When the history of Prohibition in Sonoma County is written, one name will appear more than any other: John W. Pemberton, County Detective – the nemesis of bootleggers and rum-runners and the scourge of anyone with a blind pig or backroom speakeasy.
Technically the County Detective was the investigator for the District Attorney but “Jock” Pemberton was like our resident G-man, on hand whenever federal Prohibition Agents conducted local raids (in the photo above Pemberton is the man on the right next to the feds). He also was often alongside the sheriff or Santa Rosa police chief during harrowing moments while they were trying to apprehend the most dangerous criminals.
Yet the most important moment of his career happened after his retirement, when he gave crucial testimony showing the California Attorney General was so corrupt he was running a protection racket out of his office.
In 1926, the peak year of Prohibition here, Pemberton was appointed County Detective although he seemed an unlikely prospect for the job. He was 49 when he took the position, with no background in investigating crime; his only experience in law enforcement being a dozen years as Santa Rosa constable, ending in 1923. He had the gregarious personality of a salesman, which is what he was before and after being constable (real estate, then autos). Jock held high rank in both the Elks and Eagles; he and wife Maude were constantly mentioned in the society columns for attending or hosting parties and whatnot.
(RIGHT: Duck hunter in a three-piece suit. 1923 photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)
Not long after being hired, though, he showed his worth. A 27 year-old man named Jasper Parkins was found dead in his bedroom with a bullet wound to his right temple. The sheriff pegged it as an obvious suicide, even though the dead guy didn’t seem troubled and was about to take a walk along the railroad tracks with his brother and niece. Pemberton argued Parkins had his little target pistol in hand when he bent over to pick something up from the floor and bumped his elbow against the edge of the bed. The coroner’s jury ruled it an accidental death.
A few weeks later came the bust of the most famous bootlegging operation in county history. In March 1927 Pemberton led a raid on the old Kawana Springs resort where he and the sheriff’s department found the long-closed hotel had been retrofitted for a three-story copper still that produced 1,400 gallons of pure alcohol/day. The booze was then trucked to San Francisco and LA where it was processed and bottled as “genuine Gordon gin.”
And that wasn’t all. There were two other stills with 250/150 gallon daily capacity, all fed by mash held in seven 2,000 gallon tanks. The big still had a steam boiler weighing two tons; that and the smaller boilers for the auxillary stills were fueled by gravity-fed oil tanks. It was a massive – and ingenious – operation.
The Press Democrat reported, “Pemberton had had the place under surveillance for some time, and had spent several nights in the vicinity of the resort to make certain of its use before the raid was made.”
The only person arrested was a San Francisco steamfitter named George Darnell, who insisted he was only hired to dismantle the equipment (everything had been drained from the tanks and stills). And no, he didn’t know who had hired him. Darnell was held for a few days and released after paying a $500 fine.
Not resting on his laurels, the same week Pemberton arrested a farmer from Cloverdale hauling thirty gallons of “jackass brandy” – a day after busting bootlegger Joe Garayalde near Sebastopol with 800 gallons of “jack” and three stills.
And that set the pace for the following years. It was a rare week when readers of the PD didn’t see at least one story about Pemberton making a liquor arrest, and it was not infrequent for there to be two or three. Just as he once was a familiar name on the society backpages, he was now a regular on page one. As County Detective he investigated other crimes as well and judging from news coverage, Gentle Reader would be forgiven for mistaking him as being the top lawman in the area.
Pemberton had an uncanny knack for discovering hiding places. He found liquor hidden behind false walls in closets and in secret panels that popped open when a button or push latch was pressed. In one restaurant kitchen, a yank on a roller towel opened a cabinet with cases of whiskey.
He also used his nose to find stills, as fermenting mash has a strong, distinctive odor. In a barn near the Shiloh cemetery in Windsor he found one even larger than the monster at Kawana Springs, and this one was still operating (although not producing as much alcohol). Other places where it was hoped strong smells would mask the stink were chicken coops and old outhouses, sometimes further disguised with open buckets of sheep dip or creosote.
Most of the items about him and the sheriff busting up stills and arresting people aren’t so interesting – unless, of course, you knew the bootlegger, which would have been true for many people in small, rural Sonoma County. Here are a few vignettes from those years that appeared in the PD:
Dolly Allen of El Verano is a fortune teller. But she failed to see far enough into the future to know that she was going to be raided last night…a party was in progress in Dolly’s place when County Detective John W. Pemberton and Deputy Sheriff W. A. Shulte burst in and seized wine, “jackass” and gin as evidence and confiscated three slot machines. Dolly said afterwards that she had had a “hunch” the raiders were coming, but, according to officers, she apparently didn’t believe enough in her own forecasting power to dump the evidence. (1927)
“Readin’, ‘Ritin,’ ‘Rithmetic, Rum” – “pupils of a little rural school two miles east of Petaluma carried word to their parents that liquor was being made near the school, and that the odors crept through the windows during class hours, and that one might, if one was careful, sneak up to the windows, of the adjoining house and see forbidden juices dripping from the coil of a little still. County Detective John W. Pemberton and Deputy Sheriff Phil Varner, to whom the children’s tales eventually drifted investigated yesterday and found, they reported, a 50-gallon still, boiling merrily, and about 20 gallons of hard liquor…” (1928)
Mrs. A. Garayalde, living on the Guerneville highway, yesterday came to the sheriff’s office here to claim an automobile truck picked up Wednesday when it was found abandoned on a roadside near Windsor, loaded with 390 gallons of wine. She asserted that the machine had been stolen from her garage and that she knew nothing about its wine cargo. (1929 – remember the Garayaldes from above, and Joe would be charged again for having a still in 1932)
(As far as I can tell, neither Pemberton nor District Attorney Carl Barnard were temperance zealots or had any moral objections to drinking. Their aggressive number of arrests, however, brought in a substantial amount of money to the county treasury. Fines generally were in the $100-500 range and in 1927, $100 was the equivalent of about $1,600 today.)
As the 1920s wained the adventures of Jock Pemberton began to look less thrilling. There were fewer busts of even middling-size bootlegging operations; what jackass stills he found were usually small and amateurish. Finding a stash of a few hundred gallons of ordinary wine in a farmer’s shed was now considered a big deal. By end of 1929 Pemberton was arresting drinkers caught with a jug (or even a pint) of moonshine and mainly searching the cars and homes of those he knew as repeat offenders, also busting hotel restaurant owners who likewise had been caught before.
His run as County Detective paused for about eight months in early 1931 as a new District Attorney took office and appointed someone else. In that time Pemberton opened a private detective agency out of his house at 435 (West) College Ave. After that D.A. died in a car crash the new prosecutor brought Pemberton back to his old job, where he resumed knocking over little stills and re-arresting The Usual Suspects over petty (but lucrative) quantities of wine or hootch.
The last hurrah of bootlegging here was the 1932 discovery of a 1,000 gallon rum still near Fulton. His final liquor bust was at the end of that year, when 70 year-old Emil Gerhman, a rancher near Healdsburg, was arrested after three five-gallon cans of jack were found in his cellar. He was fined $100.
Once FDR was elected president, Congress easily passed a bill to repeal the 18th Amendment. Pemberton was 55 when Prohibition officially ended in December 1933.
As tempting as it might be to view him as merely a local “Revenuer,” Pemberton packed a gun and acted like any member of law enforcement at the time. During the Prohibition years he and a deputy pumped four bullets into a car with two bootleggers fleeing the site of a still, shattering the rear window and nearly killing one of them. (The County Treasurer was surely grateful he missed.)
In February 1933 two brothers held up the gas station at the Santa Rosa Municipal Airport, getting away with all of $27.75. Knowing the pair were ex-cons who lived near Cloverdale, the police chief from there and Deputy Sheriff Harry Patteson joined Pemberton in his “heavy sedan” to search for them. The culprits were spotted in a car on a gravel road and Pemberton gave chase, the officers and the robbers locked in a running gunfight. After the suspect’s auto was hit by five bullets they ditched the car and ran into the brush, pursued by the three lawmen as the shooting continued on foot. After one of the brothers was killed the other surrendered, with Pemberton handling the arrest and taking him to county jail.
As Prohibition was winding down in 1933, the county decided to eliminate the County Detective position – but at the same time create a post for a deputy sheriff charged with criminal investigations. “It was generally understood that Pemberton would be transferred to the sheriff’s staff when his present position was wiped out,” reported the PD. In February 1935 he was appointed investigator for Sheriff Harry L. Patteson, who earlier as a deputy had been something of a partner to him during all those bootlegging arrests.
(LEFT: Chief Deputy Melvin Flohr, James Charles and John Pemberton, left to right. Photo Santa Rosa Republican, March 17, 1936)
Pemberton was well suited for the investigations he made over the next few years, but it wasn’t exciting work. He found out who was passing bad checks, stealing cars and burglarizing houses; he looked into suicides and a couple cases of bigamy. He served warrants on suspects wanted for crimes elsewhere and often was the guard who transported them back to whence they came.
