In Pursuit of a New WPA


On October 22, 2020, the 2019 Randy Martin Spirit Awardee Arlene Goldbard shared her thoughts on the to the powerful organizing opportunity we have to build a new WPA.

Twice before in times of crisis, the U.S. created public service employment programs, underwriting work for the public good. Both the WPA (Works Progress Administration of the 30s) and CETA (the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of the 70s) were created in response to high unemployment, supporting workers from many sectors. Artists were especially resourceful in taking advantage of these programs. Given that unemployment today surpasses Great Depression levels, it’s time for a new WPA to repair social fabric and infrastructure, share our stories, and create sites of public memory. How can this happen?

To learn more visit: imaginingamerica.org

Postlandia Reports that “USPS Officials Order Historic Murals Covered in 12 States; Considering Removal”

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Before and after [covered]: Photographs of the 1940 mural, “Cotton—From Field to Mill,” at the Jackson, Georgia post office, taken Jan. 2008 and Aug. 2020. Photos courtesy Jimmy Emerson.

Evan Kalish, Postlandia founder and Living New Deal researcher at large published a post about the recent USPS Officials order to cover historic murals in 12 states. Kalish writes that, “[i]nternal emails obtained via the Freedom of Information Act reveal that an “artwork workgroup” of high-level United States Postal Service (USPS) officials, including attorneys and USPS’s Federal Preservation Officer, has directed facilities and maintenance personnel to cover up 80-year-old murals housed at 16 post offices spanning 12 states. USPS is considering the murals’ outright removal, and it is unclear whether this initiative will expand to include historic artwork at additional locations.” Read the post here.

Living New Deal Mentioned in Bowery Boys Podcast, “Robert Moses and the Art of the New Deal”

Greg Young and Tom Meyers have been telling fascinating stories about New York City in their Bowery Boys Podcast since 2007.

In their most recent segment, “Robert Moses and the Art of the New Deal,” they look at the role of New Deal funding in building the city’s infrastructure. They also mention the Living New Deal: “special shout out to a really extraordinary website, the Living New Deal, that is exhaustively researched, and a really fun afternoon can be had just digging through it and looking up New Deal projects across the country.“

Living New Deal NYC: WPA Pools, Still in Widespread Use in the City, Display New Badges of Honor

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WPA Pools, Still in Widespread Use in the City, Display New Badges of Honor

Living New Deal partners with NYC Parks to affix New Deal medallions at WPA pools for one-year honorary display, showing New Yorkers how much we owe to our 1930s forebears.

NEW YORK, NY, August 17, 2020— At a fraught moment when many Americans are looking to the federal government to protect them from a pandemic that has upended their lives, the towering achievements of the New Deal stand as useful and living monuments to what government can do when serving the public is its first priority.

The New York City branch of the Living New Deal (LND)—a nonprofit dedicated to mapping the physical legacy of FDR’s New Deal—has commemorated that legacy with a striking new medallion that echoes the period’s style and spirit.

NYC Parks has mounted LND’s new red, white, and blue medallions as a one-year honorary display at 10 of the 11 WPA pools that were completed in the summer of 1936: the Astoria, Hamilton Fish, Betsy Head, Highbridge, Thomas Jefferson, Lyons, McCarren, Red Hook, Jackie Robinson, and Sunset pools. The final medallion will be installed at Crotona Pool when construction at the site is complete. 

To coincide with the medallion display, NYC Parks has written new and updated historical sign narratives for each WPA pool. The narratives will soon be installed at each site and will soon be on view at nyc.gov/parks

More than 1,000 New York City landmarks, public works, and works of art were built or created by workers employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and other New Deal “alphabet soup” programs, but LND has noted a near-total absence of signage marking these sites as such. “We’re determined to remedy that,” says former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, who serves as an advisor to LND’s NYC branch. “Our goal is to create a piece of living history for the city.

