Who Rules America?  By G. William Domhoff, University of California at Santa Cruz

Power at the Local Level

Who Really Ruled in Dahl's New Haven: More Details

by G. William Domhoff

This document is a supplement to the on-line article, "Who Really Ruled in Dahl's New Haven?" Please begin reading at the beginning of that document.

More on the New Haven Economic Network

The network generated from the interlocking directorships of the 25-member board of the First New Haven National Bank encompasses 54 of the 69 New Haven banks and corporations listed in Dun and Bradstreet's Million Dollar Directory for 1959, as well as the five corporate law firms with four or more partners.

The network includes 416 people, including 97 who live in Hartford, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and other cities outside the greater New Haven area. Ninety-six of the 416 economic notables discovered by this method sit on two or more corporate boards. They are the people who link the businesses and law firms together. Well over half of the 96 interlockers -- 56 men -- sit on two boards; 25 sit on three boards, four sit on four boards, eight sit on five boards, two sit on six boards, and one sits on seven boards. Ninety-one of those who sit on two or more boards are local people.

It is a relatively easy task to pinpoint the central institutions in this network. The organizations with the most connections to other organizations are the "centers" of a network. Counting the number of connections of each organization to every other, we find that the following ten organizations are central points in the New Haven network. All are banks or utilities, except for the law firm of Gumbart, Corbin, Tyler and Cooper:

First New Haven National Bank52 connections to 28 organizations
Connecticut Savings Bank43 connections to 22 organizations
New Haven Water Co.27 connections to 15 organizations
New Haven Savings Bank26 connections to 18 organizations
National Savings Bank24 connections to 22 organizations
New Haven Gas Co.22 connections to 17 organizations
Second National Bank20 connections to 15 organizations
Union and New Haven Trust Bank19 connections to 15 organizations
Gumbart, Corbin, Tyler, and Cooper17 connections to 14 organizations
United Illuminating17 connections to 9 organizations

Each of these central organizations has numerous connections, directly and indirectly, to the other central organizations. We thus know that they form "the" center of the network, not two or three or four distinct clusters or cliques loosely connected to each other. This is best demonstrated by looking at the interlocks among all the major financial institutions and utilities of the New Haven area. Nine of the fifteen companies in this group were among the ten organizations with the most connections to other organizations.

Within the cluster of organizations that is at the center of the New Haven economic network, the most central organization is clearly the First New Haven National Bank. Not only does it have by far and away the most connections (52) to the most organizations (28) in the network as a whole, but it has connections with eight of the 10 financial institutions and utilities with which it can legally interlock. These connections include 10 overlaps with the Connecticut Savings Bank, two with the New Haven Savings Bank, five with the New Haven Water Company, one with the National Savings Bank, four with the New Haven Gas Company, and three with United Illuminating; that is, it has 25 interlocks with six of the other nine business organizations that had the most connections with the network as a whole.

This finding is not an artifact of our choosing the First New Haven National Bank as our starting point. To the contrary, it is evidence which supports the Dahl informant who said the First New Haven National Bank is "at the top of the power structure." It does not prove conclusively that he is right, but our network finding certainly makes his hypothesis worthy of further investigation.

The core of the network centered around the First New Haven National Bank is filled out by the major corporate law firms in the city. One of these firms, Gumbart, Corbin, Tyler, and Cooper, was among the ten organizations with the most connections to other organizations in the overall network. It had 17 connections to 14 other organizations. More important, it had 14 connections with eight of the core financials and utilities, including two each with the First New Haven National Bank, Connecticut Savings Bank, and the New Haven Water Company. Ranking second among the law firms was Wiggin and Dana, which had 10 connections with nine other organizations in the network. These connections include two interlocks with the Union and New Haven Trust Bank and one interlock each with the First New Haven National Bank and the New Haven Savings Bank. The relatively few director connections of other law firms are primarily with financial institutions:

Chambers & Chambers1 interlock with National Savings Bank
Clark, Hall, & Peck1 interlock with Second National Bank,
1 interlock with First Federal Savings & Loan
Dagget, Colby, & Hooker1 interlock with Connecticut Savings Bank
David E. Fitzgerald1 interlock with Tradesmen's National Bank
Morgan, Morse, Wells, & Murphy 1 interlock with Tradesmen's National Bank
Thompson, Weir, & Barclay1 interlock with Connecticut Savings Bank,
1 interlock with Union & New Haven Trust Bank

The cluster of banks, utilities, and law firms that form the center of the network are also interlocked with the major industrial firms of the New Haven area. The First New Haven National bank alone has one or more interlocks with ten of the 26 firms appearing on Dahl's list of companies in the New Haven area with 250 or more employees. More generally, 32 of the 33 largest industrial enterprises with headquarters in the New Haven area have at least one connection to the network. Forty-six percent of the connections are with financial institutions, reflecting both the presence of bankers on industrial boards and the presence of chairpersons and presidents of industrial enterprises on bank boards. This is a stunning degree of interlocking between the financial core and the industrial periphery of the network.

