Resources 1984 – O. Construction Activity Tapers Off

Historic Resource Study, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, 1984

X. Construction of Government Buildings and Landscaping in Crater Lake National Park


O. Construction Activity Tapers Off

When the first PWA allotments were allocated to the NPS in July 1933, Vint’s Branch of Plans and Design (renamed earlier in 1933) employed 16 people. The architectural portion was augmented quickly, and by 1935 the branch contained 120 professionals. The buildings funded during the first two major PWA allotments had been designed or sketched prior to July 1933. From that time on the new staff was faced with design responsibilities. Vint himself had no time to instruct each person personally in park architecture after 1933, and it was increasingly difficult for the pre-FDR veterans to exercise control over all the new architects.

The National Park Service rustic architecture program declined due to changing economic and social conditions. During the period from 1925 to 1935 the NPS had grown immensely, adding new responsibilities along with new field units. Enlarged professional staffs were created and park visitation skyrocketed. Although the Service attempted to implement on as large a scale as possible its internally-conceived philosophy of park architecture, it could not keep up with the demand for park facilities, even with the aid of the CCC and PWA programs. After 1935 the PWA program ceased to be the dominant force in park development. The CCC continued to serve, but as the number of enrollees dropped over the next few years, so did the productivity of the camps. There was, however, a rise in the level of regular appropriations to somewhat counter the decline of the emergency programs. Park funding dropped after the 1939 fiscal year and was low for the duration of World War II. As park visitation increased again after the war, pressure also grew to be more efficient in the function and design of park structures. The NPS was reorganized in 1937 and regionalized into four parallel geographical units. The Branch of Plans and Design was moved to Washington, D.C., and portions of Vint’s staff were distributed among regional offices. Resident landscape architects were left in the parks. The decreased centralization of the branch made it more susceptible to external influences, such of those of the new “modern” architecture that espoused simplicity and structural honesty in line with changing economic conditions and new building materials. The romanticism of NPS rustic architecture was slowly rejected as a feasible building technique for the modern age It required a great amount of labor on the part of skilled and unskilled workmen as well as professionals, it required frequent inspection during construction, it often produced excessive maintenance problems, and it became increasingly difficult to replace structural parts that were damaged.

In the postwar years, construction appropriations for park development were held to a minimum due to heavy financial demands on the government. Increased postwar travel, rising visitor facility demand, decreased development funding, and increased outside influences meant that the NPS building program of the late 1930s was of uneven quality. Residences and utility buildings emphasized efficiency and functionalism, which resulted in unexceptional frame houses with rustic siding and stone veneer foundations. These late 1930s residences still present in many western parks showed little concession to setting. The new philosophy was not a total rejection of non-intrusive design in parks, but was a redefinement of the concept, arguing that harmony with nature could also be achieved by a more modest functionalism. Simple design and efficiency became not only the philosophy of the outside architectural world, but also an NPS budgetary requirement.

No major building construction took place at Crater Lake in 1940, although the three staff cabins were finished and a new comfort station at park headquarters was completed. (This was converted to a sign shop [Bldg. #037] in 1954). Three years later a new boat house to house the government-owned launch was built at a more practical location on Wizard Island. A new hospital building was in process of construction to replace the leaky tents being used by the park physician. [65]