The Sacramento Bee from Sacramento, California on December 31, 1999 · 103
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The Sacramento Bee from Sacramento, California · 103

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Sacramento, California
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Friday, December 31, 1999
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103
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s I The Sacramento Bee OUR CENTURY December 31 1 999 19 i m&m&a m "IP M After two hours and a half one of the men who seemed to be an employee of the shelter came out of the mess hall and told the 49 waiting men that there was no food left for them The line broke up and most of them went out into the rainy night probably to beg for their suppers ” S5EB - A relief investigator y Homelessness was By Carlos Alcala 'Bee Staff Writer What little romance is associated with the Great Depression is found in the wandering ways of those uprooted by economic failure The hobos who rode the rails found a bard in Woody Guthrie The Dust Bowl refugees found a gloomier mythmaker in John Steinbeck But the harsh experiences of the homeless in California were also vividly documented in local and State Relief Agency reports of the time Anonymous investigators for the relief agency adopted the homelessness of those they were studying going on the road with no money no job and little equipment ! Some of their observations were published in a 1936 report “Transients in California” One investigator described riding a rail- road coal car from Lodi to Sacramento in December 1935 ! There were 25 to 30 other men in the one car and 250 on the whole train all headed to Sacramento where they had been told they would be assigned to a Works Progress Ad j Sacramentans had several choices for entertainment i ‘j I By Carlos Alcala j ' Bee Staff Writer 1 Though money was scarce in the 1930s Sacramentans — even broke Sacramentans — ’ continued to find ways to entertain 1 ' themselves t ( Charles Otis 80 remembers hav- ing worked at a box-making factory only sporadically during those years He had barely enough for necessi- ties let alone splurges “I never drank a milk shake” she said “I never went to a movie” Nevertheless he found a way to be entertained at least once a year I ' “We used to go to the California ‘l Fair over on Broadway” Otis said “We jumped the fence to get into t the fair Who had the money to buy i a ticket?” His wife Marie whom he met C later was more fortunate Marie Otis 81 is one of many t older Sacramentans whose memo- ries of Depression-era entertain-! ment are dominated by the Fox Sen- ator theater downtown “ i ‘We used to go to a matinee at I ( the Senator” she recalled Some- ( times it would be preceded by a lo- cal vaudeville act maybe some kids i tap dancing Afterward it was to 1 Woolworth for ice cream or root beer J We looked at musicals” she said J “They were wonderful They were I ‘ good clean movies I wouldn’t go to I i a movie now They’re rotten” 1 Doris Bond 81 remembers walking from the Elmhurst neighborhood to the Alhambra to see serial Agricultural workers’ By Carlos Alcala Bee Staff Writer The biggest trial of the 1930s in Sacramento was nothing like any of those that captivated the city during recent decades I It did not involve a single murder let alone the multiple killings of Dorothea Puente or the Unabomber There was no sex and no kid-nappng unlike the Gerald Gallego trial There were not even allegations of political wrongdoing as in the Capitol corruption cases of Alan Robbins Paul Carpenter and Joseph Montoya ! Basically it was about labor organizing — about trying to get more pennies per hour for the people picking California’s produce In July 1934 Sacramento police accompanied by a Bee reporter and photographer raided the headquarters of the Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union Those arrested — 24 in all after more raids in other locations — were not considered unionists In the eyes of many their crime was one of political beliefs The accused were associated with the Communist Party which appeared legally on statewide ballots ' “Reds Are Rounded Up Here In Drive By Flying Squads "The Bee’s headline said Later papers noted that the raids ministration work camp But finding relief in Sacramento was not easy Agencies’ resources were often depleted by excess demand In 1933 the county Board of Supervisors had sent a desperate letter to Gov James Rolph outlining a shortage of funds and high demands for relief “In other words” the letter said “this means that the local County and City government will not be able to give relief to those in need if available cash funds are not in some way provided” Though state and federal governments developed relief programs they continued to be inadequate From Dec 16 1935 to Jan 26 1936 10866 people — transient and homeless men women and families — applied for aid in Sacramento That was more than 10 percent of the city’s population at the time More than 1000 were turned away One of the relief agency investigators tells of waiting for a meal at the city shelter: “After two hours and a half one of the men who seemed to be an employee of the shelter came out of the mess hall and told the 49 waiting men that there was no food left movies for a dime — The Shadow Tom Mix Gene Autry “All the shoot-’em-ups” she said “You had to go every week or you lost the sequence” When she attended Sacramento Junior College later entertainment