By Mark Gutglueck
On December 18, 1917, the U.S. Senate proposed the Eighteenth Amendment, which was intended to ban the sale and availability of alcoholic beverages. Prior to that, in a few places in San Bernardino County, alcohol was already outlawed. One of those was the town of Victor, later known as Victorville. On November 18, 1918, prior to ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment, the U.S. Congress passed the temporary Wartime Prohibition Act, which banned the sale of alcoholic beverages having an alcohol content of greater than 2.75%. Curiously, this act had been intended to save grain for the war effort but it was actually passed after the armistice ending World War I, then known as The Great War, on November 11, 1918. The Wartime Prohibition Act took effect June on 30, 1919, with July 1, 1919, becoming known as the “Thirsty-First” day.
On January 15, 1919, the 18th Amendment was approved a 36th state, ratifying it as a part of the Constitution. By the terms of the amendment, the country went dry one year later, on January 17, 1920.
On October 28, 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act, the popular name for the National Prohibition Act, over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto. The act established the legal definition of intoxicating liquors as well as penalties for producing them. Although the Volstead Act prohibited the sale of alcohol, the federal government lacked resources to enforce it. Soon bootlegging was rampant and speakeasy clubs, where liquor was illicitly available, proliferated.
While Prohibition was successful in reducing the amount of liquor consumed, it stimulated underground, organized and widespread criminal activity. While San Bernardino County hosted far less of the violent gangland crime than did places such as Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, New Jersey and New York that came about as a result of Prohibition, there was bootlegging activity in many local areas.
A far less than comprehensive narrative of incidents involving bootlegging and illegal possession of alcohol in San Bernardino County at various times during Prohibition follow.
On January 18, 1922 Tom Garcia and Gave Angelo were arrested by Officer J. D. Morgan at Eighth and J Street in Colton after they were each found to have a small quantity of liquor in their packets. They were brought before Judge F. H. Owen on January 19 and released upon paying a fine of $25 each.
The first part of September 1922 proved to be a particularly active time for alcohol scofflaws in San Bernardino County.
On September 7, 1922, Ray Florano of East Highlands was arrested on a charge of transporting liquor within the city limits of Redlands. Florano was driving a car in which J. Gaza of Colton and Francisco Lopez were passengers. The car was stopped on Colton Avenue by Redlands police officer J.F. Casteel for exceeding the speed limit. A search of the vehicle found a gallon jug half full of wine. Gaza had $421.85 in his pockets. Florano claimed he did not know the wine was in the car.
On September 8, 1922, Antonio Delgado, who was a contractor working for S. Sevretti supervising a team of men picking grapes in Sevretti’s Ontario vineyard, was arrested for selling liquor and the tent where he was living at Fourth Street and Baker raided after it was learned that he was selling liquor in large quantities to local men. The raid consisted of Ontario Chief of Police F.O. Hardy and officers A.L. Crosslin, Fred Price and M. Rushen driving to the location and Rushen, who was not wearing his uniform, going to the tent at after 9 p.m., waking Delgado and asking him for a gallon of wine. After Rushen paid $3.50 for it, the others moved in and arrested Delgado. They confiscated ten gallons of wine found inside the tent. Subsequently Delgado appeared before Judge George R. Crane of Upland and Delgado was place in jail in lieu of $1,000 bail.
On September 9, 1922 deputy sheriff Jack Brown went to the home of Julius Santeena on Waterman Avenue near San Bernardino to serve a warrant for petty larceny. When Brown banged at Santeena’s door, Santeena answered and Brown asked if he was Santeena. Santeena said that he was not. When Brown asked who he was, Santeena is said to have responded “What in the hell is that to you?” and slammed the door. Brown forced his way into the residence. Therein he found that Santeena, a rancher, had ten gallons of wine in large jugs, which he was transferring into quart bottles. Santeena was arrested and charged with violating Ordinance 194.
