Centennial Series: Long Beach & The Law
In honor of the Long Beach Bar Association’s Centennial, this is a series of historical notes on cases and courts in Long Beach through the decades.
April -The War Years
The 1940s saw Long Beach converted into a major industrial powerhouse. The war effort resulted in huge changes to the City.
The breakwater in San Pedro for The Port of Los Angeles (“the Deepwater Port Project”) had been completed by 1938. That same year the Navy first established a base on Terminal Island. In 1940 the Navy moved into the Port of Long Beach for its drydocks. After the bombing at Pearl Harbor, the Naval facilities grew until 16,000 people were employed building and repairing tankers, cargo ships, troop transports, destroyers and cruisers. The Long Beach breakwater began in 1941 to protect military and cargo operations, and was completed by 1945. Long Beach’s time as a beach resort was over.
Douglas Aircraft (not yet merged with
McDonnell) went from producing civilian
aircraft to B-17 flying fortresses. An army
of “Rosie the Riveters” helped produce
over 30,000 aircraft from 1942 – 1945.
In 1942 the Los Alamitos Joint Forces
Training Base began operations training
pilots for all those aircraft.
Demand for fuel set the oilfields and
refineries going 24/7, with new wells
sprouting up weekly.
Long Beach was transformed, and the
stories told by law case reflect the changes.
Many cases evoke a noir atmosphere worthy
of Raymond Chandler (whose “Bay City” - home to gambling ships, gangsters and corrupt politicians – is generally accepted as a stand-in for Long Beach.)
In a result unlikely today, the California Supreme Court affirmed a permanent injunction barring a labor union from picketing a company that had refused to sign a closed shop agreement. But this was not peaceful picketing. Employees were followed and subjected “intimidation and threats of physical violence.” The Court held that the labor action was “a weapon of illegal coercion.” The fact that acts of intimidation continued after a preliminary injunction was issued was evidence that nothing less than a complete prohibition of picketing would be effective. Goons for hire were not limited to strike breakers it seems. See Steiner v. Long Beach Local No. 128 of Oilworkers Int’l Union (1942) 19 Cal.2d 676.
A conspiracy to a get a fellow named Cy Wright “in” as Long Beach Chief of Police is recounted in People v. Suter (1941) 43 Cal.App.2d 444. The key witness was Robert Ramsey, a café owner and coconspirator (the case against whom was dismissed under Penal Code §1099). Mr. Ramsey supplemented his café income by taking wagers on the horses and conveying them to bookie Suter for a cut. A police officer solicited funds from Ramsey to get a City Council elected who would support “right guy” Wright, who “would be liberal so far as bookmaking was concerned.” It didn’t work out as planned.
The business at the Pike changed to target the money to be made from the thousands of servicemen passing through on their way into the Pacific Theatre. Tattoo parlors, dive bars, dance halls and “commercial companionship” burgeoned. Murder came to playland. The scene was the 230 Club, “referred to by the appellant as a saloon situated about a half a block from the fortune teller’s concession” in the Pike. Mr. Hough shot his wife and one of the two gentlemen sitting with her. Talk about your hard-boiled dialogue: “On the arrival of the officers the appellant was placed in their charge and taken to the police station in Long Beach. While at the police station, the appellant made the following statements to one of the police officers: ‘I shot that bastard for being out with my wife.’ ‘I told her if she did not come back something would happen.’ ‘I came here to kill them and, by God, I sure took care of them.’ ‘I would have shot the other man if I had not run out of ammunition.’ A few minutes later and while at the police station, appellant was asked by another officer whether he knew that his wife was dead and was informed that he (the officer) did not know. Appellant replied, ‘I hope she is because if she is not, my time is spent in vain.’ This officer further testified that at this same conversation ‘he also told me that he had told her three or four months previously that if he ever caught her running around with anybody he would kill her and, whoever it was, that he did not give a damn who it was.’” No surprise that the conviction was affirmed, I doubt Perry Mason could have pulled off an acquittal. People v. Hough (1944) 24 Cal.2d 535, 540.
Speaking of those oil wells sprouting, the County of Los Angeles was cited for contempt for allegedly violating an injunction restraining enforcement of ordinances aimed at extracting “fees for the right to drill oil wells” in the Long Beach area which were “unreasonable and discriminatory” (it seems the fees were scaled higher against smaller operators). Ah, the shifting sands of law. Affirmed that there was no contempt because the enforcement was of new ordinances replacing those enjoined. Brunton v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County (1942) 20 Cal.2d 202.
Even traffic accidents took on a wartime theme. “Dim outs” and “black outs” resulted in many fatal accidents. Questions of liability were thorny since even official vehicles traveling to their appointed posts were required to run without headlights .
“The fatal accident occurred during a blackout, following air raid warnings, in the city of Long Beach, at about 2:50 a. m. on February 25, 1942. Mr. Larson was a police sergeant of the city of Long Beach and was driving his own car from his home to a fire station located on Santa Fe Avenue, after an air raid alarm signal. Under orders theretofore issued by the chief of police, directing the movements of police officers in such emergencies, it was Larson's duty to proceed to the fire station. King and his passenger, Hankins, were returning home from work at the California Ship Building Corporation. Following the accident, King and Hankins filed separate actions against the city of Long Beach; judgments were entered against them, they appealed to this court, and the judgments were affirmed.” King v. Long Beach, (1945) 67 Cal.App.2d 1
There is not enough space to include all of the cases of corruption and crime in Long Beach for this era. If you want even more detail on the 40s crime scene in Long Beach, I recommend Fighting Fear: Long Beach, CA, in the 1940s by Claudine Burnett, which goes beyond those incidents that found their way into published precedent.
Let’s close with an end-of-war holding that needs neither background nor explanation: “Respondent’s contention that Petitioner waived his right to a pension because he had accepted Workmen’s Compensation is not well founded.” Tyra v. Bd. Of Police & Fire Pension Com’rs of Long Beach (1945) 155 P.2d 365, 367.
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The LBBA would like to extend a special thank you to Ken Freedman for his work in preparing this series.