On October 29, 1929 the Stock Market crashed, plunging the world into what is called The Great Depression. Before that, the United States was very wealthy from massive industrialization around the turn of the century and war production from WWI. One example of how industrialization lead to Americans economic boom starts with the Ford Motor Company. In 1913 Ford began building cars on a moving assembly line. He also paid his workers a generous $5 a day, which is nearly $110 dollars today. Ford believed that his theory of mass production would fail if the workers couldn’t buy the product they produce. After World War I tourism skyrocketed because the car became accessible to a greater number of people. Oil and gas companies began to appear to fuel the nation. This led to an explosion of jobs and massive economic growth. The next ten years was known as the Roaring 20’s. Americans kept spending money until they began taking out loans on things they couldn’t afford and, just like today, the market crashed, banks failed and the economy shut down. Eventually unemployment was at 25% in the United States. Out of entire population of 123,202,624, over 30 million people were out of work.
President Hoover believed that letting America ride out the depression was the best thing to do while bread lines got longer and Hooverville populations kept growing. Bread lines were set up to provide free food for the unemployed. The homeless built towns of shacks made from scavenged materials and soon the “towns” were named Hoovervilles mocking the president’s failure to act as the economy crashed. The most famous or infamous Hooverville was in Central Park, New York City, but Hoovervilles began appearing up and down the east coast of the Untied States.
In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president and two years later in 1935, FDR created the Works Progress Administration or WPA as part of the New Deal. The WPA was created to put America back to work. It brought the United States’ infrastructure into the 20th century. The workers built everything from highways, dams, sewers and schools many of which we still use today. The WPA didn’t just build things, they taught people skills such as tailoring, weaving and sewing. It employed skilled and unskilled workers. Each project was done with local materials and workers to boost the local economy. It provided food, shelter and medical care for people living in the dust bowl states. Traveling libraries brought knowledge to communities that were either too poor or too secluded to have their own. The WPA also jump-started a massive art movement in America. Not only did the WPA support public murals, but also fine arts and performing arts thus putting artist back to work along side engineers and laborers.
Many of the well known and large-scale WPA projects occurred on the East coast of the United States because the most populated cities were there. Here in Los Angeles, there were many projects from the building of the Cahuenga Pass to recreational parks throughout L.A., but the focus in this endeavor will be murals, sculpture and architecture of selected buildings in the L.A. area. Over the next few weeks, information will be posted documenting the history of buildings and the artists who worked on art in these buildings. There was no set artistic style that the WPA used but common themes were local history and glorification of the working class. The murals were designed to inspire Americans to learn, work hard and be American. In a way, a lot of the WPA art was propaganda trying to help pull the United States out of the depression.
With the United States entry in to World War II in 1941 there was a massive increase in jobs as America geared up for war. Slowly as more WPA workers got jobs working with private companies WPA projects were cut back. Finally in 1943 the WPA and many other New Deal programs were shut down.
Bing, Margaret. Brief Overview of the WPA. March 2010.
California Historical Society. California’s Living New Deal Project. 2008. March, April and May 2010.
Census Research for Genealogists. 2008. April 2010.
DeNoon, Christopher. Posters of the WPA. Los Angeles: The Wheatley Press, 1987.
“Djey El Djey”. May 2010
“Deutsch, Boris.” Ask Art The Artists’ Bluebook. May 2010.
Griffith Observatory. “Building Features.”April 2010. Visitor Information. March 2010
Guide to Historic Santa Monica City Hall. City of Santa Monica. May 2010
Hoag, Betty Lockrie. “Oral History Interview with Boris Deutsch, 1964 June 1-5.” Smithsonian Archive of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 1-5 June 1964. April 2010
Hoag, Betty Lockrie. “Oral History Interview with Edward Biberman, 1964 Apr.15.” Smithsonian Archive of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 15 April 1964. May 2010.
Hoag, Betty Lockrie. “Oral History Interview with Henry Lion, 1964 May 21.” Smithsonian Archive of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 21 May 1964. May 2010
IFPDA: International Fine Print Dealers Association. “Fletcher Martine.” 2009. May 2010.
JG Originals. “Brush With Life, The Art of Being Edward Biberman” 2006-2008.
Maynard Dixon [1875-1946]. May 2010.
Michelson, Alan. Pacific Coast Architecture Database (PCAD). 2010. May 2010.
National Park Service. National Park Service the First 75 Years: Biographical Vignettes. 2000. April 2010
O’Connor, Francis V. The New Deal Art Projects An Anthology of Memoirs. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972.
Santa Monica High School. “Visual & Performing Arts Barnum Hall Theatre” May 2010.
Santa Monica Public Library. “Mural by Stanton Macdonald-Wright.” 2008. May 2010.
Sculpture Conservation Studio, Inc and Glenn Wharton and Associates, Inc. “A Survey of Important Sculptures in Los Angeles County.” 25 June 1998. May 2010.
United States. U.S. General Services Administration. U.S. Courthouse, Los Angeles, CA. April 2010.
Vallen, Mark. “Art For A Change.” 23 Feb. 2009. May 2010.
Walker, Alissa. Rise and Sprawl: How Los Angeles Came To Be. 24 Nov. 2009.
Fast Company. April 2010.
Wallach, Ruth. “Public Art in Los Angeles.” April 2010. USC Libraries. March 2010.
Workers of the Writer’s Program of the Works Project Administration in Southern California. Los Angeles a Guide to the City and It’s Environs. New York: Hastings House, 1941.
Zada, Susan. “Edward Biberman and the Painting of the Post Office Mural” Dec. 2007 #314. Free Venice Beachhead. May 2010.