1920-1929

A Plan For The City

Ann Arbor during the 1920's experienced more than the cosmetic changes associated most often with the "jazz age." True, the University students sported "zoot suits," drove rickety jalopies, performed the "Black Bottom," and drank homemade hootch at the football games. But it was a controversy over the construction of a gas station at Washtenaw and South University during the winter of 1921-22 that determined the future shape of the city.

Prior to World War I, the University and the city had asked Olmsted Brothers, the famous New York Park Planning firm, to recommend how Ann Arbor might profitably direct its growth. The report was completed in the spring of 1922. It emphasized Ann Arbor's attractiveness as a residential city, free from the slums and congestion of other cities. To preserve a pastoral atmosphere, the Olmsteds recommended that areas outside industrial and University districts be rigidly "zoned." They insisted the city retain its spacious feeling. The West Side was designated as the location for factory sites and homes for workingmen. The area east of Washtenaw and south of Geddes, designed with winding streets to discourage traffic, was seen as the place for "suburban and country homes," a "beautiful district."

Ann Arbor was a showcase for the Olmsteds' ideas. In a town dominated by a University and a nine-month calendar, much of the war-spawned industry found it unprofitable to change over to peacetime production and faded away. Large expenditures in the 1920's for capital improvements by the University and city kept the cost of living high, hindering the establishment of additional manufacturing enterprises. Better roads, however, enhanced Ann Arbor's already good reputation as a residential community for higher income groups who could afford to live in, or near, the city.

In this light, a gas station in a residential area was a serious break withStaebler Filling Station, State St tradition. On March 6, 1922, council passed a limited law governing the location of buildings. It required the permission of surrounding property owners and council before a gas station could be placed in a residential or educational area. That fall developers opened Ann Arbor's first apartment house to house University staff and married students. Probable construction of another at Hill and Washtenaw elicited a public demand to limit apartment building.

At the same time, the University had to destroy much of old fraternity row along State Street to construct the new Law School. Given the pressure on existing State Street, 1920s housing, fraternities and sororities were increasing in numbers and membership. With property values rising around the central campus, the University wanted the city to grant fraternities and sororities freedom in relocating.

In March 1923 council passed the city's first comprehensive zoning law. The Olmsted recommendations and the University's needs were reflected in its attention to the location of gas stations, apartments, and fraternities. Under its provisions, apartments, together with rooming and boarding houses, were restricted to the area immediately around the University. Retail trade, including gas stations, and "commercial and industrial" developments were confined to separately defined zones. Private homes, including fraternity and sorority houses, had freedom to locate in the University area or in the first-class residential district. The zoning law, together with the influence of the Olmsted report on future council actions in approving housing plats, governed the city's subsequent growth.

Building a Campus

During the 1920's the University regained its dominance of the town's economy. Enrollment reached 8,900 in 1920, almost 2,700 more than the prewar record of 1916-17, and peaked at approximately 10,200 in the fall of 1926-27. Numbers of graduate and professional students rose rapidly throughout the decade. Larger numbers of students strained available housing. Rents increased and many were forced into inadequate or far-distant quarters.

The State of Michigan, buoyed by increased income from the auto industry, dramatically raised the University's appropriation for operating expenses from $1.6 million in 1919 to $4.9 million in 1929. As a result, the University hired more employees at better wages.

The number of faculty, staff, and support personnel expanded in proportion to the growing research and maintenance responsibilities. By 1929, the University paid over $6 million in wages to some 3,000 employees, about one-half million dollars and 250 employees more than the combined total for all local manufacturing and retail trade.

In addition to more operating income, the State provided approximately $11 million over ten years for construction of new research and classroom facilities. The University supplemented these funds with an even greater amount raised from private gifts, revenue bonds, and athletic department profits. Beginning in the winter of 1921-22, the University launched a massive construction program which peaked about 1925. The central campus virtually doubled in size at the expense of the old rooming and boardinghouse district.

