The WPA Model of San Francisco and the Long History of Little Cities | Mechanics' Institute

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The WPA Model of San Francisco and the Long History of Little Cities
With Gray Brechin and Patrick Ellis

Tuesday, April 9, 2019 - 12:00pm

photograph of the model

The Works Progress Administration employed 300 people to construct an enormous wooden relief model of San Francisco which offers a 3-D freeze-frame of what the city looked like just before Pearl Harbor. The Dutch artist couple Bik Van der Pol has brought the model back from deep storage to encourage a civic conversation about the city's past, present, and future. But what about the pre-history of the model city? In the second half of this talk, Patrick Ellis turns to the various uses of such cities throughout time, from historic French military artifact, to their boom years as spectacles in the Balloon Age, to their ultimate adoption by World's Fairs. The multiple historic uses of the model city are reflected, in miniature, by the various purposes that the WPA model of San Francisco served over its civic lifetime.


Dr. Gray Brechin is the Project Scholar of the Living New Deal hosted by the U.C. Berkeley Department of Geography. He is the author of Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin

Patrick Ellis (PhD, Berkeley) is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His book project, Aeroscopics: Media Archaeology of the Bird's-Eye View (forthcoming from University of California Press) provides a history of aerial viewing in the era prior to commonplace flight. His interests include the histories of cartography, film, and technology, and how these subjects intersect. He has published in The British Journal for the History of Science, Cinema Journal, and Early Popular Visual Culture. For the leading journal for the history of cartography, Imago Mundi, he wrote about the long history of model cities.


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