American Island Animal Sculptures – Chamberlain SD

WPA-funded animal sculptures have been moved from the CCC camp on American Island to Main Street in Chamberlain. A squirrel and coyote were placed outside the Chamberlain Swimming Pool, and two eagles sit on either side of the Avenue of Flags where it intersects Main St. and make this note about the camp and sculptures:

“There was a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp located on American Island near Chamberlain, South Dakota. The camp workers were responsible for many of the improvements on the island and around Chamberlain in the 1930s and 40s. A photo taken by Orrion Barger seen in the book “Around Chamberlain Postcard History Series” by authors Gene and Alice Olson with Jan Cerney, show sculptures made by Andre Boratko. The sculptures were supported by a special Works Project Administration (WPA) artist fund. There were eagles, a coyote, a rabbit, a squirrel, and a fawn. Some of these sculptures can still be seen today at public parks in Chamberlain, SD.”

University of Minnesota: St. Anthony Falls Laboratory – Minneapolis MN

“The laboratory…was designed and built under the direction of a dedicated individual, Lorenz G. Straub. Straub had been a Freeman Fellow and observed several laboratories in Germany during the year of his fellowship. He came to the University in 1930 and promptly set to work to establish his own laboratory. His vision came to fruition through a WPA grant to the University of Minnesota and construction started in 1936. Straub came to be known as the “River Doctor” for his many studies at SAFL on several aspects of river engineering. The Laboratory building lies on the Falls of St. Anthony in Minneapolis, Minnesota where there is a drop of about 15 meters. Up to 9 [meters cubed per second] may be drawn through the building and distributed to the many flumes for experimental research.”   (

The laboratory was dedicated on November 17, 1938 and has been central to hydraulic and river engineering research within the University of Minnesota’s Department of Civil Engineering.

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.

Riverside Park Bathhouse – Minneapolis MN

Shortly after the creation of Minneapolis’ park board in April 1883, the organization designated land for the future Riverside Park. Land was acquired by 1884 and the area was called Sixth Ward Park until 1885. Since then it has been called Riverside Park due to its position on the west bank of the Mississippi River.

Later additions and expansions included a toboggan slide, playground equipment, basketball hoops, skating rink, tennis courts, and wading pool.

The WPA[sic] completed a stone bathhouse in 1933 and built stone steps connecting the upper and lower levels of the park. As of fall 2013, the steps are overgrown and not used regularly.

[Note: the WPA was created in 1935. References to earlier WPA work are often refering to FERA or CWA projects]

Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art out of Desperate Times

Susan Quinn recounts a fast-paced story about the Federal Theatre Project through the lives and times of those who conceived and led this unique New Deal relief program— Harry Hopkins, the driven director of the WPA, and the intrepid Hallie Flanagan whom Hopkins convinced to run the risky project. Both grew up in Iowa City and attended Grinnell College, after which Hopkins pursued social work in New York City and Flanagan headed an innovative performing arts program at Vassar College.

Quinn recounts a train ride in 1933 during which Hopkins and Flanagan envisioned the new federal program to employ thousands of starving artists—actors, directors, designers, writers, and tradesmen. “Hell!” the notoriously blunt Hopkins says. “They’ve got to eat just like other people.”

Federal Theater ProjectFlanagan was excited by the challenge of bringing live theater to millions of Americans for the first time and saw the potential of the FTP to take on the country’s deep-seated racism and social inequality. She sought Hopkins’ assurances that the government-subsidized FTP would be free from censorship—a difficult promise to keep. At times, she turned to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt—an enthusiastic ally of the FTP—to overcome red tape and political opposition.

Though the FTP’s budget was a tiny percentage—one-tenth of one percent– of the WPA’s overall expenditures, it had been labeled a boondoggle by the press, politicians, banks, businessmen, and even theater owners and workers fearing low-quality, low-priced competition. Yet by the end of 1935, 9,245 people got jobs with the FTP in big cities, regional theaters, and small towns nationwide. Some FTP troupes performed for the Civilian Conservation Corps at remote camps.

The FTP produced dramas, comedies, musicals, and children’s theater, including The Revolt of the Beavers, which told the story of a cruel beaver chief who keeps the underling beavers busy processing bark but shares none of the proceeds from their labor. Many scripts were derived from news articles about the hardships of the Great Depression, a controversial genre Flanagan dubbed “The Living Newspaper.”

