Hon. Milton L. Schwartz
Miller: This is Andrea Miller and it is Friday May 11th. We are in the chambers of Milton L. Schwartz. Dick Nichols is here. Mr. Nichols and I are going to interview Judge Schwartz to prepare his oral history for the Eastern District of California Historical Society archives. Dick would you like to start?
Nichols: I would like to start. Judge would you give us briefly your family background.
Judge: Going back how far?
Nichols: Parents. Grandparents. And going back beyond that if you know it and you think it would be of interest.
Judge: I have virtually no real material on my father's forebears. My paternal grandfather died before I was born so I really don't have any connection personally with him except things that I've heard and they're not very detailed. Maternal grandparents I know a lot about because I was raised with them and my mother and so that's easy.
I also did a big history on my maternal grandfather who came over here from Germany and settled in Cincinnati for a short time and then came out to Sacramento in 1854 and was very young and came out to join an uncle whom he had heard of and he wanted to settle here and so he simply went to work for his uncle and then shortly after that got the idea to start an exclusively "shoe" store. There were no such things as exclusively shoe stores - you bought shoes in the general haberdashery and he felt that this was a need for this. I should say there were none west of the Mississippi.
Miller: Could I interrupt you for a second and ask you to state what his full name was.
Judge: My grandfather was Gustave Lavenson. That is created by his family because the name was something like Layvesohn which was very hard to pronounce. And so each brother that came out here, who would be my grandfather's forebears, took a different name. They anglicized it in a different way. And so Lavenson is really a made up name that would adapt or be adaptable here.
And he started his shoe store at 5th and J Streets, just a block from here, in 1877, consisting of himself and a cobbler. And they made shoes to a certain extent. They certainly did a huge amount of repairing and reconditioning. And then my grandfather just started selling and became a merchant.
My grandmother did not come over from Germany. She was born here but here parents came from Germany also. And, I think, she started out in Portland with her family and exactly where she met my grandfather I can't remember. But they were married early - they were married shortly after the shoe store was started in 1877.
Miller: Do you remember her maiden name?
Judge: Her maiden name was Goldman. Flora Goldman. And she had two brothers who were here in the United States in Portland and neither of them ever had any children. They were both married for a long time and we became very close with them because when some of your close relatives have no children they adopt you and they spoil you terribly.
My grandfather did very well. He was one of the founders of the Sutter Club. One of the 4 or 5 people who started the Sutter Club. And also one of the founders of the Del Paso Country Club. And in those days he did a lot of things. His great fame came during the strike in 1900. It was a huge railroad strike. And it really raised all kinds of problems here in town and all of the merchants in town boycotted the Sacramento Bee because they were a liberal newspaper and they took the side of the labor and not management. And My grandfather said I am on the side of management but C.K. McClatchy, the first, is my dear friend, and we are neighbors and I will never boycott the Bee. And so the result of that was that C.K. McClatchy, when the strike was ended, said you will never pay a dime for advertising in the Sacramento Bee as long as you live and we never did until my grandfather died.
C.K. McClatchy was the second McClatchy. James McClatchy started the Bee, and then his two sons were C.K. the First and V.S. and they did not get along well after James McClatchy died. And I remember how exciting it was because each did a secret bid to buy out the other and the person who submitted the higher bid would become the owner of the newspaper. And C.K. bid higher, he was the younger brother. V.S. then raised that other side of the McClatchy family with was McClatchy Realty and various places. [Text omitted.]
And so I grew up in the shadow of C.K. McClatchy. My grandfather, in the meantime, was prospering in the shoe business. And then he entered into some kind of huge undertaking with about 10 or 11 other men in town and they bought a huge amount of property down the river which is called the Fair Ranch. And that's where he made his real money. I mean that was enormously successful. And I can't remember exactly where it was but it was somewhere Southeast of Sacramento, of the main part of town. And that's what he did, he was one of the pioneers of the retail business in Sacramento. He was the one in shoes and in those days when you opened any kind of business in clothes you got exclusives from the manufacturer's wholesaler. You entered into contracts where they would not sell to any other competing merchant. Probably all horribly anti-trust. And so he moved the shoe store from 5th and J, and then the center of town looked like to was going to be K street, so he moved to 7th and K and he owned that building until I think it was 1929 and the town kept moving east and so he moved finally to the last location which was on K Street between 10th and 11th right across the street from the Crest Theater. That's where he died.
