Making billboard safe against wind and fire may not exempt them
from the power of restriction or prohibition. Id.
Such regulations may not improperly include incidental and
relatively trifling requirements founded in part, at least, on
aesthetic reasons such as a requirement of conformity to a building
A high tax imposed by a city on billboards for the purpose of
discouraging them is not objectionable under the Constitution.
It is not an answer to an ordinance regulating the size, etc.,
of billboards that they are on land leased or belonging to their
owner, or that their owner has contracted ahead to maintain
advertisements upon them, or that the size of board allowed is too
small for standard posters and that these cannot be changed without
affecting the business disastrously. Id.
195 S.W. 717 affirmed.
The cases are stated in the opinion.
Page 249 U. S. 272
MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.
The first mentioned of these cases was brought by the plaintiff
in error in a State Court of Missouri to prevent the City of St.
Louis and its officials from enforcing an ordinance regulating the
erection of billboards on the ground that the ordinance is contrary
to the Fourteenth Amendment in various respects. The suit was begun
on March 21, 1914, and on May 22, 1917, a judgment of that Court
dismissing it upon demurrer was affirmed by the supreme court of
the state. 195 S.W. 717.
Page 249 U. S. 273
The other case was begun a little earlier, on January 30, 1914,
in the district court of the United States by a bill in equity
substantially to the same effect as in the state case. The bill was
dismissed upon motion on February 29, 1914. The two cases appear to
have proceeded to a conclusion without any reference to each other,
but, as they involve the same parties and the same questions, they
have been argued as one case here.
The ordinance complained of is number 22,022, passed on April 7,
1905. It allows no billboard of twenty-five square feet or more to
be put up without a permit, and none to extend more than fourteen
feet high above the ground. It requires an open space of four feet
to be left between the lower edge and the ground, forbids an
approach of nearer than six feet to any building or to the side of
the lot, or nearer than two feet to any other billboard or than
fifteen feet to the street line, and, with qualifications, requires
conformity to the building line. No billboard is to exceed four
hundred square feet in area. The fee for a permit is one dollar for
every five lineal feet. The bill states that the size of posters
has been standardized and cannot be changed without great expense,
and that the limits in size fixed for the boards are too small for
such posters, and will affect the plaintiff's business
disastrously. The billboards are all upon private ground owned by
or let to the plaintiff. They are built to withstand a windstorm of
eighty-three miles an hour, a greater velocity than any known in
St. Louis, and the frames and facing are of galvanized iron so as
to exclude all danger of fire. The plaintiff has contracts running
from six months to three years binding it to maintain
advertisements upon its boards. The defendants are proposing to
tear down these boards unless the plaintiff complies with the
ordinance. This is a greatly abbreviated statement of the case, but
is sufficient, we believe, to present the question that we have to
Page 249 U. S. 274
Of course, the several restrictions that have been mentioned are
said to be unreasonable and unconstitutional limitations of the
liberty of the individual and of rights of property in land. But
the argument comes too late. This Court has recognized the
correctness of the decision in St. Louis Gunning Advertising
Co. v. St. Louis,
235 Mo. 99, followed in this case, that
billboards properly may be put in a class by themselves and
prohibited "in the residence districts of a city in the interest of
the safety, morality, health and decency of the community."
Thomas Cusack Co. v. Chicago, 242 U.
, 242 U. S.
-530. It is true that, according to the bill, the
plaintiff has done away with dangers from fire and wind, but apart
from the question whether those dangers do not remain sufficient to
justify the general rule, they are or may be the least of the
objections adverted to in the cases. 235 Mo. 99; Kansas City
Gunning Advertising Co. v. Kansas City,
240 Mo. 659, 671.
Possibly one or two details, especially the requirement of
conformity to the building line, have aesthetic considerations in
view more obviously than anything else. But, as the main burdens
imposed stand on other ground, we should not be prepared to deny
the validity of relatively trifling requirements that did not look
solely to the satisfaction of rudimentary wants that alone we
generally recognize as necessary. Hubbard v. Taunton,
Mass. 467, 468.
If the city desired to discourage billboards by a high tax, we
know of nothing to hinder, even apart from the right to prohibit
them altogether asserted in the Cusack Co.
Citizens' Telephone Co. v. Fuller, 229 U.
, 229 U. S. 329
As to the plaintiff's contracts, so far as appears, they were made
after the ordinance was passed, but if made before it, they were
subject to legislation not invalid otherwise than for its
incidental effect upon them. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v.
Goldsboro, 232 U. S. 548
232 U. S. 558
The same thing may be said, apart from other answers,
Page 249 U. S. 275
with regard to the alleged standardizing of the size of posters.
In view of our recent decision, we think further argument
unnecessary to show that the ordinance must be upheld.
Judgment in No. 220 and decree in No. 2 affirmed.