Photograph of Gray Brechin, 2007 Welcome to Gray Brechin’s official website

Dr. Gray Brechin is an historical geographer, the author of Imperial San Francisco, a frequent radio and television guest, and a popular public speaker. He is currently a visiting scholar in the U.C. Berkeley Department of Geography and founder and project scholar of the Living New Deal Project.

» About Gray Brechin & contact information

In the News

Groundwater Zero: We’re Worried About the Drought. But Not as Worried as We Should Be

May 21, 2015
California Magazine
Interview with Gray Brechin discussing the drought and its consequences for California's future.

Brechin Receives Preservation Citation

Dec 27, 2013
Living New Deal founder Gray Brechin has been honored by the California Preservation Association with its annual President’s Award.  The Board of Directors selected Dr. Brechin for his work as an author and advocate, and, in particular, his work advocating for the protection of U.S. Post Offices being sold off across the country –

Mill Valley man, grandson of Franklin Delano Roosevelt talks about New Deal

Marin Independent Journal, Dec 16, 2013
When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted his New Deal programs in the 1930s, John Boettiger, of Mill Valley, was just a baby and knew the president as "Papa."

The plot to kill the U.S. Postal Service

SF Gate, Dec 16, 2013
No other nation in the world possesses the cultural heritage so nobly embodied in America's prewar post offices and the New Deal works of art they often contain.

The fading genius of the US post office

The Guardian U.K., Aug 2, 2011
The superb post offices of the New Deal era are a monument to America's democratic ethos. Now we’re selling off FDR's legacy.

New Deal’s legacy in danger of being ruined

San Francisco Chronicle, Mar 27, 2011

Decades-old model of S.F. needs a home

San Francisco Chronicle, Feb 26, 2011

Old glories of New Deal still chime in a time of crisis

The Guardian U.K., Mar 10, 2010

Articles & Publications

Read Gray’s articles from publications including Antipode, The New York Times, and Focus.

Recent POSTS:

“Necessitous Men Are Not Free Men” Bridging Ruskin’s Thought and the New Deal

Download the PDF.

The Guttering Promise of Public Education

U.C. Berkeley Department of Geography Commencement Address, May 16, 2009

Recent articles on the Web:

“We’re all Venice now”

MarkCrispinMiller.com, Nov 5, 2012
Three days after superstorm Sandy devastated New York CIty and New Jersey, an exceptionally high tide flooded nearly 60% of Venice but few outside its region noticed.

New Deal Civil Works Project Remembered in Berkeley

The Berkeley Daily Planet, Feb 11, 2009

Two Views of the New Deal: The Pitfall of Low Expectations

San Francisco Chronicle, Dec 19, 2008

News Analysis: Public Relations (Again) Trumps Public Safety at UC Berkeley

The Berkeley Daily Planet, Oct 16, 2008

Excavating The Buried Civilization of Roosevelt’s New Deal

Newgeography.com, Aug 13, 2008

photo of Works Progress Administration plaque

Forgotten Foundation: The New Deal for Bay Area Parks

Bay Nature, Jan-Mar 2008

photo of workers building The Mountain Theater at Mount Tamalpais

Upcoming Speaking Appearances

July 23, 2015 "PPIE Citywide Celebration at Mechanics’ Instituter"

6:00 pm

The Grand Design: PPIE and the “City Within A City” - Panel discussion moderated by Laura A. Ackley, author of San Francisco’s Jewel City: The Pan Pacific Exposition of 1915, with Gray Brechin, Kerry Laitala, Therese Poletti and Christopher VerPlanck .

Architectural historians, writers, and artists will discuss the collaboration of Edward Bennett and the Exposition’s architectural committee whose vision of the Block Plan manifested the design of the PPIE. Innovation, fantasy and technology created this “city within a city” which included great architecture, urban design, and leaps of the imagination. The influences of this model city on San Francisco’s development will be brought into perspective.

July 22, 2015 “In the Age of Smart Growth, a Look Back at the 1915 Hegemann Plan for Berkeley”

Hillside Club, Berkeley 7:30 PM

Conventional orthodoxy—often referred to as “Smart Growth”—says that in order to achieve urban “vibrancy,” communities should fill their downtowns with high-rise residential towers and line their arterial streets with mid-rise, wall-to-wall apartment buildings above ground-floor commercial spaces. Can Berkeley’s city planning history show another way? Berkeley is one of the most densely populated cities in the United States with more than 10,000 residents per square mile, but has achieved this with: most buildings rising only one to three stories and surrounded by actual (not polemical) “green”: low rise but successful commercial avenues: sunlight, air, and views widely available, not just for the wealthy.

