As I outlined in last week’s column, Whiting Woods, one of CV’s most sedate neighborhood, had its origins in vice and crime and was the stage for perhaps CV’s only racially charged murder.
The story is given to us in an autobiography of Perry Whiting, founder of the Whiting-Mead building supply company, still in business today. In 1918, Perry Whiting owned the eastern side of the canyon which had a former bar/whorehouse on it, and had plans to acquire more land. He was still involved in his business activities elsewhere in the southland, and so asked one of his trusted employees, John Allen, to come to CV to manage his property. The problem: John Allen was black.
CV and Glendale were not models of racial harmony in those days. Just by way of example, it was in that era that the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Glendale, marched down Brand Boulevard, and burned a cross on the San Rafael Hills. And both areas actively enforced “racial covenants” that made it illegal for non-whites to live here. Needless to say, Allen had to walk a fine line.
Whiting rented the former bar/whorehouse to a restaurateur, but whether Whiting knew it or not, the “restaurant” soon became a speakeasy. As Allen was tasked with managing Whiting’s affairs, he was thrust into the dirty politics of Prohibition. A frequent weekend guest of the speakeasy was the district attorney who took advantage of Allen. He sent him on “errands” to buy alcohol from local moonshiners to ensure the DA had a fully stocked bar at the canyon speakeasy.
Later, when the DA was under pressure to make some arrests of moonshiners, he knew right where to go for information – John Allen. The DA sent a sheriff to CV to find Allen. When he found him, he deputized him (without pay), and forced him to lead lawmen to the various local moonshiners that Allen had just bought from. Naturally Allen was now a pariah, and there were murmurs in the valley of vengeance on this informer.
Jack Ronsie, an employee of the CV Water Company, was particularly vocal in his threats. Allen was really getting scared and he took to carrying a borrowed pistol. Allen was employed one evening at the roadhouse speakeasy parking cars for the stream of guests that frequented the remote roadhouse each night. That particular night Jack Ronsie was out with a pretty English girl and, wanting to impress her, decided this was the night to confront Allen.
Ronsie and the girl pulled up to the roadhouse in a car, and Allen greeted them. Ronsie barked, “Don’t talk to me, you black @#%&!” and climbed out of the car. “I’ll fix you, you dirty black dog” said Ronsie, and reached for his waistband. Allen, sure Ronsie was going to pull a gun, drew his own pistol and fired point blank into the man. Ronsie fell, but was still reaching for his own gun, so Allen shot him twice more. Ronsie crawled back into his car and ordered the English girl to get behind the wheel and get him to a doctor. That must have been a horrible scene, as the girl had no idea how to drive a car. Ronsie quickly bled out on the seat next to her as she fumbled with the controls.
Allen was arrested and put on trial. His employer Perry Whiting, perhaps feeling guilty for putting Allen in this difficult situation in the first place, used his influence to get Allen’s charges reduced to manslaughter. Allen was sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin. There was much discussion in our community about revenge on Allen once he was released, but all for naught. Prison in that era was a dangerous place for a black man convicted of killing a white man, and Allen died in an “accident” in prison before his sentence was up.
It’s intriguing to reflect on this wicked past as you drive up the shady quiet streets of Whiting Woods.
Who would guess?