Spring 2014

Fanning the Flame

Unfettered corporate campaign contributions.  Banks deemed too big to fail.  Refusing to pay a living wage.  Cutting off food aid to those in need.  Undermining workers’ right to organize. Privatizing the public domain.  Insults like these may be why we’re seeing a surge of interest in the New Deal— a time when America invested in itself and ordinary working people.

More than a quarter million visitors came to the Living New Deal’s website over the past year to learn about the forgotten landscape Americans built during hard times and the public-spirited leadership that inspired it. Recent news about our work is further fanning the flame.

Please join us this summer for New Deal talks and tours. Send your stories and photos to our website. Help spread the word—It’s time for a new New Deal!

Your generosity keeps us going.  We welcome tax-deductible donations to The Living New Deal.

In this Issue:

Report Tells Congress to Halt Post Office Sell Off

Post Office Protest
Protestors at historic post office in Berkeley, California
Photo Credit: Gray Brechin

Privatizing the postal system—a declared goal of the Republican Party — has led to the sale of hundreds of historic post offices, over 1,100 of which were built under the New Deal. Public opposition to the scheme has been growing nationwide, with the Living New Deal playing a significant role.

In response to the outcry, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) has issued a report to Congress expressing “significant concerns” about the lack of transparency and accountability by which the USPS is transferring public property to private ownership.

The Council’s recommendations include a moratorium on the sale of historic post offices around the country and greater protection for the New Deal artworks ornamenting many of the 1930s post offices that, the report notes, “captured the American scene and transformed the post office into a truly democratic art gallery.”

A federal lawsuit brought by the National Post Office Collaborate halted the sale of the post office in Stamford Connecticut, sold to a developer who planned to tear part of it down and put up luxury apartments.

Stamford, Conneticut Post Office
A federal lawsuit brought by the National Post Office Collaborate halted the sale of the post office in Stamford Connecticut, sold to a developer who planned to tear part of it down and put up luxury apartments.
Photo Credit: Save the Post Office

CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate company, has an exclusive contract to sell USPS properties, valued at around $105 billion.  A recent expose found that CBRE is largely owned by Richard Blum, husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein and has led to several Inspector Generals’ investigations.

Widespread citizen action to preserve the postal system includes a landmark lawsuit brought by the National Post Office Collaborate in Berkeley, California that blocked the sale of the historic post office in Stamford, Connecticut.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Berkeley has become the epicenter of opposition to the sell off.

The ACHP is comprised of presidential appointees, but as its name implies, is merely advisory.  It remains to be seen whether its prestige will alter the rouge course of the USPS.

Gray Brechin is a geographer and Project Scholar of the Living New Deal. He is the author of Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin.

Fighting to Preserve Chicago’s New Deal Housing

Once marketed as an idyllic, multi-cultural community, this affordable housing is now slated for redevelopment.

Lathrop Homes
Once marketed as an idyllic, multi-cultural community, this affordable housing is now slated for redevelopment.
Photo Credit: By Jason Roblando

An African-American family pauses in a grassy courtyard, the son wearing a Cub Scout uniform, the daughter dressed as if for Sunday school…Three white elderly residents converse on a front stoop…Young men work on their bicycles…A woman leans against a tree, reading.

The 1982 photograph, staged by the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) for marketing purposes, epitomizes an urban utopia—a racially diverse population, the co-existence of multiple generations, nature, and a bright future.  Such were the aspirations for Lathrop Homes, one of the first federally funded housing projects.

Despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the New Deal-era complex could be torn down.

Public Housing
Despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the New Deal-era complex could be torn down.
Photo Credit: Jason Roblando

Built by the Public Works Administration (PWA) in 1938 to provide much needed housing for families hard hit by the Great Depression, Lathrop’s sturdy, red brick buildings have housed generations of working-class families.

The community, situated on the banks of the North Branch of the again-scenic Chicago River, is named for Julia C. Lathrop, an American social reformer of education, social policy, and children’s welfare. A team of all-star architects and planners designed Lathrop Homes, and in 2012 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Despite its impressive credentials, it is unclear whether Lathrop Homes will continue to fulfill its original promise.

The city is “relocating” long-time Lathrop time residents.

Ghost town in the Making
The city is “relocating” long-time Lathrop time residents.
Photo Credit: Jason Roblando

Over the last two decades, gentrification has brought upscale homes and shopping malls nearby, making Lathrop’s neighborhoods prime real estate. Lathrop has been slated for redevelopment under the city’s “Plan for Transformation,” a controversial scheme to restructure public housing into mixed-income townhouses. Developers’ plans for the historic buildings have ranged from demolition to partial rehabilitation, with varying percentages of market rate, public, and affordable units on the table.

Meanwhile, the CHA has been relocating Lathrop residents, assuring them that they can return to Lathrop once the redevelopment is completed. With fewer than two hundred families occupying 925 units, the only “transformation” thus far has been to turn the once-vibrant community into a boarded-up ghost town.

Fortunately, a group of longtime residents, neighbors, and community leaders has been speaking out in opposition to the plan. But the future of Lathrop and the New Deal principles that inspired it is far from certain.

Jason Reblando teaches photography at Illinois State University and is working on a project on the New Deal Greenbelt communities. His work has been published in the New York Times, Slate, and Bloomberg Businessweek. He recently received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar grant to do research in the Philippines. www.jasonreblando.com

Famed Coit Tower Murals Restored

Mural  “California” by Maxine Albro

Orange Harvest
Mural “California” by Maxine Albro

The long-awaited restoration of twenty-seven New Deal murals at San Francisco’s Coit Tower is complete. The tower re-opened to the public with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 14.