was a rare visit to Zip’s the hamburger hangout across from the college on Sutterville Road “They had the best hamburgers there have ever been in Sacramento including now” she said “It was a darned good hamburger” agreed Ethel Mackey Johnson 81 an Auburn resident who grew up in Sacramento A mixture of lettuce onions and dressing made Zip’s burgers better she said “That was the place in town especially on Friday night” she said “They haven’t had hamburgers like that in ages” Throughout the 1930s the students at the junior college organized the Art Ball an elaborate dance with a theme and costumes Started in 1927 the event grew to be one of the social season’s big events in the 1930s with preball dinner parties added to the festivities “It was a real pageant that they put on” recalled Oliver Horrell 81 Horrell should know In 1937 she was Queen of the Art Ball The theme that year was Hades complete with a 15-foot tall mask of the devil Horrell made two outfits for the ball — a horned costume for the pageant and a ball dress for the Three unidentified people listen during the agricultural workers’ trial in Sacramento the “nerve center of an agricultural empire” stopped recruiting by the party Party membership numbers are unknown but a few months earlier county officials had accused Communists of using food distribution to recruit members to the local Unemployed Council which added 1600 members in a few weeks Charges against some of those arrested were dropped The other 18 organizers activists and laborers were indicted under the criminal syndicalism act — a broad and drastic law drafted to fight the Industrial Workers of the World the “Wob- a major problem in for them The line broke up and most of them went out into the rainy night probably to beg for their suppers” An investigator tried that on another occasion hitting up everyone he met along I Street between 12th and the rail depot “I had bummed eleven men and two women and had been refused by all except one man who was obviously a day laborer He had given me a dime” For that however he was able to get a dish of stew bread butter coffee and “corn starch dessert” While some sought temporary food and housing in the city shelter YMCA or other charitable outfit hundreds were living in homeless camps of varying quality Homeless camps sprouted along the banks of the Sacramento and American rivers from the first years of the Depression One of the first — an outpost of about 75 people — was dubbed Hooverville according to an October 1931 report in The Bee “Republican prosperity was responsible for the founding of this community so we thought we would make it a monument to President Hoover” said WB Slater who The Bee reported had been elected mayor of the Visitors to the California State Fair dance Her photo appeared in The Bee several times before and after the event The Art Ball that year was in Memorial Auditorium the site of many events since its opening in 1927 Dorothy Landsberg 84 recalls going there for the last inaugural of the 1930s — the party for Culbert Olson California’s first Democratic governor in 40 years “It was very thrilling” said Landsberg whose father got tickets after working for Olson’s election “One of the entertainers for 1934 trial blies” earlier in the century To some observers it was a political show trial at the behest of agricultural ownership They saw it as the civilized courtroom version of the vigilante attacks against labor organizers that took place all over the state “Skillfully manipulating the criminal justice system the Associated Farmers of California (an agribusiness group) broke the back of the Communist-led union which had been so successfully on the offensive since early 1933” wrote on Broadway watch the parade the evening was an unknown: Lena Home” (Horne was perhaps not unknown but certainly not as famous as she became in 1943 singing the title song in the film “Stormy Weather”) Those who couldn’t attend the inaugurations of governors could at least watch the Senators — the baseball team that is The team’s owner Lew Moreing threatened to sell the team until he hit upon an idea to boost ticket sales — night games so working people could come put spotlight on city Kevin Starr in his Depression history “Endangered Dreams” It was not “an accident that this trial is taking place in Sacramento” Travers Clement wrote in The Nation in 1935 “Sacramento is not only the political capital of California It is the nerve center of an agricultural empire” Despite the Depression’s high unemployment the CAWIU had been successful in most of its efforts to win better wages and conditions for farm workers What did workers seek? In one case it was a 40-hour week In Gridley workers were trying for 35 cents an hour In one strawberry strike laborers wanted their pay to go from 20 cents to 25 cents per hour The CAWIU won 21 of 24 strikes it had conducted around the state nearly doubling agricultural wages for some workers Vigilantes often supplied by the American Legion and local law enforcement officials sometimes combined to drive organizers away “If you couldn’t produce evidence that you lived here you went to jail first and then out of town” recalled Robert Beglau in a 1966 oral history of a Lodi grape strike “They didn’t want organized labor in Lodi” Sacramento County passed a law against people congregating near agricultural fields though even the sheriff doubted it was constitution the ‘30s settlement Within a month Hooverville had been