Tag Archives: Housing

Uncle Sam and Black Arlington: Bringing Jobs but Taking Housing, 1861- 1945

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3. The deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we continue our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Lindsey Bestebreurtje

Arlington, Virginia, is a small county in northern Virginia just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. Diverse neighborhoods checker the landscape, each bearing the styles of middle class suburbia as it evolved throughout the twentieth century, from Victorian to Craftsman and Bungalow on to Rambler and multi-family homes. The county has always had a unique relationship with the nation’s capital as work for the federal government has long shaped the life of Arlington’s residents.

Today, the federal government is one of the top employers of Arlingtonians. This pattern of employment began in the late-nineteenth century. Expansions of federal programs that emerged during the Civil War and Reconstruction continued into the twentieth century, as WWI, the New Deal, WWII, and the Cold War each increased the number, size, and scope of federal agencies. By 1940, more than half of the county’s employed adult residents worked for the federal government. This expansion provided work for Arlington natives and attracted individuals from around the country to the area, making it “the fastest growing county in America.”

The opportunity for federal employment extended to Arlington’s African American population. Since its founding, Arlington has had a small but stable black population. Through reform measures like the Pendleton Civil Service Act (1883) and the Ramspeck Act (1940), which made federal hiring based on merit and dismissal without cause illegal, African Americans in Arlington could rely on good federal jobs. Though not devoid of prejudice nor immune to legislative backsliding, the federal government provided stable, merit-based, well-paying blue- and white-collar employment to black Arlingtonians generations before that could be said throughout the nation. Arlington’s African American residents held diverse employment types ranging from custodial staff and chauffeurs to stenographers, librarians, and section chiefs.

Figure
The figure above shows the extreme disparity in African American (shown in black) and white (shown in grey) population growth. Arlington’s black community of approximately 7,000 residents, most of whom came from families with deep roots in the county, went from 38% of the total population is 1900 to only 5% by 1950. Today, Arlington is home to about 18,000 African Americans, up to 8.9% of the county’s population.

But employment was not the only way that the federal government impacted Arlington. A huge portion of the county is owned by federal institutions, which occupy 18% of the land in the county. The same government expansion that provided more work pushed federal installations such as Arlington National Cemetery, the Department of Agriculture’s Experimental Farm, the Navy Annex, Fort Myer, and the Pentagon into the county beginning in the nineteenth century.

Pentagon.jpg
Aerial view of the Pentagon, Arlington, Va. circa 1947, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The majority of these institutions were constructed in southern Arlington. Southern Arlington was home to almost all of Arlington’s African American communities, including Green Valley, Queen City, and Johnson’s Hill. Local black resident Vivian Bullock of Hall’s Hill called south side Arlington “the black side.” As a result, the physical encroachment of federal institutions in southern Arlington disproportionately affected Arlington’s black communities.

The story of Queen City highlights how federal expansion into Arlington had an especially negative impact on the county’s black neighborhoods. More than 200 working class families in Queen City lived in modest but well-kept frame houses. Generations of families grew in Queen City after its founding in 1892. Third generation Queen City resident William Vollin described his neighborhood as a “real happy, solid community.”

While Vollin saw a strong working class community, federal authorities surveying the area for a location for the War Department’s new Pentagon building saw something else entirely. Where residents saw a thriving community, outsiders saw the black neighborhood as a ghetto. The neighborhood was described as an “industrial slum” by developers. Federal authorities also looked down on the neighborhood. Construction supervisor Lieutenant Bob Furman said in a 1941 letter to the Civil Aeronautics Administration that the area consisted of “really, really rough shacks.” Queen City resident Gertrude Jeffress pushed back against this categorization. In a 2004 interview with author Steve Vogel, she insisted, “whoever said it was nothing but shacks, well that ain’t true. This was a nice little neighborhood.” But the powers that be believed the homes, churches, community institutions, and businesses within the neighborhood would mar the views from the Pentagon and should be demolished.

Queen CIty
The image above shows Queen City with the Pentagon in the background in early spring of 1942. Though modest, they are a far cry from the “shacks” many federal builders alleged made up Queen City. Within days the community was demolished. U.S. Army, Pentagon, April 1942.

And that is exactly what happened. In January of 1942 construction began on the Pentagon’s road networks, which ran through the community. Plans moved forward for construction without anyone informing the people of Queen City. In February of 1942, residents received word that they had to be out of their homes by March 1. Property was seized through a combination of eminent domain laws and modest payments to home owners.

Roads
This aerial photograph shows Shirley Highway I-395 snaking through Arlington County. This area was once home to the African American neighborhoods of East Arlington and Queen City.

Almost all of those who lost their homes were black. Where Queen City and neighboring East Arlington were demolished to make way for the Pentagon, Navy Annex, and related road construction, the nearby white neighborhood of Columbia Heights, which also bordered the projects, was left largely untouched.

8c34638v.jpg
Arlington, Virginia. FSA (Farm Security Administration) trailer camp project for Negroes. General view, Marjory Collins, April 1942, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

After losing their homes residents were not sure where to go. Lt. Furman admitted that he and his men didn’t “think… much about their welfare” when removing residents from their homes. Relocation was especially onerous because there were so few homes. Arlington was experiencing a severe housing shortage thanks to the flood of wartime workers entering the area. This housing crisis was especially acute in the black community as residents were barred from many of Arlington’s neighborhoods due to residential segregation and restrictive covenants.

After losing their homes with almost no notice, few funds, and a shrinking housing stock, one of the primary options for these individuals was the federal government’s emergency housing. To help displaced residents avoid homelessness, the federal government created a trailer camp on mud flats at the outskirts of Green Valley. These trailer camps were constructed to serve only as temporary housing. Entire families, no matter their size, squeezed into trailers equipped with stoves for heat and cooking, convertible couch-beds meant to sleep four people, and no running water. The tight quarters, lack of proper sanitation, and mud created an unhealthy environment vulnerable to illness. The camp was also prone to flooding and attracted rats. Resident John Henderson remembered rats so large they could shake the floor boards as they passed.

8c34644r-1
Arlington, Virginia. FSA (Farm Security Administration) trailer camp project for Negroes. Interior of a single type trailer showing cooking facilities and couch which can be converted into a bed, Marjory Collins, April 1942, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Despite the loss of Queen City, these individuals and families were able to tap into the strong social, religious, and fraternal networks that linked African American Arlingtonians across neighborhoods and, with such a stable African American population, across generations. Henderson recalled that “it was quite a trying time,” but “I think the love and association of people is what kept people together.” After the end of the war the trailers were removed. Many individuals and families moved in with local family, moved into other federal housing, or found homes in one of Arlington’s remaining black communities – Green Valley, Johnson’s Hill, or Hall’s Hill.

Due in large part to the county’s Neighborhood Conservation Program these three anchor black communities still remain today. Renamed Nauck, Arlington View, and High-View Park respectively, only time will tell if they will be able to stem the tide of continued gentrification and the new threat of Amazon’s HQ2.

Featured image (at top): Map of Alexandria County, formerly part of the District of Columbia, Gregor Noetzel and G.G. Boteler, 1907, Geography and Maps Division, Library of Congress

Dr. Lindsey Bestebreurtje is a Curatorial Assistant at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. She specializes in suburbanization, segregation, and the built environment. 

From Arlandria to Chirilagua: The Shifting Demographics of a Northern Virginia Neighborhood

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3. The deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we continue our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Krystyn Moon

In the summer of 1980, Edith Zambrano arrived in northern Virginia like many men and women whose lives El Salvador’s civil war had disrupted. After a student massacre her grandfather had refused to allow her to attend school, and with war raging in the countryside she decided that it was time to leave for the United States. Traveling to the United States had always been a possibility for Zambrano, whose parents had immigrated a decade earlier. In fact, the first Salvadorans, working for American diplomats who had previously lived in Central America, had arrived in the Washington metropolitan area in the 1960s. This first cohort of Salvadoran immigrants soon invited friends and family to make the journey and assisted them in finding work in construction, restaurants, and domestic labor.[1] It took Zambrano twenty-one days to travel from El Salvador to the United States, including a trip across the Rio Grande on a raft. She eventually made it to Los Angeles, and then flew into Dulles International Airport where her family was waiting.

18188r
Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia, Detroit Publishing Inc., 1902, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Her mother had found an apartment in Arlandria, one of the few privately-owned low-income neighborhoods in the region. Located in the northernmost portion of Alexandria, Virginia, the neighborhood was “where the apartment buildings were known for cockroaches inside and drug dealers outside.”[2] Like many recent arrivals, the Zambranos squeezed nine people into a one-bedroom apartment, trying to save as much money as possible to send to family members back home. They were among the first Latino residents of Arlandria, but they soon saw numerous familiar faces from El Salvador. “One by one, that summer and the next, [Zambrano’s] classmates showed up and moved into her neighborhood…. Her cousins followed…. Every Sunday, the crowds at the neighborhood soccer games grew, and every Sunday, she bumped into someone else from back home.”[3] By the late 1980s, the neighborhood was home to a sizable number of Salvadoran immigrants who nicknamed the neighborhood “Chirilagua,” after a town in southeastern El Salvador from which many residents had fled.