The network of economic notables defined by connections among businesses and law firms has links to other organizations that are important in understanding the power structure in New Haven. Although I did not include these organizations in the network that defines economic notables because they are not businesses or corporate law firms, they are in practice part of the local growth coalition. First, the network has numerous common directors with the local Manufacturers' Association and the local Chamber of Commerce, a finding that will become important when I show how the economic notables in New Haven shaped and pushed for the urban renewal program. The Manufacturers' Association is made up of the largest industrial corporations and utilities in New Haven. It is an organization wherein the leaders of these companies meet to discuss common problems and develop new policies of mutual interest. The Manufacturer's Association is formally separate from the Chamber of Commerce, but it shares common offices and staff with the chamber, and all members of the association are also in the chamber. In reality, the Manufacturers' Association is the core of the Chamber of Commerce, which is a larger and more heterogeneous group, encompassing companies from the retail and service sectors, and as many small businesses as possible.

The chamber is a meeting ground between big and small businesspeople, as well as between nationally and locally oriented businesses. The chamber is not merely an organization dominated by the economic notables, who tend to come from the larger businesses, but it is a transmission belt through which the policies of the biggest businesspeople are thrashed out with, and sometimes modified by, the smaller and more local businesspeople.

The network also has several links to the New Haven Foundation, a city-oriented foundation that receives bequests from numerous individuals and businesses. In the mid-1950s the foundation had about $8.5 million in assets and a distributable income of about $275,000. The foundation provides funds for charitable, cultural, and service organizations within the community, and is one of the means by which the local economic notables are able to shape the social environment within which the business community must function. The existence of this foundation, and its inclusion in the network, is of special interest because it provided necessary seed money for the urban renewal program in 1954 ($5,000) and 1955 ($30,000), a fact Dahl does not mention.

There are several ways in which Yale University connects to this network. As the largest landholder and employer in the city, with service and construction contracts to hand out to eager local businesses, Yale is the single most important institution in New Haven. Moreover, it has the essential national function of training executives, lawyers, scholars, and technical experts for the staffing of the major institutions of American society. It is not surprising, then, that it has formal directorship linkages to the economic network, as shown in Table 1 of the main document on New Haven.

There is also a Yale connection to the economic network because many of the economic notables are graduates of Yale, a fact worth noting in light of Dahl's belief that Yale is relatively isolated in New Haven. While it is true that Yale does not enjoy great favor with the black, Puerto Rican, Irish, and Italian working-class populations in New Haven, who were treated badly by the university, at least back then, this is not true within the confines of the economic inner circles. This is seen most dramatically in the case of the major law firms, where virtually every partner is a Yale graduate. At Wiggin and Dana, the firm that represents Yale and several major banks, 12 of the 14 partners are Yale graduates (the other two are from Harvard and Columbia law schools). At Gumbart, Corbin, Tyler, and Cooper, which has an equally impressive list of clients that overlaps in part with Wiggin and Dana's list, all 10 partners are Yale Law School graduates. Similarly at Thompson, Weir, and Barclay, which has Armstrong Rubber Company as its major local client, all four partners are Yale graduates. At both Daggett, Colby, and Hooker and Morgan, Morse, Wells, and Murphy, three of the four partners are Yale alumni. (Daggett, Colby, and Hooker has one Harvard-trained partner; Morgan, Morse, Wells, and Murphy has one Michigan-trained partner.)

Considerable significance should be attached to these findings on the Yale connections of the partners in the largest law firms, for there is evidence that several of these men did important work for the university. They are a major liaison between Yale and the rest of the business community.

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More on Urban Renewal in New Haven

As in most cities, there were immediate reactions in New Haven to the passage of the Housing Act of 1937, creating an opening wedge for the kind of urban renewal that local business leaders wanted even though the main focus of the act was on housing, which most of them did not like. In fact, New Haven took to public housing very quickly, primarily due to the interest of organized labor and the Democratic mayor. Prophetically, the first project was in a low-income area that was home for most of the relatively few African-Americans in the city -- less than 5% of the population. The project leveled roughly one-third of the neighborhood and led to a massive housing development that housed 318 black and 169 white families in segregated buildings (Rae, 2003, pp. 274-280 for details on public housing in New Haven in this era).

The Housing Act also was duly noted at Yale, as seen first in a letter dated September 8, 1937, from a wealthy New York architect, Grosvenor Atterbury, to the head of the Yale Medical School. The letter was referred to the Yale president, who then queried the Institute of Human Relations, the Department of Public Health, and the Architecture School about the idea of Yale involvement in housing research with the aid of foundation funding. The results of various memos and discussion are reflected in a memo from Dean E. V. Meeks of the Architecture School to Seymour on April 15, 1938:

It appears that almost simultaneously several of us in the University, in one way or another became rather actively interested in the matter of housing. This may be a natural result of the extensive program which the government is planning to undertake.

Interest in public housing at Yale had two outcomes relevant to the urban renewal story. First, the university became more involved in housing research. This was particularly the case in regard to Professor C. E. A. Winslow of the Department of Public Health, who had earlier shown an interest in public housing with the formation of the Committee on Mental Hygiene of the American Health Association. Winslow's department was located in the Medical School, which was in the heart of the Oak Street area, the low-income neighborhood that was the first to be eradicated by the urban renewal program in 1955-57. The area was thought to be an ideal "laboratory," and Winslow and his students did several studies of the area over the next decade. One of these studies was the basis for the criteria used in the 1950 U.S. census to determine whether a housing structure was inadequate. In other words, the unique resource of Yale University provided New Haven with the information and trained personnel to respond in a timely fashion to the later governmental guidelines that had to be met in order to qualify for federal monies.

