LaGuardia’s NYC Vs. Hitler’s Berlin

What’s the difference between tyranny and democracy?

The answer was embodied in a 1936 study of London, Paris, and Berlin that the New York City Charter Revision Commission asked the Institute of Public Administration to undertake. The aim was to look at those cities and see what ideas of governance New York might adopt.

The German capital was a special case with limited applicability here, it quickly became clear. As the report noted with masterful understatement:

“The National-Socialist revolution of 1933 has made changes of great importance in local government in Germany and at the same time has profoundly affected the government of Berlin…”

So take a look at these two charts from Luther Gulick’s files. First, Berlin’s government under Der Fuehrer in 1936.


Next, a diagram of New York City’s government under Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia in 1939.


Got it?


Looter Gulick?

Luther Gulick had a sense of humor. That’s evident from his “TOP SECRET”  tongue-in-cheek report on looting in liberated 1945 Berlin, part of a more serious manuscript on wartime reparations from Germany.


There were two kinds of looting, Gulick wrote. One by treaty or protocol awarding oneself some coveted trophy; and the second, known as “liberation” by seizing some desired object and absconding with it (or her), declaring, “this, by God is mine.” The legal concept, he said, might be boiled down to the playground chant, “finders keepers.” But Gulick cautioned, “It is generally unwise to take things that leak or stink.”

Joking aside, there’s a puzzling postscript involving Gulick himself and a fairly valuable 1906 painting by the prominent German-Jewish artist Max Liebermann.


One of Liebermann’s most famous oils, “Two Riders on the Beach”, recently turned up in the trove of Nazi-confiscated works found in the possession of Cornelius Gurlitt, son of an art dealer, Hildebrandt Gurlitt, who had cultivated Hitler’s henchmen as they stripped Germany and occupied Europe of treasures deemed valuable or degenerate.


Before he died in May 2014, Cornelius bequeathed his collection to the Museum of Fine Arts Bern which pledged to check the provenance of each piece and return any that were stolen to heirs of the rightful owners.

The painting that found its way into Gulick’s hands in the victory summer of 1945 was not one of these. But its travels from the “confiscated” home of a German diplomat to the walls of Gulick’s office in New York — and its whereabouts after a subsequent liquidation sale by the Justice Department’s Office of Alien Property — make for an interesting yarn.

As the tale unfolds, on July 29, 1948, David L. Bazelon, Assistant Attorney General and director of the Office of Alien Property, advises Glick that the office has been informed “that you may be the custodian of an oil painting by Max Liebermann, valued at $2500.00 and owned by Hans von Flotow, a German national…” [The sum would be equivalent to about $25,000 today.]Bazelon goes on to say they were told it was transferred to Gulick “in accordance with a lease agreement executed on Aug. 20, 1945.”

Bazelon reminds Gulick that General Order 34 requires the reporting of all property in the US owned or claimed by former enemy nationals.


Gulick, undoubtedly mortified, submits Form APC-56 identifying von Flotow as a prominent jurist in Berlin and descended from “a noted Prussian family, numbering several artists, professors, professional people and corporation officials.” (Actually, he had also been a German ambassador to Belgium and Italy before WWI and had died in 1947; his WWII record is unclear.) http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_von_Flotow

Gulick describes the painting, showing a man with two horses, as a 1906 “unfinished oil sketch on card” approximately three-feet by two feet, and valued as $500 “plus or minus.”



Gulick also writes Bazelon he was unaware such reports were required and was told “by someone connected with the Treasury, I believe” that the government was not concerned with effects “which did not involve convertible or fiscal assets.” And he goes on to relate the story of how he acquired it:

“This painting is one of a dozen or so left behind when the Russians looted the private art collection of Hans von Flotow in his Berlin home…I had a hunch that the Russians might be back in the US sector of Berlin some time, or that some Americans might get the picture in question, so I offered to take the picture to the US for safe keeping, getting my compensation out of the enjoyment of the picture, until von Flotow wanted it again, after things had quieted down in Germany.”

So far so good. But in an intriguing addendum he seems to have typed in later, Gulick adds: I executed a lease so that I would not be another looter.”

He also takes pains to show why the painting could not be valued at more than $500.


Early in the following year of 1949, her husband having died in October 1947, von Flotow’s widow, Hildegard, writes Gulick to inform him of Hans’s death and her difficult circumstances — the house on Klopstockstrasse in West Berlin had been “confiscated” at the end of 1945, by whom she didn’t say. She reminds Gulick he still has her painting and offers to sell it to him if he can suggest a price. Otherwise, she says, she will decide whether to sell it in America or turn it over to her children in West Germany.

