News stories from the local press
The “Roaring” twenties begin! Prohibition, scandal, and growth all marked the beginning of this decade. Read all about it here.
On May 3, 1920, results of the 1920, U.S. Census were released and front page headline in the Daily Telegram read: “Wonder city of South California is still on top: percentage of gain is among highest reported by Census Bureau; is second city in County and third South of Tehachipi.” In the decade since 1910, when the official population tally revealed a population of 17,809 residents, Long Beach had increased to 55,593. This was an increase of 37,784 or 212.2 per cent.
If unannexed territory surrounding the municipality had been annexed before the census, the city’s population would have been approximately 65,000. Other statistics reported in the Daily Telegram article reveal a more complete picture of the development of Long Beach: its monthly industrial payroll leaped from $7000 in 1910 to $650,000 in 1920; its industrial plant investments from $100,000 to $10,000,000, and its bank deposits from $4,274,225 to $28,655,205.
So what would you find if you went to Long Beach in 1920? Reporter Reed Heustus told readers of what he saw in the June 29th Los Angeles Herald.
Long Beach was more than a beach resort, Heustus reported. It was now an industrial center, but it continued to hold its charms for pleasure seekers. It was home to state society picnics, jazz, fishing and yet a place of quiet homes. In fact, everything was new in Long Beach except the ocean. If you wandered through the town you might come across the Balboa Film studio, and the rejuvenated Pike, where one could hear every known language of the world.
Long Beach had come a long way since 1884 when the settlement consisted of a dozen houses, a horse car line with wooden rails and the beginnings of a water system. Gradually it gathered momentum. By 1900 the population was 2252. It was in the decennial period from 1900 to 1910 that Long Beach began its real development. The city’s population increase in that time was 690.8 per cent, which won it the fame of being the fastest growing city in the United States.
The Los Angeles Times also lauded Long Beach in its May 5, 1920 issue:
“All California should feel grateful to Long Beach; for the frequently repeated cynicism that no community here can hope to measure up to the claims of its boosters has been refuted very satisfactorily and very convincingly by the beach city. So, hail to the fair city of Long Beach. It has not only set a mark for the whole nation, but it has outstripped its own boosters.”
Though she didn’t qualify for the 1920 census, having been born after the census count, May Bird became the first Native American born in the City of Long Beach. Little baby Bird made her entry into the world at the Frances Campbell Apartments, 249 Pine Avenue, in early May 1920. Her mother had been visiting Long Beach when the baby decided to arrive early. Her father, Virgil Bird, had yet to see his daughter. He was a member of the Chickasaw tribe and worked in the oil industry in Oklahoma and Texas. He was anxiously awaiting his wife and newborn daughter’s return to their home in Oklahoma. May Bird, who weighed in at 8.5 lbs was named for the landlady, Miss May Johnson, who was the first person to have seen her.
On January 17, 1920, America went dry. Alcohol could no longer be consumed for pleasure in the United States. Andrew J. Volstead, a Republic congressman from Minnesota had introduced the bill to ban alcohol throughout the United States on May 27, 1919. An already desperately ill President Wilson, further weakened by his losing fight to keep America within the League of Nations, vetoed it, on both constitutional and ethical grounds. But that same day, the veto was overridden in Congress, and the act became law.
Many Americans were shocked in October 1919 when the Volstead Act, passed after the ratification of the 18th Amendment, established a law making it illegal to possess or make any beverage containing more than one-half of one percent of alcohol. The original amendment had not been explicit in defining what the alcohol level of “intoxicating” beverages consisted of. Acting in defiance of the Volstead Act, the legislatures of New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts passed laws in 1920 allowing the production and sale of low-alcohol beer or light wines. Later that year the Supreme Court crushed these local attempts to set alcohol limits higher than those imposed by the Volstead Act. The touchy matter of religious freedom was avoided by exempting sacramental wines from the ban on beverage alcohol, although permits were required in order to obtain communion wine. Permits were also granted for the medicinal use of alcohol and for its use in the commercial manufacture of cider and vinegar. Congress offered protection for the possession and use of alcohol in private residences if used only for the personal consumption of the owner, his family, and bona fide guests. Moreover, Congress blocked searches of private dwellings unless illegal liquor had been sold inside them.
