WPA-Built Inland Naval Armory Becomes Charter High School, by Glory-June Greiff

Hesslar Naval Armory
Photo by Glory-June Greiff

Featured in Art Deco in Indianapolis (Greiff 1980), the stunning WPA-built Naval Armory, the work of architect Ben H. Bacon, has graced the bank of the non-navigable White River since before its dedication in October 1938.  At the time of that first publication, the glorious Art Moderne building still somewhat served its original function and was gloriously intact outside and in, including the over-the-top nautical decor of the Officers’ Mess. The interior was originally fitted with a simulated navigation bridge and many other accoutrements of a naval vessel. Inside the drill room–essentially a large gymnasium–are four huge murals of famous naval battles by WPA artist Charles Bauerle.*  The building was renamed the Heslar Naval Armory in 1964 to honor its first commanding officer, Capt. O.F. Heslar. In 1985, a humanities grant afforded me the opportunity to invite the public into the drill room for an illustrated talk on the WPA in Indiana in its 50th anniversary year. The building was functioning as a headquarter for both the Navy and Marine Reserve, and security grew much tighter, the public no longer able to enter so easily. The beautiful dining room became just another classroom, its adjacent curving barroom with the glass block counter abandoned.  Seeing the interior a few years ago was disheartening, to say the least. The building was decommissioned over two years ago and its fate was uncertain. Enter Indiana Landmarks and the charter Herron High School (headquartered in the former Herron School of Art north of downtown Indianapolis), who partnered to save the structure, rehab it, and transform it into Riverside High School, another charter school that follows. Herron’s classical education model. It opened to great fanfare last fall. Huzzah!

Exhibit: “New Deal Picture Stories” – The Photography of Arthur Rothstein

“New Deal Picture Stories” – The Photography of Arthur Rothstein will be hosted by the Canessa Gallery, located at 708 Montgomery St. San Francisco, CA.Opening Reception: Friday, December 7, 2018. 6:00pm–9:00 pm.

Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985) is recognized as one of America’s premier photojournalists. Rothstein became the first photographer for the newly established Resettlement Administration in 1935, and later worked for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), producing some of the most recognized images of life in the United States in the 1930s and 40s.

Climate Activists Demanding “Green New Deal” Arrested at Pelosi’s Office

Photo: The Sunrise Movement

Young climate activist are driving a generational shift in the Democratic Party. Backed by Democratic Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the climate activists with the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats were arrested on Capitol Hill this week. This past Tuesday they staged a protest at Nancy Pelosi’s office, demanding a “Green New Deal.” For more details, click here and here.

The FDR Memorial, Sculptor George Segal, and WPA Artist Leon Bibel

George Segal and the Breadline
Joe McLaughlin, Staff Photographer, Home News Tribune, 1997 © All Rights Reserved

By Phyllis Wrynn


The first of the five bronze figures in George Segal’s “Depression Breadline” sculpture at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial depicts Works Progress Administration (WPA) artist Leon Bibel—a lifelong friend of Segal’s. Many notable American artists relied on New Deal employment during the Great Depression. Leon Bibel was one of them. Segal’s depiction of Bibel is a testament to a friendship between artists as much as an homage to the artists of the Great Depression.

The artists George Segal and Leon Bibel shared a similar background. They had lived on the same rural New Jersey road since the early 1940s, and were both, for a time, chicken and egg farmers. They were also trained artists who shared ideas, materials, and political views.

George considered Leon a mentor. George’s senior by a few years, Leon had participated in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the New York City Federal Art Project of the WPA.

As a teenager, George recalled his father listening in rapt attention to newly elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt give his “fireside chats.” The President, with compassion and action, reassured those who had endured staggering economic hardships that help was on the way.

For Leon, that help materialized during a pivotal moment. He was fresh out of art school, desperate for any work, when he learned of a project that paid artists to be artists, more than he could ever have hoped for.

Several decades later, a project was underway for a memorial in Washington, DC to honor President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The plans had begun in 1946, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the project began taking shape. Several American sculptors were commissioned to participate, among them, George Segal.

Segal was a fitting choice to work on the National Mall memorial. His family’s group of friends, all immigrants, and all, as he described, “flat broke,” had respect and admiration for the President who championed the cause of the working people. This family history brought Segal’s connection to the president full circle.

The memorial is divided in four sections, paralleling FDR’s four terms in office. Segal’s space has three elements relating to the despair of the Depression, as well as the hope that FDR’s leadership brought to the country. There is an Appalachian Farm Couple, The Fireside Chat, and The Depression Breadline.

Since Leon had been the only person George knew who had ever stood in a breadline, it was natural that they collaborate once again for this project. At the time when he became George’s subject one last time, depicted as the first figure in The Depression Breadline, Leon Bibel was 80. Sadly, Leon didn’t live to see the final installation of the sculptural program.

