The New Deal Shapes Phoenix Parks

The New Deal shaped America' national parks and its urban parks, including Encanto Park in Phoenix. The WPA and PWA funded the construction of park amenities and landscapes.

The first president of the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board, William Hartranft, modeled the city's Encanto Park after San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. In so doing, Hartranft channeled the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted, an American landscape architect who helped design Central Park in New York and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco--both of which became models for urban parks nationwide. An early parks commissioner in Phoenix, Hartranft obtained funding for the parks from New Deal programs, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the Public Works Administration (PWA).

New Deal infrastructure projects, meant to provide Americans relief from the Depression, played an important role in transforming America's infrastructure, including its parks. The WPA sought to expand employment opportunities by providing jobs to Americans to help build infrastructure projects that improved the overall quality of America's public facilities. The PWA provided funding and loans to construct local and state projects. Parks throughout the United States, including San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, Phoenix's Encanto Park, and New York's Central Park, received support from these agencies. 

In Phoenix, Hartranft received a handsome grant in 1934 that expanded the boundaries of Encanto Park beyond the 20 acres Phoenix had set aside for what was then known as Dorris-Norton Park. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) granted $900,000 to begin the park expansion. The WPA supervised the work, including projects such as constructing the two-mile-long lagoon. Encanto Park received additional assistance to build amenities in the park. For example, the Public Works Administration (PWA) and WPA supervised, funded, and constructed the "Encanto Clubhouse," which accentuated the existing nine-hole golf course. The large dining room, living room, and lunchroom made Encanto a more luxurious place, and the clubhouse also blended into the native foliage. In 1937, the Encanto Band Shell was completed as a place of performance for orchestras and bands.

The developing Encanto park drew upon competing aesthetics in the American park movement. Features like the lagoon expressed the romanticism favored by influential nineteenth-century park designers. For example, Frederick Law Olmsted's development of Central Park became a model for parks throughout the nation during the nineteenth century, with its emphasis on naturalistic, English-style parks. Landscape architects such as Olmsted argued that such naturalism helped bring urban residents--often living in cities with squalid living conditions--closer to nature and helped to civilize them. The lagoon emphasized this natural aesthetic because water meant more species of fish, ducks, and turtles. More broadly, the park's new name expressed the wonders of nature--Encanto means "enchanted" in Spanish.

Not all of the features added by the New Deal support neatly fit the naturalistic park model. The Band Shell, for example, expressed a more rationalistic approach that emphasized parks as functional places for the many diverse communities living in cities. The Band Shell, and even the practical emphasis on fishing and canoeing in the lagoon, welcomed residents to the park as an entertainment space. And indeed, much of twentieth-century park design in the United States favored the functionality of the rationalistic approach, especially with amenities that appealed to children. Encanto Park continued in this direction in 1946 when it added an amusement park that would become one of the park's most prominent features. Kiddieland featured amusement rides that included a train and a carousel. 

edited 12/17/2019: mt
edited 10/07/2022: jls


Encanto’s Artistic Expressions
Encanto’s Artistic Expressions WPA and PWA support helped with construction of the Encanto Bandshell, finished in 1937. Orchestras and bands played for the city during events through the 1986 park renovation when it was slated for demolition. The bandshell burned down in 1987 and was never rebuilt. Source: Russell Lee, Municipal band shell at Phoenix, Arizona, Arizona Maricopa County Phoenix Phoenix, United States, May 1940, Photograph; fsa 8b24807 //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b24807, Control Number 2017786329, LC-USF34-036207-D [P&P] LOT 643, Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress; https://www.loc.gov/item/2017786329/, accessed December 15, 2019). Creator: Russell Lee Date: 1940
Encanto Postcard
Encanto Postcard Looking south and west from Thomas and 7th Avenue, Encanto Park (and especially its original 9-hole golf courses) feature prominently in the foreground leading into the park's signature lagoon. In the distance, the former race track and grandstand of the state fairgrounds are visible. The postcard was likely produced during the 1950s, in the heyday of the racetrack, which was removed during the 1960s. Source: Susan Arreola Postcard Collection, Arizona Room, Burton Barr Central Library, Phoenix Public Library. Creator: Curtis Teich & Company Date: 1956
Amusements at Kiddieland
Amusements at Kiddieland In 1946, the City of Phoenix added Kiddieland to Encanto Park, further transforming the park into a rational child-centered space. Kiddieland transfixed a generation of children through 1986, when the park closed for major renovations. When the park re-opened in 1991, Kiddieland became Enchanted Island. Source: Encanto Park "Kiddieland, 1956, Phoenix, Arizona," March 23, 2003, Flickr; accessed December 17, 2019. Date: 1956
Golden Gate Park's Art
Golden Gate Park's Art Golden Gate Park provided many jobs for WPA workers to work on small projects such as this sculpture in the Horseshoe pits in 1934. Artists hired by the WPA developed exhibits in American parks that beautified the romantic parks and promoted its rationalist use--here, a bas relief in the form of a man throwing horseshoes. Source: Michael Fraley, "Golden Gate Park 71," August 22, 2013 Flickr; accessed December 1, 2019. Creator: Michael Fraley Date: August 22, 2013
Duck Island
Duck Island The Encanto Park boathouse (left) and the Encanto Park Clubhouse, both front the lagoon capturing the ways in which the park re-imagined the desert as a romantic landscape. The lagoon has been used for fishing, canoeing, and paddle boats; Source: City-Data Forum, October 7, 2014; accessed December 17, 2019. Date: n.d.
Central Park Zoo
Central Park Zoo In 1934, Robert Moses, the New York Park Commissioner, used WPA funds to build the Central Park Zoo, promoting a more rationalist approach to the park. Source: Marjory Collins, Entrance to the Central Park Zoo on Sunday, (September 1942) Photograph, LC-USW3- 007770-E [P&P] LOT 251, Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, accessed December 1, 2019. Creator: Marjory Collins Date: 1942
A Romantic Clubhouse?
A Romantic Clubhouse? One of the most important projects to attract visitors to the park was completed in 1937. The clubhouse accentuated the naturalistic scenery and and added important amenities to the park, including dining hall and kitchen. Source: C.W. Short and R. Stanley-Brown, Public Buildings: A Survey of Architecture of Projects Constructed by Federal and Other Governmental Bodies Between the Years 1933 and 1939 with the assistance of the Public Works Administration (1939) p. 339. Date: 1939


2605 N 15th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85007


Jake Lian, “Enchantment,” Salt River Stories, accessed March 3, 2024, https://saltriverstories.org/items/show/411.