Charles Mulford Robinson ( Biographical note )
The Criterion 3 (March 1902):34-38.
The author tells us about the origins and development of the Model City concept for the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904. Since Robinson was himself involved in preparing the recommendation by the New York Municipal Art Society, it is presumably an accurate account. Among the other members of the committee were Charles R. Lamb, William S. Crandall, and Albert Kelsey. The latter two also wrote about the Model City in essays that are part of this Anthology. Eight paragraphs of Robinson's article appeared word-for-word and without attribution the following month in an article with the same title that Current Literature included in its April issue.Two months ago a newspaper from Honolulu, in the Hawaiian Islands, reached New York, and before it had been tossed aside in the clipping bureau to which it came there was cut from it an article on the proposed Municipal Art and Science exhibit at the St. Louis Fair. It was just six months since the project was first formally presented to the public in a few brief resolutions, and in four months mention of the idea had swept through the press of this country and had gone so far into the Pacific, leaving everywhere behind it a train of approving comment and public interest. It is probable that no other idea presented to the directors of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition has taken so well, has interested so many people, and has recommended itself as at once so novel, so reasonable, so promising of practical value and attractiveness.
But while kindly comment on the general idea has been sweeping through the papers, and people have talked glibly of the opportunity the exhibit would afford to further the great movement for city and town improvement, a few earnest men have been giving deep thought to the project's details. How to make the project feasible, how to draw out of the opportunity the largest results, what lessons should be taught, what wholesome examples should certainly be given, what should be its record of the past and what its suggestion for the future--these are the points that have been talked over and worked over until at last a practical, definite, tangible scheme of exhibit has been evolved. This has been designated for brevity as the Model City. Model, however, is used in the sense of exemplary, not of miniature, and so the difficulties and great possibilities of the plan are at once perceived.
It ought to be said, by way of history, that the first formal presentation of the idea was at the annual convention of the American League for Civic Improvement, held in Buffalo last August. There had been small municipal art exhibits at some of the foreign expositions, where they had had a success all out of proportion to their size. To one of the delegates, who knew of these, it had seemed a pity that the general impetus toward civic aesthetics which all beautiful expositions offer should not be supplemented with us by concrete examples that would be of suggestive helpfulness and that the visitor might carry home to his own struggling community. Civic art received an impetus at the Columbian Exposition, because ideals were raised; the Pan-American also created new hopes and ambitions, but when one went home what was there at either fair that one could apply to local conditions to make the dreams come true? The beauty of the expositions puts their visitors in a receptive mood, they long for better things in the daily life of their own community and are willing to learn. So a great opportunity is afforded, which heretofore has never been turned to account. The plan for the model city, then had its origin in the best kind of civic spirit and happily it has never got away from that. To this doubtless is due its popularity. To this is due the indorsement of many important societies and clubs, and the co-operation of public-spirited men. It happened, too, that the directors of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition formed an unusually wide-awake, intelligent and broad-minded group, quick to appreciate the economic advantage of such an exhibit through its universal attractiveness and pertinence. They had already, in their prospectus, announced their desire to have the St. Louis Fair reflect "man in his full twentieth century development, exhibiting not alone his material, but his social advancement."
The suggestion that an exhibit of municipal art and science be advocated at the St. Louis Fair met with ready response among the delegates to the convention in Buffalo. A set of resolutions was drawn up and was passed unanimously. It was an indorsement worth having, for the delegates had assembled from all parts of the United States and every man and woman of them was a leader in improvement work in his own community. These resolutions proved a sort of tocsin, rousing and rallying with surprising promptness to the support of the project all the forces anywhere enlisted for civic betterment. Published in full in the Buffalo papers, the resolutions were at once copied by other journals throughout the country and were made a text for comment. The Boston "Herald," two days after their publication, said of the plan: "If adopted--and the St. Louis management should jump at the chance of making such a feature--it will give that occasion pre-eminence among affairs of the kind in promoting a movement of vital consequence to the well-being of civilization." The rochester "Post Express," the day after the publication of the resolutions, said: "It is altogether the most interesting and important suggestion yet made regarding the St. Louis Fair." New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, and countless minor town vied with one another in urging the plan with favorable press comments.