Arlandria/Chirilagua, like the rest of northern Virginia, had only seen small numbers of immigrants prior to the 1980s. Constructed in the late 1930s, the neighborhood’s garden apartments and rowhouses catered to white federal workers, of which an overwhelming majority was native born. With the passage of local and federal fair housing policies in the 1960s, Alexandria slowly began to desegregate its housing stock, and for the first time large numbers of African Americans moved into the neighborhood. Racial tensions ran high in Arlandria, with two incidents of white-on-black violence that provoked widespread anger and destruction throughout the city.[4] Simultaneously, rapid suburbanization along Four Mile Run, a large stream that emptied into the Potomac River near Arlandria, had created what Adam Rome asserts was “an environmental catastrophe.”[5] Northern Virginia’s sprawling tract housing and shopping plazas ensured that water had few places to go, especially after a drenching storm. One of the most memorable was Hurricane Agnes (1972), during which one Arlandria resident drowned.[6]

sampson121_arlandria_fourmilerun_flood_21jun1972_300
Damage in Arlandria from 1972’s Hurricane Agnes courtesy of the Alexandria Public Library
sampson128_arlandria_fourmilerun_flood_21jun1972
Damage in Arlandria from 1972’s Hurricane Agnes courtesy of the Alexandria Public Library

Arlandria’s environmental and social turmoil made the neighborhood an affordable, although potentially dangerous, place to live for newly arrived immigrants. Refugees from Southeast Asia who needed a place to live once their sponsorship period had ended made up the first sizable number of new arrivals.[7] Immigrants from all over the world, however, also moved to the neighborhood. By 1975, immigrants from the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Iran, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, and Turkey lived in Arlandria.[8]

In the 1980s, the Reagan Administration’s cuts to social services combined with Cold War policies created a crisis for those near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder who lived in the region. In response to Reagan’s nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, both American citizens and immigrants moved to Washington to take advantage of the growing economy, with government contractors making billions of dollars selling products and services to the Defense Department and other federal agencies. Meanwhile, service industries flourished along with construction jobs, domestic work, and clerical positions, all of which saw an increasing number of foreign-born employees. Although job opportunities expanded, so did living expenses, with rich and poor competing for places to live within commuting distance of their employers. Thus local developers began to buy undervalued apartments and convert them into high-end rentals or condominiums that appealed to a new class of white professionals, known as “yuppies.” In Virginia, low-income residents had little recourse. State and local governments had enacted few regulations protecting renters from predatory landlords and developers.[9]

The proximity of Arlandria to Washington, D.C. along with its undervalued real estate market, was perfect for mid-to-high-end redevelopment, which local governments believed would lead to more tax monies. In response to changes in the housing market, Artery Organization, Inc. purchased over 1,000 apartment units in Arlandria in 1986. It created a firestorm among city officials and local residents. At the same time, two other developers, Potomack Development, Inc. and Freeman/Cafritz, had purchased other apartment complexes in the neighborhood with the intent to renovate and raise rents.[10] These sales constituted 74% of the neighborhood’s apartments, all of which were slated for conversion and potential displacement of the existing residents. Magda Gotts, an Arlandria resident and member of the newly formed Alexandria United Tenant Organization (which hoped to protect local residents from displacement and eviction), told reporters, “it’s going to be an exodus of people. There is no place for these people to go. I’m speechless.” [11] Alexandria’s mayor, Jim Moran, noted this would be “the largest displacement in the city’s history.” Despite their concerns, local officials believed little could be done.

Tenants Flyer
Tenant Flyer from Tenants and Workers United circa mid-1980s, photograph by Krystyn Moon

Tensions over housing soon pitted African American and Latino residents living in Arlandria against each other, eventually leading to violence. The arrival of immigrants in the neighborhood had angered some African American residents, who only in the past twenty years had the opportunity to live in Arlandria and had struggled to find housing in the region. Latinos, many of whom were unrecognized as refugees by the federal government, could not apply for housing assistance programs, and were limited to privately-owned units. In July 1986, a fight broke out in the streets of Arlandria between African American and Latino residents, leading to forty arrests. In response, the local chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews organized a series of community meetings to develop a list of issues that affected Arlandria residents and facilitate interracial and intercultural conversations to mitigate tension. Everyone recognized that pending displacement triggered the violence.[12]

In the meantime, tenants and their supporters organized protests to raise public awareness and demanded city officials and developers be held accountable. Two groups, Alexandria United Tenants Organization and the Arlandria Community Campaign to Save our Homes, organized Latino, African American, and white tenants to protest and speak out against displacement.[13] Within weeks of the first sale, 200 residents walked through the streets singing “We Shall Not Be Moved,” invoking the Civil Rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”[14] A year later, tenants and activists organized a large-scale, interracial and interethnic march from Arlandria to City Hall, including Edith Zambrano. While giving speeches on the City Hall’s steps, Mitch Snyder, a Washingtonian homeless activist from the Community for Creative Non Violence, suggested protesters take over City Council chambers, symbolically displacing local government. It was the only time in which protesters had successfully shut down City Council. Frustrated by the presence of protesters in their chambers, Mayor Moran threatened to send agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to arrest residents, and almost came to blows with Snyder.[15]

Meanwhile, city government scrambled to put together a plan to help as many tenants as possible. By the end of the summer, it had worked out a compromise with developers to put aside one-fourth of their apartments for the next five years for low-income tenants who received Section 8 subsidies. The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) also began renovations of 152 units to be put aside for public housing.[16] That same year, a group of local Episcopal churches established Carpenter’s Lodgings (now Community Lodgings), a non-profit to address homelessness in the neighborhood. In addition to housing, they offered job training, childcare, and other social services to local residents.[17] Many residents still wanted cooperative housing, in which they owned units with support from public and private funds. The Tenants Support Committee, established in 1989, used the bankruptcy of one of the developers to acquire 300 units. It took an additional ten years to create the Arlandria-Chirilagua Housing Cooperative.[18]

In the end, Arlandria’s housing problems in the 1980s established lasting changes between residents and city officials. Local government needed to be more responsive to the needs of low-income residents, who now included not only African Americans and whites, but also a diverse immigrant population. Creative public and private partnerships, in the wake of cuts to federal funding under the Reagan administration, could also offset massive displacements. More participatory forms of local governance, which African Americans had demanded since the 1960s, fostered a sense of belonging and community. By the late 1980s, Arlandria had not become yuppified as many feared, but maintained its diversity.

Edith Zambrano eventually legalized her status and moved out of Chirilagua, like many Salvadorans who came in response to the civil war. Newer immigrants, however, have moved into the neighborhood, which is still known for its sizable Latino, especially Central American, community today.[19]

2018 Headshot AKrystyn Moon is a professor of history and director of American Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Her teaching and research include US immigration history, popular culture, race and ethnic studies, foodways, gender and sexuality, and consumerism. She is the author of Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music and Performance, 1850s-1920s (2005), and several articles, essays, reviews, and blogs on American immigration history and ethnic identity. Additionally, she has worked as a public historian, collaborating with the Office of Historic Alexandria for several years. As part of this partnership, she has written “Finding the Fort: A History of an African American Neighborhood in Northern Virginia, 1860s-1960s” to assist in the inclusion of African American history in Alexandria’s public programming. She was also the lead historical researcher and interviewer on “Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future,” an oral history project funded by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Her current research looks at ways in complicating the public’s understanding of the past, especially through her research on race relations and immigration in the Washington metropolitan region. She serves as the president of the Alexandria Historical Society, and is the recent past president of the Southeastern Regional Chapter of the American Studies Association.

Featured image (at top): Mural depicting the community’s image located on the Tenants and Workers United Headquarters, photograph by Krystyn Moon

 

[1] Terry A. Repak, Waiting on Washington: Central American Workers in the Nation’s Capital (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995).

[2] Philip P. Pan, “At Home in Chirilagua, Va.; Salvadoran Leaves Old Village, Finds New One in U.S.,” Washington Post 6 December 1999, A1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Arlandria Negroes Protest Police Action,” Washington Post October 6, 1969, C4; E. J. Bachinski and Michael Hodge, “Youth Slain, Disorder Hits Alexandria,” Washington Post, May 30, 1970, 17.

[5] Adam Rome, Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 3.

[6] “Fairfax Flood Death Raises Toll to 15,” Washington Post June 27, 1972.

[7] Christine R. Finnan, Rhonda Ann Cooperstein, and Anne R. Wright, Southeast Asian Refugee Resettlement at the Local Level: The Role of the Ethnic Community and the Nature of Refugee Impact (Menlo Park, CA: SRI International, November 1983), 119-133.

[8] Data collected by author on 1975 VA Marriage Certificates, Department of Health–Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics; State of Virginia; www.ancestry.com (accessed on September 18, 2016).

[9] Michael Schaller, Reckoning with Reagan: America and Its President in the 1980s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Haynes Johnson, Sleepwalking through History: America in the Reagan Years (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2003); Simon Head, “Reagan, Nuclear Weapons, and the End of the Cold War,” Ronald Reagan and the 1980s: Perceptions, Policies, Legacies, ed. Cheryl Hudson and Gareth Davies, (New York: Palgrave, 2008), 81-100; Matthew Evangelista, Innovation and Arms Race: How the United States and the Soviet Union Develop New Military Technologies (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988); Terry A. Repak, Waiting on Washington: Central American Workers in the Nation’s Capital (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995); Andrew Friedman, Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).

[10] Memo: Receipt of Arlandria Report; From: Lionel R. Hope and Carlyle C. Ring Jr.; To Mayor and City Council; City Clerk, Docket Minutes–City Council, October 28-November 15, 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[11] Mary Jordan, “Tenant Group Gets $16,000 in Alexandria; Organization’s Flier Angers Mayor Moran,” Washington Post March 12, 1986, C4; Mary Jordan, “Apartment Purchase Plan Stirs Controversy; Displacement of 3,000 Low-Income Persons Feared in Alexandria,” Washington Post June 11, 1986, C4.

[12] Around the Region,” Washington Post June 4, 1986, C6; Kim McGuire, “Keeping Sunnyside Up is Goal of Residents,” Washington Post June 26, 1986, VAB11; “Around the Region,” Washington Post August 22, 1986, B5; “Arlandria Inner Group 1986 File,” Citizen Assistance—Subject Files, January 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[13] Special Meeting–September 13, 1986; City Clerk—Docket Minutes—City Council—July 17-September 13, 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[14] Caryle Murphy, “Housing Protests Angers Alexandria Officials,” Washington Post February 24, 1986, B3.

[15] Interview with Jon Liss conducted by John Reibling; April 14, 2015; Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future Project; Office of Historic Alexandria; Alexandria, VA; https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/Immigration/LissJon.pdf (accessed June 6, 2017); Sandra Evans, “Alexandria Tenants Protest; City Council Forced to Adjourn by Group,” Washington Post, February 22, 1987, B3; Caryle Murphy, “Housing Protests Angers Alexandria Officials,” Washington Post February 24, 1987, B3 .

[16] “City of Alexandria Annual Report: 1987,” Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[17] Community Lodgings: About Us; http://www.communitylodgings.org/about-us/ (accessed September 6, 2016).

[18] Interview with Jon Liss conducted by John Reibling; April 14, 2015; Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future Project; Office of Historic Alexandria; Alexandria, VA; https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/Immigration/LissJon.pdf (accessed June 7, 2017).

[19] Philip P. Pan, “At Home in Chirilagua, Va.; Salvadoran Leaves Old Village, Finds New One in U.S.,” Washington Post 6 December 1999, A1.

The One-Way Street of Integration: Edward Goetz Responds

By Edward G. Goetz

I want to thank Eric Michael Rhodes for his thoughtful read of my book, The One-Way Street of Integration. The great challenge of writing the book, which Mr. Rhodes seems to have sensed in his remarks at the end of his review, was in articulating a vision for how to use housing policy in the pursuit of racial justice and regional equity without reducing that effort to a series of variations on the single theme of shifting lower-income people of color across the metropolitan landscape. The policy debate, about which Mr. Rhodes makes fair observations, will go on – my book is quite unlikely to resolve that disagreement. His engaging review, however, provides me with the opportunity to elaborate my argument.

