Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A New Deal for our National Zoo: The WPA created larger, and more natural areas for the zoo animals

Above: WPA-constructed waterfowl ponds at the National Zoo (Washington, DC), 1940. Photo from the annual report of the National Zoo, fiscal year 1940.

Between 1935 and 1940, WPA workers created larger and more naturalistic areas for the animals at the National Zoo (Washington, DC). For example, a bigger cage and outdoor roaming area was created for giraffes and four new waterfowl ponds were created, "much larger than the old waterfowl yard..." In addition to larger areas, WPA workers also created more naturalistic environments. Instead of relying on cages & bars exclusively, moats were created to separate animals from zoo visitors. This was done in several areas, including the bison, camel, bear, and outdoor reptile exhibits. (Information and quote from the Zoo's various annual reports between 1935 and 1940.)

The idea of replacing cages & bars with moats started with Uraus Eggenschweiler (or Urs Eggenschwyler), and others, in the late 1800s / early 1900s. From the outset of the New Deal, these new ideas were put into place. For example, the Final Report of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) noted: "The Illinois report [on emergency work-relief] tells at length of the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, built by the CWA and the Work Division [of FERA] according to the new zoo ideas of Uraus Eggenschweiler, who in Zurich was displeased with 'the paradox of portraying wildlife in cages and behind bars,' and who invented the 'concealed or partially concealed moat which presents an impassable barrier to the would-be escaping beasts, and no barrier to the eye of the observers'" (p. 95).

There will always be some controversy about the ethics of keeping animals in zoos; but at least the  New Deal helped create better day-to-day conditions for the animals.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

A New Deal for our National Zoo: The Small Mammal House

Above: The Small Mammal House at the National Zoo (Washington, DC). This building was constructed with funds from the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA). Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Above: The Small Mammal House under construction in 1936. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Above: A meerkat in the Small Mammal House. Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Above: One of two Pied Piper aluminum artworks in the Small Mammal House, created by Domenico Mortellito (1906-1994), while he was in the New Deal's Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP), 1936. Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Above: The second of Mortellito's two Pied Piper aluminum artworks. Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Above: A closer look at some of the detail on Mortellito's Pied Piper artwork. Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Above: At the entrance of the Small Mammal House is a bronze statue of an anteater. It was created by Erwin Springweiler (1896-1968), and most probably as a commissioned artwork of the New Deal's Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture (see, "Statue to be Given," The Evening Star (Washington, DC), March 24, 1938, p. A-2). Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

A New Deal for our National Zoo: A better environment for the birds

Above: The Bird House at the National Zoo (Washington, DC) was built in 1928, a few years before the New Deal. The date of this photograph is unknown. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Above: In 1937, this addition to the Bird House was completed, with funding from the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA). Photo from the National Zoo's fiscal year 1937 report.

Above: Currently, the Bird House is undergoing renovations for a new exhibit experience. It's unclear if the 1937 PWA expansion still exists and, if it does, if it will be preserved during the renovation. But it's interesting to note that the Zoo specifically says "our 1928 Bird House" in the sign above. Do they mention the age as a matter of historic pride, or as an indication that it's time for something new to replace the old? Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Above: A bird in the small mammal house, probably kept here because of the Bird House renovation. Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Above: There was also New Deal art for the National Zoo's Bird House, such as this dodo bird artwork, carved by Domenico Mortellito and possibly designed by Elizabeth Fulda, both of whom were working at the Zoo with funds from the New Deal's Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP), 1935-1937. Interestingly, Fulda also created artworks for the Bird House made out of zinc, but they've apparently been lost (see Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) No. DC-777-D, pp. 7-8). Photo from aforementioned HABS report.

Between 1933 and 1940, New Deal work programs made many improvements to the National Zoo's Bird House and surroundings. For example, the Civil Works Administration (CWA) installed a brick smokestack to replace a dilapidated metal smokestack, and also constructed a large flight cage for condors. The WPA constructed a pool and a waterfall, and also installed a water main and concrete walkways. And the Public Works Administration (PWA) provided funds for a Bird House addition (photo above), a structure 43 ft. x 133 ft. and containing 27 new exhibits. (Information from various annual reports of the National Zoo.)

Monday, June 17, 2019

A New Deal for our National Zoo: Exhibit background paintings

Above: Domenico Mortelitto (1906-1994) paints a landscape in the National Zoo's Elephant House (Washington, DC), ca. 1936-1937. The New Deal's Treasury Relief Art Project provided the funding for this art. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A background painting for a reptile exhibit at the National Zoo, created by Garnet Jex (1895-1979), while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A closer view of Jex's desert painting. Jex lived at 1214 16th Street NW, Washington, DC, when he painted this background.

Above: A background painting for a lizard exhibit at the National Zoo, created by J. Lee Funk, while the artist was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. At the time, Funk was living at 1726 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: An exhibit background for the "crocodile lizard" exhibit at the National Zoo, painted by Myrtle Siebenthal, while she was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Siebenthal was living at 3434 Oaklawn Terrace NW, Washington, DC, when she painted this artwork. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A background painting for a python exhibit at the National Zoo, by W.C. Kennedy, created while the artist was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Kennedy lived at 1505 Lamont Street NW, Washington, DC, at the time. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Friday, June 14, 2019

A New Deal for our National Zoo: Progress begins with the Civil Works Administration

Above: In one of the earliest New Deal projects at the National Zoo (Washington, DC) men in the Civil Works Administration (CWA) are seen "cutting through a point to eliminate a dangerous curve in a road at the National Zoological Park, November 1933. In the background is the original Buffalo Barn." Photo and description courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Above: A close-up of the CWA work crew.

