Yesterday my friend Carole and I went on a walk sponsored by the Berkeley Historical Society to look at some of the accomplishments of the New Deal in Berkeley. We met at Sather Gate at UC (yes, I was just at a demonstration there the other day) and went first to the former steam plant, a smallish brick building a few yards east of Sather Gate. When I was a kid it was the UC art gallery and I remember going on a field trip there with my class. On the east wall, which you can’t see from Sproul Plaza, are two fine mosaics of female figures representing the arts. Now this little old building is empty and the big new art gallery, which isn’t seismically safe, has to be replaced. I remember waltzing there with my mother when they had a Strauss waltz evening with a live orchestra. Heavenly except too crowded. Who knows, maybe heaven is too crowded. I wrote a little song about that.
         Home in the Sky, ©1990 by Nancy Schimmel, sung by Laurie Lewis on Sun, Sun Shine
Harvey Smith, the guy who was leading the walk in a “Toward a new New Deal” baseball cap and a t-shirt with the Time cover depicting Obama as FDR, was terrific. He’s been studying the New Deal for a long time, but also his remarks were lively and funny—and political. Indeed it is time for a new New Deal, with public support for the arts (I personally think single payer health care would be the greatest support the arts could have), infrastructure projects, green jobs. 
I learned some things I didn’t know—for instance that there was a project in the Bay Area to collect folk music from immigrant groups. A woman asked, “Was Malvina Reynolds involved in that?” I said, “No. She was in Omaha having me.” I was the authority on that bit. But now I want to know what they collected and where it is. Harvey had a binder with pictures of some people involved in those days and some of the projects we didn’t see—the Berkeley Rose Garden, for instance. And this poster, which he said I could find on the internet, and I did.


As we walked west through campus past the old music building I found that one of the women on the walk had been at Cal for a few of the years I was there and we had both been in the University Chorus when we sang the Ode to Joy for the San Francisco Symphony’s performance of Beethoven’s Ninth. We both remembered Enrico Jorda saying “It as an ode to JOY! Sing with JOY!” and “Don’t look at the music!” 
Then on to the civic center to look at the Berkeley Community Theater with its bas relief decorations, the present city hall which was built during the New Deal as the western office of the Farm Security Administration, and Civic Center Park. What caught our eye, though, was this sign:
       Photo by Carole Leita
Carole ran in and caught this; things were just starting up. More later.

We walked about six blocks north to Whittier Arts Magnet Elementary School, built with federal money during the depression, complete with art deco trim. I learned that California had more WPA-built schools than any other state, mainly because the 1933 earthquake (which my mother was in) destroyed all the schools in Long Beach and damaged many in the surrounding area, and they all had to be rebuilt. Harvey finished the walk in the Poetry Garden at the Arts Magnet School, which is across the street from the site of the cottage where Alan Ginsberg wrote part of “Howl.” There’s a big bland apartment house there now, wouldn’t you know it. There Harvey talked about the dismantling of much of the New Deal under Reagan, Clinton (alas) and Bush. The regulations put in place to prevent another Great Depression were weakened and lo, we are having the “Great Recession” or whatever this is. He asked if we knew what the massive government construction in California in the eighties and nineties was? A woman said, “Prisons,” and Harvey said, “Right.”
We’ll end on an up note here. Carole called her partner and we all met for Thai food from the booths at the farmers’ market, then they shopped while I visited the juggling and unicycle festival. Kids and grown-ups on unicycles short and tall, people juggling clubs and bouncing balls, kids chasing balls for them. Someone had put up a slack rope between two trees and people were juggling on it. The high point was two guys juggling and passing clubs, one on a tall unicycle and one on the slack rope. I didn’t have a camera. More juggling and unicycling today till five, but I’ll be watching a friend’s kid in an ice-skating competition in Oakland, a perfect activity for what’s shaping up to be another hot day.
©2009 by Nancy Schimmel
1 Comment Manage Comments for this Entry
What a nice trip with you Nancy. I take a walk regularly along Sausal Creek near Park Blvd in Oakland and there is a WPA wall that allowed for some nice paths in the past. They're falling down now which may be good and not good. Anyway. I always feel connected to my forebearers (is that how you spell it?) when I walk there.

It was nice to see you Sunday. It meant a lot to me that you and Claudia were there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009 - 09:44 PM
Mosaic mural on the old art gallery at UC Berkeley (detail).
Sunday, September 20, 2009