Thursday, July 5, 2007
M & M in 1897 Takes Charge of WPA-Style Project
By ROGER M. GRACE
It was inventive, perhaps audacious. I’m referring to the anti-unemployment plan of the Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Assn. in 1897.
The economy was bad; thousands here wanted to work but could find no jobs; there was work aplenty that needed to be done in the city such as construction of roads; city coffers lacked the funds to hire more workers. The M & M, a private, non-profit corporation, stepped in and, with city approval, took charge.
The plan was: raise money from contributions from businesses and dispense it not in the form of alms, but wages. The sum to be paid was a mere $1 a day ($11.88 in terms of today’s money)…enough for recipients to buy food for sustenance of a family.
At the Monday, March 1 meeting of the M & M—held just two days after the one at which the plan was hatched—attorney Charles Silent, a former federal judge in Arizona, reported that 13 businesses so far had made $250 contributions. He predicted that there would be no difficulty in raising the necessary finds.
Silent proposed that preference be shown for hiring men with families; next for single men whose names were on the Great Register (something more than an index of voters and less than what was in a census report); and last for strangers seeking employment here. The idea, he explained, was to take care of Los Angeles’s own citizens, not to draw the unemployed here from other places.
Silent, chieftain of the effort (though not an M&M member), suggested that the project to be undertaken be the construction of a boulevard in Elysian Park owing to the propinquity of the park to downtown where workers could readily obtain lodging.
That idea was endorsed by former Mayor William H. Workman, then a city park commissioner, who was conferring with the M & M. Workman recommended that the city be asked to provide the implements to be used by the laborers, such as shovels.
The following day, two representatives of the M & M appeared before the county Board of Supervisors to tout their project, the upshot being that each of the five members made a financial contribution ranging from $5 to $25, with the green light given to soliciting funds from county employees.
That same day, the Los Angeles City Council held a special session for the purpose of acting on the M & M’s request for funds with which to buy tools. It agreed unanimously to pay $1,000 for that purpose, with the proviso that the tools be turned over to the city when the project was completed.
In its March 5 issue, the Los Angeles Times reports that architects and engineers were donating their services…about 250 laborers, so far, had registered for work…nearly $9,000 had been raised... marble had been donated for the entrance to the boulevard from Buena Vista Street (now North Broadway)...and work was to commence the following week.
School children were urged to send suggested names for the new boulevard to the M & M’s secretary in Room 228 of the Wilcox Building.
The March 14 issue of the Times contains this report:
“The work is progressing beyond the most sanguine expectations. Three-quarters of a mile of the boulevard is well under way, and the 327 men work with a will. As many more are waiting for the promised employment, and they will be put on just as rapidly as the work will admit. Men of all races and every shade of color ply the pick and spade. Lawyers, doctors, ministers, farmers, merchants, laborers, all equally ‘down on their luck’ work cheerfully side by side taking a genuine interest in the beautiful boulevard for its own sake, as well as for the employment it gives them.”
An uncompleted two-mile roadway, unimaginatively but aptly dubbed “Elysian Park Boulevard,” was dedicated on April 17, while work on it continued.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company
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