First, practical matters: We need to reclaim the notion of “fair housing” from those who reduce it to merely an integration objective. The lack of good, decent, affordable housing in communities of color is also a fair housing issue and one that would be addressed by an aggressive housing improvement initiative across the country. The disproportionate occupancy of substandard housing by people of color is part of that fair housing issue. Perhaps more to the point given the housing trends in major U.S. cities, the forced relocation of lower-income people of color from neighborhoods that have for decades experienced disinvestment and neglect but that are now receiving renewed investment, either through processes of gentrification or large scale public housing redevelopment, is a fair housing issue. And yet fair housing lawyers oppose efforts by local governments and activists to provide preferences to neighborhood residents for affordable housing that might insulate those families from forced displacement. It is a myopic vision of fair housing at best.

Second, we flatter ourselves and slide into paternalism when we act on the idea that we know best about where lower income POC should live. Third, we rob communities of color and their leadership of agency if we do not acknowledge and attempt to facilitate a stay-in-place option. Fourth, we take our eyes off of the real objectives; the enhancement of housing choices for low-income POC, if we pretend to know which is the best choice for them, and when we fashion our policies to incentivize or require that choice. Fifth, we need to refocus on breaking down barriers to choice, including building subsidized housing in exclusive white enclaves.

But beyond practical policy matters, defining the disadvantages faced by people of color in our metropolitan areas solely, or even chiefly in terms of segregation, obscures the deeply embedded racism and the structures of public and private racial subordination that operate in this country. Integrationism imagines that the rearrangement of people in space is a substitute for the hard work of dismantling structural racism. Further, it underappreciates the subtle and not so subtle ways in which it legitimates and ratifies that racism. By positing integration into predominantly white neighborhoods as the means of uplift for lower income people of color we incorporate white racism into our public policy approaches. We define the ideal neighborhood as one that is mostly white. We incorporate and ratify the white racism that would lead to white flight if ‘too many’ people of color entered a community. As Cheryl Harris wrote in 1993, we, in fact, define our goals in ways to avoid disturbing “the settled expectations of whites that their interests – particularly the relative privilege accorded by their whiteness – would not be violated.”

Cheryl I. Harris, 1993. “Whiteness as property.” Harvard Law Review, 106, 8, June.

Edward G. Goetz is Professor of Urban and Regional Planning and the Director of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota. He has served as Associate Dean and as Director of the Masters of Urban and Regional Planning program at the Humphrey School. He specializes in housing and local community development planning and policy. His research focuses on issues of race and poverty and how they affect housing policy planning and implementation.

Book Review: The One Way Street of Integration: Fair Housing and the Pursuit of Racial Justice in American Cities by Edward G. Goetz

Edward G. Goetz, The One-Way Street of Integration: Fair Housing and the Pursuit of Racial Justice in American Cities. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2017. 224 pp. notes, index. ISBN 9781501707599

Reviewed by Eric Michael Rhodes

Should those concerned about racial inequality in the American metropolis bring opportunity to people or help people move to opportunity? This question has wrankled policymakers and community organizers alike for nearly 50 years. Community development advocates have generally promoted the “opportunity to people” approach, while fair housing proponents have tried to “move people to opportunity.”

In One-Way Street of Integration: Fair Housing and the Pursuit of Racial Justice in American Cities, Edward Goetz argues that the “fair housing” movement, a well-intentioned effort to integrate the suburbs, grew into a myopic, integration-at-any-cost crusade in which people of color paid the price. This effort to increase affordable housing opportunities ultimately diminished such possibilities in city and suburb alike.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, “integrationist” fair housers obsessed with increasing suburban housing opportunity actually began suing community developers trying to build subsidized housing in the inner city. At the root of this controversy was decreasing federal funding for new subsidized housing construction: a “climate of scarcity” pitted the camps against one another. Professor Goetz’s sweeping indictment of the well-intentioned effort to advance racial integration deserves thoughtful consideration; it should inspire wide-ranging debate.

Cabrini_green_demolition_2
Goetz argues that HUD’s HOPE VI initiative represents the worst excesses of the fair housing movement’s “integrationist” impulse: the destruction of extant low-income communities of color in the name of racial integration. Here, the demolition of the Cabrini-Green Homes in Chicago begins under HOPE VI in September of 1995.

Following adoption of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the fair housing movement attempted to build low-income housing in the suburbs to increase housing opportunity for poor Americans. Such efforts, exemplified by Housing and Urban Development Secretary George Romney’s Open Communities initiative, promised to increase opportunity for those wishing to move to the suburbs or remain in the city. Fair housing advocates at this early stage promoted building low-income housing in the inner city as well. Thus, this initial iteration of the fair housing movement, even with its suburban focus, presented no real obstacle to continuing inner city housing and redevelopment programs. Community development and fair housing were not yet at odds.

It was only after the ostensible victories in Gautreaux et al. v. Chicago Housing Authority (1969) and Hills v. Gautreaux (1976) that a rift developed between the suburban integrationists and city re-constructionists. Following Gautreaux, the NAACP and other civil rights groups could fairly celebrate orders to demolish Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green and other highly segregated public housing projects. But Gautreaux also presumed that concentrating poor families, whether in tall towers or single-family homes, might create inherently dysfunctional living conditions or threaten largely-white communities. So, the new Section 8 housing voucher impaction rules, seeking to avoid intensifying segregation, discouraged the award of vouchers in inner-city neighborhoods; as for poor families moving to the suburbs, the goal was to ensure that they would be sufficiently dispersed to mitigate social disruption or alarm. According to Goetz, as a result of the acceptance of rigid constraints to prevent the “tipping” of communities from white to black, the number of low-income families that could move to majority white areas within or outside the city actually diminished. The worst of the integrationists’ impulses surfaced in the form of HOPE VI, amounting to the destruction of extant black, low-income communities.

BrokenPromises_JohnFekner
Broken Promises“, photograph by John Fekner; One of the most important takeaways of Goetz’s book is that growing austerity for federally-subsidized housing significantly deepened the divide between the community development and fair housing movements over the last fifty-odd years. There is little hope of reconciliation unless the federal government increases funding for new construction and rehabilitation of low- and moderate-income housing. Austerity grew after President Nixon called for a moratorium on subsidized housing in 1973.

Goetz points out that fair housing advocates underestimated the deep-seated white resistance to integration that, even now, after decades of litigation, still severely limits the number of affordable units that can be built or rented in white neighborhoods; at the same time, reformers overestimated the equity outcomes of integration. How much better off were black and Hispanic families in the suburbs than those who remained in the city? The matter has been debated and studied for the past forty years. Instead of attempting to measure and predict with mathematical precision the spatial makeup of each community, Goetz suggests it would have been more effective simply to increase resources to provide for additional low and moderate-income housing in historically disinvested neighborhoods, even if they were segregated.

But this point is hard to prove. In the first place we should not forget that beyond the basic goal of generating more housing units, there were legal and moral reasons for battling suburban exclusionary zoning and discriminatory real estate practices, and if, to give Goetz his due, the integrationist impulse had been more restrained and less rigid would we have generated more housing? After all, funding for low and moderate-income housing has, for all sorts of reasons, been so dismal since Nixon’s 1973 moratorium on subsidized housing that it is difficult to blame the problem simply on the myopia of suburban integrationists.

Looking ahead, when the funding for affordable housing (through new construction, increased subsidies and constraints on gentrification) finally returns to some decent level, city builders and suburban integrationists may yet find themselves moving back and forth from city to suburb along a two-way street.

unnamedEric Michael Rhodes is a graduate student of urban and planning history at Miami University of Ohio. Eric studies how U.S. subsidized housing policy played out in the rusting Steel Belt of the 1970s, with a particular eye to the nation’s first operable metropolitan fair housing plan: Dayton’s Fair Share Housing Plan. He is an associate editor of Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective (a joint publication of Miami and Ohio State universities) and is co-host of the podcast History Talk. Email: rhodesem@miamioh.edu; Twitter: @EricMichaRhodes

 

 

Mid-Century Modernism on the Fringes of D.C.: Charles Goodman and NOVA’s Hollin Hills

When one thinks of Northern Virginia, Old Town Alexandria might be the first place that comes to mind. Historic, compact, and on the water, Old Town remains a popular brunch and tourist destination and a way station for intrepid souls proceeding on to nearby Mount Vernon. Yet, since the 1960s, Alexandria’s industrial areas such as Old Town North have embraced modern mixed-use development; throughout Old Town, the occasional cobble street meets with plenty of twenty-first century realities. Historic Old Town serves as an anchor for a rapidly urbanizing and expanding Alexandria, where modern townhomes and apartment complexes in the new developments of Potomac Yard and Braddock are shaping the built environment around Alexandria’s iconic downtown.

IMG_20180428_161337
Hollin Hills, photograph by John Bluedorne, April 2018

The more modern design of NOVA’s other notable town, Arlington—which can be seen from Georgetown across the Key Bridge—has as recently as 2015 been described by the Washington Post in less than glowing terms: “Welcome to Arlington County’s high-rise downtown, a concrete canyon where nightlife goes to die — and where, in recent years, the commercial vacancy rate has climbed to 30 percent.” Still, not everyone agrees. “Semi-traditional cities” such as Arlington, Robert Steuteville argued recently, are among the most dynamic places for urbanism today. “[H]alf urban grid and half suburban street patterns” minus the sprawl, places like Arlington attempt to imbue a certain urbanity in their suburban landscape. In both cases, the balance between suburban comfort and historical heritage abuts with both the desires and challenges of urbanism.

IMG_20180428_151442
Hollin Hills home interior, photograph by John Bluedorne, April 2018

Still, NOVA’s twenty-first century growth does not rival the development that unfolded after 1945, a period in which mid-century modernism made inroads into the region’s built environment. Smaller homes, ultimately American interpretations of the burgeoning International and Bauhaus movements popular in Europe, emerged in a handful of communities around NOVA and southern Maryland. The juxtaposition between traditional Virginia housing and the then developing modernist movement was no less jarring than the divide currently developing between Arlington’s “new urbanism” and Old Towne’s colonial vibe.

IMG_20180428_134429
Hollin Hills interior, photograph by John Bluedorne, April 2018

With an expanding federal government in the post-World War II period, NOVA needed more housing stock. For young architects hoping to make a statement, the Virginia suburbs offered the chance to try something different, while maintaining an equilibrium between dynamic urbanism and idyllic rural existence–urban homes, embedded in an environment meant to highlight the natural virtues of country living. Hidden within a landscape of federal architecture (the CIA, the Pentagon, NRA headquarters) and numerous suburban subdivisions are pockets of mid-century modernism more often associated with California than the mid-Atlantic. For a singular example, one can visit the innovative Pope Leighy House in Alexandria, built by Frank Lloyd Wright as part of his Usonian movement.