Around the original 40 acres, new landmarks appeared: the Clements Library in 1923; the new Literature Building (Angell Hall), the Physics Building (Randall Lab), East Engineering, and University High School (half of the present School of Education) in 1924; the new Medical Building (C. C. Little) and the first portion of the new Law School, consisting of the Lawyers' Club, dining hall, and dorm, in 1925; the Museums Building and School of Architecture in 1928; and the Michigan League in 1929. Most of the new facilities were research and classroom facilities designed to meet the increase in enrollment, the growth in graduate and professional education, and the emphasis on academic and business-oriented research. At the end of the decade, the University was finishing construction of the Law Library, John B. Cook Dorm, and Mosher-Jordan Hall, all scheduled for completion in 1930.

While the expansion of central campus continued, the University finished work on the hospital complex and built its modern athletic plant. The hospital complex increased Ann Arbor's capacity as a major medical resource center. On the athletic campus, completion of Yost Field House in 1923 increased the seating for basketball from 2,200 to 12,500. The present Michigan Stadium, opened in 1927, provided seating for 85,000 as compared to 21,000 at Ferry Field. The Intramural Building and the Women's Athletic Building opened in 1928. With the exception of the stadium, whose funds came from revenue bond sales which guaranteed seating preference, football profits financed all the athletic improvements.

Frats, Dorms and the Housing Crunch

The expansion of the University's facilities had great impact on the city's appearance, necessitating the destruction or removal of housing and the closing and opening of streets. Houses on the hospital site were moved to University and Washington Heights while those from the stadium location were transferred to new locations off Main Street. Some of the existing houses on central campus were also placed on University and Washington Heights or on vacant lots throughout South University Ave the city. Many others were destroyed.

The expansion of the central campus destroyed much of the old rooming, boarding, and fraternity house district. Many houses were razed or moved so far from campus that under the zoning law, they were unable to fill their original function. The dislocation brought a proliferation of restaurants and the relocation of fraternities. The development of new alternatives in student housing followed, first in the growth of fraternities and apartments and then in the University program for dormitories.

Between 1920 and 1925 the number of restaurants nearly doubled to accommodate the larger student population. At first, many were cafeterias and tiny eating-places.My T-Fine Cafe, 1921 Greek-Americans began to assume a greater role in the ownership and operation of the new facilities. By the end of the decade, the growth in restaurants slowed, but newer ones were larger and offered better quality food at higher prices. By 1930 Greek-Americans were solidly established as local restauranteurs, just as German-American restaurants were making their appearance.

The golden age of fraternities and sororities in Ann Arbor was the 1920's. With the scarcity of housing, they increased greatly in numbers and membership among those who could afford them. By the fall of 1922, they housed some 20 per cent of the student body, and by 1925 their membership was double the prewar total. In 1926, about 3,000 students, 32 per cent of the men and 22 per cent of the women, lived in fraternity and sorority houses.

As they lost earlier homes to University expansion and as property values rose near campus, fraternities and sororities moved farther out. At first they bought former private residences whose previous owners moved off the main thoroughfares into the interior east of Washtenaw or Barton Hills. But during the second half of the decade they built larger and more magnificent houses of their own. Left to alumni control, without University or landlady supervision and located farther from campus, fraternities became a nuisance to their residential neighbors.

To help meet the need for moderately-priced housing for non-fraternity/sorority students, a group of alumni in 1923 constructed Fletcher Hall dormitory for 325 men. New nurses' and law school dorms also helped, but the severe crush on housing continued throughout the decade. As land values rose near the University, new high-cost apartments replaced older buildings. In addition to being higher priced, apartments were also free of landlady control, which further added to the increasing problem of student rowdyism and bootlegging at the end of the decade.

