New Mexico Art Tells its History

History: WPA Architectural Projects during the Great Depression

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression to provide jobs for people in need. Architects and artisans benefitted from this program and built many fine buildings throughout the state during this time. Public buildings, such as schools, courthouses, city halls and the university, were built as well as public parks, plazas and gardens.

Extraordinary projects funded by the WPA include John Gaw Meem’s buildings at the University of New Mexico and at Highlands University in Las Vegas. Many county courthouses were also built through the WPA. Trost and Trost, architects from El Paso who described their work as “Arid Land Architecture,” built the impressive McKinley County courthouse. Their work was inspired by Meem, as well as by Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, who coined the famous phrase “form follows function.” Other courthouses, such as the Curry County Courthouse, were inspired by the linear simplicity and decorative ornamentation of art deco, or “PWA Moderne.”

The architect W.C. Kruger leaned more towards the Territorial style in his WPA buildings. Territorial Revival combined the local (flat roofs, earth colored stucco) with the classical (symmetrical buildings with white pedimented lintels and porticos and brick ornamentation) in buildings such as the San Miguel County Courthouse in Las Vegas. The culmination of Kruger’s career came later with Territorial Revival State Capital building, the “Roundhouse,” in Santa Fe.

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