The FTP’s leading lights included T.S. Eliot, Arthur Miller, Sinclair Lewis, John Houseman, and Orson Welles. It was the Welles/Houseman production of Marc Blitzstein’s pro-labor musical The Cradle Will Rock that proved most dangerous for the FTP. Flanagan was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee to defend the program before its enemies.

Few government programs received or weathered such scrutiny as the FTP. Thanks to Quinn’s book, this creative and daring project remains in the spotlight.

Reviewed by Susan Ives

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

Alma D’arte Charter High School – Las Cruces NM

1883 – 1937 : Dona Ana County Court House
1941 – 1984 : Las Cruces Junior High School or Court Jr. High School
1993 – present : Mesilla Valley Youth Foundation Court Youth Center
2004 – present : Alma d’arte Charter High School

1883 – 1937 : The Dona Ana County Court House on Court Avenue served as the site of all legal matters in the County, including hangings. The building was razed in 1937 when the County received Works Progress Administration funds to build a new court house and a new junior high school.

Books: The WPA American Guide Series Makes a Comeback

WPA Guide to California, 1939

WPA Guide to California

In another sign that America is waking up to the rich legacy left to us by the WPA, the American Guide Series— out of print since the 1940s—is being reissued as quality paperbacks, which are selling well. Over the last decade, university presses and other publishers have rediscovered the value of these well-researched, vividly written and wide-ranging guidebooks. Though the books are now 70 years old, “they are no more obsolete than any other great works of American literature,” says David Kipen, who wrote introductions to the recently reprinted WPA guides to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

The guidebooks are probably the best-known publications of the WPA’s Federal Writers Project. Like other WPA arts projects, the American Guide Series had multiple goals. It employed out-of-work writers, fostered a sense of local pride, and promoted much-needed tourism. While the federal government paid the salaries of some 6,000 writers of the series, each state was responsible for printing and distributing the books.

The guides more or less followed a standard format—covering the geology, history, industry, agriculture, government, and natural resources of each of the 48 states and the District of Columbia. Major cities, large towns, and characteristic regions were discussed in detail, and sometimes embellished with cultural trivia and regionalist charm  Readers could find out, for example, that Mays Landing, New Jersey is the national capital of nudism; that Nevadans like to eat at lunch counters; and that the favorite names for Tennessee coon dogs are Drum, Ring, Gum, and Rip.

WPA Guide to New York City

WPA Guide to New York City

The guidebooks were so popular that the series expanded to cover 27 individual cities; fifteen regions, such as the Berkshire Hills and Monterey Peninsula. Many of the guides had annotated “motor tours” and some were exclusively dedicated to destinations, such as “Ghost towns of Colorado,” and “The Ocean Highway: New Brunswick, New Jersey to Jacksonville, Florida.”

One of the most interesting of American Guide Series is “Washington City and Capital.” Originally published in 1937, it is replete with fascinating history and lore, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt questioned its utility as a guidebook because it weighs four pounds. A condensed, more portable size was subsequently published.

Like the murals the WPA commissioned for government buildings, these books assured Americans that their local sights and activities were part of a great American story worthy of being captured in print or paint.

The American Guide Series died out with the rest of the New Deal in the early 1940s, but the books became sought-after collectors’ items and are still used by travelers and valued by history buffs. Indeed these guidebooks remain useful and entertaining. They offer, in Kipen’s words, “a keepsake of all that’s lost, a Baedeker to how much survives, and an example of what writers and America once did for each other, and might again.”

Barbara Bernstein founded the online New Deal Art Registry and is now the Public Art Specialist at the Living New Deal Project.

Brackenridge Park, Perimeter Wall and Entry Gates – San Antonio TX

“A low limestone perimeter wall built in 1936–1937 separates Broadway and the adjacent sidewalk from the green space in front of the Witte and Pioneer Hall. The wall, which runs the length of the property, was built by Witte museum and WPA workers. Entry points through the wall connect to sidewalks leading to both the Witte and Pioneer Hall. A stone bench is built into the wall, presumably to provide seating for bus patrons. The wall culminates at Tuleta Drive on the south and on the north at the northeast corner of the park property. Curved wing walls and planting beds flank entrances at both the south and north ends of the wall.”
(Section 7 Page 9, National Register of Historic Places registration form for Brackenridge Park, June 2011)

The wall extends for two or three blocks along Broadway from the site of the former Reptile Farm (a NYA project) past Pioneer Hall (now the South Texas Heritage Center) past the Witte Museum and ends at Tuleta Drive (a NYA project).

