Greenhills Named a National Historic Landmark

New Deal Housing

New Deal Housing
A New Deal neighborhood
Photo Credit: John Vashon

Near Cincinnati, Ohio, the Village of Greenhills is one of only three New Deal “greenbelt” towns in the country. On January 11, it was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior.

Greenhills was a demonstration project of the Resettlement Administration (RA) a short-lived New Deal agency that relocated displaced and struggling urban and rural families to planned communities built by the federal government.

The concept for greenbelt towns began in the late 19th century. A “Garden-City Movement,” often dismissed as utopian, promoted self-contained, satellite communities surrounded by “belts” of farms and forests as the answer to the overcrowded cities of post-industrial England.

School children at Greenhills, OH

School Children
Greenhills, OH
Photo Credit: John Vaschon

The idea resonated with Rexford Guy Tugwell, an agricultural economist who was part of FDR’s “Brain Trust.” He persuaded the president that greenbelt towns could house thousands of people displaced during the Great Depression. Roosevelt made Tugwell the director of his Resettlement Administration (RA).

Tugwell immediately purchased some 6,000 acres in southern Ohio, including dozens of struggling dairy farms he hoped could be sustained by the soon-to-be-built greenbelt town of Greenhills.

WPA workers broke ground for the new town in 1935. Over the next two years some 5,000 men and women transformed more than a square mile of what had been cornfields into a village for 676 low-income families.

The WPA relied on mules instead of machines in order to maximize the number of workers and hours spent to develop the town. It directed them to add extra layers of plaster and paint to the buildings to keep people employed.

WPA workers building Greenhills

WPA workers
Building Greenhills
Photo Credit: John Vaschon

Greenhills’ planners provided what were seen as extravagances for low-income housing. Curved streets and cul de sacs separated homes from busy thoroughfares; walkways, pocket parks, and playgrounds were incorporated into pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods; a co-op shopping district (the first strip mall in Ohio), community center with a K-12 school, town library, and public swimming pool were constructed.

A variety of multi-family housing—duplexes, townhouses, and apartments—employed Colonial, Modern, and International-style architecture. Homes were built facing backward to provide views of  common areas and open spaces rather than the street. Utilities were installed underground.

To the consternation of some in Congress, the cost of the project came in at $11.5 million.

Tugwell had envisioned 20 greenbelt towns but managed to build only three—Greenhills, Ohio; Greendale, Wisconsin; and Greenbelt, Maryland– before the Supreme Court ruled the RA unconstitutional. The RA was dissolved in 1937. The Farm Securities Administration (FSA) assumed some of its functions.

Apartment Houses at Greenhills, 1939

Apartment Houses
Greenhills, 1939
Photo Credit: John Vaschon

Greenhills is a living example of a time when government fully dedicated itself to improving the lives of working-class Americans. Yet, Greenhills has struggled to preserve its New Deal legacy.

Parts of Greenhills are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and preservation groups have long called for a plan to protect historic properties. Over residents’ objections, the Village Council voted to raze many WPA-era buildings. Fifty-two of the original townhouses and apartments have been demolished, replaced with new, stand-alone single-family houses. In 2011, Greenhill was listed among Ohio’s Most Endangered Historic Sites.

Greenhills’ newly awarded status as a National Historic Landmark, administered by the National Park Service, may help. Property owners will now be eligible for federal grants to rehabilitate Greenhills remaining New Deal-era structures.

CCC Totem Pole Inventory Needed

Totem poles located to a park in Hydaburg in 1941

Totem Park
Poles located to a park in Hydaburg in 1941

During the New Deal, the federal government took an unprecedented step toward preserving Native American art: It funded an effort to repair and replicate scores of totem poles in southeast Alaska.

Alaska, then a U.S. territory, was suffering from chronic unemployment during the Great Depression. Between 1938 and 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) employed Native Alaskans to identify, locate, and restore deteriorating totem poles. The poles were sometimes relocated to “totem parks” the CCC built to draw tourism to towns and villages.

