“Manistee is going to have parking meters”

Parking meters are displayed on River Street in this March 1951 photograph. The meters were first installed in 1946 and were opposed by downtown merchants.

Parking meters are displayed on River Street in this March 1951 photograph. The meters were first installed in 1946 and were opposed by downtown merchants.

In most cities and towns, parking meters are objects that can probably be deemed as being “uncontroversial” in that there’s not much of a story to tell in regards to their installation and overall usage through the years.

However in Manistee, the initial public outrage, and later scandal, that took place over the parking meters is a minor yet intriguing chapter in the city’s abundant history.

In late 1945 the notion of charging people to park their vehicles on River Street, using parking meters, began to be discussed by the local merchants committee through a store-to-store survey. Even with the matter being largely opposed by most businesses, murmurs about the parking meters began to take place at the “city level”.

After largely tabling discussion about the parking devices for multiple weeks, an ordinance in regards to the meters was not only discussed openly at the February 5, 1946 city commission meeting, but approved that very day. Under the approved Parking Meter Ordinance a total of 200 meters were to be installed on River Street between Pine and Division streets, on Poplar Street near the bank, and on Maple and Water streets near the post office.

A short time later, the city signed a contract with parking meter manufacturer, M.H. Rhodes, Inc. of Hartford, Connecticut who would furnish the machines on a six-month trial basis with workmen of the local piping and plumbing company, Lloyd and Smith installing them.

The city’s overall plan was that after the six months was over, they would decide whether or not to retain the devices. If the city decided to keep the meters they would divide the money equally between the manufacturer until the meters were paid for at the rate of $56 each. After they were paid off, they would become city property and the city would then have all the revenue which was estimated at roughly between $6,000 to $9,000 annually.

On April 13, 1946, the Manistee News Advocate reported that the parking meters were ready to be installed the coming Monday (April 15) with a meter fee of five cents per hour on River Street between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays. In addition, the machines on the side streets would require one cent for 15 minute parking.

However, as the installation began, workmen were quickly immobilized with a stop work order. An article published in the Manistee News Advocate on April 15, 1946 provides details:

“Installation of 200 parking meters on River Street, Maple and Poplar streets was halted this morning upon the request of Mayor John S. Olson who reportedly told city officials there was considerable objection to the project.

“The order halt was given by City Manager Otto Damrow upon the suggestion of the mayor who said commissioners will discuss the project again at their meeting tomorrow night.”

With work ceased on the project, the city commissioners, along with the local merchants and concerned citizens who had developed an increasing animosity toward the parking meters, crowded into council chambers to hash out the problem at hand. Details on the “vocal” meeting were published in the April 17, 1946 issue of the Manistee News Advocate. Portions of the original article follow:

“Like it or not, Manistee is going to have parking meters.

“That developed today as an aftermath of a discussion crammed meeting of the city commission last night. A majority of the commissioners voiced their disapproval of the plan to install the parking control devices in the business district but today the installation work went ahead of schedule because the city governing body feared the consequences of breaking a contract with the meter concern.

“This morning, in a conversation with Mr. Rhodes, head of the company, Mayor John S. Olson was informed that the concern insisted upon fulfillment of its contract, regardless of Manistee’s wishes in the matter. So today the work went forward.

“The installation is being made in the face of official opposition from River Street merchants and informal albeit vociferous protests of citizens in general.

“Representing the Manistee Merchants Council at last night’s commission meeting was Billie Derengoski. The Merchant’s Council previously went on a record, at a regular meeting as being opposed to the meters but its vote was disregarded by the commission when it signed a contract with the meter firm.

“Mr. Derengoski stated that he had spent the afternoon making a survey of the opinions of River Street merchants and had found them strongly opposed to the meters. He pointed out that the retailers have long been trying to attract buyers from the surrounding trading area and ‘now that we have them coming you’re going to charge them for the privilege of trading here.’

“The commission finally agreed on the plan to contact the meter company regarding abrogation of the contract, the action which proved futile and led to continuation of the installation of work today.”

As the days passed, the local merchants committee continued to oppose the parking meters as well as raise concerns over their effectiveness. A spokesperson for the committee stated that, “Any statement to the effect that a majority of such merchants are not opposed to the meters is erroneous.”

Regardless of the opposition, the meters were finally put in place on May 14, 1946 and ready for use the following day. As police officers patrolled the streets for violators on that first day, 52 people disobeyed the new parking meter ordinance and were issued tickets at one dollar a piece. As the months passed the number of violators diminished and the meters were retained by the city after the trial period ended.

The day before the parking meters were to be put into use, the Manistee News Advocate published an editorial offering two suggestions to the city as well as the officers charged with policing the newly installed devices:

1)    That a strictly accurate record of all receipts and expenditures in the meter operation be kept separate in the city offices and that a report be made at every city commission meeting.

2)    That City Manager Otto Damrow instruct and order the city police to enforce the meter ordinance to the full limit; to arrest each and every violator, WITHOUT FAVORITISM: to collect every fine levied and to make available for daily newspaper publication the names of ALL VIOLATORS.

Four years later an investigation led to a scandal involving the money from the parking meters and the police officers accused of stealing it.

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