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August 12, 2009 > History: The New Deal in Hayward

History: The New Deal in Hayward

In the last year, we have heard the popular press comparing our current economic situation to that of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Indeed, there are many similarities between then and now - a high unemployment rate, an unstable market, many home foreclosures - but the depression of the 1930s was far worse than what we have been going through.

The Great Depression began with the stock market collapse in October 1929 and hit its worst point in late 1932 to early 1933. It took the 1933 election of Franklin D. Roosevelt to the presidency to begin the road to recovery and still the country did not fully recover until World War II. President Roosevelt immediately began establishing a series of federally funded programs to help put people across the country back to work and begin stabilizing the economy. These programs are collectively known as the "New Deal."

A series of agencies administered the programs and money allotted to each. These agencies included the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Public Works Administration (PWA), and Farm Security Administration (FSA) among many others. New Deal federal programs had state and local offices that helped determine need on a local level.

For a primarily agricultural community, Hayward managed to survive the depression fairly well. The population throughout the 1930s averaged around 6,000 people though that number does not include transient residents who came through town looking for work and only stayed a short while. The town had significant unemployment and general loss of income like most places but the two major employers in the area, canneries of Hunt Brothers and California Conserving Company, maintained operations throughout the decade (though the bulk of their workforce was seasonal). The city received its fair share of New Deal project money through various agencies that helped stimulate the local economy and enable the city to begin or complete many projects that had been planned for some time.

One of the largest projects in town was the construction of the Hayward Plunge, the city's municipal pool, in 1935. WPA provided about 30% of the money needed for its construction. The city donated land in Memorial Park and a bond measure supplied the rest of the money. More than 2500 people attended the dedication ceremony on August 21, 1936. As the Roosevelt administration intended, this construction project put local men to work and, in little more than a year, the pool collected over a million dollars in admission fees, proving its popularity in town and the success of WPA programs to help stimulate the economy.

A large percentage of WPA money that came into town went to the Hayward School District. The district received its initial funds in July 1935 for repair work on the playgrounds at Highland and Bret Harte Schools. These projects provided jobs for twenty-eight men for two months. They were paid about 62 cents an hour. Over the succeeding years, the district would receive several hundred thousand dollars more for a variety of projects, large and small.

The school district usually put in some money of its own, but without the seed money from WPA, projects at the schools would never have been started. One of the most expensive was the rebuilding of John Muir School at the corner of Orchard Avenue and Soto Street. The school burned down in April 1935 and by July of that year, WPA agreed to provide 80% of the cost to rebuild it. A year and a half later, the new, larger, and modern school was dedicated having employed as many as a hundred men during construction.

Additional school district projects included: grading of playgrounds, plantings and general gardening, painting and exterior repair work at most of the schools, lights installed on the athletic field at Bret Harte and a new auditorium/gymnasium and amphitheater, Burbank School received a new auditorium, and Markham School got new handball courts. Hayward Union High School received a fresh coat of paint, handball courts, new turf, sprinklers, bleachers on the athletic field, a variety of ground repairs, and a new footbridge across the creek. Between 1935 and 1938 alone, 24 projects were completed among the district's schools.

WPA money also went toward other projects in town such as the completion of an underpass on Jackson Street as well as many road projects - widening, grading, and paving throughout the area, a large storm sewer system to prevent flooding in west Hayward and a smaller one in north Hayward, and a cabin was built for youth programs to use at Memorial Park. Countless other programs were subsidized with WPA money throughout the city. A lasting legacy of the many WPA funded projects is a mural that hangs in the lobby of the Bradford Station Post Office on C Street. Painted by artist Tom Lewis as part of a federally funded program to employ artists, the mural, entitled "Rural Landscape" was completed in 1938. It is one of many such murals painted by artists of such well-known stature as Maynard Dixon that still hang in post offices throughout the state.

The U.S. entry into World War II helped the country shake off the last of the depression. Focused on war production and the need for workers with so many men off to war meant just about everyone could find a well-paying job. However, the echo of those lean years remains throughout our community to this day in the physical remains of these many New Deal era projects.

Special thanks to historian Pierre Fortayon for his contributions to this article.

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