Simanaitis Says

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IN MY continuing recognition of scalawags, political and otherwise, I offer Charles H. Crawford, who in the 1920s was the Los Angeles version of Chicago’s Al Capone.

The tale has all the more schadenfreude in light of Crawford’s perhaps convenient conversion to Christianity in 1930. Hallelujah. On the other hand, less than a year later, “Good Time Charlie” was dead from an assassin’s bullet. Perhaps this hallelujah is premature, or at least better left for tomorrow’s Part 2 of this story.

Charles H. Crawford, 1879–1931, American politician and barkeeper, aka the Gray Wolf of Spring Street, aka Good Time Charlie, one of the founders of the Los Angeles City Hall Gang.

Crawford was Ohio-born. In 1910, by age 30 he was running a saloon in Seattle’s Tenderloin District. The newly elected Mayor Hiram C. Gill had campaigned against booze, brothels, and gambling halls, but then found it more profitable to collect a per-girl skim from places like Crawford’s. Voters got Gill thrown out in 1911 (the first mayor of a major U.S. city to be recalled); he blamed women, granted suffrage in Washington state only the year before.

Crawford saw the handwriting on the wall and, by January 1914, took over the Maple Café & Saloon at 5th and Maple in Los Angeles. Some say his enhancements to the place included gambling in the back room and a brothel upstairs. Crawford never looked back. Well, not until his Christian awakening 16 years later.

In the interim, the Maple Café & Saloon was popular with local politicos, judges, and other public officials, all apparently thirsty for its various pleasures. The 1919 Volstead Act added the tease of alcohol’s federal sanction to Crawford’s other offerings.

Between 1921 and 1929, Los Angeles Mayor George E. Cryer linked up with Crawford and Kent Kane Parrot, lawyer and another political wheeler-dealer, to form what became the City Hall Gang.

Kent Kane Parrot, American politician, lawyer, one of the Los Angeles City Hall Gang founders. Image from prairiemary.

Parrot, de facto mayor, also ran the Los Angeles Police Department which gave Crawford and his fellow businessmen advance notice of impending raids. Nothing improper here, folks; just enjoy yourselves.

Crawford’s ill-gotten profits, or just enough of them, fueled the operation. This was when he became known as the Gray Wolf of Spring Street, with the new Los Angeles City Hall located at 200 N.

Los Angeles City Hall, 200 N. Spring Street, dedicated in 1928, photographed in 1931. The 10-story International Savings Bank to the immediate left is gone now.

Noted the Los Angeles Times, “Although physically imposing, Crawford had an effeminate voice and an Adam’s apple that bobbed uncontrollably. His notorious viciousness and cunning helped take public corruption to a new level in Los Angeles city government in the 1920s.”

I am unable to determine why he was physically imposing. Maybe it was the viciousness. Maybe people just misinterpreted that bobbing Adam’s apple.

George E. Cryer, 1875–1961, American lawyer and politician, 32nd mayor of Los Angeles, 1921–1929.

Mayor Cryer screwed things up in 1929 by deciding not to run for reelection; he and Parrot had a falling out. This was the same year that Crawford and six others were indicted for conspiracy to frame city councilman Carl Jacobson, an outspoken critic of who knows what all. Maybe a contract had been put out on Jacobson, but the Crawford case was dropped for reasons of insufficient evidence.

This wasn’t the only time Good Time Charlie beat a rap. And, as we’ll learn tomorrow, he was still to find God. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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