCC parks but all New Deal infrastructure that is around us everywhere. And he’s done a really good job. And there’s another website you can go to: NewDealLegacy.org – it’s part of the New Deal Preservation Association. So I’d direct listeners to those.
jh: Thank you for sharing those resources with us, Cindy. We’ll provide links to them for folks who are interested on our website. That’s all the questions I have for you this time – next time, I’ll ask you about Bastrop State Park and the work done to save its CCC heritage in the face of one of the worst wildfires in Texas history.
Kevin: That was part one of jenny hay’s conversation with Cindy Brandimarte. Be sure to join us for the second installment of this two-part series. You can find part 2, as well as the full transcript of this podcast, on the NCPTT website. That’s ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time…