Why Not a Beauty New Deal?

Berkeley Rose Garden, Berkeley, California

Berkeley Rose Garden, Berkeley, California
Architect Bernard Maybeck designed the terraced garden. Constructed by hundreds of workers from the CWA and later, the WPA, the garden was dedicated in 1937.
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

Recently, progressive Democrats have proposed a Green New Deal, a massive transition to protect our planet from further damage from the juggernaut of climate change. It’s time to consider as well a Beauty New Deal to protect and restore America’s natural environment and enrich and deepen the quality of our lives.

There is an inherent human need for beauty and the vitality of creative expression. Beauty impacts all of life. Studies show that beautiful built surroundings and access to parks, nature and green space contribute to good health, social connection, altruism, equity, tolerance, reduced consumerism and increased sustainability.

While beauty’s private aspects are subject to the same unjust distribution as other private goods, beauty, as a public good, has equity as its larger dimension.

In the 1960s, amid antiwar and civil rights marches, members of Congress worked across the aisle, responding to President Lyndon Johnson’s warning that we were becoming “an ugly America” and needed to restore and protect a beautiful America for future generations.

“The Progress of the Negro Race,” 1938

“The Progress of the Negro Race,” 1938
A decorative frieze by Daniel Olney adorns the Langston Terrace Dwellings public housing complex in Washington, D.C.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Library of Congress

This led not only to expanding national, state and local parks and beautifying highways, but to beautifying urban America as well.

Encouraged by Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, Lady Bird Johnson led a broad “beautification” campaign, starting with the nation’s badly neglected capital, Washington D.C. and African American neighborhoods most deprived of natural beauty by institutional racism. The “beautification” initiative was among the most widely popular of Johnson’s Great Society.

Franklin Roosevelt’s original New Deal was multi-dimensional, not merely economic-material, but also green and beauty-oriented.

Robert Stanton Theater, King City, California

Robert Stanton Theater, King City, California
The high school auditorium, built in 1939 with WPA funding is embellished with sculpture by Joseph Jacinto Mora. The Art Modern-style building was designed by Robert Stanton.
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

With a major focus on environmental protection and restoration, New Deal programs hired artists, writers, photographers, actors, playwrights and musicians to take public art and performance to cities and s towns across America, while providing inspiration and income to hard-hit creatives. Earlier, encouraged by Theodore Roosevelt, the City Beautiful Movement that flourished during the 1890s and 1900s added parks and other public spaces to beautify American cities.

The importance of beauty has been largely neglected in public policy discussions of our times, but these bygone efforts provide a rich store of ideas to draw upon.




Lake Michigan Beach House

Lake Michigan Beach House
The CCC developed Michigan’s Ludington State Park, including its beautiful beach house, completed in 1935.
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

A Beauty New Deal should:

  • Provide greater public support for artists, writers, poets and performers by re-establishing the original New Deal’s WPA Arts programs
  • Educate students to appreciate, create and cultivate beauty in their communities
  • Preserve and promote natural beauty by expanding parks, wilderness areas and open spaces, while strengthening protections from commercial encroachment
  • Re-establish the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) for beautification and environmental restoration projects
  • Encourage use of property taxes for urban beautification, including planting millions of flowering and shade trees
  • Build new public squares
  • Support urban mini-farms and gardens
  • Provide “Equal Access to Beauty” through free summer camps for underserved children
  • Support “Renaissance Zones” using grants and tax incentives for beauty-led economic development in poor communities
  • Support repertory theatre and other performing arts in small towns and cities
  • Direct beautification funding to areas other than the established cultural centers, and finally,
  • Support colleges to culturally enrich the communities around them.

Even as the current struggles threaten to tear us apart, the “Politics of Beauty” can bring Americans together and closer to the America the Beautiful of which we can all be proud.

A New Deal for Birds

Paul Kroegel, the first federal refuge employee.

Paul Kroegel, The First federal Refuge Employee
FDR’s cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, established the first federal bird reservation in 1903 at Pelican Island, Florida. In all, TR named 55 bird reservations and national game preserves—forerunners of the National Wildlife Refuge System established during the New Deal.

When FDR took office in 1933, of the 120 million acres of marsh and wetlands originally found in the US, only 30 million acres remained. The population of waterfowl had reached its lowest point in recorded history—approximately 27 million birds. 

Drought had displaced not only many farmers from their land, but also millions of migratory birds. Wetlands, ponds and prairie potholes—critical to the birds’ breeding, feeding and resting—had dried up. Illegal hunting also took a toll.

FDR, an avid birder since childhood, recognized the crisis and responded by appointing three respected conservationists to a blue-ribbon Committee on Wildlife Restoration. He chose Tom Beck, the influential publisher of Colliers Weekly as chair; along with Aldo Leopold, a professor at University of Wisconsin; and Jay “Ding” Darling, a Hoover Republican and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Des Moines Register famous for lampooning politicians (including FDR), and for his passion for conservation.

