License to Serve

The San Diego Union of November 21, 1905 included this item on page 6, which I present in its entirety:

“The liquor license muddle has at last been untangled. Joe Jost was awarded the license formerly held by John Conklin for 468 Fifth street. The council looked with favor upon the application of Smith and Steinmann as partners for the license for the saloon at 1420 E street. And granted their application. Meyer and Heckler we granted a transfer of the license formerly held by George Wahl for the saloon at the corner of Fourth and E streets. The license of the Imperial Saloon was transferred to A. B. Gifford and the license for the saloon at 568 Fifth street was transferred to A. A. Finley.”

If you read it all you could count a total of five saloon licenses being granted for establishments within a few blocks of each other in downtown San Diego at one city council session. The “muddle” in the licensing process had to do with an ordinance passed earlier in the year that was part of a campaign by the Anti-Saloon League and other organizations promoting prohibition. That ordinance, among other things, limited the number of saloons legally permitted in the city to 55.

It certainly didn’t stop the development of saloons, not to mention the sale of liquor at restaurants and at wholesale operations. In December of 1905, the ordinance was reversed after a contentious city council session packed by representatives of both “wets” and “drys.” While setback locally, the “drys” would continue their campaign on the state and national level, culminating in the passing of national prohibition with the 18th amendment in 1919.

And we all know how that turned out.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers and the archives of the San Diego City Clerk’s office.

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