The ratification of the 18th “Amendment gave no assurance that the cooperation required for the “concurrent” enforcement of prohibition by states as well as the federal government would be forthcoming. As a result all states enacted ‘baby Volstead’ laws in the early 1920s to accompany the national prohibition statute. Some state laws were even harsher than the Volstead Act, outlawing the personal possession of liquor and giving local authorities greater power to search out and seize illegal alcohol. On May 7, 1921, California passed the Wright Act which mandated that all state, city and county officials enforced the national Volstead Act. But the Wright Act was put on hold when the “wets” obtained enough signatures to put it on a referendum ballot in 1922—a clever way to delay the bill for almost two years. On November 7, 1922, the Wright Act passed by a majority of 29,621 votes. At midnight December 22, 1922, it went into effect.
Why had Prohibition, a cause that had been fought for for nearly 100 years, become so popular? The Women’s Christian Temperance League and the Anti-Saloon League had been leading a crusade against alcohol for years, but it was the war that brought things to a head. According to Edward Behr in his book Prohibition, the German influx into America after the 1830s made America beer conscious. The result was that many German-American communities established breweries. Before World War I the German-Americans supported Germany in their war against Britain, sending money and even urging a German invasion of Canada. “Older” Americans, of British root stock, were aghast. When America entered the war against Germany there was a wave of anti-German hysteria which resulted in ill feelings towards the German-American operated breweries. This was a major reason for Prohibition, according to Behr—to get rid of the German-American breweries.
The delay between the passing of the act and its implementation was no humane measure to let Americans enjoy one last year of legal drinking. The intervening year was spent setting up new law enforcement machinery. From the first, when the Prohibition Bureau was put under the jurisdiction of the Treasury, instead of the Justice Department, problems arose. Another disastrous decision was making the new Prohibition agents exempt from Civil Service rules. In every state, their recruitment was political. All that was required on the part of an aspiring Prohibition agent was the endorsement of a politician. No other qualifications or character references were needed; some of the new recruits even had criminal records. The job paid a maximum salary of $2,300 a year, barely enough to live on, almost inviting corruption. However, the nation’s legislators professed to be completely taken aback by the extent of Prohibition-related lawbreaking.
The futility of enforcing prohibition laws became apparent in 1928 when a San Francisco jury in a liquor case came under indictment for drinking the evidence. Everywhere overburdened courts collapsed under the weight of cases generated by Prohibition.
You will find more about this era in Long Beach history in my book “Prohibition Madness.”
SODA POP SCANDAL
More than 100 male and female students, many from prominent families, were involved in a scandal that rocked the foundation of Polytechnic High School. Police had names and addresses and issued a felony blanket warrant for their arrests, however the three ringleaders were still at large.
Soda pop, cider, near-beer and other soft drinks left over from an exhibition held at the high school was stored away in a shed behind the grand stand. The afternoon of April 6, 1920, thirsty students forced entrance into the shed and news of the “pop bust” spread. In a few minutes more than a hundred students were eagerly downing free soft drinks. Unable to consume all the drinks scores of bottles of soda and cider were buried in various parts of the campus for later consumption.
The drinks, worth about $300 ($3,760 today), were the property of Robert Davis, a Silver Spray Pier concessionaire, who was to have picked up the extra drinks later that week. Davis was pressured by the fathers of many of the students involved in the scandal to prevent their arrest. He agreed to settle the matter out of court. However, the three boys who broke down the side of the building in which the extra soda was stored, were charged with burglary. The terrified trio, sure that prison awaited, were instead sentenced to perform community service.