CCC men restore a totem pole in Saxman, 1939

Totem Carvers
CCC men restore a totem pole in Saxman, 1939
Photo Credit: US Forest Service

The red cedar poles are carved and sometimes painted with family crests and images of animals. Traditionally placed along waterfronts, the totems mark family houses, clan gathering sites, and gravesites. Some “storytelling” poles serve to pass on clan knowledge and customs from generation to generation.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, “By the end of the Depression, 48 poles had been restored, 54 duplicated, and 19 new totems carved” by CCC workers. Unfortunately, no one has a conducted a definitive inventory of the CCC-era totem poles, believed to total 121.

Living New Deal researcher, Brent McKee managed to cobble together a list from various books and online sources. He has identified 63 poles, with names such as “The Spirit of Hazy Island Pole,” “The Giant Clam Pole,” “Sitting Bear Grave Marker,” and “The Lincoln Totem Pole,” carved in honor of Abraham Lincoln.

Trader Legend Pole: This replica of a pole in Sukkwan was carved during the 1938-1942 CCC project

Trader Legend Pole
This replica of a pole in Sukkwan was carved during the 1938-1942 CCC project.
Photo Credit: National Park Service

Brent says he thinks a few of the original CCC poles are probably still standing. Others have been taken down due to poor condition, or left to deteriorate on the ground and replaced with new poles, according to Native tradition. Still others are in warehouses and work sheds undergoing restoration or being replicated onto new poles. No active inventory exists, so their names, locations, and current status are largely unknown,

“But research builds on top of previous research,” says Brent. “It is my hope that the Living New Deal can map most or all of the totem poles I have found—even with imprecise geographical coordinates—and thereby (hopefully) spark more research into these historic and fascinating artworks.”

New Deal Activist Kathy Flynn Honored As “Living Treasure”

New Deal activist Kathy Flynn

Kathy Flynn
New Deal activist Kathy Flynn
Photo Credit: Clyde Mueller Courtesy of Santa Fe New Mexican

Kathy Flynn, founder of the National New Deal Preservation Association (NNDPA), was recently named a “Living Treasure” for her work documenting and preserving New Deal history, sites, and artworks.

Kathy, a long-time New Mexico resident, grew up in Texas amidst the Dust Bowl. Her public service career included working as a reporter, a hospital administrator, and civil servant. Her job as Deputy Secretary of State sparked her interest in the New Deal. She later founded the NNDPA in order to document and preserve the New Deal’s legacy.

New Mexico is exceptionally rich in New Deal history. Courthouses, post offices, libraries, hospitals, theaters, schools, and more, were built in cities and small towns throughout the state. During the Great Depression, more than 50,000 New Mexicans got work with the Civilian Conservation Corps. Kathy tracked down and interviewed all the New Mexico CCC members she could find. She also set out to recover New Deal murals and other artworks that had gone missing or been painted over. She authored three books about the state’s New Deal history, art, and architecture.

Kathy has raised awareness of the New Deal through advocacy, education programs, commemorative events, and tours. She recently hosted a public forum that brought several descendents of the original New Dealers to Santa Fe to share memories of their famous families and their achievements—Nina Roosevelt Gibson, the granddaughter of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt; David Giffen, the great grandson of Harry Hopkins who was head of the Works Progress Administration; Tomlin Coggeshall, the grandson of FDR’s Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet; T.J. Walker, the grandson of Frank Walker, an FDR confidante who coordinated the New Deal agencies; and David Douglas, the grandson of Vice President Henry Wallace, who also served as FDR’s Secretary of Agriculture.

Last fall, the NNDPA’s archive of articles, books, and ephemera of the New Deal that Kathy had assembled over decades became part of the permanent collection at the John Gaw Meem Library at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Last spring, Kathy was named “One of Ten Who Made A Difference,” an annual award presented by the Santa Fe New Mexican, and was honored by Santa Fe Living Treasures, a nonprofit organization that recognizes elders who have generously served their communities. Kathy’s oral history will be soon be available to the public at the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library in Santa Fe.

A National Monument to the CCC

The Old Santa Fe Trail Building, 1937

National Park Service Southwest Hdq 1937
The Old Santa Fe Trail Building, 1937
Photo Credit: National Park Service

The Old Santa Fe Trail Building is considered a hallmark of the Civilian Conservation Corps’ many contributions to the national parks.

Built between 1937 and 1939, and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1987, the building on Museum Hill is the work of the young men who served in the CCC in New Mexico during the Great Depression. The Spanish/Pueblo Revival-style adobe building is a testament to their work and, in particular, to the Native American and Latino New Mexicans whose commitment and craft are manifest in this beautiful building.

