By Dr. Robert D. Leighninger Jr.
There was a time in our history when Americans fought against fear and despair by building for the future. A quarter of the labor force was out of work. Millions of families faced hunger and homelessness. President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal created a variety of public works programs to provide jobs, income, and hope. More than that, they built things of lasting value, the backbone of the country’s physical and cultural infrastructure.
The Public Works Administration (PWA) was one of the first of these programs. It invited communities to make plans for facilities they needed. The proposals were reviewed by the PWA for engineering, fiscal, and legal soundness. If approved, the cost was shared. PWA awarded a grant covering 30 percent of the project and would loan the rest if the community could not provide its share. For this project the city voted approval of an issue of $720,000 worth of general obligation bonds on December 9, 1933.
Projects were designed by local architects and engineers and built by local contractors with local labor. A proposal for parks development (AZ # 2637) was one of the first submitted by the city of Phoenix to PWA. It was approved December 28, 1933, but construction did not begin immediately.
Three other PWA projects were allotted to Phoenix during this early period, all for sewer and water improvements. It is interesting that parks should figure so prominently among the city’s priorities. In the 1920s a national movement had gained momentum emphasizing the importance of parks to the health of the nation and the need to make them available to average citizens who could not escape to the countryside in horse-drawn carriages. And in the 1930s, of course, many Americans had new leisure forced upon them when their jobs were cut back or eliminated.
Parks gave them places to use it and perhaps relieve some stress. Thus, in addition to promoting the health and recreation of the citizenry, these oases must have been a boost to morale in the hot, dusty and Depression-haunted city.
The park project cost an impressive $923,000, of which $240 was devoted to what we now call Encanto Park. Thirteen other parks across the city got lesser amounts, some of which went into tennis courts, swimming pools, and baseball fields. Support was given to excavation and an archeological laboratory at Pueblo Grande. Most interesting of all was $122,000 allotted to the creation of facilities in Horsethief Basin in the Bradshaw Mountains, allowing city-dwellers a brief but total escape from the city. This ex-urban outpost included a dam; sewer, water, and power lines; cabins for camping; and even a dance pavilion.
Encanto Park was originally named Dorris-Norton after the individuals from whom the land was bought. The centerpiece of the new park was a two-story club house with a large public dining room, lunch room, and kitchen as well as an office and living quarters for the club manager. A covered walkway connected it with a boat house inviting visitors to enjoy a large lagoon in canoes. Nearby was a locker and shower room to serve the golf course. For outdoor concerts a stuccoed band shell was constructed. It is the only original park structure not to have survived three-quarters of a century. The architect for the project was Leslie J. Mahoney of the state’s most prominent firm Lescher & Mahoney.
The project was completed May 25, 1937. It has been serving Phoenicians for over seven decades. It is not only highly practical but is a symbol of our ancestors fortitude and foresight.
Sources and suggested reading:
William S. Collins, The New Deal in Arizona, (Arizona State Parks Board, 1999).
Phoebe Cutler, The Public Landscape of the New Deal, (Yale University Press, 1985)
Robert D. Leighninger, Jr. Long Range Public Investment: The Forgotten Legacy of the New Deal, (University of South Carolina Press, 2007).
Microfilm Records of the Public Works Administration, Record Group 135, National Archives II, College Park, MD, box 217, reels 2596-2607, docket 2637.
C.W. Short & R. Stanley-Brown, Public Buildings; A Survey of Architecture Constructed by Federal and Other Public Bodies Between the Years 1933 and 1939 with the assistance of the Public Works Administration (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office), 1939, pp. 339-341.