The New Deal in Ann Arbor

Of the many state and federal aid programs during the remainder of the decade, the Public Works Administration had the greatest impact on Ann Arbor. Continuing the pattern of municipal work relief, PWA funds allowed the city to undertake far-reaching public improvements such as the sewage treatment plant, the water softening plant, and miles of connecting sewers and drains. A brick terminal containing office space was added to the airport and Ann Arbor High School was expanded. City council proceedings were indexed and the city hall and several school buildings were decorated with murals.

The most popular contribution, however, was the improvement of parks in the city and of those along the Huron River. A resurfaced Huron River Drive led motorists to new picnic tables, swings, baseball diamonds, and grassy clearings that had been added to the parks between Dexter and Ypsilanti. When dam repairs lowered the water level, the Municipal Beach was cleared for safer swimming; a rock island, a new dock, and an expanded parking lot were also added.

In other federal programs, the National Youth Administration supported young people who worked in the University museums and libraries cataloging insect collections or describing historical manuscripts. Five nursery schools were maintained with federal assistance. Moreover, WPA artists contributed two Black pumas to the University's Museum.

Recreation was another form of relief. In Ann Arbor there were many opportunities for escaping the daily routine of working or looking for work. Athletic teams attracted loyal crowds and encouraged fierce rivalries. The University football team led by Coach Harry Kipke and Athletic Director Fielding Yost accumulated four Big Ten and two national championships between 1929 and 1933. Every football Saturday, out-of-town supporters flocked through Ann Arbor's streets, stores, and restaurants before and after the games. The three high schools also boasted of winning teams: Ann Arbor High School in track, University High School in basketball, and St. Thomas High School in football. In addition, local business and civic groups sponsored team competition in baseball, basketball, golf, bowling, and hockey. One's dinner might be meatless or the paycheck might be late, but if "the team" won, few cared.

In Ann Arbor sports careers started early. From choosing up sides in neighborhood baseball games to learning new skills in the city recreation program, youths of all ages practiced and dreamed of becoming the Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth of the next generation. For young Barney Oldfields, the annual soap box derby down Broadway Hill culminated months of exacting preparations.

Refurbished by continual work-relief projects, the parks in the city and along the Huron River became centers of recreation and leisure. Skating and tobogganing were popular in the winter; swimming at the Municipal Beach and canoeing over the Delhi rapids were favorite summer diversions. Fishermen whiled away the long depression days along the river banks and filled the evenings with fish stories. Annual picnics of business or civic groups featured three-legged races, shoe kicking competition, and "human pump" contests. Music lovers applauded the Ann Arbor Civic Orchestra and local bands during summer concerts in the Orchestra Shell, a WPA project in West Park.

During the unprecedented heat waves of the 1930's, which ruined farming throughout the midwest and resulted in mounting death tolls, Ann Arbor residents found ways to beat high temperatures. Family picnics freed mother from the stove and transformed leftovers into a celebration. Ice cream was a special treat whether eaten at the neighborhood Millers or delivered by Wursters. Adults envied the children who cooled off in wash tubs filled by using the garden hose.

The summer scorchers were equalled only by the winter blizzards. Snow drifts blocked country roads and city traffic was stilled. More mobile than cars, horsedrawn plows continued to clear the sidewalks throughout most of the decade. University students sculptured gigantic snow figures along fraternity row.

Ann Arbor's traditional cultural and entertainment activities provided relief from the depression. Movie houses showed Charlie Chaplin, W. C. Fields, Tyrone Power, and Mary Astor. The Saturday morning "Wheaties" program attracted crowds of children to watch cartoons and the latest westerns and comedies. Theater goers could choose among traditional plays at the Ann Arbor Civic Theater, the modern playwrights produced by the University's theater groups, or the revivals of eighteenth-century classics by the amateur Nell Gwyn group. Musicals were performed by the Union Opera, by neighborhood groups, and by high school students. The world's best musical artists came to Ann Arbor during the Choral Union series and the May Festival. In almost every home, radios provided up-to-date national and world news reports as well as programs from the University featuring music classes and extension courses.