So my mother . . . he and my grandmother Flora had two children - both girls - and one was, her married name was Cannon, and her husband started the Cannon Brick Company which he operated until he died. And my mother never remarried and my father died - I'm jumping around now. My father's name was Colman, no E and no middle name, and he, my father, died when I was only 8 months old and so I don't remember him. I was the youngest of 3 children. I have an older brother who is 5 years older and he remembers my father and he was Colman also. Named after my father. And my sister, who is now deceased, was in between in age and she barely remembered my father. I'm the only one that obviously has no recollection.
And my mother was very active in a million things. She wrote a guest column weekly for the Sacramento Union on style and fashion and these kinds of things. And she as active in almost everything. She was a charter member in the Sacramento Riding Club and she grew up riding here in downtown Sacramento as a girl. And she got involved in all sorts of charitable and social activities. And then when the depression hit, when the crash hit, in 1929 she decided that if we were going to save the shoe store and the business she was going to have to do it. And so she got rid of all the top level people in the shoe store and gave them 90 days to raise the money to buy out her stock. And of course they couldn't raise it-in those days you couldn't raise anything. So out they went and she started over again in 1933 and became the president of the shoe store.
Miller: At some point then she had absentee managers who were not family members - of the store.
Judge: My grandfather made probably the only serious business mistake I can remember and that was that he would give stock, that is give it to them and not make them buy it, to the three oldest and what he believed to be the best of his employees so he incorporated. Downey Brand and Seymour incorporated him. He gave them the stock but the aggregate of it still did not rise even to 49 percent. And so my grandmother inherited the controlling stock. But he felt that the three men he gave the stock to would never leave and open their own railroad because this was just too good a deal, they had a built in ownership and it was a built up business already and that he would never lose. And, it's odd what money does, but when everybody took a terrible hit the men continued to draw their salaries but they told my grandmother that because she wasn't working there she simply couldn't draw a salary because there was no money and, of course, there were no dividends, so all of sudden she had no income from the store, the business, which was the principal asset. And so I can remember the night - I was 13 years old - when the annual meeting took place at my home, our home, and my mother dropped this bomb on the three senior men and said you've got 90 days to raise the money we're going to settle on as the price and you get it up by then or you're gone. And they were shouting and they were absolutely taken by surprise. It was something else. We were listening from our bedrooms upstairs and it was very exciting.
And so she took it over. And she learned. There was one of the three that she fired - of course she had my grandmother's proxy for everything - and the one she thought was the least [text omitted] objectionable [ text omitted]. And she said I'm going to keep Mr. Marsh if he wants to stay and I'll pay him $150 a month. Mr. Marsh was drawing $650 a month which was a lot of money in those days, in the depths of the depression too. And he allowed as he could live on $150 a month. So she kept him and he did a [text omitted] good job [text omitted] until he eventually passed away.
The other two were [text omitted] embittered [text omitted]. They remained here in town and made enough money I guess running the store in the good years so that they were able to retire [text omitted].
[Text omitted.] My mother hired an outside manager when Mr. Marsh died - I think early during World War II. [Text omitted] And then, of course, at the start of World War II everybody [began to prosper]. And particularly necessaries because shoes were rationed. You got points and coupons and you saved them and that sort of thing but they needed the shoes for our boys overseas and that sort of thing. And my mother did extremely well during the War and kept the business going and it kept growing.