The most notable event in those years was when he obtained a full confession from James Charles, who had murdered his brother with an axe. (Pemberton got him to talk only by assuring the 28 year-old he wouldn’t be hanged.) An insanity trial was held a week later and after the jury deliberated for ten minutes, Charles was committed to the Mendocino State Hospital for the Insane. The reason for the killing, BTW, was that the brother didn’t come home on time that Sunday and Charles was very upset that dinner was late.
The last chapter in his career began in 1943, when he was rehired as a deputy sheriff. John and Maude had gone into semi-retirement four years earlier when there was a surprise election upset and Sheriff Patteson lost to a forest ranger. The Pembertons rented their Santa Rosa home and went to live at their ranch on route 128 near Kellogg, where they intended to start a large rabbit farm. Once Patteson was elected again they were back in Santa Rosa and life resumed as before. Sort of.
John was almost 65 and his dangerous days of running gun battles were over. Now he was mainly a court bailiff and sometimes a deputy jailer; he apparently took care of the Sheriff’s Office mascot, a black cat named “Black Bart” (yuk, yuk). He retired without fanfare in mid-1948, around the time he turned 70.
And here’s where his story gets really interesting.
Another of Pemberton’s duties in those final years was serving as an escort and driver for visiting law officers, so it wasn’t unusual when a special agent from the Attorney General’s office showed up on October 9, 1947. Agent Charles Hoy wanted a ride to specific places in Occidental and between Santa Rosa-Petaluma he had on a list. All (or nearly all?) were taverns.
After each stop, Hoy returned to the car with an armful of punchboards. Pemberton noted the agent seemed interested in nothing else but those things, so when he couldn’t find a place on the list and popped in to an inn to ask directions, he told the agent, “if it is punchboards you want, they got plenty of them in there.” Hoy replied, “I don’t want them.” Pemberton later said Hoy “showed no interest” in places not on his list. After they had hit all the locations, Hoy dropped the punchboards on Sheriff Patteson’s desk saying, “you can have them now,” and left.1
WHAT’S A PUNCHBOARD?
Punchboards were a common form of gambling in the first half of the 20th century, found in taverns, cigar stores, pool halls, even barbershops and lunch counters across America.
They were like primitive versions of today’s lottery scratchers; a colorful sheet – often with a cheesecake picture or sports theme – was glued on a piece of wood. Punchboards bought by Young had titles including: Big Hit, Win Er Bust, Nice Curves, High Bidder and Gold Bucket.
On each were many tiny holes stuffed with slips of paper. A gambler used a little stylus to punch through the top sheet and hopefully find a winning number. There were myriad variations; sometimes there were few holes but a higher cost to play, or a great many holes to punch very cheaply. But always the odds favored the owner of the board; on the example seen here, the chances of winning anything on a brand-new board was 1 in 50.
The “branding” described here was a crude way to establish a monopoly and says nothing about whether the punchboards were rigged by the manufacturer. Few (or even none) of the winning numbers might be on the punchboard, or they might be sold together with a key to which holes had winners so the gambler could pay extra for a tip as to where to punch.
In California punchboards were illegal “lottery devices” – but as in many states, using them was only a misdemeanor not rigorously enforced. Some owners tried to skirt the law by offering payouts in cigarettes, candy, glasses of beer or trinkets instead of cash.
What Pemberton and the sheriff didn’t realize at the time was they had witnessed part of a criminal conspiracy that reached to the top of the state Department of Justice.
Attorney General Fred N. Howser (the “N” stood for Napoleon!) entered office in 1947 vowing to keep organized crime out of California. More likely he wanted to keep other foxes out of his henhouse; he had a long history of corruption involving gaming interests. Knowing this, Governor Earl Warren set up the “Special Crime Study Commission on Organized Crime.” The final 1950 report has an entire chapter on the “state-wide plan for racket protection under the cloak of the Attorney General’s Office” which is quite jaw-dropping to read.2
Exactly a week before Pemberton was chauffeuring agent Hoy around Sonoma County, a man named Thompson Norman Young was making a deal in San Francisco to obtain a monopoly on punchboards up in the Marysville area. Later he would testify being told at that meeting they were part of a syndicate which gave Howser $50,000 in exchange for a virtual statewide monopoly on punchboards.
Young would also testify how the racket worked. After a dealer bought punchboards from the syndicate, they would be “branded” – meaning a serial number would be burned into the back of the board with an electric woodburning tool. This was for “protection;” should a local sheriff or police chief bust the dealer, the Attorney General wouldn’t prosecute. And as an extra incentive, a special agent from the A.G.’s office would first sweep through the territory confiscating all other punchboards so the dealer would have a monopoly. One of those former agents testified that indeed happened in Marysville, under orders from Howser’s chief enforcement officer.
Besides the cost of the punchboards, Young was told he would have to pay protection money on each. According to him, the sales pitch was, “…it costs you around a dollar and a half for the brand. That is around seven dollars; you can make forty dollars on a board. You can put five or six boards in each location. Each location should bring you a hundred or two hundred dollars a week.”3
After Young agreed to sign up, he drove the syndicate men to Sonoma County. Their destination was the Buckhorn saloon; besides being the first watering hole in Petaluma a thirsty driver encountered, it was where the punchboards were being branded. (The Buckhorn tavern is still there at 615 Petaluma Blvd South. Virtually unchanged since that time and with its walls covered in old photos, stop by for a taste of Petaluma’s colorful history you won’t find on a tour of the West Side’s elegant Victorian neighborhoods.)
All of this came out because Young turned informant on the syndicate after he contacted the Crime Commission, then became the first witness to testify to the Sonoma County Grand Jury in February, 1950. That ended up with indictments of four men on criminal conspiracy, including Mervyn McCoy, owner of the Buckhorn.
On the day of the indictments, Superior Court Judge Hilliard Comstock signed a search and seizure warrant on the Buckhorn, and the surprise raid netted five tons of branded punchboards from a backroom of the bar – so many the county had to rent a moving van to haul them away. They also found a large stash of “winnings” that could be given away to lucky gamblers, including watches, rings and novelty statuettes. “Among the latter was one of a shapely sea-island hula girl, with electrically operated hips,” the Press Democrat gamely reported.
What appears here only barely skims the surface of a complex and gripping crime story that dominated local news almost daily for five months in 1950. All credit to the PD for its excellent coverage of the case – they even printed every word of the Grand Jury transcript on the front page.4
The punchboard investigations and prosecution in Sonoma County also drew widespread statewide and national attention because Howser’s corruption had become household news. After popular muckraking broadcaster Drew Pearson revealed the Attorney General had taken a bribe, Howser sued him for $300,000 damages in libel (Howser would lose the suit).5
Howser also didn’t have the sense to keep his mouth shut and kept drawing attention to the upcoming trial in Sonoma County. He insisted the charges were trumped up and an attempt to “smear” him during an election year, running a full-page ad in the PD denouncing District Attorney McGoldrick for “foul political calumny.”
(RIGHT: Political ad from Attorney General Fred Howser that appeared in the Press Democrat, March 30, 1950)
Nor did it escape attention that Howser was desperately trying to get one of his boys in to “interview” Young without any other witnesses present. D.A. McGoldrick responded by assigning a 24-hour guard for his star witness. Pause for a minute to let that sink in: The District Attorney in little Sonoma County is protecting a prosecution witness from being – bribed? threatened? harmed? – by the Attorney General of the state of California.
The trial lasted exactly a month, spanning June-July 1950. In the dock sat Merv McCoy of the Buckhorn, charged with being a punchboard distributor. Another distributor from Los Angeles was also there, along with an ex-LA cop who worked for him. The fourth defendant was the Chicago punchboard manufacturer who was supposedly the ringleader and the man who gave Howser the $50k bribe.
The prosecution’s case closely followed what had been heard earlier by the Grand Jury, including Pemberton’s testimony of driving agent Hoy around the county to confiscate punchboards at specific places. Items about his testimony appeared in papers across the state, although the UP newswire screwed up badly and implied he was working for the syndicate. “ExDeputy Sheriff Admits Picking Up Punchboards,” read the headline in the Fresno Bee.
The surprise witness was Thomas Judge, an undercover investigator for the Crime Commission who met with McCoy while posing as someone who wanted to get in on the branded punchboard racket. McCoy sold him some punchboards and allegedly said their operation was safe because Howser was “getting a cut out of the scheme.” When Judge scoffed that Howser was personally involved, McCoy told him Howser would send a letter on the Attorney General’s stationery to anyone he wanted – and that McCoy had indeed provided the name of a friend who received such a letter.
