This poster was presented at A Century of Design in the Parks Symposium, Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 21-23, 2016.
“[D]ouble worth as a thing of beauty and as a practical service building,”1 was how the local press assessed the Custodian’s Cottage at Goliad State Park in the autumn of 1937. Both attractive and useful, the custodian’s cottage is even more than that. With its native materials, handmade, mortised joinery, “antique natural” finishes, clay tiles fired on site, blue and red dadoes, and even the gas stove— concealed to resemble a “Mexican charcoal stove”—it embodies National Park Service (NPS) Rustic style design tenants and reveals the imaginations of its architects, Samuel C.P. Vosper and Raiford Stripling, who used the residential cottage as an experimental studio.
Tasked with reconstructing Goliad’s crumbling Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga, the two architects, with an interdisciplinary team of planners and archaeologists, embarked on a road trip through south Texas, northern Mexico, and California to study historic Spanish Colonial and vernacular architecture, arriving at Goliad to create a genuine tribute. Before they began work on the Mission, they designed the Custodian’s Cottage, a space where ideas incubated, draftsmen drew, and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers tested construction techniques. Finishes and flourishes replicated at the Mission were prototyped: plastered clamshell windows, latilla ceilings, hand-carved doors and cabinets, and forged iron hinges. The cottage became a living laboratory. It is easy to conjure up images of Vosper and Stripling as mad scientists fueled by their own ideas about authenticity, utility, and beauty.
Inspiration spread from the inside out to a pleasant patio, native garden, and enclosed service yard, marrying interior and exterior to form a fully-landscaped vision. The cottage graced the pages of the seminal 1939 NPS publication, Park and Recreation Structures, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt toured the residence in 1940. Certainly the cottage ensured the success of the park’s most recognized structure across the road. But the striking structure speaks to the unrepeatable opportunity afforded by the Goliad project and helps contextualize early federal sponsorship of historic preservation vis-à-vis New Deal work programs.
Today, however, the one-story residence is easily bypassed by speeding motorists, and subsequent alterations and intrusions have compromised the site, but a Transportation Enhancement Grant from the Texas Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration will rehabilitate the cottage for use as a park visitors’ center, better orienting guests and showcasing area history. Soon this diamond-in-the-rough will shine bright again as an architectural jewel.
Jennifer Carpenter is a Preservation, Research, and Outreach Specialist with Texas State Parks’ Historic Sites and Structures Program. She earned a Master’s degree in Historic Preservation at the University of Maryland, where she investigated New Deal-era experiments with rammed earth construction, and received a B.A. in History from Wake Forest University. She regularly presents about the Civilian Conservation Corps and Texas State Parks and is researching how other work programs impacted park development. Her previous experience includes positions with the Raleigh Historic Development Commission and the curatorial offices of the Supreme Court of the United States and U.S. Treasury Department.