Royal Oak First Congregational Church at Fourth and Main

Yesteryear

A 1938 ordinance specified how far an alcohol-serving establishment had to be from a church.

I never expected to enjoy scanning a compilation of city ordinances, but it was fun beginning with Village Ordinance No. 6, 

"Animals Running at Large," enacted in 1892, and ending with City Ordinance No. 543, enacted in 1947. It was delightful 

running into phrases like "his servant, agent,or employee" and "dental cuspidor" and "manure, shipping." 


Then there are rules about selling automobiles on Sunday; using the space between the curb-line and the lot-line; prohibiting 

nuisances; disposing of tin cans; establishing a retirement system for city employees; creating/refining a zoning ordinance. 

Merely skimming the compilation's index provides the look and feel of those yesteryears. On a more serious note, it is 

informative to compare some details between then and now, about topics as different as signs and alcohol control. 


Social control of personal behavior

Control of individual behavior leaps out: Immoral Conduct, Indecent Conduct, Indecent Exposure, Insulting Conduct, Intoxication. 

And that's only in the I's! Later, I encountered "jostling” and “drunkenness.”


In 1922, there was an ordinance to control “Dance Halls.” Any license granted “may be suspended by the City Manager or 

revoked by the City Commission for disorderly or immoral conduct therein” and the facility had to be closed “on or before the 

hour of twelve o’clock midnight.”


One 1938 ordinance was enacted to “Regulate and Control the Traffic in Beer and Wine.” No alcohol-serving place “shall be 

located within any distance or radius from a home, church, school or public building, which distance or radius is deemed 

adverse to the safety, health or public morals.” 


Licenses, Library, Retirement

It’s always interesting to compare costs between then and now: In 1914, the annual fee for a license to operate “moving 

pictures shows” was $25.00. (Today’s Main Street Art Theatre and Fourth Street Music Theater don’t pay an annual fee. 

Each paid $135.00 for a one-time Merchant License.) In 1930, the license fee to install a “Loop-the-loops” was $450.00; 

for a “Whoopee coaster,” $300.00. At one point in the index, 41 licenses are named. Sampling the list: Amusements, 

Auctioneer, Street Exhibitions, Lunch Wagons, Pool Rooms, Taxicabs, and Transient Tradesmen.


A 1928 ordinance anticipated recycling when it mandated that “in no case shall any tin cans, glass, paper or ashes be 

mixed with each other” in trash receptacles. In the late thirties, a sign ordinance specified size and weight and required 

that all signs be “well supported, braced and secured to the building.”  It goes on to mention “banner signs” and “billboards,” but I 

found no mention of sandwich signs or sidewalk signs.


An Employees’ Retirement System was set up in 1943.  The ordinance created the conventional structure for maintaining 

the system, including a Board of Trustees. The revenue requirements are defined: “The City shall make contributions to this 

system by means of annual appropriations of amounts which together with the contributions of the participants, the income

on investments and other income will be necessary . . . “Employees were to make “normal contributions to the system of four 

per cent (4%) of each payment of earnings applicable to employment . . . “ The Library Ordinance was amended in 1945. 

The ordinance gave the City Commission the authority to raise funds for a “Library Building Fund” separate from the 

“Library Fund.” To serve as a trustee a resident had to be a U.S. citizen. The City was to maintain the Library for the use and 

benefit of “inhabitants and freeholders” of the City.


Some things change. Some stay the same.

By - Muriel Versagi

The Curator and one of the founding members of the Royal Oak Historical Society Museum.