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Building Louisiana

Building Louisiana: The Legacy of the Public Works Administration

Robert D. Leighninger
Copyright Date: 2007
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvmn9
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    Building Louisiana
    Book Description:

    Robert D. Leighninger, Jr., believes there may be a model for municipal building projects everywhere in the ambitious and artful structures erected in Louisiana by the Public Works Administration. In the 1930s, the PWA built a tremendous amount of infrastructure in a very short time. Most of the edifices are still in use, yet few people recognize how these schools, courthouses, and other great structures came about.

    Building Louisianadocuments the projects one New Deal agency erected in one southern state and places these in social and political context. Based on extensive research in the National Archives and substantial field work within the state, Leighninger has gathered the story of the establishment of the PWA and the feverish building activity that ensued. He also recounts early tussles with Huey Long and the scandals involving public works discovered during the late New Deal.

    The book includes looks at individual projects of particular interest--"Big Charity" hospital, the Carville leprosy center, the Shreveport incinerator, and the LSU sugar plant. A concluding chapter draws lessons from the PWA's history that might be applied to current political concerns. Also included is an annotated inventory of every PWA project in the state. Finally, this composite picture honors those workers and policymakers who, in a time of despair, expressed hope for the future with this enduring investment.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-154-5
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. xi-XVI)
  5. INTRODUCTION (pp. xvii-XXX)

    We are surrounded by facilities constructed for us over half a century ago at public expense. We use them or drive by them every day, yet most of us are totally unaware of how they got there. We would be surprised to learn that they were built within a brief period of six or seven years, not accumulated gradually over a century. They are the legacy of the public works programs of the Franklin Roosevelt administration’s New Deal. Rarely has so much been built for so many in so little time and been so thoroughly forgotten.

    This frenzy of construction...

  6. PART I. A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PWA IN LOUISIANA
    • CHAPTER 1 HOW TO RESPOND TO A GREAT DEPRESSION (pp. 3-11)

      The Franklin Roosevelt administration’s response to the greatest depression in American history was one of massive and inspired improvisation. The new president took office with a lot of valuable experience—work relief and conservation being just two problems he had dealt with as governor of New York—but without a clear philosophy or even an integrated set of theories about what to do. In fact, he didn’t like theories and tended to be suspicious of those who offered them. He turned away the advice of John Maynard Keynes, the British economist who would later become famous for a theory of...

    • CHAPTER 2 HAROLD ICKES GOES TO WORK (pp. 12-27)

      The personality of Harold Leclair Ickes dominated the Public Works Administration (PWA). A good clue to that personality is the fact that he titled his published memoirsThe Autobiography of a Curmudgeon.¹ He prized his independence, guarded his integrity, and loved a good fight. He grew up a Republican in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and moved as a young man to the bare-knuckle, largely Democratic city of Chicago. Young Harold was a reformer and a believer in honest government. He could not approve of the graft and corruption that were a central part of the urban political machine. But the Chicago Republican...

    • CHAPTER 3 HUEY LONG VERSUS THE PWA (pp. 28-44)

      Huey Long was a figure without parallel in American political history. Between his election as governor of Louisiana in 1928 and his death in 1935, he amassed so much power in the state that it scared even him. He told associates that if he died suddenly, they should not attempt to use the power he had created. For two years he simultaneously held the offices of governor and U.S. senator. He was on the cover ofTimetwice in one year. As a candidate for president in 1936 he was taken quite seriously by Democratic strategists. James Farley, Franklin Roosevelt’s...

    • CHAPTER 4 THE SECOND LOUISIANA PURCHASE (pp. 45-55)

      Relations between Louisiana and the Roosevelt administration were not patched up immediately after Huey Long’s assassination. The Long organization saw its future in keeping Long’s name alive, and that meant maintaining most of his attitudes and policies. This included skepticism, if not outright hostility, toward the New Deal. And Washington saw no need to woo Long’s successors as long as there were genuine New Deal candidates to promote in the election of 1936.

      Cleveland Dear, a New Dealer in good standing, opposed Richard Leche, Long’s chosen candidate for governor. Part of Dear’s platform was to bring the Public Works Administration...

    • CHAPTER 5 SCANDAL (pp. 56-68)

      In June 1939, as most of the last round of Public Works Administration (PWA) projects were nearing completion, a reporter and a photographer from theNew Orleans Statesobserved workmen in Metarie unloading window frames from a Louisiana State University (LSU) truck. They were at the site of a house being built by Mrs. James McLachlan, the wife of one of Governor Richard Leche’s staff members. The men and materials were believed to be part of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. Soon the entire nation was informed of the delivery by Drew Pearson and Robert Allen in their syndicated...

  7. PART II. CULTURAL INFRASTRUCTURE:: REDEVELOPING COMMUNITY
    • CHAPTER 6 SCHOOLS (pp. 71-91)

      School projects were by far the most numerous of the Public Works Administration (PWA) contributions to Louisiana. These efforts added 175 new buildings to parish school systems, built additions to twenty-eight existing buildings, and repaired twelve others. The new structures ranged from one-room, wood-frame schools with outhouses to a million dollar vocational school like Francis T. Nichols (now Frederick Douglass) in New Orleans or high schools in Houma, Natchitoches, Bossier City, and Ruston, each costing over half a million dollars.

      The impact of these new buildings was multifaceted. First, they improved the health and safety of thousands of children and...

