WPA-Era Structures in Moeur Park, North and South
This nomination was submitted by the Historic Preservation Office at the request of the Historic Preservation Commission for historic designation of the WPA-Era Structures in Moeur Park North and South and listing in the Tempe Historic Property Register. A public hearing was held September 2, 1999, and Tempe HPC voted 6/0 to recommend approval of the designation and listing. A public hearing was held on October 12, 1999, and the Planning & Zoning Commission voted 7/0 to recommend approval of the designation and listing. Finally, two public hearings at Tempe City Council and on November 4, 1999, Council unanimously approved designation and listing of the WPA-Era Structures in Moeur Park North and South in the Tempe Historic Property Register.
Moeur Park North and South is located at the NE and SE corners of Mill Avenue and Curry Road. Moeur Park ramadas and associated structures are identified in the 1997 Tempe Multiple Resource Area Update (#255) as individually eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Built in U.S. Park Services style, these roadway, rest, and landscape elements are typical of the New Deal Works Projects Administration Era (WPA). Field stone and concrete materials were used by the WPA to construct features throughout the park. These include; raised planters, stairs, planter borders, stone benches, stone tables, an automobile bridge, retaining walls, and irrigation boxes.
Moeur Park is significant for its association with Works Projects Administration construction projects. The park began as an automobile rest stop for motorists, established by the Arizona Highway Department for travelers on State Highway 93 (US 60 and 89). Construction began in 1930 and the project bears the WPA stamp “W.P.A. Project 652, 1936” at the stone and concrete bridge over the Salt River Project drainage easement in the northern portion of the park.
In 1949, a bronze plaque in memory of Mrs. Honor Anderson Moeur, wife of Governor Benjamin Baker Moeur (Tempe’s first governor), was placed in the park in recognition of her work toward roadside beautification and this park in particular.
The WPA-Era Structures in Moeur Park, North and South meet the eligibility criteria specitfied in Section 14A-4 of the Tempe City Code (Historic Preservation Ordinance), under Criteria 1, 2a, and 2b. The structures meet the criteria for listing in the Arizona or National Register of Historic Places (Criterion 1). The structures are at least fifty years old, reflective of the city’s cultural and social past; and are associated with persons significant in local and state history (Governor and Mrs. B. B. Moeur) satisfying Criterion 2a. Under Criterion 2b, Moeur Park North and South represents and established and familiar visible feature of an area of the city, due to its prominent location at the heavily travelled intersection of Mill Avenue and Curry Road.
Only those areas of Moeur Park, North and South where the actual WPA-Era Structures or features occur have been designated historic and listed in the Tempe Historic Property Register by this action.
HISTORIC CONTEXT: COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT AND TRANSPORTATION
The elimination of the Papago Saguaro National monument in April of 1930 was the first step in creation of Moeur Park and the WPA structures and objects. This event allowed for the sale of some Papago Park land to City of Tempe. As reported in the Tempe News “This area of 480 acres will be used by the city for parks and playgrounds.” A small percentage of the 480 acres of the Tempe portion of Papago Park would become Moeur Park.
Arizona tourism provided the impetus for roadside beautification along state and national highways, as well as several other infrastructure improvements in the 1930s. Tourists traveled US Highways 60, 70, 80, and 89 in the 1930s in order to get to Phoenix, Tempe, or Papago Park. A roadside rest stop was created just north of the river, since these highways converged in Tempe. The Works Progress Administration, the Arizona Highway Department, and the Tempe Garden Club collaborated to construct the roadside rest stop in 1936.
Moeur Park is significant for its connection with the Works Progress Administration during the New Deal era. The severe economic conditions of the Great Depression of the 1930s provided the impetus for the expansion of all levels of government. As a result, new federal agencies formed in order to implement New Deal legislation and administer funding at the state and local levels. According to WPA supervisor Harry Hopkins, the federal government recognized the detrimental effects on the economy that came with the loss of valuable laborers in the American workforce. Thus, under President Franklin Roosevelt’s Second New Deal, the Works Progress Administration sought to mitigate the issue of unemployment and stimulate the economy. Subsequently, this agency employed laborers by providing them with "jobs that would save a worker’s skills and restore his self-esteem, jobs that would, as nearly as possible, match the conditions of private employment and thus avoid the stigma of charity.”
The Arizona State Welfare Board certified unemployed individuals for work. Once that process was complete, the WPA facilitated the employment of unskilled or semi-skilled workers on improvement and construction projects. It also employed women, as well as individuals in professional jobs. Through the partial or full allocation of federal funds, the WPA cooperated with municipalities, and constructed or improved highways, roads, streets, schools, airports, playgrounds, state fairgrounds, bridges, culverts, sidewalks and other similar projects.
