With much public discussion these days relating to infrastructure, economic stimulus, and job creation, the Los Angeles Times recently featured this engaging article concerning the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps in our national parks during the 1930’s. In fact, the CCC was also responsible for considerable work in our state parks, exemplified by visitor centers, campgrounds, and restrooms designed in the “park rustic” style of architecture, or “parkitecture” as it has come to be known.
While highlighting the CCC’s significance in providing park infrastructure, the story too focused on the Corp’s dual role of creating an infrastructure for the lives and futures of the young men who joined.
“The CCC was a great deal more than a work program,” former National Park Service Director Roger Kennedy said. “It was an education and nutrition program. Most of the people who worked there got the first decent meals in their lives. You could see the people growing, literally, eating good food and working hard outside.”
The spirits of formerly hungry and downtrodden Corp members were lifted through difficult but satisfying work as they labored in the most beautiful natural settings in the nation.
“Environmentalism took its largest forward leap in this country when those people learned it with their hands and with their feet,” Kennedy said.
This newfound connection workers felt for the land appears echoed in designs by National Park Service architects. Park rustic design emphasized the use of native materials such as stone and timber, along with minimal detailing and fine craftsmanship in an effort to connect buildings to local settings and emphasize the natural beauty of the landscape.
State Park architect Amy Schuessler from our Southern Service Center, notes the significance of historical context when considering park architecture and emphasized the continued importance of “speaking to the current moment” in architectural design for our State Parks. That is exactly what she did in her design of the LASHP administrative building which is located at the northern end of the park. “Modular buildings are very popular right now due to the reduction of waste, efficiency, and cost savings associated with off-site construction,” says Amy. In designing the LASHP modular she focused on creating a “green” building through the use of natural lighting and recycled materials such as railroad ties and cemintious fiber board.
Amy notes that in the mid-1950’s the National Park Service began a program of improvements to National Park facilities entitled Mission 66. Mission 66 sought to address the need for new and improved park facilities during the post World War II years when the population boomed and hit the road to visit state and national parks. Buildings were designed in a contemporary, Modernist style as new and eager visitors poured into parks.
In terms of State Park architectural design, Amy says, “Now is our Mission 66.” Amy’s modern design of the LASHP modular is one that speaks to new directions for California State Parks as we extend our reach to park patrons in urban areas such as downtown Los Angeles where State Parks presence has traditionally been less prominent. Amy notes however, that her design choices, like those made during the CCC era, sought stylistically to tie the building to the historical landscape. Stone gabbions provide solidity to a building that would otherwise appear raised from the surface and the reddish-orange color is reminiscent of box cars and the a nod to the railroad history of the site.
For those of us finding the modular a second home, we’d like to thank Amy Schuessler for a stylish design that allows us to enjoy a nice cross-breeze and days spent free of fluorescent lighting. The modular is not only a good-looking addition to our new downtown park but very much in keeping with California State Parks’ overcall focus on creating energy efficient “Cool Parks.” Well done Amy!