By Merrily DuPree
On Tuesday, the City Council will consider the fate of Central Park’s WPA restroom building. Jim Becket’s fine article on Oct. 13 in The Enterprise and several letters to the editor have presented many persuasive arguments for its preservation, foremost of which is that it is Davis’ only city building to have been constructed with Works Progress Administration funding.
I would like to add one more: The building should be allowed to stand as a tribute to the federal “stimulus” program that in 1937 paid for more than half the cost of Central Park itself. The original park, which occupied the north end of today’s park, would not have been built without the contributions of the WPA, and we should not allow this part of its history to be forgotten.
On April 4, 1936, The Enterprise reported that “Park Project Gets WPA Approval,” with Mayor Calvin Covell announcing that the “clearing off of houses will begin immediately.” The city quickly sold and moved the houses, but then a shortage of labor caused a frustrating delay. It wouldn’t be until Dec. 4 that year that the paper could predict, “Park Project May Start By First of Year.”
The estimated cost was $12,714, with the city responsible for $4,359 and the federal government $8,355. WPA workers would excavate, level and grade the site; install a sprinkling system and walks; and do all the planting.
“Should the WPA officials cancel the project, as has been done in other parts of the country … it is doubtful if the city could afford to take up the slack,” commented the reporter.
On Jan. 1, 1937, The Enterprise trumpeted that “Work on City Park to Start This Month.” The bad news, though, was that the federal government’s contribution would be $1,200 less than hoped for. Nevertheless, the WPA would pay for more than half the cost of construction.
Shortly afterward, council members debated eliminating the restroom building, which some considered a luxury; however, most favored keeping it, and a wading pool from the original plan was sacrificed instead. It was appreciatively noted that “WPA workers had cleared the park site, removing all trees and shrubs, which had added greatly to the appearance of the lot.”
Surely, the story of the making of Central Park during the Great Depression should have a place on its own History Plaza. What more fitting way to include it than with the building actually constructed by WPA workers?
— Merrily DuPree is a Davis resident and a volunteer at the Hattie Weber Museum.