The Holly Gymnasium was built in 1936–38 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. The two-story Modernist building is made of local Niobrara limestone and was the only gymnasium in Holly until a new school complex was constructed in 1965. Since then the gym has continued to be used for athletic events and community gatherings, and in 2007 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
New Deal, New Gym
The Dust Bowl and the Great Depression hit Prowers County and the rest of Colorado’s eastern plains especially hard in the 1930s. New Deal construction projects provided jobs for unemployed workers while also building civic, recreational, and cultural infrastructure in rural towns. Gymnasiums were particularly popular New Deal projects on the eastern plains, where many rural towns had no gym at all or a gym too small to hold a regulation basketball court. Large new gyms allowed school districts to improve physical education instruction and host regional basketball games. In addition, the gyms often included a stage at one end so they could double as a performance and event space for the community.
In 1935 the Holly School District applied for WPA funding for a new combination gymnasium and auditorium. At the time, Holly had no indoor athletic facilities, so the school district had to rent the local armory for practices and events. In December 1935 the WPA approved the project, which was designed by John Y. Brown of Lamar. The site for the gym was on the east side of North Main Street, facing west toward Shanner Elementary.
The Holly Gymnasium was designed in the WPA Modernist style, with simple forms and little ornamentation. Initially the gymnasium was supposed be constructed of adobe or stucco, but soon the builders shifted to local Niobrara limestone instead. Niobrara limestone had the benefit of being easy to cut, but it hardened when exposed to the air. It became a popular WPA construction material in Prowers County, and in the Holly Gymnasium it was used for both exterior and interior walls.
Construction started on April 12, 1936, with a crew of twenty-eight workers, but the work took longer and cost more than expected. Work was not completed under the first WPA project authorization, so the school district had to apply for more funding in September 1936. Even this was not enough, however, so in August 1937 the school district secured a third round of funding. The additional money covered the completion of everything except the building’s community rooms, which the school board paid for in October 1938.
The Holly Gymnasium was the first modern recreational facility in town. Inside, the building had a full-size court with bleachers lining the north and south walls and a stage at the eastern end. It could be used for athletic practices and games as well as musical and theatrical productions. The building also had a lobby, two community rooms, and a kitchen, which allowed it to be used for classes, meetings, school lunches, and banquets.
The WPA gymnasium served as Holly’s only gym and main community center until 1965, when the school district completed a junior high and high school complex that included a new gym. After that the WPA gymnasium became a secondary facility used primarily for practices, classes, and community events. Today the building is still in use. It was restored in the 2010s and continues to be regularly maintained.