Photograph of Gray Brechin, 2007 Welcome to Gray Brechin’s official website

Dr. Gray Brechin is an historical geographer, the author of Imperial San Francisco, a frequent radio and television guest, and a popular public speaker. He is currently a visiting scholar in the U.C. Berkeley Department of Geography and founder and project scholar of the Living New Deal.

» About Gray Brechin & contact information

In the News

Groundwater Zero: We’re Worried About the Drought. But Not as Worried as We Should Be

May 21, 2015
California Magazine
Interview with Gray Brechin discussing the drought and its consequences for California's future.

Brechin Receives Preservation Citation

Dec 27, 2013
Living New Deal founder Gray Brechin has been honored by the California Preservation Association with its annual President’s Award.  The Board of Directors selected Dr. Brechin for his work as an author and advocate, and, in particular, his work advocating for the protection of U.S. Post Offices being sold off across the country –

Mill Valley man, grandson of Franklin Delano Roosevelt talks about New Deal

Marin Independent Journal, Dec 16, 2013
When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted his New Deal programs in the 1930s, John Boettiger, of Mill Valley, was just a baby and knew the president as "Papa."

The plot to kill the U.S. Postal Service

SF Gate, Dec 16, 2013
No other nation in the world possesses the cultural heritage so nobly embodied in America's prewar post offices and the New Deal works of art they often contain.

The fading genius of the US post office

The Guardian U.K., Aug 2, 2011
The superb post offices of the New Deal era are a monument to America's democratic ethos. Now we’re selling off FDR's legacy.

New Deal’s legacy in danger of being ruined

San Francisco Chronicle, Mar 27, 2011

Decades-old model of S.F. needs a home

San Francisco Chronicle, Feb 26, 2011

Old glories of New Deal still chime in a time of crisis

The Guardian U.K., Mar 10, 2010

Articles & Publications

Read Gray’s articles from publications including Antipode, The New York Times, and Focus.

Recent POSTS:

“Necessitous Men Are Not Free Men” Bridging Ruskin’s Thought and the New Deal

Download the PDF.

The Guttering Promise of Public Education

U.C. Berkeley Department of Geography Commencement Address, May 16, 2009

Recent articles on the Web:

“We’re all Venice now”, Nov 5, 2012
Three days after superstorm Sandy devastated New York CIty and New Jersey, an exceptionally high tide flooded nearly 60% of Venice but few outside its region noticed.

New Deal Civil Works Project Remembered in Berkeley

The Berkeley Daily Planet, Feb 11, 2009

Two Views of the New Deal: The Pitfall of Low Expectations

San Francisco Chronicle, Dec 19, 2008

News Analysis: Public Relations (Again) Trumps Public Safety at UC Berkeley

The Berkeley Daily Planet, Oct 16, 2008

Excavating The Buried Civilization of Roosevelt’s New Deal, Aug 13, 2008

photo of Works Progress Administration plaque

Forgotten Foundation: The New Deal for Bay Area Parks

Bay Nature, Jan-Mar 2008

photo of workers building The Mountain Theater at Mount Tamalpais

Upcoming Speaking Appearances

October 10, 2018 "The Lost Ethical Language of New Deal Public Works"

OLLI class in Berkeley
Learn More

October 2, 2018 "The New Deal and Labor"

7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
A talk for Fred Glass’s CCSF Labor History class
City College of San Francisco, Mission District campus

September 15, 2018 "Bringing the giant WPA relief model of San Francisco back to life"

Details to be announced
Public Knowledge @ SF MoMA
Learn More

September 12, 2018 The Cal Stadium, "A Monumental Memorial to Denial"

7:00 pm – 9:15 pm
California Studies Dinner Seminar, 2521 Channing Street, Berkeley, CA
Learn More

September 9, 2018 "Storms, Droughts, Floods: Classic Documentaries"

Gray Brechin will be providing commentary on two great New Deal films
2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Koret Auditoriaum, San Francisco Main Public Library
Learn More

August 1, 2018 "First Wednesday: Recovering from The Depression with Dr. Gray Brechin"

7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Creekside Room, Mill Valley Public Library, 375 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley, CA 94941
Learn More

May 8, 2018 "Recovering from the Depression: How President Roosevelt's New Deal Catapulted Sonoma County into the 20th Century and our Retreat to the 19th"

6:00 pm
Roxy Stadium 14, 85 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa
Learn More

June 2, 2017 "Rediscovering Architect Herbert Maier: A New Deal Renaissance of the Arts & Crafts Architecture in the National Parks"

8:00 pm
Yosemite Conservation Center (LeConte Memorial Lodge)
Yosemite Valley

May 18, 2017 "Revisiting New York’s New Deal" with Professor Mason Williams and Curator Sarah Seidman

6:30 pm
Museum of the City of New York
New York City

April 28, 2017 "Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin" (Cultural & Historical Awareness Program)

7:00 pm
Porterville College

April 12, 2017 "The Living New Deal and Its Impact on Marin"

8:00 am
Corte Madera Rotary
Corte Madera

March 21, 2017 "Sending the Overhead Downstream: Hydraulic Mining and the Oroville Dam Disaster on California’s Feather River"

4:00 pm
Department of Geography and Earth Sciences
Aberystwyth University

September 7, 2016 "Recovering from the Depression: The Enormous and Invisible Legacy of New Deal Public Works in Sonoma County and Beyond"

6:00 pm
Registration and further information.

