Black and white photo showing WPA Moderne style.

The Bath House at the Hugo Swimming Pool features the rounded corners and horizontal orientation of WPA Moderne.

The primary goal of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), one of many 1930s New Deal relief and recovery programs, was to put people to work.  Most projects were designed to spend a majority of the funds on labor, not materials.  Additionally, few projects used powered machinery in order to allow for hiring more men.  Therefore, WPA buildings and structures in Colorado are marked by a high degree of craftsmanship, albeit untrained, provided by primarily unskilled labor.  The quality of masonry work varies widely, undoubtedly reflecting not only different teams of workers, but also the growing skills gained by the men.  The use of local materials in order to keep costs low is another hallmark of WPA projects.  This resulted in some similarities of appearance within a region.  WPA projects in eastern Colorado were simply designed, often by the local sponsor or occasionally by the regional WPA engineer.  The buildings were influenced either by local traditions or were based upon contemporary styles.

Moderne, also referred to as Art Moderne, is similar to the Art Deco style.  It also emphasized a modern or futuristic appearance.  Unlike the Art Deco style, it often lacked ornamentation and featured a horizontal orientation.  As applied to the WPA buildings of eastern Colorado, the character-defining features include flat or barrel roofs, smooth exterior surfaces, vertical or horizontal fenestration openings and linear building elements.  Although horizontal lines are more typical of the Moderne style across the country, WPA Moderne buildings often feature grooved bands in an otherwise smooth concrete exterior surface.  Rounded corners are also common.  WPA Moderne buildings differ from other examples of this general style in that they tend to be hand constructed rather than machine-tooled.  Metal details are rare except in the window frames.  Windows typically are “stock” and not specifically designed for the building.

Common elements:

  1. use of local materials
  2. hand constructed
  3. lacks ornamentation
  4. horizontal orientation
  5. flat or barrel roofs
  6. smooth exteriors
  7. streamlined, rounded corners
  8. linear building elements
  9. grooved horizontal band on an otherwise smooth concrete exterior
  10. use of stock windows

For further information about the architecture and history of the New Deal in Eastern Colorado, see the National Register multiple property document, New Deal Resources in Eastern Colorado, a publication available from the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.

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