And my mother expected one of her sons, either Colman or I, to - I never can remember whether I should say Colman or me in that context. I, early on, decided somehow I wanted to be a lawyer. You don't know why but you just say my father was a lawyer and I want to be a lawyer even though I don't remember. And my brother Colman started out wanting to be a lawyer but then he changed his mind and the result of that was that at the end of World War II when we both came home, I was discharged from the military in 1946, he decided to go into the shoe business with my mother. And I went to law school and it was kind of the reverse of what we had always planned to do.
Miller: Let me interrupt you for a moment. You said your father was a lawyer. Was he employed by Downey Brand?
Miller: What did he do?
Judge: He was . . . he only practiced 5 or 6 years before he died and he was with a two person law firm in San Francisco. He used to take the ferry - he lived when I was born in or near Lake Merritt in Oakland and my mother was raising the three of us kids and I was only a tiny baby when my father was diagnosed with cancer and they knew it was hopeless. And so she brought the 3 of us to Sacramento to stay with my grandmother and grandfather. Then she went back down and lived there near the hospital for six months until he died.
He didn't really have time to develop a good practice, but he loved it and he had one partner who wrote the most beautiful letter - I guess it's because it's your own father - to my mother about what he was and about what kind of a person he was. I've met one or two people that remembered him. One was a lawyer named Lawrence Livingston who was a very able lawyer. A miserable, means person but a very good lawyer. And I met him at a wedding or an engagement party and somehow got to talking to him and told him that I was in law school. And when he found out he said "You are Colie Schwartz's son?" and I said "Yes." And he said "He was one of the sweetest and funniest and most clever people I've ever known," and he said "You want a job for the summer?" and I said "I certainly do," and he said "I can certainly give his son a job" and that's how I got my summer job in 1947 in San Francisco. I took the key route across the bay and worked for $100 a month and was broke but I learned a lot and learned a lot of things not to do.
My father's history doesn't really - he did have tuberculosis and they sent him over to Hawaii for a time and that sort of thing and he was there 4 years working for an older brother of his in Hawaii until he recovered. And so he got behind on his legal career. I wish I could give you the figures, but my mother lied so outrageously about her age and so that it became absolutely impossible I once established, had to establish, a birth certificate. In those days a lot of people didn't have a birth certificate because they were born at home and didn't get around to getting them. And so my mother was going to go on a trip and she needed a birth certificate of her predeceased husband and she asked me if I could get one. You could get them by a combination of things. One of the things was by documents - affidavits of people who were alive at the time my father was born and were able to attest to the fact that they knew he was born, and so forth. And so I got my uncle, who was still alive and was my father's older brother, I got a certificate from him. And then I got my father's marriage license and my-both marriage license and the dates of birth of his three children. The end result was that my mother's name, of course, appears on all of those documents. And they exist between 1914, which was the date of my mother and father's marriage, my brother's birth certificate which was 1920, and my birth certificate which was, I mean by brother's birth certificate was 1915 and mine was 1920, so my mother's age shows on all three of those documents between 1914 and 1920 and her age varies by as much as 10 years between each one. Even then she was lying about her age violently in 1914. But I finally established shortly, not too long before she died, and I said to her one day, "Mother, I think you know that I know how old you really are," and she said "Yes, and it makes me sick." "Well, we're very proud of you and your three children would like to have a party for your upcoming birthday," which was her 90th, "and we'd like to have it at a place where you like to go," which was the Del Paso Country Club. And she said "I don't want any party." And she was just absolutely adamant. And she got pretty rough herself. Miller: Well, you should have had a 70th birthday party and she would have loved it, when she was 90.
Judge: That's right. So she called the next day and said "You know, I was not very gracious when I talked to you on the phone and I do appreciate your thought. But you don't seem to understand." And she said, "I play bridge three times a week, duplicate bridge, and we play for blood because you're playing for master points. And most of the men that you play with are meaner than you can imagine. And they call you down for anything. And if they had any reason to believe or to suspect that they were playing with a nonagenarian I would never have a partner and I would never get to play." And I said "How old do you think they think you are?" And she said "They think I'm in my late 60's." And she could have easily have passed for late 60's. She was an incredible, incredible woman. And so she allowed that we could have a very close party with only the immediate family and children and grandchildren, but no party because - I don't know how she thought people wouldn't know. She grew up here. She was born in Sacramento and lived her all her life except for the 6 years that she was in Oakland. I don't know how she thought she was fooling anybody but she certainly did.
