He’s writing about possible corruption in Santa Monica in the 21st century. Easy peasy. Nobody’s getting beat up or bumped off here. Like the city, the corruption has also gentrified.

When detective novelist Raymond Chandler wrote about crime and corruption in the ‘30s and ‘40s, using Bay Cities as the alias for Santa Monica, it was hard boiled stuff.

You had a fleet of water taxis taking gamblers and their hangers-on from the Pier to a fleet of floating casino ships anchored just far enough off the coast to skirt the law. None of the authorities could find a legal remedy until California Attorney General Earl Warren (later CA Governor, then U.S. Supreme Court Chief justice) declared them a “nuisance,” which the state had a right to regulate.

The biggest ship was the S.S. Rex, operating around the clock with entertainment and free food and always a crowd aboard of 1.000-3,000 revelers (a formula later taken to Las Vegas). When the police, led by SM Police Chief Dice (I’m not kidding), assaulted the Rex the newspapers dubbed it the Battle of Santa Monica Bay. It took eight days for the law to prevail, as the crew used water cannons and threatened with machine guns to repel the cops. Finally they starved them out, boarded the ship and threw all the gambling tables and devices into the bay.

The flamboyant Rex ringmaster Tony Cornero finally surrendered, he said, “because I need a haircut.” He never faced charges. (Hmm — early shades of Pam O’Connor, whose illegal actions as mayor resulted in the City losing a nearly million dollar lawsuit, without even a censure from her fellow Council members).


Is how Raymond Chandler described Ocean Park in a 1944 letter about a gambling hall here. A little north, the basement of the Georgian Hotel on Ocean Avenue housed a speakeasy during Prohibition, and many old fixtures remain. It’s closed to the public now but I got to see it on a tour given by the Santa Monica Conservancy a few years back. Pretty cool peek into our shady past.

Just up PCH famed actress Thelma Todd was murdered at her Sidewalk Cafe; the case was never solved. There was the battle royal over where L.A.’s harbor would be built, Santa Monica or San Pedro, with Senators serenaded and rail lines hastily built. It became the World Series of corruption, influence and bribery. The nasty skullduggery over water as depicted in the film “Chinatown” certainly had basis in fact, and “L.A. Confidential,” based on the James Ellroy novel of 1990, painted a picture of police and political corruption that was not far off the mark.

Fast forward to the ‘50s-‘70s, when the black Belmar neighborhood was decimated as we built the Civic Auditorium, and the freeway did the same coming through the Pico neighborhood eight years later, displacing homes and families. Big developer money sought to build an island in the bay, a string of six high-rise apartments right on the sand (but they were thwarted by resident outrage after two). But in the process they managed to raze the mostly Jewish enclave in that area, building a par-3 golf course (now also gone) and the wonderful Sea Colony condos.


Changed hands for any of those civic endeavors.

Through his famous detective protagonist Phillip Marlowe, Chandler mused that in a big city like L.A. you could only buy certain politicians and cops, but in Bay City you could buy the whole town.

How did Raymond Chandler know so much about Santa Monica? He and his wife Cissy lived in the 400 block of San Vicente, 1940-41. (They liked to keep moving and lived at 35 different addresses in the L.A. area.)

So that brings us back to present day Bay City shenanigans and writers who track it down for frictional fodder, or, even better, non fiction reporting. Back to Andrew Gumbel.


About his piece in Los Angeles magazine last week, bringing to light some information which has not been forthcoming from our City government or staff, or police department. He addresses the timeline and personalities of the report we are supposed to see on that dangerous looting fiasco of May 31. But it is not expected until April.

Gumbel’s new reporting is titled “Santa Monica Has Made a Mess of Investigating Last Spring’s Public Safety Disaster”.

Our new mayor Sue Himmelrich was apparently not happy with it, and submitted a response which the magazine is running as an accompanying pdf, with a link at the bottom of the article. Himmelrich alleges “troubling inaccuracies” in the piece, but doesn’t name them. The magazine posts, “Los Angeles stands by its reporting.”

“Has this taken too long?” Himmelrich writes. “Yes, and for this I apologize to the people of Santa Monica. But I have said from the beginning that we can’t rush to justice.” But justice delayed is justice denied, and I have said from the beginning that you don’t need some detailed report in this case. We all saw what happened, either in person or on TV. The Chief should have been fired within the week; instead she is allowed to gracefully resign, and gets a fat separation check to boot. Chief Renaud may wind up taking away more than any of the looters. And the City Council should have all tendered resignations, for their complete cluelessness and unwillingness to act on what we all knew was coming. The buck stops at Council. This didn’t have to happen.

Gumbel wrote last November: “Inside the Santa Monica Police Department’s Botched Response to May’s Looting Spree.”

I have a feeling this is not the last about Santa Monica that we will hear from Andrew Gumbel. What’s that sound I hear? Rain? No, I think, it might be drops of hot sweat falling like rain from the foreheads of certain involved parties, who hoped this would all be forgotten by the time that report finally comes out nearly a year later.

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at