Join us on June 24 and July 22 for a two-part discussion of how Berkeley got to this point, and where we might go next. Against the backdrop of early Hillside Club efforts to maintain and enhance the natural beauty of the Berkeley hillside, we will look at Berkeley’s planning past, including the largely forgotten “Hegemann Plan” of 1913-15 which recommended a waterfront park, development of a civic center, and many farsighted neighborhood improvements for Berkeley and Oakland. The discussion leader on June 24 will be Steven Finacom, past president of the Berkeley Historical Society and a frequent writer on local history and preservation issues. At the July 22 Round Table the topic will continue, with noted author and geographer Gray Brechin as discussion leader.

Participants are encouraged to take an advance look at the Hegemann plan and the related Burnham plan for San Francisco. Go to Google Books online and search for “Hegemann plan, formerly titled “Report on a City Plan for the Municipalities of Oakland and Berkeley;” it should be one of the first links to appear. Additionally, google Burnham Plan San Francisco” for short articles on this 1905 project. Short online readings on the “Garden City” and City Beautiful” planning movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that are relevant to the development of the Burnham and Hegemann plans can be found here:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_city_movement, xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/citybeautiful/city.html

July 19, 2015 "Building Bridges and Labor Maritime History Boat Tour"

With members of the Committee to Save the Berkeley Post Office
5:45 pm boarding, 6:00 pm departure (see below)
San Francisco, Pier 41—left of Pier 39 near outside ticket booth

Join LaborFest again this year when the ILWU-IBU/MMP crew takes us out on the bay to enjoy the beauty of the San Francisco Bay. We will learn about the San Francisco General Strike, Maritime Strike, how unions built the bridges and how they keep the bay clean. We honor the workers who built the bridges.

Labor process photographer Joseph Blum will talk about the building of the new Eastern Span of the Bay Bridge. Gray Brechin and Harvey Smith will talk about the history of the WPA and how it has shaped the Bay Area. There will be speakers about ongoing union struggles for worker rights and what we can do to support these workers. We will also have labor music from the US and around the world including Chinese migrant workers musicians.

You can’t afford to miss this great time on the bay.

Boat leaves promptly at 6:00 pm. Please arrive 30 minutes before the departure time. Tour lasts 3 hours. A complimentary meal will be provided, however, if you are on a special diet, please bring your own food.
(Sorry, we do not take any special orders for food.)

To make your reservation:
By E-mail:
 laborfest@laborfest.net
Or call: (415) 642-8066
and leave (1) your name, (2) phone number and (3)number of people in your party. (We prefer e-mail.)
We will contact you to confirm your reservation. Then, you should mail a check ($45/person, children under 6 - free, 6 to 12 $25) to LaborFest, P.O.Box 40983, San Francisco, CA 94140.

We don’t send out tickets, but we will either e-mail or call you back to let you know that we received your check, and as soon as we receive your check, your reservation will be confirmed. You will get your ticket at the pier before you get on the boat.

We will be gathering to the left of Pier 39, toward Pier 41 (Blue & Gold Fleet). Please be there at least 30 minutes before departure time in order to go through paper work. We expect the tickets to be sold out quickly, so please make your reservation early.


July 13, 2015 "A Victory in the Fight to Save Our Historic Post Offices"

With members of the Committee to Save the Berkeley Post Office
7:00 pm (Free)
San Francisco, Canessa Gallery
708 Montgomery Street

The U.S. Postal Service, now headed by those favoring privatization, is closing and selling off many post offices listed on the National Register of Historic Places, reducing postal services and cutting public sector union jobs. Many of these historic post offices have murals and art created during the New Deal. The City of Berkeley, however, prevailed in federal court saving the historic post office building and setting a precedent for others. The case promises to save union jobs by requiring the USPS to follow the law. Come hear the story of how a spirited group of Berkeley residents set a national precedent.

Citizens to Save the Berkeley Post Office fought for their historic building and art for three years. They made the nation aware of the issue with articles in the New York Times, theWashington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.
For information: harveysmithberkeley@yahoo.com or call 510-684-0414

July 12, 2015 "New Deal Bus Tour for LaborFest"

WPA Bus Tour
With Gray Brechin & Harvey Smith
10:00 am – 3:00 pm

Join Gray Brechin and Harvey Smith as they travel through history on a bus tour of sites built by the New Deal’s “alphabet soup” agencies. You will learn about the major contribution government-paid workers made during the depression era New Deal programs. Gray and Harvey will discuss the art, architecture and social programs that effectively dealt with the period’s economic meltdown in contrast with today’s response. Please be aware that the tour will take about 5 hours depending on the traffic and the discussions.
Meet in front of Bill Graham Auditorium, between City Hall and the Main Library (99 Grove, SF Civic Center).