transferred to Colusa where the residents had been promised work New Hoovervilles arose however There are accounts of a camp at the river at the end of what is now Broadway a camp across the river in Yolo County several camps north of the train depot south of the American River and all along the road to Marysville In May 1935 the district attorney ordered the removal of a community of sheet iron and cardboard shacks along Jibboom Street because of unsanitary conditions “Of the 539 housing units 528 lacked separate systems for disposal of human excrement” wrote Milton Reis in an article on the Hoovervilles published in “Golden Notes” the magazine of the Sacramento County Historical Society Though 100 families were promised housing by the Community Chest and though the district attorney personally evicted others homeless housing along the river continued through the last years of the 1930s — and continues today of livestock in 1932 “Sacramento would be an ideal city for night baseball as the climate is just right during the summer evenings” Moreing said On June 10 1930 the Senators played the first Pacific Coast League night game against the Oakland Oaks at newly lighted Moreing Field Attendance that year soared to more than 200000 more than the American League’s St Louis Browns Then the Depression cut into ticket sales Attendance fell to 68400 in 1932 By 1934 banks foreclosed on Moreing’s ownership al It was in this context that the arrest and trial of the labor activists occurred The defense tried to focus on farm conditions The prosecution focused on the beliefs of the Communist Party to which some of the accused belonged The trial dragged on for 4!2 months at the time the record for a California trial according to historian Starr Though the defense chipped away at witnesses and successfully diminished the number of counts being contested it was hampered by a judge who allowed prosecutors to use old Communist literature as evidence but refused to allow the defense to use the same material to place things in context In the end eight defendants were convicted and sentenced to from one to 14 years in prison The three women convicted were released after a year The remaining inmates were at San Quentin Prison until 1937 when the convictions were overturned by the Third District Court of Appeals By then however the arrests had had their intended effect and the CAWIU was disbanded and farm labor activism diminished “The Sacramento trial had an ominously chilling effect” Starr wrote ! Samish was a giant in state politics Many legislators in the 1 930s and 1940s didn't mind being manipulated by a powerful lobbyist they just didn’t like being laughed at for it So when a full-color photograph appeared in Collier’s magazine in August 1949 showing lobbyist Artie Samish with a ventriloquist’s dummy on his knee and asking “And how are you today Mr Legislature’7” something had to give It did Within four months lawmakers had voted to ban Samish from lobbying in the Capitol ‘Thank heavens” he dryly responded “it has been proved I do not control the Legislature" But for most of the 1930s and 1940s Arthur H Samish did just that As lobbyist for Big Liquor Big Oil Big Transportation Big ’ Racing and Big Everything Else the Big (he weighed close to 300 pounds) Samish was the boss of California ‘To hell with the governor of California" he once told a Sacramento grand jury looking into his activities “I'm the governor of the Legislature” Born in Los Angeles in 1899 Samish grew up poor in San Francisco He came to Sacramento in his 20s as a legislative clerk but soon figured out that the real money and power were in lobbying Samish’s influence grew thanks to a formula he followed closely A special interest would come to him with a specific problem He would use campaign contributions campaign organizational help and other “incentives” to get the problem solved legislatively “I can tell if a man wants a baked potato a girl or money” he once boasted But once the special interest’s problem was fixed Samish would make it clear that it could be unfixed unless his services were retained By 1 949 Samish was said to be worth $10 million At one point he had 17 operatives monitoring things under the Capitol dome a group he once referred to as “the damnedest Gestapo you ever saw" Even after his ban in late 1949 Samish continued to operate from his suite at the Senator Hotel In 1 953 however he was convicted of income tax evasion and eventually served two years in federal prison After his release he lived in San Francisco and Palm Springs and ran various businesses He died in 1 974 at age 75 “I had a lot of fun out of the whole thing” he recalled in a 1969 interview “You can’t be too serious You're crazy if you are But I had a lot of fun out of my work” In the news A 15-hour speech by Sen Huey Long D-La against extension of the National Recovery Administration sets a congressional record The Legislature has passed a bill that would require California barber shops to close at least one day a week A Seattle teacher was arrested in Sacramento for sitting in his car drunk He is the first person arrested for violating the city’s new ordinance against being intoxicated in or near a car In sports James J Braddock defeated Max Baer last night in New York for the heavyweight boxing title The Sacramento Solons beat the Seattle Indians 5-2 last night but remain mired in seventh place in the Pacific Coast League

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