George Segal was chosen to memorialize the President, and his family history of reverence for FDR made that especially meaningful for him. Participating in CCC and WPA projects saved Leon Bibel when the Depression had a stranglehold on so many in this country. This final collaboration between artists on a project that touched each of them so personally was a fitting coda to a remarkable friendship.


Our Spirit of the New Deal Conference Now Online


Videos of our “Women and the Spirit of the New Deal Conference” now online.

More than 150 people attended our conference, held at UC Berkeley, October 5-6. Videos, photos, and the conference program are now online. Women played prominent roles during the crisis of the Great Depression, but their contributions to the nation’s economic recovery, social welfare, and cultural life are largely unknown. With an unprecedented number of women reshaping our electoral politics, winning seats in the pivotal midterm elections, and leading change, a conference, Women and the Spirit of the New Deal, hosted by the Living New Deal, brought authors, scholars, historians, and activists together at UC Berkeley to consider the role of women in leadership today.


Dr. John Roosevelt Boettiger grandson of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, lead off the conference on Friday morning, Oct 5 at Wheeler Hall.  UC Berkeley Professor Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, received the Intelligence and Courage Award at the Women’s Faculty Club on Friday, Oct 5, 6:30pm. The conference was open to the public on a donation basis. Registration was required to attend. Lndconference.eventbrite.com


See the full schedule and list of presenters here: https://livingnewdeal.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/WSND-program-schedule.pdf


The conference cosponsors include: the City of Berkeley, East Bay Regional Park District, Friends of the Berkeley Rose GardenFrances Perkins CenterNational New Deal Preservation Association and UC Berkeley Departments of Gender and Women’s Studies, Geography, History, and Sociology.


Historic Roosevelt Hospital Built with New Deal Funds Reopens as Senior Housing

The former Roosevelt Hospital has recently reopened its doors as a senior housing complex. The facility was originally constructed in 1937 as a tuberculosis sanitarium and funded by the Public Works Administration. According to the Edison-Metuchen Sentinel and the American Planning Association, “The new project will provide more than $4.4 million in ongoing economic output, 25 direct and indirect full-time equivalent jobs, and more than $249,000 in state and local taxes annually. The redevelopment was designed by architect Wallace Roberts and Todd in Philadelphia .” Find more information here.

Janus Ruling: Supreme Court Dismantles New Deal Labor Act

The Supreme Court decision on the Janus labor case is poised to have a devastating effect on public-sector unions. The decision states that public sector employees cannot be required to pay fees to labor unions, and effectively dismantles one of the pillars of the New Deal—the National Labor Relations Act (also known as the Wagner Act). Signed into law by President Roosevelt on July 5, 1935, the Wagner Act required employers to negotiate with unions selected by a majority of employees, and provided employee protections. Click here for more on the repercussions this ruling. See the FDR Presidential Library for a brief history of the Wagner Act.

Design for Bernard Zakheim’s Coit Tower Mural Discovered

Zakheim Mural Drawing
“The Library” Original Design for Coit Tower Mural
By Bernard Zakheim, 1934, Charcoal on paper, 10’ x 6 1⁄2’

Bernard Zakheim’s family has recently discovered the original, 10 feet high charcoal sketch drawings for his mural, The Library, located at the Coit Tower in San Francisco. Painted by Zakheim in 1934, the mural became the center of political controversy. Several of his works show figures representing people in the artist’s social circle. The Coit Tower mural is no exception, showing artist Ralph Stackpole and sculptor Beniamino Bufano. Zakheim’s friend John Langley Howard is depicted reaching for Marx’s Das Kapital. This spurred debate in the press at the time about the propagandistic messages in Zakheim’s art, and accusations concerning his Communist sympathies. You can see the Living New Deal’s page on Zakheim’s Coit Tower mural here. The Visual Transformation Gallery located in Oakland is seeking to organize a public showing of the recently discovered charcoal drawings.

Historic New Deal Mural at Bronx High School Painted over during Renovations

Our contributors brought to our attention that the historic New Deal mural at the DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx was recently defaced and possibly damaged. A spokesperson from the New York City Department of Education said that the incident happened during roof repairs, when construction crews covered the mural in paint, and that they are looking into ways to restore the mural. Painted by Alfred Floegel between 1934 and 1940, the mural is titled Constellations and depicts the night sky on the ceiling of the third floor hallway. The mural covering the walls of the hallway, titled The History of the Worldwas not altered. Living New Deal Associate Frank da Cruz had documented the mural in its original condition and published the photographs on our website. The Associated Press covered the incident and interviewed the Living New Deal leadership team. For more details, see the stories published by the The New York Times, CNN, and NBC New York.