The next step--and surely all this history is interesting and encouraging, as showing how speedily a good proposal wins its way in this busy world--was the indorsement of various clubs and societies. The Municipal Improvement Committee of the Architectural League of America was the first to pass a series of resolutions cordially seconding those of the Buffalo convention. Then came many others--the Municipal Art societies of New York and Chicago, the T Square Club of Philadelphia, etc. The real popularity of the plan and the general confidence in the desirability of its adoption were thus fully attested, and the problem was how to make the still vague and abstract idea concrete and feasible.
Of the two delegates at Buffalo who had the plan most at heart one was a prominent practising architect of Philadelphia. This was Mr. Albert Kelsey, the chairman of the committee of experts of the Philadelphia Art Federation. He is not a man to be satisfied with abstractions and worked diligently over a plan of exhibit, for which his colleague made various suggestions from quite another point of view, so broadening a conception that, mainly an architect's, is not mainly architectural. It is something broader and better, but is still so distinctly Mr. Kelsey's that it properly bears his name. When, in the fall, the New York Municipal Art Society called a conference of those especially interested in the project, Mr. Kelsey and his colleague were invited to attend. At this conference the friendliest cooperative spirit was shown on both sides and a committee was appointed to consider and draw up plans. On this committee were Mr. Charles C. Haight, chairman; Hon. John De Witt Warner, president of the society; Mr. William S. Crandall, Mr. Charles R. Lamb, Mr. Albert Kelsey, and myself. The plan of Mr. Kelsey was carefully gone over, discussed, and in a general way approved. A report on the scope and plan was then prepared and submitted to the society. It laid stress upon several special points, and so put clearly before the public what such an exhibit might be and on what lines its practicability most clearly lay. The assertions of the report can be briefly summarized as follows: Many necessities of exposition administration are essential functions of a municipality, such as police and fire protection, street lighting, paving and cleaning, tree-planting, parking, etc. Out of such material, which the exposition must have in any case, an exhibit in model-city-making may well be arranged. There are, too, certain other functions that, if not exactly essential, are yet so pertinent that they might well be included. Such, for instance, are a public library, art gallery, and school. Here, then are the ingredients for the Model City. It would, however, be well, the report continued, to show many types of certain articles, as lamp posts, of styles more diverse and numerous than could form a part of the exhibit proper, and all such displays should be grouped together as a special exhibition. When the society had heard and considered this report, it voted to send members of the committee to St. Louis to present the plan personally to the directors of the fair. The committee has been to St. Louis, has presented its scheme, and its members have been assured by the directors that the project will be adopted. The Fair authorities have had Mr. Kelsey's plan, as he has now elaborated it, electrotyped and issued to the press, and so the St. Louis exposition promises to present a feature new, interesting, and very helpful to better living--something that will distinguish this fair from all its predecessors and very likely make traceable to the West the most important artistic impetus measured by practical results, that the United States has ever had.
And now for the details of the plan, which is called Mr. Kelsey's, not to distinguish it from any other (for it still stands alone), but to recognize the long thought and hard work that he has put into its preparation and the time and energy that he has devoted to its cause.
It is proposed that there be created, under the Social Economy Department of the Exposition a sub-department to be devoted to municipal art and science. For the exhibit of this sub-department it is asked that ten acres be reserved, and this area may, without detriment to its effect, be isolated from the rest of the fair if such an arrangement be more convenient. The intra-mural railway should however, reach it and traverse a section of it, thus not only making it easy of access but affording a chance to illustrate the treatment of railway banks, cuttings and bridges, where the road passes through a town or city and the proper location and topographical arrangement of the station, and the station's surrounding district, in order that the former may offer an effective entrance to the town--one economical in its accessibility to important points, imposing as seen from a distance, and giving from its own vantage point a pleasant impression of the town. It is asked, further that such departments of the general expositions as the emergency hospital, the post office, fire engine house, police station, garbage reduction works, and other minor features be included in the space set apart for the model city exhibit, where they may be shown in active operation and teach thereby the better lesson. It will be observed that this suggestion takes something from the net amount of space asked for, since the exposition must have these buildings in any case.