    • CHAPTER 7 UNIVERSITIES (pp. 92-107)

      In the early 1930s Louisianans’ interest in higher education was growing rapidly. The state’s colleges and universities, most less than a decade old, were housed in makeshift quarters. Few had permanent buildings. Louisiana State University (LSU), the flagship in Baton Rouge of this newly carpentered fleet, was making progress toward adequate facilities on its new suburban campus when the Depression began. The institution had moved from its original downtown site and was settling into new Italian Renaissance–style buildings and grounds designed by Theodore C. Link, the architect of St. Louis’s grand Romanesque revival Union Station.¹

      But momentum was not...

    • CHAPTER 8 COURTHOUSES (pp. 108-126)

      Next to education, the Public Works Administration (PWA) probably made its greatest impact in Louisiana on the administration of justice. New courthouse and jail buildings were constructed in eleven parishes, new jails were constructed in four others, and additions to existing courthouses were built in another two parishes. This represents major construction in over 25 percent of Louisiana’s sixty-four parishes. On top of that, the PWA supported repairs to courthouses in three more parishes (table 5). This effort represents not only a revival of civic building in a time when it had come to a halt, but it also was...

  8. PART III. PHYSICAL INFRASTRUCTURE:: BUILDING A MODERN ECONOMY
    • CHAPTER 9 THE U.S. MARINE HOSPITAL AT CARVILLE AND OTHER FEDERAL PROJECTS (pp. 129-137)

      The projects reviewed thus far have all been what the Public Works Administration (PWA) called “nonfederal” projects. They were initiated at the state and local levels. Communities decided what facilities they needed, hired their own architects and engineers to design them, and, if the proposals were approved by the PWA, employed local contractors and laborers to build them. But nonfederal projects were only a part of the PWA’s responsibility. It also had “federal” projects.

      Federal projects were carried out by other agencies of the federal government that needed to construct and maintain facilities but couldn’t finance them out of their...

    • CHAPTER 10 THE NEW ORLEANS CHARITY HOSPITAL (pp. 138-148)

      Louisiana is the only state in the Union with hospitals providing medical care to those who cannot pay for it. The original New Orleans Charity Hospital was built in 1736 with an endowment from a French shipbuilder. The institution wore out or lost to fire four buildings. The fifth, built in 1832, was falling apart in 1933 when its board of administrators asked that the Public Works Administration (PWA) fund a replacement. In order to cover its 70 percent of the project, the board proposed adding paying beds.

      Paying beds in a charity hospital? Betrayal of a tradition almost 200...

    • CHAPTER 11 THE FRENCH MARKET (pp. 149-156)

      There was a market in New Orleans’s Vieux Carre long before the Public Works Administration (PWA) arrived, but the form it now presents to us was the product of PWA project #La.5914. Old buildings were remodeled or reconstructed, new buildings were added, and the whole complex was united by columned arcades, lantern towers, and a common stucco finish.

      The project is unusual because, unlike schools or courthouses, it serves private, commercial interests. The market was run by a private corporation, and the PWA was hesitant to become involved in it for this reason. Opponents of New Deal public works programs...

    • CHAPTER 12 THE SHREVEPORT INCINERATOR (pp. 157-161)

      Designing an incinerator is not the sort of task that usually excites an architect. Nor are incinerators frequently written up in the architectural press. Nonetheless, the design by Jones, Roessle, Olschner, and Wiener for the Shreveport incinerator drew praise from architectural arbiter andNew Yorkerwriter Lewis Mumford and was featured in major architectural and engineering journals in the United States, France, and the Netherlands. The New York Museum of Modern Art chose an image of it for a traveling photographic exhibition on modern architecture and displayed it in the U.S. Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition of 1937. At...

    • CHAPTER 13 SUGAR (pp. 162-165)

      The growing of sugarcane and the manufacture of sugar from it in south Louisiana goes back to at least 1795. Other cash crops were not suitable to the climate. After World War I, bitter competition forced most Louisiana refineries out of business. The surviving sugar plants concentrated on producing raw sugar for others to refine. However, the big refineries could import sugar from tropical countries where labor was cheaper, thus forcing down the price of raw sugar for domestic producers.

      In the early 1930s a U.S. Department of Agriculture study suggested that there would be a regional market of “direct...

    • CHAPTER 14 THE NEW ORLEANS SEWER AND WATER PROJECT (pp. 166-179)

      Up to this point, most of our attention has been directed above ground. The importance of the New Deal public works programs is most easily understood by looking at the structures that made possible the many improvements in education, health, recreation, the conduct of government, the administration of justice, and other aspects of civic life. But some of these improvements happened largely out of sight and often underground. Safe drinking water and the sanitary disposal of waste products are aspects of life we are inclined to take for granted. If they are not available, however, disease and death, sometimes on...

    • CHAPTER 15 BEYOND THE BAYOUS (pp. 180-186)

      The Public Works Administration (PWA) was in existence for nine years, from June 16, 1933, to June 30, 1942. After 1939, however, most of the agency’s time was devoted to closing out projects with legal or financial difficulties, so most of its building was done in seven years. In Louisiana, thanks to friction over patronage and the legal impediments Huey Long created to protect his power, the PWA’s work was done mostly in three years.

      In the introduction, I mentioned a few of the PWA works that I have encountered, sometimes by accident, in the course of my travels. In...

  9. APPENDIX. THE LEGACY: AN INVENTORY OF NONFEDERAL PWA PROJECTS IN LOUISIANA (pp. 187-268)
  10. NOTES (pp. 269-290)
  11. INDEX (pp. 291-298)