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More WPA Sites in the Midwest

Previous blog posts focused on Works Progress Administration (WPA) sites from the midwest as an addendum to my El Palacio Magazine winter 2020 article on New Mexico WPA sites built under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Since the publication of that article, I have travelled through New Mexico and other other parts of the United States to find and photograph other WPA sites. This somewhat longer post reports on WPA sites shot over the course of two longer road trips to the east coast (I have family in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, just outside of New York City). Such road trips allow me to satisfy my desire to go beyond New Mexico, the southwest, and midwest to include sites outside of New Mexico in my portfolio of WPA images.

This post focuses on WPA sites in the midwest, notably in the states of Kansas, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Oklahoma. We can split hairs on whether Oklahoma is more southwestern than midwestern, but since it was on the first leg of our trip, we include it here. A future post will focus on WPA sites in the northeast covered during the same trip, including sites in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

In additional to travel, I recently presented images of WPA sites in two venues. The first was at Review Santa Fe in 2023 and more recently at the National New Deal Preservation Society Conference also in Santa Fe in 2024.

Oklahoma City

Our first stop was to Oklahoma City which has quite a few WPA sites. Constructed between 1937 and 1938, the Taft Stadium located next to the Taft Middle School in the northwestern part of town is especially impressive and is used as a high school football stadium. According to Waymark, the “stadium in recent years has been the home of the National Women’s Football Association team, as well as being used for football games by Northwest Classen High School and John Marshall High School.”

Color Archival Pigment Print Taft Stadium Oklahoma City WPA Works Progress Administration FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Midwest
Taft Stadium, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, November 18, 2022
Color Archival Pigment Print Taft Stadium Oklahoma City WPA Works Progress Administration FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Midwest
Taft Stadium, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, November 18, 2022

Downtown Oklahoma City also has WPA cites that include the Municipal Building and the Municipal Auditorium (also known as the Civic Center Music Hall). These buildings are quite close to each other, separated by Bicentennial Park. Close to these WPA buildings is the County Courthouse also built by WPA. WPA sites just outside the downtown area include the Sequoyah School Addition, picnic tables at Lincoln Park and the McKinley Park Castles. While not WPA, there is also a very moving memorial to the victims of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building nearby.

Color Archival Pigment Print Municipal Building City Hall Oklahoma City WPA Works Progress Administration FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Midwest
Municipal Building, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, November 18, 2022
Color Archival Pigment Print Civic Center Music Hall Oklahoma City WPA Works Progress Administration FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Midwest
Civic Center Music Hall, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, November 18, 2022

Elmdale, Kansas

The Elmdale City Hall (former) was actually discovered by my way-better half, Becca, who noticed it while we were driving away from another WPA site in the midwest, namely the Municipal Center in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. We stopped and took closer look and noticed a WPA plaque on the lower-right-front of the building and a smaller metal plaque on the right-front staircase. This latter plaque described the history of the site and how it evolved over the years. According to the plaque: “The building served the Elmdale area for more than just city administrative functions. A wide variety of social and community organizations used the building for meetings and activities. This included groups such as the Boy Scouts and the Philatelist Club. It also had a water well next to the front steps with a long handle manual pump and a “tin cup” for anyone to use on a hot Kansas day.”

Incidentally, if you happen upon a site that looks like it might be a WPA site, stop and take photographs, record the GPS coordinates of the site, and photograph any plaques or other parts of the site that identify and document the history and origin of the site. You can then submit that information to the Living New Deal submissions page. Upon their confirmation that the site is indeed WPA, they will add that site to their listing and give you credit for the find.

Color Archival Pigment Print City Hall Elmdale Kansas Midwest Works Progress Administration WPA Great Depression FDR Franklin Roosevelt
Elmdale City Hall, Elmdale, Kansas, June 18, 2023

Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City, Missouri includes some of the most iconic WPA buildings, most notably the City Hall building and the Jackson County Courthouse, two famous Art Deco buildings. Other WPA sites in Kansas City include Lincoln High School, Southeast High School, and the Delano Alternative School. If you are an architecture buff, Kansas City is highly recommended.

