Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, August 30, 2007


Page 11



M & M Makes Strides in Getting Streets Cleaned




The Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Assn. of Los Angeles in 1897 sought a clean sweep.

This wasn’t a political aspiration. The group did not put up candidates. What it wanted was an effective cleaning of the streets of downtown Los Angeles, where commerce was heavy, and where would-be customers might well be repelled by the stench and the mud and the muck.

The M & M even offered to do the street-cleaning job itself to show how it should be done. While the city often deferred to this group of influential businessmen, it did not give the go-ahead to any such  demonstration, even though the city attorney advised that it would be lawful.

“Street-sweeping machines” had been put into action by the city—but those devices, the M & M charged, could not do the job.

The streets downtown had been paved by 1897. The main problem was that horses, still far more common than automobiles, were no less prone to relieving themselves on the pavement than on dirt streets into which their deposits soon disintegrated.

A Los Angeles Times article of Sept. 15, 1897, says:

“Street-cleaning by hand, as it is done in eastern cities and in San Francisco, formed the principal subject of discussion at the meeting yesterday afternoon of the board of directors of the Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Association. As a preliminary step in the much-needed improvement in the present system of street-sweeping, [M & M] Secretary [Felix] Zeehandelaar was directed to ask the authorities if there would be any legal objection to an experiment at hand-sweeping, made under the auspices of the Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Association without cost to the city.”

Five blocks of Spring Street, it was indicated, would probably be the site of the experiment. The article notes:

“A resolution was passed to the effect that the police department be requested to inforce the ordinances against spitting on the sidewalks and in public places, and hitching horses where they will interfere with street traffic.”

At a well-attended meeting of the M & M in its offices in the Wilcox Building on Sept. 20 of that year, Mayor Meredith Snyder expressed agreement with the group’s position, saying:

“I am satisfied that the streets cannot be kept clean by machinery. They are in a fearful condition and I am ashamed of them....

“We advertise Los Angeles as a health resort, yet visitors find our streets filthy to a degree injurious to health....It may cost more to clean the streets by hand, but it is worth more.”

The mayor noted that in San Francisco, one man, working a 10-hour day, could keep an entire block of Market Street clean. That thoroughfare was 100-feet wide, from curb to curb and more heavily traveled than any street in Los Angeles, the downtown  boulevards here being 60-feet wide, he noted. Snyder suggested that “one man should keep clean two blocks here.”

One day shy of a year after that meeting, the City Council voted to award a new contract, effective Nov. 1, to a company that would sweep the streets throughout the city mechanically. At the same time, it decided also to give the M & M what it wanted: hand-cleaning in the business district. There would be 15 city workers with hand brooms sweeping during the day on Broadway, Spring and Main, and cross streets.

“CONTINUE THE GOOD WORK.” That’s the headline on an editorial in the Oct 8, 1899 edition of the Times. This opinion is expressed:

“One of the wisest moves ever taken in Los Angeles looking to the sanitation and appearance of the city’s streets is the scheme of sweeping the busy portions of the main thoroughfares by hand. The appearance of these streets now, as compared with the time when they were swept only by machines, is such as to make the citizen who rejoices in cleanliness hope that we may never go back to old conditions.”

The editorial remarks that “wherever else it may be necessary to cut expenses there should be no cutting in this department, particularly at a season of the year when the city is beginning to fill up with visitors from abroad.”

On Jan. 30, 1899, the entire board if directors of the M & M appeared before the Los Angeles City Council to protest the inadequacy of the hand-cleaning. Their attorney, C.C. Wright, noted that the debris was being swept into piles in gutters instead of being placed in the large iron boxes placed along the streets for the purpose of serving as receptacles for refuse.

The council was not quick to promise improvements after the street superintendent—whose surname was “Drain”—advised them that doing the cleaning as the M & M wanted would require doubling the work force. The city’s finances at that juncture were slim.

There will be more on downtown street cleaning next week.

Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company

MetNews Main Page      Reminiscing Columns