IMG_20180428_133758
A very California looking ranch home in Hollin Hills, photograph by John Bludorne, April 2018
IMG_20180428_133158
Another California-style Hollin Hills home with a touch of spring color, photograph by John Bluedorne, April 2018

If you want more of a community feel, visit Bethesda, Maryland’s Carderock Springs for its “situated modernism” or, if in Northern Virginia, Alexandria’s Hollin Hills—a community its architectural founder described as “ideal country living for urban people.”

For the immersive Hollin Hills experience, one cannot beat the eponymously-titled house tour, held every two years in the Alexandria neighborhood. The community became the first in the D.C. metro region to consist entirely of contemporary housing. With the Vernacular Architecture Forum’s conference having just finished on May 5 and the SACRPH 2019 conference in Northern Virginia on the horizon, The Metropole decided to head down to Alexandria to take in the 2018 Hollin Hills House and Garden Tour. What follows is a brief thumbnail history of Hollin Hills accompanied by photos from the most recent house tour held on April 28. (All photos courtesy of John Bluedorn and Ryan Reft).

IMG_20180428_151338
More ranch, more Hollin Hills, photograph by John Bluedorne, April 2018

Sitting about 14 miles outside of Washington D.C. and consisting of 326 acres and over 450 homes, Hollin Hills remains, as Meghan Drueding wrote in 2014, “a well-preserved paradise for midcentury aficionados.” Following World War II, architect Charles Goodman, developer Robert Davenport, and landscape architects Lou Bernard Voight, Dan Kiley, and Eric Paepke created a community of small homes meant to be modern, affordable and “stylistically aligned with the ideas of such architects as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Rudolf Schindler and Richard Neutra,” while simultaneously blending into the neighborhood’s rolling hills and wooded areas—“a community of homes nestled into the landscape,” reflected John A. Burns, architect and long-time resident.

IMG_7455
Both photos (above and below) demonstrate how Goodman and his landscape architects attempted to build into the environment, photographs by Ryan Reft, April 2018

IMG_7456

While Goodman undoubtedly cast an influence over mid-century vernacular architecture, so too did the landscape architects and designers that worked alongside him. Dan Kiley, for example, went on to commissions with IBM headquarters, Dulles International Airport, and the U.S. Air Force Academy.[1] Kiley, Goodman, Voight, and Paepke ultimately created what some have called “a landscape of democracy” as they sought to blur the boundary between public and private, enabling the flora to “envelope the houses in their embrace.”[2]

IMG_7476
Garden part of Hollin Hills Home and Garden Tour, photograph by Ryan Reft, April 2018

“It was the sort of land every builder would turn down,” Goodman told an interviewer in 1983, “but I felt it would make for ideal country living for urban people, and Bob Davenport did, too.” Built between 1949 and 1971, many of the homes would be considered small; they remain so even though most have expanded on their initially slight footprint. Though modest in size, “[h]igh ceilings, open floor plans, and an efficient use of space make them feel larger than they really are,” Drueding noted. At the time, Hollin Hills contrasted starkly with a local tradition “dominated by red brick, gable roofs, white trim, sash windows and paneled doors,” writes Burns.[3]

Charles Goodman park.JPG
Charles Goodman Park, Hollin Hills, VA, photograph by Ryan Reft, April 2018

The homes became available in 1949, with the first selling for $12,500. “The whole method was to break everything down to a system that would simplify construction and still give you great freedom of design,” Goodman told architectural critic Benjamin Fogey in 1983. “The results were relatively inexpensive starter homes … families flocked to them.” The community earned a citation for having the best houses under $15,000 from Life magazine. In 2005, WAPO estimated their value to be “easily 50 times that amount.” Even with the 2008 housing debacle, a safe guess would suggest that number has increased, significantly; an ironic turn for housing built specifically for affordability.

Past Hollin Hills
The ghost of Hollins Hills House and Garden Tour past, photograph by Ryan Reft, April 2018

Admittedly, some of its first residents viewed their homes with a dollop of trepidation. “I first thought the houses looked like chicken coops,” Rebecca Christofferson reflected decades later. “I decided subsequently that many of them still look like chicken coops, but I have grown to love chicken coops.” Of course, one person’s chicken coop is another’s modernist masterpiece. Christofferson’s husband, Leif, described their home differently. “There is something uplifting about the design, the light coming in,” he noted. “I like the design, I like the windows, I like the fireplace. I like the outdoors and the fact it flows into the house.”[4] Many of the community’s first residents worked for the government, employed in white collar, but not necessarily lucrative positions. The homes were meant to reflect those inhabiting them: unpretentious and simple, yet sophisticated and affordable.

Influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, Goodman got his start with the federal government serving as a public architect for the Public Buildings Administration and the Treasury Department. From this position, he promoted modernism in government architecture domestically and abroad, notes the Fairfax County website devoted to another community designed by Goodman, the Commons of McLean.

IMG_7483
One only need a Mai Tai to complete the Tiki circle, photograph by Ryan Reft, April 2018

During World War II, Goodman worked as the principal architect for the Army Air Forces Transport Command. After the war, he founded Charles M. Goodman Associates and turned his attentions to residential housing. From 1946-1956, 32,000 Goodman-designed homes were constructed. In 1957, writing for the American Institute of Architect’s centennial, Fredrick Gutheim heralded Hollin Hills as a promising sign of the future. Yet by 2012, a Washington Post article described Goodman as merely “one of the modernist movement’s better-known architects.” Architectural historian Richard Longstreth noted ten years earlier that “as celebrated as it was in its own day,” the neighborhood had fallen into “semi-obscurity” over ensuing decades.[5]

IMG_7487
Hollin Hills garden, photograph by Ryan Reft, April 2018

The popularity of the show “Mad Men” and its overall aesthetic have helped bring some renewed attention to Hollin Hills. In fact, the production designer for the show, Dan Bishop, grew up in the community—as did Jeremy Conway, production designer for the “Sex and the City” TV series and films. “The architecture there did influence my sensibilities about modern homes,” Bishop told interviewers in 2010. “I live in one now, with glass walls surrounded by trees in South Pasadena [Calif.]. Truthfully, I would rather live in a Hollin Hills house.”

IMG_7490.JPG
More Hollin Hills landscape, photograph by Ryan Reft, April 2018

Landscaping plays a large role in the Hollin Hills aesthetic. “It’s a unique experiment in the fusion of architecture and landscape architecture,” former president of the American Society of Landscape Architects Dennis Carmichael noted in a 2005 lecture, because “landscape was very much a form-giver, an iconic part of the whole place.” The developers left vegetation much as it was, houses sat upon generously apportioned properties, and the layout of streets “was responsive to topography,” notes Longstreth.[6] “The fact that the houses were built up from the natural setting rather than, like most American suburban settings, cutting down all the trees and flattening the land,” acknowledged one resident, “I think that’s exciting.”[7]

IMG_7485.JPG
Two satisfied Washingtonians, photograph by Ryan Reft, April 2018

Houses don’t front the road unless above or below street level; no homes look directly at one another. Sitting above and below curving rolling hills, houses sit at angles that provide maximum exposure to sunlight and privacy. “[O]ne doesn’t see a Levittown-style lineup of little houses,” Nancy McKeon wrote 2010, “but a winding, climbing treescape that happens to shelter an entire living, breathing, modernism-obsessed community.” Designers deployed cul-de-sacs and T streets to reduce traffic.[8] “The houses of Hollin Hills are in the landscape, not on the landscape,” notes landscape architect Dennis Carmichael.[9] As Goodman used to say, homes in Hollin Hills “slide through the trees.”[10]

foot hollin hills
The foot fist at the end of the Hollin Hills House and Garden Tour, photograph by Ryan Reft, April 2018

If you find yourself in Alexandria or NOVA more generally, and yes we are talking to you intrepid SACRPH members, wander about the streets of Hollin Hills for a journey into modernist residential housing or Charles Goodman put it, “ideal rural living for urban people.”

 


[1] Dennis Carmichael, “A Landscape of Democracy”, in Hollin Hills: Community of Vision, A Semicentennial History 1949-1999 (Civic Association of Hollin Hills, Alexandria, VA: 2000), 76.

[2] Carmichael, “A Landscape of Democracy”, 70.

[3] John Burns, “The Postwar Housing Phenomenon” in Hollin Hills: Community of Vision, A Semicentennial History 1949-1999 (Civic Association of Hollin Hills, Alexandria, VA: 2000), 44.

[4] Scott Wilson, “First Settlers”, in Hollin Hills: Community of Vision, A Semicentennial History 1949-1999 (Civic Association of Hollin Hills, Alexandria, VA: 2000), 89.

[5] Richard Longstreth, “Review: Hollin Hills, Community of Vision: A Semicentennial History, 1949 – 1999”, Washington History 13.2 (Fall/Winter, 2001/2002): 87-88.

[6] Longstreth, “Review: Hollin Hills, Community of Vision: A Semicentennial History, 1949 – 1999”, 87.

[7] Wilson, “First Settlers”, 89.

[8] Burns, “The Postwar Housing Phenomenon”, 46.

[9] Dennis Carmichael, “A Landscape of Democracy”, 70.

[10] Burns, “The Postwar Housing Phenomenon”, 52.

