1917 billboard war

On Jan. 15, 1917, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Thomas Cusack Co. v. City of Chicago that a city may prohibit billboards in residential districts in the interest of safety, morality, health, and decency of the community.

The Los Angeles Times soon campaigned for a similar ordinance in Los Angeles. Photographers were dispatched to document offending billboards around the city.

Under the headline: “Immediate Passage of Ordinance to Rid the Residence Sections of the City of Dangerous Eyesores is Urged by Civil Organizations,” a March 18, 1917, Los Angeles Times story began:

The ninety-day “survey” of the billboard situation, so urgently advocated by the billboard men and their allies in and out of the City Council, may never take place. The people of Los Angeles, electrified by the discovery that there is a way to get rid of the billboard nuisance once and for all, are mobilizing for a grand spring drive on the glaring chromes that deface the residence districts, and neither delay nor red tape is likely to be permitted to stand in the way of their campaign.

The public had grown so accustomed to being flaunted by the billboard interests and so resigned to the belief that the law somehow was against the home owner when it came to the question of curbing this disgraceful business, that the recent United States Supreme Court decision giving cities the right to absolutely to prohibit billboards in residence sections was the cause of genuine astonishment. This astonishment has given way to a spirit of determination, which is manifesting itself in a clamorous demand upon the city authorities for immediate and unceremonious action against the professional city defacers.

Several local civic organizations addressed resolutions to the City Council during the past week demanding the passage of the anti-billboard ordinance that is now being framed by the City Attorney. These included the City Planning Association, the Southern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the Architects’ and Engineers’ Association and others.

Billboard owners fought back campaigning hard against the proposed ordinance – claiming on one photographed billboard:

Advertising War
Certain newspapers vs. the billboards.
Billboards help build up big industries.
Why allow the newspapers to kill the billboards?
Certain Newspapers want an advertising monopoly.

Of course the Los Angeles Times photograph shows a man reading a newspaper underneath the billboard.

The billboard ordinance took over a year to be passed. A small story in the June 25, 1918, Los Angeles Times reported:

When the City Council yesterday by unanimous vote made a few changes in the billboard ordinance, George W. Kleiser, president of the Foster & Kleiser Company, which recent purchased the interests of the Thomas H.B. Barney Company, gave the assurance that every billboard will be removed from the residential districts within sixty days. Those that are objectionable in the semi-business districts, he said, will be eliminated within four months.