Journal-News, Wednesday, June 1, 2005
Depression needs and changes pinched Hamilton treasury
By Jim Blount
Tax cuts and budget changes at the federal and state levels complicating the finances and services of local governments is not new. One of the most dramatic examples of the financial pinch was during the early 1930s, when the City of Hamilton faced declining tax revenues at the same time it was expected to lessen the impact of the Great Depression on needy citizens.
An unusual number of businesses closed in the 1930-39 period, eliminating jobs, pay checks and tax payments. Most Hamiltonians retained their jobs, but worked fewer days and hours and received lower wages. Those cutbacks were reflected in reduced tax income.
When the city closed its books on 1930, it had a cash balance of $620,683.09 -- equivalent to about $6.9 million today, allowing for inflation, but the outlook wasn't rosy.
"Major accomplishments" were reported for 1930, but City Manager Russell P. Price cautioned that "recommendations [for 1931 and beyond] would be inopportune at this time as the city is not assured of the definite amount of money it will receive from taxation."
In October 1930, city employees had volunteered to contribute 2.5 percent of their pay to assist the unemployed in the community.
In October 1931, because of Ohio law changes, Hamilton learned that its tax duplicate -- the property value on which city taxes were based -- had been reduced from about $98 million to $76 million, a 22 percent cut.
By that time, the city had already placed a tax levy on the Nov. 3, 1931, ballot to raise $175,000 for unemployment relief. "There was no doubt as to the necessity of doing something very definite to relieve conditions which it is believed will exist in Hamilton during the coming winter months due to unemployment," a newspaper explained. City leaders turned to the levy because "it was deemed advisable to place the financial burden upon everyone rather than to depend on voluntary contributions."
Only 37.6 percent of Hamilton voters supported the levy. It was rejected 6,523 to 3,926, failing in all six wards.
In January and February 1932 -- as details were released for the state's previously announced property value reductions -- Hamilton faced a tax loss of $189,317 from the previous year. Valuations were cut 20 percent on land and 5 percent on buildings.
County Auditor John Harlan protested the reductions by the Ohio Tax Commission because they applied only to Hamilton -- not to the remainder of the county.
The tax loss triggered a 10 percent pay cut for city employees -- described as a donation for poor relief. A newspaper said it was a reduction that "reaches from the city manager to the lowest paid laborer." Another 20 percent pay reduction was necessary in July 1932 to balance the city budget.
"In 1930 and 1931 great stress was laid upon private philanthropy," recalled City Manager Price. "Our national program was founded upon hope."
He said "in the second year of the Depression, we entered the second phase -- the local responsibility phase. Cities and counties extended themselves to provide relief," Price said, "but funds were soon exhausted . . . for the ever-increasing burden of food, clothing and shelter for an ever-increasing number of destitute families." He said "in normal times, the City of Hamilton has 300 families to care for, while today we have 2,087 cases."
The state continued to complicate the issue in November 1932 when tax commissioners ordered property value reductions of 10 percent in Hamilton, 15 percent in Middletown and 20 percent in the remainder of the county for the next tax year. For Hamilton, it meant a loss of $128,426 in tax revenue and the dismissal of 21 members of the police and fire departments.
In December 1934, city employees agreed to donate 20 percent of their wages instead of losing their jobs.
The local economy and the city's financial situation gradually improved in the last half of the 1930s. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt's inauguration in March 1933, the federal government gradually assumed most of the responsibility for unemployment relief. Later, German aggression in Europe translated into military contracts for Hamilton industry late in the decade. Some of the local output went to British armed forces; some to U. S. stockpiles.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 8, 2005
Key Watergate figure came to Hamilton during hearings
By Jim Blount
The admission and confirmation last week that W. Mark Felt, a leading FBI official, was "Deep Throat," the mysterious source for reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, has revived memories of the early 1970s Watergate era. There was no direct Butler County connection to Watergate, but in the midst of that drama -- when new revelations were unfolding and President Richard M. Nixon's future seemed bleak -- a key figure in the Senate investigation fulfilled an obligation in Hamilton.
Sen. Sam J. Ervin -- who liked to call himself "just a country lawyer" -- presided over the Senate hearings that led to Nixon's resignation Aug. 9, 1974. The president's departure came a few days after the House Judiciary Committee adopted three articles of impeachment: (1) obstructing the Watergate investigation; (2) misuse of power and violating his oath of office; and (3) failure to comply with House subpoenas. His downfall had started with a June 1972 breakin at Democratic Party headquaters in the Watergate office and hotel complex in Washington, D. C.
