Wednesday, June 6, 2018

1920s Deed Restrictions as Precursor to Single Family Zoning

One of the things that all transportation advocates have to think about eventually is land use. If things aren't close enough for convenient walking and biking, no network of world class paths and lanes and sidewalks will actually induce meaningful numbers of walking and biking trips that replace drive-alone trips. Even in the best Dutch and Danish cities, bike trips fall off dramatically at distances of three miles. Sure, trips of 10 and 15 miles are not difficult by bike, but even in the best of circumstances they are not widely popular and common. The sweet spot is for short trips. And that means useful things clustered together, not forced apart in single-use districts at car-dependent spacing.

You might recognize Michael Andersen from his journalism at Portland Afoot, at BikePortland, or at People/Places for Bikes. Recently Andersen moved on from Places for Bikes to join Sightline as a Senior Fellow, and his first work there is about residential zoning. He'd been writing about housing at Portland for Everyone, and this is a logical continuation in his thought.

That piece, "Maps: Portland’s 1924 Rezone Legacy Is ‘A Century of Exclusion’," is very much worth reading - and it's got zippy cartography, to boot!
It was in 1924 that Portland voters approved the city’s first zoning plan in a citywide vote, four years after having narrowly rejected the idea.

It was a turbulent moment in Oregon politics. In 1922, the resurgent Ku Klux Klan had swept to electoral victory across the state, putting its members in the governor’s mansion, the House speakership, and controlling the Multnomah County Commission. In 1923, the Klan-backed Alien Land Bill, banning Japanese nationals from owning property in Oregon, sailed through the Klansman-led state legislature with just one dissenting vote.

A parallel national movement was afoot. A White House task force convened in 1921 was pushing US cities to pass zoning codes. The task force’s official documents never mentioned race, but its members were “outspoken segregationists” who (as documented by Richard Rothstein) wrote elsewhere that zoning could help segregate people by race.

This was the political environment when Portland’s real estate brokers brought a revised zoning plan back to voters for another try. Authored by H.E. Plummer, who served as a planning commissioner and head of the city’s bureau of buildings, the 1924 plan was approved with 60 percent of the vote, and formally separated industrial and residential development. And it introduced another idea, too: “single-family” zoning, which required households who wanted to live in certain parts of town to be able to pay not only for a home but for a certain minimum amount of land around it—at least 5,000 square feet in most cases. Other sorts of homes would be banned. [link to Rothstein added to citation]
There is no history of zoning (or of any redlining also) in Salem at the moment. It seems to be completely undiscussed and essentially unknown. But it's hard to believe that Salem didn't follow along to some greater or lesser extent.

So it was very interesting to come across some clippings from this same time period in Salem that seem relevant in this context. These are about deed restrictions rather than municipal zoning, but the goal seems to be the same: To create a floor in housing cost and thereby to keep the riff-raff out.

(House Bill 4134 was passed and signed into law this year to provide  a "specific procedure for petitioning for removal of personally discriminatory restrictions from title of real property." A century-old cost floor is no longer discriminatory, but there are surely instances of lingering racist exclusionary language in deeds around the city.)

Advertorial, August 23rd, 1925
(Note also the car-related ad!)

Classified Ad, September 15th, 1926
From the first:

Laurel Park, a district restricted to modern homes has been platted, dedicated and placed on the market by the firm of Becke & Hendricks of this city. Laurel park lies along Laurel street between North Summer street and Highland avenue. Suitable building restrictions are incorporated into each deed which preclude the building of any home smaller than $2000. That the people of Salem are become awakened to the value of building restrictions is evidenced by the quirk sale of a similar property on South Winter street between Cross and Howard streets handled by Becke & Hendricks in which all lots were sold before street was opened up and several lots have been re-sold at advanced prices.

This district lies directly west of the Williamson tract where a building restriction has been imposed and guarantees to the buyer a protected district of all new homes.

There are an even fifty lots priced as low as $300 and the two most expensive have already been sold to Alert Moen and Harry Wies.
Modern map of Laurel Park - Assessor's Office
It's not possible to offer anything more than a fragmentary look here just now. A full interpretation and context will have to wait. There is almost certainly more to say! Maybe you know more about the development of local zoning or the history of local titles and deeds?

Anyway, here's a few more examples that cursory research turned up.

A decade previous, in West Salem:

Kingwood Park ad, January 2nd, 1911
And from a different ad for the same development:
Houses in the Right Place

When you build your home, select a tract where the other fellow's home will help enhance the value of yours. Every house that goes up in a tract with a building restriction, helps the tract and the houses in it.