The second outcome of this interest was an increased concern with planning in the Architecture School. This led to a course in city planning that came to be taught by a city planner named Maurice Rotival, a Frenchman referred to by Dahl only as a "well-known city planner" (Dahl, 1961, p. 116). But it is important to realize that Rotival was a visiting Yale professor who had been urged upon the Architecture School by its chief design critic at the time, Wallace K. Harrison, a designer of Rockefeller Center, on the basis of his experience with Rotival in the redesigning of downtown Caracas, Venezuela. Rotival was also relatively well-connected socially. In addition to being from the French upper class, he was married to the daughter of Hamilton Holt, a Yale alumnus who was the president of Rollins College. The in-law relationship to Holt put Rotival on a personal basis with Yale president Seymour, as the correspondence in the Seymour papers reveals.

Rotival's arrival was greeted with enthusiasm by several of the advanced students who had been urging greater emphasis on city planning in the Yale curriculum. Most prominent among them were George W. Dudley, son of the dean of the Yale Engineering School, and Maynard Mayer; they had developed the planning course which Rotival was asked to teach when a regular Yale professor went on sabbatical leave. These students, along with a young engineer, Charles Downe, later helped Rotival in developing a new master plan for the city of New Haven in 1941-42. Once again, that is, we see the importance of Yale in generating expertise that could be used as a matter of course by New Haven.

At the same time as these events were unfolding at Yale, several business leaders in the downtown area, working through the Chamber of Commerce, were pressing for the development of citywide plans by the City Plan Commission. The two most active leaders were Oscar Monrad, executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce, and Angus Fraser, an executive with Southern New England Telephone Company. In 1941, after overcoming the initial reluctance of the cost-conscious mayor, the City Plan Commission, under the chairmanship of telephone executive Fraser, hired Rotival, Mayer, and Downe to develop a comprehensive plan for New Haven. Norris Andrews, a student of Rotival's at the time, and later to be a key city planner in New Haven, told me in an interview that the Rotival student I mentioned a minute ago, George Dudley, had introduced Rotival to Fraser, and that the Rotival-Mayer-Downe team got the job because they submitted an exciting proposal and were willing to do the work at a very reasonable price. As Dudley remembered it in my interview with him, they merely submitted a proposal directly to the commission that was accepted. Either way, it is their plan that set the framework for later developments, so it is necessary to carefully consider the ideas behind it.

In order to grasp the implications of the redevelopment plan designed by Rotival and his students, it is first necessary to have an understanding of the physical layout of downtown New Haven, The center of New Haven, about a mile from the coastline of the Long Island Sound, is built around a large open square called "the green." On the southeast and southwest sides of the square area are the business and retail buildings of the downtown, along with the city hall. On the northeast and northwest sides of the square are Yale University, the city library, the courthouse, and, in a modest old New England house that has been refurbished and extended in the back, the exclusive Graduates Club. Two or three blocks beyond the southwest side of the green was the Oak Street area, and on the west end of this area was the Yale Medical School and the Grace-New Haven Hospital (later the Yale-New Haven Hospital). The Oak Street area, then, stood between the medical school and the rest of the Yale campus, and was next to the business district as well.

According to Rotival's 1960-61 outline for an overall retrospect of the urban renewal program, which I found in his papers in the Yale library, there were four objectives behind the 1941 study. They are stated very briefly: "(1) harbor (large) -- and Quinnipiac Valley; (2) center of exchange; (3) save Yale from dirt disuse; (4) arterial system to have sense toward center."

Here's what these cryptic points mean, which are not obvious without a knowledge of the geography and history of New Haven. By the point about the "harbor (large)," Rotival meant that New Haven must continue to develop, enlarge, and deepen its harbor, which was coming into use again as an oil depot after a decline over the past decades of railroad preeminence. As Maynard Mayer put it to me independently in my interview with him, they wanted to emphasize that the town "should get back to the water." In regard to the mention of the Quinnipiac Valley, Rotival was referring to a relatively undeveloped area several miles to the northeast of the city, and he was suggesting that the area become the center for new industrial development in the New Haven region.

The second point, "center of exchange," meant that the downtown area must be reestablished as a commercial and retail center. Point three, about saving Yale from "dirt disuse," was Rotival's peculiar phrase for emphasizing that Yale had become in the last few decades the central resource of the city, and that it must not be engulfed by slums. The final point, about the arterial system having a sense toward the center, meant that the highway system must bring cars into New Haven if it was to thrive as a center of exchange. As two different interviewees explained to me, and as Rotival's papers make clear, it was Rotival's strong belief that cities could be saved in the age of the automobile only if they were not by-passed by major highways, which many planners wanted to do. It was Rotival's assumption that the automobile was here to stay, and that it had to be planned for with good thruways and access roads if the inner city was to prosper.