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jay “Ding” Darling

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jay “Ding” Darling
Darling was said to know more about ducks and geese than most game wardens.
Photo Credit: Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

As Douglas Brinkley writes in his book, “Rightful Heritage,” about FDR’s environmentalism, the three men argued fiercely about how the government should go about saving birds. Beck wanted “duck factories” where birds would be hatched in incubators. Leopold argued for restoring a range of habitats. Darling sided with Leopold. Alluding to Governor Huey Long’s pledge to put a chicken in every pot, Darling called for “a duck for every puddle.”

They released the “Beck Report” at a press conference in 1934. It was science based; conserved wetlands; regulated hunting; forbade meatpackers from selling wild game; focused on acquiring and restoring waterfowl habitat; and called upon Congress to appropriate $50 million to buy abandoned farms for a system of National Wildlife Refuges.

Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold
The ecologist and nature writer is best known for his book, “A Sand County Almanac.”
Photo Credit: Library of America

FDR persuaded Darling to head the U.S. Biological Survey (later the Fish & Wildlife Service), but believed that the committee’s recommendations were too ambitious and expensive to win Congressional support.

Darling resurrected the idea of raising funds through a hunting tax. Rather than simply issue a piece of paper as receipt to those paying for a hunting license, FDR, a lifelong stamp collector, hatched the idea of a stamp that would invoke the beauty of the wildlife the tax would be used to protect.

With a funding source assured, Congress passed the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act in 1934. Darling illustrated the first federal Duck Stamp. It was sold at post offices nationwide and cost one dollar. People considered them miniature pieces of art. Nearly 650,000 duck stamps sold within weeks—providing start-up funding for a National Wildlife Refuge System.

The catch was that Congress required that all monies from the Duck Stamp be spent within that year or revert to the WPA. 

J. Clark Salyer, II

J. Clark Salyer, II
Salyer is known as the “father” of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Photo Credit: Courtesy FWS.gov

That year, wildlife biologist John Clark Salyer, whom Darling hired as head of the fledgling Division of Wildlife Refuges, drove 20,000 miles, sleeping in his car, looking for possible refuge sites to buy and restore. With Duck Stamp monies, he managed to secure 323 waterfowl and upland game sites by 1935. Each refuge was created to protect an ecosystem from human destruction and, in some cases, to save individual bird species from extinction.

When Salyer took the job, the nation held 1.5 million acres in refuges. When he retired 27 years later, there were more than 28 million refuge acres. The Beck Report, the Duck Stamp, land acquisition and public awareness campaigns, increased migratory bird numbers from 30 million in 1933 to 100 million by the onset of WWII.

On the Trail of the New Deal in Yosemite National Park

Tuolumne Meadows Mess Hall, 1934

Tuolumne Meadows Mess Hall, 1934
An example of the “parkarchitecture” of the 1930s, the CCC used native materials to blend with the surrounding environment.
Photo Credit: The Living New Deal

Beginning in 1942, when I was a year-and-a-half old, and for years thereafter, I would spend all summer with my parents in Tuolumne Meadows in the upper reaches of Yosemite National Park. I didn’t know until four decades later that not far from our campground, hidden among the trees, was a mess hall built in 1934 by young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). There, CCC workers would relax and refuel between shifts on New Deal projects that made the park’s High Country hospitable to families such as ours.

Upon taking office in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order expanding and consolidating the nation’s disparate portfolio of parks under a single agency, the National Park Service. He singled out Yosemite as the New Deal’s “showcase for national park values.” 

Eleanor Roosevelt at Yosemite

Eleanor Roosevelt at Yosemite
The First Lady poses with CCC boys at the Wawona Hotel.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Yosemite Research Library

Park officials jumped at the opportunities that designation implied. Resources flowed. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes visited Yosemite. So did Eleanor Roosevelt, in a parade of Studebakers. FDR himself arrived in July 1938, touring in the back seat of an open convertible. Watch a newsreel clip of FDR’s 1938 visit to Yosemite

Today’s visitors to Yosemite who know what to look for can spot the New Deal’s legacy almost everywhere.

The 45-mile-long Tioga Road was the first project in Yosemite that put New Deal relief programs to work. Crews from the Public Works Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Bureau of Public Roads took on the reconstruction and realignment of the highest mountain highway in California. A particular challenge involved constructing a bridge over the Tuolumne River. It took until 1961 to finish the Tioga Road project.

Setting cables on Half Dome.

Setting cables on Half Dome.
The climbing cables, originally installed in 1920 by the Sierra Club, were replaced and strengthened by CCC workers.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Yosemite Research Library

The 15.7-mile road to the park’s most famous and popular overlook, Glacier Point, was completed in 1940. Along the winding route, the CCC developed one of the first downhill skiing areas in California, Badger Pass. The resort, together with the more distant Ostrander Ski Hut, a hand-hewn stone structure for long-distance cross-country skiers, established Yosemite as a destination for winter sports.