 

Member of the Week: Matt Lasner

matthew-lasner_uap-bio2Matthew G. Lasner

Associate Professor, Urban Policy and Planning

Hunter College, City University of New York

 

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

I am writing a new book tentatively entitled the rather cumbersome Bay Area Urbanism: Architecture, Real Estate, and Progressive Community Planning in the United States from the New Deal to the New Urbanism. It explores the work of socially engaged designers in the San Francisco Bay Area who, at various points between the 1930s and 1990s, either partnered with sympathetic developers (like Joseph Eichler) or became part-time developers to get new kinds of speculative housing built—generally low-rise, high-density communities built for a mixture of kinds of households, with open-space. Before the New Deal, urbanists all over the U.S. (as in Europe throughout the twentieth century) were interested in managing urban growth but quirks in big federal programs like public housing and, especially, urban renewal diverted attention to rebuilding city centers to the exclusion of most else. Except in the West, and especially the Bay Area, where the unique natural environment (geography, topography) made it more difficult to ignore the suburbs. So the book is about how professionals assert their values but also about flexibility and creativity in the American system of housing provision.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

You’ve caught me in the middle of a sabbatical. Normally, though, I’d be teaching a mixture of service courses for our masters’ students like Introduction to Urban Planning and the History and Theory of Urban Planning, and courses focused on housing: both the history and current struggles. Nearly every fall I teach a course called Housing and the American City and in the spring a course called Housing in the Global City. In general I see teaching and research as iterative. Teaching the past and present of U.S. housing in a single semester has proven hugely helpful in clarifying my ideas about American housing politics. And it led, rather directly, to my work on the book Affordable Housing in New York (2016), which I co-edited, and wrote or co-wrote about half of, with Nick Bloom. Meanwhile, I recently published an article in Journal of Urban History (“Segregation by Design“) about how developers in the U.S. South used design to maintain racial boundaries in rental apartment complexes without flouting the law after passage of the Fair Housing Act. The primary example I look at is a swinging-singles complex built in the late 60s that I learned about from my students when I was teaching at Georgia State University. Had I not taught classes there on the history of U.S. suburbs and on U.S. cultural landscapes, I never would have known about these kinds of places. But, really, in every course I teach I learn so much from my students.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

It should go without saying I’m eager to have my own book done, although it’s still quite a way’s off. Working on a book about the Bay Area, and about speculative postwar housing, I’m most excited about several new(-ish) books on overlapping topics: Alison Isenberg’s Designing San Francisco: Art, Land, and Urban Renewal in the City by the Bay (2017), Ocean Howell’s Making the Mission: Planning and Ethnicity in San Francisco (2015), Barbara Miller Lane’s Houses For a New World: Builders and Buyers in American Suburbs 1945-1964 (2015), and James M. Jacobs’s Detached America: Building Houses in Postwar Suburbia (2015). I’m also quite excited for two non-scholarly books that have just been published: Progress & Prosperity: The New Chinese City as Global Urban Model (2017), edited by Daan Roggeveen, who previously wrote one my favorite books on contemporary urbanism in China, How the City Moved to Mr. Sun (2010); and The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion, which the Brooklyn-based planning firm Interboro Partners (Tobias Armborst, Daniel D’Oca, and Georgeen Theodore) have assembled after more than a decade of work.

What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies?

My advice for PhD candidates is to broaden. It’s important to have feasible, realistic research goals—no one should bite off more than they can chew, and I believe in the old adage that the best dissertation is a done dissertation. At the same time, I find that too many dissertations jump from literature review to the internecine, losing sight of the kinds of questions that are of interest to a general scholarly audience, and that will advance the field. Urban history, broadly conceived, is still inchoate, especially for non-UK topics. In U.S. urban history in particular we need dissertations that ask big, fundamental questions about the contours of urban change, and that challenge the field’s foundational texts, many of which reflect the anxieties of a very different era in the evolution of the American metropolis.

Do you find that researching and studying housing as a profession has made it easier or more difficult for you to find housing? Has it made you more critical about where (and in what kind of housing) you choose live? Or are you a broker/real estate agent’s dream client?

My preferences in housing have perhaps become somewhat more particular—I think a lot about things like internal circulation (in apartment buildings) and the number of exposures (in an apartment). Since entering the for-sale market (multifamily, naturally) I’ve also likely become a thorn in the side of agents. When we bought our current apartment I had the seller scrambling to find not just copies of the building by-laws and house rules, but the original offering plan, floor plans, evidence of building reserves and all kinds of other things that most people never think to ask for. And when I sublet, I insist that my tenant also have copies of most of these documents. The place we live is a condominium—so no board interview with a screening (or screaming, as one observer called it) committee—but if it had been a cooperative, I’m sure I’d have had more questions for them than they for me. I came away from my first book believing that multifamily homeownership can work—that it’s not a lot of gold bricks, as one critic worried—but I’m all too aware of the potential pitfalls.

 

Doing Urban History in Cleveland: A Personal Reflection

 

St Patricks Day 1988
The author with friends on Cleveland’s Public Square, St. Patrick’s Day 1988.  Courtesy of Coventry Village Reunion (Facebook Group); Photo above: Cleveland Municipal Stadium, postcard, ca. 1940. Courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project.

By Todd Michney

As for my earliest Cleveland memory, I am unsure, but riding the RTA’s Red Line Rapid Transit to the old Municipal Stadium for baseball games toward the end of the 1970s is one that certainly stands out. Initiated in 1928 when Cleveland still ranked as the country’s fifth-largest city, the facility in its twilight years felt cavernous with the fans coming nowhere close to filling its near 80,000-seat capacity.

Terminal Tower Christmas
Higbee’s Christmas Tree in lobby of Cleveland’s Terminal Tower, 1968. Courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project.

Another is the Terminal Tower in all its Art Deco grandeur – once the city’s main train station, and until 1964 the tallest skyscraper outside New York City. Its observation floor was regularly open then, and I can still faintly resolve the urban vista I spied through those windows as a child. Or Gordon Park – founded at the turn of the twentieth century, and as I experienced it, a place where my father sometimes played in softball tournaments. I would later discover that the park was a site of sporadic racial conflicts over beach access in the 1930s and 1940s. It was to Gordon Park that I went even earlier, on one of the in-state field trips that the Cleveland Public Schools authorized under the auspices of some Nixon-era federal program, in tow with my father and his students from Harry E. Davis Junior High School on a visit to the city’s aquarium formerly housed there. The sight of Lake Erie’s vast expanse on that occasion, probably for the first time, may actually be my earliest Cleveland memory.

When my parents met there in the late 1960s, just out of college, Cleveland was about to elect Carl B. Stokes as the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city; although civic leaders in the 1950s had burnished a somewhat exaggerated reputation for good race relations, Stokes was elected in the hopes of quelling the discontent exposed by the 1966 Hough Riots.

Mayor Stokes Edgewater Beach
Mayor Carl B. Stokes with kids at Edgewater Park Beach, 1969. Courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project.

In a seminar convened this past summer to commemorate the semicentennial of his landmark victory, I had a particularly poignant opportunity to contemplate Cleveland’s changes in my lifetime, against the backdrop of my book research on its African American middle class over the course of the twentieth century. As David Stradling has shown, the city’s reputation took a hit as the 1969 Cuyahoga River Fire coincided with a rising environmental consciousness; however, Cleveland was still a decade away from receiving its notorious moniker, “The Mistake on the Lake.” Even as the city hit its population peak of almost one million in 1950, the shrinking heavy industrial base was already a cause for worry, as discussed by J. Mark Souther. I experienced this contraction when in the late 1970s my paternal uncles lost jobs at factories like White Motors and LTV Steel. For working-class African Americans, it proved even tougher. In Cleveland just like in Detroit, they had been forced to confront rising unemployment from deindustrialization much earlier. Along with other suburban adolescents attracted to the local punk rock music scene in the late 1980s, I approached the city and metro area’s declining population with a sense of adventure as I made trips to explore downtown spaces like the Old Arcade, a precursor to the modern shopping mall built in 1890 with considerable buy-in from Cleveland’s most famous citizen at the time, John D. Rockefeller.

Old Arcade
Old arcade, postcard, ca. 1900. Courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project.

Like many other historians, I was motivated to choose a dissertation/book topic relating to my own personal background. But for those of us who make this choice, at what point does the intense familiarity with (and affection for) one’s hometown stop, and scholarly interest begin? How does one articulate the significance of such overlooked places to a broader audience – or, as I have been asked on more than one occasion: “Why should we care about Cleveland history?” For me, this question has become even more perplexing with the rise of “Rust Belt Chic,” a term Richey Piiparinen credits to Joyce Brabner, life partner to the late Clevelander and comics legend Harvey Pekar.[1] Explored in Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology – first published in 2012 by Anne Trubek, who went on to found Belt Magazine the following year – the concept represents a wry effort to reappropriate and shape the urban image of Great Lakes postindustrial cities amid increased attention from East and West Coast culturati, most recently on the occasion of Cleveland’s hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention.

I grounded an argument for Cleveland’s significance not just in its past prominence among U.S. cities and its significance as a Great Migration destination for African Americans, but by comparing its patterns of racial encounter with those in nearby Chicago and Detroit. Inspired by the work of Arnold Hirsch and Thomas Sugrue, among others, I nonetheless became dissatisfied with the applicability of Hirsch’s “second ghetto” concept[2] for the black middle class neighborhoods I studied, ultimately coming to believe that “surrogate suburbs” served as a better descriptor for these outer-city spaces and their residents’ ability to find creative workarounds in facing structural racism. I found that there was some truth behind Cleveland’s reputation for a more proactive approach to racial conflict during the 1950s – at least compared to Chicago and Detroit – but that an even more important factor was the disproportionate prominence of its Jewish neighborhoods that came to serve as black middle-class expansion areas, turning over with racial tension but little in the way of violent resistance. The intertwining of Cleveland’s Jewish history and African American history comes through particularly clearly in the tour we have created in conjunction with the upcoming SACRPH conference, which traces the outward geographic mobility of black families from peripheral city neighborhoods to suburbs like Shaker Heights.

Ernest Bohn
Ernest J. Bohn, 1962. Bohn simultaneously served as Director of the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA; 1933-68) and chair of the City Planning Commission (1942-66). Courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project.

But Cleveland also turns out to be an incredibly well-documented city, as I began to realize in my first post-college job as a book page at the Western Reserve Historical Society, which is still the most important manuscript repository among all the city’s archives. Already as an undergraduate, I had encountered the voluminous personal papers of CMHA’s nationally-prominent head Ernest J. Bohn, nicknamed “Mr. Public Housing,” as a summer intern at Case Western Reserve University Library’s Special Collections. Later I discovered the Cleveland Press “morgue” at Cleveland State University (CSU) Special Collections, essentially the entire clippings files and photograph collection of the city’s once-leading daily newspaper that closed up shop in 1982. As I delved deeper and the dissertation morphed into a book project, I visited the invaluable Public Administration Library in City Hall, the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Archives, the Cuyahoga County Archives and Recorder’s Office, and the often-overlooked Cleveland City Council Archives where materials are organized in a seemingly arcane fashion, according to the relevant ordinance.

The more obscure among these resources are obviously not where the novice or weekend conference-goer should begin. However, significant among all the changes I’ve seen in Cleveland over the last two decades is a growing consciousness of local history and the increasing availability of digital resources. Among the best places to start are the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, which originally debuted in 1987 in print form, as the first such reference work on an American city; and Cleveland Historical, a website and mobile phone app created by CSU’s Center for Public History + Digital Humanities. CSU’s Michael Schwartz Library has also developed the Cleveland Memory Project, containing thousands of maps as well as images from the aforementioned Cleveland Press collection; the Cleveland Public Library’s Digital Gallery also contains photographs, among other resources. An outstanding blog and research clearinghouse worth mentioning is Teaching Cleveland Digital. If you’re on Twitter, you could consider following This Was Cleveland, the most active of about a dozen similarly-themed accounts I’ve found. In any case, I hope to see you in Cleveland sometime, and that whether you come on a conference or a research visit, you have an enjoyable and rewarding stay.