The building was constructed largely by hand using local materials. Logs for the vigas and corbels came from the CCC camp in nearby Hyde Memorial State Park; the highly polished flagstone in the lobby, conference rooms, and portal came from a large ranch near Glorieta; posts supporting the roofs above the portales are peeled ponderosa pine logs. The CCC boys also produced many of the building’s furnishings.

Old Santa Fe Trail Building

Old Santa Fe Trail Building
National Park logo in the portico.  Source

The historic building served as the Southwest headquarters for the National Park Service from 1939 to 1995, when the NPS relocated its regional office to Denver. In tribute to the region’s history and multicultural heritage, the building had been managed as though it were a unit of the National Park System. Due to budget cuts it now has only limited public use.

There is no National Park dedicated to telling the story of the millions of people who got jobs and gained skills while carrying out projects of lasting public benefit through New Deal programs like the CCC and the Works Projects Administration.  A formidable coalition has mounted an effort to designate the Old Santa Fe Trail Building a National Monument—the National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Parks Conservation Association, National New Deal Preservation Association, Historic Santa Fe Foundation, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, and the Living New Deal among them. We are asking President Obama to use his authority to designate this historic building a national monument.

Old Santa Fe Trail Building Anniversary Poster

Old Santa Fe Trail Building Anniversary Poster
Poster commemorating the historic CCC-constructed building

We are seeking letters of support. Please email the President  and contact your elected representatives asking them to preserve the Old Santa Fe Trail Building as a national monument in honor of those whose labors during the hardest of hard times still inspire us today.

“Post Office Freak” Hits the Trail

David Gates at the Ladysmith, Wisconsin Post Office

David Gates at the Ladysmith, Wisconsin Post Office
The Colonial Revival-style post office was built in 1935.

A self-described “post office freak,” Chicago native David Gates is on a mission to document the nation’s post office art. The idea came to him during a river rafting trip when he and his friends came upon an unprepossessing post office in Athelstane, Wisconsin, and used it as backdrop for a group photo. Thereafter, David began to take notice of post offices, especially those in small town America.

David, a computer specialist, is an intrepid hiker. His peregrinations include the Pacific Crest and the Appalachian Trails. It was as a through hiker on the Appalachian Trail—a 2,176-mile trek through 14 states—that his obsession with post offices took hold.

The tiny post offices along the route were David’s lifeline during his 6-month journey through the Appalachians. Retrieving the supplies he had mailed to himself via “General Delivery” before starting out led David to post offices in Erwin, Tennessee; Hot Springs, North Carolina; Front Royal, Virginia; Pearisburg, Virginia; Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; Damascus, Virginia; Boiler Springs, Pennsylvania; Glen Cliff, New Hampshire; Caratunk, Maine; and Andover, Maine. He’s been photographing and writing about post offices ever since. His website, Postofficefreak.com, includes nearly 800 blogs about his post offices encounters.

David had originally planned to photograph as many post office buildings as he could, but has since narrowed this quest to documenting New Deal post offices. Many, he found, have been shuttered or sold.

“Unloading a River Barge” by Ruth Grotenrath, 1943.

“Unloading a River Barge” by Ruth Grotenrath, 1943.
Gates searched for the mural in the former Hudson, Wisconsin, Post Office. He found it in storage, no longer viewable by the public. The post office, built in 1939, was sold and is now a restaurant.

New Deal murals and sculpture in post offices were produced between 1934 and 1943 under the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture, later called the Section of Fine Arts. The purpose was to boost the public’s morale during the Great Depression with art that, in the words of President Roosevelt, was “native, human, eager and alive — all of it painted by their own kind in their own country, and painted about things they know and look at often and have touched and loved.”

According to the U.S. Postal Service’s website, “more than 1,150 post offices across the continental United States house this uniquely American art for people to enjoy as they go about their daily lives…The United States Postal Service is making every effort to preserve and safeguard it for future generations.”

That’s not what David says he found. “New Deal artworks that belong to the public are no longer available for the public to enjoy,” he says. “Many of these works have been removed, locked away, and even painted over.  I want to record them before they disappear.”

David recently published a guide to Wisconsin’s 35 New Deal post offices, “so that people can know what’s out there.”