As no definite area has, at this writing, been set apart for the Model City the plan is liable to some changes in details, but it is unlikely that there will be any alteration in its main features. A circular space is inclosed. Upon this are laid the three familiar types of street planning which, in their combination, are held to offer the most convenient and potentially beautiful ground plan for a city. These are the radial, circular, and gridiron and in this feature alone probably most visit on will learn a lesson that will set them to thinking. Around the circumference is put the circular boulevard, where one so often finds it in the Old World cities that have razed their walls and, in these better days for cities, have transformed wall and moat into parkway. Half way around the town this will he made a beautiful park road, suitably planted. The rest of it, to economize space, must be devoted to another purpose; but there will be enough of it parkway to be suggestive. Midway on this boulevard, on a square just touching its outer edge, will be located the railroad station. The railroad station will thus front on an open space, as it were well for stations always to do, and it will make an unmistakable entrance to the town. Leading straight away from square and station and at a slight upward grade, there is a broad, paved street, terminating at its further and upper end in a plaza.
The plaza is to be the official center of the town. It will also be the actual center. Around it will be grouped the public buildings, the county court house, the town hall, the post office--the arrangement illustrating the advantages in convenience as certainly as in impressiveness, of grouping these structures. The plaza upon which they face will be treated with the care deserved by its importance, for it closes the vista of the leading street and frames the picture which greets the traveler issuing from the station and gaining in that moment's look his first impression of the town. In its center there will be a fountain or an important bit of civic sculpture, while the architecture of the abutting buildings will be such as to make it easy to transform the plaza on occasion into a court of honor where civic pageants can be officially reviewed. Behind this plaza, but apparently separated from it by far greater distance, because at a declining level and partly screened by the buildings, there may be an amusement and exhibition section. Here Mr. Kelsey has proposed a representation of the sewers of Paris, with a revenue-yielding grotto restaurant. In another part of the town will be the "educational center." Here will be located on a square the model school house, standing in its model school yard, and here will be the public art gallery and library.
Starting from the official plaza are the radial thoroughfares, one on each side of the main street, and cutting it at sharp angles where it enters the square. Their prolongation will cut at angles whatever checkerboard streets are set out on lines conforming with the axis of the main street, and so will illustrate the advantages of radials in a general gridiron plan, both for convenience, as offering short-cuts to traffic, and for beauty, as affording variety in street intersection, revealing pleasant vistas, and making easy the provision of little open spaces. It is hoped that these streets need not terminate with the encircling parkway, but may be carried out until they reach the railroad, so that examples of railroad crossings may be given. If this be possible, it is designed to have one of the thoroughfares pass under the railroad, illustrating elevated track construction, and the other pass over it, to illustrate a railroad cutting. Yet another part of the town, as the topography may determine, will be treated as a "recreation district." Here there will be outdoor restaurants, a band stand (for the "municipal" band), and other amusement features.
A great deal of thought, then, has been expended merely on the street plan of the little Model City, and in that alone the visitor will find much of suggestiveness and much surely that he can carry home and think about when he visits other cities. But the lessons do not merely stop with the laying out of the streets. From their appearance quite is much is expected. They will, for one thing, be kept scrupulously clean. It has even been suggested that the Model City be called "Spotless Town!" They will be well paved, the sidewalks will be trim and even, trees will be planted, and on some, at least, of the streets there will be parking. There may be seats here and there beneath the trees along the wayside. There will be no overhead wires, the buildings will have no chimneys belching black smoke, the lighting apparatus will be decorative in its union of simplicity and dignity, and there will be no screaming of advertisements along the way. The streets will be named, and their signs will be artistic and legible. What has been called the practical basis of civic aesthetics will be emphasized with great care. It will be shown that the decoration of cities begins with the lowliest and most prosaic undertakings, with pavements and curbs and gutters, that the first step in the beautifying of a community is to have good streets, and then to keep them clean, so obtaining the appropriate setting for more ambitious decorative work. There will be no statues surrounded by mud, no parkways littered with papers and refuse, no vistas closed by screaming billboards. All will be orderly, cleanly, and dignified. The first great lesson of the Model City will be what city and town ought not to permit and the long step forward that may be taken by such purely negative action. In this, too, there will be something for the visitor to carry home.
