Saturday, Feb 22 2014 09:00 AM

How dry we weren't during Prohibition

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Local author and high school teacher Richard Roux will give a lecture at the Kern County Museum called "Bootleggers, Booze and Busts." He is the author of a book by the same name.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    The Californian edition, dated Dec. 5, 1933, that announced the repeal of Prohibition.

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    By Courtesy of Kern County Museum

    Patrons at the Arlington Hotel bar at the southeast corner of 19th Street and Chester Avenue, circa 1890s, when Bakersfield was regarded as "a wicked town," author Richard Roux writes.

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    By Courtesy of Kern County Museum

    Patrons and employees gather around a stack of beer barrels outside the Arlington Hotel, circa 1915, less than a decade before Prohibition banned alcohol.

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BY KELLY ARDIS Californian staff writer kardis@bakersfield.com

In the early days of Prohibition, thirsty patrons who wanted a little more kick than a soft drink could deliver knew just what to order when they strolled into the shop next door to the Hunter Meat Market on Baker Street.

For hidden from customer view, the meat market's owner was conducting some business of a different kind. Through a hole in the wall the shop shared with the soft drink parlor next door, J.B. Estribou offered liquor to give the drink a little punch.

Related Info

'Bootleggers, Booze, and Busts: Prohibition in Kern County, 1919-1933'

What: Lecture by writer Richard Roux

When: 2 p.m. today

Where: Kern County Museum Chamber of Commerce building, 3801 Chester Ave.

Admission: Free to members; $5 non-members

About the book: "Bootleggers, Booze, and Busts" is sold (price ranges from around $12 to $15) at the Kern County Museum and on Amazon.com; for more on the book, visit Roux's Facebook page, which shares a title with the book.

Future lectures: Roux's presentation is the first of what the museum hopes will be a packed slate of lectures, activities and field trips, for the purpose of attracting visitors and adding value to museum memberships. A lecture by Kathleen Cairns, author of "Hard Time at Tehachapi: California's First Women's Prison," will be in May, and a walking tour of downtown with Bakersfield High School history teacher Ken Hooper is slated for the fall.

Roux will give another lecture on March 15 at the Kern County Historical Society.

"In 1900, Bakersfield was referred to as a "wide-open" town, a place where a man could easily acquire drink, find a prostitute, and lay a bet in a game of chance. Despite reforms ending gambling around 1902, a large red light district existed...The vice element of present in Bakersfield not only urged some people to call for moral reform, but it also made Bakersfield a special target of criticism by the press in other towns outside of Kern County."

-- Richard Roux, "Bootleggers, Booze, and Busts: Prohibition in Kern County, 1919-1933," page 7.

After the hole was discovered and he was arrested in June 1921, Estribou was at it again. This time he hid alcohol throughout his market, obscured underneath various meats or wedged behind pickle barrels. He was arrested again seven months later. But Estribou's two arrests don't come close to making him the most industrious repeat offender in Kern County during Prohibition. Albert Martin, owner of the National Bar soft drink stand, has him beat with seven arrests, from 1921 to 1931.

Centennial High School history teacher Richard Roux is shedding light on the local history of the Prohibition era in his book "Bootleggers, Booze, and Busts: Prohibition in Kern County, 1919-1933." Roux will lecture about the topic this afternoon at the Kern County Museum. The public is invited.

As early as the 1870s, organizations like the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League were pushing for a ban on alcohol. By 1920, alcohol sale, production, transportation and importation was banned in the United States with the passage of the 18th Amendment, a bitter pill in Bakersfield, "a wicked town" full of saloons, prostitution and gambling, Roux said.

"We're steeped in history here," said Roux in an interview Wednesday at the Padre Hotel. Called the Hotel Padre in 1933, the downtown haunt hosted a meeting to urge the Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce to endorse a bill to allow wine with 10 percent alcohol.

"Driving or walking downtown, I get kind of lost looking at the buildings and wondering what it was like then."

Roux was drawn to the topic by his own family history. His great-grandfather immigrated to Bakersfield from France and worked at a saloon before eventually opening a grocery store, and Roux's great uncle transported bootleg booze in Missouri. When he set to work on the topic in 2005 -- initially for a research paper -- Roux was confronted with a dearth of information.

"Now I know why there wasn't anything written about Prohibition in Kern County before: lack of resources," Roux said.

There were no arrest records for the time period available through the Bakersfield Police Department, Kern County Sheriff's Office or the courts, Roux said. He found the information he needed for his paper -- and eventually his CSUB master's thesis and book -- by reading articles found in old issues of The Californian.

"I looked at issues from 1905 to 1933, page by page -- around 60,000 pages -- to identify violators," Roux said. "It took a lot of time. I eventually got into a groove where I could identify headlines (for the necessary articles) faster."

After compiling a list of offenders as written about in the newspaper, Roux learned some 2,100 arrests of 1,700 people were made in Kern County during Prohibition.

Using tools like Ancestry.com and other sources, Roux was able to glean a better picture of the average violator in Kern County. He said the largest segment of those arrested tended to be foreign-born or from foreign-born parents, especially Italians and French. Of course, this data comes from arrests, he noted; there were likely more violators than those who got caught.

"I'm not demonizing them," Roux said of the violators, "it's just history. Some people were passionate about enforcing Prohibition and some were passionate about breaking that law."

Although the topic of Prohibition calls to mind violent gangster films like "The Untouchables" and HBO's Atlantic City-based "Boardwalk Empire," Roux said Kern County's experience was markedly less deadly. Only one police officer was killed in the line of duty: Special Investigator for the Attorney's Office William Washington "Bud" Wiles. Otherwise, Kern County law enforcers and violators were fairly peaceful, he said.

"It was mostly a game of cat and mouse. If (violators) were caught, they just paid the fines. Few did hard time."

Prohibition violators in Kern County were fined anywhere from $250 to $700, he said. If the fine couldn't be paid, violators would serve six to nine months in jail. Roux's book details the story of Aliprando Bandetini, who was caught in McKittrick with $52,000 worth of cash and checks in his pockets. He easily paid his fine of $700 and avoided jail time.

Corruption

As the years went on, Roux writes, Prohibition got harder to enforce. Corrupt law enforcement officers got involved with bootlegging. By the late 1920s, public sentiment was so against Prohibition that it became increasingly difficult for prosecutors to win convictions. Initially enforcement efforts were the duty of the Police Department's vice squad, but in 1932 the squad was disbanded and all officers were expected to enforce Prohibition, he writes.

Roux relied on the Kern County Museum for photographs and, in return, will help the museum with its new orientation center tentatively set to open in summer 2015.

"(Prohibition) is a really neat topic," said Roger Perez, executive director of the museum. "At the lecture, you'll get a look of history you don't always get walking around here (at the museum)."

The lecture will be enhanced by the museum's, Prohibition-era artifacts, including a moonshine still, said curator Lori Wear.

After the lecture, Roux will take questions and let attendees explore a fun feature of his book: an index of violators in Kern County.

"I think that will be neat for people to check out," he said of the index. "There are no immediate family members (of Roux's). I'm almost disappointed."

Roux hopes his work in digging up local history will inspire others to do the same. Looking up family members in the index of violators and writing about them is one way to do that.

"I hope more people take the torch and write local history to complete the picture of what Prohibition was like in Kern County," he said.

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