Thursday, November 18, 2010
Petchner Becomes ‘Beet Grower,’ Is on Periphery of Scandal
By ROGER M. GRACE
“W. C. Petchner, a beet sugar grower of Corcoran, is at the Union Square.”
That’s an item appearing in the “brevities” section of the San Francisco Call on March 20, 1909. Back then, the matter of what out-of-town visitors were staying at local hotels was of general interest.
This sugar beet grower from a small town in Kings County is the same William C. Petchner who was a founder of the law school at USC, a lecturer there and at an earlier law school, and a local mover for political reform.
He was a lawyer who had business interests, serving on boards of directors of a few companies. One of the companies was the Pacific Sugar Corporation, a concern to which he came to devote major attention. Originally based in L.A., its business operations moved in January, 1909, to Corcoran where its factory was, and Petchner was oblige to move there.
The company was one which, along with two entities to which it was tethered, would become enveloped in controversy, with the hullabaloo precipitating the setting of a recall election against the mayor of Los Angeles, averted by his hasty resignation. Petchner, often on the periphery of major events, found himself on the rim of a scandal.
That scandal was triggered by 1909 exposes in two Los Angeles dailies, the Herald and the Express.
Ironically, the Herald’s issue of June 21, 1908, contains this glowing assessment of the company it would soon assail:
“PACIFIC SUGAR CORPORATION represents one of the greatest development and Industrial enterprises on the Pacific coast. The company is an extensive beet sugar growing and sugar manufacturing corporation, with a capitalization of over $1,000,000, invested entirely by Los Angeles business men. The big sugar factory built and now in operation at Corcoran, Cal., is a monument to the enterprise of the stockholders. The officers of the company are H. C. Buhoup, president; Nathan Cole, Jr., vice president and general manager; Mayor A. C. Harper, vice president; W. C. Petchner, secretary, treasurer and attorney.”
The same article says of the politician it would help depose the following year:
“MAYOR A. C. HARPER, the chief executive of the city of Los Angeles, is recognized as one of the best mayors the city has ever had. He is a genial and obliging official, and is a man of marked executive ability. He is ever watchful of the city’s interests….”
Buhoup was a railroad man in Chicago whose connection with the corporation appears to have been chiefly as an investor.
Cole had been co-founder with Thomas Gardiner on Dec. 4, 1881, of the Los Angeles Times, acting as the newspaper’s first business manager and editor. He was the son of a former Republican member of the House of Representatives from Missouri and former mayor of St. Louis. He had himself been a Republican but turned from the GOP, becoming a member of the National Committee of the Silver Republicans, then aligning himself with the Democrats, serving as a California delegate to the 1908 Democratic National Convention.
Harper was elected in 1906 to a term as mayor that commenced Jan. 7, 1907. He won despite his lack of an endorsement by a single newspaper or the backing of any political party.
The Herald’s edition of Jan. 8, 1909, tells of stock ownership in Pacific Sugar Corporation and allied entities by members of the Police Commission, appointed by Harper and headed by him. Cole was among the members; Petchner wasn’t.
The commission controlled liquor licenses. The Page One story notes:
“Samuel Schenck, the police commissioner, was made the agent of the Pacific Sugar corporation for the sale of its stock. Mr. Schenck appears to have conceived the idea that the liquor dealers of the city of Los Angeles would afford a fertile field for exploiting the stock of the corporations, in which he, with the majority of the police commission and the chief of police were interested....”
The following day’s installment in a series titled “Is Vice Protected in Los Angeles?” observes:
“Controlling, as the Commission does, the Police force of the city, it is also within the power of the majority of its members in association with the Chief of Police to virtually accord special privileges to any liquor dealer or dealers whom this majority may desire to favor by causing the Police force of the city to wink at violations of the law governing the sale of liquors, time of closing, etc. These facts may or may not have been a contributing influence in inducing the persons and firms interested in the liquor business in the city to become stockholders of the Pacific Sugar Corporation, the Pacific Sugar Company and the Pacific Securities Company. Certain it is that a good many of them purchased such stock.”
The assault on Harper’s administration had begun. The next column will tell of the fireworks which ensued.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company