Rotival's outline of the objectives of the 1941-42 planning squares with the memories of Dudley, Mayer, and Downe, the three people close to the study whom I was able to interview. Dudley, who did not have a formal role due to his growing interest in Latin America, recalls that the main thrust of the planning was to (1) anticipate major highways; (2) eliminate slums; and (3) consolidate Yale as a resource for the city. Mayer remembers, in addition to the concern with "getting back to the water," that there was talk about the Oak Street area and the eventual unification of the Yale campus. Downe also mentioned the concern with slums and recalled "a lot of discussion of the Oak Street area as separating Yale."

It is within this context of concern for Yale and the business district that we must understand urban renewal in New Haven. However, there is no evidence that any high-level officials at Yale were greatly concerned at this time with the problems that exercised the planners. I looked long and hard for such evidence, but there simply is none -- not in the files of key Yale administrators, not in the memories of any of those involved in the planning. Furthermore, as Dudley pointed out to me, no one really anticipated the large postwar growth of Yale or the metropolitan area population. When the City Plan Commission asked Yale about its growth plans in 1941, it replied that it had none.

What I have just said applies only to the concern with protecting Yale as the city's major resource. When it came to planning the highways, getting back to the harbor, and maintaining the downtown as a commercial and retail center, the business community, through the Chamber of Commerce, was actively involved. All three planners whom I interviewed -- Dudley, Mayer, and Downe -- remember the Chamber of Commerce leaders as taking great interest in the planning. The minutes of the City Plan Commission also reveal this interest on the part of the business leaders, an interest that was shown by no other group in the community.

The plan submitted by Rotival and his coworkers received the general approval of the City Plan Commission, which then hired them to make a more detailed study of the Southwest Area. The Southwest Area encompassed (1) the Oak Street neighborhood; (2) the large residential area to the west of the medical-hospital complex; (3) the medical-hospital complex itself; (4) the food market area; and (5) the railroad terminal and related facilities. This second report appeared in 1943. For our purposes, the important proposals are the following, as summarized by Rotival in a 1951 document for the New Haven Redevelopment Agency. They are worth quoting at length because they presage much of what actually happened in the area. Dahl thinks the planning for urban renewal mostly happened after Lee became mayor in 1954, but documents such as these show he is wrong:

The proposals relative to thoroughfares and streets include the new Shoreline Parkway... it was proposed to tie back the entire Southwest Area to the city center by boldly extending Church and College Streets directly across the Hill section to a new traffic circle at the junction of Howard and Columbus Avenues. This scheme, by eliminating the present jumble of streets, would permit the rebuilding along clean lines of this rundown area, and give new life to the residential areas beyond, which are gradually being strangled by the difficulties of movement from home to the downtown area.

The redesign of the downtown area proper, in accordance with the general objectives outlined previously, provides for a main entrance diagonally from the new Shoreline Parkway to the foot of Chapel Street. The city is extended over the railway cut, thus reuniting the two severed parts of the city....

The existing arrangement around the Green is retained, including the administrative buildings on the southeast side and the churches on the Green itself, and Yale on the northwest side is preserved and protected.... Finally, the area between the Hospital and its related institutional establishments, and the University Campus on Chapel Street, an area which contains, as we have seen, some of the worst slums of the city, was allocated to future development of an institutional nature. A new building for the Hospital is at present being erected on a block adjoining this area.

Once again, we see in this report the concern with expressways and local street patterns, and with revitalizing the downtown and protecting Yale and the medical complex. These objectives were finally to be realized in the 1950s.

Work on the general city plan was mostly suspended at this point, partly because it was essentially complete, partly because of World War II. Moreover, Rotival left to serve in the French army, only to return to New Haven from his extensive consulting office in New York from time to time in the 1950s as a consultant and planner for the Redevelopment Agency. However, there were further developments in planning related to the anticipated postwar era, and this included many of the same people who had been involved with Rotival as coworkers and students. This work was part of the national postwar planning effort developed during the 1940s by a national-level corporate discussion group that had a major impact from the 1940s into the 1970s, the Committee for Economic Development (CED).

The chairman of CED's committee in the state of Connecticut, which was called the Connecticut Postwar Planning Committee, was none other than Yale's president, Charles Seymour. Although his committee did no specific planning for New Haven, it helped create the general mood which made city planning more acceptable. It also joined with the city of Hartford in working out a state-level redevelopment act that passed the legislature in 1945; this act legalized and legitimated planning and renewal, and made it possible for cities to create their own redevelopment agencies, which the Urban Land Institute had urged on cities as a way to by-pass the liberals at local housing agencies.

While the Connecticut Postwar Planning Committee was operating on the state level, the New Haven Chamber of Commerce had joined with the Committee for Economic Development in 1943-44 in creating the "Postwar Council of the New Haven Chamber of Commerce." Chaired by Yale political economist Ray Westerfield, who was also an active leader in the downtown business community, the concerns of that group mirrored exactly those of its national-level sponsor. The Postwar Council was broken down into several operating committees on different aspects of the economy. Among them was a City Development Committee, with subcommittees on harbor development, the airport, a trade school, taxation, new industries, public works, and city planning. One function of the City Development Committee was "reviewing the City Plan Commission's proposals and recommending changes in the plan."

