On this date in 1923, the Santa Ana Register ran a detailed story on the political climate in Seal Beach as the city approached the end of the year. The provocative headline for this story read, “SEAL BEACH TORN BY INTERNAL STRIFE CAUSED BY ALLEGED LAWLESSNESS WHICH WOMEN LAY TO LOOSE LIQUOR CONDITION.”
Seal Beach residents were divided. On one side, some, including the city’s older and more established citizens, felt that a restrictive morality was preventing Seal Beach from taking full advantage of a Southern California boom. The other side felt that an out-of-town element brought a rowdy atmosphere of lawlessness and drunkenness to the city that was ruining the virtuous small town community that attracted many residents to the locale.
This long brewing issue came to a head when the Women’s Civic Improvement Club demanded that dancing be prohibited on Sundays which was the busiest night for the detested out-of-town element and its weekly carousing. The club’s campaign included calls for the removal of current city officers and employees, especially City Marshal Jack Combs who was accused of protecting bootleggers and providing lax law enforcement to the city. Combs denied the accusations, but still resigned.
Ultimately, the city council bowed to public sentiment and passed an ordnance prohibiting Sunday dancing in Seal Beach. The Bayside Land Company, owner of the dance pavilion, the roller coaster, and the rest of the beachside amusement zone retaliated by closing the entire amusement zone on Sundays. The Women’s Civic Improvement Club was also no longer permitted to use the amusement zone’s sun room for their meetings.
Most newspaper articles covering these events ended the the story at that point — with the Women’s Civic Improvement Club being hoisted by the petard of their own activism (even though they almost immediately had a new meeting place at a local church.) The Santa Ana Register dug a little deeper.
The article points out that the city had been incorporated eight years earlier as a resort town with the Bayside Land Company investing nearly half a million dollars invested in the roller coaster and the amusement. Now Tom Moore, who ran the dance pavilion had chosen not to renew his operating license and the owner of the Jewel City Cafe had decided to relinquish his lease with Bayside Land Company.
City Recorder Clerk G. H. Morrison, an agent for the Bayside Land Company was interviewed about the situation.
“What will become of Seal Beach? We’ll be another Sunset Beach within a short time.”
“Seal Beach is logically a beach resort, and it a ‘one day’ town. That is, Sunday is the biggest day of the week, since the weekend pleasure seekers are the principal source of income for the city.”
Morrison admitted that there was trouble coming to Seal Beach. “It is true that there was a lawless element here on Sunday night, attracted by the sale of liquor. There were frequently as many as 200 sailors here, drinking and carousing, and the stench of liquor was obnoxious. Gambling was conducted openly.”
However, Morrison didn’t blame the dance pavilion or the amusement zone. He felt that the problem was with the ease with which alcohol could be obtained. Cars lined the streets on Sunday nights and bootleg whiskey sold almost openly. Fights were frequent.
Morrison himself, was a member of another Seal Beach organization of over 60 citizens, the Law Enforcement League that had called for the county attorney and officials to assist in shutting down bootlegging in Seal Beach that had resulted in three raids that Morrison claimed had all but completely shut down liquor traffic there.
Morrison and a group of 22 like-minded businessman had submitted a petition requesting that the dance pavilion be left open, but Morrison said the petition “was lost in the shuffle and was never read.”
There was even dissension within the Women’s Civic Improvement Club. Mary J. Washburn, president, shared that when the club’s resolution calling for the dance ordnance was passed, only sixteen of the twenty-two members were present, and five of those abstained from voting. Washburn said that the original purpose of the club when launched was to help clean up Seal Beach, to beautify the city, to urge cleaner streets, and promote civic pride.
Judge J. C. Old felt differently. “A number of property owners have told me that they are now willing to build homes in Seal Beach and bring their families here, since there is no danger of the lawless element congregating here once a week.
The articles closed with W.D. Miller, president of the California National Bank of Seal Beach and Sidney Ehrman, trustee of the Hellman Estate, making separate but similarly optimistic assessments of Seal Beach’s future as an ideal location for businesses and residences in Seal Beach.
And that was the state of Seal Beach was as it slid towards the end of the 1924 in the last few days of December.
- Michael Dobkins