Rebuilding and subsequent art of local schools to be focus of Historical Society’s New Deal presentation

<strong>“Deep Sea Magic” mural by Olinka Hrdy, 1939 </strong>

“Deep Sea Magic” mural by Olinka Hrdy, 1939

The Historical Society of Long Beach, 4260 Atlantic Ave., will host historian Dr. Kaye Briegel and librarian Maureen Neeley on Friday, Sept. 2, as they discuss the dramatic changes experienced throughout the Long Beach School District as it rebuilt schools devastated by the Long Beach Earthquake of 1933. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program helped Long Beach rebuild its schools.

<strong>Will Rogers bench, created by Stanton MacDonald-Wright, 1940</strong>

Will Rogers bench, created by Stanton MacDonald-Wright, 1940

Six relevant schools are located in Belmont Heights, Belmont Shore and Naples: Wilson High School, Jefferson and Rogers middle schools, Fremont, Lowell and Naples elementary schools. On March 10, 1933, a 6.3 earthquake rocked the city, damaging or destroying 35 schools in the district. Jefferson, Fremont and Lowell were leveled. Wilson and Naples were heavily damaged. Rogers was not yet built. Destructive as that earthquake was, the Great Depression of the 1930s was equally debilitating. Money for reconstruction finally came via the New Deal program, created to put people back to work. In the case of Long Beach, much of that work came in the form of rebuilding schools.
In a new exhibit at the Historical Society of Long Beach entitled Rebuilding for the Future: A New Deal for Long Beach 1933–1942, visitors will view the art and architecture of not only these Belmont Heights schools, but also other projects found throughout Long Beach.
Architecturally, many of the schools were rebuilt in the popular styles of the 1930s: Jefferson, Lowell and (what would become) Rogers have an art deco or streamline moderne style; Fremont and Naples are more traditional Spanish; Wilson, which was designed in 1925 and restored after the earthquake, is unique in its Italianate style.
Several of these schools also boast unique art that reflects the era. The New Deal did not just put laborers to work. As Harry Hopkins, FDR’s head of the Works Project Administration/Federal Arts Project (WPA/FAP) put it, “Artists have got to eat just like other people.” With that, many painters, photographers, sculptors, writers, musicians and actors were employed on federal projects. In Long Beach, this meant that murals, mosaics, bas relief and sculptures were installed in newly constructed schools
The exhibit will explore these and numerous other projects achieved through the New Deal in Long Beach, including the Will Rogers bench (above), the bust of James Russell Lowell and the dream-like mural in Rogers’ foyer (left). Several of the artists who worked in Long Beach went on to become internationally known. The Rogers bench is attributed to Stanton MacDonald Wright, who was also integral to the WPA mosaic installed now on Third Street. His pioneering work using petrachrome to create texture in mosaic was considered groundbreaking.
Funded in part by the Long Beach Navy Memorial Heritage Association and featuring photographs by J. Christopher Launi, along with historic prints and ephemera, the exhibit will remain open through the end of 2011.
Exhibition hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 1-5 pm, Thursday 1-7 pm, and Saturday 11-5 pm.

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