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
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
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.
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
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
By 1933, Prohibition was abandoned with another amendment to the
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
* CRAIG BULLOCK is the chairman of the Burbank Heritage
Commission. Reach him at BrbnkHeritageCom@aol.com.