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Chapter Seven— Hotel Homes as a Public Nuisance
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Mobility and Vagrancy

Virtually no one wanted hoboes and other overtly mobile people to be citizens of the city. Officials and the public automatically assumed the worst about hoboes (fig. 7.14). "The doctrine that the American tramp is a pariah and that he ought to be kept such is not often formulated so bluntly, but it embodies the underlying doctrine of the American method in dealing with the tramp," wrote William Stead in 1894 in If Christ Should Come to Chicago . Stead accurately reported that the bum was generally and unfairly seen as "outside the pale of human sympathy, . . . an incorrigibly idle loafer, a drunkard, a liar, and a reprobate."[74] Johanna Von Wagner, a Progressive Era tuberculosis inspector in California, candidly expressed the pa-


riah view as she described the residents of San Francisco's cubicle hotels in 1913:

The inmates of these places are human wrecks, old and young, diseased or habitual drunkards; others have failed in the struggle for existence, and [there are] those who from the beginning were never able mentally or physically to compete with their fellow men, their condition making it all the more urgent that they be compelled to live in a more sanitary environment.[75]

To Von Wagner and the general public, the casual laborer's style of life was not only alien but abhorrent, vagrancy and travelers having been mistrusted by Europeans for centuries. Single hoboes and casual laborers were not only poor and unmarried but also violated even more basic American values: cleanliness, sobriety, self-control, steady employment, material possessions, and commitment to home and family. Where "pariah" was too honest a term for such people, writers substituted the term "homeless man." By 1900, vagrancy as a legal term also meant begging, loitering, street walking, and indigence. Chicago School sociologists did occasionally associate creative social change with mobility. More often, however, they linked mobility to vice districts, bright light areas of the city, divergent types of people and activities, and general social disorganization.[76]

Hoboes were not the only mobile people to be mistrusted, however. Robert Park conflated "the hoboes, for example, and the hotel dwellers" as "unsettled and mobile . . . [and] stabilized only on the basis of movement, tribal organizations, and customs."[77] In 1915, in his famous article, "The City," Park used hotel life as a metaphor of metropolitan social disintegration:

A very large part of the population of great cities . . . live much as the people do in some great hotel, meeting but not knowing one another. The effect of this is to substitute fortuitous and casual relationships for the more intimate and permanent associations of the smaller community.[78]

Two generations of Chicago students applied Park's concepts. Ernest Mowrer wrote that the "emancipated" families in hotels had "casual or touch-and-go" relations with their neighborhood. Zorbaugh decried the social breakdowns in Chicago's cheap rooming houses as well as in expensive Gold Coast apartment hotels. The Gold Coast, he claimed, was merely a "location," not a neighborhood. The existing solidarity


was one of "caste rather than of contiguity." In rooming houses, he said, "there is not even gossip, no interest, sentiment, and attitude which can serve as a basis of collective action. Local groups do not act. Local life breaks down. . . . The last vestige of community has disappeared."[79]

Park's student Norman Hayner put the worst possible construction on mobility in his 1920s study of hotel life. For instance, he interviewed a well-paid man and his wife, married four years, who moved often because the man established new sales franchises for electrical appliances. Hayner denigrated them as a "childless tramp family moving about from apartment to hotel and never staying in one place more than four or five months."[80] Edith Abbott, in her book summarizing twenty-five years of social work in Chicago, sympathetically presented immigrants and blacks as hapless victims. However, for the families living in furnished rooms—overwhelmingly American-born white people—she displayed obvious disgust and exercised her most invective prose. Such families were "an objectionable class [that is] unstable, irresponsible, and shiftless," for which little could be done.[81] To professors of the Chicago School, moving frequently undermined the power of neighborhoods, and the areal neighborhood was an essential element, if not the essential element, in the definition of community. This definition took long-term root at the core of the city planning profession and of suburban design policies.

Mobility meant not only a poorly formed community but also apathetic and corrupt voters. Community fund solicitors and census workers complained that clerks at polite hotels automatically intercepted their attempts to canvass hotel residents. One census director said that hotel people were "so bent on having a good time that duty to the city means nothing whatever to them."[82] Although one study found that a third of Chicago's permanent rooming house residents voted, a precinct captain from nearby complained that it was "useless to try to get the people from the rooming houses to go to the polls."[83] Proprietors of some large boardinghouses became notorious for organizing their tenants in political-machine voting scandals. In New York City, both major parties regarded residents of cheap lodging houses as potential paid voters.

When hotel residents were independently organized and active, they became a community that menaced middle and upper class order. San Francisco's South of Market area saw violent workers' outbursts in the


Figure 7.15
The howling wolves of urban disease assailing the suburbs. This health poster of 1910 promoted
the protective wall of health reform. The original caption read, "How high is the wall in your town?"

1870s and in 1885, 1891, 1893, and 1902.[84] The national march of Coxey's Army in 1894, reinforced by the later organizing attempts of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) from 1912 through the 1930s, proved to the public that rooming house and lodging house people could act as a community. Even when laborers were not marching, the presence of Socialist bookstores and Marxist lecturers and devotees in the single laborers' zone reminded observers of nascent unrest.[85] No matter what outside observers made of hotel patrons' political leanings, hotel districts also represented reservoirs of yet other hazards.

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