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City Publishing Company


On the whole, the New Deal was a good deal for California, and San Francisco got the best of the bargain. While some of the more steadfast members of the Pacific Union Club sat around hissing at the very sound of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's voice resonating from their mahogany radio cabinets, the braintrusters of FDR's famous Works Progress Administration (WPA) were busy scouting Coit Tower as the site for the first federally assisted artist's project in American history. Coit Tower was but the first - and the first controversial - of an impressive, unprecedented public art-public works program that put a battallion of talented sculptors and artists to work beautifying and decorating the city like so many elves in a vast Santa's workshop. These uniquely fun and fabulous years of great public art spanned the Depression grief and war horror of the decade from roughly 1933 to 1943.

This special issue of City is dedicated to celebrating, illuminating and appraising the art of the WPA in San Francisco.

The Art treasures of the WPA are a heritage of which the Bay Area can justly be proud but which, in many instances, lie fallow and forgotten in this bicentennial year, like some beautiful child's china plate tucked away in the dusty pantry of memory.

If this commemorative issue has a purpose beyond the quite legitimate exercise of historiography, it is to relate this treasured and tumultuous and exciting period of high public art to the present and the future of the public arts in San Francisco.

The artistic research for this issue is the result of a two-year study of New Deal Art in California conducted under the auspices of the University of Santa Clara de Saisset Art Gallery and Museum.

The prime movers in this ambitious survey of federally sponsored visual art in California were de Saisset Director Lydia Modi Vitale, New Deal Art Authority Dr. Francis V. O'Connor and Dr. Steven M. Gelber, assistant professor of history at Santa Clara and the author of the leading essay in this issue. The research was funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the California Art Commission. The de Saisset Gallery's impressive exhibition of California's Depression art opened January 16 and will continue through mid-June. There is no admission charge.


Table of Contents for the Pictorial History - Pages 16-44 of the City of San Francisco, February 4, 1976


20 The WPA and the Great Coit Tower Controversy: The Artists Look Back

24 The Irony of San Francisco's "Commie Art" An Artistic and Political Appraisal by Steven Gelber .

42 Benny Bufano's Boffo WPA Years

44 Guide to Bay Area WPA Art



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