Gulick responds on March 4, 1949 sending condolences and assuring her, “Your painting is in perfect condition and it is hanging on the wall of my office in a fireproof and well protected building.” [684 Park Avenue, at 68th Street] He also supplies a little more history, saying “as required by law, I reported the bringing in of the painting in 1945, but as I came in as an employee of the government, no notice was taken of the statement and no record was made of the report.”

He goes on to tell her of the letter from the Justice Department, saying the government might have learned of it from the filing of her husband’s estate but noting that he had heard nothing further. And alas, he concluded, “my personal status is not such that I can make you a reasonable offer.”


Gulick then contacts the Justice Department again, asking whether the Liebermann could be donated or sold for a nominal price to the Institute of Public Administration.

Sorry, Bazelon tells him on April 25, 1949, “it is important that the Office of Alien Property obtain public bids” and “dispose of it to the highest qualified bidder.”


That, apparently, was done. Who bought Max Liebermann’s  man with two horses is, at this writing, unknown. And what happened to the other Liebermanns supposedly looted by the Russians is equally mysterious.


Gulick’s Guru

Charles Austin Beard, the historian who would inspire and mentor Luther Gulick, was born in 1874 in Knightstown, Indiana. Beard attended DePauw, Oxford, and Columbia Universities,soon joining the faculty at Columbia where he had received a graduate degree in 1904. Over the next decade he would author a number of books that would make him a familiar name in the scholarly community, the most famous of which was “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution.” Beard’s scholarly pursuits coincided with the birth of the Bureau of Municipal Research and soon the two became very close.

Possible photo of Charles Beard (center) among the members of the Bureau

After the Training School of Public Service was founded in 1911, Beard visited the institution and made a case that the training received there should be transferable to college credit. As a result Columbia, NYU, and the University of Pennsylvania passed resolutions crediting Training School field work toward graduate degrees at their institutions. In 1915 Beard began teaching courses at the school and was quickly offered the position of head of the school, which he readily accepted.

At the same time at Oberlin College in Ohio, a young Luther Gulick, was able to convince the administration to invite Beard to be a commencement speaker and the two men met for the first time. Gulick was greatly impressed by the New York professor later noting: “Beard, with his flashing eyes and realistic analysis of human political behavior, was a truly revolutionary teacher. With his economic analysis of American history, this Hoosier from the West had debunked the Sunday School interpretation of politics and administration.”

Gulick soon followed Beard to New York, becoming his protege and enrolling at Columbia University. After his first year of graduate school and upon Beard’s recommendation, he enrolled in the Training School of Public Service. In 1918 Beard became the director of the Bureau of Municipal Research, handing the directorship of the Training School to his protege in 1919.

Charles Beard’s business card plate
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Memo mentioning the appointment of Charles Beard as director of the Bureau

Under Beard, the Bureau began making its first international forays, helping establish the Tokyo Institute for Municipal Research. Beard himself traveled around Japan, presenting a series of lectures on American local government in several cities. According to some accounts, the first telegram sent out of Tokyo after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 was from its mayor, Count Shinpei Goto, who was a close friend of Beard, asking that Beard return to Japan as an expert to help plan the reconstruction of Tokyo.

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Beard’s account of his trip to Tokyo after the earthquake.

In 1921, with the reorganization of the Bureau and the Training School into the National Institute of Public Administration (later the IPA), Beard decided to step down, once again leaving his post to Gulick who would remain there for many decades.

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Draft of Beard’s letter of resignation from the Bureau

The two men remained good friends and stayed in touch until Beard’s death in 1948 in New Haven, Connecticut. Gulick lived another 45 years.

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Letter from Beard to Gulick

A Complete History Lesson, in Two Charts

Sometimes a picture is indeed worth 1,000 words.  Take these two graphs we just came across in reports on civil service and housing by the Institute of Public Administration, successor to the New York Bureau of Municipal Research, the scrappy 1906 powerhouse that fueled the good-government movement and fostered the first science of public administration.

It’s everything you need to know about The Roaring Twenties and Great Depression in New York City.

( OK, not everything, but a lot.)

Graph No. 1 shows average salaries of New York City employees 1920-1940 compared to the cost of living.


What jumps out is how good it was to have a city job during the Great Depression.

As the 20’s began, average salaries (dark line) had fallen far below the cost of living (dotted line). City workers couldn’t earn enough to live well.