Miller: How long did she live?
Judge: She lived until she was 91. Which is a very, very common death if you open the death notices. I have a feeling that you can hang on and fight no matter how young you really are until you hit that 90th. But on her 90th they took her driver's license away. And the ridiculous thing was that she was always a terrible driver and was no worse at 90 than she was at 30. But she couldn't pass the examination. She could still do the written. But she got very nervous when she was doing the driver training. And then quietly and secretly she started taking driving lessons at 89 and went and was turned down again on the driving test and so she finally gave up, and that broker her back because of the inability to be absolutely independent. And she had to stop riding horseback at 88. They said it was too injurious and she was pretty frail and that kind of stuff. And I think there are just a lot of people that after they hit 90 it just has a psychological effect because it's amazing how many people you see that are 91 in the obits as opposed to any other age around that time.
Miller: It sounds as if she stayed amazingly active.
Judge: She did.
Nichols: Now, whatever happened to the shoe company?
Judge: The shoe store, they would never sell the real property for some reason, the family that owned the property. And after the War things changed. You couldn't have developed lines of shoes - we grew up with a number of lines of shoes and nobody else in the Sacramento could get them and so you didn't have any competition and you built. Those people came from Redding and all over on the Fall sale and that kind of stuff but after World War II everything changed and a lot of people moved up here from San Francisco and, you know, manufacturers said these are people that are long term customers of ours just like you and we can think of no reason for legitimately denying them the right to bring those same shoes here to Sacramento, and that sort of thing. And of course she announced that they were disloyal and various kinds of things that people do when you get mad. But then the owner of the real property, almost the same time, right after the end of WW II said we're not going to renew your lease. Well, she'd had that lease since 1929 and she said things like I've never missed a payment, not even been late one day, and all that kind of stuff, but they wanted the new thought was now fast, big turnover, and then the landlord would get a percentage and go on a percentage lease. And they recognized that they could do better. And so she found she was without a shoe store in 1947 and had about 6 months to close it down. And she wasn't going to give up, so she and my brother decided that the town always moved to the East and so they optioned a piece of property up on 14th and K figuring it was all going to continue to grow. Well, it didn't. It all stopped going to the East. And you couldn't get a lease, a flat lease, it was all cost plus kinds of things because they didn't know what they'd have to put in it and everything was churning. So, she reached a point where she knew the costs were going to be prohibitive. And she said "We can't make it," and they said "We won't let you out," and she said "I'm going out whether you let me or not." And that was a tough time, but they settled the lawsuit so that she could buy her way out and it was a very difficult thing. But she closed the store in late 1947 and just liquidated and sold the merchandise out and that was the end to it. But it was tough on her.
Miller: It probably wasn't too easy for Colman either. Just having started his career.
Miller: What did he end up doing?
Judge: He ended up going to - well it's still actually in business named Dolan's building material. And I forget how he got the job - interviewed for it - and they hired him as an accounting manager and that sort of thing. And then they began to grow and they opened a wholly owned subsidiary called Norco Distributing Company and they sent him out there to be general manager of that. And he was doing fine until . . .
Judge: My brother Colman, after he went with Norco - Dolan's and then Norco - then an odd, very strange thing happened. His mother-in- law, a widow, was a half owner of - what's the name - of the Palm Iron Works. Mr. Palm and Mr. Reese, who was Colman's father-in- law, started Palm Iron way back, way back. And Palm had no children or grandchildren or close relatives. And he and Reese were 50-50 owners of Palm, and when he died he didn't have anyone to leave his stock to and so he staggered everybody by leaving it to his former partner's widow, who was Colman's mother- in-law. So all of a sudden she became the sole owner of Palm Iron instead of a half-owner - a non-speaking half-owner. And so then she said I'm going to need some real help. And so she brought her two sons-in-law into Palm Iron. The other son-in-law had been in there for quite a while before because he was an architect and he was interested in the business and so he started in with the quite some time ago, working there. But then when it became solely owned she wanted her other son-in-law in there too, to help, and so Colman resigned from Norco and went over with Palm. And they, Palm, had a very illustrious career until a few years ago when they had a terrible lawsuit with Wells Fargo Bank, and it was awful, and the end result was they ended going out of business after 108 years. I mean it was a tough time - times were tough.
