Grandjean Bridge: New Orleans City Park

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The Grandjean Bridge, named for George Grandjean, park commissioner and designer of the original lagoons, is one of nine bridges built by the WPA in New Orleans City Park.  Constructed in 1938, the bridge is located behind the New Orleans Museum of Art and serves as entrance to the sculpture garden.

It is the only concrete rigid frame bridge among those constructed in the park.  The rigid frame design originated in Europe and began to see use in the US in the 1920s (Mead & Hunt, 2016, Management Plan for Bridges in City Park, New Orleans).  Engineer Richard Koch with George Rice designed 8 of the 9 bridges constructed by the WPA.  Research could not document their involvement with the Grandjean bridge, however.  The concrete rigid frame design was the “last major development in concrete reinforced bridges” and is built by “substructure and superstructure joined in a monolithic, cast-in-place unit” (Mead & Hunt, 2016).

Characteristic defining features of the Grandjean bridge included

…integrated curved wing walls…crowned parapets/railings…beveled pier caps…aesthetic treatment seen in bold font in Art Deco style letters in the concrete endposts…

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Rain Goddess

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Rain Goddess

Enrique Alférez was the son of a Mexican sculptor.  He came to the United States and studied with sculptor Lorado Taft in Chicago, moving to New Orleans in 1929 (New Orleans City Park).  Alférez’ works are seen throughout City Park and other locations in New Orleans.

 

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McFadden Cabin: New Orleans City Park

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The Works Progress Administration (WPA) is seen in many of the artistic and functional structures of New Orleans’ City Park.  The McFadden Girl Scout Cabin was donated to the park by William McFadden and constructed in the early 1920s, specifically for the Girl Scouts.  Architect Richard Koch and landscape architect William S. Wiedorn designed the Arts and Crafts style cabin (Works Progress Administration in New Orleans City Park, neworleanscitypark.com).  It was “improved by WPA 1935-1936.”

…a simple, one room structure that has great artistic integrity, including scissors roof trusses, stone work, window shutters, clay tile floors. Tucked under large live oak trees with hanging Spanish moss on the City Park lagoon, the girls are transported in time when the shutters and doors are pushed open. (Girl Scouts Louisiana East, gsle.org)

McFadden was born in West Virginia in 1869, and at age 19, began working in the Mackintosh Hemphill Steel Foundry in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  By age 40, he was president of the company.  He resigned shortly after due to illness from his lungs having been affected by work in the steel mills and moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, preparing to die.  He did not die, and went on to become a multimillionaire in the oil business of Oklahoma.  In 1920, he married Helen Charlotte Williams Levi of New Orleans, where they lived and constructed the McFadden Mansion.  The mansion and land was sold, becoming both City Park and the Christian Brothers school, and the McFaddens moved to Ft. Worth, Texas, where he lived until his death in 1956.  McFadden apparently had a heart for Girl Scouts as he also funded a private camp for scouts.

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Fountain of the Four Winds

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Enrique Alférez created the Fountain of the Four Winds sculpture and fountain in 1936-1937 for the Shushan Airport–later New Orleans Airport and currently, Lakefront Airport. Alférez served as director of the sculpture program for New Orleans WPA artists (Works Progress Administration), and was also responsible for the bas reliefs in the airport interior.3

The four nude figures stirred controversy in the 1930s; in fact, Alférez is said to have stood guard at night with a rifle in order to protect the sculpture from vandalism.  Ultimately, Eleanor Roosevelt intervened and demanded the sculpture remain as Alférez created it.  All but the North Wind figures are women.  Alférez’ daughter explained that when her father was 12 years old, he joined Pancho Villa’s revolutionary army and gathered wood and water for the women who fed the soldiers and who often joined in the fighting–women who, he said, were the real backbone of the Mexican Revolution. (Fountain of the Four Winds. Retrieved from Friends of New Orleans Lakefront Airport)

The fountain is in the process of restoration.  To see it in 1938, with water, click the link above and scroll to the photographs at the bottom of the article.

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Flight Over Bali: Xavier Gonzalez

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Xavier Gonzalez is pictured sitting in front of the mural Bali, holding a paint brush.  This mural is missing from those in the former Shushan Airport of New Orleans.  Some evidence exists that it may have been destroyed (either accidentally or intentionally) in efforts to remove it from the wall during the conversion of the airport to a 1960s era nuclear fallout shelter.  As the murals were uncovered during the 2013 restoration, only pieces of this mural were found stuck to the wall.  The murals were attached in a process where the canvas was attached to the wall with adhesive, and it may have been damaged during the attempt to remove it.

When the Royal Netherlands Indies Airways (KNILM) began service from Sydney to Batavia (present-day Jakarta) in 1938, their advertising logan was “dinner in Darwin (Australia), luncheon in Bali, then Batavia for dinner.”  Batavia was the “capital of the Dutch East Indies” during the colonial era.

