(click to enlarge photos)
The longest pile in this Columbia City wood yard extended about 430 feet, stretching east of 32nd Ave. South, along the south side of Alaska Street. The photograph’s caption, bottom-left, dates it Sept. 26, 1934. We may say that this wood was paid for by the charisma of the nearly new president. Franklin Delanor Roosevelt’s popularity was nearly spiritual, and under FDR’s command and the cooperation of a new congress, it was often possible to fund both relief and public works projects. Most of the federal money was managed by states. Here it was the Washington Emergency Relief Administration – the W.E.R.A.- that stacked these cords of fuel.
Many relief efforts in the 1930s were started by concerned citizens. In King County the self-help and bartering group that named itself the Unemployed Citizens League (UCL) was especially effective. After the Crash of late 1929, unemployment snowballed through the cold months and then kept rolling hot and cold for years to come. The League responded. By New Years Day, 1932, the UCL’s swelling membership had harvested eight railroad carloads of surplus potatoes, pears, and apples in Eastern Washington, borrowed fishing boats to catch and preserve 120,000 barrels of fish, and cut over 10,000 cords of firewood.
By 1931 unemployment reached 25 percent. While government at most levels still did little, the UCL opened 18 commissaries throughout King County to distribute fuel and food to those wanting in the “Republic of the Penniless.” When all was quickly consumed in a great display of public necessity and community activism, the new federals in the “other Washington” started spreading fat-cat wealth – funded by taxes – among the down-and-out with FDR’s “New Deal” of relief and public works agencies, known by their “alphabet soup” names, such as PWA, WPA, CCC and ERA.
As the 1934 photograph’s own caption at the top of this feature explains, this was government wood headed for “delivery to (the) needy.” Jean and I figure that these four trucks are briefly posing before heading out to comfort families. And we too were comforted that Hawthorne School at 4100 39th Ave. S. appears on the right horizon. It showed us that the unnamed W.E.R.A. photographer was pointing east-northeast. We already knew that she or he was on the previously vacant southeast corner of 32nd Ave. South and South Alaska Street, for all the other corners were stocked with houses. We expect and hope that in some state archive there is a receipt that reveals that the lots on this block were temporarily loaned to W.E.R.A. for processing their cheering wood in a spirit of free assistance. The loan was a brief one. A 1936 aerial shows the block cleared of everything, including anything resembling lumber.