New book documents Berkeley’s New Deal legacy

Berkeley Rose Garden by D.H. Parks
The Berkeley Rose Garden, a Works Progress Administration project, was completed in 1937. Photo: Daniel Parks

John Hinkel Park, Civic Center building, the Berkeley Rose Garden, much of Berkeley High School, Malcolm X school, the Brazilian Room Tilden Park — all these and many more projects came about because of the New Deal public works program.

A new book, Berkeley And The New Deal, by local author Harvey L. Smith, documents in words and more than 200 vintage images Berkeley’s 1930s and early 1940s New Deal structures and projects which have left us with a lasting legacy of utilitarian and beautiful infrastructure.

Smith will give a talk on his new book on Sunday, Nov. 9, 2-4 pm at the Berkeley Historical Society, 1931 Center St. Admission is free and wheelchair accessible.

BookTo a certain extent, these New Deal projects can be called “hidden history” because their history has been mostly ignored and forgotten. Understanding the impact of the New Deal on one city is only possible when viewed as a whole. Along with that history, Smith demonstrates the period’s relevance to today’s social, political, and economic realities.

Highlights of Berkeley And The New Deal include:


  • The new Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive is being constructed within a repurposed New Deal building.
  • Before becoming Berkeley’s first African-American teacher, Ruth Acty was an actress with the Federal Theatre Project.
  • The New Deal left Berkeley with an infrastructure of parks, public buildings, schools, libraries, and much more. Berkeley’s New Deal nexus lies at the center of the city: Civic Center Park.
  • Famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera lived for a short time in Berkeley. He also visited the UC Radiation Laboratory, hosted by famed physicist Ernest O. Lawrence
WPA workers and EBRPD staff put finishing touches to the roof of the Brazilian Room in Tilden Park. This photo is one of the many published in Berkeley and the New Deal by Harvey L. Smith. Photo: EBRPD

Smith is a New Deal expert who was graduate school instructor at UC Berkeley and taught in public middle and high schools.

Asked what impact he hopes his book will have, he said: “The story of Berkeley’s New Deal legacy represents a microcosm of what has been left to us in every community throughout the United States. I hope my book will awaken people to the value of the New Deal’s accomplishments and inspire others to write the New Deal history of their communities.”

Berkeley and The New Deal is available at local bookstores and from its publisher, Arcadia Publishing online, or at (888)-313-2665.

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