Michney_1Todd M. Michney teaches in the School of History and Sociology at the Georgia Institute of Technology and is the author of Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900-1980 (University of North Carolina Press, 2017). He is a current UHA board member and is the U.S. Articles bibliographer for the Urban History Newsletter. You can follow him on Twitter @ToddMichney.

[1] Richey Piiparinen, “Anorexic Vampires, Cleveland Veins: The Story of Rust Belt Chic,” in Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology, ed. Richey Piiparinen and Anne Trubek, 2nd ed. (Cleveland: Belt Publishing, 2014), 26.

[2] Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960, reprint ed. with a new forward (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

“The Good Life in Shaker Heights”: Integrating one of Cleveland’s most iconic suburbs

By Nichole Nelson

On January 3, 1956, a bomb exploded in the garage of John G. Pegg, an African- American newcomer to the Shaker Heights neighborhood.[1] The explosion was a turning point for the Cleveland suburb: the wealthiest neighborhood in America in 1960.[2] Though it destroyed Pegg’s garage, it also jolted Shaker Heights’ residents into action. Out of the debris emerged white residents’ desire to change their community from one that fostered racial intolerance to one that openly accepted African Americans. Instead of succumbing to fear, they decided to racially integrate.

Emboldened by the landmark Supreme Court decision Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), which ruled racially restrictive covenants unconstitutional, African Americans like John G. Pegg began moving to Shaker Heights in the 1950s.[3] In response to this influx of African-American homeowners, some white homeowners feared that they would have to leave their affluent community. Subsequently, some white residents started selling their homes.[4]

Other white residents hoped to remain in the Ludlow neighborhood of Shaker Heights; they felt invested in the community and wanted to continue living there regardless of the increasing black population. Spurred by the firebombing of Pegg’s garage on January 3, 1956, while his home was under construction, white residents, as well as African-American newcomers Winston Richie and Theodore and Beverly Mason, formed the Ludlow Community Association (LCA) in 1957.[5] The LCA’s first president, a white resident named Irwin Barnett, was most concerned with stopping the rumors that “Ludlow was going to turn into a ghetto” due to the influx of black residents and ensuing white flight.[6] As a result of these fears, Barnett sought out strategies to encourage whites to purchase homes in the community.[7] However, two external threats impeded the LCA’s progress: banks and real estate agents. Realtors refused to show whites homes in the Ludlow neighborhood and banks made it difficult for them to secure mortgage financing.[8]

Pegg_John_G_1956
Mr. and Mrs. Pegg, circa 1956, Courtesy of Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University Library.

As a result of banks and realtors obstructing white homebuyers’ ability to purchase homes in Ludlow, subsequent LCA presidents prioritized attracting white potential homebuyers.[9] These presidents were able to re-attract whites to Shaker Heights using a variety of methods, including lending up to $5,000 for second mortgages to prospective homebuyers who could not afford the cost of a down payment.[10] Many of the LCA’s social events raised funds for white homebuyers’ loans. In 1966, LCA President Alan Gressel invited jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald to perform, and raised $10,000 in ticket sales, which funded the LCA’s activities, including its mortgage program.[11] In 1969, LCA President William Insull, Jr. used the proceeds from the LCA’s production of My Fair Lady to finance loans for prospective white homebuyers to live in Ludlow.[12] As a result of the LCA’s efforts, Ludlow began to reverse the annual rate of change from 1964 to 1967, where home sales were about one-tenth of one per cent from white to black.[13] By 1968, the rate of change transitioned from black to white.[14]

Unfortunately, the LCA’s focus on white homeowners to maintain integration meant discouraging black people from purchasing homes. While the LCA never explicitly encouraged discrimination against black homebuyers, its actions reveal otherwise.[15] Many African-Americans who wanted to finance their homes faced difficulty and few, if any African-American homebuyers purchased homes through the LCA’s program, given the organization’s preference for white homebuyers.[16]

Additionally, African-American businessman William Percy was so outraged by the LCA’s aloofness towards him when he viewed a home that he was “ready to sue the LCA for discrimination.”[17] Ironically, when Percy moved to Ludlow and joined the organization, he began to understand the LCA’s position, and eventually became its first black President in 1964.[18] Percy’s “shared interests” with white Ludlow residents “as the basis for the construction of suburban identities” both motivated his and white LCA members’ ability to disavow their discrimination against black homebuyers as a way to subsequently maintain their community’s property values.[19]

Several events that took place between 1968 and 1979 laid the foundation for Shaker Heights to pursue a more equitable form of integration in the 1980s. By the 1970s, the changing racial climate in the U.S. ushered in by the Civil Rights Movement, the Open Housing Movement, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 produced an environment in Shaker Heights where there was harsher criticism of local fair housing organizations’ problematic policies.[20]

In 1972, Joseph H. Battle, an African-American Ludlow resident, realtor, and President of Operation Equality—a national housing program that the Urban League of Greater Cleveland implemented to ensure that housing practices abided by the Fair Housing Act of 1968—wrote a scathing denunciation of the Shaker Communities Housing Office, for Operation Equality.[21]   The Shaker Communities Housing Office, an organization founded in July 1967, openly preferred white homeowners over black homeowners, asserted Battle.[22] More specifically, Battle lamented the Housing Office’s continued discrimination against prospective black homebuyers, its failure to achieve neighborhood stabilization due to integrated areas receiving a growing African-American population, and the reluctance to support open housing in unintegrated sections of the city.[23] Given the Ludlow Community Association’s role in establishing the Housing Office in 1967, LCA members expressed guilt over the Housing Office’s errors. In 1972, members internally acknowledged that stabilizing Ludlow would become “increasingly more difficult,” that “nothing is being effected to motivate the white brokers at this time…unless the laws are more vigorously adhered to.”[24] Despite the LCA’s internal admission that it was difficult to maintain integration in Ludlow, more criticism would continue to be levied at Shaker Heights’ failure to equitably integrate.

Cosmo Magazine The Good Life in Shaker Heights Color Magazine Cover
“The Good Life in Shaker Heights”, a 1963 cover story in the March issue of Cosmopolitan that year, Western Reserve Historical Society

Tension over the Housing Office’s policies erupted in April 1979 when half of the Housing Office’s coordinators, two black and four white women, resigned in a public protest over the disparate treatment of white and black prospective homebuyers.[25] In a public letter published in the Sun Press, the resigning coordinators cited the ambiguity of whether the Housing Office’s pro-integrative policies were meant to encourage integration or containment.[26] Finally, in June 1979, the Housing Office unveiled a new policy that promised black and white prospective homebuyers equal treatment. Under the new policy, whites were to be shown homes in areas that were predominantly black and blacks would be shown homes in areas that were predominantly white.[27]

Donald DeMarco, who became the Director of Community Services in November 1982, enhanced these policies.[28] Although DeMarco did not work for the Housing Office, as the Director of Community Services, his office oversaw the Housing Office’s seventeen employees.[29] Under DeMarco’s direction, the Housing Office enacted policies intended to “promote and sustain racial integration” instead of aiding homebuyers who want housing in areas that helps “further segregation.”[30] For example, the Housing Office worked with real estate agencies that provided the Housing Office with referrals from homebuyers who were not interested in exploring housing options in an integrated community.[31] Acquainting homebuyers and realtors who were initially opposed to living in and selling homes in an integrated community, with the appealing aspects of Shaker’s vibrant community—such as its excellent schools—were non-race based methods of making these homebuyers and realtors receptive to the idea of living in and selling homes in a community with fantastic amenities, that happened to be integrated.

The City of Shaker Heights also supported the Housing Office’s newfound commitment to equitable integration. In 1986, the City of Shaker Heights inaugurated a homebuyers’ loan program called the Fund for the Future of Shaker Heights.[32] The Fund for the Future of Shaker Heights provided white homebuyers with loans to encourage them to move into neighborhoods that were at least fifty percent black and black homebuyers with loans to encourage them to move into neighborhoods that were at least ninety percent white.[33]

5a38019r
The iconic Plymouth Church in Shaker Heights. Exterior of Plymouth Church, Theodor Horydczak, between 1920 and 1950, Horydczak Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Shaker Heights’ commitment to integration also extended to establishing metropolitan-wide integration by forming an inter-government agency called the East Suburban Council for Open Communities (ESCOC) in 1983. Shaker Heights, in conjunction with the nearby suburbs of Cleveland Heights and University Heights, as well as their respective school districts, founded ESCOC as a joint venture, funded by the Gund and Cleveland Foundations.[34] Led by African-American Ludlow resident Winston Richie, ESCOC provided loans to black homebuyers who purchased homes in suburbs that were less than twenty-five percent black and white homeowners who purchased homes in suburbs that were more than twenty-five percent black.[35] By 1990, ESCOC estimated that it assisted 400 black families in moving into Cleveland’s predominantly white eastern suburbs.[36]

Despite the revolutionary promise of these local and regional fair housing organizations, it was still difficult to eradicate white supremacy’s impact on the housing market. While the city’s policies provided economic incentives to encourage both black and white homebuyers to integrate neighborhoods, few black homebuyers could afford to purchase homes in predominantly white neighborhoods; therefore, white homebuyers still received ninety percent of loans in the early 1990s.[37] Establishing equality proved to be quite difficult in the Cleveland-metropolitan area, given its ranking as the second most segregated housing market in the nation, in accordance with two nationally published independent analyses of 1990 Census data.[38]

This disparity is also important because it reveals that white privilege in the housing market is persistent and cannot be eradicated, only abated. Therefore, the efforts of all three entities to curtail housing segregation underscore that efforts to combat residential segregation have to be consistent and constant because of the housing market’s preference for whiteness and segregation.

By the late 1990s and early 2000s, Shaker Heights’ commitment to pro-integrative policies waned. ESCOC dissolved shortly after Winston Richie’s resignation as Executive Director in January 1991.[39] In 2002, the Housing Office closed and two offices of city government absorbed its functions.[40] Additionally, the community associations that invested so much time and energy into integrating Shaker Heights in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s began to exist as solely social organizations in the 1990s and 2000s.[41]

One possible explanation for Shaker Heights de-prioritizing its fair housing efforts is colorblindness. The idea that Shaker Heights “accomplished” its goal of integrating its community and therefore no longer needs apparatuses to intentionally integrate is a form of colorblindness. This misconception ignores the housing market’s preference for whiteness and residential segregation, under the guise of equality for all.