It seemed an open-and-shut case, particularly since the defense apparently had no strategy other than sowing confusion. Jurors were told District Attorney McGoldrick and Assistant District Attorney Dennis Keegan would be called as hostile witnesses (they weren’t). That Thomas Judge was completely drunk when he met with McCoy (he wasn’t). That Young was in cahoots with Drew Pearson, who had “nurtured” Young’s story (which the lawyers said he had completely made up). And there was an uproar when a defense lawyer tossed out an odd remark that a witness had a striking resemblance to Pearson, implying the famed journalist was testifying under a fake name.
And then it was verdict time: After debating five hours, the jury announced they were “hopelessly deadlocked,” 10-2 in favor of acquittal.
Comments by Judge Don Geary and D.A. McGoldrick both politely expressed shock at the decision. But the jury foreman told the PD that jurors “didn’t show much interest” in the testimony of either Young or Thomas Judge and “didn’t believe part of Young’s testimony.” In deliberation “very, very little of Judge’s testimony came up.”6
And so it was all over. Howser’s hopes to continue his corrupt career had actually ended a week before the trial began, when he came in a distant second in the Republican primary. His involvement in punchboard and slot machine rackets were part of the Senate hearings on organized crime the following year, but he was never indicted.
Pemberton lived another ten years. The PD ran a nice photo of Maude and John on their Sept. 20, 1953 golden wedding anniversary. His name occasionally appeared in the “this day in history” newspaper columns. Johnson Watson Marvin Pemberton died on June 23, 1961 and is buried in the Odd Fellows’ Cemetery.
1 Pemberton testimony to Grand Jury as reported in the Press Democrat, March 25, 1950
2 Howser shamelessly used his staff to support and coverup criminal activity. One outrageous example from the Commission report noted another of Howser’s agents was convicted of attempting to bribe the Mendocino County sheriff to allow slot machines in Ukiah. Before the trial Howser sent more than a dozen investigators there to dig up information helpful for his agent’s defense, evidence which was not shared with prosecutors.
3 Thompson Norman Young testimony to Grand Jury as reported in the Press Democrat, March 26, 1950
4 Only the testimony of ex-agent Charles Hoy was not made public for reasons unexplained, but his attorney commented to the press “he did what his superiors told him to do.”
There’s a tale Bill Soberanes loved to tell in his Argus-Courier columns that went something like this:
During Prohibition a lawyer was defending a man accused of bootlegging. When the prosecutor introduced a bottle of the moonshine as evidence the lawyer picked it up, put it to his lips and drank it dry. “That wasn’t whiskey,” he told the court. Case dismissed for lack of evidence.
Odds of that story being true are probably nil (or at least, I can’t find anything close to it in the newspapers of the day) but it’s the kind of thing people liked to say about Gil P. Hall. Most often he was called some riff on being “a colorful character” and people meant that in a nice way. During the 1910s and 1920s he was the top defense attorney in Sonoma county and rarely lost in court, particularly if it involved a jury trial. He was such a legal hotshot that courtrooms were packed when he defended a high-profile case. “There was only one Gil Hall, and I don’t think there will ever be another like him,” said the last surviving pre-Prohibition Petaluma bar owner in 1967. “Some of his cases would make Perry Mason look very tame.”
In the 1920s Hall defended so many liquor scofflaws that he had a reputation as being the bootlegger’s lawyer, but that’s not really fair – it seems he took on any and all. While he’s best known for high-profile cases his bread and butter was mundane legal work – representing people seeking a divorce, handling probate paperwork, and arguing a farmer had a right to dig a culvert under a county road.
He won an acquittal for Fannie Brown, who was charged with running a “house of ill-fame” at First and C streets in Petaluma. In the murder trial of two doctors charged with the death of a woman from an abortion (“the illegal operation”) the courtroom spectators burst into prolonged applause when the jury found them innocent. Even when he lost he usually managed to salvage some kind of victory. The owner of Speedway Hotel in Cotati was caught red-handed selling 72 proof jackass brandy (“with a trace of fuel oil”) and had to pay a fine, but Hall blocked the government from shutting down his business – which continued to be busted for selling hootch year after year.
A man who knew him, Petaluma Justice of the Peace Rolland Webb, said “he won most of his cases by outsmarting the young lawyers who came up against him,” so it’s a pity the newspapers didn’t write up some of his Perry Mason-y courtroom arguments. The one sample we have comes from an unusual case – the county election of 1926.
A recount was ordered because the votes for sheriff were almost tied. Hall and lawyers for the other candidate went over the ballots carefully, agreeing to toss three for being “scurrilous” – the voters had added an obscenity next to a candidate’s name. Then they found someone had written in the name of Andy Gump for Justice of the Peace. Andy Gump was an ultra-popular comic strip character who was a lovable idiot; in the 1920s the storyline had him running silly campaigns for the senate and the presidency. But the name was written on a ballot for Hall’s candidate, so he made a fine speech why it should be accepted:
…Andy Gump is one of the best loved characters in the United States. His name is a household word, and of loved memory. All of his actions have been those of a gentleman… Therefore, I cannot conclude with counsel that the writing of Andrew Gump created an atmosphere of scurrility about this ballot. Whether there is an Andrew Gump in Sonoma county I do not know. If there were more Andrew Gumps, in character and thought, Sonoma county would probably be a better county than it is…
His candidate lost the election by 16 votes, but the Andy Gump ballot was counted.
Gil Hall was in his heyday during the Roaring Twenties although he was past 60 years old (b. 1859 in Missouri). He was president of the County Bar Association 1924-5 and threw lavish, four-hour dinner parties for judges and fellow attorneys on his large houseboat named “Ark of Peace” (!) which was moored on the Petaluma River and was connected to permanent buildings on the wharf. When he would rehearse his courtroom arguments on the boat he was loud enough to frighten passing boaters, so reread the Andy Gump speech and imagine lots of shouting.
In his younger days it was expected he would someday be a Congressman; he was well-connected vis his father-in-law (Petaluma banker Dan Brown) and said to be politically ambitious, being appointed as Petaluma’s postmaster at age 27. But Gilbert P. Hall had a closet with skeletons ready to spill out during any campaign for public office; he was wise not to crack that door open.
This is the obl. Believe-it-or-Not! portion of the article, and not just because of some deed by Gil Hall; it’s also because this chapter of his life was so quickly and utterly forgotten and forgiven. Nothing about it was mentioned in any obituary or by 20th century Hall aficionados like Bill Soberanes – in fact, I don’t think this story’s ever been fully told before; I only stumbled across it while researching the previous article about the county treasurer who may have faked a robbery.
In 1890 Gil P. Hall was elected County Recorder/Auditor. The job was a perfect way for a novice politician to take off his training wheels – all it required was staying out of the way of the desk clerk and accepting payment of the recording fees. He was reelected in 1892 but lost the election of November, 1894. Take note that starting in January 1895 someone else would be running the office.
Every two years the county had used an outside auditor named Baldwin to examine the books of all offices, but in 1895 they hired someone else and he found something strange – there was a huge gap in Hall’s accounts. Except for a few entries made after he first took office, there were no fee payments listed until he lost reelection. Specifically, an entire ledger was missing: “Fee Book 13”.
The Grand Jury heard testimony that sometimes months went by without Hall making a deposit to the county treasury. Also, Baldwin looked at the books only during evenings when Hall was also there. Meanwhile, accounting experts were combing through all transactions during Hall’s four year tenure. Their audit showed that for his second term alone, $10,199.50 had been received but only $5,651.75 was deposited. That meant there was a missing $4613.38 (about $140k today).
County officers were held personally liable for any funds found missing during their term in office, and Hall had Petaluma businessmen who backed him with bonds for significant losses. The county sued them for about $1,200, which represented only the last few months of Hall’s first term – it was now March, 1896, and the clock was ticking down on the four-year statute of limitations for this type of suit.
A few months later the county filed a second lawsuit to recover the $4613.38. That was followed by a third lawsuit for $4.5k to pay for the cost of reconstructing Fee Book 13.
Gil P. Hall was now indicted on two counts of felony embezzlement and free on $1,500 bail bonds.
The story grabbed the laser-like focus of San Francisco’s yellow press, and the Examiner did a full page story on him with the subhed, “Rise and Fall of an Able Man.” According to their story, the formerly mild-mannered Hall had become “a high-riding swashbuckler, who cavaliered it through Petaluma to the astonishment of the wondering townspeople” and was known for throwing dinner parties that “endeared himself to a certain class.”
I will spare Gentle Reader details of the grinding legal gears during 1897-1899, which consumed a week of my precious life as I labored over a spreadsheet in a futile attempt to track all the doings. The Grand Jury found him guilty of embezzlement; the location of his trial was moved to Ukiah and there was a hung jury and a retrial; Hall insisted he didn’t remember anything (including the names of his clerks); his lead defense attorney, ex-Congressman Thomas J. Geary, embraced a strategy of continually barking “objection!” like a yappy dog. The big surprise came in November 1897, when Fee Book 13 was discovered and reportedly was in the Auditor’s office the whole time. This was, of course, conveniently after the facsimile had been reconstructed.
