Wednesday, January 8, 2020

City First Zoned in December 1926, Appealed to City Beautiful Concept

May 10th, 1927

Front page, but a small piece
December 21st, 1926
Though it was front page news, the actual zoning ordinance and map did not get much of a headline or even a very long notice. In December of 1926 the City passed Salem's first zoning law, and neither the paper nor the public seemed to pay much attention. This level of coverage seems disproportionate to the hullabaloo it had earlier occasioned.

New Commissioners

Back in the summer, on August 2nd, the Mayor appointed a whole new slate of Commissioners to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

One of our old friends, a candidate for the originator of the "third bridge" concept, Hedda Swart, was among them. I am not sure if he was a traffic engineer with the Highway Department yet, but on the surface it is easy to see him as a substitute for Conde McCullough.

Mid-month they elected officers and started work.

Sort and Separate

In "Zoners Study Basic Problem," the paper outlined the scope of work and gave an example of a contested laundry:
A zoning law will have to be formulated, dividing the city into residence, store, and industrial districts before the commission can follow a definite policy in its transactions, and this law will not be decided for some time....

The committee recommended that a petition to erect a laundry building at 15th and B streets be referred back to the petitioners to make it conform to city ordinance requiring that the names and addresses of all property owners within 500 feet of the site be given in the petition.

The site of this proposed laundry is in a residential district, and some of the property owners have remonstrated against allowing it to be built.
A week later realty interests criticized this state of affairs.
There is no one at present who can tell a man where he can build a certain type of building. The fault for this condition lies with the ordinance requiring the names and addreses of all property owners within 500 feet...on any application for permission to erect business structures.
A little later in a squabble over the difference between "apartment houses" and "dwelling houses," Council discussed some of the exclusionary motive for zoning:
the need of authority to regulate dwelling houses, as many of them are being put up in such manner that they detract from the beauty of the city and affect property values near them.

Some of the ways in which home builders offend are by having the building extend clear across the lot from side to side, by building houses at non-uniform distances from the sidewalk, and by putting garages in front of the dwelling.
While we still have setbacks, we no longer insist on garages in the back.

In late October, Commissioners went to Portland to "confer" on "ways and means" of completing a map of building zones in Salem. They were very clear about modeling the Salem ordinance and plan on Portland's.

In November, a dispute over a proposed filling station highlighted the lack of certainty and clarity in the existing ad hoc process.

The Plan and its Exclusionary Aims

November 23rd, 1926
In late November a draft list was prepared. Here is the article in full:
Matter to be Submitted to Council at Next Regular session for Approval

The city of Salem will be zoned for building purposes probably within the next two weeks, it was indicated following a meeting of the city zoning and planning commission last night. A tentative list of zones has already been prepared, but will probably be changed some before being submitted to the council for approval.

The commission hopes to have the zones ready for approval at the council's next meeting December 6, it was stated last night by Lewis Campbell, chairman, but whether this can be done is not certain.

After the council has acted on the proposed zones, a public hearing must be held two week later, so the city zoning cannot be enforced before the first of the coming year, at the earliest.

The new zones, in their present state, are modeled somewhat after those now in force in Portland, although some changes have been made. An ordinance to accompany the zones will be drawn up soon, and indications last night were that it also would be modeled largely after the Portland ordinance. The Portland ordinance works very well, and would make an excellent model to follow, according to members of the commission.

Under the proposed ordinance, Salem will be divided into five zones, together with one sub-zone. Zone No. 1, under the ordinance, would be a restricted residence district, for single family residences only. Zone 2, the other residential zone, would permit in addition residences for two families, apartments, flats and multiple dwellings.

Zone 3 would permit all buildings such as are in zones 1 and 2, and would also contain business houses and manufacturing plants in which there is little noise or other offensive feature. Zone 3 (special) is one which would permit business houses, stores, drug stores, and the like in a residential district.

The areas taken in by this zone are small and scattered and include spots where a small business center exists in an otherwise strictly residential district.

Zone 4 is an unrestricted business zone, in which factories of all kinds are permitted. Zone 5 is one which is a prospective residential district, but in, which families are permitted to live in shacks, garages and the like for a period of two years. Areas taken in by this zone lie on the outskirts of the city, and are such that in course of time they will become restricted residential sections.

Under the tentative zoning system the chief unrestricted areas lie along the water front, in the North Salem and Fairgrounds road business section, and along the railroad tracks extending east and west, through the city south of Willamette university as far as the Southern Pacific passenger station.
Zone 5 for "shacks, garages, and the like," is particularly interesting. There are multiple dimensions of exclusion here, and it is not possible to draw a one-to-one correspondence to race or wealth. But for its creators and the wider citizenry it is a happy "feature," and not a "bug," that many of the concepts indirectly correlate to race or wealth.

A few months after the City passed the ordinance, backers highlighted the aesthetic dimension in what appears to be something of a PR campaign. (Clip at very top.) This later piece on the "city beautiful" talks about desire for "elaborate and artistic residences" and the prospect of "spoiling" a whole block. This reads as if it were about beauty, but it's more about money and ethnicity. The zoning is set up to exclude poor people from the "restricted" residence districts and to exile them to the edges of the city. The "other residential zone," which permits apartments. which could "mar the appearance of a residential street," is also separated from the "restricted residential area."

You might recall the passage from the 1926 Polk Directory:
Salem is also known as the most all-American city in the west. More than 93 per cent of its people are American born and the others are all citizens. There is absolutely no foreign element in Salem. With a population of 26,000 there are only 30 negroes in the city and the few Japs and Chinese are mostly in one rural district.
The State law that authorized the zoning also let cities "take jurisdiction of the platting of new additions within six miles of the city limits," so it seems clear that Zone 5 had a racial component also. We should remember ways that the citizenry talked about Chinatown and its shacks, and also "the hobo element" and ways today we talk about people without homes and "cleaning" the campsites.

Focus on aesthetics, from May 10th, 1927
The City Beautiful movement was here already a retrospective, even nostalgic perspective. It is conventionally associated with Daniel Burham and the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition. Portland's 1903 Olmstead Park Plan is an important local milestone. Both Washington, DC and Chicago use City Beautiful principles in early 1900s plans. Anything here, then, is a late iteration of it, a full second-generation later.

The Salem plan is also not very grand. The PR piece has borrowed the rhetoric of City Beautiful planning to sell a more ordinary zoning plan. There isn't a new cluster of Beaux-Arts buildings planned, no grand boulevards, no new park system, no real focus on public space, none of the hallmarks of the big City Beautiful plans.

Really it's about the core exclusionary principles to preserve residential enclaves, dressed up with the rhetoric of beauty, art, and cleanliness.

Anti-Climax: Hearing and Adoption

Back to the adoption process, at the first meeting after the draft plan was made public, Council deferred formal discussion until after the Public Hearing. Perhaps not coincidentally, Council also created the "Office of Moving Picture Censor" and appointed the Chief of Police to that position. There are so many ideas about purity and order in culture and politics at this moment!

On the 13th of December, only seven people came to the first Hearing

But this didn't matter, and on the 20th, Council passed the ordinance.

I expected to read more debate and controversy.

Even as we criticize zoning concepts, we should probably remember that they also sought to solve real problems. It is reasonable to separate heavy industry from homes and to have some baseline of building codes and standards. One early element we will see is regulation for fire escapes. But it is less reasonable to eliminate corner stores, missing middle housing, and even some forms of light industry or other commercial ventures. It is a complex legacy.

Next we'll look at how the zoning scheme first worked in 1927. (See all notes on our zoning history here.)

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