To learn more go to www.Postofficefreak.com

David Gates is the Living New Deal’s Research Associate for Illinois and post office buildings nationwide. He lives in Crystal Lake, Illinois.

Full Interview: My Grandmother, Eleanor Roosevelt
A Conversation with John Roosevelt Boettiger and Susan Ives

This conversation took place on March 21, 2015 at John’s home in Mill Valley, California.

John is the grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

John Roosevelt Boettiger
John is the grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

John, who was the person that most influenced you?

There isn’t any doubt that it was my grandmother, my mother’s mother Eleanor Roosevelt. We grandchildren called her Grandmère—she learned French before she learned English. She was such a gifted person. She let me absorb who she was and what she treasured. I think I learned my basic values from her.  For example, her attachment to her family; her devotion to human rights; her absorption with the United Nations; her affection for Israel.

What are your early memories of her?

I was very young, but I still remember Grandmère getting off an airplane in Seattle and coming to stay with us on Mercer Island. Later, while I was still a young child, my mother and I moved to the White House during WWII, but I hardly remember her from that time because she was gone so much—overseas, visiting bases in the Pacific, London and  elsewhere.

My memories of her are more vivid from the years I was a student at Amherst College. My parents had gone to Iran for two or three years so she said, as was her way, “Johnny, if you don’t have a home to go home to, you have mine. Come to New York City or Hyde Park, or wherever I am.” And I did.

What do you remember of those times?

Anna Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Boettiger, Jr., and Curtis Roosevelt.

On Grandmere’s lap
Anna Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Boettiger, Jr., and Curtis Roosevelt.  Source

There are so many memories…like when John Kennedy won the presidency from Richard Nixon and we watched it on television at her apartment on East 83rd Street; and when JFK visited her at her home in Hyde Park. There were two houses on her parcel of land on the estate at Hyde Park. The family home, Springwood, we called The Big House. Her home,  Val-Kill, was named for the stream that meanders through the land. Her home at Val-kill was actually constructed as a small furniture factory that produced amazing reproductions of traditional American furniture. It was my grandmother’s way of employing a few local craftsmen who would not otherwise have had work.

I can tell you she was sometimes a perilous driver!  Her son, Franklin, Jr. owned Fiat dealerships in the Southeast—one of his many enterprises—and gave her a little Fiat sports car. She would talk animatedly while driving. At the end of her driveway onto Route 9G, for example, she would stop, look both ways, and continue talking, sometimes for a minute or more. Then she would take off without looking again. But to my knowledge, she never ran into anyone.

Talk a bit about your grandmother’s involvement in the United Nations.

President Truman appointed her as a member of the American delegation to the United Nations. She was naturally drawn to the realm of human rights. More than any other single person, I think, she was responsible for the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The only standing ovation that the General Assembly has ever offered anyone was for her when she presented the Declaration, and it was unanimously approved.

Creation of the Declaration was very difficult process, given especially the U.S.’s relationship with the Soviet Union. But she managed to pilot it through to a unanimous conclusion. It was an astonishing act of creativity and political acumen.

My recollection is that in the late 1950s she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. If only for that single accomplishment, she deserved it.

Did you travel with her during the time she was working for the UN?

Eleanor_Roosevelt,_Anna_Roosevelt,_and_John_Boettiger,_Jr_-_NARA_-_195584I was too young to have been there when she was working on the Declaration, which was adopted in 1948. But I was in the Truman years and when Eisenhower and Kennedy were presidents. By then she was no longer an official member of the UN delegation, but a strong advocate. I traveled with her throughout the U.S. and in Europe.

She had amazing energy. I recall a trip in which my cousin, Haven Roosevelt, and I, as teenagers, were traveling with her. At around 5 o’clock we would stagger into our hotel room ready to hit the hay and she would say, “Now, children, remember we have a dinner with the mayor.” There was still a whole evening in front of us! I couldn’t believe the energy she brought to the whole of her life, almost to the very end. It was wonderful.

One of the secrets to her energy was her mastery of the power nap. When she and I both served as members of the Board of the American Association of United Nations, I as student representative, would sometimes sit across the table from her at meetings. She would nod her head slightly and close her eyes for a minute or two as if she were thinking carefully about what was going on. To the members at the table, she never missed a beat. I don’t think anyone but me knew she was napping.

