Wicked Long Beach - Part 1

Gerrie Schipske

In 1881, while platting out the American Colony (which became Long Beach) William Willmore worked with the railroads through the California Immigrant Union to lure “god fearing” travelers to the area. Willmore gave land to the Methodists who in turn held summer Chautauqua Assemblies. These summer camps drew thousands (mostly from the Midwest). Many of these tourists eventually stayed and gave the newly formed City of Long Beach the reputation of being the conservative “Iowa By the Sea.”

Its council passed ordinances outlawing liquor, bathing suits and “spooning in public.” But behind the façade of respectability, the seaport city struggled with crime and scandal brought by rum-running women, white slave traffic, sailors, the Ku Klux Klan, crooked politicians and other “social vagrants.”

Early Long Beach was a period when city politicians attempted to regulate morality. Long Beach was both praised and mocked in local and national newspapers because of its ordinances regulating bathing suits and displays of public affection and its use of a “purity squad.”

The early 1900s also marked the beginning of local politicians behaving badly. It began in 1905 when Mayor Rufus Eno and a city councilman were arrested for accepting $350 bribes from local architects who wanted the contract to design the city’s “pleasure pier and sun parlor.”

At the same time, local press reported that there were a series of attacks on the homes of elected officials and public buildings by anonymous individuals and dubbed it the “Reign of Terror in Long Beach.” Mayor Eno claimed to have received a note threatening him with “disfigurement.” Someone doused Eno’s house with oil so it could be set on fire. Other homes were dynamited. Eno resigned in 1906 because of his bribe arrest.
Eno was not convicted but another council member was.

In 1913, the auditorium connected with the pier and sun parlor collapsed sending dozens of mostly women to their death. The city was sued for faulty construction.

In 1915, another “reign of crime” ensued but this time apparently caused by the followers of Pancho Villa who hung out on the local ranchos and engaged in gun battles and other assorted crimes. A “dozen Mexicans and two white men and a white woman” were arrested and charged for burglaries done in the area.

In 1916, before the days of sexual harassment laws, the city was sued by its female clerk for failing to pay her a salary for her work. It appears  Cora Morgan had to sue the city several times for not getting paid for her work.

From its beginnings, Long Beach was a “dry city” which pushed the sale of liquor to areas outside its borders. The battle intensified when anti-prohibitionists figured out that by unincorporating the city the county would allow saloons to flourish. The city was unincorporated but residents objected to county taxes and then voted to re-incorporate in 1897.

While anti-liquor forces continued to push a “dry city” the local council approved sale of liquor with a physician order. Police arrested several owners of local “blind pigs” that operated to provide drinks. Bootleggers and “rum-runners” operated in Long Beach and off of its coast during Prohibition, sometimes with very violent endings.

Although outlawed, gambling existed in Long Beach in many forms, with and without help from local police.

In 1914, the Mayor began a probe of police involvement in the numerous blind pigs and gambling houses that operated in and near the Pike. After one church service, ministers marched down the street to show where these places of “sin” were located and allowed by local police. In the 1920s, casino ships operated off the coast of Long Beach for several years and were the sites of robbery and murder.

As early as 1907, city officials traveled to Washington, D.C. offering Long Beach as a base for the Navy because of her port advantages. Eventually the city got its wish when in 1908 a portion of the “Great White Fleet” was sent to Long Beach and greeted by 50,000 residents who hosted parties for the sailors and officers. By 1932, fifty Naval vessels were anchored off Long Beach and the city became known as a “Navy town.” Unfortunately, the influx of sailors also brought prostitutes, “abortion rings,” transients and hustlers which turned a portion of the downtown area near the amusement “Pike” into “the jungle” - the most dangerous part of the city.

Long Beach did not tolerate social deviancy. In fact, it passed an ordinance in 1910 that required women to get permission to wear men’s overalls while they fished off the pier. In 1913, Mayor Hatch put out a warning to mothers about the efforts of the “white slave traders” trying to lure in their daughters in Long Beach.

A year later, the city police arrested 31 men, some of them prominent residents, for “social vagrancy” – a euphemism for being gay. As a result of the arrest, one man, James Lamb, committed suicide and others tried to obtain poison because of the public shame of having their names and faces published. The police had employed a local florist, Herbert Lowe, and W.H. Warren, to flirt with the men and to testify against them. Despite the local police’s fixation on homosexuals, Long Beach’s bars, restrooms and beaches became widely known to gay men (especially sailors) as the place to meet.

Long Beach not only had many resident (even city police) members  of the Ku Klux Klan, but the city was often the site for Klan meetings and parades. In 1924, Marie Brehm, candidate for Vice President of the U.S. on the Prohibition ticket, spoke to over 20,000 KKK members gathered in Long Beach.




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