Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880–1950

Robert M. Fogelson
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 492
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Written by one of this country's foremost urban historians,Downtownis the first history of what was once viewed as the heart of the American city. It tells the fascinating story of how downtown-and the way Americans thought about downtown-changed over time. By showing how businessmen and property owners worked to promote the well-being of downtown, even at the expense of other parts of the city, it also gives a riveting account of spatial politics in urban America.Drawing on a wide array of contemporary sources, Robert M. Fogelson brings downtown to life, first as the business district, then as the central business district, and finally as just another business district. His book vividly recreates the long-forgotten battles over subways and skyscrapers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And it provides a fresh, often startling perspective on elevated highways, parking bans, urban redevelopment, and other controversial issues. This groundbreaking book will be a revelation to scholars, city planners, policymakers, and general readers interested in American cities and American history.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13340-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    During the late 1940s and early 1950s my father practiced law in a forty-story skyscraper at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-third Street, a few blocks from Grand Central Station, one of New York City’s two great railroad terminals. Five or six mornings a week, he left our apartment in the west Bronx, walked a mile or so to the New York Central’s Highbridge Station, rode the Harlem River line to Grand Central, and walked from the terminal to his office. Sometimes, on a Saturday or holiday, he took me and one or both of my brothers along, probably...

  4. 1 The Business District: Downtown in the Late Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 9-43)

    Late in 1919 A. G. Gardiner, an English journalist and former editor of the LondonDaily News,made his first trip to the United States. As his ship steamed into New York harbor, he saw through the late afternoon mist what looked like “the serrated mass of a distant range of mountains, except that the sky-line is broken with a precision that suggests the work of man rather than the careless architecture of nature.” “Gradually, as you draw near,” he observed, “the mountain range takes definition.” It turns into “vast structures with innumerable windows,” taller by far than any buildings...

  5. 2 Derailing the Subways: The Politics of Rapid Transit
    (pp. 44-111)

    Downtown Boston, the Massachusetts Rapid Transit Commission of 1892 pointed out, was “the heart of the city,” “literally, as well as metaphorically.” As Mayor Nathan Matthews, Jr., chair of the commission, observed in 1894, it was there, on a “few acres between the Common and the harbor,” that Greater Boston, a community of roughly one million, did its business. It was this district—a district, said Matthews, that was “smaller, more contracted, more congested than any similar part of any other large city in the world”—to which hundreds of thousands rushed in every morning and from which they rushed...

  6. 3 The Sacred Skyline: The Battle over Height Limits
    (pp. 112-182)

    Architect A. B. Mullett was extremely optimistic about New York City’s prospects. It will soon be “the metropolis of the world,” he told theReal Estate Record and Builders’ Guidein 1881, “as populous as London, as luxurious as Paris.” Downtown will thrive, he predicted. It will also change. It will be rebuilt with “immense structures, ten, twelve, and even fourteen stories high.” As well as more concentrated, it will become more specialized. One part “will be given over to dry goods, another to wholesale clothing, a third to insurance companies. Real estate brokers will cluster in one quarter and...

  7. 4 The Central Business District: Downtown in the 1920s
    (pp. 183-217)

    Late in 1923 Professor Ernest W. Burgess, a University of Chicago sociologist and one of the founders of the Chicago School of Sociology, delivered a paper on the growth of the American city at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Society. In this brief but extremely influential essay, Burgess presented for the first time his “concentric zonal” theory, the theory, as one geographer has summarized it, “that as a city grows it expands radially from the center to form a series of concentric zones.” As Burgess spelled it out a few years later, the innermost zone was the “Loop,”...

  8. 5 The Specter of Decentralization: Downtown During the Great Depression and World War II
    (pp. 218-248)

    By the mid 1930s the owners of Detroit’s Temple Theater, a nine-story office building that had once been the home of the city’s most successful vaudeville house, had had enough. In a city reeling from the Great Depression, the vacancy rate for office buildings was running between 35 and 40 percent. With tenants hard to find—and rents, which had been falling steadily, hard to collect—the Temple Theater no longer paid. In an attempt to lower property taxes and operating expenses, its owners did what other downtown property owners in Detroit and other cities had done. They demolished the...

  9. 6 Wishful Thinking: Downtown and the Automotive Revolution
    (pp. 249-316)

    In May 1941 the newly formed Downtown Committee, an organization of about thirty of downtown Baltimore’s largest property owners, sent G. Harvey Porter, director of the committee’s Downtown Study, on a trip to find out what other cities were doing about decentralization. Porter visited Oakland, Los Angeles, Kansas City, and St. Louis, “each of which,” said theBaltimore Sun,“has taken more or less elaborate steps to combat the process.” On his return he made several recommendations, most of which were later adopted by the committee. Porter’s trip was enlightening. But it was also superfluous. On the basis of studies...

  10. 7 Inventing Blight: Downtown and the Origins of Urban Redevelopment
    (pp. 317-380)

    Early in 1944, by which time the outcome of World War II was no longer in doubt, the U.S. House Committee on Roads held hearings on federal aid for postwar highway construction. Among the witnesses was Mayor Edward J. Jeffries of Detroit. Reading from a prepared statement, Jeffries said that in order to solve the city’s traffic problem Detroit was planning to build 168 miles of limited-access highways after the war. We need these highways, he declared. “And we need Federal funds to help finance them.” When he finished, Representative Angier L. Goodwin of Massachusetts, a junior member of the...

  11. 8 Just Another Business District? Downtown in the Mid Twentieth Century
    (pp. 381-394)

    In April 1950 theSt. Louis Post-Dispatchpublished an article about downtown St. Louis, the eighth in a series about Greater St. Louis entitled “Progress or Decay? St. Louis Must Choose.” Downtown St. Louis was ailing, wrote reporter Richard G. Baumhoff. Many office buildings were old and dingy. No new ones had been erected in a decade. And a few department stores were establishing branches in Clayton and other rapidly growing outlying business districts. Downtown’s property values were on the rise, but its assessed value was lower than in 1930. Only 375,000 people, roughly one of every five, entered the...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 395-398)

    Late in 1951Urban Land,the official publication of the Urban Land Institute, ran an editorial entitled “‘Our Downtown’—Is It Growing or Dying?” a question that was on the minds of many of the institute’s members. To help answer it, the editorial quoted at length from a leaflet written by Frank J. LaPin, a Portland, Oregon, realtor, whose words, it said, “apply in every American city.” Downtown, wrote LaPin, has serious problems, among them run-down stores, narrow streets, and inadequate parking. But much was being done to solve them, especially by downtown merchants, who were spending millions to modernize...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 399-474)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 475-476)
  15. Index
    (pp. 477-492)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 493-493)