Capital improvements were not limited to the University. The Ann Arbor public schools also completed major improvements. In 1920, to upgrade overcrowded and outdated facilities unable to accommodate the postwar influx of young couples with children, the electorate approved $750,000 for new grade schools, and two years later passed an equal amount for additional facilities. That fall three new grade schools opened, and by the end of 1924 another new grade school and improvements to the two remaining ones were finished. At this time the junior high school plan was initiated. The new University High School opened in 1924. By the end of the decade, St. Thomas completed a new facility and the University Elementary School was almost finished.

The Automobile is King

The automobile provided a key to Ann Arbor's growth and its relations with the outside world. In 1920 Ann Arbor, like the rest of America, was divided between the horse and the car. There were two gas stations, two feed barns, and four blacksmith shops in town. By 1925, the feed barns and blacksmith shops had disappeared. But there were fifteen gas stations, and by 1930, forty-two. In conjunction with improved roads, private cars dealt the coup de grĂ¢ce to the interurban and hurt a struggling city bus system.

At the beginning of the decade, Ann Arbor's only physical contact with the outside world was by interurban, train, or a bumpy ride by horse or car over dirt roads. In 1921 the first paved road to Jackson was opened. Three years later the stretch between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti was paved, completing the through road to Detroit. By early 1927 Ann Arbor had two hard-surfaced roads all the way to Detroit and two to Chicago. At the end of the decade it had intercity buses, frequent train services, and a fledgling airport which entitled it to airmail service.

With the growing importance of the automobile, the city moved to improve its 1920s car streets. In 1921 pavement covered fifteen miles, or less than a quarter of the city's total and that included only the major thoroughfares and downtown streets used by business and manufacturing. There were virtually no curbs or gutters anywhere in the city. By 1919 some thirty-four miles, nearly fifty per cent of the city's total, were hard-surfaced. Almost every street in town had been curbed, guttered, and graveled in preparation for paving.

While the city responded with improved roads, private individuals were building special houses for their automobiles. Even in 1920 and 1921, when the high cost of materials limited construction projects, local residents began a garage-building spree which lasted throughout the decade. Virtually every family residence erected in the '20's had a special house for its automobile, and many occupants of older homes replaced the high stable with a rectangular garage.

As automobiles increased in number and speed, the streets became unsafe places in which to walk or play. The city pushed a program of sidewalk construction outside main shopping areas, and by 1924 required that walkways be concrete. With vacant lots rapidly disappearing and the streets unsafe, parks ceased being merely nature preserves in the midst of the city where one could walk or picnic. They became "playgrounds" with ball diamonds, tennis courts, and "playground equipment." Schools added play yards, and in 1926 the electorate approved a special bond issue for the purchase of more park land and playground facilities. By the end of the decade the city directory stopped using the term "parks" in favor of the more accurate "parks and playgrounds."

Ann Arbor's traffic problem was compounded each fall and spring by the great numbers of non-resident students who by reason of need or social fashion also drove. President Leroy Burton's request to parents in 1923 that they keep their sons' and daughters' cars at home failed to have noticeable effect, in part because of the profitable business of selling cheap used cars to students. The editor of the Michigan Alumnus commented that there were two types of automobiles: "those which may be sold to the general public" and "those which nobody but an undergraduate will buy." Many of the vehicles, selling for as little as $18 or $25, were unroadworthy, and accidents resulted from inadequate brakes and steering. Poor driving habits also contributed to the accident rate. In the spring of 1924 council passed a law aimed particularly at University students. It forbade more than two adults in the front seat and anyone sitting on the driver's lap.

Even without student autos, Ann Arbor had a full quota of cars by the mid '20's. Restrictions on student driving seemed inevitable. In 1927 the Regents, reacting to many serious automobile accidents, passed a ban on all student driving except with special permission. A special campus policeman was appointed to insure compliance with the regulations.

The automobile altered recreational life for Ann Arborites. A drive through the countryside replaced the canoe trip down the Huron. A favorite destination was Whitmore Lake. Once a social center for special occasions, such as class, church, or fraternal picnics, only a single hotel had graced its wooded shores. Now the lake was encircled by the summer cottages of Ann Arbor residents and the shoreline featured a number of hotels and boardinghouses, two dance halls, and several large bathing beaches.

