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April 1933: Day laborers use shovels and wheelbarrows to widen roads through Griffith Park. Some 5000 unemployed workers were given temporary employment through a Reconstruction Finance Corporation financed project.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

April 1933: Line of men wait to register for government-funded day-laborer work with Reconstruction Finance Corp. Applications were taken at R.F.C. county employment office at 331 North High Street.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

April 1933: Cars line road being widened by day-laborers in Griffith Park.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

April 1933: A day laborer wearing a button-down shirt and bow tie dumps granite rocks during road widening work in Griffith Park.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

April 1933: Cars parked on the road through Griffith Park with laborers in the background widening the road. This photo was published in the April 30, 1933 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

April 1933: A day laborer pauses to be photographed in Griffith Park during road widening project.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

April 1933: Workers getting 40 cents an hour smash rocks on road in Griffith Park. This photo was published in the April 30, 1933 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

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Unemployed hired to widen Griffith Park roads in 1933

In 1933, money from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation — a federal agency — allowed Los Angeles County to temporarily hire thousands of unemployed workers to widen roads in Griffith Park.

An anonymous Los Angeles Times reporter signed up and joined the road-building work. His story, published in the April 30, 1933 Los Angeles Times, began:

“Water Boy!”

The call came from a group of workmen clustered about a shoulder of the mountain around which winds the road through Griffith Park. The picks and shovels of the workmen glinted in the bright sunlight as they chipped away at the rock shoulder to fill wheelbarrows which were then trundled to the road’s outer edge and dumped.

A lanky fellow got up from the running board of a $7,000 special built twelve-cylinder roadster, picked up a can of water and started toward the group of pick-and-shovel men at a smart pace. The water “boy,” the owner of the shiny automobile, was getting 40 cents an hour for lugging the water can. He traveled to and from the job in the $7,000 car.

Along the length of road through the park were at least 1,000 automobiles ranging from battered flivvers of ancient vintage to cars of the type of the water boy’s, who was not a boy at all but a grown man with the look of an engineer about him.

All the owners of automobiles, whether they swung the picks, shoveled the sandstone and dirt, water, acted as timekeepers or bossed the jobs, were getting 40 cents an hour. There were 5,000 of these workers scattered along the winding road. They were part of the large army of unemployed given work through the operation of the loan coming from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.

A Times man in order to observe the functioning of the R.F.C. loan plan in Los Angeles had made application five weeks before and as a result was one of the pick-and-shovel crew which had summoned the water carrier. …

A youngster of irrepressible spirit next to the reporter was humming a popular tune. He turned after a time, and with a chuckle said:

“Once I built a railroad–brother, can you spare a dime?” Then he added, “You’ll do better with the pointed end of that pick, mister. You’re going to have bubbles on the palms of your hands, using the other end.”

The reporter was filling his barrow too full, he learned a moment later when he almost tumbled over the edge of the dump, wheelbarrow and all.

“It’s your first day, I see,” observed a mild-mannered, white-haired workman who because of his advanced years had the job of smoothing over the top side of the dump and keeping the gang planks straight. “You’re filling ’em too full. Better take smaller loads until you get used to it.”

On a ledge above, a middle-aged man gazed ruefully at newly made scars on his shoes, which could not have cost less than $15.

“See that gent?” muttered the young man next to the reporter. “He was a banker six months ago. The foreman told us. And that bird over there, near where they’re getting ready to blast, is a stock broker–or was. They don’t talk about themselves but you ought to see the cars they drive up here. …

Of the 5,000 laboring on the road slightly more than 1,800 were county welfare cases working for aid their families had received. The rest were work relief cases of the R.F.C., working for cash payment. At least 2,000 more workers were scattered throughout Los Angeles on other projects. …

The Reconstruction Finance Corporation was organized in early 1932 by Congress and President Hoover to help struggling banks. In 1933, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the R.F.C.’s role was greatly expanded.

Two of the photos in the above gallery accompanied the above story in the April 30, 1933, Los Angeles Times. The photographer and reporter are unknown. These images were scanned from 4-by-5 inch nitrate negatives belonging to the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive at UCLA.

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1 Comment

  1. April 30, 2015, 7:41 pm

    So why isn’t something similar in operation today? I can think of several civic endeavors needing manpower. And it would be safer that widening roads in the “outback”.

    By: bruno marr

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