Projects continually sprang to life. One of the CCC’s most impressive achievements was rebuilding the cable system up Half Dome. New Deal agencies improved the 27-mile Wawona Road from the park’s south entrance to Yosemite Valley and paved the route to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. New entrance stations, campgrounds, vista points, parking areas, lookout towers, and picnic sites also materialized.

CCC Ostrander Ski Hut

CCC Ostrander Ski Hut
The 2-story shelter was intended to be part of a larger system of winter trails and huts along the Sierra crest that never were developed.
Photo Credit: The Living New Deal

The CCC’s signature rockwork masonry is a staple throughout the park. Today’s hiker encounters old jackhammer grooves and remnants of asphalt paving along many well-worn trails. The rock garden around the Valley’s Fern Spring is also recognizable as the Corps’ handiwork. One can even spot where the Works Progress Administration expanded the Wawona Airport—now extinct—whose runway consisted of 3,000 square feet of sod.  

Many of the CCC’s efforts, including reforestation and the removal of invasive species, blend into the park’s natural scenery. Firefighting protected it. One former enrollee recalls that during his hitch in the CCC his crew went more than a hundred hours without sleep battling a forest fire in Yosemite.

Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center

Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center
The former CCC mess hall now serves as Tuolumne Meadow Visitor Center, a High Country hub.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Andrew Laverdiere

The CCC mess hall that I overlooked for so many years now serves as the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center, its conversion completed in 1980. The building, with its steeply pitched roof, craggy exterior, and stone chimney retains the rustic architecture and handcrafted techniques that are unmistakably the work of the New Deal in Yosemite.

Learn more about major New Deal projects in Yosemite: https://livingnewdeal.org/us/ca/yosemite-national-park/ and https://livingnewdeal.org/us/ca/wawona/

A Bridge into the Forest: The CCC in Ohio’s Shawnee State Forest

Shawnee State Park, In the “Little Smoky Mountains” in southern Ohio along the Ohio River

Shawnee State Park
In the “Little Smoky Mountains” in southern Ohio along the Ohio River
Photo Credit: Credit Wikipedia Commons

Shawnee State Forest, a 63,118-acre preserve bordered by the Ohio River in Southern Ohio, began with a 5,000-acre purchase in 1922. By far the largest of Ohio’s forests (making up nearly one-third of the entire Ohio State Forest system), the Shawnee was largely inaccessible to the public until, in 1933, it became the first Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) site in Ohio.

The CCC built lakes, dams, spillways, bridges, roads, hiking trails, park shelters, picnic groves, stone grills, and overlooks, opening the forest for public recreation.

More than 1,500 CCC men worked at Shawnee. Of the seven CCC camps, four were segregated. Some 220 African American enrollees from Company 1545 were stationed at Camp Roosevelt, a camp made up entirely of World War I veterans. Having fought abroad and explored the world beyond segregation, many of these men struggled to readjust to life in the U.S. In the CCC they were guaranteed work and lodging. They were paid the same wage as white CCC members–one dollar per day.

Company 1545, A segregated, all-black unit of CCC enrollees dammed the waters of Mackletree Run and Turkey Creek, creating Roosevelt Lake, 1934

Company 1545
A segregated, all-black unit of CCC enrollees dammed the waters of Mackletree Run and Turkey Creek, creating Roosevelt Lake, 1934
Photo Credit: The Ohio State University. Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center. Wooster OH. Forestry Images Collection

The men of Company 1545 created Roosevelt Lake and built the Mackletree Road Bridge. Arguably the most significant CCC structure in the forest, the bridge was built of local honey-colored sandstone and American Chestnut timbers the men culled from the surrounding forest to flight blight.

While the Mackletree Road Bridge opened the forest for recreation and fire fighting, it also opened it to logging by state Division of Forestry. Clear cutting within Shawnee has led to degradation of the forest’s biodiversity as well as destruction of CCC works, including the Mackletree Road Bridge.

In 2017 when heavy logging equipment could no longer safely pass over the small, rustic bridge, it was replaced by one of concrete. A silver lining was the creation of a memorial to Company 1545, built from the former bridge’s weathered sandstone.

Mackletree Road Bridge, Shawnee State Park, c 1934

Mackletree Road Bridge, Shawnee State Park, c 1934
Designed by Ernest L. Gill,in the National Park Service’s “parkitecture” style, the bridge was built by a segregated, all-black unit of the CCC enrollees.
Photo Credit: Courtesy, Ohio Dept of Transportation

While much of the CCC’s physical work remains intact, significant features, like the bridge, have already been lost or closed to the public and additional threats loom. Today, some of the scenic roads the CCC had designed to promote slow motoring and give visitors access to lookouts and picnic spots have been closed to the public and are restricted to logging use. Another threat was delayed last summer when local activists rose up to contest the proposed removal of the CCC’s Churn Creek Lake. Though the project to breach the spillway was delayed, elimination of the lake is likely.

