Infrastructure Report Card: Public Parks and Recreation: “C-“

From Maryland Research Director Brent McKee’s blog:

In their 2013 Infrastructure Report Card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives America’s public parks and recreational infrastructure a “C-“, writing: “The popularity of parks and outdoor recreation areas in the United States continues to grow, with over 140 million Americans making use of these facilities a part of their daily lives. These activities contribute $646 billion to the nation’s economy, supporting 6.1 million jobs. Yet states and localities struggle to provide these benefits for parks amid flat and declining budgets, reporting an estimated $18.5 billion in unmet needs in 2011. The federal government is also facing a serious challenge as well since the National Park Service estimates its maintenance backlog at approximately $11 billion.” Grand Canyon
(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

During the Great Depression, New Deal work programs hired the unemployed to create, develop, and improve public parks. For example, the CCC worked on about 800 parks across the country, and planted about 3 BILLION trees. The WPA created or improved 8,000 parks, 18,000 playgrounds & athletic fields, and 2,000 public pools. Millions of Americans still use these parks today, and thousands of businesses benefit from the vacation and tourism dollars. Yet, very few people know of the CCC’s role in the creation and development of these parks, and still fewer know of the WPA’s involvement. Meanwhile, many politicians and political commentators say a public works program for the long-term unemployed would be “wasteful.”

In September of 2012, Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would have created a new CCC-type program for unemployed veterans…. READ the full post, with more images, here on Brent’s blog.

Salon and Closing Reception: A Time for a New Deal Museum!

Jackson County Courthouse Bas-Reliefs (North facade to west)Exhibit: A Time for a New Deal Museum: Finding a Home for the New Deal’s Art, Architecture and Social Policy Treasures

**Closing Reception & Salon/Discussion 7-9 PM  – Thursday, March 28, 2013**

Join us Thursday at the Canessa Gallery for a slideshow and discussion about the need for a permanent home for New Deal museum.

You can read our concept plan on the web site of the Presidio Trust — and you can attend a public meeting of the Presidio Trust Board of Directors (April 9, 6:30, Golden Gate Club, Presidio National Park). Soon after the April 9 public meeting, the Board will begin the process of narrowing the number of concepts under consideration. Please send or post comments on the Presidio site before April 9.


EXHIBIT DATE: Mon. Mar 11th, 2013 – Sun. Mar 31st, 2013

LOCATION: Canessa Gallery, 708 Montgomery, San Francisco, CA

FDR’s legacy lives on in streets of small town America


From the Auburn Journal comes this article on the WPA in California’s gold country:

Writes reporter Matthew Whitely:
“As you walk through Downtown Auburn or along Vernon Street in Roseville, the contributions of WPA are alive and well, featuring some of the most beautiful buildings in Placer County. These include Placer High School, (originally Placer Hills College), Auburn City Hall and Fire Station (1103 High St.), Cooper Amphitheatre (1225 Lincoln Way, originally part of the Auburn Grammar School is now the Auburn School Park Preserve), Auburn Fairgrounds and the Gold Country Museum (1273 High St.), The Roseville Post Office and City Hall (316 Vernon St.) and the original Colfax Grammar school (55 School Road) are among a very long list of projects created by the WPA in Placer County and, according to Otten, provided so many jobs that it probably saved Auburn during the Depression.


In fact, during the Depression the WPA and FDR’s New Deal Projects was America’s largest employer until World War II broke, out sending America’s unemployment below two percent.  The program was not popular with many conservatives who felt it was government activism, and many called Roosevelt a socialist or a communist. Even today many of the social programs we have, like Social Security or the FDIC, are holdovers from the Roosevelt New Deal. While many of these structures are still in use today, many are falling into ruin and disrepair. Dr. Brechin joked that ‘many are held together by rust.'”


Check out the Living New Deal’s Auburn, CA page, and please let us know if you want to help complete documentation of Auburn or your own town.

