by Luke Anderson
November 23, 2016
Residents of Laramie are probably familiar with the large concrete semi-dome that anchors the southwest corner of Washington Park. The Edgar J. Lewis bandshell has become a staple in the community as Laramie's only public outdoor stage. It is a memorial, in a way, to University of Wyoming music professor Edgar J. Lewis for whom the bandshell is named. It was renamed in the 1980s to honor the professor. The concrete structure is also a memorial to events that affected the entire nation for over a decade. The Edgar J. Lewis Bandshell was a Works Progress Administration project that was completed in 1940. The Works Progress Administration was the result of an executive order by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935 designed to put the United States back to work in the midst of the Great Depression, and was part of Roosevelt's greater New Deal.
The bandshell in Laramie is one of thousands of public works projects that were completed as a result of the Works Progress Administration. Communities across America are dotted with buildings and parks that came from Roosevelt's New Deal. Some examples of New Deal construction projects in Wyoming besides the bandshell in Laramie include the Wyoming Supreme Court and State Library building in Cheyenne and the Guernsey Museum and CCC Castle at Guernsey state park. Just like the Supreme Court building has an Art Deco style consistent with the architecture of the 1920s and 1930s (think of the Empire State Building), the Edgar J. Lewis bandshell's concrete construction and minimalistic design also places it in the architectural context of its time. Modern architecture in the 1910s and 1920s was embracing simple design and modern materials such as concrete and ultimately led to Brutalism in the 1950s and 1960s, popularized by renowned architect Le Corbusier.
The Edgar J. Lewis bandshell is one of many features of the city that root Laramie in the broader trends of American history and global architectural history. Its importance is one of the reasons that the City of Laramie and the Parks and Recreation Department opted to invest in improvements to the bandshell to extend its life with help from a Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund grant. The bandshell was painted with an elastic paint that will be resistant to cracking, doors were repaired, and new lighting systems were installed. By preserving the bandshell, Laramie is displaying its commitment to extending the legacy of the Works Progress Administration's devotion to public works.
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