Cleveland and the WPA

By Ron Davidson, Host Committee member

View of a portion of a WPA-sponsored mosaic by W. LeRoy Flint and Henry Olmer that was placed at the Valleyview Homes public housing project, in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, in 1940. In 2004, the work was preserved and restored when the Valleyview Homes were demolished, and placed in the new Tremont Pointe Apartments on the same site (photo courtesy of Ron Davidson)
View of a portion of a WPA-sponsored mosaic by W. LeRoy Flint and Henry Olmer that was placed at the Valleyview Homes public housing project, in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, in 1940. In 2004, the work was preserved and restored when the Valleyview Homes were demolished, and placed in the new Tremont Pointe Apartments on the same site (photo courtesy of Ron Davidson)

It might be obvious to note that Cleveland has a rich history, but for students of the Great Depression era, its resources are especially inspiring. Both art and history were greatly enhanced during that time.

Did you know that Cleveland was a birthplace (of sorts) of the Historical Records Survey of the WPA? Although this Depression-era work-relief program (which gave jobs to unemployed archivists and historians) was a Federal project, much of its inspiration and philosophical support derived from the ideas of a local professor, Robert Binkley of Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University). The Annals of Cleveland – an annotated index of early Cleveland newspapers that was a joint project of the Historical Records Survey, the Cleveland Public Library, and the Cuyahoga County Recorder’s office – continues to be an invaluable resource for the history of Cleveland and its people. Hard copies of the Annals are available at the Cleveland Public Library and many local academic libraries. Digital copies are also available, with direct links from many genealogy and history sites, including Ancestry.com, Access Genealogy (which links to the Digital Case repository at CWRU), and the HathiTrust

Clevelanders also are proud of their public art, particularly the products of the Depression era, and have taken efforts to preserve and display works throughout the community. You can find many examples of WPA art in the community: the art collection at the Cleveland Public Library contains many Depression-era works; murals and sculptures at the site of the former Valleyview Homes in the Tremont neighborhood were preserved and restored, and can be seen around the new Tremont Pointe homes on the site, and at Cleveland State University; the Oxford Elementary School in Cleveland Heights has proudly preserved its WPA art.

The spirit of community art in Cleveland continues today.

 

Additional Resources

Work Projects Administration. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Case Western Reserve University.

Concrete cast sculptures of animals were placed around the Valleyview Homes neighborhood as part of the WPA Arts project in 1940. These statues were preserved in 2004, and now greet visitors at the Tremont Pointe Apartments administration building (photo courtesy of Ron Davidson)
Concrete cast sculptures of animals were placed around the Valleyview Homes neighborhood as part of the WPA Arts project in 1940. These statues were preserved in 2004, and now greet visitors at the Tremont Pointe Apartments administration building (photo courtesy of Ron Davidson)
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