As part of this concern with planning for the postwar era, there appeared in 1944 a report on housing in New Haven from the office of Douglas Orr, a prominent local architect who was chairman of the Community Development and Housing Committee of CED's statewide Connecticut Postwar Planning Committee and a member of the local Postwar Council's City Development Committee. That is, he was looking at New Haven in the context of statewide and national planning. This early report is extremely important because he also was a central figure in the complex chain of events which finally led to urban renewal in New Haven. As a consulting architect for the Southern New England Telephone Company, Yale, its medical school, and the local hospital, all of which were to figure prominently in New Haven's first redevelopment project, he was in a position to see and coordinate the overall picture quite clearly.

Orr's document, prepared for the Housing Authority, analyzed the housing situation in New Haven, suggesting the areas which should be developed, restored, or torn down. For our purposes, the important part of the document concerns the areas where housing should be eliminated. That's because Orr accepted Rotival's conclusion that housing should be eliminated from the Oak Street area. He suggested "redeveloping this higher priced land in some other manner than with low-rent housing." Note that the problem is not that the housing is sub-standard; the issue is that this is "high-priced" land, i.e., land that would be valuable to local elites. More specifically, his recommendations for the Oak Street area were that (1) part of it be put in the central business district; (2) part of it be utilized for highways; (3) part of it be used for professional buildings near the hospital; and (4) the northern part of it be used for housing professional persons in the hospital or university. These proposals by Orr are central to an understanding of what happened in New Haven later, for they undoubtedly reflected -- and helped shape -- the general thinking of other members of the downtown growth coalition at that time. Indeed, what Orr proposed is exactly what eventually happened in the Oak Street area.

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More on the Origins of the Redevelopment Agency in 1950

Dahl (1961, p. 117) claims that the Redevelopment Agency in New Haven was created in 1950 in good part as a political strategy by Democrats to provide an issue with which "the Democratic majority [on the Board of Aldermen] might take the initiative away from the Republican mayor for the next two years." He thereby wrongly emphasizes short-run political questions of who is elected or not in explaining events linked to a much deeper and more ongoing question, namely, the health and prosperity of the downtown business community and Yale. He came to his conclusion based for the most part on his interview with Lee, who made the following claims:

Lee: Now the vehicle for doing it today is redevelopment. Now what happened? In 1949 the Federal Act was passed on redevelopment. And who is the father of redevelopment in New Haven? I'll tell you who the father is. Your old confrere, Henry Wells.

Dahl: Really?

Lee: Yes. Henry Wells came to me in 1950 as an enlightened political scientist, and he said to me, "there has been a great act which has been passed in Washington that no one knows much about. He explained it to me. I was very much interested in it and we sat down -- he and Norton Levine, who was an alderman, and I -- and they did the drafting on the act and I recommend certain safeguarding things, certain things to be written into the act for safeguards, and the act was passed. The act was written in my office at the Yale News Bureau.

Tellingly, Lee fails to mention the Chamber of Commerce's strong interest in redevelopment in making his flattering remark to Dahl about "enlightened political scientists," but he knew better from his years as a chamber employee from 1939 to 1942, not to mention his involvement in the issue as an alderman from 1939 to 1949. In making my claim about the chamber's role, I am not denying Dahl's assertion that Wells was one of those who urged the Republican mayor to set up a redevelopment agency. However, I am saying there were many other people who called for this legislation. Equally active, if not more, were the leaders of the Chamber of Commerce, who were in regular contact with the mayor and his main city planner, urging them to further action. This fact was attested to independently by both city planner Norris Andrews and the retired executive director of the chamber, W. Adam Johnson, in my interviews with them. Furthermore, the political scientist pegged as the originator by Dahl received his information from Andrews and acted in good part from a genuine interest in the program, according to interviews with him by myself and A. Tappan Wilder.

In addition, the July 21, 1950, minutes of the executive committee of the New Haven Chamber of Commerce show that the local chamber knew enough about the new law to send a letter to the mayor "urging him to set up an independent Redevelopment Agency" that would consider commercial and industrial questions as well as housing. The chamber also made its desires known in a letter to the Board of Aldermen. Just as Dahl gives credit to the Democrats, the chamber gave credit to itself, as evidenced by this note in its August, 1950, Newsletter: "Shortly after this communiqué from the chamber, the Board of Aldermen acted to establish such an independent Redevelopment Agency."

As the chamber minutes and my interviews show, there were so many business leaders and planners in New Haven who had been waiting for redevelopment legislation to pass in Congress that it is really a futile exercise to try to trace the initiative to one individual. Here we see the individualistic nature of Dahl's conception of power, including his lack of concern for the context in which the individuals are acting.

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More on How Yale Lost Out on Building the Apartments

Once the final plans were approved for the Oak Street project, there were unexpected conflicts among developers who wanted in on the action. In particular, Yale lost out on the opportunity to build apartments that would at least in part house graduate students. This turn of events is sometimes used as evidence that Yale was relatively powerless. According to one of Dahl's students, Raymond Wolfinger (1973, pp. 290-294), Lee forced open bidding for the land because he feared that voters would see an outright sale to the university as a "giveaway."

