Everything Old is New Deal Again

Before I forget, here’s an interesting New York Times article about the loss of New Deal public buildings at the hands of eeeviilll local and state governments. The author notes the irony of this destruction in the midst of what some refer to as the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

“It’s ironic to be tearing them down just when America is going through tough times again,” said the biographer Robert A. Caro, who wrote about the W.P.A. in “The Power Broker,” his book about the builder Robert Moses. “We should be preserving them and honoring them. They serve as monuments to the fact that it is possible to combine infrastructure with beauty.”

Town officials say that appreciation often comes at a high price. Many structures are dilapidated or outmoded, built in a stolid style, with columns and entablature, that they dismiss as “Greco-Deco.”

Hmm, I think I’ve met those very same “town officials” somewhere, or else maybe the ones I’ve met have gone to the same Town Official School where they learn to make dismissive comments about things they haven’t taken the time to understand.

In Ocala, Fla., where there is a move to tear down the Deco City Auditorium, an angry official cut off preservationists at a recent public hearing, saying he was not interested “in what prom somebody went to” but only in “how to make this city grow.”

Aahh, yes, the old “Label-It-Nostalgia-and-Make-Them-Seem-Like-Sissies” Trick–I’ve heard it a thousand times. And what a way to sock it to them by implying that anyone who wants to save a building (no matter that it’s probably one of the best-designed buildings in town) doesn’t care about the city. Whereas the angry official cares, he really cares.

Now this guy has it right:

“They are redolent of a moment when there was more emphasis on making an integrated community — not just building houses, but auditoriums, community centers and schools,” said the architect Hugh Hardy, who restored Radio City Music Hall in New York City. “It’s a better use of energy, in a time of fiscal restraint, to see what we can reuse, remake and renew,” he added. “It’s monstrous to say you have to tear them down.”

But what does he know? He’s only restored Radio City Music Hall–uncaring, nostalgic sissy!

I’ve been in many, many New Deal public buildings, and one thing I know is that they are some of the sturdiest, solid, (and definitely not “stolid”) buildings I’ve experienced. If they’re not built of monolithic concrete, they’re stone or timber–no Dryvet or plywood to be found. And they were made for the public to enjoy. In this age of privatization of every public space, I suspect that last characteristic is the one that sticks in the craw of these so-called “public” officials who care more about short-term “progress” than they do long-term livability.

Categories: Demolition/Abandonment, Historic Preservation, Modernism, Recent Past

2 replies

  1. love the title of this post. (I like the post, too, of course – the title just tickles me.)


    • I’m usually terrible with titles. (Introductions and conclusions too.) This one came to me in a flash and I thought it was exceptionally witty even if it was late at night. Glad you thought so too!


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