Intersections: Booze goes underground in Glendale

Prohibition in the United States began in January 1920, when the 18th Amendment essentially banned the production, transport and sale of alcohol.

A highly controversial issue, the 13-year-long ban saw the rise of organized crime and corruption and hundreds of thousands of speakeasies, establishments that sold alcohol illegally. It wasn't until 1933 that the ban was repealed by the 21st Amendment, bringing alcohol back to the masses.

During the dry period in the United States, L.A.'s underground tunnels served as secret passageways to basement-based speakeasies, where illegal booze was abundant. The 96-year-old San Antonio Winery, founded in 1917, survived prohibition by producing wine for church services.

Much is known about underground life during Prohibition in L.A. Eighty years after the alcohol ban was repealed, it's interesting to look back at what took place in the booming city of Glendale during the dry spell.

Before Prohibition, Glendale was already a dry town, though the Crescenta Valley was an isolated, ideal location for moonshiners to thrive.

According to a December 1958 article in the Glendale News-Press, the Casa Verdugo Café, on North Brand Boulevard, was located outside the city limits and flourished, serving wine.

When Prohibition was repealed, Dave Burton, owner of Dave Burton's Café, on Broadway — reputed to have had the first cocktail bar in the city — is quoted as saying he took in $17 on the first day, with whiskey selling at 10 cents a shot and beer from 10 to 15 cents.

Speakeasies were common in the area, as were arrests. Several photos from the '20s show Prohibition busts in Glendale.

In one instance, beverage producer Comalt Co. Inc. was raided by the Glendale Police Department in March 1928.

A large amount of bootlegger paraphernalia was found, including caskets and large aluminum cans, which members of the police department proudly posed with in one photo. In another, federal agents are shown dumping 5-gallon cans of illegal whiskey onto Ocean View Boulevard in Montrose, in front of what is now the Glendale Police Department's substation.

Perhaps the most scandalous piece of Glendale's Prohibition history comes in the form of a September 1921 article in the Los Angeles Times, which describes the arrest of four young men, members of the Christian Endeavor convention, who were charged with "having drunk to excess."

The article also reports on a former member of the Glendale police force, Guy Wells, and three others who went around town pretending to be government agents and conducting raids while demanding large sums of money in exchange for immunity from the bootlegging businesses they visited.

One allegedly involved them making a trip to a "well-known bootlegging establishment on the road between Glendale and Burbank pretending to purchase 25 gallons of moonshine brandy."

In downtown Glendale, a more sophisticated and undetected bootlegging operation was probably taking place, deep beneath the city — where the rich and famous rubbed elbows and clinked their glasses together in what was advertised as Glendale's "largest, finest and most beautiful dining room."

It still exists today, and living up to its history, functions as a modern speakeasy of sorts, where wine lovers gather to wax poetically about their growing collections and newcomers fall in love with a revamped piece of what one was, still brewing, so to speak, under the traffic-filled avenues above.

It just might the coolest, underrated place in all of Glendale — but more on that next time.

--

LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at liana.agh@gmail.com

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
55°