Airplane passenger service from airlines in the Netherlands and Europe began serving Bali, related to the Singapore-Sydney and Batavia-Sydney routes.  The Fokker (barely visible in the upper right corner of the photograph, was the airplane used in the 1920s and 1930s for this route.  Plans are to recreate the Bali mural from the photograph, and hope that it may yet surface, even if in pieces.

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Flight over Egypt: Xavier Gonzalez murals

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I think of all the Xavier Gonzalez murals painted for the New Orleans airport in 1938, the flight over Egypt might be my favorite story–though not necessarily favorite painting.  I think there are aspects of all of them that make each unique in its own way, and I have come to appreciate the vision of Gonzalez in how he decided to portray the wonders of aviation as newly introduced to the world.  By 1938 when Gonzalez undertook the murals, flight was emerging from its infancy, and commercial flying was moving into the skies.

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The mural is described as a French biplane cruising over the great statues of Memnon, with the Nile River in the foreground, Egyptian columns with ‘lotus capitals’ to the right, and the ancient temples and tomb in the distant background (Save the Murals, Egypt, Friends of New Orleans Lakefront Airport).

A “first” in Egyptian flight (which in 1910 was still under British administration) was the 1910 Heliopolis Air Meet (Leiser, G. 2010. The first flight above Egypt: The Great Week of Aviation at Heliopolis, 1910. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 20(13), 267-294). Twelve pilots and 18 planes entered the competition (some pilots brought more than one plane), including 2 French Bleriots, 4 French Voisins, 2 French Farmans, 2 French Antoinettes, 1 American Curtiss, and 1 German Grade.  The Bleriot and the Antoinette were both monoplanes.  That left only the Voisin biplane and Farman biplane as the possible plane depicted by Gonzalez.  Photographs of both planes indicate the plane was a Voisin, although Gonzalez may have used a model that occurred a couple of years later than 1910.  One of the Voisins was flown (or “driven” as was often said then) by Baroness de la Roche, on her first public flight (Trica, A. C., March 1910. Foreign news. In Aircraft, Volume 1. New York: New York).

The Statues of Memnon depicted are:

…twin monolithic quartzite statues of pharaoh Amenthep III, c. 1400 B. C. (Fred Stross, 1973, University of California-Berkeley)

Although the Colossi of Memnon are located further south of Heliopolis (Cairo) near Luxor, the flight routes of the air meet extended out into the desert away from the city, and might have extended as far as the statues.  That would seem to be the reason for inclusion, other than artistic license, although they did not directly front to the Nile.  Davis Roberts sketched the statues of Memnon on location in 1838, with the temples and tomb in the background, and lithographer Louis Haghe produced the print.

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Davis Roberts, 1838, Retrieved from US Archives

 

 

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Paris and the Lindbergh Landing: Xavier Gonzalez Mural

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Fifth in the series of murals painted by Xavier Gonzalez in 1938 for the newly opened Shushan Airport in New Orleans, Paris and the Lindbergh Landing shows Lindbergh’s arrival in Paris following his 1927 New York City to Paris trans-Atlantic flight.  His plane, the Spirit of St. Louis is depicted along with the planes of the French fliers who welcomed his entrance to Paris.

Following a sleep after the 33 hour non-stop flight, Lindbergh answered reporters’ questions.

…there came into view the hills of Ireland, and the worst was over…By dusk he had reached the French coast, then darkness, then the sweep of powerful searchlights guiding him to his goal.

Finally the brilliant illuminations of Eiffel Tower caught his eyes and he knew he had made Paris. A few minutes later, gracefully as a butterfly alighting upon a flower, his silvery ship of the air glided out of the darkness of night into the glare of searchlights switched on to show him the landing field. (“Phones to Mother Upon Awakening from 10-hour Sleep” The Reading Times, 23 May 1927, p. 1-2)

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The Lindbergh-Paris mural was one of three left exposed in the Levee Board offices following the 1960s renovation of the airport.

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New York Metropolis

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The wealth and power of modern civilization seem symbolized by Manhattan’s famous sky-line, towering in the distance across the Hudson River, against the glorious background of the rising sun. The commerce and industry of the Metropolis are proclaimed by the docked ships and factories in the foreground, with power plants, warehouses, tanks and elevated railways indicating the great activity of the port. Suggestive of vast engineering project, the new George Washington bridge spans the Hudson with a single sweep of over two-thirds of a mile between its towering pylons. Overhead, the proud Akron glides above the city before commencing its voyage to the Panama Canal.  It is being given a great send-off by a squadron of airplanes, two of which can be seen in the picture. (Friends of New Orleans Lakefront Airport)

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The Akron was manufactured in 1929 and launched the first voyage in 1931.

