Posted on May 10, 2017 · Posted in Featured News Story, Roosevelt House General News


Posters, Murals, Maps, Photos, and First-Ever WPA Map on View

Opening Night Panel to feature dean of FDR historians William Leuchtenberg


(NEW YORK, MAY 8, 2017)—The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College will open a three-month-long exhibition celebrating—and, for the first time, chronicling—the vast range of public projects funded by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration over its first 10 years. The New Deal in New York City, 1933-1943: Posters, Murals, Maps, and Photographs, will run from May 11 to August 19, 2017—in the very home where FDR and his Brain Trust actually planned the outlines of the New Deal during the presidential transition of 1932-33. The exhibition is made possible by a generous grant from the Stepanski Family Charitable Trust.

Whether through brick-and-mortar or jobs in the theater, arts, or education, thousands were employed, the city transformed, and morale boosted.  Hundreds of these surviving projects will be identified on a new map just published by the Living New Deal project, and to be featured for the first time in New York in the exhibit. The exhibition’s opening night, Thursday, May 11 at 6 PM, will feature a panel of New Deal experts, including the dean of FDR scholars, William Leuchtenberg, moderated by Hunter College professor of urban planning Owen Gutfreund.

Commented Jennifer Raab, President of Hunter College: “How appropriate that Roosevelt House, the very site where Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Brain Trust conceived so much of the New Deal after the election of 1932, now serves as a venue to celebrate its impact on his beloved New York. FDR made sure his plans for national recovery embraced art, architecture, public works, and culture–from Post Office murals to the Triborough Bridge to neighborhood swimming pools to the north building at our own Hunter College. For the first time, the enduring impact of this wave of creativity—its transformative influence on society, not to mention its extraordinary impact on economic recovery—have been quantified and recorded. It is a privilege to present this glorious accounting to students, faculty, and visitors at the Roosevelt family home that incubated so much of this innovative outpouring of creativity.”

Added Harold Holzer, the Jonathan Fanton Director of Roosevelt House: “The Works Progress Administration (WPA) inspired what amounts to an urban gallery of artistic innovation. In bringing together a sampling of posters, paintings, prints, photographs, and publications, Roosevelt House will remind visitors that economic revitalization can be accomplished hand in hand with transformative creativity–a model for putting people back to work and improving the cityscape in the bargain.”

The exhibit traces the evolution and local impact of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. When he took office in March 1933, one in four Americans was unemployed and millions were destitute. At his inauguration he declared: “Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously.”

The new President promised “direct, vigorous action.” His response shaped the New Deal, a constellation of federal programs that put millions of people back to work, raised the hopes and spirits of the American people, and provided the country with much-needed new infrastructure. Roosevelt’s administration delivered a wealth of public works: schools, court­houses, roads, hospitals and health clinics, dams, power lines, libraries, post offices, bridges, tunnels, and highways. New Deal funds also built thousands of recreational facilities for all Americans to enjoy, including swimming pools, play­grounds, ball fields, hiking trails, and urban, state and national parks. Out-of-work artists, writers, and designers were employed to enliven public places with murals and sculptures; actors, singers and playwrights to create musical and theater perfor­mances, and skilled craftsmen to provide technical education. At the same time, New Deal legislation began strengthening the economy and pulling it out of the Great Depression with a host of programs to regulate banking and industry, assist agriculture, and aid workers with the right to earn minimum wages, obtain unemployment compensation, and enroll in Social Security.

New York City—the largest American city with almost seven million people—was the single greatest recipient of New Deal public works in the country. Its leaders organized quickly to apply for funds for such monumental endeavors as the Triborough Bridge, La Guardia Airport, the Lincoln Tunnel, the East River (FDR) Drive, and the first public housing projects. More than a dozen federal agencies paid for the labor and materials to build these and hundreds of other projects, to support the fine and performing arts, and to improve the health and welfare of city residents. Federal agencies operated collaboratively with city departments and state government. President Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, both New Yorkers, visited the city on a number of occasions to dedicate and celebrate New Deal projects. Among its enduring achievements in New York, the New Deal reshaped the city physically for decades to come, nurtured the talents and aspirations of a generation, and demonstrated that the Constitution could, as President Roosevelt reassured his listeners as he took office, “meet extraordinary needs by changes in emphasis and arrangement without loss of essential form.”

Many of the New Deal accomplishments in New York are taken for granted by its busy citizenry who drive on its roads and bridges, swim in its pools, visit its parks and zoos, live in its housing, learn in its schools, use its libraries and post offices, and admire its art. The new and deeply researched map, which identifies hundreds of such New Deal sites in the city, is entitled Guide to the Art and Architecture of the New Deal in New York City, and accounts for projects ranging in size from New York City’s largest bridge to small post-office murals painted by out-of-work, Depression-era artists.

