January 27th In Seal Beach History

On this date in 1925, the Santa Ana Register reported that John Doyle, “said to be a former mayor of Seal Beach” (the newspaper’s odd choice of words, not ours), would face Justice of the Peace and City Recorder William Morrison. City Marshal Jack Arnold had seized liquor and what appeared to be a bootlegging outfit from Doyle’s home.

Miss Elsie McClellan, a Seal Beach correspondent for a Long Beach newspaper had a confrontation with Doyle earlier and had sworn out a complaint against him for disorderly conduct after Doyle “cussed” her.  An active member of Seal Beach’s Women’s Improvement Club, Miss McClellan had been helping a female friend search for her father, and the friend felt that Doyle was hiding the father.

Whether “bootlegging outfit” meant a still, a bathtub gin set-up, or evidence of a Prohibition-defying booze distribution ring is impossible to discover over ninety years later, but City Marshal Arnold shared that “wild parties” at the Doyle residence had led recently to complaints from neighbors.

There is no follow-up to this oddly phrased Santa Ana Register article, so the outcome of Doyle’s appearance before Morrison remains unknown. Why the editors felt it important to run a story the day before Doyle’s day in court, but not to cover Morrison’s judgement on the case is also a mystery.

Also, there is no further indication one way or another that Elsie McClellan’s friend found her father or not or where he was hiding.

We can confirm that a John Doyle involved in the often contentious local political scene during Seal Beach’s first decade as a city and was, in fact, elected mayor in April of 1920 and successfully battled a recall effort in August of the same year. All of these were events covered in the Santa Ana Register, making the “said to be a former mayor of Seal Beach” phrase even odder.

Beyond his time as Mayor, John J. Doyle had a varied history in Seal Beach. The 1918 Coast Cities Directory lists him as working as the secretary of the Seal Beach Concession Company and living at 8th Street and Central Avenue.  In January 1920, a census taker recorded that 63 year-old John J. Doyle, a shipyard boiler maker, lived with his 30-year old wife Alice at 129 Dolphin Avenue.

This is just speculation, but perhaps Doyle’s skills as a boiler maker came in handy for constructing and maintaining stills for homemade hooch.

A 1925 city directory, the year of his bootlegging arrest, shows that Doyle and Alice lived at 210 10th Street. According to Zillow, the house was built in 1922 and still stands today. Doyle seems to have moved his residence quite a bit, but it seems likely that this is the address where the booze was seized.

In the thirties, city directories listed John Doyle as an employee at the Skipper’s Chowder House in Sunset Beach, a notorious local spot for bootlegging during prohibition that continued to have liquor law troubles well into the 1940s.

– Michael Dobkins

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