Iowa State Fairgrounds – Des Moines IA


The WPA undertook extensive construction and improvements at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in the mid 1930s. The Iowa State Fair information page describes the history of the site and the extent of the work carried out by the WPA:

“Extensive improvements – from reroofing the Cattle Barn to building a storm sewer on Dean Avenue – heralded the 1934 Fair. A five-day program of harness and running horse races offered more than $12,500 in premiums. Forty additional acres were added to the Campgrounds, increasing the total to 160 acres and making it the largest of its kind in the U.S […]

Lighting on the racetrack was boosted 50 percent, making it the best-illuminated in the Midwest. An FHA model home, designed to be built anywhere for under $3,000, was a main attraction in the Varied Industries Building […]

The new $100,000 Swine Barn addition proceeded rapidly […]”

The WPA also constructed storm sewers for the fairgrounds.

The fairgrounds also included a New Deal mural by Daniel Rhodes and Howard C. Johnson. The mural measured 10′ x 110′. Each artist painted a 10′ x 55′ section. “In 1937, Johnson transferred from the TRAP to the WPA. One of the major and final government art program projects Johnson worked on was the design and painting of a large mural for the Agriculture Building on the Iowa State Fairgrounds (located in Des Moines) entitled “History of Agriculture in Iowa.” The mural was commissioned by the Federal Art Project of the WPA (1938-1939).”

The mural was destroyed 1946. It was sawed up for use around the fairgrounds as scrap lumber. Endorsing the dismantling of the mural, the Fair Board Secretary Lloyd Cunningham declared for the Des Moines Register in 1946: “When I see a picture like that, I don’t know what I am looking at.” “I just don’t understand this modernistic stuff. I believe this mural had served its purpose anyway.”


Source notes

Iowa State Fair, (, accessed December 29, 2017.

Daniel Rhodes, Wikipedia, (, accessed December 29, 2017.

Des Moines Register, Thursday, June 27, 1946 (Newspaper article on the destruction/removal of the mural)

Project originally submitted by The Living New Deal on May 1, 2013.
Additional contributions by Robert D. Peterson, December 23, 2017.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

Iowa State Fairgrounds
Des Moines, IA 50317

Coordinates: 41.597371226716724, -93.55344617774045

Leave a Reply

Before leaving a comment, please note:

  • Comments allow viewers to share information with others or alert us to errors or changes in a New Deal site.
  • We are not involved in the management of New Deal sites and have no information about visits, hours or rentals.
  • This page shows all the information we have for this site; if you have new information or photos to share, click below.


We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.

Your email address will not be published.