The murals were painted in 1934 under the auspices of the Public Works of Art Project, the first New Deal employment program for artists.  They depict scenes of California in the 1930s. The Living New Deal’s Advisor Harvey Smith wrote the tower’s new signage interpreting the murals and the tumultuous times that inspired them.

Mural “Library” by Bernard Zakheim

Mural “Library” by Bernard Zakheim

Age and neglect had taken a toll on both the tower and its artworks. Local activists pushed a successful ballot initiative to require the city to dedicate funds to restore and protect the landmark and murals. The tower closed in October 2013 for the $1.3 million upgrade.

Coit Tower, named for Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a colorful local character, was built in 1933. With 360-degree views of the city and the bay, the tower is one of San Francisco’s most visited landmarks.

Susan Ives is communications director for the Living New Deal and editor of the Living New Deal newsletter.

CCC Makes History at Bandelier

Bandelier Visitor Center
CCC Historic Area — Bandelier
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

When Unit 815 of the Civilian Conservation Corps arrived at the edge of a steep canyon north of Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1933, the only way in was by foot or horseback via a mile-long switchback trail. Back then, George and Evelyn Frey and their son Richard were Frijoles Canyon’s only residents. The Frey’s ran a small lodge serving intrepid visitors to the nearby cliff dwellings that native people had occupied for centuries.
Over the next eight years, the CCC would build thirty-one Pueblo Revival-style structures for the Bandelier National Monument—the largest collection of CCC buildings at any national park.

Visitor Center Fireplace Bandelier

Bandelier Visitor Center
A corner fireplace reflects the traditional Southwest style.
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

To make the park more welcoming, the CCC Boys’ first project was to build a 3-mile road into the canyon. The construction of the visitor center, guest cabins, campground, retaining walls, water fountains, park service residences and offices, fire tower, and entrance station would follow.

The indelible mark the CCC left at Bandelier took more than muscle. Older, skilled workers, known as LEM’s (Local Experienced Men) taught the enrollees crafts such as tinwork, furniture making, carpentry, woodcarving, and masonry.

CCC recruits learned local crafts, like tinwork.

CCC recruits learned local crafts, like tinwork.
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

The buildings, designed by Park Service architect Lyle Bennett, are of local stone—Bandelier rhyolite tuff— and are built around a central plaza to harmonize with the landscape and culture. The visitor center reflects traditional New Mexican style—a corner fireplace, carved wooden support beams called vigas, and latillas—saplings placed in a herringbone pattern on the ceiling—and are testimony to the skills the young men learned on the job. The Spanish Colonial tin chandeliers and wall sconces they created are still in use.

Bandelier CCC

CCC at Work at Bandelier
New Mexico’s Bandelier National Monument holds the largest collection of CCC structures in the National Park Service.
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

The Boys also crafted wooden bed frames, desks, dressers, chairs, stools, benches, wood boxes, and tin mirrors for the cabins, which closed in 1976. The portal, a long, covered porch, is still used for demonstrations of Pueblo Indian arts and crafts.
The CCC camp at Bandelier—one of more than 2,600 across the country—was bulldozed in 1941 immediately after its occupants left. But their imprint on the park will endure.

In 1987 the National Park Service designated the Bandelier CCC Historic District, which ensures preservation of these unique and beautiful structures and the legacy of the men who built them.


Susan Ives is communications director for the Living New Deal and editor of the Living New Deal newsletter.

Ten Reasons for a National Youth Service

Recruitment Poster

National Youth Administration
Recruitment Poster

Ever since the New Deal’s National Youth Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and a brief flurry of public-spiritedness during the Kennedy years, America has minimized both expectations and opportunities for public service.  Fewer Americans than at any time in our history — less than one half of 1 percent— are engaged in public service (including those serving in the military). Yet, the enormity of our country’s current challenges and chronic unemployment point to the need to give young people the chance to work helping their communities.

Here’s why we need a National Youth Service (NYS).

1. A NYS would be a job-creation program.  Sure, it would be expensive, but 6.7 million young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who are out of work and out of school currently cost taxpayers $93 million per year.

2. A NYS would be an immediate and lasting stimulus to our economy. Requiring participants to send some of their pay home (as the CCC did of its recruits) would also help struggling families.

3. A NYS would have long-term benefits for both the individual and society. The youth would obtain marketable job skills through rebuilding infrastructure, installing green energy, restoring the environment and helping during natural disasters.

4. Like the CCC, NYS youth would work and live together, helping break down barriers arising from the extremes of wealth and poverty.

5. NYS “graduates” would qualify for GI Bill benefits now limited to military veterans, encouraging college attendance and reducing student loan debt.

National Youth Association: USA Work Program Float

Parade Float, 1937
National Youth Association: USA Work Program Float

6. Military service would be one among many NYS job options, addressing the disparity of having a tiny segment of our young people—mostly disadvantaged—serving the nation.

7.  A NYS could serve to re-integrate military veterans into society.

8. A NYS fitness program would help young people lead healthier lifestyles.

9. Like the CCC, a NYS would help young people stay out of trouble that could lead to prison.

10. Most important, by offering them a greater stake in their country’s future and their own, a NYS would show young people that they are valued.

John Hooper is a farmer and environmentalist. He runs an apprenticeship program for young farmers at OZ Farm in Mendocino County, Calif. Hooper is Vice-Chair of the CA Tahoe Conservancy and an Army veteran.

And the Winners are . . .

FDR delivering one of his fireside chats.

The 2023 New Deal Book Award

The winning titles and authors have been announced. The 2023 Award, with a prize of $1,000, will be presented at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library June 22, 2024.