A New Deal for San Francisco: WPA San Francisco Scale Model

Pieces of San Francisco Scale Model, 1938.
San Francisco Dept of City Planning Records, San Francisco History Center.

San Francisco is returning to San Francisco! A 1:100 wood model of San Francisco was crafted by the Works Progress Administration and was last on display in City Hall in early 1942. This January 2019, the model is returning to San Francisco and will be exhibited in San Francisco Public Library (SFPL)’s branches and the Main – as well as the Public Knowledge Library at SFMOMA. Each library branch will host its corresponding section of the scale model, which will be an opportunity for public discussion and events under the project Take Part. Take Part is led by the artist team Bik Van der Pol, and it is part of Public Knowledge, an ongoing collaboration between SFMOMA and SFPL. Public Knowledge is a collaboration that focuses on the cultural impact of urban change and how knowledge is transforming in the digital age. It is funded by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In getting ready for Take Part, we created a timeline on the early history of the wood model:

May 6, 1935
Federal Works Agency Works Progress Administration (WPA) formed.

June 1935
In Architect & EngineerTimothy Pflueger is quoted "A large scale model of the entire city is indispensable in the study of the problem because of our hills and valleys."

February 17, 1936
City and County of San Francisco City Planning Commission submit WPA Project Proposal application. The initial application proposed building two models – one of San Francisco and the second of San Francisco and San Mateo Counties. Noted on the application, “Chief purpose is for planning studies relative to the formation of a New Master Plan of San Francisco, as well as various integral projects such as re-zoning, re-building, new highway development, etc. Will be housed by the City as a permanent public exhibit. Models to be exhibited at the San Francisco Bay Exposition.” The project was proposed with 402 laborers, 396 of whom were men and 6 of whom were women. The roles were classified as unskilled, intermediate, skilled, professional and technical, and superintendence.

January 13, 1938
San Francisco Chronicle* reports: Workers being assigned to a WPA project to make a wooden model of San Francisco to be exhibited at the New York exhibition in 1939.

February – March 1938
Letters sent to San Francisco architects to obtain original blueprints to build city model. Correspondence documentation located in San Francisco Department of Public Works Bureau of Engineering Records (SFH 458)

February - April 1938
Survey of San Francisco blocks with hand drawn documentation of each block with elevation. These block profiles are part of the San Francisco Department of City Planning Records (SFH 465). The key in the records was used in 2018 to reassemble the city model - and to make sense of all of the pieces. 
Block Profile, Block 3931, 1938.
San Francisco Dept of Public Works Bureau of Engineering Records, San Francisco History Center.
April 1938
Construction begins on San Francisco Scale Model.
WPA carpenters constructing base of San Francisco Scale Model, April 1938.
San Francisco Dept of City Planning Records, San Francisco History Center.

August 1938
San Francisco Department of Public Works vertical aerials shot. The aerials were used by the model assemblers to place the buildings in the correct locations.
Assemblage of San Francisco Scale Model with SFDPW aerial on wall, 1938.
San Francisco Dept of City Planning Records, San Francisco History Center.

February 18, 1939
A portion of the San Francisco Scale Model on display at the opening of the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in Redwood Empire Building.
One third of San Francisco Scale Model on view at Golden Gate International Exposition, 1939.
San Francisco Dept of City Planning Records, San Francisco History Center.

March 13, 1939
Popularity of model at the Fair is noted in the San Francisco Chronicle* with the need to find a permanent home for the model.
SF Chronicle, Mar 13, 1939


April 16, 1940
San Francisco model dedicated in City Hall. San Francisco model was on display in Room 160, Registration Bureau, in City Hall until beginning of 1942.
Installation of San Francisco Scale Model in City Hall, April 9, 1940.
San Francisco Dept of City Planning Records, San Francisco History Center.


*Use your San Francisco Public Library card to search full-text articles in the San Francisco Chronicle Historical database, 1865 - current to discover the articles on the San Francisco Scale Model as well as other WPA projects.

Images of the construction of the WPA San Francisco Scale Model on our Flickr account.

Here's a contemporary digital peek at the San Francisco Scale Model in its entirety, with thanks to David Rumsey.  





Comments

  1. Berdj Joseph RassamJune 28, 2019 at 7:57 AM

    The fact that a model of the city was developed almost 7 decades ago is one of those well kept secrets that most San Franciscans don't know.

    ReplyDelete

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