Apr 24 2014

What the––? What the heck is happening here? Wasting perfectly good beer and spirits like that?

Well, that, obviously, is an example of Prohibition in action.

Oly ProhibitionIn this photo from 1923, the mayor of Centralia, George Barner, stands in the center, flanked left and right by religious and temperance club leaders outside the Centralia police station amidst his campaign to clean up the city. Some of the bottles on the curb had been confiscated during a raid of what is today McMenamins Olympic Club (although many more bottles remained at the club).

Barner was strictly a law-and-order man - he was very honest and always stood up for what's right. His stepson Carl Diana remembered that while Barner wasn't a drinker himself, "he also wasn't against others drinking - unless they abused it."

Barner's long and distinguished career included two effective terms as Centralia's mayor during the tumultuous '20s, the successful operation of his West Coast Savings & Loan Association, and four terms as Washington's State Supervisor of Savings and Loans. But lucky for us, the Olympic Club stands today as a reminder of one instance where George Barnerdidn't succeed.

There had been alcohol raids and arrests at the Olympic Club since the very first day of Washington State's Prohibition in 1916. But the staff there was tenacious and wily. In one instance, on a Saturday night in January 1922, word spread quickly that local police were going to raid the Olympic Club. A crowd of several hundred curiosity seekers blocked traffic in front of the bar. However, only three measly pints of liquor were found and confiscated. Waiter Joe Randall took the fall, said the liquor was his, and was released on $100 bond! (That is some impressive staff loyalty.)

By summer 1923, the mayor and, perhaps more significantly, the influential Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU; see smug faces above), had had just about enough.

The Centralia Tribune breathlessly reported the drama:  

MAYOR BARNER BACKED IN CITY BOOZE FIGHT

"We are glad that the people of Centralia are standing back of MAYOR BARNER in his efforts to CLEAN THIS CITY."

On Thursday, there was a WCTU meeting:  "... ministers of city, MAYOR BARNER, Chief of Police Compton, and the manager of the Tribune invited. Following this meeting several hundred bottles of confiscated liquor were destroyed by MAYOR BARNER and Chief of Police Compton, aided by members of the W.C.T.U., and ministers of the various churches."

On Tuesday: "Doors of Olympic Club closed and 'king of bootleggers' for Centralia and vicinity, uncrowned."      

Upon Mayor Barner's recommendation, the Oly Club's business license was revoked, the death knell for any commercial establishment. But the Club's power bloc flashed a bit of its dark might, just enough to trump the maneuvers of the mayor and the WCTU.

Within days, the Olympic Club, brandishing a new business license, had reopened its doors and restored its crown. And you can bet that the raids and arrests and licensing revocations at the fabled club continued on and on in this same cycle for another near-decade, 'til Prohibition was repealed in the state of Washington in November 1932 and federally in 1933.

The next time you're at the Olympic Club, think of the history emanating out of the very walls and try to imagine how horrified the upright ladies of the WTCU would be at your scandalous and morally deficient alcohol-indulging behavior. Cheers!

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