These colorblind attitudes have had tangible effects on Shaker Heights’ racial demographics over the past two decades. The absence of pro-integrative efforts places Shaker Heights in danger of completely re-segregating as a predominantly black, middle or working-class community. Racial demographics in 2000 and 2010 reveal that Shaker Heights was beginning to re-segregate without persistent methods to maintain integration. According to the 2000 Census, Shaker Heights was 59.9% white and 34.1% black.[42] By contrast, in 2010, whites composed 54.9% of the total population and blacks comprised 37% of the total population.[43] These statistics are significant because they underscore the white flight that afflicted the community over the past two decades.

This high rate of white flight demonstrates the difficulty in retaining white homeowners and attracting white homebuyers to integrated communities without interventions in the housing market. While it is not negative for a community to re-segregate as a predominantly black community, studies demonstrate that predominantly black neighborhoods struggle with less access to quality amenities and report lower incomes compared to white neighborhoods. Employment discrimination causes black employees to earn lower incomes than white employees. Therefore, integration is desirable not for cultural reasons but rather to expose black homeowners to resources that they otherwise might not receive in a segregated, racist housing market. [44]

The most logical steps for Shaker Heights to stave off complete re-segregation are for residents and activists to be vigilant of the segregation and whiteness that permeate the housing market. While this does not include giving preferential treatment to white homebuyers to reside in the community, these steps should include targeted advertisements to white homebuyers, given many white homebuyers’ fear of living in communities with increasing populations of color. Other steps should include providing mortgage subsidies to both black and white homebuyers and providing financial assistance for black and white homeowners to reside in neighborhoods where their races are underrepresented. Taking steps to encourage integration will also help the community stabilize its home values. Overall, Shaker Heights’ integration can be maintained only if there are concerted efforts to do so.

Summertime Facebook Profile Photo

Nichole Nelson is a PhD candidate at Yale University studying twentieth-century American History, with a focus on post-WWII urban and suburban history. Nelson was the Metropole’s UHA member of the week in April. Read more about her research here. 

Photo at top of the page, Shaker Heights rapid transit line, Jet Lowe, 1978, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection, Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress

[1] Russell H. Davis, Black Americans in Cleveland from George Peake to Carl B. Stokes, 1796-1969. (Washington: Associated Publishers, 1972), 331.

[2] Thomas Meehan, “The Good Life in Shaker Heights,” Cosmopolitan, 46-51, March 1963.

[3] Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) (Oyez, Dist. file). The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1940-1949/1947/1947_72/ accessed April 22, 2015.

[4] Joseph P. Blank, “Ludlow—A Lesson in Integration,” A Reader’s Digest, September 1968, 194.

[5] Sources: Pegg’s home was located at 13601 Corby Road. Davis, 331; Blank, 194 and “1957-2007: 50th Anniversary LCA—Ludlow Community Association,” 3-4, Ludlow Community Association Records Series I, 1953-1972, Box 5, Folder 5; Western Reserve Historical Society.

[6] Blank, 194.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Trends in Housing,” National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing 9, no. 6, (November-December 1965), Ludlow Community Association Records Series I, 1953-1972, Box 5, Folder 5; Western Reserve Historical Society

[9] Gilbert Selden served a one-year term in 1959; Bernard Isaacs served as President from 1960-1962; Joseph Finley was President in 1963; William Percy served as President and 1964; Alan D. Gressel succeeded him, serving from 1965 to 1966. Source: “1957-2007: 50th Anniversary LCA—Ludlow Community Association,” 3.

[10] “Trends in Housing.”

[11] 1966 Ludlow Community Association Annual Report, Shaker Library.

[12] Sources: John S. Diekhoff, “My Fair Ludlow,” The Educational Forum, March, 1969, Ludlow Community Association Records Series I, 1953-1972, Box 5, Folder 5, Western Reserve Historical Society; Ronald Spetrino, President of the Ludlow Community Association, to Ludlow Residents. Shaker Heights, Ohio, Ludlow Community Association Records Series I, 1953-1972, Box 5, Folder 5, Western Reserve Historical Society; “1957-2007: 50th Anniversary LCA—Ludlow Community Association,” 3-4, Ludlow Community Association Records Series I, 1953-1972, Box 5, Folder 5; Western Reserve Historical Society.

[13] The Worlds of Ludlow. Report. Shaker Heights: Ludlow Community Association, 1968, 8.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Blank, 198.

[16] Ludlow Community Association Board Meeting Minutes, June 6, 1963, Western Reserve Historical Society Ludlow Community Associations, 1957-1972, Files A-B, Container 1, Folder 9.

[17] Blank, 196.

[18] Sources: Ibid. and “1957-2007: 50th Anniversary LCA—Ludlow Community Association,” 3-4.

[19] Lacy, 186.

[20] Cynthia Mills Richter, “Integrating the Suburban Dream: Shaker Heights, Ohio.” PhD diss., University of Minnesota, 1999, 92.

[21] Ibid., 89.

[22] Ibid., 92.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ludlow Community Association Executive Board Meeting Minutes—April 12, 1972 (Western Reserve Historical Society Ludlow Community Associations, 1957-1972, Files A-B, Container 1, Folder 9)

[25] Ibid., 93-94.

[26] Ibid., 94.

[27] W.C. Miller, “Shaker Housing Office Unveils Equality Policy,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 23, 1979.

[28] Donald DeMarco, interview by Nichole Nelson. January 8, 2015

[29] Donald DeMarco, interview by Nichole Nelson. January 8, 2015 and Tuthill, Linda. “Pursuing an Ideal: How Shaker Heights strives to maintain integration,” Shaker Magazine May 1985, 35 (Shaker Historical Society)

[30] Donald DeMarco, interview by Nichole Nelson. January 8, 2015

[31] Ibid.

[32] Angela Townsend, “Cities Help Sell Homes, Racial Mix Special Funds Lend Integration Support,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 11, 2000.

[33] Isabel Wilkerson, “In Ohio, Oasis of Integration,” Herald International Tribune, December 31, 1991-January 1, 1992, Shaker Historical Society.

[34] Tuthill, 35

[35] Ibid., 103.

[36] Ibid., 104.

[37] Wilkerson.

[38] Bill Lubinger, “Pro-Integrative Efforts Assessed Pattern of Segregation Unlikely to Change Study Finds,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 26, 1992.

[39] Terry Holthaus, “Fair Housing Leader Quits, Calling Efforts a Lost Cause,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 13, 1991.

[40] “Communities,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 12, 2002.

[41] Informal conversations with current Ludlow Community Association Presidents, Julie Donaldson and Mary Ann Kovach, underscore the community associations’ transition from integration in the 1950s through the 1990s to social programming in the 1990s and 2000s.

[42] “Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000: Geographic Area: Shaker Heights city, Ohio,” from “Profiles of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000 Census of Population and Housing, Ohio.”

[43] I calculated the percentage of white residents by dividing the number of white residents—15,635 by the total population—28,448. I calculated the percentage of black residents by dividing the number of black residents—10,545—by the total population—28,448.

Source: “Race and Hispanic or Latino Origin: 2010—Con.,” from “Ohio: 2010—Summary Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010 Census of Population and Housing.”

[44] These themes are discussed in detail in Thomas Sugrue’s The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, Mary Pattillo’s Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril Among the Black Middle Class, and Mary Pattillo’s Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City.

“Housing for All?”: Putting History to Work in Cambridge, MA

Housing for All symposium 1 Fall 2016 (1).jpg
Rep. Marjorie Decker (Moderator), Barry Bluestone, Charles Sullivan, and Corrine Espinoza. Courtesy of Cambridge Historical Society.

This post by Hope J. Shannon belongs to a series highlighting urban and suburban public history projects.

During the fall of 2016, the Cambridge Historical Society (CHS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts held a three-part symposium titled “Housing for All?” The symposium brought historical perspective to housing issues in both Cambridge and the Boston metropolitan area, and shows one of the many ways history can be put to work in conversations about contemporary problems. I spoke to Marieke Van Damme, CHS Executive Director, about the symposium, its outcomes, and what CHS hopes to achieve by organizing this kind of innovative programming. Read on for our interview and to learn more about how you can have these kinds of conversations in your communities and neighborhoods.

Hope J. Shannon (HJS): What was the symposium? What did it do?

Marieke Van Damme (MVD): Our 2016 fall symposium, “Housing for All?” was the culmination of our year thinking about housing in Cambridge.

In 2015, the Cambridge Historical Society, as a result of serious strategic planning, decided to further refine our community programming. We decided to theme our years, and have all of our programming, events, publications, etc. relate to that theme. It was important to us that the theme be an issue that Cambridge is facing today. We knew that to be relevant to our community, to truly serve as a resource, we had to contribute to the conversation. We believe historical perspective is often lacking in discussions about the present and future, and so we set out to fill that gap and provide much-needed background.

Our first year of themed programming was 2016, and we chose to talk about housing. It’s a serious issue in Cambridge, and one of the first topics people talk about when they get together. We decided to frame our year as a question (“Are We Home?”) because we think this is more inviting to our audience. Instead of the “all-knowing” historical society telling you what you should know about housing in our city, we are asking our neighbors to share their experiences, and to participate in the conversation. As we know, so many of us are not represented in our local historical narratives, and we hope small, subtle changes in how we speak and present information will help change that. We want to be welcoming to all. We can’t be a true historical society if we only collect and share some of the stories of our city, and leave so many out.

When coming up with our set series of annual programs (that change with the different annual themes), we decided that our culminating fall program would be a symposium for a more in-depth, traditional look at an issue. (Other events throughout the year include Open Archives, History Cafes, walking tours, and a fundraiser. More information on our programs is available on our website.)

The Fall Symposium is a two- or three-part event featuring panel speakers with a moderator. In this way, it is traditional. However, we tried a few new techniques to make it more engaging:

  • We place significant emphasis on our differences with other organizations. We make it known, repeatedly, that we are a humanities-based organization. We are not a city-funded or activist group. We bring people together in a slowed-down setting and talk about historical events, precedents, and perspective. We don’t lobby, and we don’t want our audience to mistake our event for a city council meeting. Yes, there is urgency around the issue we are discussing, but the event is meant to be a pause button, not a fast forward.
  • We let it be known, through our remarks and choice of speakers, that the average Cantabrigian’s viewpoint and experience has value. Yes, “experts” are important, but everyone has something to share.

    2016 symposia 3 photos (15)
    Courtesy of Cambridge Historical Society
  • We laid down ground rules at each event, expressed verbally by me in my opening remarks, but also in our handout. They were: listen well, ask questions based on genuine curiosity, and think and speak with empathy.
  • We held the events in three different public locations; two were public library branches and one was a community center. They set the right tone of inclusion and openness we were going for.

We were honored that we won a Leadership in History Award from AASLH for this event!