Whatever its advantages, the automobile had some undesirable side effects. According to the contemporary observers, it introduced "crime" into Ann Arbor. In February 1924 armed robbers got $100 from the Ann Arbor Fuel Company, and in March 1926, $3,000 from the Majestic Theater. The media saw these occurrences as an indication that Ann Arbor was becoming a "big city." Actual crimes were invariably attributed to outsiders who "got away by car toward Detroit"; or burglars who "came to town" for the evening.

Under the impact of the automobile, Ann Arbor expanded outward beyond the streetcar tracks, and more affluent individuals who worked elsewhere began to move into the area. While Ann Arbor always had a significant number of well-to-do residents who worked outside the city, they increased at a great rate, numerically and proportionally, during the latter half of the decade. By the early '20's they had already established a pattern of leaving Ann Arbor during the warm weather for summer homes at nearby lakes.

Development Brings Diversity

Outside the city limits, planned suburban developments attracted affluent newcomers, Ann Arbor in brief many of whom were associated with the prosperous Detroit automobile industry. The first major suburban development was Barton Hills, located north and west of the city in the hills around Barton Pond, which Detroit Edison created to supply its downriver power facility. Initially it became the home of higher income Ann Arbor natives who commuted into town by car. With the completion of new educational facilities and intercity roads, it attracted residents from the west side of Detroit as well. At the end of the decade, its developers, a subsidiary of the Detroit Edison Company, advertised it to a selected clientele as "Detroit's most attractive suburban community." By 1930 increasing numbers of high-income Ann Arbor residents were commuting to work outside the city while low-paid service workers were commuting into Ann Arbor from their homes in nearby communities.

All the new high-income areas featured golf courses to supply the need for Barton Hills School bus exercise among their professional and managerial residents. In some cases, such as Barton Hills, the golf course preceded houses as an inducement to settlement. All the best developments platted golf courses together with housing sites in their promotional literature.

In addition to bringing enormous income and new residents, the building boom brought great numbers of construction workers to the city. By the end of the decade construction projects employed every skilled craftsman in Ann Arbor and its surrounding communities and some from as far away as southern Ontario. In the case of the Law School, workers came from the British Isles. The initial University expansion employed in semi or unskilled jobs factory workers laid off in the slump of 1922-23 and University students on summer vacation. But with the return of industrial prosperity and the spread of construction projects to the private sector, increasing numbers of unskilled and semiskilled workers were imported from elsewhere increasing the crush on available rental housing.

Many of the heavy laborers were African-American. The African-American community was one of the fastest growing elements of Ann Arbor's population, rising sixty-two per cent from 580 to 940 during the decade. Most came to work in construction and stayed to work in the new fraternity houses or as cleaning ladies for Ann Arbor's growing affluent community. By the close of the decade their confinement in Ann Arbor's remaining low-rent districts and their attempts to expand beyond them began to generate conflict in the community.

The movement of construction workers into the city, particularly from rural Church of Christ group portrait, 1922 areas, encouraged the growth of mission and holiness churches, such as the Evangelistic Mission, Gospel Mission, Church of God in Christ, First Spiritual Church of Truth, Free Methodist, and Pilgrim Holiness.

Despite the growth in evangelical Protestant sects, few new churches were built. Many congregations remodeled their quarters, while German-American congregations were the only ones to finance major new construction. St. Paul's Evangelical Church moved from the expanding West Park to a new building at West Liberty and Third, while Calvary Evangelical rose to serve the growing German-American population on the North Side. The Jewish congregation secured its first permanent home, and the Greek Orthodox Church expanded its rented quarters.

Most of the established churches spent increasing amounts of money in serving the University community. The Roman Catholics erected a new headquarters for student work, and by 1925 they and the protestants supported more than a half dozen pastors and secretaries with aid in excess of $50,000 annually. A great interest in religion prevailed at the University. In the early '20's University officials gave serious consideration to starting a School of Religion. From 1925 on, the University opened Hill Auditorium each Sunday to well-attended non-denominational services.

