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To Better The Living Conditions Of All Men: PWA Buildings in Shreveport
As part of the New Deal of 1933, the Public Works Administration (PWA) authorized and financed construction of over 1,700 Public Building projects between 1933 and 1939. The ideology behind this massive building boom was simple: to better the living conditions of all men. To this end, communities across the Unites States were able to improve their infrastructure via new schools, courthouses, post offices, fire stations, hospitals, bridges, dams and much more.
Louisiana received a fair share of these projects, including the United States Marine Hospital, National Leprosarium in Carville, billed as “…the best equipped leper colony in the world.” In Shreveport, living conditions were bettered by four PWA projects: a Fire Station, Farmers Market, Municipal Incinerator (all from 1935), and the Louisiana State Exhibit Building (1938).
The Exhibit Building – now known as the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum – is the only building to survive in its original condition. The Farmers Market on Greenwood Road “still exists – though obscured by a horrible addition” according to Kenney Koonce. My research cannot verify the 1935 Fire Station demolition. It might still serve under a radically altered facade. I do know that the Municipal Incinerator – Shreveport’s most notable Modern structure – was razed in 1974.
The Municipal Incinerator by Jones, Roessle, Olschner and (designed by Samuel G.) Wiener was the first major American building of its kind where complete design and supervision service was provided by a firm of architects. Project 3068 (La.) was selected as one of the buildings illustrated in the United States Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition of 1937, as well as a traveling exhibition organized by the Museum of Modern Art.
American historian Lewis Mumford sang the praises of the much-loved Incinerator “…if I had any gold medals to distribute, I would quickly pin one on Jones, Roessle, Olschner and Wiener for their Municipal Incinerator at Shreveport, Louisiana. This is one of the best examples of the rational use of the ribbon window and the overhanging building…that I have come across — an excellent design, with no vulgar attempts at prettifying a form that needs no additions.” High praise indeed for a building designed to address “a serious menace to health and falling property values caused by the rapidly growing city of Shreveport…”
The Farmers Market was built “…with the idea that it may ultimately develop into a cooperative venture for the benefit of the local farmers.” This socialist utopia never took root in the fertile Caddo Parish soil, but that dream and spirit live on at the Shreveport Farmers’ Market.
The Louisiana State Exhibit Museum remains the sole PWA project in Caddo Parish in its original state. The LSEM is equally famous as an exceptional example of Streamline Moderne architecture by Edward F. Neild, D. A. Somdal and Ed F. Neild, Jr., and for the massive and lovingly restored Conrad Albrizio fresco. The opulent materials employed in the construction – marble, granite, hand-cut limestone and polished aluminum – belie the 1938 construction cost of $515, 787 combined with a project cost of $553,176.
We are fortunately able to still enjoy some of the Public Works created from the chaos of the Great Depression, those living monuments to the spirit of working together for the betterment of all. Whether you’re snacking on beignets in the French Market or showing your children Duncan Ferguson’s embedded topographical map at the LSEM, please remember President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words from July 8, 1938: “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us.”
Page reproductions from C. W. Short and R. Stanley-Brown: PUBLIC BUILDINGS (A Survey Of Architecture Of Projects Constructed By Federal And Other Governmental Bodies Between The Years 1933 And 1939 With The Assistance Of The Public Works Administration). Washington, D. C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1939. Courtesy of modernism101.com