Journal-News, Sunday, Nov. 4, 1990
NRA big success in Butler County
(This is the first of two columns on the National Industrial Recovery Act, a Depression program.)
By Jim Blount
Hamiltonians in 1933 were enlisted in a crusade, one described as a "National Recovery Crusade mobilizing leadership and cooperation in a war on Depression".
The program — featuring its Blue Eagle insignia and the motto "We Do Our Part" — was credited with helping to produce a 68 percent employment jump in just six months at a Middletown steel mill.
The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt June 16, 1933, was supposed to be a major part of FDR's program to end the Great Depression.
Under supervision of the National Recovery Administration, headed by Gen. Hugh S. Johnson, employers and employees were to draft codes of self-regulation to control various businesses and industries.
The codes included provisions on fair competition, minimum wages, maximum hours, elimination of child labor and a guarantee of collective bargaining. Eventually, codes were written for about 540 types of businesses employing more than 22 million people.
Meanwhile, NRA critics called it "creeping socialism" and "business fascism."
The NRA began in Hamilton July 21, 1933, with appointment of Homer Card, president and publisher of the Journal-News, as local administrator. Card resigned Jan. 24, 1934, and was replaced by S. M. Goodman.
By Aug. 1, Recovery Day. a blanket NRA code for small firms was available for signing at the Hamilton post office.
NRA signers, who pledged to observe its wage, hour and price conditions, received Blue Eagle emblems and posters to display in their offices, stores and shops. Within three weeks, the Blue Eagle was posted at 969 local firms with 4,175 employees.
Hamilton claimed to be "the first city in the state to engage in the recovery program because the work had been done so swiftly and so efficiently"
Early NRA benefits to the area were detailed in a speech by Charles R. Hook, president of the American Rolling Mill Co., now known as Armco. Hook said employment at all plants was 11.016 in October 1933, up 4,512 from 6,504 in April.
At the Middletown plant, 2,106 were employed April 1 and 3,661 were working by Oct. 1, an increase of 1,555. In the same period, 68 were added in mill offices, bringing the total there to 445 employees.
Hook said the company payroll increased from $276,770 in March to $561,000 in August with $112,433 attributed to the eight-hour plan and a 20 percent salary increase.
Consumers — especially housewives — also were enlisted in the NRA crusade.
"It is our women in homes and not soldiers in uniform that will win the fight against unemployment," proclaimed a bold headline on a public service advertisement in the Journal-News. The quote was from a recent speech by NRA Administrator Johnson.
The ad referred to the NRA as "the National Recovery Crusade mobilizing leadership and cooperation in a war on depression" and urged Americans to "buy something you have needed and wanted today."
It asked readers "to eliminate fear, to restore and maintain confidence, to salvage American courage, which recent economic pressure has worn threadbare, and to rebuild for better times."
A Hamilton compliance board. formed Sept. 9, 1933, heard and investigated several complaints of alleged NRA code transgressions, but found no intentional violations.
Elsewhere, NRA faced numerous problems and challenges. It was abolished after a May 27, 1935, U. S. Supreme Court ruling that it was unconstitutional.
But during its short life, NRA provided depressed American spirits with a much-needed psychological lift.
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Journal-News, Sunday, Nov. 11, 1990
NRA parade a monumental event in 1933
(This is the second of two columns on the National Industrial Recovery Act, a Depression program.)
By Jim Blount
Much of Hamilton must have been a ghost town on Day evening, Nov. 11, 1933. That's because most of the city's 52,000 people were gathered along Main and High streets for a parade that included 10,000 participants and between 50,000 and 60,000 spectators.
It was the Hamilton NRA-Armistice Day parade, a patriotic event during the depth of the Great Depression.
A Journal-News reporter called it "by far the most comprehensive and spectacular public demonstration in the city's history. Never before within these corporate limits had as many people taken part in any public demonstration."
Mayor Raymond H. Burke proclaimed a city holiday during the time of the parade and — as shown by the estimates of parade participants and spectators — most businesses and industries in Hamilton closed in adherence.
The parade, which started at 4:30 p.m., took two hours and 10 minutes to pass a given point.
The newspaper described it as "a community expression, a desire by the people of Hamilton to wholeheartedly demonstrate their desire to cooperate with President (Franklin) Roosevelt in his NRA program for recovery and, at the same time, to pay tribute to those who served their country in the World War."