As to the "positive" lessons, the distinctly decorative effort which, raised on the strong and clean foundation, forms the superstructure of civic art, it is proposed to have everything put on the streets the best of its kind, the most suitable for the place it occupies, and therefore the most artistic and decorative. This applies not only to pavement and walk, but to all the furnishings of the street, to the hydrants, the post boxes (connected with the post office by pneumatic tubes the lighting apparatus, the seats beneath the trees, the trolley plant--for that also will also be illustrated--to the refuse receptacles, and to the pubic convenience stations, for in at least this American community so important an adjunct of city life will not be ignored. But clearly it will not be possible to represent numerous types and style in juxtaposition. In choosing what is best for the Model City, in the way of a lamp post, for example, it may be necessary to ignore posts of equally good design or that for a broader street might even be better than the post selected candelabra on the Place de la Concorde, for instance, would be out of place in Wall street, and if we were bringing municipal art into Wall street we would have to pass them by. This action would do for the city street, but it would too greatly narrow an exhibition. Here rose one of the problems.
It is proposed, then, to have part of the city devoted frankly to exhibits. Some of these will be gathered in the buildings of the little community. To what better use could be put those parts of the city hall that may not be needed for administration than to house a collection of city reports, so indexed that one can find just the information he wants and so arranged as to show a proper system of filing municipal property:? What more appropriate for the public art gallery than a collection, in models, casts, and photographs of all that is good, anywhere in the world, in civic art? What should more properly fill the shelves of the public library than a collection of the literature of municipal affairs? In the matter of the city lighting, then, there would be in the gallery models of all good candelabra and photographs showing their appearance in the very places where they stand; in the library would be all that was written on the subject; in the city hall a quantity of statistics bearing upon it.
The suggestions that the town's buildings be used in this way opens a long and alluring vista of possibilities. Think of what may be shown! Opposite the public playground there might be a model tenement, put up, we may say, under the auspices of a tenement-house commission or of one of the great model-housing companies. In the school, the Art-for-Schools movement should have its exhibit. A model bath-house, to be actually in use, has been talked about. The popularity at the Columbian Exposition of a model of a laborer's dwelling is recalled as a suggestion. The Committee of fifty could scarcely do a better thing than show here its idea of a substitute for the saloon. And so the plan, opening up new features, develops more and more. With the fair's necessary buildings, such as the post office, the hospital, the fire houses, we should soon have our little city, and one of such pertinence and suggestive value that it is safe to say that nothing in the whole exposition would take precedence of it for popular interest. And how singularly the plan fits in with the announced programme of the fair, to illustrate man's actual development, especially his "Material and social advancement, at the opening of the twentieth century!" It is small wonder that the fair directors have been as prompt as has the public to think well of the plan.
So far there has been considered simply the exhibition side of the city, what may be technically called its "picture." Its great interest and its great value a scarcely less obvious than the considerable expense that would be involved in producing it. Fortunately, the first two qualities may be enhanced while the latter is largely reduced by what forms a distinct part of the exhibit, viz: the revenue-yielding commercial department, where manufacturers of street fixtures, etc.--"the trade"--would exhibit.
As introductory to such a section, there will be devoted that still unused half of the encircling boulevard. This is to be called the "street of street sections" and has been very ingeniously arranged. Dug down to form a cutting, the parkway will pass into it on a descending grade. At its low level the banks on either side will be divided to represent the underground street sections of famous thoroughfares in this country and in Europe. Each division will show a section pierced by sewers, subways, and the different systems for distributing the public utilities as actually constructed in various celebrated streets. There would be, for instance, a street in New York, showing the management of the subway; one in Boston, one or two from London and Paris, one from Turin, perhaps, from Budapest Rome, or Vienna. The interested visitor will have an opportunity to inspect these exhibits from three vantage points. He may look down upon them from the natural grade, at the top of one of the banks; he may descend into the cut, for a closer examination; or he may see sections of surface construction from an elevated promenade.
The dirt thrown out in making the cut would be utilized to make this raised walk. The walk in its turn serves a double purpose, for it is not only the most convenient route for the inspection of the surface construction of these typical sections, but it forms a screen separating the purely commercial exhibit, which lies beyond it, from the formal composition. And the surface construction, with its various types of pavement, and transportation and lighting facilities, will be as well worth study by city official, student, or "ordinary" taxpayer, as will the sections showing the construction underground. In fact, to special students, to contractors, manufacturers, street superintendents, etc., this part of the Model City may prove even more interesting and helpful than does the "picture." But considering the exhibit as a whole, the one part is complementary to the other; neither would be quite complete alone. Between them they may be said to show just what a model city is, or ought to be, and exactly how to build and maintain it--even where to buy its parts.