New threats to the land and the CCC-crafted landscape seem to appear daily, including a proposal to open 50-mile trails through the forest for off-road vehicles. This plan is open to public comment, but seems likely to be implemented, despite impacts to the CCC-built landscape and State’s conservation mission.

Signature stone, When the men of Company 1545 completed the Mackletree Road Bridge, they inscribed it with their “signature."

Signature in stone
When the men of Company 1545 completed the Mackletree Road Bridge, they inscribed it with their “signature.”
Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Andrew Lee Feight, Ph.D., from the Scioto Historical Series, private collection, Friendship, Ohio

This is not the future the CCC saw for Shawnee. “But it is never too late for the Ohio Division of Forestry to hear from folks who support preserving and protecting New Deal-era historic sites and structures,” says “Dr. Andrew Feight, a history professor at Shawnee State University. “With the interests of the logging industry primarily shaping forest management policy, state officials would benefit from hearing from the supporters of historical preservation and the being reminded of the original multiple-use and conservation vision of the CCC.”

For more information contact: Save Our Shawnee Forest

To send comments to the Ohio Division of Forestry, write to forestry.comments@dnr.state.oh.us, or ODNR Division of Forestry 2045 Morse Road, Building H-1 Columbus, Ohio 43229 Phone: (614) 265-6694

The story of Company 1545 and the work of the entire CCC in Shawnee State Forest has been well documented by Dr. Andrew Feight on his excellent website www.sciotohistorical.org.

CCC Memorial at Roosevelt Lake, Shawnee State Park

CCC Memorial at Roosevelt Lake, Shawnee State Park
When Mackletree Road Bridge was replaced in 2016, workers salvaged the hand-cut stones of the original bridge for a memorial commemorating the CCC men who built it.
Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Andrew Feight, Ph.D., from the Scioto Historical Series, private collection, Friendship, Ohio. Photographer: Andrew Freight


Time for a 21st Century CCC

Camp Roosevelt, Virginia
The first Ccc camp.
Photo Credit: Courtesy FDR Library

Franklin Roosevelt was, among many other things, a knowledgeable forester. He frequently described himself as a “grower of trees.”

Long before his entrance on the political scene, he spent years reforesting his Hudson River estate at Hyde Park.

As governor of New York, Roosevelt established a “tree army” of unemployed young men to restore the state’s abused forestland. “Forests, like people, must be constantly productive,” Roosevelt told the Forestry News Digest.

After his presidential inauguration in 1933, at the depths of the Great Depression, with millions unemployed, he persuaded Congress to create a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that, he said, would solve two crises by employing “wasted human resources to reclaim wasted natural resources.”

Planting trees, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Planting trees, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
The CCC planted a billion trees in parks, national forests, and on spent farmland
Photo Credit: Creative Commons Creative Commons

Scholars are still not sure whether FDR was aware of the William James 1906 speech at Stanford, “The Moral Equivalent of War,” in which the eminent psychologist and philosopher seeks to replace war with its moral equivalent. In lieu of the destructive outcome of wartime patriotism, James called for constructive civil service in the interests of the individual and the nation. That is precisely what the peacetime army of the CCC did.

During its decade-long run, the CCC employed three-and-a-half million young men to plant over three billion trees.

Racially integrated outside of the South fifteen years before President Truman desegregated the Armed Forces, the “Cs” recruited jobless, indigent, and often illiterate young men and gave them nutritious food, housing, health care, education, and hard work in some of the most rugged and beautiful places in the nation.

Fighting Fires, 1936

Fighting Fires, 1936
CCC enrollees battled wildfires and provided flood relief
Photo Credit: Idaho Department of Forestry

They fought beetle infestation and blister rust as well as forest fires, conserved soil, and were on call to help in the natural disasters—epic floods, hurricanes, and drought—that added to the hardships of the 1930s.

The CCC also left a vast legacy of superb rustic structures in national and state parks and wildlife refuges whose expansion and development during the 30s they were largely responsible for. Many CCC veterans recalled their service as among the happiest times of their lives and attributed it to success later in life.

Brass Button, Collar button from CCC uniform

Brass Button
Collar button from CCC uniform
Photo Credit: Creative Commons

After decades of tax cuts our national, state, and local jurisdictions are today incapable of dealing with the ever-growing danger of conflagrations such as those that recently devastated California, and the hurricanes from which Florida, Houston, and Puerto Rico are struggling to recover.

Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) has introduced the 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps Act, HR 2206, reviving a proven model to address chronic unemployment, heal our forests, and meet the challenges and consequences of climate change. It deserves our support.


Highway maintenance project, 1933.

Highway maintenance project, 1933
Lassen National Park, California
Photo Credit: NPS

The president and key CCC staff, 1933

The president and key CCC staff, 1933
Big Meadows CCC camp, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Front row, left to right: Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, CCC Director Robert Fechner, FDR, Agriculture Secretary Henry Wallace.
Photo Credit: Courtesy FDR Library


Herbert Maier and the Parkitecture of the 1930s

Herbert C. Maier. 1893-1969

Herbert C. Maier. 1893-1969
Maier played a significant role in the National Park Service Rustic style of architecture in western national parks.