The WPA structures and objects in Moeur Park, situated at the intersection of North Mill Avenue and Curry Road, were a direct result of such a project under the New Deal. The area around what would become Moeur Park was also the convergence of four major highways: US 60, 70, 80, and 89. According to the Summary of Inventory of Physical Accomplishments by the Work Projects Administration, “Another typical section of highway improvement accomplished with WPA labor in the widening and paving of U.S. Highway No. 89, along East Van Buren from Sixteenth Street to the Tempe Bridge, a distance of six and one-half miles. The route in this area was widened to 56 feet, to provide four lanes of traffic, and along the entire distance curbs, gutters and sidewalks were installed.” WPA laborers also performed roadside landscaping and beautification from 24th Street in Phoenix to the Salt River in Tempe along East Van Buren Street. The majority of the stone structures and objects were constructed in 1936.
Moeur Park is also significant for its association with entertainment and recreation because of relationship with the Tempe Garden Club. The structures and objects were a result of both WPA initiatives and the proactive efforts of the Tempe Garden Club, which was founded in October 1936 under the direction of Helen Wexler. Honor Anderson Moeur, wife of Governor B. B. Moeur, was also instrumental in coordinating the beautification of the rest stop as the first project that the Tempe Garden Club undertook. In a Tempe Daily News article, Helen Wexler explained that, “It was really a great thing. In those days there was nothing but desert all the way from here to Phoenix. That spot where you crossed the bridge on the way to Tempe bothered everyone.” In conjunction with the use of WPA labor to build the structures and objects, the Tempe Garden Club assisted in the beautification of the roadside rest stop in 1936 and selected the palms and other flora to complete the project. Travelers used the ramadas, tables, and benches in the new roadside park for picnicking and resting while passing through Tempe.
Finally, Moeur Park is important for its association with Tempe Community Planning and Development, owing to its location along US Highways 60,70, 80, and 89, and to its connection with the Arizona Highway Department. Increased automobile usage at the beginning of the twentieth century provided the incentive for road improvements and bridge construction. This faster form of transportation was directly connected to Arizona tourism. Legislation such as the Federal-Aid Road Act of 1916 and 1921 ushered in a federal highway system across the United States. U.S. 60, 70, 80, and 89 were part of this improved system. According to Mark Pry and Fred Andersen, “In just a decade, between 1927 and 1937, the Arizona Highway Department had either built or improved 3,144 miles of roadway—nearly 90 percent of the state highway system.”
By the 1930s, the traffic on US Highways 60, 70, 80, and 89 intensified and, as a result, the 1913 Tempe Bridge needed to be replaced. In order to accommodate this traffic, a new bridge was constructed in 1931. During the Great Depression, New Deal agencies like the Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration improved roads throughout the state of Arizona. The most important scenic routes were paved, and other unpaved roads were oiled to eliminate dust from automobiles.
Between 1946 and 1973, the Arizona highway system underwent extensive changes. Additional automobile usage, coupled with population increases in the Salt River Valley following World War II, produced more traffic and provided the impetus for larger roads and higher speeds of travel. In addition, many of the changes to the Arizona highway system in the post war period were defense-related. The introduction of the Federal Highway Act of 1954 created a “new national system of superhighways would link all states, cities, and defense plants into a single road network with uniform design standards.” Many of the smaller routes were bypassed after the formation of a more extensive interstate highway system in the 1960s and 1970s. Surviving until 1992, U.S. Highway 60 was the last to be decommissioned by the Arizona Department of Transportation, at which time East Van Buren Street/North Mill Avenue became regular streets.
Between 1936 and 1973, the recreational area that would become Moeur Park continued to function as a rest stop, providing shade and picnic facilities for highway travelers and members of the Tempe community. It was during this time period that the City of Tempe and the Arizona Highway Department had a somewhat ambiguous relationship regarding the rest stop. The City of Tempe held official ownership of the land, while the Arizona Highway Department maintained the rest stop because of its location along US 60, 70, 80, and 89. By the early 1970s, it became clear that the City of Tempe should assume complete responsibility for the location. The City of Tempe Parks and Recreation Department started making plans to close the highway access to the rest stop and create a city park in 1973. Two small portions of Moeur Park were owned by the Arizona Children’s Hospital and the Salt River Project. The City of Tempe participated in a land exchange with the state of Arizona in order to acquire the portion of land associated with the Arizona Children’s Hospital. This decision meant that Moeur Park would function as both a city park as well as provide a recreational area for patients and residents of the Arizona Children’s Hospital located directly to the East in Papago Park. The City of Tempe and the Salt River Project did not participate in a land exchange; however, SRP allowed the city to use their land near the easement for “public park and recreational purposes.” Consequently, between 1975 and 1977, Moeur Park underwent changes that added modern amenities, including handicap accessible playground equipment.
Moeur Park, named for Honor Anderson Moeur, was dedicated in October of 1977.