Color Archival Pigment Print City Hall Kansas City Missouri 2022 WPA Works Progress Administration FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Midwest Art Deco Architecture Architectural Style
City Hall, Kansas City, Missouri, November 19, 2022
Color Archival Pigment Print Jackson County Courthouse Kansas City Missouri 2022 WPA Works Progress Administration FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Midwest Art Deco Architecture Architectural Style
Jackson County Courthouse, Kansas City, Missouri, November 19, 2022

St. Louis, Missouri

We did not have the opportunity to spend too much time in St. Louis, but our brief stops yielded images of two additional WPA sites in the midwest. The first was the 138th Infantry Regiment Armory and the second was the Jewel Box in Forest Park. The Armory is right off Highway 40W and close to St. Louis University. There was quite a bit of constructions going on during our visit which presented challenges to getting the image below.

Color Archival Pigment Print 138th Infantry Armory Building St. Louis Missouri 2022 WPA Works Progress Administration FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Midwest
138th Infantry Armory Building, St. Louis, Missouri, November 20, 2022

The Jewel Box in Forest Park, St. Louis is another interesting midwestern Works Progress Administration site. It sits in a 17-acre site and was built by the City of St. Louis. Roughly 45 percent of the funding came from the WPA sister agency, the Public Works Administration (PWA). It recently underwent renovations in 2002. It is operated by the Department Parks, Recreation and Forestry and is listed in the National Historic Register. It is a wonderful example of Art Deco architecture. It is even possible to rent the Jewel Box for weddings and receptions. Imagine a wedding ceremony and reception at a PWA site!

Color Archival Pigment Print Jewel Box Forest Park St. Louis Missouri WPA Works Progress Administration FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Midwest
The Jewel Box, Forest Park, St. Louis, Missouri, November 20, 2022

Chicago

Having lived and worked in the Chicago metropolitan area was a great experience and I have long looked forward to the opportunity to return and especially to explore New Deal sites. One such Chicago site is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge (Outer Drive Bridge – Link Bridge). Construction actually began in 1929 but was not completed until 1937 as a PWA project. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago (Chicago History Museum), the Link Bridge opened in late 1937 and Franklin Delano Roosevelt even attended the opening ceremony.

Color Archival Pigment Print Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge, Outer Bridge Drive Link Bridge Chicago Illinois Art Deco Architecture Works Progress Administration WPA New Deal Great Depression FDR Franklin Roosevelt Public Works Transportation Water Lake Shore Drive
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge, Outer Bridge Drive (Link Bridge), Chicago, Illinois, June 14, 2023

Columbus, Ohio

One of the larger Public Works Administration (PWA) sites in Ohio is the East Wing building of the Columbus City Hall. Link the Link Bridge above, construction of the East Wing building began in the 1920s and three of the four sections were actually complete by 1928. The fourth wing was not dedicated until 1936. According to Living New Deal funding comprised a combined loan and grant to complete the construction of the East Wing that totaled $332,017 (which translates to approximately $7.5 million in current prices).

Color Archival Pigment Print WPA Works Progress Administration FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Midwest Columbus Ohio City Hall
City Hall, East Wing, Columbus, Ohio, November 21, 2022

Gary, Indiana

Unfortunately, not all New Deal sites remain in good condition let alone in use. Like virtually all other WPA post offices, the Gary, Indiana Post Office construction was funded through the Treasury Department (this was constructed well before the creation of the United States Postal Service (USPS) under the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970). This post office was closed in the 1970s, mostly likely the lasting result of the collapse of the Gary economy due to loss of manufacturing jobs. Alas, the state of this building reflects that of many other buildings and places in Gary. According to U.S. Census data, Gary’s population fell from 178,320 to 69,093 between 1960 and 2020.

Color Archival Pigment Print Post Office Gary Indiana Works Progress Administration WPA Great Depression New Deal DFR Franklin Roosevelt Public Works
Post Office, Gary, Indiana, June 13, 2023

Unfortunately, positive COVID tests stopped our travels in Richmond, Virginia during the first of these road trips. A three-day quarantine in a Richmond motel was followed by a three-day dash home and the need for another attempt to survey the eastern seaboard, the south, more of the southwest, and eventually more of the northeast and New England. Future trips will cover more of the northeast (Boston, etc.), New York City, more of the District of Columbia, and other parts of the United States missed and planned. Of course, more trips through the midwest will follow. You can see more images of WPA sites taken in New Mexico and other parts of the United States elsewhere on this site.

Posted in History, Photography, Travel

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