Hundreds of such murals were painted in New York public buildings with artists employed by the Federal Art Project and the U.S. Treasury Section of Fine Arts. Representative samples of these will be on display in the Roosevelt House show, along with photographs and original works created by artists employed by the federal programs. The exhibit also features numerous posters designed by artists that promoted New Deal programs and services, from health and safety, to education and recreation, to music and theatrical performances, to Social Security and unemployment compensation. As a result, New Yorkers in the 1930s were never at a loss for information about how their government took care of their needs. And visitors will also recognize how much of their lives are still shaped by the New Deal.

The exhibition also includes examples of the Federal Writers Project drawn from the Harry Carsch collection at Roosevelt House. The Writers Project employed 6,000 writers, historians, editors, photographers, and cartographers to capture the character of each state in the State Guide Series, and then additional books focused on cities, regions, and special topics. Interest in these volumes continues as re-publication continues apace. New Yorkers have long been able to purchase a paperback version of the original New York City guide and compare the neighborhood descriptions there with present day communities.

Those in the performing arts were also eligible for New Deal programs. The Federal Theater Project, the Federal Music Project, and the Federal Dance Project supported a whole generation of talented people, kept the lights on Broadway theaters, and brought culture and education to every borough, for free or very low prices. Posters and photographs evoke the many choices people had to attend concerts or music lessons, to see an avant garde dance performance, or attend the theater for a classic, like Macbeth, or the experimental productions like the Living Newspaper, or a puppet show for children.

The exhibit also samples the brick-and-mortar programs of the New Deal, highlighting education, healthcare, and housing. Numerous schools for elementary grades through college level were built, including new buildings for Hunter College, in Manhattan and the Bronx, and the entirely new Brooklyn College campus. New York was the innovator and leader in building and designing publically owned and operated housing, as much to employ construction workers as to clear slums and provide decent apartments to hardworking, low income New Yorkers. And the New Deal offered a broad range of health services, for free or low cost, and built hospitals and health clinics throughout the city. Examples of all of these can be seen in the exhibit.

Visitors should come away from the exhibit with a new or renewed appreciation of the New Deal era, and the extraordinary opportunities it offered Americans to maintain their dignity through employment, and have access to everything from art exhibits to home health care provided by public funding.

The New Deal in New York City combines original materials from the Roosevelt House collection with additional material provided by The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library at Hyde Park, The La Guardia and Wagner Archives, La Guardia Community College/CUNY, National Archives, Library of Congress, Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State, NYC Department of Education, and the Harlem Hospital Center, NYC Health + Hospitals.

Roosevelt House is very grateful for the collaboration of the Living New Deal (LND) and its founders and staff Gray Brechin, Richard Walker, Susana Ives, and Linda Herman.

The New Deal in New York City, 1933-1943 is on view in the historic southwest parlor and adjacent rooms of the Roosevelt family’s New York City home from 1908 to 1942, at 47-49 East 65th Street.  Franklin and Eleanor made the house their New York City headquarters during FDR’s first campaign for the presidency, and converted it into the control center for planning the New Deal during the time between his election in November 1932 and his first inauguration in March 1933. Hunter College acquired the house from the family in 1942 after the death the President’s mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt. It became a treasured part of the college where students met in a clubs, worked on publications, and sponsored social events for the wider community. After 50 years of use, the house was closed in 1992. Hunter College restored the building and reopened it as the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute in 2010. The house hosts classes in human rights and public policy, free public programs in the evenings, conferences and meetings, and tours.

The New Deal in New York City was curated by Roosevelt Historian Deborah Gardner who also curated the popular 2016 exhibition, See How They Ran: FDR & His Opponents.  The installation was designed by Daniel Culkin of the Roosevelt House Media staff.  Generous assistance was provided by the operations staff of Roosevelt House and Hunter College, Gregory Nolan, and colleagues from the loan institutions.

The exhibition remains open for viewing through August 19th, Monday-Saturday, 10:00 am-4:00 PM, and during Saturday tours and special evening events. Guided tours of Roosevelt House are generally offered every other Saturday at 10:00 AM, Noon, and 2:00 PM, and by appointment for groups.  To make reservations, please consult the website:

May 11 Panel:

  • Owen Gutfreund, Associate Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning, Hunter College (moderator)
  • Marta Gutman, Professor of Architectural and Urban History, CCNY.
  • Ira Katznelson, Ruggles Professor of Architectural and Urban History, Columbia University.
  • William Leuchtenberg, William Rand Kenan Jr., Professor Emeritus of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Richard Walker, professor emeritus, department of Geography, University of California at Berkeley.