Throughout the United States "blight" became a code word used to describe decaying or substandard urban structures or neighborhoods. On May 9, 1961, Lancaster's City Council adopted a resolution establishing the Adams-Musser Towns urban renewal project area. Council's sweeping definition of blight, based upon federal and state legislation, declared: "the area is a blighted area and a menace to the safety, health and welfare of the inhabitants and users thereof and of the Locality at large, because of unsafe, unsanitary, inadequate or over crowded condition of the dwellings therein, or because of inadequate planning of the area, or excessive land coverage by the buildings thereon, or the lack of proper light and air and open space, or because of the defective design and arrangement of the buildings thereon, or faulty street or lot lay-out, or economically and socially undesirable land uses."
Given the age of buildings, the density of block and lot coverage, and the limited amount of open space, perhaps as much as three-fourths of the city could have been designated blighted according to this definition.
Located east of Hand Junior High School and Washington Elementary School, Shantytown was a squatter community dating from the early 1940s. Because of a severe housing shortage in Lancaster during World War II, residents lived in structures, without sewer, water, or other utilities, that had been constructed of materials salvaged from nearby dumps. The Baker Plan (1945) reported that "occupants were forced into these conditions because of the lack of adequate housing accommodations in the city." In 1944 there were 48 dwellings and 144 residents; seven years later there were 49 structures and 107 people living in Shantytown. Individual structures were demolished between 1950 and 1957. Photographs from the Lancaster New Era, May 13, 1944 (top) and Mar. 10, 1945 (bottom). Courtesy, Lancaster Newspapers, Inc
Reigart's Landing, at the foot of East Strawberry Street, was the head of navigation on the Conestoga River. A former hotel there had become a notorious multifamily dwelling. A 1950 study of slum housing prepared by the Board of Health reported that seven families occupied the structure, which had a cold water tap and two WPA toilets. Note the tent pitched next to the building. Courtesy, Lancaster Newspapers, Inc.
Located at the rear of structures along the 300 block of Howard Avenue, Dunie's Court had been a "community hazard" at least since the preparation of the Baker Plan in 1945. Four of the buildings were condemned in January 1957. The large structure looming in the background is the American Caramel Company.
Beneath a photograph of Dunie's Court the text of the Baker Plan continued: "In considering the city as a living, growing organism, the blighted areas are like a cancerous tissue. Like a cancer in a human body, they destroy the rest of the city." Not all urbanists accepted the metaphor of blight as a cancer. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), for example, Jane Jacobs wrote: "There is a fiction that slums, in forming, malignantly supplant healthy tissue. Nothing could be farther from the truth." Photograph c. 1957. Courtesy, Lancaster Newspapers, Inc.
Located between Howard Avenue and Locust Street, Yanko Court consisted of "seven units in dilapidated frame and brick buildings." According to the Baker Plan, "water is supplied from one outside hydrant and one outside toilet provides common sanitary facilities."Courtesy, Bureau of Planning, City of Lancaster.
Since the 1950s public officials and citizens had periodically inspected blighted neighborhoods. In June 1962 Lancaster Redevelopment Authority Director Burrell B. Cohen led a walking tour of the Adams-Musser Towns urban renewal area in the city's southeastern quadrant. In a story accompanying a photograph of Cohen (front row, second from right, pointing to his left) and others examining houses along Mercer Avenue, the New Era added a caption that described the expedition as "Tour Dreamland." John Vanderzell, chairman of the City Planning Commission, is on sidewalk to the left. Photograph June 20, 1962. Courtesy, Bureau of Planning, City of Lancaster.