Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Arkansas Listings in the National Register of Historical Places

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Arkansas Listings in the National Register of Historical Places

Article excerpt

The Influence of the New Deal on Arkansas Courthouse Design

THE COURTHOUSES BUILT IN ARKANSAS during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) reflect shifting styles and attitudes in American society. The courthouses constructed before the New Deal were showplaces meant to convey a sense of grandeur and to evoke the Founding Fathers through the Colonial Revival style or the ancient Greeks through the Classical Revival style. The Union County Courthouse in El Dorado (NR listed on June 30, 1983) is a good example of such efforts. Built in 1927-- 28, the structure features Greek Ionic columns, recalling the greatness of the ancient Greek philosophers and builders that many Americans so greatly admired.

In the 1920s, a new style of architecture, Art Deco, would become popular in the United States and displace the classical look. Its own evolution would, in turn, illustrate changing ways of thinking about government architecture. The first three decades of the twentieth century was a time of great change for America, and this new and exciting building style reflected the attitudes and expectations of many Americans for the future.

During the 1920s, many large corporations erected buildings to serve not only as their headquarters but also as symbolic representations of their role in the growing prosperity enjoyed by many Americans and of the nation's emergence as a world power. The automotive giant Chrysler Corporation and publisher McGraw-Hill constructed towering monuments to corporate America in the form of Art Deco buildings that rose above the New York and Chicago skylines. These early Art Deco structures celebrated capitalism and the free-market system and stood as reminders of American greatness.

The early Art Deco style represented modernity. Its exponents enthusiastically looked to the future with confidence that America would prevail and continue to prosper. Then, on October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed. The fortunes of many individuals and companies were wiped out overnight, and the nation plunged into the depths of a terrible economic depression. It was during this upheaval that Art Deco evolved into something new, something different.

Many people turned during the crisis to the federal government for help with their economic troubles. The Roosevelt administration responded with the New Deal, a series of programs designed to get America moving again and to give hope to people who had lost everything, including their faith in the future. One of these programs, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), was set up to undertake public works projects across the nation in order to provide jobs. Some of these projects were small in nature; others were grand in conception and execution. Many public buildings, such as post offices and courthouses, were constructed under the auspices of the WPA. …

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