Arts & Crafts architecture—with its emphasis on native materials, skilled workmanship, sensitivity to nature, and indigenous motifs—fell out of fashion after World War I. Revival styles and the rising tide of modernism supplanted it, but so did economics: the craftsmanship it required was just too expensive in the post-war world.

So why was it revived twenty years later in the buildings and landscape design of our national and state parks in what became knows as “parkitecture?”

In two words: Herbert Maier.

Norris Museum in progress, Yellowstone NP

“Herb” Maier (above right)
Norris Museum in progress, Yellowstone National Park
Photo Credit: Courtesy National Park Service

Born into a German family and raised in Oakland, Maier was studying architecture at the University of California at the beginning of the First World War when Berkeley was a hotbed of Arts & Crafts design and thinking. The University and its alumni were also central in the founding of the National Park Service (NPS) in 1916. Among those alums was Maier’s friend Ansel F. Hall who quickly rose to the position of Chief Naturalist of the new NPS. An advocate of nature education and interpretation, Hall procured funding from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial for Maier to design an interpretive museum for Yosemite Valley.

Maier’s museum at Yosemite National Park opened in 1926. It features exhibits about the park's geology, wildlife, and history.

Yosemite Museum
Maier’s museum at Yosemite National Park opened in 1926. It features exhibits about the park’s geology, wildlife, and history.
Photo Credit: Gray Brechin

With its battered walls of massive local boulders supporting an upper story of rough logs and unpainted wooden shakes as well as its sensitive siting, the Yosemite Museum would have been right at home in the Berkeley hills, but it also apparently pleased the Rockefeller foundation enough to pay for Maier to design similar museums in Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon during the 1920s.

Private funding for such costly buildings dried up with the 1929 Crash. President Roosevelt’s creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps  (CCC) less than a month after his inauguration on March 4, 1933 gave them a new lease on life, however, when NPS Superintendent (and UC alum) Horace Albright put Maier in charge of the Rocky Mountain District based in Denver. At the same time he made Maier CCC regional officer for the Southwest. Although Maier’s administrative duties left little time to design, his roles straddling the rapidly expanding state and national park networks as well as the CCC put him in a unique position to implement design work on a scale unimaginable in the 1920s.

Yavapai Point Trailside Museum on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, 1929

Yavapai Point Trailside Museum on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, 1929
The building, designed by Herbert Maier, is now called the Yavapai Observation Station and is still in use.
Photo Credit: George A. Grant, Courtesy National Park Service

In 1935, Maier hired Ohio architect Albert H. Good to collaborate on the publication of a pattern book called Park Structures and Facilities. It featured plans and photos of hundreds of rustic structures, which CCC recruits erected on public lands throughout the U.S. 

With the end of the CCC in 1942 and Roosevelt’s death three years later, Maier lost the federal funding and work force needed to build the structures he believed best suited the nation’s parks. Tastes were changing as well with a shift to modern design in park visitor centers and museums. Maier remained with the NPS until 1962, but his retirement was unfortunately brief. He died in Oakland just seven years later. The handsome rustic structures enjoyed by millions throughout the nation are his enduring legacy.   

NPS logo, Maier's imprint on the Park Service includes the design of the arrowhead logo.

NPS logo
Maier imprint on the Park Service includes the design of the arrowhead logo.

The Norris Museum was conceived as a gateway to the overlooks and trails of the geyser basin.

Herbert Maier designed four museums for Yellowstone NP. Three survive.
The Norris Museum was conceived as a gateway to the overlooks and trails of the geyser basin.
Photo Credit: National Park Service

Remembering Frank Cassara, the Last of the CCC Artists
by Kathleen Duxbury

CCC and WPA artist Frank Cassara

CCC and WPA artist Frank Cassara
A portrait of the artist in his studio.
Photo Credit: ©Kathleen Duxbury 2010 All Rights Reserved

Frank Cassara, a former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and WPA artist died on January 13 at home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, two months shy of his 104th birthday. Frank’s persistence and talent earned him a place in New Deal art history. He was the last of the New Deal CCC artists.

During a 2010 interview, 97-year-old Frank and I reviewed government records detailing his enrollment as an artist in the CCC seven decades earlier, at Camp Swallow Cliff, Co. #1675-V, near Palos Park, Illinois. As Frank slowly read through the papers he looked up and said “I am starting to remember,”

Enrollees from Camp Swallow Cliff, Palos Park, IL, 1935.

Enrollees from Camp Swallow Cliff, Palos Park, IL, 1935.
CCC men working in a limestone quarry. A stone crusher is in the background.

