- Long Beach, CA
- Site Type:
- Schools, Education and Health
- New Deal Agencies:
- Public Works Administration (PWA), Public Works Funding
- John Comeley Wilson Austin
- Quality of Information:
- Very Good
- Site Survival:
The Public Works Administration (PWA) paid for the reconstruction of Washington Middle School in Long Beach, CA, after the school was heavily damaged in the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. The school reopened in 1935.
According to the school’s website, Washington Middle School was originally constructed in 1921 (with the addition of a shop building in 1926). The architects were W. Horace Austin of Long Beach and John C. Austin of Los Angeles. Curiously, the school history fails to mention the 1933 earthquake and the reconstruction paid for by the New Deal! Yet documents in the National Archives clearly state that the school was rebuilt by the PWA and the building’s design is Streamline Moderne — which did not exist in 1921. Our guess is that a paragraph is missing from the website entry.
The website continues with a detailed description of the building and its exterior artworks, mentioning the PWA: “The school’s construction of reinforced concrete was conceived to comply with the revised building codes. Washington’s design details combine characteristics from all three phases of the Art Deco and Art Moderne architecture. The exterior has Streamline Moderne details. There is a low-relief profile of George Washington (1732-99) above the main entryway on Cedar Avenue. Recessed double vertical lines create the illusion of a two-story lobby area.
The two [other] Cedar Avenue entrances are bordered with allegorical low-relief characters reminiscent of Greek vase paintings. They represent literature, engineering technology, art and music. These low-relief sculptures, as well as the stylized flora and fauna surrounding the Cedar Avenue doorways, are derived from the Beaux-Arts classical style and are characteristic of PWA Moderne structures.”
The school website continues with a description of the magnificent lobby at the main entrance: “The lobby is finished in Philippine mahogany with two modernistic chandeliers. The ceiling is constructed in Kanec material, which is tooled in an attractive design that combines geometric and floral shapes. The Zigzag (or Stepping) Moderne influence can be seen in the teal glazed geometric tiles seen in the lobby and on the first floor water fountains.” (Washington Middle School History)
The school website does not mention the back entrance to the building on Long Beach Avenue, which also has bas-reliefs.
P. G. Napolitano painted a mural in the school’s science building with funding from the WPA Federal Arts Project (FAP).
Washington Middle School was renovated, and its artworks restored, in the 1990s. A few years later, LND’s Gray Brechin spoke with the (retired) principal who had overseen the restoration. She memorably said to him, “Children need beauty too, especially the poor ones.” Evidently, the students adored her and created a mural of her somewhere in the back of the school.
PWA job cards held at the National Archives (see photos)
Site originally submitted by Gray Brechin on May 4, 2010.
Additional contributions by Richard Walker.
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