August 24, 2015 "The Art & Architecture of the New Deal in San Francisco"

6:00 pm

In the depths of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised the American people a “New Deal.” Over the decade 1933-43, a constellation of federally sponsored programs put millions of jobless Americans back to work and helped to revive a moribund economy. The result was a rich landscape of public works across the nation, often of outstanding beauty, utility and craftsmanship.

The Living New Deal is a UC Berkeley-based initiative dedicated to inventorying and mapping these works. It has created a guide to the Art and Architecture of the New Deal in San Francisco, a pocket map and guide to 18 spectacular New Deal sites in the city. Join us and geographer Gray Brechin as he discusses the impact of the New Deal on San Francisco and introduces the new map. Registration and further information.

July 23, 2015 "PPIE Citywide Celebration at Mechanics’ Instituter"

6:00 pm

The Grand Design: PPIE and the “City Within A City” - Panel discussion moderated by Laura A. Ackley, author of San Francisco’s Jewel City: The Pan Pacific Exposition of 1915, with Gray Brechin, Kerry Laitala, Therese Poletti and Christopher VerPlanck.

Architectural historians, writers, and artists will discuss the collaboration of Edward Bennett and the Exposition’s architectural committee whose vision of the Block Plan manifested the design of the PPIE. Innovation, fantasy and technology created this “city within a city” which included great architecture, urban design, and leaps of the imagination. The influences of this model city on San Francisco’s development will be brought into perspective.

July 22, 2015 “In the Age of Smart Growth, a Look Back at the 1915 Hegemann Plan for Berkeley”

Hillside Club, Berkeley 7:30 PM

Conventional orthodoxy—often referred to as “Smart Growth”—says that in order to achieve urban “vibrancy,” communities should fill their downtowns with high-rise residential towers and line their arterial streets with mid-rise, wall-to-wall apartment buildings above ground-floor commercial spaces. Can Berkeley’s city planning history show another way? Berkeley is one of the most densely populated cities in the United States with more than 10,000 residents per square mile, but has achieved this with: most buildings rising only one to three stories and surrounded by actual (not polemical) “green”: low rise but successful commercial avenues: sunlight, air, and views widely available, not just for the wealthy.

Join us on June 24 and July 22 for a two-part discussion of how Berkeley got to this point, and where we might go next. Against the backdrop of early Hillside Club efforts to maintain and enhance the natural beauty of the Berkeley hillside, we will look at Berkeley’s planning past, including the largely forgotten “Hegemann Plan” of 1913-15 which recommended a waterfront park, development of a civic center, and many farsighted neighborhood improvements for Berkeley and Oakland. The discussion leader on June 24 will be Steven Finacom, past president of the Berkeley Historical Society and a frequent writer on local history and preservation issues. At the July 22 Round Table the topic will continue, with noted author and geographer Gray Brechin as discussion leader.

Participants are encouraged to take an advance look at the Hegemann plan and the related Burnham plan for San Francisco. Go to Google Books online and search for “Hegemann plan, formerly titled “Report on a City Plan for the Municipalities of Oakland and Berkeley;” it should be one of the first links to appear. Additionally, google Burnham Plan San Francisco” for short articles on this 1905 project. Short online readings on the “Garden City” and City Beautiful” planning movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that are relevant to the development of the Burnham and Hegemann plans can be found here:,

View all upcoming appearances

See selected past appearances…


Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin - Gray Brechin, authorImperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin

Berkeley, University of California Press, 1999
» Buy now at UC Press

Farewell, Promised Land: Waking from the California Dream - Gray Brechin, authorFarewell, Promised Land: Waking from the California Dream

with photographer Robert Dawson
Berkeley, University of California Press, 1999
» Buy now at UC Press

In addition to numerous articles, Gray Brechin has published two books taking on the fragile and contentious relationship between the Western United States as an earthly paradise and the settlers who came to inhabit these places. More books…

The Living New Deal

The Living New Deal is an unprecedented and growing collaborative effort to identify, map, and interpret the vast public works legacy of President Roosevelt's New Deal in the U.S. Supported by donor contributions, the Living New Deal is hosted by the Department of Geography at the University of California Berkeley. In addition to our interactive website, illustrated talks, and tours, our long-range goal is to establish the nation’s first museum and memorial to the men and women of the New Deal. It will also serve as a study center to keep the New Deal’s comprehensive moral vision alive. View the video introduction.


Dr. Brechin has tht since 1986 at numerous institutions, including U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, Mills College, California College of Arts and Crafts, and University of California Extension. See all teaching work.

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