G. Yate Cook, 87, led fight against city slums

December 23, 1996|By FRED RASMUSSEN | FRED RASMUSSEN,SUN STAFF

G. Yates Cook, who was once described as "the fiercest slum fighter" in Baltimore, died Dec. 6 of congestive heart failure at Heritage Harbor Retirement Community in Annapolis. He was 87.

In the mid-1940s as chief of housing law enforcement in the Baltimore Health Department, he walked through the city's slums and, using a camera, painstakingly documented the appalling housing conditions, including rodent infestations and backyard outhouses.

He gave lectures, using slides, and took community groups on slum tours.

To anyone who would listen, he would state that of the nation's seven largest cities, Baltimore had the highest percentages of homes needing major repairs, of families without bathtubs and of outside toilets.

Mr. Cook took landlords to court, where they were slapped with substantial fines and ordered to repair their properties.

"We are going to insist that all slum landlords meet their legal if not moral responsibility. Slum real estate is the only business I know in this community where a businessman's shortcomings are an asset," he told The Evening Sun in 1949.

Mr. Cook was one of the authors of the Baltimore Plan, which advocated block-by-block urban renewal.

When he resigned in 1953 to head the National Association of Home Builders' urban redevelopment department, The Evening Sun said in an editorial: "For a dozen years Mr. Cook has wheedled, coerced, persuaded, cajoled, begged and politicized to make citizens and city officials alike more conscious, first, of their slum problem and, second, of the steps necessary to turn a shoestring cleanup operation into a broad program of slum improvement."

In 1954, he joined the Federal City Council in Washington, a partnership of private initiatives that worked in conjunction with public agencies on the redevelopment of the city. Major projects completed during his tenure included the redevelopment of Southwest Washington and the building of the Washington Metro subway.

He retired in 1974 and in recent years worked as a consultant.

Mr. Cook was born and raised on a farm in Pasadena and was a 1928 graduate of Glen Burnie High School. He attended the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., for a while but left to become a seaman. He later was a salesman and truck driver before joining the Baltimore Health Department as its first housing inspector in 1941.

A former resident of Linthicum and Potomac, Mr. Cook moved to the Annapolis retirement community in 1980.

In 1938, he married Lucille Meyer, who died in 1995.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Mount Carmel Methodist Church, 4760 Mountain Road, Pasadena.

He is survived by a son, Kenneth P. Cook of Salisbury; two daughters, Elna Y. Cook of Annapolis and Chard L. Cook of San Juan, Puerto Rico; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 12/23/96

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