In 1934, living in Detroit and desperate for work, Frank sent a letter to the head of the Section of  Painting and Sculpture at the U.S. Treasury Department, Edward Rowan, asking about a job:

Dear Sir, It has come to my notice that the government intends to send one hundred artists to C.C.C. camps. I am greatly interested in recording camp life and would appreciate any opportunity you could give me…. Thanking you for any information you can send me, I am, yours sincerely,

Frank Cassara

My meeting with Frank turned into two afternoons of unhurried memories—vignettes of a naïve young man, out of his element; vivid descriptions of CCC work projects, the cutting and crushing of stone at a local quarry, numbers painted on the side of a truck, and life in the barracks.

Frank brought his observations to life in the oil, watercolor, and pencil drawings he made during his yearlong CCC assignment. Exempted from heavy labor, artist/enrollees spent 40 hours a week depicting life in the camps. Their artworks were shipped to the Section of Painting and Sculpture Treasury Department in Washington, D.C.

Sandusky, Michigan Post Office mural.

Sandusky, Michigan Post Office mural.
“Cattle Drive,” by Frank Cassara, 1942

After his discharge from the CCC, Frank again found himself without a job. By then, his work was known and admired by Ed Rowan and others at the Treasury Department, and in 1937 Frank was hired by the WPA’s Federal Art Project (FAP). He several  murals in Michigan, at the Thompson School in Highland Park, a water plant in Lansing, and at post offices in Detroit and Sandusky, Michigan, eventually becoming a supervisor of the FAP for the state.

During World War II, Frank served as an artist with the Army Branch of Engineers in the American and Asiatic Pacific Theater. At war’s end, he became a professor of art at the University of Michigan, where he taught for 36 years.

Frank lived to the fine old age of 103 years and 10 months. He was drawing to the end of his life. Time spent with Frank Cassara remains a highlight of my CCC Art Projects research.

Book Review: Rightful Heritage : Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America, Douglas Brinkley, pp 744

RightfulHeritageCoverTo the innumerable gifts the New Deal’s work relief agencies left to Americans must now be added a vast archipelago of parklands and entire species of plants and animals preserved by the personal initiative of President Roosevelt. One is left with that inescapable conclusion after reading Douglas Brinkley’s tome, Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America. Brinkley convincingly argues that FDR is America’s greatest environmental leader, exceeding even his admired distant cousin Teddy.

Brinkley lays a solid foundation for that claim with a six chapter section entitled “The Education of a Hudson River Conservationist, 1882-1932” in which the young FDR develops a deep interest in and love for nature on his family’s expansive riverfront estate in Hyde Park — especially for its trees and birds. In later life, whether in the Oval Office or on his extensive travels, his knowledge of the natural world astonishes those who know him, as does his determination to remediate what centuries of exploitation had done to the continent.

His creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the first weeks of his administration was Roosevelt’s remedy, he said, of simultaneously healing both damaged men and damaged land. The CCC was his own idea as well as his favorite and most popular work relief agency, and the one he wanted made permanent. The cumulative labor of his “tree army,” made possible a quantum leap forward in soil conservation and forest planting and care, but above all in the expansion of public lands forever available to and owned by all Americans.

By administrative action and executive order, FDR and his chosen associates created a continent-spanning network of national parks, forests, historic and archaeological sites, and wildlife refuges. The latter, in particular, brought animals such as the pronghorn antelope, Canada goose, trumpeter swan, whooping crane, and bighorn sheep back from the brink of extinction. The extent of those accomplishments is graphically evident in maps and lists, which Brinkley provides in 36 pages of appendices as well as a text that reveals Roosevelt’s personal commitment to conservation even while he was engaged in fighting a Great Depression and world war. He authorized Big Bend National Park, for example, on D-Day.

His accomplishments were, in hindsight, not all positive. Even at the time, fisheries biologists understood that the dams he loved to build radically disrupted riverine ecology as their reservoirs heedlessly drowned lands vital to Native Americans. Secretary of Interior and PWA czar Harold Ickes, who otherwise emerges as an even fiercer preservationist than FDR, had a pharaonic obsession with pouring concrete to kickstart the lagging construction industry and generate cheap electricity. The CCC introduced the forest-devouring plague of kudzu vine to the South in a misguided effort to check soil erosion. And Republicans likened his use of executive orders to “lock up” public lands to the tyranny of Adolf Hitler, laying the rhetorical groundwork for ranchers to “take back” public lands.

Nonetheless, few who read Rightful Heritage can deny that FDR often saw farther than his contemporaries let alone many today. On his perilous flight to Tehran to meet with Stalin and Churchill in 1943, a year and a half before his death, Roosevelt studied the deserts of the Middle East as he had the American landscape from train windows, and concluded that the region’s ruin was largely the result of millennia of deforestation and grazing. He wanted conservation to be a central concern of his United Nations after the war not only as a means of alleviating poverty and its pathologies but of leaving to future generations a more vibrant Earth which, he passionately believed, was everyone’s rightful heritage.

Preserved Forever: How the CCC Helped Build a Park District

Robert Sibley: Park District Board Member Robert Sibley (center) highlights the Tilden Nature Study Area on the relief model in the mid-1950s.

