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It’s nearly impossible to summarize the magnitude of the New Deal’s impact in the Bay Area. From the creation of Lake Anza, Woodminster Amphitheater, and Treasure Island to countless murals, schools, and other public amenities, federal funding dramatically transformed the local landscape and culture during the 1930s. President Roosevelt’s decision to invest in arts and infrastructure as a response to the Great Depression is one of the greatest success stories in the history of American politics. Could something on this scale ever happen again?

As a new Democratic administration takes power amidst a crisis of unemployment and vast inequality, today’s episode explores the lessons of the New Deal with historians Gray Brechin and Harvey Smith of The Living New Deal, an organization dedicated to uncovering and preserving public works from this era. From airports to sewers, the legacy of the New Deal is still utilized by millions, even if the history connecting these crucial components of modern society has mostly been forgotten. Listen now to hear about how a trip to Berkeley’s rose garden inspired a lifelong obsession with “uncovering a lost civilization” – and why the New Deal is still such a controversial topic: Apple / SoundCloud / Spotify.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) constructed the Woodminster Cascades and Theatre as a tribute to the poets and writers of California. Read more about this origins of this stunning landmark at Oakland Wiki.
Hundreds of men employed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) lived in Camp Wildcat Canyon while they worked on shaping the landscape of Tilden Park. Read more about this history at the Living New Deal. Photo: Smithsonian Online Virtual Archive
The Federal Theater Project was one of the many New Deal programs that employed artists and entertainers. Ruth Acty, who would later go on to become Berkeley’s first Black teacher, starred in a local production of “Run Little Chillun,” a popular musical drama. (Photo: Berkeley Historical Society)
Living New Deal founder Gray Brechin first became curious about the New Deal after discovering the Berkeley Rose Garden while attending Cal. “I always wondered why the Federal government would go to the trouble of creating something simply because it was beautiful.” [Photo: Liam O’Donoghue]
In addition to writing “Berkeley and the New Deal” (Arcadia Publishing), Harvey Smith also leads walking tours. To hear about why he refers to Civic Center Park as “Berkeley’s New Deal nexus,” listen to the new episode: Apple / SoundCloud / Spotify.

Editorial note: As this episode mentions, there are some very negative aspects of President Roosevelt’s legacy that must also be acknowledged. Some of these stories have been covered in-depth on previous episodes of East Bay Yesterday. Here are the links if you want to hear about the history of housing discrimination and/or the mass incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

East Bay Yesterday can’t survive without your support. Please donate to keep this show alive: www.patreon.com/eastbayyesterday

“We’re uncovering a lost civilization”

A look at the New Deal’s local legacy
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