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

Cover of the Imperial San Francisco audiobookImperial San Francisco Urban Power, Earthly Ruin

By: Gray Brechin
Narrator: Gray Brechin
Length: 13 hours, 41 minutes

Available wherever you find audiobooks: Audible, Spotify, Libro, and others.


Saving Paradise and the Ponderosa Way Firebreak

Feb 1, 2021
Mechanic's Institute
Gray Brechin founder of the Living New Deal and environmental historian and fire expert Stephen Pyne talk about California fire prevention, forest preservation and the potential of the Ponderosa Way. Mechanic's Institute

Are Great Cities Victims or Perpetrators of Climate Change?

Aug 19, 2020
EcoShock Radio Podcast
Think about the great cities about to be lost as seas rise on a warming planet. That is Venice, and Gray Brechin and Luca Muscara take us there, to the battleground between human history and climate change. But we go further into the killing role of great cities and lessons for our future from the New Deal.

Take Five

Sept 3, 2012
Gray discusses images from Fiat Lux, Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall's book for the Centennial of the University of California in 1968.

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

Feb 26, 2021 “Ponderosa Way: Rediscovering the World’s Longest and Most Forgotten Fire Break in California”

Rumsey Map Center
3:15pm – 4:30pm

May 1, 2020 “New Deal Contributions to Marin and Sonoma Counties”

Ross Valley Historical Society
Details being finalized

Nov 6, 2020 “New Deal North Bay”

Ross Valley Historical Society 'First Friday Forenoon'

May 1, 2020 “New Deal Contributions to Marin and Sonoma Counties”

Ross Valley Historical Society
Details being finalized

March 24, 2020 “Megafollies Past, Present, and Future” A talk for the College of Environmental Design Archives

6:30 – 8:00pm
112 Wurster Hall
UC Berkeley
Ephemeral archival documents reveal a plethora of zany proposals once touted as inevitable and necessary progress to keep the Bay Area growing and prosperous. Many were defeated by citizen activism, yet growth continued anyway. Have planners and architects learned from a past of which few seem aware even as the world we’ve known becomes another one?

March 14, 2020 'A Renaissance of the Arts & Crafts: Herbert Maier Promotes “Parkitecture” During the Great Depression'

Swedenborgian Church
2107 Lyon Street at Washington Street
San Francisco
The economic catastrophe of the last great depression allowed U.C. graduate Herbert Maier to revive a stylistic tradition in the national, state, and regional parks that had largely winked out twenty years earlier. As much therapy for those who built them as style, these rustic expressions of the Arts & Crafts Movement still grace our parks, although their continued existence — like everything else — is now endangered by negligence and climate change.

December 13, 2019 “John Ruskin: 19th Century Visionary, 21st Century Inspiration”

Rothenberg Hall
Huntington Library & Art Gallery
San Marino, CA
Gray Brechin will talk on Ruskin’s influence on the New Deal (

November 22, 2019 “Imperial San Francisco At 20: More Relevant Than Ever”

12:00 noon
Mechanics Institute
When U.C. Press published ISF in 1999, it spent 16 weeks on the Chronicle’s best-seller list and has never gone out of publication. Now considered a classic of urban studies, it uses San Francisco as an example of how all great cities wreck the hinterlands upon which they depend for the sake of those who own and run them, especially — in the modern world — the “thought-shapers” who control the mass media. Author Gray Brechin will revisit its thesis in light of the self-inflicted crises that today confront the world’s cities in light of climate chaos, wealth inequality, and human overpopulation.

November 18, 2019 “The Lost Ethical Language of New Deal Public Works in the Context of Security”

1-2 PM
Jackson Theater
Ohlone Community College, Fremont

November 8, 2019 “The Waterboys: O’Shaughnessy, Mulholland, and the Delivery of ‘Liquid Gold’ with Gray Brechin and Myles Dungan”

Mechanics’ Institute
One of California’s leading historians and activists, Gray Brechin (Imperial San Francisco) on the controversial Hetch Hetchy dam project and its motive force, Irish engineer Michael Maurice O’Shaughnessy - and Myles Dungan (How the Irish Won the West) on the parallel and equally divisive drive of Dubliner William Mulholland to bring vital supplies of water to Los Angeles.

November 6, 2019 “Celebrating the East Bay Regional Park District’s 85th Anniversary: Honoring Our Founders”

6 PM
Environmental Education Center
Tilden Regional Park
Gray Brechin will talk about architect Herbert Maier and the CCC contributions to our national, state, and regional parks systems.

October 17, 2019 “Party to Preserve the Murals at Specs' Bar”

5:30-8:30 pm
October 17, 2019
Sponsored by The Living New Deal & Coalition to Protect Public Art.

May 21, 2019 “New Deal Public Works as a Model for the Green New Deal”

Montclair Presbyterian Church
Metropolitan-Greater Oakland Democratic Club

May 13, 2019 “Conversations About Landscape: Deal or No (Green New) Deal? ”

6:00–8:30 p.m. 
Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery
Free, RSVP required. Email, or call 415.528.4444 and choose option 5.
Learn More

May 10, 2019 “Rediscovering Architect Herbert Maier: A New Deal Renaissance of Arts & Crafts Architecture in the National Parks”

Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center - Programs 2019, Yosemite Valley
Interpretive Programs are held in the YCHC, Shuttle Bus Stop #12. Free and open to the public, all programs are limited to 50 guests, due to NPS restrictions and space limitations. No advanced tickets are available. Tickets are distributed at 7:15 pm on the evening of the program. Doors open at 7:45 pm.
Learn More

May 7, 2019 "A New Deal for New York City"

6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the
Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia Place, in Manhattan.

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

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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