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See the CCC


This past week was spring break and because I don’t have a real job I was able to take my girls up to visit my family in north Texas. We decided not to take I-35 and instead took the backroads so that we could pass by Lake Brownwood State Park.

As state parks go the landscape there wasn’t the most spectacular but the buildings are. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, Lake Brownwood has an impressive Group Recreation Hall and a grand staircase that early visitors would use when they arrived at the park by boat.

The cabins were also nice; especially cabin #9 where we stayed. I’m sure many families have made many happy memories there and I’m glad we went a little out of our way to see the CCC.

The Beautiful

So one of my Mother's Day gifts to my wife was to leave town with one of our kids (the loud one) so she could have a slightly more relaxing evening day than normal. And so Sammy and I headed out to Bastrop State Park east of Austin and stayed at one of the great cabins located there.

Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, these elemental cabins are near-perfect hand-crafted architectural haikus. Using rough-hewn stone gathered locally, the cabins literally appear to grow out of the ground rather than be placed upon it. Built at a time when labor was cheap but materials were expensive, the buildings represent a very different sensibility than most buildings do today.

The cabin we stayed in (cabin #2) had a little inscription carved over the fireplace. It read:

"The beautiful is as useful as the useful."

Indeed it is.

You should be able to climb buildings

Sammy, the CCC and a monkey

This past weekend I took my daughters on a trip to Palmetto State Park.  I had done this a few year ago (and even wrote about it for on Lake|Flato's blog) but back then I just had the single daughter which made the logistics of the trip a little easier.  Still, the interpretive trail was the perfect length for a four-year-old (Sammy) on foot and a one-year-old (Darcy) in a stroller.  The swampy landscape and dwarf palm plants - hence the name, "Palmetto" - that define the park's landscape were just as fun then as they were back in 2012.

The architecture was just as fun as well.

The park's main gate, refectory, water tower and various other structures were all built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, in the 1930s.  The architecture of the CCC was the result of a unique circumstance where labor was cheap and in abundance but materials were expensive.  This inverted the usual equation that defines how buildings are built.  In the case of the water tower, large boulders were gathered from around the site to act as a foundation upon which the rest of the stone structure was laboriously piled.  The use of local materials in this way certainly gave the building a rustic appearance, but it also allowed it to be perfectly integrated into its surrounding landscape.  The CCC structures in the park seem to belong there in a way that buildings rarely do.

It should be noted that this type of rugged stone masonry also allows the building to be climbed in a way that Sammy truly appreciated.  All buildings should be this much fun.  All buildings should be this good.