You must have met some intriguing people.

One of the encounters I remember best was when I was in Berlin at a conference of the International Students Association of the U.N. My grandmother was elsewhere in Europe. I got a telephone call from her saying I must come to Brussels the next day, when she would be having lunch with Harry Belafonte. I had no idea even how to get to the airport, which was in East Berlin. But she said, “You must come!” It was a command performance.

I had a few German marks in my pocket and nearly was arrested by the East German police for inadvertently taking currency out the country, which was illegal. Luckily, a man behind me in line spoke German and defended my innocence. He saved me from jail.

We boarded an American DC-3, left over from the war and salvaged by the Poles. It was decorated it in a kind of Victorian style, with very plush seats and a tasseled interior. It was very foggy as we approached the airport in Brussels. The plane would descend, as if landing, and then suddenly and sharply rise again. This happened again and again. We were so low that I could I see telephone poles flashing by. The pilot had no radar and was looking for the runway! But I got there in time for lunch with Harry Belafonte, and I’m glad I did because I liked him a lot. My grandmother and I were together for the remainder of that trip.

Could she have imagined the role the UN would play today?

The role the UN is playing today is diverse, and less vigorous than she would have wished. My grandfather’s vision for the U.N.—and my grandmother’s nourishment of it—was that it would become principally an instrument for maintaining peace. But I think she had a sense that the U.N. was not going to be as central an organization as she and my grandfather had hoped. She would be disappointed, but I believe she would still be proud of it, and certainly working on its behalf if she were alive today.

Mrs. Roosevelt with SuitcaseThere’s a famous photograph of Mrs. Roosevelt walking toward a plane that’s parked on the tarmac, carrying her own suitcase.

I never actually saw her walking with her suitcase, but she liked to travel quietly and without a big fuss. She didn’t like entourages. Of course, she would have them periodically, but she was very independent . It was her style.

How old were you when your grandmother died? Do you remember that time?

She died in the fall of 1962. I was 23. I remember visiting her at her New York apartment and in the hospital. She was so ill and immobilized that I think she didn’t want to continue. Life was no longer meaningful to her. I remember most vividly her funeral. It was a powerful and moving occasion. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy were there, as was Vice President Lyndon Johnson, and other heads of state. She is buried in the Rose Garden at Springwood with my grandfather. We thought of Springwood as a family home, but by then it had become a National Historic Site. It was strange to see velvet ropes placed in front of all the rooms we used to inhabit. With special permission, I able to go up the third floor where we, as kids during the war years, would be banished to the care of our nannies and nurses.

What do you remember of your grandfather?

Anna Boettiger, John Roosevelt Boettiger, and Eleanor Roosevelt, 1940

FDR and grandchildren
Franklin D. Roosevelt III, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John Roosevelt Boettiger, Christmas 1939 at The White House.
Photo Credit: From the Archives: First Families Celebrate the Holidays at the White House

We were living in Seattle when my father went off to war. My grandfather, whom I called PaPa, telephoned my mother and said, “Sis (his name for her), I wish you and Johnny would come here to live. I want you to be my right hand person.” None of his closest advisors—Louie Howe, Harry Hopkins—were there any longer. I remember the train trip across the country. I remember playing on the south lawn of the White House, the Easter egg hunts, even having a visit from the Lone Ranger and his horse Silver.

Silver was there too? You never told me that!

Silver was there! They brought him in a trailer. He got out and the Lone Ranger got on Silver and—I may be imagining this—I actually got to ride Silver!

It was in some ways a wonderful time, and also a very lonely one. I didn’t really have much of my mother. She was with her father, the president, almost the whole time. But he was very welcoming to me. I was the only child living in the White House during the war years, and I would be invited into his bedroom in the morning when he was reading his newspapers. The papers would be scattered over his bed. Despite the fact that he was paralyzed from his hips down, his upper body was extraordinarily strong. He would pluck me up from the floor and we’d sit together on the bed reading the funny papers.

I remember swimming with him in the White House pool, and playing in the Oval Office–not during important conferences, but when he was working at his desk. His desk was full of wind-up toys that I could reach up and take down to play with on the floor. And I remember my sense of kinship with the White House guards. But it wasn’t all fun. I felt also a sense of puzzlement and loneliness with my dad gone and my mother inaccessible much of the time.

