The Return of Beer

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president in November 1932, defeating the 1-term incumbent Herbert Hoover, who four years earlier had won in a landslide partly on a platform of retaining the Volstead Act. Since then his failed economic policies had sent the stock market into a tailspin and plunged the country into an economic depression. Millions of Americans were out of work and couldn’t even legally drown their sorrows. After his inauguration March 3, 1933, Roosevelt wasted no time in making good on his campaign promise to repeal national prohibition.

1933 3 9 ad What No Beer?

What No Beer? a timely comedy starring Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante capitalized on the legalized beer situation. It opened in Los Angeles at the Loew’s State, 7th & Broadway, on March 9, 1933 as a double feature with Joan Blondell in Broadway Bad. The theater established a beer garden in the corner café space for the run of the film, sponsored by the Los Angeles Brewing Company. But as thirsty patrons discovered to their disappointment, it only offered the hated “near beer” as the Beer Bill was not yet in effect. Note reference to President Roosevelt’s “new deal.”

It would take the better part of the year for the 21st Amendment repealing the 18th Amendment to be fully ratified. In the meantime, Roosevelt recommended that congress pass legislation legalizing the sale and manufacture of beer and wine. The Collin-Harrison Act, aka “The Beer Bill” was duly introduced and approved, and FDR signed it into law on March 22, 1933.

March 23, 1933. LA Times

Los Angeles acted quickly to repeal local prohibition laws still on the books, such County Ordinance 650, aka the “Little Volstead,” which was rolled back on March 27, before the Collin-Harrison law went into effect on April 7.

Signing a petition to repeal the city of Los Angeles 1917 Gandier Ordinance, March 21, 1933. It was finally repealed by vote of the people, effective May 22, 1933. LAPL

Los Angeles, which had not enjoyed real beer of more than 2.75% alcohol in fifteen years when the Gandier Ordinance went into effect, and still reeling from the Long Beach earthquake of March 10, 1933, was prepared to celebrate.

The pioneer Los Angeles Brewery Co., makers of Eastside and other brews, which has sustained itself during Prohibition by manufacturing “near beer” and other non-alcoholic products such as syrup, sprang to action. But the company was overwhelmed by the demand for real beer and quickly sold out of its initial run of 200,000 cases and 1600 barrels.

jean harlow 4-7-33

Hollywood star Jean Harlow ‘christens’ the first truckload of Eastside beer to leave the Los Angeles Brewing Co.’s N. Main Street plant on April 7, 1933. To her right is actor Walter Houston and the brewery’s manager. LAPL

CBS radio, carried locally over KHJ aired a special program that evening live from the roof of the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis and the Schlitz plant in Milwaukee, followed by German drinking songs and a whirlwind tour of Chicago’s restaurants, hotels and nightclubs.

Los Angeles restaurants experienced a land office business, with many reportedly running out of suds by the afternoon.

Los Angeles cafes 1933

Restaurants, cafes and hotels celebrating the return of real beer. Tutor Scherer was running the old Jeffries Café at 326 S. Spring, which gambler Zeke Caress bought in 1918 after the Gandier Ordinance closed the saloons, and no doubt now served as a front for his bookmaking operation.

Paris Inn, Los Angeles 1930s

The Paris Inn, 210 E. Market St., home of the singing waiters and as of April 7, 1933 real beer.

Paris Inn Los Angeles

Interior of the Paris Inn, which held a special beer celebration on April 7, 1933.


Belmont Cafe 5th & Main Los Angeles

Crowds outside the Belmont Café at Fifth & Main, across from the Rosslyn Hotel, on April 7, 1933. LAPL


Belmont Cafe Los Angeles 1933

The Belmont Café at Fifth & Main, across from the Rosslyn Hotel, serves a capacity crowd on April 7, 1933. LAPL


Ralphs Los Angeles 1933

The Ralphs grocery chain was licensed to sell beer out of its 635 S. Spring St. store in downtown Los Angeles and its 171-181 N. Lake St. store in Pasadena.

From some quarters came a splash of cold water on the choruses of “Happy Days are Here Again.” The W.C.T.U. and others remained very much concerned about the social effects of overindulgence in alcohol. There was confusion as to how new liquor laws and licensing would be enforced and overseen, and by whom.

Political cartoon, Los Angeles Times March 7, 1933

Eliot Ness, head of the prohibition enforcement detail “The Untouchables” which had helped bring down Capone in 1931, warned of attempts by gangsters to try to muscle in on the legal beer industry, either by taking over legitimate businesses as fronts as they’d done in recent years with other industries, or operate their own illegal breweries to avoid having to pay the $5 a barrel federal tax and force saloon owners to buy their product or else, or take over legitimate distribution of beer from legitimate breweries.

March 17, 1933. LA Times

Some of these concerns were born out locally. With the Los Angeles Brewing Co. log-jammed in trying to fulfill the demand and reinforcements from San Francisco and the Mid-west yet to arrive, some proprietors raised their prices. There were reports of bootleg beer being delivered and truck drivers “forgetting” to deliver to establishments who didn’t pay them a “gratuity.” A hijacking ring operation affected shipments of legal beer coming down the coast from San Francisco. Raids of drinking establishments continued, as proprietors flaunted the closing laws, or couldn’t resist selling a little hard alcohol and spirits, which remained covered by the Volstead Act- at least until December 5, 1933.


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