Nichols: That was in the nature of a lender liability situation, the law suit?
Judge: The law suit was that the bank, without any warning, cut off their - they had something like a $300,000 line of credit that had existed forever, and they'd never missed a payment, never gone over, never did anything and they just, without any warning, cut them out. And it was just staggering. And they weren't able to function, so they filed their lawsuit against Wells Fargo and that was a tough law suit and ultimately they ended up settling it well enough so that Colman and his brother-in-law were able to - well they'd pretty well retired by that time anyway because that was back in the mid-80's, no, no later than that, 90's a guess. It was not that long ago. But . . .
Miller: Well, that's about when all the ugliness with the banks . . .
Judge: Oh, it was terrible. They, they just cut off credit when there was no reason to. They never could figure out why. They figured apparently it was a risky time, and the steel business was in trouble because there were Japanese competition coming over, and things were changing and they didn't want to run the risks. But boy they were tough.
Miller: So the business just disappeared then. That was the end of Palm.
Judge: The business just disappeared. They just liquidated and that was it. So there were really two - coming up on both sides of the family, old, old mercantile businesses that - and those were the things in those days. Most of the friends that I grew up with were sons of people who started local, home owned businesses. Shorrock Hardware. Hart's Restaurant. Elkus's was the best men's clothing store in town. These were all local businesses. Weinstock-Lubin was a local store. And my grandfather was a very good friend of Sy Lubin and these people. And it was tough to give up that because you had all these things and all of these local businesses - Sim's Hardware. Gosh, I can go all up and down K and J Street where peopled by sons of - and most of the sons came back from World War II and went back into business with their fathers.
Miller: Or their mothers, as the case may be.
Judge: The mothers - you bet. And then all those businesses, none of them survived. Not one. Crocker, H.S. Crocker Co. was there then although the main headquarters became after that San Francisco. What was that - Sleeper's Stamp and Stationary Co. on J Street. One by one, one of the few guys that hung on and hung on and hung on, and actually turned it over to his daughter, was Fred Carnie. Fred Carnie and Sons was on J Street and it was awnings and tents and good yard furniture and that kind of stuff. And Fred Carnie continued as the owner, but his daughter was taking over, kind of, and they he just sort of gave up about 5 years ago and said I can't fight - everything is different now and you can't expect to hold on to your old customers because people can get things in a different way and so much cheaper, and it's just a new world. But it was awful tough that every one of those places - Carmel Shorrock, do you remember her? She worked here, Judge MacBride put her on here. She was married to Dick Shorrock, the younger brother, and she's a really nice, nice person. So Dick Shorrock and Bob Shorrock were in business together in Shorrock Hardware and that folded, or gave up, or sold out or whatever. They don't even keep the name. There's no identify. And so they probably just closed up. So it was terrible.
Nichols: Let me ask you about something. Unfortunately the idea of oral histories didn't germinate around here early enough to take one from Judge MacBride. But I have a recollection that Judge MacBride and bankruptcy judge Bryte Peterson had some kind of mercantile relationship in their family histories. Do you have any - there was a candy company of some kind? Does that ring any kind of a bell.