On September 9, 1922, it was reported that a few nights before ”Happy Tom” Lanoff, an ex-jockey, and the then-owner of Happy Tom’s Mountain Inn in Big Bear Lake was arrested and charged with bootlegging. On the evening in question, which was probably September 6 or 7, an unidentified young man had gone into Happy Tom’s and talked Lanoff into providing him with a pint of moonshine. He provided Lanoff a bill of undisclosed denomination for it. It just so happened that Big Bear Constable “Hank” Crain walked in upon the scene just as the transaction was going down. Crain confiscated the pint and the money and placed Lanoff under arrest. It is not clear whether the arrest was the product of a sting operation. There is no indication that the young man was arrested.
On November 14, 1923, a jury hung 8 to 4 in favor of conviction in the trial of A.J. Russell, a pipefitter at the cement plant in Oro Grande on a charge of bootlegging. Russell had been collared by E.S. Ward, an “operative” of then-district attorney George H. Johnson. Ward and his attractive wife were the principal witnesses for the prosecution, testifying they had purchased a pint of whiskey from Russell in a Victorville restaurant. Russell testified he had “never sold a drop of liquor in my life.” In light of the jury’s inability to reach a verdict, Russell was discharged.
On the morning of January 24, 1927, Alexandro Echito and Louis Luc of Chino were arrested by Marshal F.S. Monte Wells, Constable W.J. Tebo and deputies J.B. Martinez and E.R. Frady on charges of possessing liquor. Echito, a resident of Fourth Street in Chino, was somehow prevailed upon to allow the raiding officers to search his house and store, where no contraband was found. Upon looking into his barn, however, the officers of the law the officers found a cache of liquor, described as 325 gallons of sour wine. When the officers went to Luc’s premises, they found a concealed room, hidden under an old dry goods box. The room was fitted up like a saloon and the raiding party found 150 gallons of wine concealed there. The same day, Echito, who had previously been arrested for illegal possession of liquor a few months prior to that and fined $450, appeared before Judge Durrell. Durrell gave Echito, a local landowner, choice of paying a $500 fine or leaving Chino entirely. It is not clear what penalty Echito chose.
On May 15, 1931, 25-year-old bantamweight boxer Checkie Herman, whose actual name was Ezekiel Hernandez, pleaded not guilty to possessing and selling intoxicating liquor. That was the sixth time the San Bernardino prize-fighter had been jailed on liquor law complaints during a period of a little more than a year. Judge G.W. Holbrook scheduled a May 25 trial on the charge and jailed him in lieu of $500 bail.
On June 4, 1932, San Bernardino county sheriff’s deputies, led by I. Caster raided the Bloomington dairy of Jacob W. Allen located at the corner of Slover Avenue and Alder Street, alleging they found 450 gallons of wine. At that time, Allen was serving as a juror in a civil case known as the Charleville Trial, involving a million dollar claim, 13 defendants mostly from Los Angeles, and 15 attorneys. Allen entered a denial of the charges at his arraignment before Justice of the Peace L.T. Gibbons on June 6 and was allowed to remain on the jury in the Charleville case.
In March 1933, Congress passed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which was the first step toward the deconstruction of Prohibition, legalizing beer containing 3.2% alcohol by weight or 4% by volume and wines of similarly low alcohol content, rather than the 0.5% limit defined by the Volstead Act, which had been enacted to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment. On March 15, 1933, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors passed an emergency ordinance, allowing for the licensing of establishments to sell beer, requiring that they post a bond with the county supervisors of $100 or surety satisfactory to the supervisors.
The $100 bond was required as a guarantee that the beer dealer would not violate the ordinance by selling any liquor having more than 2.2 percent alcohol by weight or more than 4 percent by volume. At that point, chief deputy district attorney James L. King called for the licensure to be limited to “bona fide restaurants, public eating places, clubs, boarding houses or hotels where beverages may be sold to bona fide guests and patrons only, to be consumed only with meals furnished in good faith at regular public tables, or at eating counters at which guests or patrons are seated, or in guests’ rooms at hotels or clubs.” A special proviso was made for drive-in places where beer was permitted to be served with meals consumed in automobiles or elsewhere on the premises of the beer seller. In May 1933, the board of supervisors was inundated with the applications from more than 300 people seeking permission to sell beer.
By Mark Gutglueck