L.A. Noir

L.A. Noir by John Buntin Read Free Book Online

Book: L.A. Noir by John Buntin Read Free Book Online
Authors: John Buntin
becoming a “black spot” of crime—“so black in fact as to make it the subject of invidious comparisons whenever statistics of crime in America and Europe are cited.”
    Overt vice and rampant crime threatened the image that fueled Los Angeles’s growth—and undergirded the fortunes of men like Harry Chandler. “Look-the-other-way” boosterism would no longer do. The image that Harry Chandler and the growth barons had so carefully cultivated was in danger. Chandler resolved to act.
          BY 1922, Harry Chandler was accustomed to having his way. A member of more than thirty corporate boards; the hidden hand behind innumerable syndicates, secret trusts, and dummy corporations; a land baron who owned or controlled roughly 300,000 acres in Southern California and, across the border in Mexico, an 860,000-acre ranching and farming operation that included the largest cotton plantation in the world, Chandler was the most powerful businessman in Los Angeles. By 1922, estimates of his fortune ranged from $200 million to half a billion dollars—immense sums for the 1920s. The
Los Angeles Times
was by far the most influential and profitable paper in Southern California, with nearly double the ad linage of its nearest rival, William Randolph Hearst’s
Los Angeles Examiner
. Local businessmen spoke with a mixture of awe and dread of Chandler’s “thousand dollar lunches”—the occasions on which the business community was summoned to rally behind one of Chandler’s civic improvement initiatives. Chandler’s power was not absolute, but when he and the business community resolved to act, they generally prevailed.
    Now was just such a time. Chandler quickly recruited George Cryer, a former assistant city attorney (who bore a striking resemblance to Woodrow Wilson), to run for mayor. To manage his campaign, Cryer chose a former University of Southern California football star-turned-attorney, Kent KaneParrot (pronounced “Perot”), a protege of one of Chandler’s closest allies in local politics, Superior Court Judge Gavin Craig.
    At first, everything went well. Cryer ran an extremely well-funded campaign, and voters, at the
Los Angeles Times
‘s urging, obligingly elected him mayor. Kent Parrot became his chief of staff. Mayor Cryer then set out to find a chief of police who could crack down on vice.
    The mayor’s first choice, a determined reformer, quit within a matter of months, frustrated at resistance within the department. Cryer’s second choice, a war hero with no experience in police work, launched a vigorous crackdown on prostitution in the downtown hotels. But that was the wrong kind of crackdown. The
image
of lawlessness was bad, but certain types of lawlessness (notably prostitution and gambling) were widely seen as being good for business, as long as they were done discreetly. Outraged hoteliers soon forced his resignation. Clearly, cleaning up Los Angeles would require a delicate touch.
    If Mayor Cryer was disheartened, he didn’t show it. He turned next to detective Louis Oaks, who’d won acclaim for rescuing a society matron from kidnappers. But, alas, he too stumbled. First the chief was observed frequenting one of the very hotels his predecessor had attempted to close down, in the company of not one but two ladies of the night. Then he was arrested in San Bernardino in the backseat of a car with a half-dressed woman and a half-empty bottle of whiskey.
    This was embarrassing, to be sure, but it was not what ended his policing career. Chief Oaks was fired only after he crossed Mayor Cryer’s right-hand man, Kent Parrot. Parrot had his own man in the police department, Capt. Lee Heath. Captain Heath acted as Parrot’s proxy, transferring personnel without the chief’s permission and shaking down tour operators to raise funds for the Parrot-Cryer machine. Such behavior from a subordinate was problematic, to say the least. So Chief Oaks decided to dismiss Captain Heath. Parrot responded by having

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