Frontier Villa (State Archives photo)

An aerial photo taken in the 1940s to the west of Frontier Park shows rows of Frontier Villa buildings on the east and north sides of Frontier Park Arena. Sloans Lake is visible in the center of the photograph with Carey Avenue running between the lake and Frontier Villa. Wyoming State Archives/courtesy

On Dec. 7, 1941, America changed. From a nation struggling to escape from the wearing effects of the Great Depression, the country became a united people with a common, terrible resolve.

When the United States entered World War II, there was much to be done in order to fight almost everywhere on the globe. In Cheyenne, it was decided to open a major plant at the Cheyenne airport, Modification Center No. 10, to take standard B-17 bombers and add the latest technology and adaptations to the aircraft before sending them off to war.

Once the plant opened in September 1942, thousands of people came to the city to take up the job. Unfortunately, Cheyenne was not ready to house this massive influx of people.

Every extra room and basement in the city was occupied by the new war workers. Even so, hundreds had to find housing in Greeley and Fort Collins, Colorado. This meant that they had to take buses every day to make it to work. This process consumed great quantities of precious gasoline and rubber, and a better solution needed to be found.

In October 1942, the Federal Housing Authority approached the city of Cheyenne to request a lease of land to build a special community for the war workers. Mayor Ed Warren met with the officials and concluded that the best land for their needs was located at Frontier Park.

The problem with this plan was the park was under lease to the Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce for the rodeo. Quick communication was made to Chamber President Archie Allison and Chamber Secretary Rudy Hoffman. When promises were made that the housing project would not interfere with Cheyenne Frontier Days’ operations, the Chamber agreed to waive its lease for the duration of the war. With this hurdle cleared, the U.S. government took over the land for $100 a year.

Immediately, plans were drawn up for 325 units designed to house single workers and those with families. The Denver architecture firm of Fisher, Fisher and Hubble designed the buildings to be temporary, with the intent that they would be demolished after the war. They were to be of cheap, but substantial, construction, and were generally flat roofed, with tar-paper/asphalt siding.

These buildings were also to be heated by coal-fired stoves and were intended to be comfortable even in the coldest of Wyoming weather. The only building that was to be more substantial was the administration building, which was to fulfill the additional purpose of a recreation center and day-care center. A fire station was also proposed, but this was later placed at the northeast corner of Eighth and Carey avenues (this small station still survives as the Urban Forestry Office in Lions Park). Also included in the designs was a playground for children and a baseball diamond for adults.

In January, Green Brothers Construction of Worland was awarded the contract to begin building what was now known as “Frontier Park Villa” to the locals and project “48011” to the government. It was believed that the development would be finished in only 150 days. Subcontractors from Evanston and Cheyenne helped furnish all the utilities.

Frontier Villa opened in June 1943 and was immediately occupied. It was the first of three developments, with Careyville Acres on East Pershing Boulevard and Van Tassell Terrace on Snyder Avenue in south Cheyenne coming soon afterward. All three would house 2,000 war workers and their families.

Under the administration of A.K. Jensen, the new neighborhood quickly established Boy and Girl Scout troops, a Sunday school, a newspaper, a kindergarten and even a library – all run by volunteers within the worker community. Children skated on Peanut Pond across Carey Avenue, and the workers celebrated birthday parties and holidays, held square dances and watched the latest movies in the administration building free of charge. The old attraction of Jim Baker’s Cabin – once located where our current Indian Village is – remained in place during the development and was converted into a recreation center and clubhouse for the boys of the Villa.

When Frontier Days came along in 1945, the relationship between the tenants of the Villa and Cheyenne Frontier Days was very good. The Boy Scouts of the Villa were asked to be hosts for the Indian Village, which was to be located on the immediate grounds nearby (it had been left clear for this purpose). War workers helped where and when they could during the CFD celebrations. Members of the Frontier Villa rode scheduled buses to local businesses and churches throughout the year and became good neighbors for the citizens of Cheyenne.

At the conclusion of the war, the war workers dispersed and Frontier Villa reverted to city control. The housing development continued to be occupied at least through the end of the 1940s.

By the mid-1950s, Frontier Villa was gone. The sole remnant of the once thriving community was the old administration building. This structure served for many years as the headquarters for Cheyenne Frontier Days, but by the late 1970s, was wholly inadequate for the job and was removed in 1978.

Michael Kassel is associate director and curator at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum and an adjunct instructor of history at Laramie County Community College. Email: mike.kassel@oldwestmuseum.org.

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