Robert Sibley
Park District Board Member Robert Sibley (center) highlights the Tilden Nature Study Area on the relief model in the mid-1950s.
Photo Credit: Courtesy EBRPD

In 1928, conservationist, hiker, and University of California alumnus Robert Sibley, saw into the future of the open rolling hills above the Berkeley campus. “These valuable pieces of land ought to be preserved forever,” he forewarned. So began a movement to save thousands of wild acres from certain development. The New Deal played a critical part in gaining the public’s support.

A 1930 report, “Proposed Park Reservations for East Bay Cities,” by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and Ansel F. Hall, first chief naturalist of the National Park Service, laid out a plan for a system of regional parks and a single agency to manage them. As early as 1933, local CCC enrollees, under the direction of the Western Museum Laboratory in Berkeley, set to work on a project to help win the public over to the idea.

Unveiling the Restored Map District General Manager Robert Doyle welcomes visitors to the unveiling of the newly restored CCC relief model at the Tilden Environmental Education Center on August 27, 2016.

Unveiling the Restored Map
District General Manager Robert Doyle welcomes visitors to the unveiling of the newly restored CCC relief model at the Tilden Environmental Education Center on August 27, 2016.
Photo Credit: Courtesy EBRPD

Often more than a hundred CCC men at a time worked to fabricate a series of 6-foot by 12-foot replicas of the East Bay region based on maps in the Olmsted-Hall plan. The hand-painted plaster relief models highlighted the ridgelines, hills, and valleys that park advocates hoped to conserve. Local cities used the topographical models to promote the cause. The prospect of federally funded labor and construction dollars through New Deal programs also had a role in winning over voters.

In 1934, despite the Great Depression, voters approved a tax to establish the East Bay Regional Park District, one of the first regional park systems in the country. With parklands secured, WPA and CCC crews arrived in 1935 to begin building the roads, trails, stone bridges, buildings, and fountains that remain a lasting tribute to their work.

CCC Camp Wildcat Canyon : Tilden Environmental Education Center sits on the former site of Camp Wildcat Canyon, a CCC camp that housed several hundred young men who built the trails, restrooms, and picnic areas for the new parks

CCC Camp Wildcat Canyon
Tilden Environmental Education Center sits on the former site of Camp Wildcat Canyon, a CCC camp that housed several hundred young men who built the trails, restrooms, and picnic areas for the new parks
Photo Credit: Courtesy EBRPD

Today, one of the nation’s oldest regional park systems is also one of the largest—with 65 parks totaling 120,000 acres, and 1,200 miles of trails.

Recently, the last known remaining model the CCC built for the parks campaign was resurrected from a seldom-used building where it had languished for decades. Its significance came to light in the course of preparing for the District’s 80th anniversary.

Experts from the Richmond, California-based Scientific Art Studio, which manufactures museum exhibits, were called in to help with the model’s restoration. They carefully patched and reinforced the crumbling plaster and removed many added layers of paint revealing the map’s original colors and hand lettering. Original errors were left intact, including a puzzling reference to “Citizens Conservation Corps.”

Ansel Hall, chief naturalist at the National Park Service, points out the proposed Regional parklands to local civic leaders in 1934

Early Park Leaders
Ansel Hall, chief naturalist at the National Park Service, points out the proposed Regional parklands to local civic leaders in 1934
Photo Credit: Smithsonian, Civilian Conservation Corps Collection

In August, the restored model was unveiled to the public to great fanfare. It is on permanent display at the popular Environmental Education Center at Tilden Park—the former site of CCC Camp Wildcat Canyon.

Centenarian Rupert Lopez Recalls Life in the CCC

Rupert joined the CCC in 1935

Rupert Lopez
Rupert joined the CCC in 1935Photo Courtesy “Corrales Elders”

Rupert Lopez is 100 years old. He joined the CCC when he was about 18, serving from 1935 until 1940. As a CCC applicant Rupert had to pass a physical exam to show that he possessed three natural masticating teeth and was at least five feet tall and 107 pounds. Rupert said he had to eat a lot of bananas to make the weight requirement. New Mexico enrollees gained an average of 20 pounds in the CCC.

Enrollees could take a variety of evening classes while serving in the CCC. Rupert learned English from a teacher in Camp SCS-8-N, Catron Ranch in San Ysidro, New Mexico. In 1937 the CCC sent Rupert to college in Las Cruces. He later returned to the CCC as a Local Experienced Man. So-called “LEMs” lived in local communities and served as foremen overseeing less trained CCC workers.

Rupert Lopez in the fourth man from the right in the front row. From Civilian Conservation Corps Official Annual 1936, Albuquerque District, 8th Corps Area, page 46.