The parade's focus was on the goals of the National Recovery Administration (NRA), created with the June 16, 1933, signing of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA).
The Hamilton response was typical of the enthusiasm shown for NRA parades in most communities.
Here it was part of a full day of festivities, starting at 10 a. m. when veterans marched from the Soldiers. Sailors and Pioneers Monument to Greenwood Cemetery. After the cemetery services, there was a veterans dinner at noon. It ended with a veterans dance at the Fenmont, starting at 9 p.m.
The major event — the NRA parade — was the idea of American Legion Frank Durwin Post 138. The parade committee was chaired by Mark Alston and included John Geiser, Charles Hosea, Donald L. Mitchell, Louis J. Nardine. Robert G. Taylor, Edward F. Warndorf and City Manager Russell P. Price. Parade marshal was Wesley G Wulzen, who had been a World War I officer.
"From the Fillmore School near the city limits of West Main Street to Main and C streets, there were parade divisions forming north and south of the parade route and as sections immediately west passed intersections, others joined the line," the Journal-News noted.
Entrants included all types and sizes of organizations and businesses — from small family-oriented neighborhood grocery stores to local plants of large national corporations.
Two groups accounted for about half of the 10,000 persons marching and in cars, trucks and floats.
One section featured more than 2,500 school children and teachers from public and parochial schools.
"There was no more inspiring sight ever seen in Hamilton than the Champion Coated Paper Company coat of arms and the NRA insignia."
"Leading the Champion force was a float significant of the spirit of the NRA, decorated with red, white and blue streamers in which the Blue Eagle of the NRA predominated" and topped by a picture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the report said.
Another Champion float carried a sign proclaiming that "The Champion family of 4,500 men and women cooperated 100 percent with the NRA."
But another group was missing from a Hamilton patriotic parade for the first time in 68 years. There were no veterans of the Civil War (1861-1865) in the procession.
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Journal-News, Sunday, Nov. 18, 1990
Jefferson Theater entertained Hamilton
(This is the first of two columns on the Jefferson Theater.)
By Jim Blount
Hamilton culture fans were elated in March 1903 when the Jefferson Theater opened, climaxing a two-year local campaign for a first-class showplace in the city.
In February 1902 a citizens committee was formed to consider plans and secure money for the project The nine-man committee — headed by George P. Sohngen — included William H. Dingfelder, S. D. Futon, Homer Card, Charles E. Heiser, O. E. Hemp, O. V. Parrish, James W. See and John C. Slayback.
July 1, 1902, George H. Johnson of St. Louis purchased the Thomas Millikin property, which had a 111-foot frontage on the west side of South Second Street between Court and Ludlow streets. Plans were completed in July 1902, and work started the next month.
Its original name was The Hamilton, but it was changed during construction to the Jefferson as a "a compliment to Joseph Jefferson, the veteran actor, whom the committee will ask to come to Hamilton to open the new house," a newspaper reported.
The $50,000 theater opened Tuesday night, March 31 1903, with all tickets $10 -— available only to those people who had contributed to the public finance campaign.
The audience of 1,800 included "almost all of the best known people of Hamilton," said the Republican-News. Among those attending were Frederick Mueller, the architect who designed the theater, and H H. Button, who was superintendent of its construction.
"It was not only one of the largest audiences that has ever been attracted by a dramatic event in Hamilton, but it was the best dressed and most distinguished in appearance," noted the newspaper.
The Jefferson was designed to seat 1,600, including 500 on the first floor, 500 in the balcony and 600 in the gallery.
With 200 extra people attending, it was 8:45 before the opening night audience was seated because of congestion in the lobby. The play ended at 11:45 p. m.
The opening show featured Jefferson De Angelis and the Jefferson De Angelis Opera Co.. in Sir Arthur Sullivan's "The Emerald Isle" — reportedly the same cast with the same equipment that had runs of one year at the Savoy Theater in London and six months at the Herald Square Theater in New York City.
Prices for the second of the show's two-night stand were lowered to $2 for box seats, $1 and $1.50 for lower floor, 50 and 75 cents and $1 for the balcony and 25 cents for the gallery.
The Jefferson featured a stage 67 feet wide and 40 feet deep. The theater had 800 electric lights.