Do you remember when your grandfather died?

The day my grandfather died—on April 12, 1945–I was in the hospital with a staph infection, which in those years could kill. My mother would come to visit, and my grandmother, too. I was getting well and looking forward to going home to The White House. I heard the announcement on the radio that the president had died. I knew my grandfather was president, but I couldn’t put him together with that announcement. A nurse came racing into the room and turned off the radio, thinking that I hadn’t yet heard the news. My mother soon made things clear. I was six years old. At that point my concern was what would happen to the toys I had left in my closet at The White House.

When you think about your famous family, and that they seem to belong to everyone, what comes up for you?

I hardly know what to think about it. I have such warm memories of them. It has seldom felt overwhelming to me to think of it as an extraordinary childhood. I did sometimes have the sense that there must have been expectations of me as a member of the Roosevelt family—expectations that I wouldn’t be up to. Only in that way was it a shadow inheritance. Now, in my 70s, in the community where I live, many people regard my grandfather as the president they knew better than any other. It’s been a satisfying experience to feel a sense of kinship with them.

Do you recall your grandmother advising you that you had a special role to play, or advice on how to live your life?

I don’t think she ever spoke in that way. She felt that if I was going to learn, better to learn by example. She surrounded me with her own magic.

John Roosevelt Boettiger is a retired professor of psychology and a member of the Living New Deal Advisory Board.

My Grandmother, Eleanor Roosevelt
A Conversation with John Roosevelt Boettiger and Susan Ives

This conversation took place on March 21, 2015 at John’s home in Mill Valley, California.

John is the grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

John Roosevelt Boettiger
John is the grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

John, who was the person that most influenced you?

There isn’t any doubt that it was my grandmother, my mother’s mother Eleanor Roosevelt. We grandchildren called her Grandmère. I think I learned my basic values from her—her attachment to her family, her devotion to human rights; her absorption with the United Nations; her affection for Israel.

 

What are your early memories of her?

I was very young, but I still remember Grandmère getting off an airplane in Seattle and coming to stay with us on Mercer Island. Later, while I was still a young child, my mother and I moved to the White House during WWII, but I hardly remember her from that time because she was gone so much—overseas, visiting bases in the Pacific, London or elsewhere.

My memories of her are more vivid from the years I was a student at Amherst College. My parents had gone to Iran for two or three years, so she said, as was her way, “Johnny, if you don’t have a home to go home to, you have mine. Come to New York City or to Hyde Park, wherever I am.” And I did.

What do you remember of those times?

Anna Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Boettiger, Jr., and Curtis Roosevelt.

On Grandmere’s lap
Anna Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Boettiger, Jr., and Curtis Roosevelt.  Source

There are so many memories…like when John Kennedy won the presidency from Richard Nixon and we watched it on television at her apartment on East 83rd Street, and when JFK visited her at her home in Hyde Park.

I can tell you she was sometimes a perilous driver. Her son, Franklin, Jr. owned Fiat dealerships in the Southeast—one of his many enterprises—and gave her a little Fiat sports car. She would talk animatedly while driving. At the end of her driveway onto Route 9G, for example, she would stop, look both ways, and continue talking, sometimes for a minute or more. Then she would take off without looking again. But to my knowledge, she never ran into anyone.

What do you remember of your grandfather?

Franklin D. Roosevelt III, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John Roosevelt Boettiger, Christmas 1939 at The White House.

FDR and grandchildren
Franklin D. Roosevelt III, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John Roosevelt Boettiger, Christmas 1939 at The White House.
Photo Credit: From the Archives: First Families Celebrate the Holidays at the White House

I was the only child living in the White House during the war years, and I would be invited into his bedroom in the morning when he was reading his newspapers. The papers would be scattered over his bed. Despite the fact that he was paralyzed from his hips down, his upper body was extraordinarily strong. He would pluck me up from the floor and we’d sit together on the bed reading the funny papers.

I remember swimming with him in the White House pool, and playing in the Oval Office—not during important conferences, but when he was working at his desk. His desk was full of wind-up toys that I play with on the floor. And I remember my sense of kinship with the White House guards. But it wasn’t all fun. I felt also a sense of puzzlement and loneliness with my dad gone and my mother inaccessible much of the time.

Talk a bit about your grandmother’s involvement in the United Nations.

