On Thursday, October 30 at 7 p.m., authors Dr. Gray Brechin, founder of the Living New Deal, and Harvey Smith, president of the National New Deal Preservation Association, will discuss the legacy of the New Deal in San Francisco and Bay Area.
In the depths of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs put millions of Americans back to work. Eighty years later, the New Deal’s imprint on San Francisco remains strong and includes schools, colleges, post offices, civic buildings, parks, playgrounds, roads, bridges, murals, sculptures, and mosaics. Many of these public works are still in use though their origins, the spirit of government that inspired them, and the workers that built them have been largely forgotten.
The Presidio had an important role during the New Deal. The base was the administrative headquarters for the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal agency that hired young men to perform extensive work around the state, particularly in California’s state and national parks. A mural, “Peacetime Activities of the Army” by WPA artist Victor Arnautoff, was painted in the Presidio Chapel in 1934. WPA workers were the muscle behind the Presidio Theater, roadways, and the rock walls at Fort Mason and the Main Post.
Hosted by the Presidio Trust and co-sponsored by the nonprofit Protect Coit Tower, the Living New Deal, and the National New Deal Preservation Association, the presentation is part of a statewide lecture series generously funded by the University of California Humanities Research Institute. Salons have been held in Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Sacramento and San Diego.
In addition to sharing photographs about the New Deal’s impact on the Bay Area, Brechin and Smith will also describe the Living New Deal, a project begun in 2007 at UC Berkeley to catalogue the thousands of New Deal sites across the country.
Given the scope and impact of the New Deal, it is surprising that no national museum or archive exists of all the New Deal built. Ultimately, the Living New Deal aspires to establish a New Deal Museum and memorial to those that envisioned and directed the New Deal; the skilled and unskilled workers that built its vast legacy; and those whose lives were touched by the New Deal.