Three weeks after its open, April 21, 1903, the Jefferson Theater was sold to Tom Smith, its manager, for $35.000, At the same time, Stanley Shaffer bought the remainder of the red-brick, four-story building, including offices that faced Second Street and flanked the theater entrance and lobby.
It was renamed Smith's Theater after the sale and for most of its 25 years it was Hamilton's premier showplace, at first offering stage productions and in later years a mixture of plays, musicals. concerts, vaudeville and movies.
Feb. 17, 1914, Smith sold the theater bearing his name to John H. Broomhall and John Schwalm, who were building a local theater empire, for $40,000.
The new owners announced that the name would be changed hack to Jefferson Theater and improvements and remodeling were planned. including a new lighting system.
An editorial in the Republican-News said "Mr. Broomhall understands the local field, and we have no doubt that he will find it wise and profitable to give Hamilton a dramatic schedule that will afford entertainment of the first order at home and relieve the public of going to Cincinnati when it desires to see an important or interesting theatrical production."
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Journal-News, Sunday, Nov. 25, 1990
January 1928 blaze destroyed Jefferson
(This is the second of two columns on the Jefferson Theater.)
By Jim Blount
Hamilton firemen faced one of their toughest assignments when an explosion and fire destroyed the nearly 25-year-old Jefferson Theater Wednesday, Jan. 4. 1928.
The early morning alarm came with the temperature at 4 degrees. Firefighters were caked in ice within five minutes after responding to the downtown blaze.
A newspaper said the Jefferson fire "threatened to wipe out a business district stretching south along the west side of Second Street from Court Street to the first alley south,"
The report said "at 6:38 an explosion in the theater building rocked buildings one-half square away" and "several minutes later the rear wall . . . crumpled and the entire structure was a mass of roaring flames."
The theater — known as Smith's Theater for about 11 years - was unoccupied, but the four-story building also housed several offices and apartments.
More than 50 occupants — most in sleeping attire — were awakened by the explosion, according to a newspaper, and "fought their way through dense smoke" to safety in the street.
The only casualty was Pollyanna, a parrot which had been used in the previous week's show at the Jefferson.
The Jefferson building adjoined the Butler County jail, but prisoners weren't evacuated.
The loss was at least $200,000 to the theater, offices and apartments in the brick complex, which had been completed in March 1903.
A newspaper said theories of the origin included explosion of the boilers in the basement of the theater, ignition of gas which may have filled the building from leaking pipes, or spontaneous combustion.
The Hamilton fire department received the first alarm at 6:40 a.m., according to Safety Director Tom Boli and Fire Chief C. W. McClung.
When the first firefighters arrived, "flames were roiling from the roof of the building" and "the top of the rear wall had fallen," a newspaper reported.
Service on city streetcar lines and the interurban system through Hamilton was blocked for several hours as water leaking from fire hoses filled the depressions around rails and froze.
The $50,000 theater - built mainly with money raised in a public subscription drive - was owned by the Jewel Photoplay Co. in 1928. John A. Schwalm was president of the company, which also owned other downtown Hamilton theaters.
Playing at the Jefferson the day before the fire was "The Mystery Ship," advertised as "direct from Broadway."
The preceding Saturday, which was New Year's Eve, the Jefferson also had offered "Mary's Ankle," starting at 9:30 p.m. with dancing after the show. Tickets were 25, 50 and 75 cents.
In true show business tradition, "The Mystery Ship" — which was in its llth week at the local theater — went on. The Jefferson Players moved the show to the Regent Theater after the fire.
Between 1903 and 1928, attractions at the Jefferson had ranged from local amateurs and slapstick comedy to a Nov. 19, 1910, performance by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, directed by Leopold Stokowski.
Although built for plays and musicals, in its latter years the Jefferson also had offered a steady fare of vaudeville and movies. (Vaudeville was a live stage show featuring a mixture of specialty acts, including songs, dances, comic skits and acrobatics.)
A newspaper noted that "for the past three seasons the house has been occupied by stock companies, this season by the Jefferson Players and for the two previous seasons by the Roberson Players."
In recent years, the Jefferson Theater located at 123 South Second Street has been a parking lot.
[NOTE: Pollyanna, the parrot that died in the fire, belonged to this writer's father, James R. "Jimmy" Blount, who in 1928 was a member of the crew of the touring Roberson Players.]
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