La Verne Magazine
When the WCTU Tried to Keep Alcohol Out of Lordsburg
by Stacey Mleczko
photography by Isela Peña
With flags flying and banners waving June 24, 1915, Lordsburg welcomed some
1,200 prospective land buyers from San Gabriel Valley. Individuals touring
available property convened near D and Third streets in this scene looking
(Photograph Courtesy Don Hauser Coin Depot Collection)
The fruit from the pomp of the early 20th century gives La Verne its current
look in this photograph taken from the same location, the intersection of
D and Third streets looking north. The name Lordsburg changed to La Verne
Sept. 27, 1917.
The Circle K across from the University of La Verne is commonly referred
to as a convenience store. The new Heroes restaurant in old town is a bar
and grill. Café Allegro on the next block offers a sidewalk setting
and serves red wine to customers, and Warehouse Pizza, 100 feet from all
three, serves beer to families gathering for a meal together.
La Verne has not always catered residents with alcohol so readily. Long
before the existence and abolishment of the 18th Amendment, organizations,
politicians and community members protested the thought of alcohol entering
the streets of La Verne. Nevertheless, small liquor stores and saloons like
Lopez Liquor opened sparingly across the tracks, rendering it acceptable
for the Latino population to indulge in spirits, to the dismay of some,
and introduced stumbling workers to the isolated community. J.H. Timberlake
said in his book, "Prohibition and the Progressive Movement,"
"The influx of foreigners into our urban centers, many of whom have
liquor habits, is a menace to good government. . . [T]he foreign born population
is largely under the social and political control of the saloon." Such
was the thinking that contributed to prohibition-era mandates.
Prohibition of the early 20th century hit the city hard, closing existing
saloons and rallying temperance groups like that of the Woman's Christian
Temperance Union (WCTU) for support. At its birth in 1874, the women, stereotypically
described as normally quiet housewives, were said to drop to their knees
in prayer in local saloons until owners surrendered their bottles and licenses.
Today, the WCTU is the oldest, continuous voluntary women's organization
in the world. At its height, the organization exempted 250 communities of
alcohol within a three-month time span.
The La Verne WCTU chapter fought downtown restaurants and businesses,
making it difficult to obtain an alcohol permit. University of La Verne
Head Librarian and alumnus Dr. Marlin Heckman remembers a time when the
WCTU rallied up against a market now occupied by the Lutheran Thrift Store
on the corner of Bonita and D streets. He describes having to walk past
the liquor store on the way to chapel when he was a college student. He
shared thoughts of irony that the two entities set dead against each other
could exist on the same block. Evelyn Hollinger, the late official city
historian, related when Warehouse Pizza first applied for its liquor license.
"The owner put the application up in the back alley in an effort to
hide it from the protesting women, and it almost worked."
That is the way many La Verne residents felt at the time. Up to the
1950s, a majority of the residents of La Verne belonged to the Church of
the Brethren, the Church that founded the University of La Verne. The Church
of the Brethren since its founding held a "thou shall not drink"
conviction, but that was strengthened after Prohibition. In 1935, the Church
approved an Annual Conference resolution titled, "The Liquor Problem
and Temperance." This resolution reasserted its position favoring total
abstinence. "We pledge cooperation with other institutions organized
to remove the curse of beverage alcohol from the country we love."
The WCTU knew it would not completely ban alcohol from existence, but
the women also felt they carried a responsibility to try. Helen Herbst,
La Verne resident and member of the La Verne Church of the Brethren, was
a member of the Union, and she says she remembers trying to stop stores
and restaurants from obtaining alcohol permits within close proximity of
schools and churches. "They wanted to put up a liquor store near a
school, and we tried to stop it from happening, but it went in anyway. After
that, I felt there were more important things to get done than fighting
liquor stores." Helen's realization spread throughout the group, and
other members seemed to share her discontent. The city and its regulations
seemed to outgrow the ability of the deteriorating La Verne Union. Industrialization
stole potential members and coerced young women into the work force, leaving
volunteer organizations like the WCTU as low priorities.