By the turn of the century there was remorse in some corners that the county had pursued restitution instead of just sending him to prison. It was now approaching the statute of limitations from the time of the indictments. Appeals were made to the state Supreme Court to extend the deadlines which the court first denied – then a few weeks later reversed itself and said the county could indeed reopen the case. Oh, law.
Over objections from the District Attorney, the Board of Supervisors finally threw in the towel in 1901, proclaiming there would be no more litigation because it was costing the county too much. That was followed by another Supreme Court ruling that the statute of limitations had indeed run out, and Hall and his bondsmen were not legally bound to pay back any money he allegedly stole.
As was permissible under the law. Hall then presented the county with a bill for his lawyer’s fees and court expenses. The Board agreed to pay him $850, which was the legal max.
Thus: Gil P. Hall not only got away with allegedly filching a small fortune from the public, but the county paid him for the pleasure of having done so. Believe it or Not!
An older – and presumably wiser – Gil Hall was behind the defense table again in 1927, this time accused of bribing witnesses.
The charge this time was that he had paid two 16 year-old boys $30 each to deny they had bought homemade wine from a Petaluma farmer. The Grand Jury handed down two indictments against him, although one was thrown out on a technicality.
On the witness stand the boys contradicted their earlier statements and each other. Hall had/had not given them money; Hall had promised one of the boys he “would take care of him” if he lost his job, or he hadn’t promised anything at all. And then, in true Perry Mason fashion, there was a shocking courtroom confession: One of the boys had a vendetta against Gil Hall because he had defended an auto driver accused of causing the death of his baby brother. “His admission that he had for years had a bitter feeling against the accused Petaluma attorney caused a profound stir,” reported the Argus-Courier.
The Grand Jury retired to the jury room and returned to court six minutes later with a verdict of innocent. It was the shortest jury deliberation anyone could recall.
Although Gil Hall’s professional life centered around the county courthouse in Santa Rosa, he grew up and lived most of his life in Petaluma. Besides Soberanes, fellow A-C columnist Ed Mannion sometimes tipped his hat to Gil for being among the most colorful residents in the city’s history. Mannion wrote, “he once entered the door of a Main Street pharmacy and was met by a fusillade of shots from the druggist’s’ pistol.”
Mannion told a couple of other stories that can be dated to 1913. The Maze Department Store on the corner of Washington and Main had an art department and was selling prints of “September Morn,” a wildly-popular painting of a nude woman standing in a lake – the sort of artwork someone buys while thinking, “this will really class up the joint.”
The store had a copy in their window display until “the good ladies trying to protect the town’s morals” (Mannion’s words) protested. Their taking offense apparently offended Hall, who talked the store into placing the picture with its back to the window – but in front of a mirror, so the image was plainly in view from the street. Selling at $1.75 each, the store had trouble keeping up with demand.
(RIGHT: Dressed statue of the goddess Hebe. Courtesy Sonoma County Library)
But Gil was not done with tweaking Petaluma’s blue noses. Outside the department store on the Washington street side was the WCTU water fountain, which had at its top a 5-foot bronze statue of the nude Greek goddess Hebe. With two co-conspirators Gil placed a Mother Hubbard dress over the statue. Wags promptly dubbed the censored statue “August Morn.”
That pre-Prohibition barkeep also said, “if I were a writer, I’d do Gil Hall’s life, and I’d have a best seller on my hands.” Well, get in line, bub – Soberanes and Mannion both wanted to write The Legend of the Fabulous Gil Hall and asked readers to send in Hall stories (apparently no one did). Justice of the Peace Webb had a number of stories so if any member of the Webb family recall an old manuscript up in the attic, contact me.
In the final weeks of 1919, no one in Sonoma county knew what would happen when Prohibition officially began on Jan. 17, 1920. Was it just token political gimcrackery to appeal to a certain class of voters, or was this really the end of the wine industry in the United States? Our wine-making, grape-growing and beer-brewing ancestors already had endured a year of being whipsawed by good/bad news, and now the frightful precipice yawned directly before them.
For those new here, some background will help: This is the third and final article about that bumpy road to national Prohibition. Part one (“Onward, Prohibition Soldiers“) covers local efforts by the “dry” prohibitionists to close or restrict saloons in Sonoma county in the years following the 1906 earthquake. Part two (“Winter is Coming: The Year Before Prohibition“) picks up the story in 1918, when the notion of prohibition has expanded beyond simple demands for temperance into a tribal war between rural, conservative and WASPy sections of the nation against those who lived in areas which were urban, progressive and multicultural.
Much of the angst during the latter part of 1919 centered around the “Wartime Prohibition Act,” a law that pretended the U.S. was still fighting WWI although the war had been over for a while. The real intent of the Act was to impose bone-dry prohibition upon America months before the real 18th Amendment Prohibition took effect, but there were legal questions raised and the Justice Department said the government (probably) wouldn’t enforce it, leading to patchwork compliance.
Saloons in Petaluma and Healdsburg closed, but many in Santa Rosa remained open pending a court decision, the bars becoming de facto speakeasies: “In some saloons, it is said, you have to cock your left eyebrow and ask for ginger ale, while in others you ask for whisky and get it,” reported the Press Democrat.
“City and county officials seem to have adopted a policy of hands off,” noted the PD, but all that ended shortly before Hallowe’en, after President Woodrow Wilson tried to kill the Wartime Prohibition Act and failed (see part II). Santa Rosa went dry, although some saloons stayed open to serve soft drinks – perhaps with something extra for the left eyebrow crowd – in the hopes that the courts would rule the Act unconstitutional, allowing America to have one last “wet Christmas” before full-fledged Prohibition kicked in. Sorry, the Supreme Court finally said in mid-December; the Act was valid law. Hearing that news left millions of Americans crying in their beer – or would have, if there were any suds to be had.
Over the following weeks, newspapers ran stories about their local taverns shutting down or evolving into some other kind of business. Reporters marveled that famous bars with their polished brass foot rails were sold for the wood and metal; the back bars, with their ornate carvings and etched mirrors which had reflected generations of men arguing politics and fast horses were taken apart and went for cheap. From the PD:
Santa Rosa saloon sites will be occupied by restaurants, candy factories and candy stores, and even by real estate offices…In only a few cases are saloon owners hanging onto their leases of Santa Rosa property, with any idea that they might be able to return to business. “It’s all over, so why worry about coming back,” declared one former saloon proprietor…About half of the old saloon sites are already wiped off the map. More are in process of change, and of the few remaining open as cigar stores and soft drink emporiums…
While the barkeeps and the drinking public were made miserable by Prohibition’s approach, the grape growers seemed to wobble between denial and panic.
Just as the saloon crowd hung on to an unrealistic optimism that Prohibition would include an exemption for beer (see part II), many growers couldn’t imagine their lovingly tendered vineyards might become worthless overnight. The editor of the California Grape Grower newsletter found “during the last weeks of August, the writer visited practically every grape district in the State in an effort arouse the growers to an understanding of the critical situation. He was amazed to find them making absolutely no preparations for the disposal of their crop in the case the wineries were not permitted to operate.” Louis J. Foppiano later said in an interview they thought Prohibition “might last a few months, if ever, and then things would get back to normal.”1
The Sonoma County Grape Growers’ Association was only slightly more realistic. Faced with the choice of crushing the 1919 vintage or letting the grapes rot on the vine, they recommended proceeding with the harvest and holding the crush in reserve until the prohibition question is finally solved [emphasis mine].
But trusted authorities were telling them to get out of the wine grape business – NOW. Even 72 year-old Charles Wetmore, who had devoted most of his life to building the California wine industry, said any growers who did not have a contract for their grapes “should lose no time in converting all the space they can into young orchards.” The PD reported “all over the county the vineyards are being stripped of their grapes, and in many cases the pickers are being closely followed by other crews, tearing out their vines in anticipation of this being the last crop that will ever be harvested in the county.”
The advice from the Department of Agriculture was that Sonoma and Napa growers should switch to raisins – even though it was pointed out that wine grapes do not make good raisins because A) they have seeds, B) are not sweet, and since we have a shorter growing season than places in the Central Valley C) the raisins would rot on the vines instead of shriveling. The government’s response was that growers could replant all the vineyards – or, since there was a market for subpremium U.S. Grade B raisins, maybe we should be happy to settle for becoming a second-class version of Fresno.
