The Works Progress Administration Renovations and the Fall of Abe Shushan

Stop 5 of 7 in the Lakefront Airport tour

In 1936, a $250,000 Works Progress Administration beautification project took place at the airport and included extensive landscaping, paving roads and runways, and this fountain. Enrique Alférez sculpted each statue to represent one of the four winds, hence the name “The Fountain of the Four Winds.”

This project signified early federal involvement in the construction of airports. Because of the Great Depression, the federal government helped cash-strapped cities improve their airports. Federal involvement helped the unemployed, but it also kept airports up-to-date in case the military needed them. This need would arise in World War II, when the military commandeered airports, including the Shushan Airport.

Despite the stunningly attractive airport, by 1939 Louisiana and federal government officials could no longer ignore the rampant embezzlement of government money, including WPA funds. Coming to light in “the Scandals” were examples of, Shushan and the Orleans Levee Board inflating the savings collected from the bonds sold for the lakefront project in order to give themselves a significant amount of money. Shushan and other officials were indicted and convicted of tax evasion and fraud. Shushan went to prison, and though President Truman pardoned him, the damage was done. The Shushan Airport was renamed the New Orleans Municipal Airport.

For the final part of the tour, walk toward the hangar across the street and face the administration building.

Images

Enrique Alferez's Fountain of the Four Winds: Beauty and Controversy

Enrique Alferez's Fountain of the Four Winds: Beauty and Controversy

Newspapers hailed the beautiful fountain with its flowing sculpture and underwater lights, but the statues' nudity generated controversy. It became so heated that Enrique Alferez once guarded his creation with a rifle to deter vandals. Eleanor Roosevelt defended the fountain, and the controversy cooled. The fountain does not currently work, but perhaps it will after restoration is done. Courtesy of the Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library, WPA Photograph Collection View File Details Page

Paving the Runways

Paving the Runways

The men in this picture had probably been unemployed because of the Great Depression, so this project meant they could earn a paycheck. A paved runway meant less maintenance of the turf on the airfield, and it allowed bigger planes to land without risk of getting stuck in mud. Abe L. Shushan Collection, Earl K. Long Library View File Details Page

The Removal of Shushan's Name: A $100,000 Undertaking

The Removal of Shushan's Name: A $100,000 Undertaking

Shushan's name and initials covered the airport despite criticism that it could be a problem. Upon Shushan's conviction, the Levee Board removed his name. This expensive project probably led to the state law prohibiting the naming of state buildings after living people. Abe L. Shushan Collection, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Teresa Thessen, “The Works Progress Administration Renovations and the Fall of Abe Shushan,” New Orleans Historical, accessed May 26, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/607.
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