She agrees with other members who say the WCTU did not have much of
an impact. "I do not think we had much of an influence. We were a group
of about 60 women, and we did our part by taking a booth at the fair where
we handed out flyers and bits of information. But we were never far from
a beer booth, and it seemed a bit funny; I always wondered why," says
Frank Lambert, son of a Methodist minister and a retired professor at
Occidental College, believes the Union was a success. "The organization
had noble motivation. It was an aid to prohibition, and, in small towns
it was a roaring success. "My mother was a member of the Glendale Union,
and I am proud of it. Before the 1910s, the organization made a lot of difference,
but its voice was little heard after Prohibition was enacted. It was simply
an organization whose time had passed." Without the local Union in
an active state, the city of La Verne has evolved as most all communities
have. Eight restaurants and businesses legally dispense alcohol to paying
customers in a one-block stretch of old town La Verne alone. Heroes Bar
and Grill and Nick's Place are more prominent landmarks than the Church
of the Brethren or the Lutheran Thrift Store. In passing the ever-crowded
Miss Donuts, one never says go past Generations Antiques and take a left
at Sigal Diamonds.
Generations, indeed, have passed since La Verne knew no sins of alcohol.
The city now solicits businesses serving alcohol to increase revenue. Tony
Spencer, co-owner of the newly opened Heroes Bar and Grill, says, "The
city wanted us to come down here. I think the main reason for that was to
bring more business downtown; it should be making more business for everyone."
Spencer says a restaurant that serves alcohol is an important option when
people go out to dinner. "It also helps to be the only restaurant in
downtown La Verne with a hard liquor license. I am surprised there aren't
more down here." The process of applying for a liquor license no longer
requires undercover efforts that tempt applicants to secretly display their
applications, avoiding trouble from advocate groups like the WCTU. Spring
2001, Casa Garcia, a Mexican restaurant that now inhabits the red and white
curtained building adjacent to Warehouse Pizza, proudly plastered its application
in the front window and successfully garnished a license.
Kenny Schonfeld, owner of Warehouse Pizza, justifies the sale of beer
and wine in his restaurant. "Most of our beer and wine business is
with a meal, so we don't get much of a drinking crowd." He says not
being able to sell alcohol would disable his business and drive his customers
elsewhere. "It is real common to drink beer with pizza. I don't know
that I would want a full bar, but if I couldn't sell beer, my customers
would probably go to a pizza place in a neighboring city that does sell
Maybe that is where the problem lies. Society and its members require
that the city accommodate the relatively recent acceptance of alcohol in
culture. Should the city be so accommodating? If it is not, will residents
stay in La Verne? The fact is, alcohol has entered a gray area. There are
still people who refuse to accept it, and there are now people who embrace
it with open arms.
Will the WCTU or prohibition ever exist again? Lambert says, "It
couldn't work. Education doesn't work. The generality is that anything complex
is difficult to carry out. The more people there are, the harder it is.
I was raised not to drink, and alcoholism is a tremendous problem in this
world. Alcohol has its place in society, and I know that. Moral and ethical
values need to come from home." Herbst remembers raising her children
with the standards of the WCTU. "We weren't supposed to allow them
to drink at all. We received a little paper and a white ribbon that meant
I was committed to teaching them not to drink."
The University of La Verne is part of the community's livelihood, and
it is the one remaining bit of history that displays the dry borders that
used to exist. As a dry campus, the University restricts any and all persons
from using alcoholic substances on campus grounds. Even residence hall students
over the age of 21 cannot be intoxicated while at school or in this case
at home. Dean of Student Affairs Loretta Rahmani says, "Is there alcohol
on campus? My answer is unequivocally, 'yes.' Are we doing anything about
it? Absolutely." Rahmani says ULV has adopted a new two strikes policy.
"Statistics are showing a decrease in occurrences, and they help us
determine repeat offenders so we can get them help. Rahmani says, "I
am very happy to be working at a dry campus. I've worked at large wet campuses
in the past, and alcohol runs amuck. The consequence of alcohol is a societal
issue; it's larger than ULV and La Verne."
"Reform is so difficult," says Lambert. "Anything good
is complex and very difficult to maintain and so easy to destroy-so delicate
and difficult to balance it can't hold up to greed and individual desire."