HJS: Who were the community stakeholders involved in the planning and in the symposium discussion? Did the CHS form new relationships? How did the various community interests shape the project?

MVD: It being our first year of new programming, we really pulled off the event with few resources and the dedication of a small group of people. We couldn’t have done the event without very generous funding from the Mass Foundation for the Humanities, and the Cambridge Savings Bank. Their support allowed us to, among other things, pay speakers, market the event, and pay for a programs consultant.

We planned an ambitious three-part series, with three speakers plus one moderator at each event (a total of 12 speakers). To find our speakers, we asked around our networks, reached out to housing activists, and researched experts on the internet. Everyone was so generous to give of their time and participate. Having three events allowed us to delve into the past, present, and future of affordable housing. Of course, we could have had a dozen events and still not adequately covered the topic (one of our attendees wrote on our follow up survey that we were “thirty years too late” discussing the topic).

This year, with more advance planning, we formed an advisory group to help us with the symposium (focusing on changes to Kendall Square in relation to this year’s theme, “What Does Cambridge Make?), and we are already forming a year-long advisory group for 2018’s theme “Where is Cambridge From?” You can never start too early. The good news is that the relationships we formed last year have carried into this year, and have many new friends and contacts to ask for help.

Symposium2-01
Courtesy of Cambridge Historical Society

HJS: Did the symposium provide you with any new insights about the history of Boston’s metropolitan area, Cambridge, and/or urban history more broadly? If yes, what were they?

MD: Definitely. Our challenge when planning the event was always “Is it a regional issue, or a Cambridge issue?” The answer was usually “both.” While Cambridge and Boston are often inseparable, distinctions can be made. This is also why personal stories are so important and make all the difference in showing the humanity behind the data.

HJS: What’s next for CHS?

MD: We’ve had a great year so far with “What Does Cambridge Make,” and are looking forward to our final events of the year– 2 History Cafes, and the Fall Symposium. Planning is already underway for 2018!

More about our History Cafe series here.

More about the 2016 Housing for All series here.

The Chrysler Village History Project: Public History and Community-Building on Chicago’s Southwest Side

This is the inaugural post in a series highlighting urban and suburban public history projects.

The Chrysler Village History Project has its origins in the spring semester of 2013, when a group of history graduate students from Loyola University Chicago nominated the Chrysler Village neighborhood on Chicago’s southwest side to the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination was successful, and the Chrysler Village Historic District was officially added to the National Register in early 2014.

Map CV
The Chrysler Village Historic District is bounded by S. Long Avenue, S. Lavergne Avenue, W. 63rd Street, and W. 65th

Rachel Boyle, who was part of the group that wrote the nomination, explained the district’s historical significance. “Chrysler Village represents an important link between urban and suburban history,” Boyle said. “It was a distinctly urban housing development created by private-public partnerships during WWII, but stands out in Chicago’s physical landscape with its suburban-esque curvilinear streets. Additionally, the neighborhood’s history contributes to Chicago’s history as one of the only construction projects that took place during WWII.”

In many cases, the focus on properties or districts nominated to the National Register fades with their rejection or successful designation. But Boyle wondered if she could take a different route and find some way to put the research gathered during the nomination phase to work for the Chrysler Village community. “Recurring questions [about the designation] from the community lingered: ‘So what? How does this actually benefit us?,’” Boyle said. “The Chrysler Village History Project began as an experimentation of how to harness the neighborhood’s newly discovered history for the immediate benefit of Chrysler Village residents.”

Maggie McClain recounts Boyle’s next steps. “In the interest of capitalizing on this successful nomination, Rachel Boyle visited my first graduate public history course at Loyola [in fall 2014] seeking ideas for how the neighborhood’s history could be used to build community within Chrysler Village.” The course was History 480: Introduction to Public History Methods and Theory, a requirement for incoming MA and PhD students in Loyola University Chicago’s graduate public history program. Boyle, who was by then a PhD candidate, worked with the course instructor, Patricia Mooney-Melvin, Ph.D., to turn these questions into a half semester-long course project. Students in the course had to develop proposals explaining how they would use the history gathered from the National Register nomination to create some kind of value for the residents of Chrysler Village.

Kelly Schmidt, who was also a student in History 480 that fall, explains what happened at the end of the semester. “I joined Rachel Boyle and a group of students who continued the project outside of the classroom.” Chelsea Denault, who had been part of the group that worked on the original National Register nomination, also joined the project at this stage. “Together, we decided our purpose was to preserve and celebrate the historical significance of the community, but we wanted to do so in a way that was accessible and engaging to everyone in the community,” explains Denault. “I thought it would be worthwhile to take part in a new project that involved the residents and provided them with some service, opportunity, or benefit.”

The Loyola team knew that they needed to establish a strong working relationship with local residents before they could move forward with their ideas. “One of the challenges we faced initially was coming in to a community as outsiders,” said Schmidt. “Fortunately, we met a group of residents who were ‘movers and shakers’ in their community and were willing to commit their time and energy to the project. We wouldn’t have had as much success in building a relationship with these residents without the involvement of the director of the local historical society, who was adept at serving as a bridge, communicating our interest in the community as well as what residents desired to see for their neighborhood. Our resident partners were able to draw upon resources and people in the community we never would have known about, or who we wouldn’t have been able to get on board ourselves… Residents were able to build other stakeholders’ trust in ways we as outsiders could not.”

Committee Meeting
The community committee and Loyola team meet in Chrysler Village to discuss project plans.

The Loyola team brought the most viable ideas from the History 480 proposals to a community meeting in Chrysler Village in spring 2015. This meeting resulted in the creation of a community committee that worked with the Loyola team to decide on the parameters of what they called the Chrysler Village History Project. Together, they decided to plan an oral history initiative and community history festival, among other things. They also built a website to house historical materials relating to Chrysler Village’s history and to act as a central hub where anyone interested in the project could learn about it and join the effort as a volunteer.

Maggie McClain coordinated much of the oral history initiative, which involved interviewing current and former residents of the Chrysler Village area, transcribing the interviews, and donating them to the nearby Clearing Branch of the Chicago Public Library. They worked with Chris Manning, Ph.D., instructor of Loyola’s graduate oral history class, to incorporate Chrysler Village interviews and transcriptions into his fall 2015 course syllabus. Students in the course recorded and transcribed interviews with current and former Chrysler Village residents for their final course project. The community history festival, which took place in August 2016, also involved the recording of interviews—one of many festival activities intended to help build connections across the Chrysler Village community.

 

Community Fest mural.jpg
The Loyola team and volunteers from Loyola’s history graduate program at the community festival in front of a mural painted by a local youth in celebration of the area’s history. Photograph courtesy Barb Ziegler.

Ultimately, Boyle attributes the success of the project to the strength of the partnerships developed between the team and key community stakeholders. “A cohort of passionate residents were committed to making the project work for their community, and proved to be the core reason the project succeeded,” Boyle said. “The constant support of the local alderman’s office also ensured that the necessary resources were available. And when communication between public historians and the local community struggled, the local leader of the historical society quickly emerged as an incredibly valuable translator.”

The Loyola team faced challenges along the way that ultimately yielded powerful lessons about public history practice. Schmidt explains, “Sometimes in our public history training we study the ideal of public history method, but ideals don’t always prove effective in practice. We had been taking formal avenues…to obtain our goals, which was a slow and expensive project. Our community partners showed us how relying on relationship networks was a far more fruitful approach.” Boyle added, “I recall being rightly convinced by local residents that the marketing for the festival should emphasize ‘fun’ rather than ‘history’ and ‘community-building.’ These incidents drove home that public historians have valuable skills to contribute but need to be tempered by the realities of community stakeholders. In short, shared authority can produce better results.”

Denault notes another difficulty faced by the Loyola team: the decision about what to do with the project once the community history festival had taken place. “We struggled a great deal with how to responsibly extricate ourselves from the project and hand off ownership of the project’s future to the community. After meeting with our resident stakeholders and having an honest conversation about their expectations and vision for the future and how to achieve that, we ultimately felt that we had given our community partners enough tools, contacts, skills, and guidance to remove ourselves in order to let them grow and transform the project to continue to meet the community’s needs.”

 

Community Fest
The Loyola team with Chrysler Village residents and volunteers at the community festival. Photograph courtesy Barb Ziegler.

With the history festival behind them, the Loyola team is hopeful that community members will continue the efforts begun as part of the Chrysler Village History Project. Boyle said that residents from Chrysler Village recently established a block club to “build off the energy from last year’s festival and continue to foster community.” McClain added, “Many of us in this group felt that we have done what we can to engage the community…it will be up to community members to keep that going.”

Hope Shannon is the UHA newsletter editor and a doctoral candidate in United States History and Public History at Loyola University Chicago. Before joining Loyola’s history program, she was the executive director at the South End Historical Society in Boston. She is the author of Legendary Locals of Boston’s South End, a book that draws on oral history testimony to tell a new story of the neighborhood’s history. Hope is a founding member of Loyola University Chicago’s Public History Lab, and she is the chair of the American Association for State and Local History’s Emerging History Professionals Committee.


This post discusses only a small portion of a very large project. Click here for more about the many facets of the Chrysler Village History Project, including a mural, pop-up museum, short articles about the area’s history, and a collection of historic images. The Chrysler Village History Project was also the recipient of the 2017 Student Project Award from the National Council on Public History and a 2017 Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History. They received Honorable Mention for the Alice Smith Prize in Public History from the Midwestern History Association.

The Loyola arm of the Chrysler Village History Project operated within Loyola’s Public History Lab, a group founded by Loyola University Chicago history graduate students in 2013 that aims to create partnerships between history graduate students and organizations and sites of history in the greater Chicago area.

Bios:

Rachel Boyle earned her Ph.D. in United States History and Public History at Loyola University Chicago. In addition to studying gender and violence at the turn of the twentieth century, Boyle brings over seven years of professional experience in every corner of the public history field, from exhibit curation and site interpretation to oral history and historic preservation.

Chelsea Denault is a Ph.D. Candidate in United States History and Public History and Graduate Assistant at the Institute of Environmental Sustainability at Loyola University Chicago. Her dissertation focuses on the local politics surrounding the construction of the nation’s largest trash incinerator in Detroit, the community and international backlash against its operation, and the complex and problematic financial legacy it left to the city.

Maggie McClain is the Visitor Experience Coordinator at the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison, Wisconsin, where she plans and manages family programming and assists with the volunteer program. She is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago.

Kelly Schmidt is a Ph.D. student in United States History and Public History at Loyola University Chicago, where she studies eighteenth and nineteenth century American history, particularly in the area of race, slavery, and abolition. Kelly has pursued her interests in museum work at the Heritage Village Museum, Cincinnati Museum Center, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.