Long Beach had been founded and settled by Bible Belt Midwesterners, conservative in their political and social views. The City was famous for having the largest Bible study group in the nation—the Taubman Bible Class, led by Reverend Taubman of the First Christian Church. Since its inception, Long Beach had fought the temptation of liquor. The city fathers also believed visitors to the town should exhibit the same high moral standards as its citizenry. At the forefront of the movement to keep Long Beach moral was Police Commissioner William Peek who assigned the role as “city censor” to Long Beach city market inspector Squire Du Ree.
In January 1920, Squire Du Ree resigned as “city censor.” Du Ree had been responsible for the moral tone of the theaters, motion picture houses, beach crowds and, in addition, had to decide whether actresses on the Pike wore sufficient clothing. Du Ree had held the position for eight years. In his resignation letter he said it was a strenuous undertaking, especially when conducted as a side assignment to his regular job as city market inspector for Long Beach, ‘‘Believe me, this job of being a censor is no joke,” he told the Los Angeles Herald. “I’m getting tired of being routed out at any old time up to midnight, after doing a day’s work at market inspection, to go down to some theater on the Pike to determine whether some scantily clad actress is wearing enough clothes to get by without colliding with the city ordinances.” The municipal censor received no pay, but the position was considered one of great honor, according to the Herald. Du Ree figured he had accumulated honor enough in eight years of service to last him awhile. He resigned January 22, 1920. Peek couldn’t find a replacement for this no pay job, considered one of “great honor,” so took on the role himself.
In May 1920, city commissioners led by Police Commissioner William Peek, declared bathing suits must not be too short or too tight. He told the May 11, 1920 Los Angeles Herald that when he came to Long Beach he was greatly shocked at what he saw on the beach.
“In our modern civilization improper thoughts are engendered by girls who clothe themselves inadequately, and while I believe many young women do not consciously and deliberately set out to attract men through one-piece bathing suits and other suggestive apparel, I do believe that laws should be adopted making such fashions illegal. All this talk about the similarity between a girl in a bathing suit and an artistic picture of a half-nude woman is worse than preposterous. A picture is a picture and may be admired as such. A live girl in an immodest bathing suit is a distinctly different proposition. I am trying to protect the youth of Long Beach and uphold the morals of the community—and I am getting mighty tired of being accused of ’prudishness’ and of ‘fogyism.’ If young people haven’t sense, enough to protect themselves, it is up to the elders to do it for them. Long Beach will not tolerate women in one-piece bathing suits, nor in men’s bathing suits.”
In the ordinance women’s suits had to have skirts and at least the rudiments of sleeves. To obtain convictions under the ordinance, police were forced to bring the offender to court dressed as they were when arrested, or submit photographs. But what was the definition of too short or too tight? When uncertainty arose police appealed to the municipal censorship board, composed of the mayor, the safety commissioner and the city attorney.
In an article in the May 8, 1920 issue of the Daily Telegram, Peek talked about how he happened to take up the regulation:
“Many desirable people are kept away from the beach by what they regard as unseemly costumes. If women did not buy men’s bathing suits, there might be no necessity for regulation, but one merchant told me he sold 15 men’s suits to women for every one made for women. Savages may go about in a nude state and yet may be moral, but we are not accustomed to such conditions. It is for the youth of the community that I am acting.”
Trying to show his ordinance was not too far out of line, Peek mentioned similar standards of beach costume and conduct on the Atlantic coast. In preparing the new law he had visited Catalina Island and found that women bathers at Avalon had to wear stockings. Peak said the ordinance he was drafting would not be as extreme. Its final form read:
“No person shall appear in or upon any highway or other public place, upon the sand or beach along or near the shore of the Pacific Ocean, or in the Pacific Ocean, in the city of Long Beach, clothed in a bathing suit which does not completely conceal from view all the trunk of the body of such person and each leg from the hip joint to a peripheric line one-third of the way to the knee joint, except that the chest and back may be exposed to view, and without such bathing suit having attached thereto a skirt made of the same kind of material as the bathing suit, completely surrounding the person and hanging loosely from the peripheric line at the waist to the bottom of such bathing suit.” (Daily Telegram 9/25/1920)
Local merchants were upset because the ordinance was introduced late in the season. They had already purchased their stock of swimsuits for the summer. When they complained the ordinance was withdrawn and reintroduced in late September and adopted by a vote of three to one. What was the penalty for violation? Six months imprisonment, a fine of $500 ($6,270 today), or both. The new law applied to all persons over six years of age and to men as well as women.
