Sunday, November 20, 2011

Earliest Images of the WPA Building In Central Park (23)

1. (UCD Special Collections)

One of the meanings of Davis being a tiny, rather no-place, town before World War II is that visual records of what it “was like” are available but not abundant. Some few things were rather lushly documented, certainly, in particular, the train depot, which was (and is) something of a photographer’s obsession (this blog’s post # 8, September 4, 2011).

But, many other places and buildings that have been of interest in recent years are difficult visually to document.

2. (UCD Special Collections)
3. (UCD Special Collections)
Such is so far the case, for me, regarding the utility building constructed in 1937 by the Works Progress Administration in what was then called the Davis City Park. One might think that such a joint federal-city project would be an occasion for pictures, but it apparently was not. Nor did it stimulate other photographs, so far as I know.

The consequence is that we have to scratch around in odd ways to find early images.

4. (UCD Special Collections)
Such scratching led me to look through the 1930s-40s snapshot albums the Calpha fraternity donated to UCD’s Special Collections. That group occupied the large house at the south-east corner of 4th & C streets in the late ‘30s & early ‘40s. Members sometimes took pictures of one another outside the house on the sidewalk and in the street. A few of these snapshots show the newly built Davis City Park in the background and include the WPA utility facility.

5. (David Herbst)
Image 1 is an example of such a snapshot and it is of interest because of what we see in the distance behind the two boys. Image 2 is an enlargement of that background and shows four buildings. We see, from the left, the WPA facility, 309 Sixth Street, 603 C Street, and, in the right far distance, 335 Seventh Street (the home of Clement Phillips, an important contributor to developing Monterey Jack cheese).

6. (UCD Special Collections)
Image 3 is an enlargement of the WPA building itself in that same snapshot. It appears to have an opening--a door-- in its south wall. There is a small extension to the west.

Image 4 is an enlargement of the background in another snapshot and shows the east wall of the facility. That wall seems to have one door and one window.

A few years after construction, a postcard printer made the park a subject in a view that includes the building, as we see in image 5.

Scratching further, the WPA building is sort-of visible in the background of a few aerial photos of the UCD campus that I also found in UCD Special Collections. Image 6 is an excerpt from one of them. It shows a new and raw Davis City Park in which the building stands alone. Its most clear feature is an extension to the west from the main structure.

These images are, of course, rather pathetic. But they do show the shape of the original building--which remains the same.  
My thanks to UCD University Archivist John Skarstad for his help in researching WPA building images.