La Junta City Park is a prime example of a New Deal project on Colorado’s eastern plains. As a result of work carried out between 1933 and 1941, a poorly drained park became the city’s primary outdoor recreation space, complete with stone walls, benches, and buildings; a new lake; picnic shelters; and tennis courts. The park continues to be a popular place for walking, picnicking, and playing tennis and basketball.
Origins and New Deal Development
In 1905 La Junta bought 16.5 acres south of downtown for one dollar and made the land into City Park. The new park was half a mile away from downtown, however, and the land had poor drainage. Few improvements were made, resulting in infrequent use of the park.
City Park was reborn in the 1930s, when New Deal projects carried out by the Civil Works Administration (CWA) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) transformed the park. The CWA, a temporary work-relief program, began working in the park on November 27, 1933, focusing on improving the park’s drainage system. The CWA completed its project in the spring of 1934.
In August 1935 the city submitted a WPA project proposal to renovate the park. The plan called for new walks, driveways, lakes, and landscaping, including stone walls around the park’s perimeter. The WPA approved the proposal, which received more than $40,000 in federal funds in addition to the city’s contribution of more than $5,000. Work began in May 1936 with a forty-man crew. In keeping with the WPA’s emphasis on local materials and labor-intensive, handcrafted construction, stone for the park’s walls was quarried from a site near Higbee, not far south of La Junta.
The WPA’s work took longer than expected, in part because a massive flood in May 1937 inundated the park and put the project on hold for eight months. Probably as a result of the flood, the WPA revised its original plan for four lakes and decided to build just one large lake in the northwest corner of the park.
After the WPA’s initial work was completed, the city submitted another WPA project proposal in July 1938. This project, which received nearly $33,000 in federal and local funds, called for building tennis courts, a caretaker’s house, restrooms, and a sprinkler system, among other improvements. The construction and landscaping were completed by February 1941.
The WPA approved a third City Park project in March 1941. This project was meant to complete improvements in the park and was supposed to receive more than $12,000 in federal and local funds. There is no record of the work in WPA files, however, and it is unclear whether the project went forward.
City Park Today
The basic layout of City Park has not changed since the WPA completed its improvements in 1941. Local Boy Scouts placed a miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty in the park in 1951 as part of a nationwide program to celebrate the organization’s fortieth anniversary. More recent additions—including basketball courts (1990), a playground (1999), and a skate park (2003)— have primarily enhanced the park’s functionality without detracting from the historical value of the WPA’s design. Recent grants from the State Historical Fund have allowed for park restoration work.