Reservation required:
Send e-mail: laborfest@laborfest.net or call: (415) 642-8066, and leave your name, number of reservations and phone number (this is to let you know that we have space for your reservation and contact you in case of any changes.)
Make reservation, then send check ($25/person) to: LaborFest, P.O. Box 40983, SF, CA 94140
Please bring your own lunch. For those who can’t bring one, we will have sandwiches and drinks on the bus for a small cost. Bus will return to Civic Center.
Tour lasts about 5 hours.

July 2, 2015 "Birth of the United Nations”

San Francisco, Main Library 6:00 – 7:00

June 25, 2015 “Follow the Money: That Happened to the Comstock Lode Fortunes?”

Carson City, Nevada State Museum 6:30 – 7:30

June 24, 2015 “In the Age of Smart Growth, a Look Back at the 1915 Hegemann Plan for Berkeley”

Hillside Club, Berkeley 7:30 PM

Conventional orthodoxy—often referred to as “Smart Growth”—says that in order to achieve urban “vibrancy,” communities should fill their downtowns with high-rise residential towers and line their arterial streets with mid-rise, wall-to-wall apartment buildings above ground-floor commercial spaces. Can Berkeley’s city planning history show another way? Berkeley is one of the most densely populated cities in the United States with more than 10,000 residents per square mile, but has achieved this with: most buildings rising only one to three stories and surrounded by actual (not polemical) “green”: low rise but successful commercial avenues: sunlight, air, and views widely available, not just for the wealthy.

Join us on June 24 and July 22 for a two-part discussion of how Berkeley got to this point, and where we might go next. Against the backdrop of early Hillside Club efforts to maintain and enhance the natural beauty of the Berkeley hillside, we will look at Berkeley’s planning past, including the largely forgotten “Hegemann Plan” of 1913-15 which recommended a waterfront park, development of a civic center, and many farsighted neighborhood improvements for Berkeley and Oakland. The discussion leader on June 24 will be Steven Finacom, past president of the Berkeley Historical Society and a frequent writer on local history and preservation issues. At the July 22 Round Table the topic will continue, with noted author and geographer Gray Brechin as discussion leader.

Participants are encouraged to take an advance look at the Hegemann plan and the related Burnham plan for San Francisco. Go to Google Books online and search for “Hegemann plan, formerly titled “Report on a City Plan for the Municipalities of Oakland and Berkeley;” it should be one of the first links to appear. Additionally, google Burnham Plan San Francisco” for short articles on this 1905 project. Short online readings on the “Garden City” and City Beautiful” planning movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that are relevant to the development of the Burnham and Hegemann plans can be found here:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_city_movement, xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/citybeautiful/city.html

June 8, 2015 “New Deal Oakland — and Beyond”

Talk for docents, Oakland Museum of California

View all upcoming appearances

See selected past appearances…

Books

Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin - Gray Brechin, authorImperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin

Berkeley, University of California Press, 1999
» Buy now at UC Press

Farewell, Promised Land: Waking from the California Dream - Gray Brechin, authorFarewell, Promised Land: Waking from the California Dream

with photographer Robert Dawson
Berkeley, University of California Press, 1999
» Buy now at UC Press

In addition to numerous articles, Gray Brechin has published two books taking on the fragile and contentious relationship between the Western United States as an earthly paradise and the settlers who came to inhabit these places. More books…

The Living New Deal

The Living New Deal Project is an unprecedented and growing collaborative effort to identify, map, and interpret the vast public works legacy of President Roosevelt's New Deal in the U.S. Supported by donor contributions, the Living New Deal is hosted by the Department of Geography at the University of California Berkeley. In addition to our interactive website, illustrated talks, and tours, our long-range goal is to establish the nation’s first museum and memorial to the men and women of the New Deal. It will also serve as a study center to keep the New Deal’s comprehensive moral vision alive. View the video introduction.

Teaching

Dr. Brechin has tht since 1986 at numerous institutions, including U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, Mills College, California College of Arts and Crafts, and University of California Extension. See all teaching work.

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