From the State Board of Viticultural Commissioners came wails of lamentation, that Prohibition would “seal the doom” for an entire agricultural industry unless the Amendment was overturned, as wine grapes could only be used to make fresh wine. Don’t even try turning it into grape syrup or unfermented grape juice, they warned, “because there is no rational assurance that such products could be successfully marketed.”
Let’s hit pause for a moment to consider the scope of all this. Saloons could be repurposed into restaurants; instead of selling to breweries and distillers, grain farmers could sell to flour mills and make the same money. But wineries couldn’t be turned into ice cream parlors, and it would take years for any “young orchard” to bear a fruit crop. Hops, a major Sonoma county crop unaffected by Prohibition, was out of the question because the plants needed a plentiful water supply. Thus the United States government was about to wreck the economy of Northern California – and for no reason other than pleasing the moral ideals of some. Hardest hit would be Sonoma county, where the wine business brought in $4 million/year.2 Put another way: It would be like the government today forcing the county to lose about a billion dollars of its GDP over the next decade.
This was a serious issue which urgently needed a serious national debate – but instead of that, our ancestors received a condescending lecture. Since the real intent of prohibition was to bully the rest of country into obeying WASP cultural standards, it should come as no surprise that a self-righteous prig blamed Wine Country for being the cause its own problems.
“The Wine-Grape Riddle” was a lengthy essay which appeared in Country Gentleman, the most popular magazine in rural America. It accurately quoted the red flag warnings from state Board re: no use for the grapes other than making wine, most of the vineyard land being unable to support any other kind of farming, plus nothing would be as profitable as wine grapes. Mostly, however, the editorial writer makes sneering remarks about the North Bay having a remarkable number of idiots. “The combined intelligence of all the purveyors and manufacturers of intoxicants who ever lived wouldn’t furnish the average pullet with sense to cross the street safely.”
According to the author we demonstrated our collective stupidity by voting for prohibition, thus acting against our own best interests. That was a remarkably ignorant thing to write; the previous year Californians had voted against pro-prohibition ballot items, and by overwhelming numbers in Wine Country (see part II). And, of course, voters never had a direct say in its passage – amendments to the Constitution are ratified by the state legislature.
But that was just the editor’s starting premise; he claimed 42 percent of Sonoma county farmers were foreign born, further presuming most never bothered becoming citizens so they could vote – which was because they were Italians and too simple-minded to understand what prohibition meant. Yes, Gentle Reader, on the eve of a multi-million dollar agricultural crisis, the largest chunk of (what was almost certainly) the most widely read information about the situation was at its core an assortment of ugly stereotypes and ethnic slurs, believe it or not.
Our ancestors must have been crestfallen when that magazine arrived in their mailboxes; the start of Prohibition was still a month away and here was their obituary already written, their livelihoods sent off with a caustic goodbye and good riddance. The Press Democrat fired back with a response from state Board member Charles E. Bundschu and although the letter (transcribed below) could have been stronger in its defense of Italians, it otherwise countered most of the points in the article.
And then the day of Prohibition arrived: January 17, 1920. But instead of the sky falling, something very good and very unexpected happened. Three good things, actually.
Just days after Prohibition officially began, vineyardists found buyers hammering down their doors, offering $25/ton for their 1920 wine grape crop in the autumn. Everyone appeared taken off guard; not only were their grapes still in demand, but that was a premium price. The Press Democrat remarked, “the grape growers of Sonoma county cannot complain of National Prohibition as the price is paid to be more than per ton higher than the average price paid for grapes during the past ten years.” A few days later, that offer was already too low.
As winter turned into spring, the contract price kept climbing: $30 per ton; $40; “Growers Are Refusing $50 Ton for Grapes,” was the PD headline on April 1, which might have seemed like an April Fool’s Day joke, had it been predicted just a couple of months earlier. By early May it was up to $65, and a year later, it would be nearly twice that. The growers who had taken a gamble and not ripped out their vines had now hit the jackpot.
What was going on?
It seems that it was foolish to presume people were going to obey the new law. Even before Prohibition home winemaking was popular (and yes, it was mainly done in Italian households). At end of 1919 at least 30,000 households in Northern California and Nevada were making home wine but they were buying just a fraction of the wine grape crop sold to consumers; most of it was shipped East via refrigerated freight cars. And once Prohibition began and there was no other way to obtain wine, demand for the wine grapes skyrocketed 68 percent over the previous year.3
All of this was legal. There was no restriction in the Volstead Act on growing wine grapes, selling them to a broker who would transport the produce somewhere else in the country where they would be purchased by a consumer in, say, New York City. Sure, it was now against the law for the buyer to allow those grapes to ferment an alcohol content higher than 0.5 (ABW) but hey, who’s to know?
When the Act was made law just a few months before Prohibition, the culture warriors believed it would be tweaked to fix any shortcomings, presumably making it even MORE restrictive. That Country Gentleman article suggested it might be modified to block transport of wine grapes or make it “too dangerous for the householder to manufacture his own wine,” which sounds uncomfortably like tossing out the Fourth Amendment blocks on searches and seizures.
But after having experienced a couple months of “bone dry” Prohibition, public sentiment was starting to shift in the other direction. New Jersey and Wisconsin defied Volstead and authorized sale of light beer. More newspapers began editorializing against Prohibition calling for a national referendum or immediate repeal. With 1920 being a major election year, the Democratic party – still torn between Wet and Dry factions – added a “moist” plank to the party platform which reflected President Wilson’s views that exceptions be made for wine and light beer. (The resolution also cited concerns about “vexatious invasion of the privacy of the home” which suggests people were worried about raids, whether the threat was real or no.)
On July 24 the Internal Revenue Bureau ruled homemade wine and cider could have more than 0.5 percent alcohol as long as it was consumed at home and “non-intoxicating.” Home wine making was now legal, as long as you didn’t make over 200 gallons/year – the equivalent of about 1,000 750ml bottles.
That was the second bit of good news for our grape growers during the early months of Prohibition. The third was the rapid development of commercial dehydrators.
Shipping fresh grapes across the country was always a chancy proposition; the railcars could be delayed because of labor issues, routing problems, overcrowded delivery terminals or a host of other reasons. Growers assumed the entire risk of transportation; if the fruit was spoiled by the time it reached the buyer, they were liable for shipping costs. Among the horror stories was that of a small Alexander Valley vineyard that shipped twelve tons of grapes to New York only to receive a 17¢ check. 4
Those risks were reduced significantly if dried grapes could be shipped instead. UC/Davis had been working on perfecting the best formula since the summer of 1919, with the goal of not drying them to the point of becoming raisins but rather to evaporate away the water content, keeping the grape’s color and flavor once it was rehydrated. Charles Bundschu’s letter in the PD mentioned the importance of this; in fact, he predicted everything that would happen in early 1920:
…The demand for dried Wine grapes is so great since Prohibition has become effective that California will not be able to supply the demand. To bring up a very important point, the very same grapes that were formerly used for the legitimate business, are now being dried and sold in small quantities to people who are making their own wines. It is encouraging an illegal business and I would ask whether under these conditions it is better to conduct a business along legitimate lines or whether it is better to force people to violate the laws?…
Read the California Grape Grower newsletter from those months and marvel at how quickly the gloom and despair turned into bullish optimism. Even though the dryers were not cheap and were the size of a two-bedroom bungalow, wineries and investors were gung-ho on building them; a Chicago brokerage spent $35,000 on one at West Eighth street in Santa Rosa. By the 1920 harvest, there were seven dryers in Sonoma and three in Napa county, including Beringer and Gundlach Bundschu.
I’ll wrap up this particular article on that high note from the summer of 1920, as the topic of this series was just the advent of Prohibition. Although I’ll certainly write about our bootlegging days later, for more of what happened locally in the vineyards beyond this point see Vivienne Sosnowski’s book, listed with other reading materials below. But in my prowlings I stumbled across an intriguing rabbit hole that no one has researched (as far as I can tell) and I’m hoping this coda might tempt some other historian to dig deeper into the story of “Vino Sano.”
Although the future of dried wine grapes seemed bright, the demand for them hit the skids after the government sanctioned home winemaking that July, which was followed by ultra-cheap European dried varietals flooding the East Coast markets. Also, the fresh grape shipping situation improved dramatically every year; the railroads kept adding hundreds more refrigerated cars annually and as the war faded in the distance, there was far less scheduling chaos caused by the military commandeering the tracks. By the 1921 harvest there was little interest in drying wine grapes, or at least selling them on the open market – there might have been private contracts. It became a niche market, like making sacramental and kosher wines (legal under Prohibition, but only under special license).
Then in August, 1921, this little ad began appearing in Midwestern and Eastern newspapers:
That San Francisco address belonged to Karl Offer. He was (supposedly) a former German aviator who was awarded an Iron Cross for valor in the 1914 Siege of Tsingtao, settling in San Diego the following year and where he became a dealer in fine German jewelry. After the U.S. entered WWI he was arrested as a German agitator/alleged spy and sent to Ft. Douglas in Utah for the duration of the war. When Offer surfaced in San Francisco during early 1921 he was now a bond trader (particularly German bond futures) and currency speculator (German marks and Russian roubles) running large ads in newspaper business sections.