Judge: The only one I'm familiar with was Keating Candy Company which I know about because they lived next door to Barbara's family back in the 30's. Uh, MacBride came from a not well-to-do family. He struggled. MacBride worked very hard. He was very popular, he had a very good personality, and he worked hard and he was President of everything, you know. President of his class at Berkeley. He was in every single thing, and he just fought his way up, and people went out of their way to help him. My only knowledge of the contact between him and Bryte Peterson was that MacBride treated the court like his family [text omitted]. But he felt very - like Carmel he felt sorry for because he knew her, knew the family, and so he gave her a job here as Controller. And he gave Barbara - the Jury Commissioner - it was either Barbara Macaulay, no I don't think it was, it was Doug Kennedy's wife -Barbara . . .
Nichols: Yeah, Barbara Kennedy.
Judge: And he liked them and they were good friends, so he brought her in.
Nichols: His bailiff in the early days was Morv Nevis.
Judge: Morv, yes. First time - he and Bryte Peterson knew each other well and they both went to UC Berkeley Boalt, they were both at Boalt at the same time, and they were both at college at the same time. [Text omitted.]
Nichols: Well, I apparently got us off onto a, an unanticipated track.
Judge: That's the trouble. But I will tell you this before I quit on Bryte. Bryte then, after he started working and going - and teaching at McGeorge, Tom then appointed him as the bankruptcy referee and that was the only connection I knew between them, other than they'd been classmates and schoolmates and that kind of stuff. But he was a very kind, Tom could be very kind and very nice.
Nichols: Well, I - to the extent you have knowledge about Judge MacBride from his pre-judge days, that would be interesting to hear about.
Miller: But before you did that, let's take you back further. And tell us where you lived as a child in Sacramento. What was your neighborhood and what was going on there then?
Judge: My mother's father, Gus Lavenson, bought a house on 22nd Street between T and U. It is exactly a block down the street from where C.K. McClatchy and his wife lived. Actually, C.K. McClatchy and his wife lived in the place that is now called the Ella K. McClatchy library, but that was their home. And then around the corner, U Street, in back sort of is, is a Spanish style bungalow that he built for his daughter Eleanor. Eleanor McClatchy never married - at least she never acknowledged that she married [text omitted]. And so they built the house, that little bungalow place for her. And then when she took over the Bee from C.K. she always lived there and they made the family home into the library. And I lived right down the street.
A lot of people that lived in that little neighborhood. There was Senator Sheridan Downey lived on 21st Street, about, no 22nd and V, right down the street. And we had some - that was a big part of town until the fabulous 40's were developed.
Miller: So what was the limit at that point of . . .
Judge: The City?
Miller: Yeah. Of the actual residential development going East? You were at 22nd or so, and how far did it go at that time?
Judge: The City stopped at Alhambra, which was then 31st Street. That was the limits. And it was in a perfect grid the way Sutter visualized it until everything happened and it started expanding. But you knew always where you were because it was numbers going one way and letters going the other and an alley going in between for every block. It was perfectly designed and laid out. So we started on about C Street and went to, where did we go? It was called Y Street then and then it was renamed Broadway and that was the limits that way, and then 31st Street which became Alhambra, renamed, became that boundary, and so you knew exactly where you were. And it was very nice and very convenient.
Miller: I would imagine it was very bucolic then, too.
Judge: Yeah, and I think the bad part of it was, we were very provincial, and pretty snooty. It was hard to break into old Sacramento society until quite a long time after the War, but people just came flooding back here after the end of World War II because many of them had been stationed at McClellan and Mather and many of them took the very nice local girls away from the people they should have married and married them, and then they came back with their wives in an enormous movement now and has been in the last 10 or 15 years and the people in the 40's are buying up their former family homes or inherited them and moved into them and those kinds of things. They've got new generations.
Miller: It's an interesting thing. At some point I'd like you to talk about it. I've just recently become aware of how those neighborhoods have continued. Elmhurst, for instance. I've met a lot of people in the Elmhurst, which is the T Street corridor, in the early 40's and they're third generation living in those houses - I mean they just love their neighborhoods. Is your old neighborhood like that? If you went back there could you see any remnant of your neighbors?