Based on Dahl's files, I think Lee was forced to accept open bidding by other potential developers. The problem began when a New York developer approached an important New Haven businessman and Democratic party leader about the possibility of buying land in the Oak Street area for apartment housing. The businessman-Democrat went to Lee and Logue with the proposal, but was turned down. This led to conflict within the party, and charges by the Democratic businessman and his friends that Lee and Logue were "giving" the land to Yale. The developers then put pressure on the Housing and Home Finance Agency office in New York to put the land up for bid. The Housing and Home Finance Agency, in turn, put pressure on Mayor Lee, a fact which Lee confirmed in my interview with him. New Haven officials then tried to work out a compromise whereby those who made lower bids in an open auction could, if they wished, match the highest bid after the bidding was completed. The outside developers protested, claiming this would allow Lee and his associates to pick among the matched bidders, and once again claims of "sellout" to Yale were raised. Wolfinger acknowledges this point when he writes:

Indeed, this seemed to be the point of the initial ground rules for the auction, which provided that after the high bid had been ascertained any other bidder could match this price, in which event the city could choose among them. One out-of-town group felt this would let the city choose Yale no matter how the bidding came out, and, it is likely, made use of its political connections to get the federal government to force the city to drop this provision. (Wolfinger, 1973, p. 294)

The result of all this maneuvering was that Yale lost out in the public auction because it did not want to bid beyond $1,150,000, a figure it did not know was only $100,000 below the top price that the eventual winner was willing to offer. Yale officials were at first irritated because they had wasted considerable time in negotiations with city officials, but were not overly concerned because they knew the apartments would be built anyway. Yale president Griswold explained it to Dahl as follows in October, 1957, six months after the auction. His words are of considerable theoretical significance, for they show how major power centers get what they want even when they "lose" a specific "decision," in this case an auction:

I don't feel the least bit sorry that we're out of it. It was so complex, the arrangement was so complex, we were just involved in so much red tape of all kinds.... I don't care what the University Towers is or who it is if it gets some decent apartment houses over there.... In this I think we've won two-thirds of the battle anyway and we don't have any of the headache and no responsibility and nobody can accuse us of taking more prime land off the tax roll.

Of more lasting importance was the extremely bad blood that developed within the Democratic party among very important leaders, one or two of whom resigned from key positions shortly thereafter, and did not work with Lee again. It was this conflict, not a rejection by voters, that Lee was trying to avoid. In short, the problem was a conflict rooted in competition over business profits and political favors, which is not a major issue among rival social science theorists because we all agree that there is often competition over business deals.

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More on Problems with the Citizens Action Commission

Lee often claimed that he had trouble finding a chair for the Citizens Action Commission that was one of his campaign promises, which Dahl sees as evidence that local businessmen were reluctant about urban renewal. But a careful consideration of the difficulties shows that the hesitance of the business community, as represented by the chamber, was not the real problem at all. If anything, the businessmen were too eager. Lee, following advice from Rostow, his friend and political supporter at the Yale Law School, urged him to take his time and to make sure that the chamber did not capture control of the project. This conclusion stands the conventional wisdom on its head. It is first seen in a comment Logue made in his interview with Dahl:

Logue: Lee quickly decided that to get a meaningful Citizens Action Commission, he shouldn't try to meet the sixty-day deadline and, therefore, didn't seriously try to; but instead initiated conversations with the Chamber of Commerce people who were very anxious to start their own CAC under their sponsorship independently at least of the mayor.

Dahl: Oh, is that so.

Logue: Yes. And there were many meetings. I can remember at least two in the Quinnipiac Club with Bill Johnson [chamber executive director] and Willis Thompson of Wescott and Mapes, one or two others with Bill Falsey of the Board of Finance and Scranton & Co.

From my several interviews on this question, along with a rereading of Dahl's interviews, I think there were four interrelated reasons for Lee's difficulties in obtaining a chairman for CAC. None of them has anything to do with businessmen's reluctance about urban renewal:

  1. He asked the wrong people to begin with, people who declined on personal grounds.
  2. After suffering these rebuffs, he decided to wait before asking anyone else.
  3. He may have had some conflict with the Chamber of Commerce people about what the scope of CAC's charge should be. More specifically, the chamber was perhaps reluctant to include a consideration of the schools of New Haven, preferring to focus on its own project, the urban renewal program.
  4. He was hesitant to give too much control to the chamber because of its conservative inclinations.

Each of these points deserves further elaboration.

1. Wrong choice of people

In Dahl's interviews with Logue, he asked about the problem of CAC chairmanship. Logue replied that Lee originally asked three people -- a banker who excused himself on the grounds of a recent heart attack, an important industrialist very friendly to the project who said that he was far too old for the job, and another prominent but aging industrialist who declined because he thought the job "too political." All of these are perfectly human reasons for declining what turned out to be a demanding and time-consuming position.