Most of Offer’s “kick in a brick” ads were in the help-wanted sections as he was seeking salesmen and distributors; his own product ads stopped the next year as Vino Sano dealers began their own regional advertising, followed by him opening storefronts in San Francisco and New York City (and possibly elsewhere). The ads and the package itself included a clever gimmick, warning customers there was a risk the reconstituted juice from the brick could ferment and become alcoholic.
That grape brick concept was simply an act of genius. Fresh wine grapes were only available for a few days in the autumn and you had to have connections to get them, particularly outside of the Bay Area. The bricks were shelf-stable and could be ordered through a grocery store or pharmacy. The markup was also astronomical; as a rule of thumb three pounds of fresh grapes made one gallon of wine, and the wholesale price of dried grapes was 10¢ a pound. Vino Sano agents sold those bricks for up to $2.50 per.
Offer was charged twice for violating the Volstead Act, in 1924 and 1927 and in both cases was acquitted by juries. Let it be noted, however, that he was found guilty of something worse – in 1925 he was charged with misleading investors and lost his bond trading license. In 1942 he was again suspected of being too pro-German and ordered to leave the West Coast as a potential security threat.
I would very much like a researcher to discover where he obtained the dried grapes that his San Francisco factory pressed into bricks. The only article on grape bricks suggests they came from the Beringer winery but that article contains factual errors, among them claiming the bricks were made of “concentrated grape juice” while news coverage during the jury trials clearly stated they were “compressed grapes.”
The big question I hope someone can answer is this: How successful was Vino Sano? Did they manufacture 10,000 bricks? 100,000? A million? More? Sure, the finished product was probably not very good wine unless the home winemaker was very lucky, but more relevant is that their degree of success could be a unique bellwether to what was happening nationwide. I imagine selling a consumer-friendly wine-making kit tapped perfectly into the zeitgeist of the time, with the public growing more rebellious against Prohibition with every passing year.
1 When the Rivers Ran Red: An Amazing Story of Courage and Triumph in America’s Wine Country by Vivienne Sosnowski, 2009
2 Statement from the Sonoma County Farm Bureau to President Wilson mentioned in part II: “PRESIDENT TOLD OF VINE AND HOP INDUSTRY HERE”, Press Democrat, August 8 1918
3 The 1919 crop was 128,000 tons and the 1920 estimate was 215,000 tons. The 1921 estimate was 250,000 tons with Sonoma county being the largest producer, despite much of the Northern California crop being lost to a late frost. Household statistics based on those who declared they were making wine under the Wartime Prohibition Act and paid the 16 cents/gallon tax.
4 Sosnowski op. cit. pg. 80
Santa Rosa May Be Dry, But Some Have Their Doubts
Is Santa Rosa dry?
The law says it is, but there are some doubters.
Rumor has it that despite the war-time prohibition on ail forms of liquors, whisky is being sold openly at several saloons.
Of course, the question of the legality of 2.75 per cent beer ia being threshed out in the courts and it is openly acknowledged by the saloonmen and city authorities that beer containing that percentage of alcohol can be obtained in any saloon. The city has even licensed dealers to sell this beer, pending federal decision.
But the hard stuff — the distilled spirit of the rye and corn — whisky, which was supposed to have been everlastingly knocked out by the war-time prohibition solar plexus blow, rumor declares is still on a more or less open sale.
In some saloons, it is said, you have to cock your left eyebrow and ask for ginger ale, while in others you ask for whisky and get it.
Rumor also says that one Fourth street saloonman is in more or less of a defiant mood, and has openly issued a defi [sic] to federal officials, declaring he will sell to whoever asks for it, and make a test battle in the courts.
City and county officials seem to have adopted a policy of hands off, in view of the fact that selling of intoxicating liquor is a federal offense, and thus far no federal officers have gotten as far as Santa Rosa in their raids on whisky-selling saloons. Several arrests, however, have been made in San Francisco.
It is pointed out by those interested in suppressing the sale of whisky, that the city has issued no licenses for the sale of this brand of fire-water, and the saloons are operating under another form of license, designed for 2.75 per cent beer.
– Press Democrat, October 2 1919
MAJORITY OF GRAPE MEN ARE CRUSHING THEIR CROP Precedent Set by Leaders Following Decision of Association Is Being Generally Followed Under Conviction That It Is the Only Procedure Possible to Save Any Part of the Crop.
The majority of the grape growers in Sonoma county are crushing the 1919 vintage, when unable to sell, and some are doing so who could have sold, according to a prominent grape man’s statement here last night.
The growers generally are crushing, considering it the best, and in fact the only possible precedent to follow, this man said, especially in view of the decision of the Sonoma County Grape Growers’ Association that this year’s crop would be crushed and held in reserve until the prohibition question is finally solved.
Most of the wine, in fact all that has been crushed to date, has been made for sacramental purposes, it is said.
With the grape crop coming on rapidly, forcing the necessity of harvesting the grapes, or allowing them to rot on the vines, the growers have feverishly gone ahead to save all possible of their crop by making it into wine, which will not be put on the market or offered for use in any way, until all the fine legal points are established.
All over the county the vineyards are being stripped of their grapes, and in many cases the pickers are being closely followed by other crews, tearing out their vines in anticipation of this being the last crop that will ever be harvested in the county. Those taking out their vines are already laying plans for experimenting with something else, hoping that they will not entirely lose out by prohibition.
– Press Democrat, October 8 1919
BOOZE OF ALL VARIETIES NOW BANNED HERE
Booze of all kinds was absolutely non-procurable in Santa Rosa Wednesday night, due to the passage by Congress of the dry enforcement act over the presidential veto.
Even the lowly 2.75 per cent beer, hitherto on sale in every saloon, was not obtainable.
“No. we have no beer, but we have some very nice soda water,” was the answer made in half a dozen saloons which were open Wednesday. All the other liquor emporiums were as dark as the the outlook of their proprietors.
Some of the saloon proprietors are keeping open, selling soft drinks, to be on the job when war time prohibition is declared off by the signing of the peace treaty. Others who have closed say they will reopen when the saie of liquor is again legal.
But the dry enforcement bill has accomplished one other thing in addition to drying up Santa Rosa — it has made a lot of converts for the early signing of the peace treaty.
– Press Democrat, October 30 1919
Liquor Licenses Are Refused by the City
Despite the fact that several saloon men have applied for liquor licenses the city authorities under the present federal laws have refused to issue any license for the sale of liquor. Most of the saloons in Santa Rosa have been closed, as they have throughout the state, but in a few cases the proprietors, in an effort to retain any possible advantage in case wartime prohibition is annulled before national prohibition goes into effect, have kept their places open and cater to the soft drink trade, although they are said be losing money by doing so.
– Press Democrat, November 5 1919
ENFORCEMENT LAW AND BEER ALCOHOLIC CONTENT DECISIONS NEXT MONDAY
By the Associated Press.
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15.—By unanimous decision, the legality of the war-time prohibition act was upheld today by the supreme court. The decision was written by Justice Brandeis and held in effect, however, that the war-invoked “dry” law may be revoked by presidential proclamation of neutralization.
Giving his opinion that the court, however, would not add its opinion regarding the constitutionality of the prohibition enforcement act or on appeal regarding the alcoholic content of beer, leaving those cases to future opinion, which may be handed down next Monday, before the court recesses for the Christmas holidays to January 5.
This decision practically swept away all hopes of a wet Christmas, as the chance of the war-time act being repealed before prohibition takes effect one month from tomorrow was considered remote.
PENALTY ACT IN DOUBT
Upon the court’s decision on the prohibition enforcement law will depend whether the federal government has at hand any legal means for making tho amendment effective.
The constitutionality of wartime prohibition. however, the drys are confident, will keep tho country dry until the amendment is carried into effect by law of its own.
In deciding the question the Supreme Court also dissolved injunctions restraining revenue officials from interfering with the removal from bond of about 70,000,000 gallons of whisky valued at approximately $75,000,000, held by the Kentucky Distilleries and Warehouse Company of Louisville. Ky.
WAR POWER STILL IN USE
The signing of the armistice did not abrogate the war power of Congress, Associate Justice Brandeis said in reading the decision of the court.
Justice Brandeis said the government did not appropriate the liquor by stopping its domestic sale, as the way was left open for exporting it.
Justice Brandeis also called attention to the continued control of the railroads and reassumption of powers by the government relative to coal and sugar under war acts to show that the government continues to exercise various war powers, despite the signing of the armistice.