Above: This photo, taken in January 1934, "shows Civil Works Administration laborers cutting a trench for laying a water main at the National Zoological Park (NZP). The location is on Adams Mill Road in order to provide fire protection near the office of the Director. The CWA was part of the New Deal plan to employ people during the Great Depression." Photo and description courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Above: A close-up of the CWA work crew. Note the unusual (by today's standards) "22 Mile Speed Limit" sign.

Above: "Civil Works Administration laborers building trails in the National Zoological Park and constructing a stone wall to hold the trail," January 1934. Photo and description courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Above: A close-up of the CWA work crew.

Above: Another CWA trail-making crew at the National Zoo, January 1934. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Above: A close-up of the work crew.

Above: CWA workers "construct a trail to the Bird House in the National Zoological Park in March 1934. The Bird House appears in background. Depression era [New Deal] programs allowed the Zoo to build and renovate many facilities." Photo and description courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Above: A close-up of one of the CWA workers, from the previous photo. From November 1933 through March 1934, the New Deal offered many jobs to improve the common good. Over 4 million unemployed Americans signed up.

Above: A model of the zoo, created around 1888. The Zoo's 1934 annual report tells of CWA workers "Revising... a topographic map of the National Zoological Park." This model might be the map referred to. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Above: A closer view of some of the structures and outdoor exhibits on the model.

In addition to the work seen above, the National Zoo's fiscal year 1934 report lists other work performed by CWA workers, such as improvements to the Bird House; replacing the foundation of a warehouse; landscape enhancements; better organization of the Zoo's library; assisting in the architectural design of the Small Mammal House; improvements to various animal exhibits; and "Minor construction, improvements, and repairs, consisting of painting, repairing, improving or replacing minor buildings, cages, fences, pools, pipes, drainage and electric lines, etc., and resurfacing, improving and extending roads, walks, trails, bridle paths, and grounds."

And the CWA was just the brief-lived beginning of the New Deal's great provision of funding and labor for our National Zoo. Soon, the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and other New Deal agencies would move in to do even more. I'll cover this in future blog posts.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A New Deal for our National Zoo: Early New Deal art for the Zoo

Above: A black & white photo of a (likely color) sign, created for the National Zoo, Washington, DC, by Klir Beck (1891-1966), while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Beck was living at 1707 21st Street NW, Washington, DC, at the time he created this sign. According to the Florida Keys Council of the Arts, Beck created "numerous woodcarvings" for the National Zoo. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A photo of "Animals modeled at the [National] Zoo." The models were created by Stephen H. Walker, while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, and living at 1304 Euclid Street NW, Washington, DC, ca. 1933-1934. Photo by Lewis P. Woltz, provided courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A closer look at the models on the left.

Above: A closer look at the models on the right.

Above: A closer look at the tag on the base of the llama model.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A New Deal for our National Zoo: Animal donations from New Deal policymakers and agencies

Above: In 1935, FDR donated a serval to the National Zoo in Washington, DC. The serval (shown above) is a wild cat native to Africa. Years later, it was recalled, "The late President Franklin D. Roosevelt once received a pair of African wild cats [a serval and a caracal] as a present - and put in a hurry call to [Dr. William Mann, Director of the National Zoo] to come and get them" ("'Mr. Noah' Retires From Animal Realm," The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi), January 7, 1957).  Photo by "111 Emergency," provided by Wikipedia, and used here under the CCA-2.0 Generic License.

From 1935 to 1941, several New Deal policymakers, New Deal agencies, and related folks donated animals to the National Zoo in Washington, DC. Here is a list, compiled from the Zoo's annual reports:

1935:

CCC Camp (Grottoes, Va.): 4 pine snakes.

James Farley, Postmaster General and Chair of the Democratic National Committee: 3 horned lizards and a box tortoise.

President Franklin Roosevelt: A serval and a caracal (wild cat species).

Utah State Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA): 3 mountain lions.

1936:

Eleanor Roosevelt: 9 alligators.

1937:

Julius Booker, CCC enrollee or staff person (Belvoir, Virginia): Copperhead snake.

1938:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt: 2 East African hedgehogs.

1939:

Congressman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.): Opossum. (Dingell was an ardent supporter of the New Deal.)

Mrs. E. Gruening: 2 sparrow hawks. (This may be the wife of Ernest Gruening, a New Deal policymaker who served in the Department of the Interior, led the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration, was governor of Alaska from 1939 to 1953, and then U.S. Senator from Alaska, from 1959 to 1969. 

1940:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt: 2 ring-necked doves.

U.S. Antarctic Service: Emperor penguin, 13 Adelie penguins, and a crab-eating seal. (The U.S. Antarctic Service was not precisely a New Deal agency, but had several interesting relationships with FDR and the New Deal - see my blog post, "FDR's New Deal for Antarctica, and today's Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution Project.")

1941:

U.S. Antarctic Service: 3 emperor penguins, 4 Gentoo penguins, 2 kelp gulls, and a giant fulmar (a.k.a. giant petrel - a bird species).

Above: These are some of the animals collected and donated by the U.S. Antarctic Service. Photo from the Zoo's fiscal year 1941 report.

When considering these donations, it's interesting to ponder if there are any offspring still existing at the Zoo. For example, are there any offspring from Eleanor Roosevelt's nine alligators? Probably not, but you never know...