Thursday. June 21, 2007
Merchants’ & Manufacturers’ Assn. Gets Off to a Spirited Start
By ROGER M. GRACE
It was on July 20, 1896, that two Los Angeles businessmen’s associations fused, doing so in conjunction with their dedication of offices in the new Wilcox Building, at the southeast corner of Second and Spring Streets. The “Merchants’ Assn.,” which had been founded in 1893 and had 143 members, and the “Manufacturers’ Assn.,” formed in 1895, with 53 members, did not get creative in concocting a new name. The group became the “Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Assn.,” known as “M & M” long before a candy assumed that moniker.
M & M was to become a major force in the city.
The group—whose name was often spelled without the apostrophes and frequently with “Association” written out in full—was incorporated in 1896 “to promote the business interests of Los Angeles City and County and the country tributary thereto.” It still exists, under a different name.
I’ve taken a look over the past 24 weeks at Hans Jevne, a founding member of the M & M, who moved his grocery store to the Wilcox Building a week after the Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Assn. arrived there. I’ll tell you what I’ve uncovered about the M & M starting today, and in columns to follow, and then go on to other former tenants of the Wilcox Building. I do have an especial interest in the history of the building (which my wife and I own) largely because our newspaper operations are centered there, in the very space originally occupied by Jevne.
Already mentioned here were some of the early activities of the Merchant’s Assn. From the start, it lobbied against business license taxes. In 1894, it launched “La Fiesta de Los Angeles,” a fabulous multi-day event imitative of the New Orleans mardi gras. The group was successful in June, 1896, in gaining city “parking limits” in the downtown retail area…limits, that is, for horses and horse-drawn vehicles.
The restrictions were enacted because of the congestion caused by vehicles that were at a stand-still and, well, because of the mess the horses made. The first organized group with which M & M found itself at loggerheads was that comprised of “hackmen”—drivers of public conveyances who balked at restrictions on their presence at the Victorian version of taxi stands.
M & M would, in future years, find itself at odds with various other factions, including labor unions and leftists.
The merger seemed to give the group impetus. It took up new causes, charted new courses. One factor in the upsurge of the group might be that identified by historian W.W. Robinson in his 1959 book “Lawyers of Los Angeles”:
“The appointment [by M & M] of energetic Felix J. Zeehandelaar as its secretary in 1897 had a vital effect on the business activities of the area.”
M & M fought for the paving of streets, and with the highest quality of asphalt…better street-cleaning, including scrubbing by hand, not just using street-sweeping machines…more fire hydrants…naming “all of the roads of the county” that were of “suitable lengths for naming” and numbering of houses. Unnamed streets and unnumbered houses were apparently common out in the “country”…a term then connoting anywhere in the county outside the City of Los Angeles.
In 1897, M & M complied with a request by two labor organizations to urge employers to give their workers a day off on Sept. 6, Labor Day.
Soon after the fusion, the group emerged as the conscience of the business community. It favored pure food and drug laws and called for milk inspections. Among activities it denounced was selling below cost, subsequently banned (under specified circumstances) by statute.
Other activities it condemned included the use by merchants of trading stamps. For the edification of younger readers: these were stamps given free to patrons which, when accumulated in sufficient numbers, could be traded for goods at redemption centers.
M & M staged a “Home Products Exhibition” in 1897 to promote the purchase of locally produced goods, then leased a building at 138 S. Main St., which ran all the way east to Los Angeles Street, and set up a permanent exhibit there. The space is now part of the CalTrans Building.
Also in 1897, this private group, with city cooperation, instituted an anti-unemployment program closely resembling (though not a progenitor of) FDR’s Works Progress Administration, set up in 1935. Through the M & M’s efforts, those out of work who wanted to earn a living received wages that were minimal—but highly welcomed in those days before unemployment benefits—and the populace of the city gained development in Elysian Park.
Next week: details of this story of how the M & M innovatively provided jobs in a time of economic distress.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company
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