Photo Essay

Historical photos of some major PWA-assisted projects in New York City

Photo Essays | ByMargaret Moslander | Infrastructure, Role of government

Dec. 21, 2011 — In 1939, the federal government published a more than 700 page volume entitled "Public Buildings: A Survey of Architecture of Projects Constructed by Federal and Other Governmental Bodies Between the Years 1933 and 1939 With the Assistance of the Public Works Administration." The photos selected here come from that volume and were all constructed in New York City.

Where available, data on costs come from the listings contained in the county-by-county breakdowns of projects contained in the legislation-specific listings identified in our note on data visualization sources (otherwise, it comes from the "Public Buildings" volume). Where possible, Inflation adjustment is calculated based on the year of the legislaton from which a project’s funding was obtained. If the project was not able to be correlated with a specific piece of legislation, inflation adjustment is calculated based on year of completion (as set forth in "Public Buildings"). Note, too, that there are a few circumstances in which data on total project funding (as opposed to that portion attributable to PWA support) is all the information available.  Characteristically, PWA assistance to a project represented at least a substantial portion of overall cost.

This photo essay is part of the story, “When the federal government dared to act”.

  • The Lincoln Tunnel officially opened for traffic in December 1937, after several years of construction. It was partially funded by a PWA allotment totaling $1,016,718,300, including a grant of $195,713,700 and a loan of $821,004,600 (2011 inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • The Triborough Bridge was constructed over the course of four years, with the first contract awarded on December 7, 1933, and the final work on the bridge wrapping up in September 1937. The PWA allotted $769,964,000 to the project, $125,424,000 in the form of a grant and $644,540,000 in the form of a loan (2011 inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • Williamsburg Houses, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, were completed in 1937, and provided housing for 1,622 families. The project was financed with PWA funding in the form of a loan, and the total project cost was $224,937,492 (2011 inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • Construction on the Sewage Treatment Plant on Wards Island was completed in 1939. The PWA allotted $185,058,473 to the project, all in the form of a grant (2011 inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • The construction of two incinerator buildings, intended to serve the greater New York City area, was completed in January 1939. The PWA contributed $46,337,200 to the project, $26,617760 in the form of a loan and $19,719,440 as a grant (2011 inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • This courthouse, located in Jamaica (Queens), was completed in June 1939. The PWA contributed $35,445,900 to the project, all in the form of a grant (2011 inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • The Coney Island sewage treatment plant, located in Brooklyn, was completed in April 1937. The PWA allotted $31,486,650 to the project, $22,489,220 in the form of a loan and $8,997430 in a grant (2011 inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • Construction on three ferryboats for the New York City Department of Docks was completed in April 1938. The PWA contributed $23,096,543 to the project, all in the form of a grant (2011 inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • The Nurses’ Home at Kings County Hospital was completed in April 1939, and partially funded by a grant from the PWA totaling $16,425,547 (2011 inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • Construction on the Bronx County Jail was completed in October 1938. The PWA allotted a total of $15,852,200 to the project, $8,948,040 of which was a loan and $7,804,160 a grant (2011 inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • Construction on the Madison Square Postal Station was completed in August 1937. The PWA allotted $13,668,062 to the project, covering the entire cost (2011 inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • This courthouse, located in the Borough Hall neighborhood of Brooklyn, was constructed to house the Appellate division of the Supreme Court, Second Division, State of New York. Construction was partially financed by a PWA allotment of $10,076,098 in the form of a grant (2011 inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • The Welfare Island Power Plant was completed in September 1938. The total project cost was $9,518,362 (2011 inflation-adjusted dollars). The portion of the cost covered by PWA assistance was not able to be determined.
  • The Ferry house at the Immigration Station at Ellis Island was completed in January 1936. Construction included a building for incoming immigrants and remodeling of other structures, and was funded by a P.W.A. allotment of $7,680,654 (2011 inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • The Jewish Memorial Hospital was partially funded by a loan from the PWA totaling $6,097,000. It was completed in 1937 (2011 inflation-adjusted dollars).