One of last week’s columns alluded to Stockton’s “wide open” era. Wide open as in a city where anything goes, gambling, narcotics, prostitution and other illegal shenanigans.
Stockton’s wide open era — roughly 1900-1955 — is on the cusp of being forgotten.
I wrote a column about it in 1995 (!). I’m reprinting it, below. For two reasons. First, it’s our history.
Second, one wonders whether Stockton’s “wide open” era is a historically separate period or whether a line can be drawn through it to the present and Stockton’s bankruptcy. The corruption, if nothing else, may have poisoned the noble ideals of civic service and replaced them with a special interest brand of politics that knew no bounds of self-enrichment and led the city up the poorhouse steps.
Anyway, here’s the column.
TrueSource: SII Archive SII1995
Publication date : 1995-08-23
Edition: The Record Wednesday
Headline: 1949 recall election takes cake
By Line: Michael Fitzgerald
If you found yesterdays recall election distasteful, you’d have really hated Stockton’s recall of 1949.
The mother of all Stockton recalls, which targeted six of the nine city councilmen, made yesterdays recall look like a game of Chutes n Ladders. It stunk up the town with below-the-belt fighting and Joseph Goebbels-level propaganda.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the bad guys won. The recall failed. A good cop got demoted, a city manager with integrity got fired and the back-room boys were left holding the field, nyah-haa-haaa. It just doesn’t get more stinko than this.
According to some old-timers and newspaper accounts from the day, the story goes like this: In 1946, houses of gambling and prostitution flourished in Stockton’s West End. City Manager Walter Hogan, prodded by the state attorney general, decided to change that.
Hogan appointed incorruptible Rex Parker as chief of police. Parker resolutely began cleaning up. Parker closed down Joe Gianelli, owner of the Pelican Club, whom The Record at the time called the town’s biggest bookie.
Parker ordered all gambling houses closed. He cracked down on slot machines. En route, he made powerful enemies. That year, five new people were elected to Stockton’s nine-member council. One was Michael Angelo Sanguinetti, owner of skid rows El Dorado Drug Store.
“A lot of his business came from the houses (of prostitution),” said Jake Sandoval, 66, a West End resident, businessman and longtime friend of Sanguinetti’s. They (the prostitutes) would go down there for whatever the doctors required them to take, all their facial stuff, condoms and stuff like that.”
After secret meetings, Sanguinetti and five council cronies ordered Hogan to fire Parker.
So on Nov. 15 the council voted 6-3 to fire Hogan. Hogan was out.
The next day, Chief Parker asked to be demoted. Outraged, a citizens group mounted a recall against the six council members.
The Stockton Record supported the recall. The pro-Sanguinetti faction, marshaling big money, published The Answer, a propaganda periodical which alleged that The Record and Bank of Stockton were a machine running the town.
The Answer published a map showing downtown locations financed by the bank. Some had become bordellos. The implication: The bank was controlling prostitution! The editor of The Answer ultimately got himself arrested for criminal libel.
Billboards blared: BACKROOM RULE MUST END! Yet the AFL opposed the recall. The Catholic church remained conspicuously neutral. Many of the towns best people remained as silent as rubber lizards.
Why? Because many of the towns pillars were up to their pediments in the lucrative business of vice. Many average citizens opposed the recall, too, accepting gambling and prostitution as part of the community.
Many clubs and organizations had stayed solvent by using slot machines. The San Francisco Examiner explained why most police opposed the recall: “In the vernacular, some of the boys were taking it with both hands.”
On May 8, 1949, about 20,000 of Stockton’s 28,000 registered voters cast ballots in the recall election, the city’s highest voter turnout ever. The recall was narrowly defeated. At the Pelican Club, drinks were on the house.