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Temperance, Thy Other Name Was Monrovia

Early Monrovians had little acceptance for those who drank alcoholic spirits within the city limits.

Monrovia in 1887 was known for many things – a beautiful climate, an excellent view of the entire San Gabriel Valley, an ample supply of clean, pure water, soil rich enough to grow most crops and fruit trees, and land available for purchase for those who wanted to begin life anew in the West. 

The Monrovia Planet, the town’s newspaper which began operation on November 20, 1886, never hesitated to extol the virtues of the fledging community or act as a cheerleader in promoting the interests of the town.

One issue that was foremost in the minds of the citizens almost from the beginning was to rid the town of its saloons. On September 24, 1887, the Monrovia Planet commented, "When are we to be eternally free of the accursed saloon?"

Next week another one will be opened in the old stand by a man named Burton, of Pasadena. He says that if anyone tries to persuade him to quit, they will have to do so in front of a 42 calibre.” Later in that same edition, the case was made for incorporation as the solution to the problem: “The first and foremost point was the advantage it [incorporation] would give us in dealing with the troublesome saloon question.”

The following excerpt from the Planet on November 26, 1887, relates several dealings with saloons:

“More than a year ago there was a saloon running in the building now occupied by the First National Bank, with a big Frenchman as proprietor; but he was induced by W.N. Monroe (a man who is always awake to the interests of Monrovia) et al. to leave town. Then another man thought he would start a saloon here. He purchased a stock of liquors and had them at the depot ready to bring into town, but alas! For him, the same bloodhound, Monroe, got wind of it, and ordered him also to not bring his stuff into town, but to get out himself. So, he also got! Then a third outfit started a saloon in Monrovia. This time, Monroe was off in Oregon, buying ties for the Rapid Transit road, but he came home. He (Monroe) went to the saloon and told the whiskey vendor to leave town. So he, too, made himself scarce in Monrovia.”

So it was that in early December, 1887, a vote was taken among those who could vote: “As was anticipated, there was very little opposition to the incorporation of Monrovia as a city. There were 112 votes polled and out of this number only one man voted against incorporation, while two did not vote at all. There were 109 votes for and one against incorporation.”

A conclusion to that action involved Deputy Marshall Oglesby. He had been a sheriff in Texas, and his long, sporty mustache and imposing frame contributed to the air of authority he exuded. Oglesby, along with several members of the city council, paid a visit to a saloon being operated on Myrtle Avenue. After sampling the “evidence” to confirm the nature of the business, Oglesby said to the bartender, “We-all have incorporated and we-all don’t want you here. This place is closed – now.” (Wiley 65)

A fitting epitaph by the Planet put a succinct conclusion to the drama on the heels of the successful incorporation vote: “Mr. Saloon, we bid thee a long, last and everlasting adieu.”

Wiley, John L. History of Monrovia. Pasadena Star News Press, 1927.

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