American Consequences - June 2019

Using out-of-a-job Toledo craftsmen and salvaged materials from abandoned Toledo factories, the WPA built a magnificent Toledo Zoo. Previously it had been a modest attraction, founded in 1900 with the donation of one woodchuck. By the end of the 1930s, it had the largest fresh-water aquarium in the world, an aviary that was the first building in America to use glass blocks for walls, a delightfully creepy reptile house, scary bear pit, entertaining seal pool, a museum of science, an amphitheater, and – my personal favorite as a kid – a sort of combined concrete alp and primate playpen called “Monkey Mountain.” It was the best possible example of the government monkeying around with our money. All these remain in use – the largest collection of WPA buildings still in place.


What rescued Toledo was... the government monkeying around with our money. FDR’s Federal Emergency Relief Administration undertook the kind of federal interference in the economy that the capitalists who built Toledo, with their “memorable speculation in wild lands and wild cities,” deplored. (Although they were willing to make an exception to save their own necks. And aren’t we all?) Toledo was provided with a large serving of the Roosevelt “alphabet soup” – Civil Works Administration (CWA), Works Progress Administration (WPA), Public Works Administration (PWA), and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Right: The Toledo Zoo’s Elephant House, built by theWPA. Bottom: The Ohio Bank Building, later the Owens-Illinois Building, later the National City Bank Building, now the PNC Bank Building. (The tallest building in northwest Ohio from 1930 through the 1960s.)

American Consequences


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