Sen. Ervin was a media star by the time he came to Hamilton. The Senate committee had begun televised hearings in mid May 1973. Before then, the senator had been scheduled to participate in a six-part lecture series on "Computers and Privacy" at Miami University Hamilton. He was to be the second speaker Thursday, June 28.
"To many Hamiltonians, he gained added stature because he kept a commitment," this writer said, in the midst of televised testimony by John Dean, the White House counsel who was a key witness.
"It would have been understandable if Ervin had asked to be excused from the Hamilton program," wrote the editor of the Journal-News. "But he didn't, and so many people turned out that the program was piped outside the Hamilton campus auditorium so everyone could at least hear him."
The crowd that overflowed Parrish Auditorium was blessed by warm, but pleasant and dry weather that evening. Those unable to get into the auditorium sat on the lawn. Some caught a glimpse of the North Carolina senator before and after his speech.
"Senator Sam" in Hamilton, it was noted, "was the same homey philosopher-entertainer that had been seen on TV."
In a press conference before his Hamilton speech, Sen. Ervin was asked if it was necessary for the president or other White House officials to appear in person before his committee rather than submit written testimony.
"I don't care much for written testimony," responded Ervin, then age 77. "You can't cross examine a written document."
In answering another question, he said he had told John Dean before leaving Washington earlier that day that "there is only one way to judge a witness's credibility -- and that is to hear him testify and observe his conduct while testifying."
Dennis Law, who covered the press conference for the Journal-News, said: "When asked about the possibility of the televised hearings cutting down on the chances for a fair trial for those involved . . . Sen Ervin said the broadcast might have the opposite effect. He said that he thought the defendants would get a fair trial because the American people will be able to see the evidence as it comes out. Live press coverage would also minimize chances for distortions of the case by the press, the senator said."
After his death, Sen. Ervin was called "a towering historical figure who championed the Constitution." Ervin, a Democrat noted for his independence, served 20 years in the U. S. Senate, 1954-74. Earlier, 1946-47, he was a member of the U. S. House of Representatives, filling the vacancy caused by the death of his brother, Joseph W. Ervin.
When Sen. Ervin died April 23, 1985, an Associated Press obituary said his "strict interpretation of the Constitution defied easy political classification. He sided with liberals and conservatives in becoming one of the chamber's most respected authorities on Constitutional law." The AP said "Ervin's independence made him a natural choice when Senate leaders sought a chairman for the sensitive and potentially explosive hearings on Watergate in the summer of 1973."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Speed limit 6 mph on unpaved city streets in 1885
By Jim Blount
Hamiltonians walking along or crossing city streets in 1885 didn't have to worry about dangers posed by automobiles or electric-powered streetcars or interurban trains. Those advances, plus paving, didn't come until the 1890s or later. Although the 1880s were still the horse-and-buggy era, there was a need for local protective laws governing city thoroughfares.
"Whoever rides or drives any animal or animals upon any street, highway or alley within the city . . . at a rate of speed greater than six miles per hour, or so as to endanger any person" is subject, if convicted, to a fine of no more than $10, up to 20 days in jail or both, according to a Hamilton ordinance in effect Jan. 1, 1885.
On the Iron Wire Suspension Bridge -- a predecessor to the High-Main Street Bridge -- it was unlawful to (1) drive an animal "faster than an ordinary walk;" (2) obstruct traffic; and (3) pass or attempt to pass another person.
There also were limits on the number of animals that could be on the 1867 bridge "at any one time." The restrictions included no more than 20 cattle or 100 swine or sheep. Those guilty of bridge violations faced a maximum fine of $20, plus the costs of prosecution.
Another animal prohibition was "transporting calves or sheep through or into the city" between April 1 and Nov. 1. It also was unlawful to butcher or sell calves and sheep in the city during the same period.
Heavier fines were ordered in other ordinances on Hamilton law books in 1885.
One was driving an animal or drawn vehicle "upon any curbed and paved or curbed and graveled sidewalk" -- except when loading or unloading coal or wood. The penalty was not more than $50 in fine, 30 days in jail or both.
The same assessment applied to anyone convicted of damaging or destroying a street, alley, or curb without first obtaining a permit from the proper authority.
The fine and jail provisions were the same if an animal that had died on a street or alley, or within a barn, stable or inclosure within the city wasn't removed within five hours.