But no representation of town or city approaches completion or accuracy if it be merely an illustration in still life. To realize its full possibilities of helpfulness, the Model City must be shown not as a chiseled model, as a shell from which life has passed, but as a living, working organism. Some semblance of a city's pulsing life will be contributed by the visitors who pass up and down the streets. Something more will be contributed by those municipal functions which, as essential to the progress of the fair, are to be shown in actual operation. Of these, certain civic features, as street cleaning and garbage disposal, may well be given there a special and local emphasis. Elsewhere, in the general exposition, the scavenging may be done at night after the gates are closed; but here it should be done when all may watch the operation and learn by what means thoroughness of results can be obtained and with how little of discomfort.
It has been thought, too, that it will be well to arrange for several civic pageants in the course of the season, to show how processions may be managed on festival occasions, how temporary decorations may be harmonious and beautiful, the community decking itself under artistic guidance, and cordially co-operating, that, by a measure of uniformity, beauty and dignity may take the place of mere lavishness and gaudiness. That these festival days and nights of the Model City may coincide, if desired, with the fête days of the exposition, and so add a detail to the latter's interest and splendor, is very clear. Nor can it be thought that these will form the least important and popular lessons of the exhibit. All the world loves a show, but we Americans have never been very clever about getting them up. Realizing that effort and money are squandered, we are groping now for a better way in the construction of the increasingly popular "courts of honor" and in asking artists to design the house-front decorations for brief distances. At last we are ready to study these matters.
In one of the committee conferences another suggestion, made by a New York member, was very promptly adopted. It was that the efficiency of this unique exhibit should be increased, as well as its very creation appropriately commemorated, by the holding of an international congress on public art. If such a congress were called, it would be in continuation of those already held so successfully at the expositions in Brussels and Paris, and as about to be held in turin. There is little doubt that its sessions, attended by experts from all countries and held amid such surroundings, would give an impetus to civic art in the United States and invest it with a dignity it has not always had. Plans for a national conference of improvement clubs and for national conventions of city officials at St. Louis during the exposition are already well under way, largely on the incentive, it may be supposed, of the proposal of the Model City. To these the suggested international congress on public art would make a fitting climax. A Western city of the United States would become, for the time at least, the focus of the world movement toward a civic renaissance. The thought, the opportunity, may well thrill St. Louis.
And the special efficiency and suggestiveness of this exhibit will not be spasmodic. It will exert its quiet influence for good upon every visitor, nor will this influence be merely passive. The committee does not propose to be satisfied with what is only spectacular and scenic, with bringing together in brief collection articles that must soon be scattered. It designs that out of all its effort, and as a monument to it, there shall come a permanent contribution to the great cause of civic betterment. The man or woman who really "wants to know," as distinguished from merely seeing and feeling, is to have something to profit by. To this end, it is urged that at the head of library and gallery, and of the collected statistics in the city hall, there be placed a man of broad information on this subject, a student, familiar with conditions in europe as well as in America, and that his position be such an honorable one as that of the curator of a most important museum. His collections, his bibliographies and indices, his tabulated summaries and catalogues, his directories and marshaled data, need not perish with the exposition. They can become the property of some club or library or university, to remain for years a power-house of practical information civic improvement effort. So the educational influence of the exhibit will not be all of a kindergarten character.
To such proportions, and to such definiteness, under careful thought and study, has grown the suggestion that was first publicly made at a Buffalo convention six months ago, that a Municipal Art and Science exhibit be urged for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The resolutions, launched so quietly, traveled far and fast, winning hosts of friends; but ever keeping pace with the suggestion has been the Thought, growing in force as it gained in reasonableness, and as the opportunity has been better and more broadly appreciated. To-day innumerable improvement societies throughout the land are looking to the execution of the project, expecting to find in it an object lesson that will be a guide to assist them in carrying out permanent public and private improvements in their own communities. In the mere idea there was nothing new. Three foreign expositions had developed it in a small way and had made a success of it under unfavorable local conditions. The thing that counts is simply the presentation of the idea in resolutions which, under fortuitous conditions happened to start a whirlwind campaign. For they have swept swiftly from ocean to ocean and far across the seas, and in six months seem to promise, with assured success, a feature not merely unique and attractive, but of such helpfulness to the altruistic effort of the day as will distinguish the St. Louis fair from all its predecessors.