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Proposed museum would shine light on New Deal

Works Progress Administration

In the coming months, San Francisco’s grand Presidio park will announce a new tenant. The space up for grabs is the commissary building on Crissy Field, currently occupied by Sports Basement. And while George Lucas’ proposal for a museum of illustration has gotten the most press, there were 15 others, including a plan for a global observatory, a center dedicated to play, and a National New Deal Museum.

Why a museum dedicated to the New Deal in San Francisco? Well, if you look around, traces of the New Deal, a federal initiative to bring the country out of the Great Depression, are everywhere. They go largely unnoticed.

“In addition to buildings and parks, airports, etc, the other thing we take for granted are streets, sidewalks, sewer systems,” explains Historian Grey Brecken.

Back in 1935, Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched the Works Project Administration (WPA). The largest New Deal agency, the WPA employed 8.5 million people, built thousands of public buildings, bridges, parks and hundreds of thousands of miles of highway across the country.  

In San Francisco alone, the New Deal funded 281 projects, including small ones like the Bernal Heights Stairway Garden, and huge ones, like the Bay Bridge.

KALW’s Art Persyko took a bus tour around San Francisco with Historian Grey Brecken and Harvey Smith, advisor to California’s Living New Deal Project, to find out more about how San Francisco grew bright during the darkest times in our history.

You can hear excerpts from KALW reporter Art Persyko's tour of WPA monuments and infrastructure here.             

The Presidio Trust is still accepting public comments on that and 15 other proposals for the commissary site at Chrissy Field.  

Click the audio player above to hear the story. 

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