Strangely, the maximum fine ($20) was lower for bringing a dead animal into the city and leaving it on a street. This transgression could result in as many as 30 days in jail, or both the fine and prison time.
The severest penalty -- a fine as much as $50 and up to 60 days confinement -- was imposed on those responsible for excavations on streets, sidewalks and alleys that weren't properly guarded or lighted. It was possible for the violator to pay both a $50 fine and spend 60 days in jail.
A $5 fine and up to 10 days in jail were ordered for those who (1) placed wood, coal or other obstructions in a street or alley for more than 24 hours; (2) had an open cellar door extending into a street or sidewalk between twilight and daylight without proper warning; or (3) had a sign that extended over a street.
"Whoever hitches any animal so that such animal shall injure by gnawing" or otherwise damage or destroy a tree, shrub, hedge or box or fence protecting a tree" would pay $5 or serve 30 days or both. The same penalty applied to driving over the same features.
For interrupting a funeral procession, the cost was a $5 fine or 30 days in jail or both.
For conducting an auction that interrupted "the free and proper use of the sidewalks," the penalty was up $20, as many as 20 days incarceration or both.
Playing ball on a street or in an alley could cost $5 or 10 days behind bars, plus the cost of prosecution.
An unusual 1885 ordinance -- its origin unexplained --- addressed the crime of decapitating or killing a turtle on a city street. The culprit, if convicted, could be fined up to $10 or imprisoned for as many as 20 days, or both. There were no laws in the book for abusing other animals.
A $5 fine in 1885, allowing for inflation, would be $102.63 in 2005, and a $20 fine would be $410.50.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Ushers once part of ambiance of attending movie
By Jim Blount
Theaters built in Hamilton in the 1920s and 1930s as movie houses entertained patrons with more than feature films, cartoons, newsreels, music, concessions and fancy interiors. Ushers also were part of the ambiance of "going to the show" during those decades. A dictionary definition of an usher as "a person whose duty it is to show people to their seats" is outdated in the modern movie business.
Enter a multi-screen theater today and the cashier may be the closest employee to being an usher. After taking your money and issuing a ticket, you're likely to receive a directive to "go to the right of the concession stand, turn right and go to theater number four." After that, you're on your own.
It wasn't that way when the Palace, Rialto and Paramount theaters opened their doors in downtown Hamilton. Ushers actually escorted patrons to their seats with a flair, usually in a darkened theater.
The Palace at 213-219 South Third Street opened Feb. 3, 1920, claiming it was "The Temple of the Silent Arts." The Rialto on the northwest corner of Front and High streets followed Sept. 1, 1920, as "Hamilton's newest home of the silent drama." The silent movie era had ended by March 6, 1931, when the Paramount opened at 18 South Second Street.
At the Palace, 1920 theatergoers were welcomed with a formal military style ushering system. "When Hamilton moviegoers enter that playhouse," said a newspaper preview, "they will be met by an usher who will salute, conduct them to their seats, stand at attention until they reach their places, turn on his heel and go back to guide other patrons to their seats."
Palace ushers wore uniforms that reflected the military system. Their appearance and routine were part of the experience.
The Paramount -- the largest and most ornate of Hamilton's movie houses -- could seat 1,813 customers, including 1,483 on the main floor and 330 in the balcony. Its size challenged ushers -- armed with flashlights -- to keep track of the locations of empty seats in a dark theater.
Most theaters didn't publish times for movies. Short subjects and newsreels usually filled the time between the end of the featured film and the start of its next showing.
Ushers also were disciplinarians when patrons were disturbing others or became unruly. Other duties ranged from patrolling restrooms to changing the wording on the marquee outside the theater.
Because it opened in 1931 during the Great Depression -- when young men had few job opportunities -- it is safe to assume that Paramount management had a surplus of qualified applicants for its usher corps. Twenty-five young men were selected for two weeks of training before the theater opened its doors. Only 12 lucky trainees were hired as ushers.
"We're not merely employing ushers," explained a Paramount corporate trainer. "We insist that every young man accepted for an usher's job shall possess some degree of executive ability. We insist that when a young man takes a position, he shall take upon himself the same responsibilities as though he were a partner in the business."
The Paramount ushers were described as "smartly uniformed," but a theater official said the trend was away from the military emphasis. A reporter said the Paramount Publix Corp. staff training "will not make them so rigid that they will be unapproachable."