The constitutional prohibition amendment is binding on the federal government as well as the states, and supersedes state laws, the court declared.
– Press Democrat, December 16 1919
THE WINE GRAPE RIDDLE BRINGS OUT MANY POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
The publishers of the Country Gentleman recently sent Mr. Jason Field, one of their traveling editors, into this section to investigate and write up the present standing of the wine grape industry, and his report has no doubt been read with much interest by their numerous subscribers in this territory, some of whom do not quite agree with him in the results of his findings.
After carefully studying and reviewing the whole situation Mr. Field disposes of the “Riddle” in the following illogical summary:
1. Beverages containing alcohol – which includes wine – cannot be manufactured or sold any more; and
2. Therefore, the wineries will not run and the wine-grape growers must go out of business; but
3. It has not yet been declared illegal to transport either wine grapes in the fresh state, or wine-grape raisins for wine making purposes: and
4. Thousands of tons of grapes and raisins are being sold and shipped to individuals who will make wine of them: and also
5. It may not be illegal for a man to crush grapes in his own house for his own use, even though the juice does ferment; and
6. As it will probably ferment before he drinks it, he may be a violator of the law; but
7. As yet no one seems to be in a position to say that he will even then be interfered with, unless
8. He soaks up a skinfull of the liquor too hastily and then goes out and gets arrested; whereupon
9. It will be asked where he got the intoxicating liquor, and the manufacturer – even himself – can be and will be imprisoned: and meanwhile,
10. What in the name of Sam Hill will he do with his vineyard — root it up and go out of business, or just paddle along and take his chances?
This logic is quite beyond the innocent Italian in Sonoma County, and he is getting wild-eyed trying to understand it.
Mr. Field then concludes his investigations with the following hint of a solution:
It is the little vinyarists [sic] who are hardest hit, naturally. The big holders have capital enough to hold out for a long lime; to go into other lines; to seize shipping opportunities.
The big ones are “hollering” the loudest, and making the most money out of their grapes this year. The little chap who has, because the land was so cheap, jerked his vineyard rigid out of the sage-brush, at the front door of Coyoteville is the one who will go in the wall.
Suppose that the prohibition law is so rigidly enforced as to make it dangerous for the householder to manufacture his own wine, either from fresh wine grapes or dried grapes — thus cutting off all markets for the wine making purposes?
At first glance this appears an unreasonable supposition. Human nature being what it is, and the transition from grape juice to wine being a natural one, it would seem that illicit wine would always be with us. But it is possible for the enforcement officers to make it so difficult to transport the makings that the wine-grape growers could no longer profitably count on that outlet. What then?
There are several possible “outs” for the wine-grape grower with established vines. Few new plantings would be made on such obscure and doubtful chances. They are:
1. Drying by sun and evaporators for use as raisins. We have seen that most wine grapes would not make good raisins. Some would make raisins of fair quality. But this market is not promising.
2. Grape syrups. There is at present no market developed for grape sirups [sic]. It is doubtful if a market could be created in time to do the growers any good. The sirups would have to bring a much larger price than ordinary sirups.
3. Grape juice. Under this head something is going to be done. The market for grape juice has grown by leaps and bounds in the past several years, and the Eastern manufacturers of grape juice foresee a vast demand which Concord vineyardists of the East cannot supply. This is said to be the explanation of the sale of vineyards and wineries to the so-called Virginia Produce Company. I am told that the head of this company is a well-known grape-juice manufacturer.
At present the unfortunate part of it is looked at agriculturally, that the wine-grape growers are in the position of one who is doing something under the blanket instead of in the open. It is not wrong to raise grapes; it is not wrong to send grapes to somebody else; but if wine is made and someone becomes intoxicated, then the finger begins to swing around to the man who raised the grapes.
Subjoined is a copy of an answer to Mr. Field’s version of the “Riddle” which was sent in by our townsman, Mr. C. E. Bundschu.
Dear Sir: —
The articles on the “Wine Grape Riddle” by Jason Field published in your issue of November 15th and 29th have been read with a great deal of interest and I wish to compliment Mr. Field on the data that he has gathered covering this question, but the article is written from a probition [sic] and I therefore am taking the liberty of giving you the other side of the question:
First let us refer to the article in which he writes about the sweet wine industry, which centers in through San Joaquin Valley. It is quite true that in the face of Prohibition legislature, properties have changed hands at unheard of prices; there are two reasons for this: If Mr. Field had only extended his investigation a little farther he would have found out that land values in California have greatly increased since the war, there is a boom at the present time in country lands and prospective buyers are therefore paying exhorbitant prices on land purchases. There is no boom in the sweet wine industry as the manufacture of sweet wine, except non-beverages and medical purposes, is prohibited.
Furthermore the districts where sweet wines were produced are especially well adapted for raisin grapes and the demand for raisins has been an great that prices have advanced from 3 and 4 cents to 13 and 14 cents per pound, and this naturally would be an incentive to purchase vineyards for raisin purposes; a great part or all sweet wine grapes are particularly well adapted for raisins. The Wine grapes that are grown in this section are also easily dried in the sun, which is a very inexpensive process; it is not necessary to put up any dryer or dehydrator. The demand for dried Wine grapes is so great since Prohibition has become effective that California will not be able to supply the demand. To bring up a very important point, the very same grapes that were formerly used for the legitimate business, are now being dried and sold in small quantities to people who are making their own wines. It is encouraging an illegal business and I would ask whether under these conditions it is better to conduct a business along legitimate lines or whether it is better to force people to violate the laws? I say force, because I believe a man is entitled, according to the constitution of this country, to enjoy his glass of wine or glass of beer, the same as any other food, which he has been in the habit of using. Wine is a food, which he has been in the habit of using [sic]. Wine is a food and a temperance drink. There are many foods which are more injurious than wine.
I would also like to enlighten Mr. Field, why Fresno county, which is one of the largest grape producing counties in this State voted “dry.” It is not entirely due to the prices fixed by the California Wine Association, but we have in this State what we call local option, and people in the Fresno district voted dry in order to do away with the road house and the saloon; there was no other alternative, but to either vote the district bone dry, or allow the road house and saloon; and therefore you can readily understand why this section voted dry. The Wines produced in this section are not consumed there, but shipped out, in fact we might say 90 per cent of the wines produced in the State of California are shipped to the Eastern markets.
Referring to the second article on the dry wine districts, Mr. Field admits that a great injustice is done to the Grape grower who was encouraged in the planting of grapes by the United States Government, as well as by our State. The United States Department of Agriculture is still maintaining experimental plots throughout this State and the Government is appropriating funds for the maintenance of these experimental vineyards. On the one hand the Government prohibits the manufacture and sale and on the other hand the Government is leasing land for the sole purpose of demonstrating to the farmer what grapes are best adapted for his particular soil.
I would like to correct an impression, however, that Mr. Field gives, that the Italian dominates the Dry Wine Districts. This is not so; it is true that the Italian is generally employed in wineries and vineyards, but from any ownership stand-point the vineyards in this part of the State are owned by Americans, that is to say generally of foreign extraction, there are French, Swiss, German and Italian. We might say the largest portion is in the favor of French and German-Americans. The pioneers of this industry planted their vineyards in the late 50’s and early 60’s, some of these estates have been handed down to the next generation and some of them are still farmed by the original settler.
It is easy enough to make the statement that the grapes can be uprooted and other crops planted, but this is easier said than done. I would like to point out an instance, and I can mention many more, that are in the same class. A man that has spent a lifetime in setting out a vineyard, perfecting his winery and settled down with a family, now in his declining years is asked to root up the vineyard and plant other crops. A man that has made a specialty of wine grapes is not familiar with other crops and the time that it would take to replant and get returns would be at least from six to seven years, in the meantime. who is to support the family and how is a man able to finance such a change? Then again it is a question of whether the soil will produce other crops. Seventy-five per cent of the vineyards grown in the dry wine districts are grown on land which will produee no other crops, so as to give a man fair returns on his investment.
Mr. Field also mentions in his article that the State of California voted dry. This is not correct, as this State voted wet with a large majority every time this question has come up in the State, but when our State Legislature convened. strange to say the legislature endosed “National Prohibition.” If there is any “Riddles” to be solved I would like to ask Mr. Field this: “Why did our State Legislature vote ‘Dry’ when our State voted ‘wet’”? Exactly what has happened in our State is happening throughout the entire United States. And it is unfortunate that an industry representing our investment of over 150,000,000 dollars in this State alone, should be used as a political football.
Feeling that some of your readers would like to hear from the grape growers view point, I remain
Yours very sincerely.
C. E. Bundschu.
– Press Democrat, December 24 1919
Wine Company Bids $40 Ton for Grapes
SEBASTOPOL – The California Wine Association offered $40 per ton for grapes that crushed into 217,000 gallons of wine in the Sebastopol winery, according to General Manager F. P. Kelly…Wine men consider that this offer shows conclusively that the entire crush will be sold.
