WPA: Elim Elementary

Elim Elementary School in Hilmar
Elim Elementary School in Hilmar Merced Sun-Star

HILMAR -- Elaine Grant marveled at the architectural beauty of Elim Union Elementary School as she walked the halls.

"I've never seen any other school like it," noted Grant, a member of the Hilmar-Irwin-Stevinson Historical Society. "It's gorgeous, gorgeous."

In some ways, what Grant said was a lie, because Merquin School, also in Hilmar, was built similarly -- with floor to ceiling honey-colored wood.

These schools, and the Lander Gym, which was part of the Hilmar Union High School, were all WPA projects built during the Great Depression.

All three buildings are still in use today, although the Lander Gym now serves as the Hilmar Unified School District office.

Elim Union Elementary School was built in 1936 and opened in 1937.

Lander Gym was also built in 1936, and the Hilmar weekly newspaper, the Hilmar- Irwin Enterprise, debated which building would be completed first.

During the construction of the high school gym, students could skip school to help with the building, Grant said, which made some students happy.

In April of 1936, the high school received a $6,626.86 check from the federal government, the first of several payments for the new gym, according to the Hilmar-Irwin Enterprise.

L. Ubels, the gym's contractor, was eventually paid $24,488 for the work and H. Henning was paid $42,592 for constructing of Elim Union Elementary School, said the newspaper.

Two years after the other construction projects, Merquin Union Elementary School was built as a special emergency public works project.

During the Great Depression, Hilmar was very poor and people were grateful for the jobs created, Grant said.

To give an idea of what people were paid to work on these projects, the newspaper wrote that skilled laborers were paid 52.5 cents an hour for a related WPA-funded project at the high school in February 1936.

The project provided 556 hours of labor, the newspaper added.

In Merced, John Muir Elementary School, the largest school in the city at the time, also benefitted from WPA funds.

The school received a total of $60,000 for a new addition of an art room and cafeteria, according to the Merced Express, Merced's weekly newspaper.

Less than half of the funding -- $26,775 -- was from the federal government and the rest of the funds came from the Merced Elementary School board.

For the ladies, the new addition had a home-making department, which had sewing and cooking rooms. The other portion was the art room and a new cafeteria.