Clubhouse at Split Rock Golf Course, Pelham Bay Park, Bronx, NY
The New York City Parks Department website declares:
“Despite the hardships endured by New Yorkers over the course of the World Wars and the Great Depression, the demand for golf courses increased steadily. Under the tenure of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981), New York City’s recreational facilities saw great changes. With federal funding provided by the Works Progress Administration, Moses created a variety of new public facilities and expanded others throughout the city. In 1936, the Pell Golf Course was refurbished, and renamed the Pelham Golf Course. That same year, the adjacent Split Rock Golf Course and clubhouse were built.”
The New Deal Network caption to the historic photo (from the National Archives) also ascribes the Split Rock course to the WPA:
“This golf course in Pelham Bay Park, New York City, was built with WPA funds under the supervision of the Department of Parks which will operate it. The construction work includes a new club house. Bobby Jones called the supervising engineer “one of the few really competent golf course architects available.”
Nonetheless, a Parks Department press release of May 7, 1936 says this about the many New Deal era additions and improvements to the city’s golf courses:
Split Rock, Kissena and the second nine at LaTourette, Borough of Richmond, are new. Dyker Beach in Brooklyn, Forest Park in Queens, Pelham Bay in the Bronx, Silver Lake in Richmond and the first nine holes at LaTourette in Richmond are thoroughly reconstructed with new tees and greens throughout. Van Cortlandt and Mosholu in the Bronx, and Clearview in Queens have been reconditioned and remodeled to some extent. All this work has been done with relief funds provided by the C.W.A., T.E.R.A. and W.P.A.
TERA was the New York State emergency relief operation started by Governor Roosevelt; CWA and WPA were federal New Deal programs. This leads us to believe that funding came not only from the WPA.
A 1935 New York Times article claims that one reason for Robert Moses’ enthusiasm for building and renovating golf courses was that he believed
“… that the down-at-the-heels system [of poorly maintained public golf courses] would be a ‘natural’ for work relief. On golf-course construction a minimum of materials and equipment is required, with the result that an unusually large proportion of the funds allocated goes directly to labor.”
As for the Split Rock Golf Course in particular, the article notes that John R. Van Kleek, who was New York City Parks New Deal golf-course architect, “…was retained to supervise the work, which got underway in February, 1934.” The article reports that “approximately $3,500,000” was spent on the project, and of that amount $2,800,000 was allocated “for an average of 3,800 laborers a week.” The rest, the article tells us, went “…for equipment and materials, including such items as 200 tons of fertilizer and 10,000 tons of manure. Seed purchases (thirty-five tons) completely stripped the market.”
For many years murals by Allen Saalburg hung over the mantels inside the clubhouse. Allen Saalburg, a painter and silkscreen artist, was New York City WPA Director of Murals. Researcher Frank da Cruz points out that Saalburg “…also did the murals in The Arsenal (Parks Department headquarters in Central Park).” In the New York City Parks and Recreation Department 2003 request for renovation of the Pelham Bay and Split Rock Golf Courses, the Department makes special note of “…the two Works Progress Administration (WPA) decorative murals above the mantels in the lobby.” It states that the murals “…measuring approximately 3’ x 2’ each,…are the works of the artist Allen Saalburg. Completed in 1936, these works are remnants of a larger Parks Department mural-painting project that Saalburg headed from 1934 to 1936.” David Owen, Golf Columnist for the New Yorker tells us that the original murals are currently being restored.
Pelham Bay Park, NYC Dept. of Parks & Rec. Roosevelt's WPA a boon for sport of golf by John Berry, golf columnist The New Deal Network Department of Parks, Press Release, May 7, 1936 The Pelham Club House of the Split Rock and Pelham Bay public Golf Courses New York Times, June 2, 1935: "Taking Mental Hazard Out of City Golf; The Player on the Public Links Has a New Dispensation, for Old Courses Have Been Improved and Others Built" By A.D. Britton My Usual Game: Adventures in Golf by David Owen NYC Parks: The History of Golf Courses in Parks New York Times, August 4, 2008: "Forgotten Architects, Timeless Courses" by Bill Pennington Great Municipal Golf Part 2: Split Rock New York City Parks & Rec Request to Renovate Pelham and Split Rock Golf Courses (2003)
Project originally submitted by Evan Kalish on April 15, 2014.
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