Auburn City Hall and Fire House

Auburn City Hall and Fire House
Auburn City Hall and Fire House

How the New Deal Built Nevada

cover-18841 cover-18841-1In the midst of research, we came across this nice historical piece from the Reno News & Review. Published in 2008, the article offers a window into the world of New Deal Nevada. We’re reprinting just a small portion of the article here. Follow the link below for the full story:

How the New Deal built Nevada

The Depression in Nevada was beaten back by workers who built, planted and even died for the state
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This article was published on .

Dominick Gadamowitz was born in Flushing, N.Y., in 1918, the oldest of 11 children. At age 13, two years into the Great Depression, he dropped out of school to work in his father’s business as a construction laborer.

“I felt as if I had an obligation to help Pop feed the rest of the family because we were really beginning to feel the effects of the Depression,” he later said.

Then in 1935, another opportunity came his way—a new federal program called the Civilian Conservation Corps.

“This was my chance to get away from all of the problems at home and still be able to help provide for my family. … My best friend and I enrolled in the CCC at our local post office. Within two weeks we were sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for a medical, which we both passed. We learned that we would be working at Battle Mountain, Nevada. We were sent home to gather our clothes and inform our parents of where we were going, how long we would be there, and any other necessary information that they might have needed to know. Later that week, we rode across country by train to Nevada.”

The CCC is often described as a means for rural youth, who normally might never have traveled more than 50 miles from their homes, to see the nation. It also worked the other way around. It was a way for urbanites like Gadamowitz to see places like Battle Mountain. The creation of the CCC and other New Deal “alphabet” programs began 75 years ago this year.

Neediest State

One day in 1920, a train that included the private car of Democratic vice presidential nominee Franklin Roosevelt pulled into Las Vegas for a few minutes on its way to California. The candidate stepped off the train while he waited, chatted with a few local folks, said some nice things about former U.S. Sen. Charles Henderson of Nevada, then climbed back on the train and continued on his way.

That unplanned appearance was about the extent of Roosevelt’s personal knowledge of the state that would one day benefit more than any other from his New Deal.

“Per capita expenditures of selected New Deal agencies from 1933 to 1939 were greater for Nevada than for any other state,” historian Russell Elliott wrote in 1973. “Not only was Nevada first in total per capita expenditures, but first, also, per capita in loans, Civil Works Administration (CWA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) funds, and funds for public roads.”

This was not peculiar to the New Deal. Nevada had long been a welfare state, living off the taxes paid by people elsewhere, more so than any other state. In 1924, five years before the stock market crash, Nevada received 200 percent more funding from the federal government than it contributed in taxes.

“Nevada was not industrialized like some states were, and [it] suffered in that way,” according to historian Phil Earl.

But the New Deal brought an investment in Nevada unlike any before. It was like a blitzkrieg, only a constructive one—schools and bridges, roads and dams, drought projects and reforesting swept across the state like a benevolent army. ….

Click here to continue reading


Brent McKee: “A foreign ‘Boondoggle,’ when we could have had a new WPA”

On the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War Brent McKee, the Living New Deal’s Director of Mid-Atlantic Research, has some thoughts about how we might better spend our money. Here’s a bit of his blog post from today… follow the link below to his site for more:

“Recent reports and developments are calling into question how much we’ve accomplished in Iraq over the past nine years. According to Huffington Post reporters Joshua Hersh and Chris Spurlock, “$800 billion was spent on the mission overall, a boondoggle that left more than 4,000 American service members dead, 32,000 more wounded, and an authoritarian government in place that is little better — and possibly, owing to its closer ties to Iran, worse — than the one that was taken out.” For $800 billion dollars we have “… chaos and impoverishment, hundreds of thousands of citizens dead and millions more displaced, and a vicious sectarianism that still threatens to rip the country apart at the seams.”

(See Iraq War Cost $800 Billion, And What Do We Have To Show For It?)

According to a recent Gallup Poll, most Americans view the Iraq War as a mistake and, interestingly, older Americans are more likely to disapprove of the Iraq War. ….”

Read more here.

Townshend Grimes Bridge


Guest Essay: Bring Back The WPA

This piece was written by Stephen Seufert, a new friend of the Living New Deal.  We’re happy to re-print his op-ed here with his permission; it also has appeared on and

By Stephen Seufert

The overwhelming majority of unemployed Americans, who are now walking the streets and receiving private or public relief, would infinitely prefer to work.” FDR, 1933

It may seem hard to believe, but back in the 1930s the Federal government put Americans to work who couldn’t find a job in the private sector. Imagine that, the government assisting the unemployed by providing them a job. Instead of giving them a handout, able bodied men and women out of work joined Federal programs such as the WPA (Works Progress Administration). The WPA was and still is considered to be one of the most successful New Deal programs, yet it’s largely forgotten today.

The WPA employed over 8 million Americans from 1935 to 1943 and pumped $11 billion into the economy($170 billion total/$19 billion each year by today’s standards). In the first year alone, the WPA employed over 3 million Americans on public works projects across the nation. In total, the WPA constructed 116,000 buildings, 78,000 bridges, 651,000 miles of road and improved 800 airports.

An interesting aspect of the WPA is that the military, more specifically the Army Corps of Engineers, used its logistical and organizing skills effectively and enthusiastically to help the program be the success that it was. General George C. Marshall, chief of staff of the Army during the formation of the WPA, saw the great potential of putting Army officers in charge of public works programs. The WPA gave many officers practical experience later used in World War II and also saved military jobs. Today, veterans are among the highest unemployed.

Additionally, while the national unemployment rate has dropped below 8%, specific sectors such as construction are well above 11%. These unemployed construction workers are skilled, blue collar workers looking for an honest day’s work.

Why not bring back the WPA? The current welfare system doesn’t adequately represent the “general welfare” clause of the Constitution. Ask yourself this, is modern welfare helping the general population? A true welfare system would serve the interests of all Americans. Currently, the welfare system is one sided and taxpayers are growing tired of supporting those on welfare because of the seemingly diminishing returns. In 2011 alone, it was found that $14 billion was overpaid in unemployment benefits. In the past four years, unemployed Americans have collected $438 billion in Federal unemployment benefits. Shift that revenue over to creating a new WPA and restore the true meaning of “general welfare” to the Constitution.

The idea is simple, give WPA workers a living wage so that they in turn can spend that money on businesses. Businesses need costumers and with a million or more men and women employed in the WPA that’s what they’ll get. Bottom line, the government must be willing to spend and build in order for Americans to spend and grow once again. Lowering taxes and cutting spending won’t help the unemployed pay rent or buy food; giving them a job will.

On the home front there is much to be done, yet time and again chances are squandered to rebuild America. Several states along the east coast were devastated by hurricane Sandy. In 1937, FDR sent over 200,000 WPA workers to assist in disaster relief after a major flood along the Ohio River Valley devastated the area. In 1938, a hurricane similar to Sandy hammered the east coast. Hundreds died and hundreds of thousands more were left without shelter. FDR once again sent WPA workers to assist in disaster relief. The Red Cross Chairman at the time, Morman Davis, credited the WPA as being part of “one of the most amazing disaster recoveries this organization has ever known.” We need another coordinated effort to rebuild and restore the east coast after Sandy.

This article is meant to remind Americans there was a time in our history where we were united in our common interests. That when things needed to be done, the American people carried on with great courage and determination. Today, there is a prevailing view that government can do no right and that the best government is limited government. Well I strongly disagree. As I stated in a previous articles, I want a government that works for all the people. I don’t care about the shape or size, as long as it serves the interests of all Americans.

Stephen Seufert, Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania, has a bachelor’s degree in government and political affairs. He was communications director of the Pennsylvania College Democrats and president of the Millersville Chapter of College Democrats from 2010-2011. He maintains a blog at .

“Fear Itself” explored

Ira Katznelson’s new book Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time has been reviewed in the New Yorker. It’s a subscribers-only article, but here’s the beginning of the March 4, 2013 review by Louis Menand:

Nyorker“In 1941, James Burnham published a book called “The Managerial Revolution.” The economies of the major powers, Burnham said, had fallen into the hands of a new élite: the managers, executives, financiers, and stockholders who owned and ran corporations, and the government administrators who regulated them. Burnham had earlier described the New Deal as “preparing the United States for the comparatively smooth transition to Fascism.” Why the world didn’t turn out quite the way that Burnham predicted is the subject of Ira Katznelson’s ambitious, fascinating, and slightly dark “Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time.” There are already many histories of the New Deal in circulation. Katznelson thinks that much of the scholarship on the New Deal is “too insular and too limited.” For one thing, he says, it tends to cast Roosevelt as the hero. “Fear Itself” is a history of the New Deal from the point of view of Congress. There was no master plan, no guiding philosophy, for the reforms that Roosevelt oversaw. Some were his idea; some were Congress’s; some were left over from the Hoover Administration. Roosevelt was improvising. He certainly did not have a grasp of the concept of deficit spending. He was generally fiscally conservative, and in the beginning his policies were actually deflationary. One of his first acts was to cut the budget. Describes the split in the Democratic Party between Northern and Southern Democrats. Katznelson argues that the members of this Southern bloc were “the most important ‘veto players’ in American politics.” They maintained what he calls a “Southern cage” around New Deal legislation. Southern Democrats were almost unanimously supportive of progressive economic policies, but they were, in one respect, solidly reactionary. They were vigilant to resist any threat to what they sometimes euphemistically referred to as the Southern way of life but more often called, quite proudly, white supremacy. In spite of all the vigilance, the camel did get its nose under the South’s tent. The ultimate irony of Southern support for the New Deal and the war effort, as Katznelson shows in careful detail, is that it produced a powerful and interventionist central government that one day (following considerable non-state agitation and inspiration within the South) brought the Southern way of life to an end. Discusses how government, and the Democratic Party, changed after the New Deal, with the onset of the Cold War and the disenchantment of Southern Democrats. Writer situates Katznelson’s book alongside many other books about the New Deal, and discusses the history of worries about the emergence of a new ruling class composed of bureaucrats and technocrats. ….” Read more here.


Katznelson also published a short essay connecting the New Deal to contemporary politics in the Chronicle of Higher Education that same day (we need to get referred to his publicist!). Here’s a piece of the essay:

“Reminding us that ‘all historians are prisoners of their own experience,’ one of the most eminent historians of the New Deal, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., observed late in his life: ‘Conceptions of the past are far from stable. They are perennially revised by the urgencies of the present.’

With rising concerns about religious zealotry, military insecurity, and volatility in capitalist economies, it has become important to re-examine the borderlands where democracy meets fear. With the stalemate in Congress, it has become urgent to comprehend how representative democracy can operate to deal with the large problems of the day. With racial barriers falling, yet various measures of racial inequality increasing, it has become imperative to revisit the role race plays in shaping politics and society. Returning to the New Deal itself, we can project these troubling issues of today into sharp relief.

Eighty years ago, on March 4, Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed in his first inaugural address that ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.’ The climate of universal fear deeply affected political understandings. The rumble of uncertainty, a sense of proceeding without a map, was relentless and enveloping. Nothing was sure.

Over the course of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, the country confronted three acute sources of fear: the deep worry generated by the disintegration and decay of democratic politics and liberal hopes in Europe, East Asia, and Latin America; exponential growth in sophisticated weaponry, reflected in an accelerating arms race both before and after World War II; and the racial structure of the Jim Crow South, a source of deep worry both for its defenders and its adversaries. In a decisive break with the old, the New Deal successfully crafted not just a new set of policies to meet those challenges, but also new forms of institutional meaning, language, and possibility for a governing model that had been invented 150 years before.