President Truman appointed her as a member of the American delegation to the United Nations. She was naturally drawn to the realm of human rights. More than any other single person, I think, she was responsible for the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The only standing ovation that the General Assembly has ever offered anyone was for her when she presented the Declaration, and it was unanimously approved.

Could she have imagined the role the U.N. would play today?

My grandfather’s vision for the U.N.—and my grandmother’s nourishment of it—was that it would become principally an instrument for maintaining peace. The role the U.N., is playing today is diverse, and less vigorous than she would have wished, but I believe she would still be proud of it, and certainly working on its behalf if she were alive today.

Mrs. Roosevelt with SuitcaseThere’s a famous photograph of Mrs. Roosevelt walking toward a plane that’s parked on the tarmac, carrying her own suitcase.

I never actually saw her walking with her suitcase. But she didn’t like entourages. Of course, she would have them periodically, but she was very independent and liked to travel quietly and without a big fuss. It was her style.

Do you recall your grandmother advising you that you had a special role to play, or advice on how to live your life?

I don’t think she ever spoke in that way. She felt that if I was going to learn, better to learn by example. She surrounded me with her own magic.

The complete transcript can be found here.

John Roosevelt Boettiger is a retired professor of psychology and a member of the Living New Deal Advisory Board.

The World in Muir Woods

U.N. delegates honored the late president at Muir Woods.

FDR Memorial Service
U.N. delegates honored the late president at Muir Woods.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Save the Redwoods League

A brass plaque set amidst a towering grove of ancient redwoods at Muir Woods commemorates a gathering there on May 19, 1945.

On that day, seventy years ago, hundreds gathered to honor the memory of President Franklin Roosevelt, who had died a few weeks before, on April 12. They included delegates from around the world who were in San Francisco to craft the Charter for the newly established United Nations. FDR had been the U.N.’s chief advocate.

FDR’s cousin, Theodore, as president, had enshrined Muir Woods as a national monument some forty years earlier. FDR himself had a passion for conservation and a deep knowledge of forestry. One of his first acts as president was to establish the Civilian Conservation Corps, whose enrollees planted nearly 3 billion trees and constructed more than 800 parks nationwide.

The closing speaker at the memorial service was Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., U.S. Secretary of State: “These great redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument are the most enduring of all trees,” he said. “They are as timeless and as strong as the ideals and faith of Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

The U.N. Charter was signed in San Francisco on June 26, 1945.

Documenting the New Deal

Evan Kalish at Pointe-a-La-Hache, Louisiana Post Office

Evan Kalish at Pointe-a-La-Hache, Louisiana Post Office
Volunteer Evan Kalish has documented over 6,000 Post Offices

Evan Kalish is not one to shy away from a challenge.  A Living New Deal volunteer, Evan, 27, has added 1,200 New Deal projects to the Living New Deal’s online database—“wherever I saw some gaps in the Living New Deal map,” he explains.

A native of Queens, New York, Evan has photographed nearly 6,000 post offices throughout the country, as well as more than five hundred New Deal projects—from post offices and New Deal artworks to school buildings, libraries, town halls, parks, courthouses, and any other project he can get a geographic fix on.

“My favorite New Deal projects are post offices constructed with funds from the U.S. Treasury because they embody the government’s commitment to serving communities all across the country through public buildings that were built to last.”

New Deal murals adorn city offices

Reidsville City Hall Finance Office
New Deal murals adorn city offices
Photo Credit: Evan Kalish

Evan began documenting U.S. Post Offices in 2008 describing the history, architecture, artwork, and what the buildings reveal about the places they serve in his blog, http://colossus-of-roads.blogspot.com.  He began sharing his extensive knowledge and photographs to the Living New Deal’s website in 2012 and became New York Regional Research Director earlier this year.

“What’s great about the Living New Deal is that the website enables not only researchers like me, but anyone with information about the New Deal to preserve and share it with the world.”

Evan spent much of last summer at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, researching New Deal documents and photos from the Treasury Department, Public Works Administration (PWA), and the Work Projects Administration (WPA). His sleuthing uncovered many New Deal edifices—some now demolished or repurposed—including water towers in Texas, former schools in Wyoming, railroad overpasses in upstate New York, and WPA park walls in Hawaii—to name a few.  Oftentimes locating the projects involved looking at archival satellite views, aerial photographs, and Google Maps Street View imagery.