– Press Democrat, December 27 1919
One million dollars’ worth of wine, said to be the largest single shipment of wine ever made from California, left San Francisco for the Orient last Saturday. Included in the shipment will be 10,000 cases of the Golden State, extra dry, champagne, made at the California Wine Association’s big winery at Asti. Besides the champagne there will be 10,000 barrels of other wines. The wine went out on the Robert Dollar and will include some of the choicest wines ever produced in California.
– Sotoyome Scimitar, January 2 1920
Must Have Licenses To Sell Near Beer
Saloon proprietors and restaurant owners who sell liquor containing one-half of 1 per cent alcohol will be required to secure a liquor license, according to a statement yesterday made by Commissioner of Public Health and Safety G. C. Simmons at the meeting of the city commission.
Simmons asked that the city collector furnish him a list of all dealers who have not secured their licenses for the first quarter of the year. The city ordinance regulating the liquor traffic provides that a license must be secured for the serving of any intoxicating liquors, even to malt liquors of whatsoever nature.
– Sacramento Union, January 3 1920
COURT RULES 2.75 BEER IS ILLEGAL BREW
In Two Decisions Last Hopes Of Wets Are Swept Aside: Four Justices In Dissent
Anti – Saloon League Leader Calls Ruling “Sweeping Victory” For Prohibition
WASHINGTON—By a margin of one vote, the Supreme Court upheld today the right of Congress to define intoxicating liquors insofar as applied to war time prohibition.
In a 5 to 4 opinion rendered by Associate Justice Brandeis, the Supreme Court sustained the constitutionality of provisions in the Volstead prohibition act prohibiting the manufacture of beverages containing 1/2 of one per cent or more of alcohol. Associate Justices Day, Van DeVanter, McReynolds, and Clark dissenting.
Validity of the Federal prohibition constitutional amendment and of portions of the Volstead act affecting its enforcement were not involved in the proceedings, but the opinion was regarded as so sweeping as to leave little hope among “wet” adherents. Wayne B. Wheeler, general counsel for the Anti-Saloon League of America, hailed it as a “sweeping victory” and in a statement tonight said the only question left open by the court now is whether the eighteenth amendment is of a nature that can be considered as a Federal amendment and whether it was properly adopted.
– Chico Record, January 6 1920
HOP PRICES ASSURED FOR NEXT THREE YEARS
WOODLAND—That the present hop prices will be maintained for some time despite prohibition is the conclusion of a number of Yolo growers, Anson Casselman, a local rancher, has filed a contract with Le Pierce, county Recorder, for the sale of 120,000 pounds of hops to Strauss and Company of London England…
– Press Democrat, January 15 1920
Saloons Are Fast Disappearing Here
They said it couldn’t be done, but it was done, and the evidences of the passing of the saloon and hard liquor are multiplying in Santa Rosa and other cities of the land every day.
Not only have the saloons passed into history, with the amendment to the federal constitution, but even the places where the saloons were located are passing into the hands of other businesses, in no way related to the former trade.
Santa Rosa saloon sites will be occupied by restaurants, candy factories and candy stores, and even by real estate offices, according to facts learned Wednesday in a canvass of the city.
In only a few cases are saloon owners hanging onto their leases of Santa Rosa property, with any idea that they might be able to return to business.
“It’s all over, so why worry about coming back,” declared one former saloon proprietor. “I, for one, am going to look around and get into something else.”
“Why hurry?” was the query on the other hand from another saloonman. “I’m going to stay open, sell whatever I can sell, and see what happens. I won’t starve for several months even if I don’t pay expenses.”
A hurried survey of the situation Wednesday showed something like this has happened and is going to happen to saloons in Santa Rosa:
Jake Luppold’a famous “Senate” saloon in Main street is closed. Jake says his plans are unsettled, but he does not think the saloon business will ever come back.
Scotty Tickner has opened a restaurant in his former “Recall” saloon in Fourth street.
Across the street Hans Alapt has likewise changed the Eagle Bar into a restaurant.
The Rose Bar, next to the Rose Theater, has become the realty office of Garrett Kidd and Elmer Crowell.
The Grapevine, Mendocino avenue’s only saloon in recent years, will be remodeled into a restaurant for George R. Edwards, whose Lunchery will then move across the street.
The Brandel wholesale and retail liquor store in Fourth street is to open about February 1 as a grocery under the conduct of McCarcy & Woods.
Bouk’s candy factory is already established in the quarters in Fifth street formerly occupied by the Brown & son liquor store.
Bacigalupi & Son, grocers, have already absorbed the site at Fourth and Davis street, once occupied by a saloon.
A fruit and poultry market occupies the old Magnolia site at the corner of Fourth and Washington streets.
Fire wiped out of memory the States formerly the Germania, hotel and bar, near the Northwestern station.
And so the story goes. About half of the old saloon sites are already wiped off the map. More are in process of change, and of the few remaining open as cigar stores and soft drink emporiums, like Thomas Gemetti in Third street, their plans are unsettled.
Landlords are delighted with the manner in which the old saloon sites are filling up, and tenants are glad to be able to secure desirable locations.
– Press Democrat, January 22 1920
BUYERS ARE IN THE FIELD OFFERING $25 FOR GRAPES
Higher Prices Than Have Been Paid for Years Are Now Being Offered and Prompt Vineyardists to Trim Their Vines, Plow Their Land and Get Ready for 1920 Crop Despite “Dry” Era.
With buyers already in the field offering $25 per ton and boxes for handling the crop, the grape growers of Sonoma county cannot complain of National Prohibition as the price is paid to be more than per ton higher than the average price paid for grapes during the past ten years.
Several buyers are out seeking contracts for the 1920 black grape crop at $25 per ton with $5 cash advance on signing the contract and $20 on delivery of the grapes in the fall. With the exception of the last year, when somewhat higher prices contingent on the disposal of the wine prevailed, grapes have not averaged, it is said, $20 per ton in past years.
While it is said the present price is experimental and will be only for this year’s crop it is known that there is a movement afoot to stabilize prices of grapes at approximately that figure in the hopes of maintaining the land value in the county. If it works out at a conference to be held by big growers and firms seeking the grapes in the near future it will mean that the grape industry will become a fixed one similar to hops with one, two and three year contracts to the growers.
It is understood that the grapes are being purchased with the view of drying and shipping abroad. The price of shooks and freight rates will have a heavy bearing on the industry. It has been reported that the lines may require prepayment of all freights which would add a big item to the expense of handling the grapes in transcontinental shipment.
The prices for this year, at least, are not at all dark for grape growers with the price already fixed at $25 per ton and there will be few who will dig out their vines as long as contracts can be made at that price. Reports from various points in Sonoma county this week are to the effect that vineyardists are already trimming their vines, ploughing their land, and getting in readiness for the new crop. In some cases, however, growers are taking out the roots and putting in prunes and other trees, especially in the low lands and on good hill lands.
– Press Democrat, January 22 1920
John Peterson, wine manufacturer of Santa Rosa, has sold 143,000 gallons of wine for $74,000 to the California Wine Association. Price for a single gallon was 55c. The wine will be used for sacramental and non-beverage purposes.
– Petaluma Daily Morning Courier, May 4 1920
GRAPE MEN OFFERED SIXTY-FIVE DOLLARS
A number of vineyardists have this week been approached by buyers who have offered them from sixty to sixty-five dollars a ton for their coming crops of wine grapes. It is understood that some growers have accepted these prices, while others are disposed to hold and see the results when Grape Growers Exchange is organized. It is slated that permanent organization of the Exchange is likely to occur very soon, the time depending upon how quickly the required acreage of grapes is signed up in membership.
– Press Democrat, June 30 1920
DEHYDRATOR TO BE BUILT HERE, COSTS $35,000
International Brokerage Company of Chicago Buys Wine Association Site; Also to Build a Dryer in County.
Santa Rosa is to have a new fruit dehydrator. to be built immediately by the International Brokerage company, said to be the largest handlers of California grapes in the United States.
The company, which has its main offices in Chicago. has purchased the California Wine Association’s site at West Eighth street and the N. W. P. railroad and will begin the construction of the first unit, a $35,000 building, immediately. The first unit will be used for grapes and all other classes of fruits…
The first unit will have a capacity of fifty tons, and further units will be built as fast as the tonnage warrants, it is announced, with a possibility of a total capacity of 500 tons every twelve hours.
The company contemplates» the construction of another dryer in the county for packing and distribution.
The local dehydrator will eventually handle all products grown in this part of the state, including vegetables, green fruits and dried products. Other dehydrators owned by the company are already being operated in the central part of the state. The plant will operate the year round and is expected to have a large payroll. All the products will bear the names of Santa Rosa and Sonoma county.