Judge: The house that we grew up in is right down through the alley and backs up - those lots were all half block deep lots - and on 21st Street is where, what's that new beautiful place that's . . . Viscaya. And that was built from scratch. And then next door to that is an old house that actually backs up to the house where I was raised, and they bought that one and use it as their bed and breakfast for the Viscaya because it's quaint, and it's big, and that sort thing. And so that house backs right up to the house where I was raised. My grandfather bought it in 1911. It was brand new. I can't remember if it was build spec or it was built for someone who decided not to move into it. But he did not build it but he bought it brand new and that's where he relocated. Before that they were down around 10th and O or P, but that was before I was born. This one was 1911 and so my mother was actually born in 1888, and it took me almost until I was 70 years old to be able to find out for sure that's when it was. So she went to high school and grew up in that house, and it was a great, great house. Her wedding in 1914 was in that house and Judge Peter J. Shields performed the ceremony. And in 1938 my sister was married in that house and Peter J. Shields performed the ceremony. He was a neighbor - he was just a block. He was on 23rd and U and we were at 22nd between T and U. And so I lived there from the time I was three months old, when my mother brought us home - back to her parents - I lived there until after the War. My mother remained there and finally sold it, and then had to take it back. And Barbara and I wanted to buy it bad. It was a great, great house. Not only was it a great house, but it burned down in 1935. It was completely gutted from the inside, but all the structure was left. And my mother had a field day with the insurance money rebuilding that house into what was then a very modern house with far more bedrooms. We ended up with like 6 bedrooms and 5 baths. And, oh, it was a neat place, and it was brand new then in the mid-30's. But it's never been anything since. It's been a children's home for wayward boys, and a residence club for elderly men that needed a place to live, and - the neighborhood is still pretty good, but it isn't considered a choice area, particularly, although the McClatchy homes and those places - the greatest criminal lawyer that I know of in Sacramento history was S. Luke Howe, who became a partner of Raymond Timothy Coughlin and everybody thought oh, my, crime will run rampant in the streets of Sacramento with those two highbinders together. But by God Coughlin became what I believed was a great criminal law judge. He would not handle any civil cases. He said, you know, all my life I've done this and I'm too old to learn, so just give me the criminal stuff. And he was, I thought, absolutely fair. I went before him as a prosecutor for the first two years, and any qualms you might have had about his background - he's one of those people who was a fine outstanding lawyer, but now he's a judge and he did that . . .
Miller: He knew the difference.
Judge: He knew the difference. You bet. [Text omitted.]
Miller: Well, tell us what boys did in East Sacramento when you were, let's say, pre-teen and teenager. What did you guys do to entertain yourselves?
Judge: Well, we did everything by - there were no organized things like Little League and those kinds of things. You did it all sandlot. But you faithfully observed the seasons. You played football, touch- tackle in the street, or tackle in one of the big lots with lawns and stuff only during the right season. But we roller skated certain seasons, and we played basketball and we played baseball and we did all these things. And everybody did them. And a lot of the things - not a lot, but some of the things I couldn't do because I was too fat and they didn't have clothes that would fit me.
Miller: I can't even imagine that.
Judge: Oh, boy. Oh, boy. And it was a good place to grow up. Then, while Barbara and I were first going together and I was down at college some of the leading lights - the most prominent families in town - decided it would be a neat idea - they were clearing the ground where McClatchy High School was built, and these wonderful young men - scions - went out into that field and set fire to it. There were haystacks that were piled up out there where they had cleared the land and, anyway, they thought it would make a great fire and it certainly did. And they were all in the slammer and there was a terrible scandal. But they took care of it. The families came in and said we're not going to have any of this. And none of them tried to beat the rap. I mean the families were furious. And it was a lot of stuff but they took care of it and boys would be boys kind of thing.
I grew up riding horseback. My mother was just very much into that and she was a very good horseman, horsewoman. And she started me out with my first horse that I bought when I was six, and started showing it at the California State Fair, and then became - I bought a hunter or jumper and unfortunately it took more time that I thought it ought to take. It was 6 days a week that I had work with my horse and I missed out on things that I would liked to have done, but I also got a lot of joy out of that.
