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WPA: Applegate Park

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY LISA JAMES
Children from Allyson Hall's third-grade science class at St. Paul's school draw the animals while on a field trip to Applegate Zoo in Merced Thursday.

The buildings that house the animals at the zoo were buildings originally built in Applegate Park under the WPA.
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY LISA JAMES Children from Allyson Hall's third-grade science class at St. Paul's school draw the animals while on a field trip to Applegate Zoo in Merced Thursday. The buildings that house the animals at the zoo were buildings originally built in Applegate Park under the WPA. Merced Sun-Star

In the 1930s, Mercedians who wanted to spend a day at the park drove their Fords and Dodges to Bear Creek Park, where a grandstand and bleachers were snugged up against Bear Creek, in the northern part of a town that boasted only about 15,000 people.

But in 1937, the Merced City Council applied for a Works Progress Administration project to construct a new park -- a park that would cost about $41,000 total, with the city providing $9,800 and the federal government $30,800.

Included in the new park would be seven acres of lawn, more than a mile of water pipe, demolition of the grandstand and bleachers in the old park's athletic field, a new fence, pens for animals and birds, duck pond, and deer shed, along with trees, shrubs, flowers and landscaping.

At the time, there was no children's playground planned, because the money wasn't there to build one. Eventually, a children's area was built in the park, close to R Street.

The project required 590 man-months of labor, according to G.E. Winton, the city engineer at the time.

Originally, a swimming pool had been planned to be built at the Applegate Park site between M and R streets, against Bear Creek. But the proposed municipal swimming pool was never built.

In 1938, after the OK was given for the upgrades to the park, the sports field was demolished and pens and buildings for animals were built. Those animal facilities were turned into a zoo in 1961.

In 1935, Laura Fountain was moved from the Southern Pacific Depot on 16th Street to the park. Laura Fountain was donated to Merced by C. H. Huffman in his wife's honor.

Applegate Park and its zoo, at 26th and R streets, are still popular destinations for Mercedians at all times of the year, with the zoo open for children to see animals, a playground, and areas for volleyball and other sports. The city's bike path also follows Bear Creek through the park.

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