At the stroke of midnight January 16, 1920 funeral bells tolled across the U.S. to mark the passing of John Barleycorn, as Prohibition became the law of the land. Los Angeles celebrated- or mourned– along with the rest of the country but the fact was, “Joyous John” had already been in the ground here for almost two years.
The Temperance Movement was gaining nationwide ground by the early 1900s. As of the end of 1914, 14 of the 48 states had elected to go dry, including California’s neighbors Oregon and Arizona. California, however, voted against a proposed state prohibition amendment, which had, not surprisingly, been heavily opposed by brewers and vintners.
The Gandier law took effect April 1, 1918. Many saloons closed while other suddenly became “cafes” offering a token selection of food to comply with the law.
Meanwhile, joints in nearby areas outside the city limits, like Jack Doyle’s place in Vernon, and Baron Long’s Ship Café in Vernon, were doing a landmark business. That is, until October 1918 when the Spanish Flu accomplished what the Temperance League had been unable to do– the bars were ordered closed by the State Health Officer.
With the 18th Amendment circulating for ratification, Congress meanwhile passed the Wartime Prohibition Act on November 18, 1918- a week after World War I officially ended. This temporary measure, which was to take effect July 1, 1919, forbade the sale of intoxicants with greater than 2.75% alcohol.
In Los Angeles, police and café men differed in their opinions on the question of whether the federal Wartime Prohibition Act law took precedence over local law, or if not, whether 2.75% “war brew” beer was considered an “alcoholic liquor” forbidden under the Gandier Ordinance. While the issue went back in forth in the courts all that summer, some café owners decided to throw caution to the wind and let the war brew flow. City police made frequent raids of such establishments, arresting the proprietors.
It was only for a few months, anyway. On October 28, 1918, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, commonly known as the Volstead Act, the enabling legislation allowing for enforcement of the 18th Amendment.
At midnight, January 15, 1920, Los Angeles went “bone-dry” along with the rest of the country. Theoretically, anyway. There were those who responded with skepticism to the LAPD’s claim that there were no more “blind pigs” or bootleggers operating within the metropolitan area. If you wanted to know the best place to get a drink, it was said, just ask any policeman.
The following year, Los Angeles County adopted Ordinance 650, known as the “Little Volstead,” considered more stringent than the federal law it was modeled after. In the election of November 1922, Californians passed the Wright Act, a state version of the Volstead Act, effective as of midnight December 21, 1922.
The laws were in place. Enforcing them was another story.
The Wright Act was the first of the prohibition laws affecting Los Angeles to be repealed, ten years later, on December 14, 1932. National Prohibition remained in effect, however and establishments who violated it were raided accordingly.
On March 22, 1933, President Roosevelt approved the much-debated Cullen-Harrison Act legalizing the sale of beer and wine containing 3.2% alcohol by weight (4% by volume), effective at midnight April 7, though questions remained as to the constitutionality of the Act, as the 18th Amendment was still in force, as well as how it would be taxed and, locally, who would issue the licences.
L.A. County voted to repeal the “Little Volstead” on March 27, 1933 over protests from the W.C.T.U and other “drys” proponents. The old Gandier Ordinance remained on the books until city voters approved its repeal on May 2, 1933. The 21st Amendment repealing the 18th Amendment was fully ratified on December 5, 1933 and happy days were here again.
Prohibition Law Timeline
08-01-1917 18th Amendment language introduced
11-16-1917 L.A. passes the citywide Gandier Ordinance
12-18-1917 18th Amendment proposed to Congress
04-01-1918 City of L.A’s Gandier Ordinance goes into effect
11-11-1918 WWI ends
11-18-1918 Congress passes the Wartime Prohibition Act
01-13-1919 18th Amendment fully ratified
06-30-1919 The Wartime Prohibition Act goes into effect
10-28-1919 National Prohibition Act (Volstead Act) enacted
01-17-1920 National Prohibition Act takes effect
01-08-1921 L.A. Co. Ordinance 650, the “Little Volstead,” enacted
11-10-1922 California passes the Wright Act
12-21-1922 The Wright Act goes into effect
11-08-1932 California votes to repeal The Wright Act
12-14-1932 Repeal of the Wright Act takes effect
03-22-1933 FDR signs the Cullen-Harrison Act legalizing 3.2 beer enacted
03-27-1933 L.A. Co.’s “Little Volstead” Act repealed
03-28-1933 “Little Volstead” repeal takes effect
04-07-1933 Cullen-Harrison Act effective
05-02-1933 Gandier Ordinance repealed
12-05-1933 The 21st Amendment fully ratified