By Anne Cheek La Rose
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a New Deal federal program that kept mostly unskilled workers employed during the Great Depression. The program was in effect from April 1935 to June 1943, and overall employed almost 8 million men, women, and children. At its peak in 1938, 3.3 million were employed.
All across America, public works projects such as the construction of bridges, roads, and structures were carried out. In a much smaller project called Federal Project Number One, musicians, artists, writers, actors, and directors were employed in large scale projects. Like all cities large and small, Inglewood benefitted from the WPA. From 1937 to 1940, Inglewood had four WPA projects created.
1935 saw the construction of our main Post office on Hillcrest. As with many cities, the structure itself was a New Deal project. In addition to providing construction jobs, there were two artworks incorporated into the Post office that provided jobs for three Los Angeles area artists.
Gordon Newell and Sherry Peticolas partnered to sculpt California wildlife of lion, buffalo, ram, and bear seen in a horizontal band above the entrance. The pair also has work in three more post offices around Los Angeles. Newell was chosen to sculpt one of the six great astronomers seen in the obelisk outside the Griffith Observatory. Archibald Garner designed the obelisk.
Inside the Post office one can find the carved mahogany panels of “The Centinela Springs”, a scene of early California residents. This is the creation of Archibald Garner. In E-mail exchanges with his son, I’ve learned that Garner’s original design was larger than the WPA commission was awarding for the work. Rather than compromise his vision, Garner purchased the additional material cost out of his own pocket. Additionally, his studio was not large enough to house the panels as he worked, so the carving was done in his friend, Gordon Newell’s studio.
To further document the Centinela Springs as an integral part of our history, Archibald Garner was also commissioned to create the water fountain monument at the outcropping of the springs in then Centinela Park, now Vincent Park. The fountain was originally designed to provide water for adults, children, and dogs. A second monument was created for the re-dedication of the Centinela Springs in 1970. It is in a classic style that belies its tender age.
Garner chose granite for his sculpture. It is made of chunks of stone of various sizes, placed irregularly to form a low column with a polished end showing here and there to add interest. There are three granite plaques in the fountain. They speak to the water of the springs, the dedication of the fountain to the people, and dedication. The Centinela Springs monument was dedicated on October 9, 1939, and is California State Landmark #363. The fountain has not worked for years and the apparatus has been removed. Inglewood Historic Preservation Alliance (IHPA) is working to have both monuments cleaned, conserved, and the fountain restored.
The fourth of our WPA projects is the 1940 “History of Transportation” mural by another well-known Southern California artist, Helen Lundeberg. Lundeberg’s works can be seen across metro Los Angeles, including the murals in Patriot Hall in Downtown LA.
Originally installed on the edge of Vincent Park facing Florence, it suffered years of weathering, neglect, and damage from auto accidents and graffiti. Our mural was one of the largest, if not the largest, work commissioned by the WPA. It is 240 ft long with 60 panels. Because of the labor-intensive process used – petrachrome, stone of various colors was crushed and set in mortar of the same color to mimic textures – many found work on the mural.
A grassroots organization of citizens worked with the city to rescue, restore, and re-site the mural. The rededication took place August 11, 2007 at the new location in the heart of Inglewood. The restoration was recognized with a Governor’s Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation in 2009. The mural is listed on the California Register of Historical Resources.