The refusal by the third person, who allegedly said the program was too political, was used by Lee to show dramatically to Dahl how much resistance he was receiving. According to Lee, the man said the project was too ambitious, that Lee was too young, that he had not voted for Lee, and that "he was too old to get tagged with a project that was so ethereal as to be doomed before it got off the ground." Unfortunately, this man is now dead, so I could not obtain his version of the conversation, and there is no indication that Dahl interviewed this elderly man about the matter. However, I did learn in my interview with the executive director of the chamber at the time, W. Adam Johnson, that this man -- born in 1880 -- was so inactive in the business community by that time that Johnson himself barely knew him.

In any event, these three rejections are not evidence for the reluctance of the business community in general, for Lee was able to turn to the business community when he decided to appoint a committee to help him find a CAC chairman. The three members of that committee were Harry White, manager of the New Haven Dairy and president of the Chamber of Commerce; William Falsey, a municipal bond specialist at Scranton and Company, who also was a chamber director; and Reuben Holden, the aforementioned secretary of Yale University.

After a series of meetings among different principals, the committee found Lee a chairman. He was Carl Freese, president of the Connecticut Savings Bank, on whose board Holden sat. Freese was also a director of First New Haven National Bank, Security Insurance Company of New Haven, New Haven Gas Company, and Southern New England Telephone Company. In short, Freese touched just about every base there was to touch in New Haven, including the Lawn, and Graduates clubs. And he was a former Chamber of Commerce president who was very familiar with the chamber's ten-point program for urban renewal.

2. Decision to wait

As my luncheon conversation with the amiable and very impressive Richard C. Lee made clear, he was a proud and sensitive man. He told me, as he has told others, that he was taken aback by these three rejections, and that he decided to accomplish some things before asking anyone else. Whether this strategy was really necessary or not, his own hesitance after three refusals may account for some of the delay.

3. Conflicts with Chamber of Commerce people

So far I have emphasized the great degree of consensus between Lee and members of the Chamber of Commerce. But there may have been some significant differences between them on one or two issues. I say "may" because they are not recalled by former executive director Johnson. However, there is evidence for these difficulties in Dahl's interviews with Lee and Logue. Both suggested that chamber leaders may have been reluctant to include the schools of New Haven and other matters not directly connected with the renewal program as part of CAC's purview. According to Lee, "a substantial block of them was opposed to including education on the grounds that education was not indigenous or not a part, properly, of the planning for the future." According to Logue:

We were concerned from the outset that the CAC be broader in representation and responsibilities in its charge than the chamber thought it should be-or to be perfectly accurate, the chamber did not think [he means about larger matters]. In the beginning they had to be persuaded that such things as education, housing, health, welfare, recreation, human relations were properly a part of this operation at all. They believed in harbor development, industrial development, the metropolitan approach, and Lee, I think very forcefully argued with them from the beginning... [The rest of the sentence loses much of its coherence in transcript form due to the interruption of a telephone call.]

Given what I have shown about chamber eagerness for urban renewal, and given what we know about the narrow conservatism of chambers in general, this explanation for the delay makes much greater sense to me than Dahl's. It is an explanation in terms of the tensions between liberals and conservatives. However, it may also be that these tensions were not solely the product of conservatives recalcitrance, as I next show.

4. Reservations concerning the Chamber of Commerce

Evidence that the delay involved slight differences between liberals and conservatives is also found in Dahl's interviews with Rostow, by then the Dean of the Yale Law School as well an adviser to the mayor. However, he puts a new twist on things by saying that the delays were due to the liberals' desire to keep a certain distance from chamber conservatives. That is, the major cause of the delay was not the chamber's reluctance to embrace Lee, educational focus and all, but the reluctance of Lee and his Yale advisers to be too closely identified with the chamber:

"Now the Chamber of Commerce was very eager to get in and take over, and a very deliberate decision was made that the Chamber of Commerce would be given a role that would not be an instrument through which the business community would be mobilized. It did not have the strength, it had its own ideas, it had certain other tendencies in all communities which would have been dangerous, especially its political relations."

Rostow then goes on to say that it was important that there were labor leaders on the CAC.:

"Their presence is one of the elements which makes this an infinitely more viable instrument for carrying out this program than the Chamber of Commerce ever could have been."

What should we make of these various interview comments about the CAC? First, I think we have to be wary of what politicians say about such matters. They of course give self-serving answers. Second, it is entirely plausible to me that Democrats like Lee, Logue, and Rostow wanted to include labor leaders, if only to give the program more legitimacy. It is also reasonable that as liberal Democrats they did not relish the idea of having the program controlled by Republican businessmen, even though they were going to have to deal with them and carry out programs that benefited them.

Whatever the mix among these various motives, the delay in appointing the CAC does not reveal the slightest hesitation or reluctance on the part of New Haven business leaders. If anything, as both Logue and Rostow told Dahl, business leaders were too eager. And in the end, as I also noted in the main text, 10 of the 18 original members of the CAC were also members of the Chamber of Commerce of New Haven.

Dahl (1961, pp. 130-133) also makes much of the fact that the CAC took very little initiative in the urban renewal program.. There are two answers to his claim that it was Lee and his aides, and not the CAC, who initiated the major decisions: First, all the key decisions, from the point of view of the business leaders, had been made by the Chamber of Commerce and its planning allies before the CAC was appointed. Thus there was little for the CAC to "initiate" in terms of major decisions. For example, when Dahl asked one business leader on the CAC about the origins of the urban renewal program, he replied, "I think a lot of it came through the New Haven Chamber of Commerce, I would suspect, who had a ten-point program here, you know..."

