Notes from the Field: Preserving The WPA’s Imprint


Jay Morris, of Livermore, California, writes:

I have lived in Livermore, California, for more than 38 years, 32 of those years on the old South Side of town. This is the original housing area in Livermore. In my time there, I have noticed many contractor stamps detailing who installed the sidewalks, and, in many cases, when. Eventually, it became a game for me to look for these sidewalk stamps on my walks around town, tallying up as many as I could find (I found a lot).  Yet, over the years, I started to notice that the stamps were disappearing: a consequence of repairs being done to the sidewalks, grinding of raised areas, and age wearing down the concrete.

Livermore was established in 1869 and is located in the Livermore-Amador Valley, about 40 miles east of San Francisco. The first U.S. transcontinental highway (The Lincoln Highway) passed through Livermore until it was rerouted in 1927. Livermore has a rich history in agriculture related to vineyards, olive orchards, and the raising of livestock. But the sidewalk stamps tell another story about Livermore’s past, one that knits it into a larger national story that is all too easily ignored and forgotten. As a result of my desire to preserve a little bit of obscure Livermore history, I personally walked all the sidewalks on the old South Side of town and captured the location, took photographs and documented all the stamps in this part of Livermore. While doing this project, I noted that 21 of the stamps were a result of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), part of the New Deal initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The WPA projects installing sidewalks in Livermore ran from 1939 through 1940, as indicated in the sidewalk stamps. The New Deal helped to build my city and put its residents to work.

I assembled my findings in a binder and gave it to the Livermore Heritage Guild and provided the Livermore City Planner with a spreadsheet noting the locations and descriptions of the stamps. In raising my concern to these two entities, I hope that the remaining stamps will be protected because of public awareness and the city’s new efforts to preserve the stamps. The City of Livermore is now reviewing all work where sidewalks are involved to ensure a stamp will not be lost and the Heritage Guild has a documented record of each stamp in its database. The New Deal was a project where people were given jobs and a new start on life with the work they did to build the infrastructure of this nation. Their work is all around us and the evidence needs to be preserved so that we are reminded of a time when the government stepped up and really helped out the people. Do you have sidewalk stamps in your town or city? (Odds are, you do).  Do they need a champion to keep them from disappearing and being lost forever? Livermore will have its stamps; how about your town?


Jay Morris retired five years ago from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory after working there for just shy of 35 years. In retirement, he keeps busy with numerous interests, including long walks around Livermore with his wife and his dog, Sierra. Sierra accompanied him on the majority of his walks documenting the sidewalk stamps.

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