The ethnic mix of the city's inhabitants changed during the '20's. The proportion of native-born Americans rose as the war and new laws ended the great waves of immigration. Affluent newcomers from old-line families, who occupied executive and managerial positions in the automobile industry or faculty and staff positions at the University, moved into Ann Arbor. While the German element remained strong, it diminished in relative importance. Except for the old-timers, the Ann Arbor German community ceased speaking its native language during World War I, but retained its cultural traditions. By the end of the 1920's, due in part to the new immigration laws, English replaced German as the leading language of Ann Arbor's foreign born. Canada supplied most of the immigration since it was exempt from the restrictions of the new laws and was close to Ann Arbor's expanding labor market.

The Jazz Age in Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor's boom came in a period of rapid national change which affected traditional social mores. The '20's were known as the "jazz age" and Ann Arbor participated fully in it. Movies, dancing, and the soda fountain were popular diversions. The radio, whether a smart little box or a "console," was a must for every home.

With the adoption of prohibition, the soda fountain emerged as a recreational and social center. Many confectioners added a soda fountain as did most drugstores. By the early '20's soda fountains and ice cream parlors were well established in Ann Arbor and their popularity lasted throughout the decade.

The increasing popularity of dancing touched not only the University, local high schools, and public dance halls, but also small restaurants and confectionery shops. During the '20's there was dancing every night at the Hut and the Den, two restaurants at either end of the University diagonal, and at Drake's Sandwich Shop on North University. Granger's Academy on Maynard entertained record crowds. Also the new Union and League buildings were always open for weekend dancing. By 1925 local dance hall proprietors estimated they earned $80,000 yearly from University students alone.

Movies were another great source of popular entertainment. The town had two clusters of "picture shows," one near campus and the other on Main Street. As an indication of their attraction, student riots of the '20's focused on gaining free admission to theaters. Two of the three near campus invariably closed for the summer when the students left, but the rest were always open and busy. By 1924 lines of as many as 1,500 frequently stood outside the largest of them, the Majestic on Maynard Street. In January 1928 the largest of the movie palaces, the Michigan, opened with seating for 2,200. By the spring of 1929 sound movies appeared in Ann Arbor, first at the Wuerth Theater downtown, and a week later, at the Michigan.

Michigan went "dry" on the eve of America's entry into World War I. Ann Arbor--and the nation--went from overwhelming popular support of prohibition to open violation in a matter of months. Some saloon owners who sadly closed their doors, later reopened a new business under another name at a more secluded location. Early in 1920 city council was aroused by the sudden appearance of "Turkish coffee houses," which acquired a reputation as replacements for the saloon and particularly for gambling. Council responded with an ordinance regulating their hours and specifically forbidding any gambling or card playing on their premises.

Groups which had never tried alcohol suddenly found it socially acceptable. The more affluent element, which had traditionally been "tee-totalling," was caught by the "rage." By the end of the '20's the cocktail party was well on its way to being an accepted norm of "polite society." The youth were particularly affected, and by the mid-20's drinking at University fraternity parties aroused local residents and University authorities. As the decade closed, the consumption of alcohol was spreading throughout all elements of Ann Arbor's population.

Cigarette smoking also grew increasingly popular. By 1923 an observer noted the enormous cloud of smoke hanging over Michigan's stadium. The University and local businesses designed their new buildings to be as fireproof as possible, both because of increased electrical wiring and increased smoking. Again, the younger element was a pacesetter in adopting the new custom, and by the end of the decade even "respectable" women were smoking cigarettes.

But these were the flashy symptoms of Ann Arbor's participation in the Jazz Age. Zoning laws, residential patterns, University expansion, and the automobile had made their mark on the city and were here to stay. The impending Great Depression was not to alter the pattern of Ann Arbor's development.