Danville Express

Living - January 12, 2007

Presenting the Past: Saloons open in 20th century Danville (Temperance, Part 2)

by Beverly Lane

The battle over liquor licenses went on for years in Danville and elsewhere. In 1900 the Contra Costa Gazette headline read, "Will Run Wide Open - Three Petitions for Liquor Licenses in Danville." Mr. Flagel was back; now he had a wholesale license but by law was restricted to selling liquor in quantities of one quart. However, when Flagel and T. McCauley sold some strangers a pint flask of whiskey, a complaint was sworn out against them and they were arrested.

Since the matter had been long fought, it was agreed to let the county Board of Supervisors decide whether or not liquor could be sold. The Gazette for Jan. 6, 1900, published names on the pro and con petitions, which included opposition R.O. Baldwin, James Root, J.A. Shuey and the Rev. R. S. Symington, and supporters Fred L. Humburg, John Hartz and John Halverson.

The supervisors granted retail saloon licenses to Flagel, McCauley and M. Lawless with Danville representative Supervisor William Hemme agreeing on two and opposing the Lawless license.

According to the article, "The result is that Danville will become a wide-open town." It seems the supervisors felt that, since liquor had been sold there for many years, it was better that "the men have retail licenses when they are under bond to keep the law."

The battle didn't end there, for the Gazette on Feb. 10 reported, "The Saloon Fight - Two of Danville Cases Heard Last Tuesday." A "spy of the anti-saloon league" brought charges against the bartender of A. Flagel. Justice W.C. Lewis heard the case in Danville, 40 witnesses were summoned, and "the town was livelier than it had been for many a day."

Young Hiram Elliott went to work in the Lawless Saloon on Front Street early in the 20th century. He learned the saloon business, used his savings and bought the Lawless in 1907, renaming it Elliott's. Later he moved the business to the heart of town on Hartz Avenue.

The Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League carried the temperance fight banner in California and the nation, with the 18th Amendment the result. Prohibition went into effect in 1919 and closed down saloons all over the county.

Prohibition impacted the valley in several ways. Owners of vineyards on the valley floor were unable to sell their crops and turned to growing walnuts and fruit trees. One rancher, Italian immigrant James Morengo, had planted extensive vineyards in Alamo 30 years earlier and stored his wine in a large cellar just off Livorna Road. He was devastated when federal agents came to his ranch, busted his wine barrels and drained the wine into Miranda Creek.

The night before Prohibition took effect, Hiram Elliott offered drinks on the house, then he and his teenage sons poured out his liquor supply. He said he didn't want to break the law and sell out the back door. The bar became an ice cream parlor and candy store during the '20s, which reduced the family income considerably.

Owners of stills in Crow Canyon and the Mount Diablo foothills weren't as scrupulous. A book called "Jackass Brandy" by Bruno Buti recounts some Crow Canyon stories of bootleggers and their experiences with federal revenue agents. But that is another story.

--Beverly Lane, a longtime Danville resident, is curator of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley and co-author of "San Ramon Valley: Alamo, Danville, and San Ramon."


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