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Prohibition didn’t stop Burbank

Burbank: Then & Now

The passage of the 18th Amendment prohibited the sale of alcohol

in the United States, which lasted from 1920 to 1933. The ban of alcohol had gotten its roots during World War I, when Congress

temporarily restricted the manufacture of alcoholic beverages to

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conserve grain. Prohibition had many advocates who thought excessive

alcohol drinking was contributing to the decay of the American

society. The passage of the 18th Amend- ment and Volstead Act, which

provided the enforcement of Prohibition, began with the idea that

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social change could be made through law.

Prohibition, however, did not stop Americans from drinking, but

instead created an underground economy and a nation of lawbreakers

who ranged from President Warren Harding privately serving alcohol at

the White House to gangsters, moonshiners and bootleggers.

Burbank, as in many areas of the country, was not immune to the

illegal production of alcohol and had its fair share of bootleggers

and police raids.

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George Cole was appointed the Burbank Police Chief on July 12,

1921, and quickly found that bootlegging was a serious problem in the

city. He, along with his officers, worked tirelessly to enforce

Prohibition in the city. Their hard work, efficiency and dedication

earned them a reputation for relentlessly pursuing bootleggers. From

Chief Cole’s appointment on July 12 to Dec. 31, 1921, the Burbank

Police Department made 191 arrests, with 54 of those being

alcohol-related. While most alcohol-related crimes were small in

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number, a few sensational incidents during Prohibition scandalized

the city of Burbank.

Chief Cole, along with his officers and federal agents, uncovered

the largest “factory” of scotch whisky in Southern California just

outside of Burbank. The “factory,” or distillery, was the largest

ever uncovered in the West Coast. It included 600 barrels of

moonshine, bottle-sealing machines, thousands of false labels and

counterfeit revenue stamps, a dozen electric aging devices and a

truckload of empty bottles.

Chief Cole’s success caught the eye of the federal government,

which landed him a federal job enforcing Prohibition. Chief Cole

became Marshal Cole and continued his success in finding and shutting

down illegal alcohol operations.

One such operation was on Scott Road just off San Fernando

Boulevard, where large quantities of alcohol were being made. Another

incident reflects the creativity of the moonshiners. Based on an

anonymous tip, police investigated a fruit vendor going from house to

house on San Fernando Boulevard, selling fruits and vegetables. After

further investigation, authorities found that under the fruits and

vegetables were bottles of liquor that were discreetly being

delivered to some residents. The man was arrested.

Unfortunately, violence was another result of Prohibition, and

Burbank was not exempt from that social ill. The most notable

incident of violence came when the owner of Valley Pharmacy, Roscoe

Gilbert, had an argument over the sale of alcohol. Roscoe Gilbert and

his friend, William Dible, argued over the sale of liquor, which

progressed to a fistfight and the death of Gilbert when he was shot

by Dible. Several gallons of alcohol were found at the scene.

Not only was alcohol manufactured in Burbank during Prohibition,

it was also consumed by some Burbankers. A dance hall operated by Ed

Schurett served alcohol to its customers for nearly two years before

being raided and shut down. Several arrests were made, including

Schurett’s.

By 1933, Prohibition was abandoned with another amendment to the

Constitution.

The social change that had been made by a law failed to maintain

the support of the American people. The new amendment allowed

individual states to determine whether they wanted to remain “dry.”

With that, Prohibition came to an end in Burbank, but Prohibition

still remains one of the most fascinating periods in our city’s

history.

* CRAIG BULLOCK is the chairman of the Burbank Heritage

Commission. Reach him at BrbnkHeritageCom@aol.com.


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