Kingwood Park has a reasonable building restriction attached to contracts and deeds. This does not mean that the owners of lots must build but when they do build, that their house will be worth a certain price.
In the the Richmond neighborhood:

Richmond Addition, May 22nd, 1911
And here a few years later, back to the 1920s, is an ad for a very interesting little enclave in Salem. Parrish Grove is just to the south of Parrish Middle School and Lamberson Street has that funny underpass at the railroad. (In the map from the ad, you'll notice the streets don't exactly match up with the modern map; they changed the street and lot configuration apparently.)

At end of Lamberson Street:
RR Underpass, 1939 - closed today

Full half-page ad, Parrish Grove Addition, July 5th, 1922
These restrictions were common and grew into municipal zoning as well as contractual things like the CC&Rs and HOAs we have today.

So when we hear talk about "preserving neighborhood character," it's important to understand the exclusionary impulses that historically have been the basis for much of any "character." What at least partially masquerades as an aesthetic preference - or a set of them - is also a conversation and preference about class and race and may even be reducible to them.

(See also "Defense against Developer Dark Arts," which discusses the rhetoric of purity and intrusion in Historic Districts.)

Postscript, August 29th

As we find things we may just add to this post, at least until there is sufficient material for a second, independent post.

Here's a full-page ad from 1920.

January 20th, 1920
At the Smithsonian, in an interview Rothstein says:
In the early 20th century, a number of cities, particularly border cities like Baltimore, St. Louis, and Louisville, Kentucky, passed zoning ordinances that prohibited African-Americans from moving onto a block that was majority white. In 1917, the Supreme Court found in Buchanan v. Warley that such ordinances were unconstitutional, but not for racial reasons. The Court found it unconstitutional because such ordinances interfered with the rights of property owners.

As a result, planners around the country who were attempting to segregate their metropolitan areas had to come up with another device to do so. In the 1920s, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover organized an advisory committee on zoning, whose job was to persuade every jurisdiction to adopt the ordinance that would keep low-income families out of middle-class neighborhoods. The Supreme Court couldn’t explicitly mention race, but the evidence is clear that the [Commerce Department’s] motivation was racial. Jurisdictions began to adopt zoning ordinances that were exclusive on economics, but the true purpose was, in part, to exclude African-Americans. So they developed ordinances that for example, prohibited apartment buildings from being built in suburbs that had single-family homes. Or they required single-family homes to have large setbacks and be set on multiple acres, all as an attempt to make the suburb racially exclusive.
There is also suggestion that a fear of "creeping socialism" was involved, that home ownership would make people more invested in supporting capitalism. That's a link we'll be on the lookout for!

Also, is there a story about any influence Hoover's experiences at the Oregon Land Company and with his uncle might have had on his later work in support of exclusionary zoning? Maybe it's not necessary for there to be a link, but it's an interesting coincidence that he worked for a developer and land speculator.

Addendum, September 23rd

Here's another example that shows the way we have evaded the topic in our official histories.

The H-alleys of Oaks Addition
You might remember the history and housing types pamphlet for the Grant Neighborhood: "Architecture Notes: Grant Neighborhood Houses and AIA Salem Awards" and "History! Grant Walking Tour and Mission Mill World War II Event Today,"

The Oaks Addition, featured in the pamphlet, also had restrictions against "unsightly barns, business property or inferior dwellings," ensuring it would become "Salem's most exclusive residence district."

Ads for "building restrictions"
Main ad: April 13th, 1912
Inset detail: May 11th, 1912
So it wasn't, as the pamphlet says, merely the case that they were "largely advertised to upper class professionals," it was that they had restrictions explicitly and effectively excluding those who were not upper class professionals. It was much more than marketing.


Margaret Stephens said...

There were indeed explicit racist "exclusions" in residential development tracts in Salem. For the Lone Oak Village subdivision in NE Salem (which you can find on the Marion County Assessor's property search), in "Records of Marion County, Volume 14, page 1" it states: "(F) No persons of any race other than the Caucasian or white race shall use or occupy any building or lot, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupance by domestic servants of a different race domiciled with an owner or tenant."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the citation. If we can ever compile a list of subdivisions with these, we'd probably all be shocked with how widespread they were.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(And just as a footnote, Places for Bikes today published "The best-kept secret of Dutch biking: the Dutch hardly bike at all," on Dutch biking and land use. Compact development means useful things are near each other, and many routine trips can be accomplished by walking and biking, or combined with transit.)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Added a note on Hoover and clip from 1920 paper.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Added a second note on the Grant Neighborhood history and Oaks Addition.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

I don't know if this will merit a post of its own, but the City of Portland just published "Historical Context of Racist Planning: A History of How Planning Segregated Portland."