Here is what another businessman told Dahl when asked about the origins of the program:

Dahl: One way to sort of break the ice is to get your conception of what you would regard as the really important and critical decisions that have been made on urban redevelopment since its inception, or if you think they were really made before it officially started.

Businessman: Well, I think they were made before it started, but I don't think the public realized that they were being made. [He goes on to tell about the role of the Chamber of Commerce.]

Second, the CAC was meant from the start to be an ideological organization with no initiatory function, and was so understood by the businessmen. Evidence for this point is provided most directly at the meeting chamber leaders held with Lee at the Lawn Club on November 19, 1953, shortly after his election. After telling chamber officials he agreed with their program, the chamber minutes go on to report Lee believed that "the best way to bring it about was through a large committee of citizens. The chief purpose of the committee would be to act as a public relations media to sell the program." Since the chamber leaders raised no protest about setting up a public relations committee, and since they supplied Lee with his CAC chairman and numerous CAC members, it must be concluded that they understood and concurred in this strategy.

Given this strategy, it seems neither unlikely nor surprising that Dahl would find that the CAC took no major initiatives when it was never planned that it would take any. And yet Dahl goes on and on about the passivity of the CAC.

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More on the Church Street Project

In terms of the alleged "secrecy" of Logue's plan, consider this portion of his interview with Dahl, which shows that many key people had been consulted:

Dahl: When was your meeting with the bank?

Logue: Spring of '56.

Dahl: I'm still puzzled as to where your Citizens Action Committee (CAC) people were in all this.

Logue: Well, Freese was thoroughly involved. [Freese, recall, was president of Connecticut Savings Bank and a director of First New Haven National Bank, among other business organizations.]

Dahl's assistant: When did the CAC know? Did Freese tell anyone on the CAC who wasn't in the bank? Or directly involved? I suppose Gumbart told Tyler. [Gumbart was a partner in Gumbart, Corbin, Tyler, and Cooper and a director of the First New Haven National Bank. Tyler was Gumbart's law partner and a director of Union and New Haven Trust Company.]

Logue: Oh yes, Tyler knew about it. Gene Rostow [Yale law school dean] knew about it. Frank O'Brion [Tradesmen's National Bank], although he wasn't on the CAC... Bill Hook [chairman of United Illuminating and a major figure in the New Haven community until his death in 1958] knew about it and was instrumental in getting Welch [a hold-out businessman] to go along with this arrangement.

Dahl: What did he do?

Logue: He persuaded Welch that if he didn't go along with this arrangement, he was not entitled and could not get any particular sympathy in the business community for his sad plight. And I think Falsey [municipal bonds specialist, member of city finance board] knew about it. And Golden [local Democratic leader and insurance broker] knew about it.

Dahl's assistant: Isn't Welch tied up with one of the banks?

Logue: Yes, Welch is senior vice president of New Haven which is now merged with the First National to form the First New Haven National Bank.

The dialogue goes on to name several other people, including some non-business members of the CAC, but I think my point has been made. Contrary to what Dahl implied in his book, the Church Street Project was worked out privately in conjunction with several major figures in New Haven, and in particular with those who had connections to the First New Haven National Bank and Yale University.

Beyond the fact that the mayor and his aides were functioning as part of a group made up primarily of business executives and their lawyers, the basic problem in Dahl's interpretation of the origins of the Church Street Project is his failure to see the structure of the situation within which Logue's "initiative" occurred, a structure that makes what the development administrator did "obvious" and "natural" given the needs of major business leaders and past planning by Rotival, Andrews, and the Chamber of Commerce. Logue makes this point very directly later in his interview with Dahl about the origins of the Church Street project:

Dahl's assistant: You decided you had to have another one. Now when did you decide that other one was going to be Church Street?

Logue: Well, when you're familiar with the planning program, it's a very easy decision to make. In fact, it would have been a very wrong decision to have decided against it, except possibly for Wooster Square.

Dahl: What do you mean, "when you're familiar with the planning program?"

Dahl's assistant: The planning program said that Church Street was going to be next, is that it?

Logue: Oh no, there wasn't. I shouldn't say the planning program because there wasn't an action planning program, but if you're familiar with the planning of the city of New Haven as it stood in January or February or March of 1955, you know that you want to include the area bounded by the railroad station and George Street.

Dahl's assistant: Because it's adjacent to the Oak Street area, is that it?

Logue: Yes. And because the market is there and you've got to build in that area to get rid of the market, and you've got to be able to redevelop the market or otherwise the market operators will not [unintelligible]. And it's all meshed together.

I would only add that it is all meshed together by the needs and desires of the downtown growth coalition. It is their needs and desires that created the context within which the Lee administration had to operate. Lee and his aides could do nothing without the backing of the most powerful business elements in the community.

[Return to the main New Haven document]


Dahl, R. A. (1961). Who governs? Democracy and power in an American city. . New Haven,: Yale University Press.

Rae, D. (2003). City: Urbanism and its end. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Wolfinger, R. E. (1973). The politics of progress. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

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