Best Of Tucson®

Good Times

Tucson was quite wet during the dry years of Prohibition. And it was the quality of the liquor, not its availability, that worried people.

Yndia Smalley Moore recalled that when she dated during that era, her father insisted she take a flask of whiskey with her. If the young couple was going to visit a speakeasy, he said, they shouldn't drink the bootlegger's illegal concoction. "People are having stomachs pumped out; they're going blind; all sorts of horrible things are happening," her father warned.

But the drinks they had at home were acceptable. Her parents, Moore said, always had wine with dinner, and at her 1930 wedding, champagne was served.

Tucson's proximity to Mexico, the ease of making homemade alcohol and the common dislike of government intervention into private lives all meant that Prohibition didn't have that big of an impact locally. Saloons, however, did need to go underground, which simply required ringing a bell next to a nondescript door to gain admittance.

Under a statewide initiative passed in 1914 and then strengthened two years later, Arizona banned liquor six years before the nation did, so the 1920 implementation of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution affected Tucson very little.

But the state and federal laws certainly didn't stop anyone in Tucson who wanted a drink from having one. Builder Eleazar Herreras remembered years later that his father would keep liquor stored in a large barrel at their home.

One day, Herreras recalled, Levi Manning was throwing a big party at his mansion in downtown's elite enclave, Snob Hollow. Without liquor, Manning turned to Herreras' father for help, asking for 20 gallons of mescal or tequila. Herrera's father didn't have quite enough in the barrel, so he cut it with a little water. Manning never noticed the difference.

Despite the laissez-faire attitude of most people, police did arrest some people for violating Prohibition laws. But it was the bootleggers who usually suffered the legal consequences.

The local chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union wanted tough punishment for the law breakers. When some locals signed a petition in August 1929 that called for the release from prison of bootleggers, the WCTU strongly objected, proclaiming the move "would tend to weaken law enforcement."

But the fun ended in October 1929 with the coming of the Great Depression, which lasted for more than a decade. When it began, the income disparity in the United States was enormous, with just 2 percent of families having incomes more than $10,000 a year, while 60 percent made less than $2,000.

Even after the stock market crash, people in Tucson could point with pride to the corner of Congress Street and Stone Avenue, where the 10-story Consolidated Bank building had opened in November 1929. But eventually, the economic downturn reached Arizona and threw many people out of work.

Prohibition would finally be repealed in December 1933, but four years earlier, the good times of the Roaring '20s had come to an end.