Roster of men in CCC camp SCS-8-N in San Ysidro.
Rupert Lopez in the fourth man from the right in the front row. From Civilian Conservation Corps Official Annual 1936, Albuquerque District, 8th Corps Area, page 46.Photo Courtesy Dirk Van Hart

Rupert taught and supervised the production of adobe bricks used to build the Old Santa Fe Trail Building, a National Historic Landmark. The outstanding Spanish revival-style building served as the headquarters for the National Park Service Southwest Region for 56 years, from 1939 until 1995.  Rupert is the last living member of the CCC who worked on the building, In 1940 Rupert moved to Corrales where he lives today.

On June 24, 2016, Rupert attended a ceremony in Santa Fe where he received the Kathy Flynn Award for his service during the New Deal.

The following was excerpted from an interview conducted by Deborah and Jon Lawrence at his house on Rupert’s Lane in Corrales, New Mexico, on July 11, 2015.

When I went to the CCC in 1935, I had just finished high school. I was about 18.
At that time I was working for 75 cents a day. When I joined the CCC, they put us on a truck. They wouldn’t tell us where we were going. They went west, out to the other side of San Ysidro, to the Espiritu-Santo Grant. There was a camp right there. It’s up off old Highway 44. Now it belongs to the Indians. There still are adobe ruins there.

Rupert and Reymunda Lopez

Rupert and Reymunda Lopez
Wedding photo, 1939Photo Courtesy "Corrales"

When we got to the camp, the buildings were up. They still needed sewer and electrical lines. We worked with picks and shovels. I did that for probably two weeks. In high school, I had tried to take bookkeeping and typing classes because I wanted to clerk.   When the CCC found out that I had finished school, they made me a warehouseman. A warehouseman could get $36 (a month) just to hand out the tools and supplies to the workingmen. Then the superintendent put me to typing and taking care of all of the books for the mileage in the trucks, the tools, the supplies, and so on. I took care of that.

The big wheels (at camp) were army captains and lieutenants. But the foremen, they were working people.

When we first went into Camp 8, there were already some people from Texas there.
We called them Tejanos. We had some problems with them. They didn’t like us. At meals, the tables were long. We ate on one side of the table; they were on the other side. They wouldn’t pass us anything. So we began to fight in the mess hall—Tejanos against the Spanish. Finally the commander stopped the fighting. He said, “If you want to fight, I am going to give you some gloves.” And he did. We didn’t fight with fists anymore, just gloves. We had good fighters, good boxers. They learned that our boys were better fighters than theirs. Little by little, all of the Texans went “over the hill.” (They deserted).

When I was working as a clerk at the camp, they started giving grants for college. They wanted me, so I went to college in Las Cruces. I thought it would get me all the way through college, but it only lasted for six months. There were only two men from the whole group who had enough money to finish school.

I worked on farms and I worked awhile at motorcycle delivery. I had an Indian 1932. Later, I traded my motorcycle for a 1932 Chevy.

Camp 8, with all the people, was transferred to Santa Fe. When I went back into the CCC, I was a Local Experienced Man. For Local Experienced Men, they chose men who could do something special, like making adobe. That was the only way that I could go in the CCC again. I was a leader. I was in charge. There were only two Spanish foremen,  the others were all Anglos. They assigned me to teach the men how to make adobes for that big (NPS) building in Santa Fe. We made probably 500 adobes a day. It was hard work. It was a big project.

Rupert Lopez on his tractor

Rupert Lopez on his tractor
Lopez farmed 11 acres at his home in Corrales, NM. He also had an orchard of 400 peach and apple trees.Photo Courtesy Dirk Van Hart

I was married October 1939 during my tenure in the CCC. I met Reymunda in downtown Albuquerque at the skating rink. We used to skate together. We rented a house in Santa Fe—five dollars a month. We lived in Agua Fria, on the south side of that spring. Agua Fria was a spring that came in from the mountains. I used to travel on the motorcycle in the morning to be there at the CCC. I was a sargeant.

There was a time after I got married when I would go to school at night and take classes in English. Then I passed my examination for civil service and I got out. The CCC was being ended and they were closing a lot of camps. I got my discharge from the CCC in 1941. I went to work for Kirtland Air Force Base as a warehouseman. Then I transferred as an inspector to the National Guard. When I was in the National Guard, I was one of the guys who were appointed as an inspector to work in Korea. My wife stayed here. I was there for 18 months on active duty. Then I retired from the military.

When I came to Corrales they right away made me mayor domo of the church. At a meeting, we decided that our church was too old and it was cracking. Too much money was needed to make repairs. Since I was the chairman, Father Baca told me to make a drawing of a new church. So I drew a schematic of the church that I wanted. We held a fiesta and we collected enough money to make the new church. I was involved with the Planning and Zoning commission for 7 years, and I was on the Corrales Bosque Advisory Commission, and the Sandoval County Senior Affairs Board for 19 years and with the local Soil Conservation Service.

Then I used to farm. Chiles, tomatoes–you name it, I used to sell it.  I would drive my produce as far as Grants and Manzano. I drove a tractor up until I was 98. I just stopped driving it two years ago. Now my son does the farming.