Within two years, the lines converge — wages meet the cost of living in the base year of 1923.

And then, within four years  — even before the stock market crash on Black Friday 1929 — the lines start to diverge again. Only now, the cost of living takes a dive — it was called the Depression for a reason — while salaries rise slightly, keeping pay well above the cost of living. So a city job (if you could get one) was a good way of surviving the Depression.

Now take construction. You can see why it was called The Roaring Twenties.


Class dismissed.


A Millionaire’s Waste Basket

What would you find in a millionaire’s waste basket in 1910? (Today maybe make that billionaire.) The usual stuff, of course: Eggshells, coffee grounds, dog hair, squeezed-out toothpaste tubes, single errant socks…But also something else quite particular, according to Mrs. E.H. Harriman, widow of the railroad mogul and philanthropist.


Lots and lots of letters from people wanting — what else? — money. Begging letters, to be precise. And almost all would be destined for her garbage.

The Harrimans, along with Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller Jr., had been among the earliest benefactors of the government reform movement represented by the New York Bureau of  Municipal Research, where Robert Moses, Luther Gulick and other eminences of public administration made their names.

After E.H. died at 61 in 1909, leaving his missus up to $100 million (around $2.5 billion in today’s money), Mrs. Harriman continued their largesse, notably funding the Bureau and its momentous Training School for public servants headed by the redoubtable historian Charles Beard.

But there was a downside, as she lamented in an unpublished 1912 manuscript found in the archives. The incessant appeals for money.


Entitled simply “Manuscript of Book on Efficient Giving”, the work, by the Bureau, with a foreword by Mrs. Harriman, detailed the barrage of mail she received by supplicants seeking pieces of her fortune, and what the public  needed to know about her system of  philanthropy.


(So the title could have been worse. Note the alternates including: Six Thousand Begging Letters: Philanthropy’s Waste Basket; Millionaire’s Waste Basket; and American Benefactions and Maleficiaries.)


If there was a common theme to the appeals, it was this: You can send me $20,000 and never miss it.

Mrs. H’s answer: there are better ways of giving.

For its study, the Bureau analyzed 6,000 letters of appeal sent to her in 1910 and 1911 from individuals, churches, hospitals, charities, universities and other hopefuls all over the world.

“Three thousand men, women and children in the United States asked $22,000,000 for themselves; 1,100 benevolent agencies in the United States asked for $153,000,000. 1,400 personal letters from Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia asked for $32,000,000; while 150 institutions of various kinds from foreign countries asked for $6,000,000. ”

A man wanted $20 to attend a reunion of Confederate soldiers; a New Jersey mother asked $2,000 for a chicken farm ;a church needed $50,000 for a mission among mountain whites in the south; a wife needed $15,000 to make up money she lost in speculation without telling her husband; European girls wanted dowries; inventors sought backing; self-described beautiful Kentucky girls needed money for musical training…

(The highfalutin language of some appeals might seem to have inspired the internet scam artists of a century hence: “We covet your most careful scrutiny and investigation of the details of this undertaking…” )

Others wrote offering to sell Mrs. H: a robe made of Arctic eagles’ breasts; a picture of “Betsey Ross”; a 1799 collection of hymns by John Wesley; the horn of a steer eaten for breakfast by a company of Virginia soldiers…

There were crank letters. A man mailed her a scented soap every two weeks, along with progressive chapters of his life history. A supposedly cured patient from a hospital for the criminally insane asked for a gift in exchange for a promise to grant Mrs. H and her family eternal life.

And that, the Bureau wrote, didn’t count the appeals that came to her verbally, face-to-face.

Mrs. H, being a wise and compassionate soul, pondered the meaning of it all, wondering, as she told the Bureau: “Is this touch with human need in all corners of the globe given me for no use? Can I do nothing but throw these letters in the waste basket merely because I have neither facts, nor hours in the day nor money to determine where I can help without hurting? Is there any lesson in these hundreds of appeals for me?…”

There was, she concluded. Through the Bureau’s study, she could lay out a strategy of scientific giving — much as the Bureau she was nurturing was devising a new science of scientific government and efficient public administration.

Clearly, Mrs. H concluded, it was more more sensible to give to charitable institutions that would determine individual needs. She also advocated “A National Clearing House for Givers.” (In a similar vein, the Bureau also studied the welter of duplicative  Jewish care organizations in turn-of-the-century New York and recommended a federation of Jewish philanthopies.)

In the end, Mrs. H issued what she called “A Magna Charta for Givers”: