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Reviewed by:
  • The Zoning of America: Euclid v. Ambler
  • Norma Stefanik
The Zoning of America: Euclid v. Ambler. By Michael Allan Wolf. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008. 208 pp. Paper $16.95, ISBN 978-0-7006-1621-3.)

The Zoning of America develops the history and chronology of the Euclid v. Ambler court case that evolved over four years and culminated in a pivotal U.S. Supreme Court decision defending zoning on November 22, 1926. The litigants were the Village of Euclid, Ohio, promoting zoning in the interest of the public good, and Ambler Realty Company, which asserted that the value of an individual’s property would be compromised by a village’s enforcement of land use restrictions, limitations on height of structures, and determination of whether certain industries could locate within the city limits.

The book traces the background and development of the landmark trial in which the conflict “between private needs and public benefit, government obligations and individual rights and between responsibility and liberty” was waged by a new Cleveland suburb and a landowner wanting to develop his property for maximum return (7).

Michael Wolf breathes life into what ordinarily could be an extremely dry subject. He opens the book in a most compelling way. In January 1926, James Metzenbaum, counsel for the Village of Euclid, was on a snowbound train during one of the worst blizzards in Midwest history and needed to send a telegram to Chief Justice William Howard Taft. Some other prominent figures in this case were: Newton D. Baker, who represented Ambler and was a former secretary of war; Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.; Federal District Court judge D. C. Westenhaver, Baker’s mentor and former law partner; and Alfred Bettman, a nationally respected attorney and planning advocate who filed an amicus brief for Euclid.

Wolf has successfully collected and effectively presented an enormous amount of information about this seminal case in American zoning law, the merits of which are still being argued today. There are at least 58,587 Internet citations with a reference to the case title. Of those, only 1,384 are considered “significant” to the literature, and only 27 are extremely relevant to zoning. Wolf has created an invaluable tool by synthesizing a large amount of data into a concise tool for the student of history, Ohio, zoning, law, or land use.

The author is a member of the Florida Bar Association and has written over forty works about law, history, planning, and economic development. His five-page bibliographical essay at the book’s end reveals not only a broad understanding of zoning but also demonstrates his extensive research in a wide array of resources, including the National Archives—where the case file resides—and the Cleveland press.

The book is well organized and starts with a flashback to Metzenbaum’s dramatic efforts to get a complete stranger to send a telegram. The remainder [End Page 130] of the book retains chronological order, while inserting relevant anecdotes and notes along the way to flesh out the story. The Euclid zoning map dated from June 1923 to October 1927 and the chronology of events are particularly helpful in visually organizing the zoning concepts, and historically organizing the plethora of dates and happenings surrounding both District and U.S. Supreme Court trials. The index is extensive, and the list of relevant law cases would be most helpful to any law or planning student. However, for easier reference it would be more helpful overall to locate the chronology of events in front of the zoning map.

Wolf not only examines the background and proceedings of Euclid v. Ambler, he illuminates the political positions and characters of the chief participants. Further, he explains the impact the enactment of zoning legislation has had on individuals’ lives across the country.

Norma Stefanik
Youngstown, Ohio


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pp. 130-131
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