Springing upward into a mass of gray clouds scuttling across the sky, the U. S. S. Akron, largest airship ever built, started on her ninth and last test flight at 6:50 a.m. today.  The voyage, an endurance hop, was to last at least 48 hours. “Akron Airship is on Last Test Hop”, New Castle News, 16 Oct 1931, p. 1)

In January 1933, the Akron departed Lakehurst, New Jersey for Panama, stopping off in Balboa to investigate a potential air base site.  The Akron crashed off the coast of New Jersey in April 1933 following an encounter with severe weather.  A German merchant ship, Phoebus, saw the descending lights and altered course.  They were able to pull four men from the water. One died without regaining consciousness, but the other three survived.  A total of 73 perished from drowning or hypothermia.

Like the other murals of the work Xavier Gonzalez completed for then-named Shushan Airport, New York Metropolis provides another look into the world of early flying for commercial and military use.  The Akron was developed by the US Navy, and shortly after, the sister ship Macon was completed.  The loss of the Akron and major loss of life derailed hopes for rigid-sided airship use.  The Macon was damaged and sank 2 years later; however, the use of life preservers on the airship had begun after the loss of the Akron, and 70 of the 72 men aboard the Macon were rescued.

It was revealed that no life preservers were aboard the Akron when it put to sea last Monday night. One officer, who has flown 200 hours in the Akron, said he never had seen a life preserver aboard.

Life preservers, because of their weight, were not considered an essential part of the dirigible’s equipment. A life raft and one parachute were aboard as safety devices when the ship plunged into the Atlantic. (“Navy starts its probe of Akron airship crash”, Delaware County Daily Times, 10 Apr 1933, p. 1, 14)

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Mount Everest

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Mount Everest, another of the 8 murals done by Xavier Gonzalez in 1938 for the New Orleans then-named Shushan Airport, depicts the first flight over Mount Everest, Nepal.  The Houston-Mount Everest expedition was led by Air-Commander P. F. M. Fellowes, and was carried out by two “specially built Westland planes, powered with supercharged Bristol Pegasus radial motors” (Save the Murals, Friends of New Orleans Lakefront Airport).

On April 3 [1933] the conquest of Everest was made by the two aeroplanes of the Houston, Mount Everest Expedition, with the marquis of Clydesdale as chief pilot. Flying to a height of 30,000 feet, clearing the summit of Everest, by a bare margin of only 100 feet, the planes carried pilots and camera men to their goal.

The arerial conquest of Everest was no job of simple flying. The altitudes that needed to be reached were in themselves a terrific problem. The snow-plumed crest of Mount Everest rises to a height of 29,141 feet.  To clear this summit safely and allow for the danger of down draughts, the planes had to have a ceiling of 33,000 feet.  They actually reached 34,500 on one of the flights, six and one-half miles.  They had to be able to climb fast because of the limited amount of life-giving oxygen that could be carried. (Exeter: Thrilling story of flight over world’s highest mountain. The Portsmouth Herald, October 19, 1933, p. 7)

Erika Katayama’s (2009) Master’s thesis in art, Louisiana State University recounts:

…Gonzalez envisioned imagery outlining the development of aviation and its influence on modern civililization in eight wall murals mounted on the mezzanine.

Gonzalez was selected for the task of creating a series of murals for the Art Deco terminal building in a competition…By all accounts, Shushan and the architects gave Gonzalez comfortable leeway on how to interpret the theme of aerial transportation’s increasing influence on humanity. (p. 8-9)

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Pretty far cry from Icarus flying too close to the sun and melting the wax in his wings, isn’t it?

 

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Land of the Mayas: Gonzalez Mural in New Orleans Lakefront Airport

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The “Land of the Mayas” mural depicts a Sikorsky plane flying over the Pyramids of the Magician in Uxmal, Mexico. Igor Sikorsky, originally from Ukraine, established the Sikorsky Corporation in 1925, in Connecticut.  Sikorsky is likely most remembered for developing the helicopter, but he also built a range of small planes that would see service in airlines as well as the military.  The Sikorsky amphibian ranged in models, but the twin Wasp-motored amphibian S-38 is probably depicted.  The S-37 design, developed in 1927, was sold later to Pan American Airways International and was used to scout future air navigation routes.

Too much stress cannot be laid on the important part played by aviation in these explorations, as without airplanes some of the finest pyramids and temples would have remained buried in impassable jungles. (Friends of New Orleans Lakefront Airport)

 

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“House of the Magician” in 1913, Douglas C. McMurtrie, Public Domain photograph retrieved from Wikipedia

 

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The mural also includes depictions of a stela, the upright stone slab, used as a gravestone or other type of memorial, a papaya tree, maguey plant, and a hut and other plants.  The maguey is a member of the agave family and is also called a century plant.

 

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