• U.S.

CALIFORNIA: Reform Over Los Angeles

4 minute read

Columnist Westbrook Pegler likes California so much that he tries to reform it. Critical of San Francisco statuary, he lately set out to improve it with work of his own (see cut, col. 3). Last week he frothed at Los Angeles, home of EPIC, land of Ham & Eggs, as follows:

“. . . The U. S. A. would be much better off if that big, sprawling, incoherent, shapeless, slobbering civic idiot in the family of American communities, the city of Los Angeles, could be declared incompetent and placed in charge of a guardian like any individual mental defective. . . . Los Angeles is the source and home of more political, economic and religious idiocy than all the rest of the country together. . . .”

Los Angeles was too busy to mind. It was in the thick of one of its periodic reform dramas, beggaring any movie and featuring a bomb, a Thin Man, a false-bottomed car.

The bomb blew up last January in the automobile of one Harry Raymond, a private detective who had been hired by a group of reformers to get dirt on the administration of Mayor Frank L. Shaw. When the bomb was traced to two of Mayor Shaw’s intimates on the police force, public indignation blew the mayor out of City Hall. In a special election in September, Los Angeles voters recalled seamy Mayor Shaw, installed curly-headed, cherubic Superior Judge Fletcher Bowron as his successor (TIME, Sept. 26).

First thing Mayor Bowron did was demand the resignations of the members of all the city’s governing commissions from police to parks. Grandstanding District Attorney Buron Fitts then joined the graft hunt, impaneled a grand jury. First graft flushed was in the civil service examinations for promotions in the police and fire departments. When an influential Mexican-born police lieutenant named Peter (“The Thin Man”) Del Gado, a great friend of Police Chief James Edgar Davis, denied taking bribes to tamper the examinations, he was indicted for perjury. Last fortnight Thin Man Del Gado gave a friend $15,000 to pay his bail bond, disappeared.

Less fortunate was Joseph Shaw, the 49-year-old retired Navy lieutenant who was regarded as kingpin of the Shaw regime. Joseph Shaw retired from the Navy on pension in 1933. That year his older brother was elected mayor and he promptly moved in with him as secretary. Although Brother Joseph modestly described himself as a flag officer to Brother Frank, the admiral, the impression got about that Brother Joseph really ran things. To him went credit for the new air base, supply warehouses and improved anchorages which have made Los Angeles one of the Navy’s favorite ports. He also got credit for other things: rumor was that he and Del Gado had smuggled $250,000 into Mexico in a false-bottomed car for safe keeping. Last week he was charged with shaking down 33 ambitious policemen and firemen for sums ranging from $50 to $450, forcing the civil service department to alter unsatisfactory grades.

Haled before the grand jury, Brother Joseph refused to answer questions except about the mysterious Del Gado, said the story of the false-bottomed car was “theatrical.” Under grilling he broke down, crying: “I am a poor man. . . . I’ve always been an honorable one. … If this jury indicts me I hope it won’t make the bail too high.” The jury did indict him, along with Mayor Shaw’s civil service commissioner, William Cormack, and another officeholder named only as “John Doe,” on felony charges carrying a possible 14-year prison sentence.

Meantime, Police Chief Davis, a full-blooded strong man who liked to bait “communists” and to shoot chalk from behind his subordinates’ ears with a pistol, resigned before Mayor Bowron could carry out his threat to oust him. Chief Davis explained that he was thinking of his $328 monthly pension. Mayor Bowron explained: “All in all, I cannot but feel that James E. Davis quit under fire.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com