Shock Troops of Disaster

In addition to the economic calamity of Great Depression, in the 1930s the country was further beset by environmental catastrophes such as floods, hurricanes, drought and a Dust Bowl, much as it is today. But in addition to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the nation had something else then that it does not have in 2012 to deal with devastating storm events such as Hurricanes Katrina, Irene and Sandy.

WPA flood relief, Louisville, Kentucky, 1937

WPA flood relief, Louisville, Kentucky, 1937
WPA workers pile sandbags for flood protection.

WPA and CCC workers were trained in disaster aid and recovery. In the event of natural disasters, tens of thousands of men and women could be quickly moved to affected areas to supplement the National Guard and other emergency workers.

The Work Projects Administration produced an 11-minute documentary titled “Shock Troops of Disaster” that includes dramatic footage of the extraordinary damage caused by the epic 1938 storm in New England as well as the recovery effort by federal workers. It is well worth watching today. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it’s a vivid reminder of the vital role of federal government in disaster relief.

San Francisco Model Update

Chronicle reporter Carl Nolte’s article on the WPA-made model of San Francisco (see News post of Sept. 11, 2010) elicited a great deal of interest in and information on the 3-D map, including a number of suggestions of where it might go. We have followed up on the suggestions; our chief concern is that it be made available to the public with interpretative text explaining how the model and other relief maps were made by WPA and CCC workers and for what reasons. We also want to be assured that the model will be well cared for since another similar one was reassembled and installed at SF’s Laguna Honda Hospital in the 1980s but it has disappeared without a trace.

Among the feedback we got was that the NE quadrant of the city is still intact at UC Berkeley’s Wurster Hall where it has been used for environmental modeling for many years. Professor Peter Bosselman has been using the model for teaching purposes, saving all of the original blocks as the downtown has been transformed by post-war highrises.

If reassembled, the model could be restored to a freeze-frame of San Francisco c. 1930 when — because of the Great Depression — building largely stopped.  Unfortunately, Prof. Bosselman wants to continue to use a portion of the model, and the rest remains in storage at UC Berkeley.  We would prefer that it be on public view and there were some guarantee of its good-keeping by the university (which has a checkered record on such things — see our 2012 posts on the sale of the Sargent Johnson sculpture).

WPA model update
Northeast quadrant of San Francisco model at Wurster Hall

Northeast quadrant of San Francisco model at Wurster Hall

San Francisco District Agricultural Association Grounds - Daly City CA
Model stored at UC warehouse in 17 wooden crates

WPA model update
Section of model showing upper Glen Park & Diamond Heights undeveloped in 1940.

WPA model update
Reporter Carl Nolte examining his neighborhood on a section of the model

WPA model update

Chronicle reporter Carl Nolte’s article on the WPA-made model of San Francisco elicited a great deal of interest in and information on the 3-D map, including a number of suggestions of where it might go. I will be following up on the suggestions; my chief concern is that it be made available to the public with interpretative text explaining how the model and other relief maps were made by WPA and CCC workers and for what reasons. I also want to be assured that the model will be well cared for since another similar one was reassembled and installed at SF’s Laguna Honda Hospital in the 1980s but it has disappeared without a trace.

Among the feedback we got was that the NE quadrant of the city is still intact at UC Berkeley’s Wurster Hall where it has been used for environmental modeling for many years. Professor Peter Bosselman has been an exemplary steward of the model, saving all of the original blocks as the downtown has been transformed by post-war highrises. Thus, if reassembled, the model could be restored to a freeze-frame of San Francisco c. 1930 when — because of the Great Depression — building largely stopped.

WPA model update
Northeast quadrant of San Francisco model at Wurster Hall

San Francisco District Agricultural Association Grounds - Daly City CA
Model stored at UC warehouse in 17 wooden crates

WPA model update
Section of model showing upper Glen Park & Diamond Heights undeveloped in 1940.

WPA model update
Reporter Carl Nolte examining his neighborhood on a section of the model

Major WPA Art Exhibition in Walnut Creek

National New Deal Preservation Association president and California’s Living New Deal collaborator Harvey Smith has, with gallery curator Carrie J. Lederer, culled collections in California and beyond for a major show of New Deal art at the Lesher Center for the Arts Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek. The American Scene: New Deal Art, 1935-1943, commemorates the 75th anniversary of the WPA which briefly sponsored a volcanic output from painters, sculptors, printmakers, musicians, actors, and writers. This major exhibition — assembling a wealth of art largely unseen for seven decades — will run from October 3-December 19, 2010. A free reception will be held at the gallery October 5, 6-8 PM at the Gallery. Visit www.bedfordgallery.org for more information.