“The New Deal represents an important and underappreciated era in our history,” says Evan. “Every day I get to learn something new.”

Bronx Post Office Sold to Developer

Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson Mural at the Bronx Post Office

Ben Shahn Mural at the Bronx Post Office
“America at Work” is one of thirteen murals in the Bronx post office

Despite vigorous protest by the public and public officials, the Bronx General Post Office has been sold. Valued at $14 million, the building reportedly was sold to Korean developer Young Woo & Associates for an undisclosed sum. The U.S. Postal Service has not made an official announcement about the sale and has declined to provide details.

“The United States Postal Service has sold one of the Bronx’s most important community and historic treasures in a completely irresponsible manner,” Bronx Congressman Jose Serrano said. “The USPS has disregarded the voices of the Bronx community, elected officials, historic preservationists, and their own employees—all of whom opposed this process and this sale.”

In 2013 the Postal Service announced its intention to sell the massive Bronx Post Office in order to “right-size our retail operation into smaller leased space,” according to Joseph Mulvey, a real estate specialist for the Postal Service.

The Bronx General Post Office

The Bronx General Post Office
Built in 1935, the Bronx post office is the largest of twenty-nine Depression-era post offices in New York City

The four-story Moderne Bronx Post Office was built in 1935 as part of a Treasury Department program to employ out-of-work architects, artisans, and artists. It is one of more than a thousand post offices constructed during FDR’s presidency. At 175,000 square-feet, it is the largest of twenty-nine Depression-era post offices in New York City.

Two sculptures by Charles Rudy and Henry Kreis adorn the outside of the massive building. The lobby contains thirteen murals, entitled “America at Work, painted in 1937 by American artists Ben Shahn and his wife Bernarda Bryson. Shahn (1898-1969), a prolific artist, is known for his works of social realism. His works appear in several government buildings in Washington, D.C. and are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Museum of the City of New York.

The Postal Service has faced severe criticism of its disposal of its historic properties, many of which contain artworks intended for the public that paid for them. Last year the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the lobby of the Bronx Post Office and its murals a historic landmark to give them some protection in the event of a sale.

Exterior of the Bronx Post Office

Exterior of the Bronx Post Office
Charles Rudy and Henry Kreis sculptures decorate the landmark building

The U.S. Postal Service receives no public funds, yet in a push to privatize the agency, Republicans in Congress enacted legislation in 2006 requiring the U.S. Postal Service to prepay 75-years of benefits to postal workers within ten years. Without that $5.6 billion prepayment, the USPS would have made a profit of over $600 million last year.

Postal officials have insisted that they must sell thousands of post offices in order to fix the cash-strapped agency. Local opposition to the sale of many post offices led Congress to appoint the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) to look into the matter. In April 2014 the Council recommended  that the Postal Service refrains from selling historic post offices until it improves its program and procedures.

The international real estate firm CBRE has the exclusive contract to sell “surplus” post office properties. Until recently, the chairman of the board of CBRE was Richard Blum, the husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein. Blum stepped down as chairman in May, but continues to be a major stockholder. The USPS Inspector General is looking into whether CBRE may be selling postal facilities to its partners at below-market prices at the Postal Service’s expense. Young Woo & Associates, the Korean developer that purchased the Bronx Post Office has done several deals with CBRE. According to Save the Post Office, CBRE CEO Robert Sulentic also serves on the board of directors of Staples, where a pilot program has been underway to see if the Postal Service could cut costs by outsourcing retail services to big box stores.

“It’s not clear why the Postal Service is so reluctant to share information about the sale of the Bronx Post Office, what it sold for, what the plans are, or where the postal retail operation is relocating,” says NYU professor Steve Hutkins, whose Save the Post Office http://www.savethepostoffice.com/search website has been bird-dogging the sell off of the nation’s post offices. Save the Post Office, among the many organizations objecting to the sale. In April, a coalition of elected officials that included New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer urged that the sale be put on hold. Congressman José Serrano introduced legislation to halt the sales until the Postal Service implements the ACHP recommendations. Hundreds of concerned citizens and postal workers turned out at a public hearing to oppose the sale.

Because the USPS will divulge nothing about the sale of its public property, its fate and that of its great murals remains unclear.

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