No Smoking for City Employees
In October 1920, there was much debate regarding the anti-smoking regulation in the city’s civil service rules. At first reading, the city attorney ruled that city employees could not smoke at work or at home. His reasoning was that the smoking prohibition was linked with the rule which prohibited gambling, immoral conduct, drinking intoxicating liquors and use of opium. Since these prohibitions applied to conduct at work as well as at home, so should smoking. On October 26, the regulation was refined to allow smoking at home, but not on the job.
NATIONAL AERO MEET
December 25, 26 & 27, 1920, marked the three day National Winter Air Tournament at the new Daugherty-Municipal airfield. Over 2500 paid admissions were recorded each day.
A wireless telephonic device was among the various new inventions on display. By means of a radio telephone, listeners were able to directly receive progress reports on the 100 mile scratch race, as well as the 80 mile handicap race. Nineteen year old stunt walker Wesley May performed on the wings of aviator Earl Daugherty’s plane. May claimed a world’s record by standing on his head on the wing of Daugherty’s craft while the plane was landing. Other exhibits which attracted considerable attention were: a 220-horsepower French “Spad” plane, used extensively by American aviators overseas; a huge working model of a 700 pound Liberty motor; the Goodyear blimp; a Boeing seaplane; two huge passenger planes; and a $15,000 all-metal aeroplane (as airplanes were called then).
Daugherty felt the meet was monumental for two reasons: first, it was relatively accident free. There had been two forced landings during the three-day event, but the aeroplanes had came down safely. Daugherty felt that this was due to improvements in aircraft and to the experience gained by pilots during the past decade, especially during the war. The meet also proved Long Beach had one of the best flying fields in the United States. Aviators who had experience with most of the big air fields in the United States and in Europe, declared that the local course was one of the best.
My book Soaring Skyward talks more about this event as well as providing a history of Southern California aviation.
Twenty-eight year-old Jack Dew had a way with women. It wasn’t his looks—5 feet 8 inches in height, weight about 150 pounds, ordinary appearance, evasive dark eyes, prominent nose, teeth large irregular, small ears—it was his conversational and persuasive abilities that drew women to him. Even from his cell in the Long Beach jail following his arrest for the alleged embezzlement of $2500 ($31,300 today) in diamonds from Miss Margaret McConnick and Mrs. John W. Redman, the two sisters who caused his arrest were loath to prosecute the dapper youth. Nor was Mrs. W. E. Smith of Pomona, from whom he allegedly “borrowed” $300, or Mrs. W. C. Hunter who gave him $365 “($4,570 today) when he told her he needed the money to marry her 17-year-old daughter, June.
How did he do it? When asked about his profession he claimed he was a medical student. Police disagreed, saying he was a fast worker with a lot of nerve, if a profession could be assigned to him it would be as a “wholesaler in love.” Authorities uncovered hundreds of love letters addressed to him from girls who were pining their hearts away for him from the Atlantic to the Pacific. One poor, little, forsaken maid said she knelt before a lighted candle and prayed for him before going to bed at night.
On June 5, 1920, Jack R. Dew “love pirate,” held in the Long Beach jail for two weeks was a free man. The two Long Beach sisters had received their diamonds back, and relatives of Dew back east agreed to send him money to pay back the other “loans.” All refused to press charges. Poor June Hunter, who he had promised to marry, was left behind as Dew returned to New York, allegedly to reenter medical school.