Keeping the customer happy was important as more theaters were built and competition increased during the 1920s. Weekly movie attendance in the U. S. swelled from 50 million in 1920 to 90 million in 1929. One estimate said movies captured 83 cents of every dollar spent on entertainment, and three-fourths of the population went to a movie theater every week during the decade.
Ushers became a luxury for theater managers in the 1950s when television rapidly gained popularity. By 1953, movie attendance had plunged to about half the 1946 total. As people stayed home to watch TV, theaters began to close. Those still operating economized by reducing or eliminating ushers. Pampering theatergoers was no longer a priority.
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902. June 29, 2005 -- Organ essential part of movie in era of silent films:
Journal-News, Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Organ essential part of movie in era of silent films
By Jim Blount
A pipe organ was essential in Hamilton theaters during the silent movie era, setting the changing moods for the black-and-white action on the screen. They were such a vital part of the show that the features of their organs were publicized when two new theaters -- the city's first designed for motion pictures -- prepared to open in 1920.
The new theaters were t he Palace at 213-219 South Third Street and the Rialto (later the Court) on the northwest corner of Front and High streets. The Palace opened Feb. 3, 1920, billed as "The Temple of the Silent Arts." The Rialto opened seven months later, Sept. 1, 1920, as "Hamilton's newest home of the silent drama."
Much more was required of the theater organ -- of which about 7,000 were built between 1915 and 1933 -- than the standard church organ. The theater organ enabled one person to produce the sound of a full orchestra, plus emulating drums, cymbals, marimbas, castanets, chimes, doorbells, car horns, boat and train whistles, bird sounds, sirens, ocean waves and other sounds at an appropriate time during the movie.
On opening night the Palace featured Bernard Cowham of Chicago on its $10,000 Bartola Symphonic Organ. The house organist was Will Lebo with Marcella Lebo as assistant organist. The Bartola Musical Instrument Co. of Oshkosh, Wis., was a major manufacturer of theater organs.
The Rialto installed a $20,000 Wurlitzer organ, described as a Hope-Jones unit orchestra that "reproduces the effects of a symphony orchestra, combined with the sweetness of tone of the finest church organs." It boasted a million parts, including 150 wires.
"The pictures will be enjoyed as they have never been before to the accompaniment of this noble, majestic, inspiring music which puts life and animation upon the screen," said an opening night preview.
The Rialto Ladies Orchestra also performed.
Many innovations that led to the perfection of the theater organ were the work of one man, Robert Hope-Jones (1859-1914), according to the American Theatre Organ Society (ATOS). Hope began his creative work in his native England, "but it was not until his arrival in America  and his fruitful collaboration with the Rudolph Wurlitzer Co. of North Tonawanda, N. Y., that many of his ideas were realized." The Wurlitzer-Hope-Jone Unit Orchestra -- more commonly known as "the Mighty Wurlitzer" -- was the product of their cooperation.
Wurlitzer built more than 2,000 theater organs between 1911 and 1943. "At its peak in 1926, the company was shipping a Wurlitzer a day, mass-producing one of the most technologically advanced machines of its time," reports Smithsonian magazine.
Sound had replaced silence on the screen by March 6, 1931, when the Paramount opened at 18 South Second Street. The Paramount -- designed as a "combination of the classic and modern period, with a dominant Italian Renaissance motif" -- had an organ, but it was an amenity, not a necessity. The action on the screen no longer depended on an organist to provide the varied music and sound effects appropriate for a love scene, a gun fight or a car chase.
When the Paramount opened, the resident organist was Edwin (or Erwin) Schenck, formerly of WLW in Cincinnati who had also been employed at the Rialto. His organ was called a Barton-Balaban.
The Barton Organ Co., also of Oshkosh and once associated with Bartola, was founded by Dan Barton, a musician whose varied experience included dance bands, the Chautauqua circuit and the Ringling Bothers Circus. Because of their lavish carvings and bold red and gold colors, Barton instruments were known as "circus wagon" organs. Barton, one of the top five organ builders, produced more than 340 between about 1915 and 1932 when the company closed.
The Paramount closed Sept. 5, 1960, and was demolished the next year, but its organ survives. It is still played in the Acorn Theater in Three Oaks, Mich., in the southwest corner of the state near Lake Michigan and the Indiana border.
The Barton Opus 343, called "one of the last ever built," is described on an Acorn Theater web site as having "14 ranks and includes many orchestral percussions, including a large scale marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel and celeste" plus "an assortment of drums, cymbals and so-called 'toys'."