To see the effects of fear on the character of American democracy, we can rearrange the geography of New Deal history, making it both wider, by more closely connecting domestic and international affairs, and more narrowly focused, by homing in on how Congress remade the country’s institutions and policies, and on how Southern members of the House and Senate, with their commitment to a hierarchical racial order, affected the full range of New Deal policies and accomplishments. …” Read the rest of the essay here.

We are happy to say that Katznelson recently joined the advisory board of the Living New Deal.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural address, in 1933. Getty Images

FDR 1933
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, in 1933. Getty Images

On Sequestration and the New Deal

In his blog this week, Maryland Living New Deal research director Brent McKee weighs in on sequestration, the parks, and how it all connects to New Deal politics:

Protect Your Parks“The across-the-board federal budget cuts (the so-called “sequestration”) is set to take place in just a few days. Tracie Cone, of the Associated Press, recently reported on how these cuts are likely to impact the National Parks, e.g., closed sections, less presentations for school children, and less frequent trash pickup.  (“National parks prepare to limit attractions if budget cuts take effect,” Associated Press, February 23, 2013, found in the Cumberland Times-News).

This is interesting for two reasons. First, because it shows the stark contrast between how we are fighting our current economic doldrums and how we fought the depression of the 1930s. And second, because it has to make one wonder why we would cut back on something that has an economic benefit higher than its cost… ”

Read more here

The Ghost of Timberline Lodge

From the Bend (Oregon) Bulletin: "Timberline Lodge looms ghost-like over a snowboarder and skier near the top of the Pucci lift at the Timberline ski area. The only ski-in, ski-out winter lodge in the Pacific Northwest boasts the longest ski season in North America, closing only during October for maintenance. Photos by John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin"

Timberline Lodge
From the Bend (Oregon) Bulletin: “Timberline Lodge looms ghost-like over a snowboarder and skier near the top of the Pucci lift at the Timberline ski area. The only ski-in, ski-out winter lodge in the Pacific Northwest boasts the longest ski season in North America, closing only during October for maintenance.
Photos by John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin”

Here’s some fascinating history, from John Gottberg Anderson of the Oregon-based Bend Bulletin:

“Seventy-five years is a ripe old age, one that isn’t achieved without a few battle scars.

There was a time when the historic Timberline Lodge, on the north slope of Mount Hood, didn’t appear likely to survive its teenage years.

Built at the 6,000-foot level of Oregon’s tallest peak by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1936 and 1937, the hotel and ski lodge initially flourished. But it closed when the United States entered World War II, and failed to regain the popularity of its honeymoon period once the war was over.

By the mid-1950s, having degenerated under mismanagement into a den of iniquity — one that turned a blind eye to gambling and prostitution even as it left many of its bills unpaid — Timberline was threatened with permanent closure… ”

Read more here.

Four Freedoms, Long Gone?

Censorship by Eric Drooker,






In case you missed it… From Alternet, via the New York Times, comes this piece about one writers vision of the shrinking freedom of contemporary society:

“In a 1941 Message to Congress, Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to explain what it means to be free. He outlined the “four essential human freedoms”:

The first is freedom of speech and expression.
The second is freedom of every person to worship.
The third is freedom from want.
The fourth is freedom from fear.

The 2013 version shows how our freedoms have been diminished, or corrupted into totally different forms.”

Writer Paul Bucheit goes on to say that instead of living up to these goals, the nation has fallen ever further behind:

“… For every three people in poverty in the year 2000, there are now four. Almost 50 millionpeople were impoverished in 2011. Over 20 percent of our children live in poverty, including almost half of young black children. Among industrialized countries only Romania has a higher child poverty rate than the United States. …”


” … In the decades before FDR, young black men were under constant threat of arrest for “vagrancy,” and the resulting slave-like conditions of forced labor. Today vagrancy has been replaced by petty drug offenses. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander documents the explosion of the prison population for drug offenses, with blacks and Hispanics the main targets even though they use drugs at about the same, or lesser rate as white Americans. In Colorado and Washington and New York City and Seattle the patterns are disturbingly similar: minority arrests are vastly out of proportion to their percentages of the population. …”

Read more here.