When we greet the year 2013, we will be seeing new buildings in towns and rural areas around the Valley where construction and facelifts have taken place in spite of or because of the economic slowdown. Let’s to say “Thanks” for the fine new schools and municipal complex.
In contrast, solutions immediately after the Crash in 1929 were breadlines, hoboes with belongings over their shoulders, and homeless people knocking on my own family’s backdoor to ask for food, because our society had not provided safety nets back then.
After FDR took office in 1933, the New Deal put thousands to work with publicly-funded jobs. In Colorado, a fourth of this state’s population depended on programs under the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.
Some projects involved resettlement from the Dust Bowl to locations like Waverly, while others had jobs in art, writing, and recreation, but the most visible activities were in construction performed through the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). CCC workers, living in camps like the one near Saguache, got a dollar a day, and the rest of their earnings were sent to their families.
During that period in Colorado, federal projects accounted for nearly 600 new public buildings, countless parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, streets, roads, culverts, airports, sanitation projects, and agricultural and conservation work. In this state alone, the WPA built and/or expanded 113 schools and improved nearly 400 other school buildings, many of which already were in need of replacement or improvement well before Crash occurred.
Prominent from that era is the Alamosa Country Courthouse (WPA), which was begun in 1936 and completed in 1938. Until then, the county had been making do without a proper courthouse for 25 years.
Today, we still can see some of the school buildings that were erected in the Valley during the New Deal. One is Alamosa’s Boyd School, originally called Lincoln School (WPA, with later construction changes), and another was the Central School Auditorium and Gymnasium (1938, PWA) in Monte Vista.
Additional structures around the Valley included the Superintendent’s Residence (WPA, repurposed for office use) at the entrance of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, and apartment buildings and cottages built during the 1930s (WPA) at the State Soldiers’ and Sailor’s Home at Homelake.
The PWA built numerous post offices throughout Colorado and the rest of the country. These included the Monte Vista Post Office and Federal Building (1933) and Alamosa’s post office on Fourth Street (1935, repurposed as Blue Peaks Development Services.)
Although no one was having a really easy time, Roosevelt’s New Deal was not universally espoused, of course. People living in cities and industrial areas were more inclined to support the New Deal, while farmers and ranchers, “rugged individualists” who were growing and eating crops and livestock and their communities did not.
For instance, Governor Billy Adams, a rancher and lifelong Democrat from the rural San Luis Valley, opposed the New Deal. When Billy decided not to run for re-election in 1932, his successor in office was another Democrat, “Big Ed” Johnson, whose family had farmed in Kansas and Nebraska before he moved to northwestern Colorado. Johnson vigorously opposed the New Deal while governor and, next, as a U.S. senator.
Johnson was replaced as governor in 1939 by a Republican, Ralph Carr, a native son from Colorado’s mining camps, a lawyer in Antonito and county attorney in Conejos County, and a figure in the state’s development of water compacts. Carr also opposed the New Deal, but in 1942, after our country entered the Second World War, he lost in the U.S. senate race against Johnson, who believed that all Japanese Americans should be put in concentration camps but just not in Colorado, while the more enlightened Governor Carr contended that the exiles should be welcome in his state.
In December, the much-admired Ralph L. Carr was honored with the naming of the sparkling new Colorado Justice Center in Denver. It was built with public funds, we should note.
P.S. Oops! Apologies for accidentally putting Las Vegas in Arizona last week. Anyone want it?