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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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