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June 12, 2007 > Prohibition in Hayward

Prohibition in Hayward

Alcohol-making it, drinking it, fighting against it-has been a part of the Hayward area community practically since the arrival of the Spanish missionaries. Not surprising, it played its biggest role during the years of national alcohol prohibition from 1920 to 1933.

Beginning in the 1830s, temperance organizations had warned people about the effects of alcohol on society. By 1893, with the formation of the Anti-Saloon League in Ohio and the growing influence of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, temperance forces were calling for a complete ban on alcohol. Between 1905 and 1917, they succeeded in enacting laws prohibiting the sale and manufacture of alcohol in 26 of 48 states.

Those states that did not have prohibition laws often had many counties that were dry or mostly dry (as was the case in California). By 1917, the prohibition movement had gathered enough influence to push for national prohibition through a constitutional amendment. In January 1919, Congress ratified the 18th Amendment which put a stop to the "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors." The law went into effect in January 1920.

Although the California legislature ratified the 18th amendment, the margin of victory by the "dry" side was relatively small. As with many parts of the state, there were in the Hayward area about the same number of people in favor of prohibition as against it. For years, a vocal temperance movement was actively fighting to curtail the "evils of alcohol." On the opposite side of the spectrum, there were several local breweries and dozens of saloons serving alcohol throughout the area. Basically, the cheering at the arrival of prohibition was equaled by the cries of disappointment when the bars and breweries closed.

Enforcing prohibition proved to be a nightmare, especially in California with its location and coastline making it especially lucrative, and fairly easy, to illegally ship alcohol in from Mexico and Canada. California too had so much agriculture and open land, building and operating illegal alcohol stills was equally easy and profitable. There was also a lack of enthusiasm on the part of many local and state officials to stop bootlegging and speakeasies. Getting alcohol during prohibition was not difficult at all. In fact, one observer stated that some cities like San Francisco and Sacramento stayed "hilariously wet."

In Alameda County, enforcement of prohibition did tighten up some with the appointment of Earl Warren to District Attorney. Warren made a commitment to enforcing the law and prosecuted many bootleggers and speakeasy operators throughout the county. Bootlegging was especially rampant in Castro Valley and the Hayward hills, which were populated by farms and ranches that were ideal locations for illegal stills. The smell produced by distilling went mostly unnoticed and purchasing supplies, like barrels and jugs, was easily explained as necessary farm supplies. Local bootleggers dealt their product from the back of their cars and from the back doors of stores and soda fountains. You just had to know who to ask. Popular speakeasies operated throughout the area too. All in all, the Hayward area actually remained fairly "wet" throughout the Prohibition years.

By 1933, it was evident that the experiment of national prohibition was not working. Crime across the country had increased as a result of bootlegging activities and both the production and consumption of alcohol had not decreased. With the Great Depression being felt in communities across the country, passing the 21st amendment, which reversed the 18th amendment, was not difficult though the fight to control the influence of alcohol remained. Many states and individual towns continued to remain dry and still are to this day. In the Hayward area, the business of drinking alcoholic beverages picked up where it left off 13 years prior but the business of brewing and wine making in the area did not recover until fairly recently. The temperance movement remains active in the area too, and while not having the large membership it once claimed, continues to actively fight to safeguard this community from the effects of alcohol.

The Hayward Area Historical Society Museum will explore this topic in its next exhibit, Prohibition. The exhibit tells the story of this unique period in U.S. history and its impact on the culture and economy of the Hayward area with local photos, maps and objects from the Hayward area. It runs June 16 through September 22. There will be an opening reception on Thursday, June 21 from 5:30 - 8:30 p.m. during the first downtown Hayward Street Party. All are invited.

Events and programs that will be held in conjunction with this exhibit are listed as follows:

Walking Tour: The Waterfront.
Saturday, June 23, 10:00 a.m.
Walk the avenue known as "the waterfront" where Hayward's largest brewery stood. This easy walk begins at the museum and stays in the downtown area.

CafÄ Chronicles Release Party & Tequila Tasting
Thursday, July 5, 6:00 - 7:30 p.m.
Join author Francisco Zermeľo as he reads from his new book, which combines memoirs and politics to increase cultural understanding. A Tequila tasting will follow.

Walking Tour: B Street Saloons
Saturday, July 21, 10:00 a.m.
Visit the site of past and present saloons on the B street corridor and explore the first microbrewery in California. This easy walk begins at the museum.

Beer Tasting: Taste Bud Tour of the World's Best Brews
Friday, July 27, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.
Taste master Ira Bletz looks at the history, lore, and mythology of beer and brew craft as you taste some new treats and savor some old favorites. Space is limited, advanced ticket purchase is required $25 ($20 for members).

The Hayward Area Historical Society & Museum is located at 22701 Main Street in historic downtown Hayward, three blocks from the downtown Hayward BART station. The Historical Society, in partnership with HARD, operates the McConaghy House Museum. The downtown museum is open Tuesday - Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is free. Visit the web site at for more information about current exhibits, programs and events, including those at McConaghy House.

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