The Naturalistic Expressions of The CCC in Texas
Posted on March 13, 2015
As varied as the landscape in Texas can be, a unique architectural expression grew out of this and can be found across the state in the work that came out of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. As a part of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” for America, the formation of the CCC put thousands of men back to work throughout the country. This effort came to life through the combined efforts of four cabinet departments and the swiftness of their actions and organization was a testament to the creativity and cooperation of those leaders. The Department of the Interior identified projects in National Parks across the country which lead to the formation of state park systems – in 1933 Texas had almost no state park system, and the efforts of the CCC would lead to the acquiring of land and historic sites where over fifty projects would be built over a period of ten years and twenty nine state parks would be formed.
One shining example of this lies at the original structures at Longhorn Cavern State Park – a collection of some of my favorite buildings in the state. In 1933, the CCC came to a site that already had a rich history – the cave had previously been the hideout of the legendary Sam Bass and was the supposed location of his hidden treasures, it was later used as a prohibition era speakeasy on Saturday nights and a chapel on Sundays in the 1920’s.
Fresh off the completion of work at Blanco State Park, the Civil Conservation Corps camp relocated to the cavern just outside of Burnet. Led under the direction of architects Samuel C.P. Vesper and George Walling, their design grew as an expression of the landscape; drawing materials from the land and inspiration from the natural forms. The cave at the entry to the cavern and its natural land bridge are transformed by the elegant and naturalistic stair leading to the original trellis covered entry pavilion. The paths are framed by dry stacked limestone walls that nestle within the natural stone outcroppings. There always seems to be a harmony between the structures and their setting, where it does not feel like nature is being manipulated, but rather the architecture reinforces its surroundings – the two coexisting naturally as if they had always been this way.
These rugged yet refined structures are best exemplified in the original park Administration Building and Observation Tower. These building forms are complex architectural gems, their playful characters reflecting the duality that makes them still so intriguing to this day – the concise and inventive designs and execution of hand crafted details to the rusticity of the local, natural materials unique to the site. This can be seen in a variety of scales – from the overall massing of the forms at the Administration Building or in the raw materiality of the Officer’s Quarters, to more subtle detailing like the expression of a carved corbel as a column capital in the rough-hewn timbers of the Observation Tower structure.
Whether it is in the banding of the stone that pays homage to the geology of the cavern, the main halls reflection of the caverns “Crystal Rooms”, the playful expression of the stair to the roof terrace like the natural entry to the cavern, the expression on the printed arches mimicking the natural land bridges, or the cedar post walls set in lime mortar – the building is a mirror to its surrounds and the landscape.
These buildings timeless character is what makes these them so endearing to those who visit, and what makes me yearn to come back and visit time and again.