“The New Deal gave us the city we know and love,” Messinger continues, “but most of us either don’t know or have forgotten the achievements of that extraordinary decade in our nation’s history. Everywhere you look, you can see the New Deal’s imprint.” The short list includes the Triborough Bridge, LaGuardia Airport, Henry Hudson Parkway, and much of Central Park—the Harlem Meer Boathouse, the Zoo, and the Great Lawn, for example—along with schools, post offices, hospitals, playgrounds, and recreation centers across the five boroughs. And 11 Olympic-size public swimming pools, which are still in widespread use today.

“Intent on democratizing access to recreation, the federal government spent $750

million on community recreation facilities in the 1930s (more than $14 billion in today’s dollars),” wrote New York’s Prof. Marta Gutman, CUNY architectural historian and a member of LND’s NYC working group, in her 2008 article titled “Race, Place, and Play.” Prominent among these are the 11 enormous NYC pool complexes being commemorated by the very same parks department that oversaw their construction in 1936.

The Living New Deal kicked off its NYC commemoration campaign with the display of medallions at pools precisely because they represent some of the period’s finest high-design achievements on behalf of the people of this city. Says Grace Roosevelt, another NYC working group member, “We hope to mark other New Deal sites in the near future, focusing on particular neighborhoods such as Red Hook, Astoria, the Lower East Side, and Harlem, and on specific types of sites such as courthouses, schools, health facilities, and apartment buildings.”

More about the Living New Deal

Much of the research on the New Deal’s achievements in New York City has already been completed by the Living New Deal, the national California-based nonprofit that produced the Map and Guide to New Deal Art, Architecture, and Public Works in New

York City, co-sponsored by the Museum of the City of New York. Copies of the map are available on the Living New Deal’s website at livingnewdeal.org.

“Still Working for America”—the Living New Deal’s motto—serves as a reminder that many essential public works Americans depend upon today were built by the New Deal. By marking and celebrating what was achieved in the past, the Living New Deal’s NYC branch hopes to spark the public imagination by showing what can be accomplished when government invests in the collective good.

Civilian Conservation Corps Historic Building at Big Basin State Park in CA Destroyed by Wildfire

Big Basin State Park visitor’s center in Boulder Creek, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

The Mercury News reports that the park headquarters, a timber building on the National Register of Historic Places built in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, as well as the “nature center, campgrounds and other structures at Big Basin Redwoods State Park have been reported destroyed in the raging wildfires currently burning through the Santa Cruz Mountains.” Red the story here.

Table of New Deal Projects in New York City

By Frank da Cruz, Kermit Project

This is an attempt to list all the tangible New Deal contributions to New York City:  bridges, highways, tunnels, airports, schools, public buidings, housing, parks, playgrounds, pools, beaches, marinas, piers, art, and other creations that can be seen and touched (if they still exist). Best viewed on a wide screeen.  Bear in mind, these are only the New Deal projects that have been found in the very spotty historical record so far; the actual New Deal contribution is much greater. To illustrate: the FY 1938-39 WPA Summary Report notes that in New York City in those twelve months alone, the WPA did an almost inconceivable amount of work; see the summary at the end of the report, which does not reflect work done or paid for by other New Deal agencies such as PWA, NYA, or USHA. See the project here.

Author Paul Baicich writes about the Green New Deal’s need for a 21st-Century CCC

Jacobin original caption: “A Civilian Conservation Corps enrollee planting a tree.” Location unknown, USA, circa 1938. (Photo by FotosearchGetty Images).”

Author Paul Baicich wrote for the Jacobin about the need for a 21st-Century Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Titled, “A Green New Deal Needs a 21st-Century Civilian Conservation Corps,” the piece outlines the critical role the CCC can play in the context of the Green New Deal and the building of a “climate-ready economy.” Read the story here.

Descendants of FDR and his New Dealers Write an Open Letter to Vice President Biden

The children and grandchildren of FDR and his of the women and men who designed and implemented the New Deal, wrote a letter to Vice President Biden. “We must fight for a 21st Century New Deal,” argue James Roosevelt Jr., Henry Scott Wallace, June Hopkins, Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall, and Harold M. Ickes. In the letter, they call for bold government action in response to the hardship caused to millions of Americans by the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the letter here.