Repeal Day in Los Angeles: 1933

With many today a-twitter about the anniversary of the 21st Amendment, I thought I would take a glance at how the day was received in Los Angeles before any anniversaries had come:

The headline read: Liquor Sale Way Clear: State Prepared for Flow Today. 

First, it was before the advent of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control; so it was the State Board of Equalization that “worked frantically to put California in readiness for the return of hard liquor.” Over 54,000 applications for licenses had been sent.

Draught beer would be limited to 3.2%, anything stronger had to be bottled for home consumption or to go with “bona fide meals.” Hotels were already pushing for the ability to serve hard liquor in dining rooms, as then-attorney general Webb advocated for a policy keeping hard liquor out of public eating places.

Faced with criticism regarding regulations, secretary Dixwell Pierce of the equalization board deflected back at the people, “the rigors of regulation are not due to action by the board of Equalization or the Legislature. The people voted the liquor-control amendment of the constitution. If you don’t like it, don’t blame us.” Take that!

Dixwell Pierce further warned that “sneak clubs” would not be tolerated–hard liquor could be consumed at “bona fide” clubs as if it were being consumed at home, but clubs formed for the fraudulent purpose of being able to evade the law booze it up with the hard stuff  would “not be countenanced.”

Wineries were not happy either. Edmund Rossi, of Sonoma, voiced an objection to the requirement of bottling be done in a separate facility.

Ordinary folks, for their part, were up in arms about liquor licenses being issued near schools and churches. Equalization board member Frank Stewart attempted to allay these concerns: “Where complaint is made that a license is being issued for location close to schools or churches, such licenses will be denied.” So began, apparently, the saga of well-meaning businesses negotiating the sea of resident complaints.

Stewart was not amused at one county official, who accused the equalization board of putting “what should be a clean industry” in the “hands of bootleggers, rumrunners and racketeers.”

Stewart suspected motives behind local officials’ criticism of the statewide board’s authority to issue license: “Such deliberate falsehoods as these must be inspired by some motive and if that motive is founded on a desire by certain local officials to regain absolute control of the licensing and revoking of licenses of liquor establishments I can promise them it is doomed to failure.”

Frank Stewart was right about that; the power to regulate licensing would become even more centralized with creation of the ABC. But ABC law continues to recognize local zoning ordinances in the issuance of licenses.

By way of New York Tribune, Walter Lippmann wrote in the Dec. 5 Los Angeles Times:

“They concluded that an appetite which had caused so much misery should be suppressed, that a trade which had caused so much dishonesty should be outlawed. What they overlooked was the conscience of the great mass of people who did not drink immoderately and had no part in the political corruption.”

Not everyone welcomed the repeal. In the Dec. 6 Los Angeles Times: “Plans for continuing the war against alcohol will be discussed at a meeting of the Los Angeles County Woman’s Prohibition Club tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. at the Young Men’s Christian Association Building, 715 South Hope Street.” The group would discuss plans to “support at all elections only those parties and candidates which give a definite pledge to enact and enforce a national prohibition law.”

Fortunately, those war efforts failed. Cheers!


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