There is no marker along the wall at this time.

High School Gymnasium – Marfa TX

This WPA gymnasium was constructed in 1938-1942. It is a stand alone high school gymnasium constructed of adobe. It is approximately 6,000 sq. ft. Perimeter walls are 30 ft. high and are 20 inches thick. The building contains a reinforced cast in place concrete grandstand that seats approximately 270 adults. Showers and dressing/locker rooms are below the grandstands.

The style of architecture is reminiscent of Art Moderne. In 1983 operable steel sash windows were removed and filled in with cement masonry units. A metal hip roof was added on top of the existing roof in 1984.

The building was given Texas Historic Landmark status in 2010.

Lakeview Post Office Mural – Chicago IL

During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration was the greatest and most ambitious agency to come out of FDR’s New Deal that employed mostly the unskilled. One sector of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was the Federal Art Project (FAP), and from that was born the Mural Division. This sought to not only employ artists that were struggling financially, but also to bring art to the public. There were many divisions of the FAP that had similar goals, but the Mural Division had a grand vision, and a lasting legacy. It showcased the talent of many artists in that era with varying artistic styles, visions, and messages. One artist in particular was Harry Sternberg, an American painter from New York.

Harry Sternberg was born in New York City on July 19, 1904, to parents that were European immigrants. He was raised on the Lower East Side before moving to Brooklyn. From an early age, Sternberg was very interested in art. He started classes at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1915, and then from 1922 to 1926 he began part-time study at the Art Students League of New York. These many years of study culminated into his future career of etching, printmaking, and painting in 1926, just before the Great Depression. [2]

Sternberg had his first exhibition in 1931, in New York City at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He soon went back to work at his former school in New York where he remained an instructor until 1968. During the time as a teacher, he was also very involved in social issues related to art. He was appointed to the Graphic Art Division of the Federal Art Project, a sector of the WPA. Sternberg spent a year studying the working conditions of coalmine and steel mill workers. This was prominently featured in his first mural ever, “Chicago: Epoch of a Great City” for the Lakeview Post Office in Chicago, Illinois. This mural, like other New Deal post office murals, was actually funded by the Treasury Section of Fine Arts rather than the WPA. [1] [2]

Sternberg traveled to Chicago in 1937 to begin studying the city’s history, culture, work conditions, and architecture. This was used to influence his famous mural for the Lakeview Post Office, which depicts the history of Chicago up to the then current day. [1]

The mural, “Chicago: Epoch of a Great City” has many individual elements that while that show a clear timeline of Chicago’s history. The bottom center of the painting, a focal point, stands Fort Dearborn, which was the first settlement in Chicago. Right above that is a great fire engulfing Chicago, representing none other than the Great Chicago Fire. People flee from buildings to escape the flames that crawl through the streets. Smoke feeds into the fire from the left side of the mural, which represents the industrial side of Chicago. We see scientists, metal workers, and tall smoke stacks. Off in the distance are three separate railroad lines. The farthest of the three trains is a locomotive, which was very typical of the time. The middle most train is an updated commuter train, and the closest appears to be a much more updated commuter train, one similar to modern day Amtrak trains. Sternberg hints at the revolution of trains to come in putting that futuristic train closest to the center of the mural.

Sternberg was sure to include the city’s signature skyline, including many famous buildings known throughout Chicago still today. At the time, the Conrad Hilton hotel was the largest in the world, and that is prominently featured at the front most part of his skyline. Also making an appearance is the Wrigley building, the Art Institute, the London Guarantee building, the Civic Opera House, Hutchinson Tower at the University of Chicago, the Field Museum, and the Water Tower. [3]

The right side of the picture focuses more on the agricultural side of Chicago. Of course at the time, Chicago was known for its vast stockyards of cattle, and the controversial meat industry. Something worth noting is that in this section, and the left hand side of the mural in the steel plant, Harry includes African American workers. Most of the other workers depicted in the painting, and in American art at the time, were white. Sternberg really tried to accurately represent the working conditions of American workers. This move made his work more revolutionary, and helped it keep its relevancy today.

Sternberg’s mural proved to be a lasting legacy of the Great Depression, as it remains one of the better restored murals that survived the Federal Arts Project. Sternberg was quoted saying, “My Chicago mural is still in a very good state. It would be a great loss to our history if the more neglected murals were allowed to further deteriorate”. (Becker, 2002)