Miller: Did you jump competitively?
Judge: Oh, yeah. For, right up until the time I went away to college and then there was no way I could keep it up.
Miller: Do you have pictures of yourself in your great equestrian stuff?
Judge: Oh, yeah, you bet.
Miller: We need some of those for our archives. That's fascinating. Was that a big thing in Sacramento?
Judge: The horse show, annual horse show, was run in conjunction with the State Fair. And it coincided with and was part of the Fair and a very important part. And there were a lot of people here in town that participated. Wendy and Tink Downey, Jack Downey's younger sisters-both were very active in Sacramento equestrian activities. [Text omitted.]
And when we started mobilizing and getting ready and then starting the Air Force fields and all that, we knew that we had to clean up the red light district which was the biggest red light district anywhere, I mean within anyone's memory. I mean that was the thing to do on Friday and Saturday nights was to drive down around the older part of town and the slums and the ladies would sit in their windows - their front windows - where you could see them. And you'd drive around and these were wonderful days.
Miller: What part of town was that?
Judge: That was the slums of Sacramento which was awful. It ran from the river right up to 6th and K, and 6th and K was anchored by the old Breuner's store and it never jumped - the slums never jumped over Breuner's. It literally stopped - the slums did - but it was awful because you drove home, I mean you drove up from San Francisco, and Berkeley, and everyplace else and there were no freeways, and you came right in to what was called M Street, which of course is Capitol Mall now, and it was the worst possible part of town, and you drove right up through the slums until you got as far as 6th. And that was the first big redevelopment project was that lower West End.
Miller: You know, it's really interesting. Your telling that store explains to me comments Judge Wilkins used to make when we'd drive out N Street. When we'd go from the courthouse and then go down N Street, he would always say something and I never quite understood what he was talking about. And that's what he was talking about, right? 'Cause he said "They moved," you know, he'd say "They moved, they used to be here," and then we'd pass somebody and he'd say "This must be the new N Street." And I'd say "What are you talking about?" "Oh, you don't need to know that." But that's what he was remembering.
Nichols: Well, I moved to Sacramento in late 1961, and the slums that you are describing were still the slums as recently as then.
Judge: We were able to save the old Traveler's Hotel as a landmark, and the old Ramona Hotel, there were a few places that we allowed, that the Redevelopment Agency allowed, but it was a wonderful time because our law firm pioneered that. Martin McDonough and Bruce Allen worked out the whole redevelopment thing and represented the Redevelopment Agency and then I came in to do all the condemnation, where we had to condemn these properties. And it was a kind of an exciting time.
Miller: So, as a boy it was kind of an adventure to drive around this area and see what was going on?
Judge: Oh, yeah. That was big time.
Miller: Did your parents know, Judge?
Judge: I meant to tell them. I meant to tell them. But there are wonderful stories. The one - every retail store, major store, had a slogan on it, like they weren't all that clever. But ours was "Shoes for the Entire Family," and then there would be a cartoon of different people in the family. And the Albert Elkus - Albert Elkus the first was the mayor of Sacramento and his son, grandson I grew up with and all that. And they all worked there in Elkus's store and that was on about 10th and that slogan was "Every Man is Odd, But We Can Fit Him." Well, you can imagine what happened with that one. One night some of the gentry around town decided that it would be a nice idea, and they pried that great brass plaque off of Elkus's and took it down to Fanny's Whorehouse on 2nd Street and tacked it up there.
Miller: God, you all sound like Cowboys. Why don't we take a quick break. Maybe 10 minutes and then take a run at noon. Can you make it to noon do you think?
Judge: Oh, sure.
Miller: Are you enjoying this enough to keep going that long?
Judge: Oh, hell. What are you talking about? You ask a man to talk about himself and you have a captive audience - I can talk all day. And pay you to let me do it.
Miller: We're going to take a break then.
© 2002 United States District Court for the Eastern District of California Historical Society.