San Diego Union
Bob Guthrie, in the summer of 1941, got a job driving a truck. He had graduated from Point Loma High School in 1940 and gone on to State. His job was a summer job. He delivered "booze, beer, stuff like that to downtown bars. Below Broadway, then, was really a tough area. Some of those bars in there were pretty rough bars. There was a lot of poker playing going on. I can remember going into one bar and seeing the Hogue twins. The Hogue twins were big fighters here, also notorious drinkers and brawlers and gamblers, and they were sitting in there playing poker in the middle of the day when they were supposed to be conditioning.”
Bob Guthrie: “Pacific Square Ballroom at Pacific Highway and Ash was another big dance place with a big floor. They had an area there where the really good dancers would be boxed off, Jitterbug Corner."
Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
When I asked a retired San Diego policeman about the Hogue twins, “Shorty” and “Big Boy,” he said, brusquely. “Yeah, well, they let booze and women finally get ’em. That gets ’em all."
Another San Diego policeman, long retired, said, about “back of Broadway” before the war, ‘There were whorehouses with 40 whores in them. There was one down on Fourth Street. I’d go up there, it was one of those open things with a two-story-high lobby and a mezzanine balcony on the second floor and there were all these gals standing at their doors. A gal, back then, cost five and ten. And some of these bar owners were bad for running whores out of their places. A lot of these guys would give one of their shill gals off to some big spender. Send the gal out with him.”
Jim Harrell recalled that Jimmy Kennedy “had the old Hofbrau, Sherman’s Dine and Dance [402 West C], the College Inn. I knew Jimmy pretty good. I’ve gone back in the counting room. The table was about ten feet long, and about four feet wide, and it was covered with money. That’s the way it was during the war.”
Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
Downtown wasn’t all hookers and hopped-up boxers gambling away the afternoons. Young people from Bob Guthrie’s “class” (Guthrie’s father was secretary-treasurer of the Marston Company) took their dates downtown on weekends to dance. “We went to Paul’s Inn [1245 Fourth Avenue]. That was a real hot spot. It was a real nightclub — a big bar, tables, a dance floor, a band.” Mr. Guthrie remembered, too, “the Paris Inn [102 West C], the College Inn [109 West C]. They’d have, not the big-name bands, but big bands, swing bands. Dancing then was really dancing. Dance floors were wood, waxed during the day.” Mr. Guthrie added, his voice wistful, “San Diego was just a small, out-of-the-way stop in those days.”
Bill Heritage: “We knew that this downtown area was loaded with Mafia. I don’t know if these sailor boys knew it, but the townspeople knew about it."
Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
Jim Harrell turned 25 in September 1941. He went on to the police force one week and one day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He wore a navy blue woolen uniform and carried a .38 Colt. He and his partner drove a ’36 Ford. “We had some older than that,” Mr. Harrell recalled, “but the ’36s were the best. I could make those things dance. Because they were slung low.
Paul gave the bulk of his and Tony’s fortune to the Paul Mirabile Foundation for the Homeless, from which has grown St. Vincent de Paul’s 350-bed Paul Mirabile Center.
Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
“We were on 12-hour shifts, seven days a week at night. They tried to give me a daytime job, but that was traffic stuff and I didn’t want anything to do with that. So I said, ‘Put me on nights.’ I worked with Danny Baldwin, and he didn’t do much except sleep.” Mr. Harrell explained that Baldwin was an old-timer and that old-timers didn’t cotton to 12-hour shifts. “They’d sleep in used-car lots and over in some of the hotels. But we had to call in once an hour, and of course me being new, I didn’t do much sleeping. My job was to call in and let them know we were still breathing.”
David Barreras: "From the foot of Broadway all the way down to 16th and Market downtown was packed with sailors and marines. From the Spreckels Theater down to the foot of Broadway, they had Ferris wheels and rides."
Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
The police drove without lights, and at night, from downtown stores and bars, no light could show through windows. “They had air raid wardens that would raise hell with you if any light showed on the outside.” But, generally, Mr. Harrell said, in the weeks right after Pearl Harbor, “nothing was happening. It was dead.
Jack Dragna ran what he called the “Italian Protective League,” described by the Los Angeles Police Department as “strictly a muscle outfit."
“Soon, though, it started. I think the first batch in was the army. They went into Balboa Park and started setting up communications. Then the navy started to expand, the Marine Corps started to expand.”
“When I hit the street in 1942,” said William “Bill” Heritage, like Jim Harrell, long retired from the SDPD, “thousands of servicemen had spread through downtown, spending what little money they had because they were going overseas and probably going to get killed. The guy with a popcorn machine ended up a millionaire. If you had something to sell, those kids would buy it."
Nic Licata. "Instead of murdering Licata, Dragna convinced Zerilli to cancel the contract and took Licata into his organization.”
Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
“And by 1942,” said Jim Harrell, “if I wasn’t out there fighting, it was my night off. Every night was fight night I was pretty fair at it because I’d boxed, I’d wrestled, and I’d come out of construction and I was strong as a horse.”
Harrell recalled that Jimmy Kennedy “had the old Hofbrau, Sherman’s Dine and Dance [402 West C], the College Inn. I knew Jimmy pretty good. I’ve gone back in the counting room. And one of his right-hand men was down there, and they would have money up on the table there. The table was about ten feet long, and about four feet wide, and it was covered with money. They were bringing the money in a bushel basket and piling it up there, and they were counting. I’ve seen that much money coming into those bars. That’s the way it was during the war.”
Armand Viora operated his San Diego Key Shop at Fifth and F for 68 years, from 1927 until his retirement in 1995. Mr. Viora said, about the streets around his key shop, “When the area got really busy was World War II, when the city was overrun by the military, as well as aircraft and shipbuilding workers who came in from other states. The bar on Fourth and F, Tony Mirabile’s Rainbow Gardens, they lined up on the corner of Fourth and F there, clear around the corner to Fifth and F. When one or two people left, then they'd allow two more in. But they lined up there, waiting for their turn. Many of the hotels downtown rented a room twice in the same evening. There was an early shift and then a secondary shift that started around eleven o’clock at night.”
The San Diego Union on January 20, 1943, made note of what became a not-uncommon incident during World War II. Beneath a headline that read: “BIG NIGHT SPOT CLOSED BECAUSE OF FIRE PERIL,” a reader could learn that Tony Mirabile’s Rainbow Gardens, a “dine-dance place at Fourth and F, was closed by city officials until its owner eliminates fire hazards and structural features that were deemed by them to be dangerous.” According to the Union, the city fire marshal, a building inspector, and two patrolmen visited Oscar Fein, the Rainbow Gardens’ manager, reminding him that in December the Rainbow had been notified in writing that alterations to render the building fire safe were to be made; the quartet noted that none of these alterations had been made. The Rainbow then was ordered closed until they complied with fire department demands. “Yesterday’s action,” wrote the Union, “was the most drastic taken so far in a campaign being waged by the building inspector and fire marshal to make certain that all safety laws are being observed in places of public assemblage.” The Union went on to apprise its readers that “ever since the disaster that cost the lives of scores in a Boston night club fire, a campaign was started to make certain nothing of the sort would happen here, where night dubs are crowded nightly by sailors, soldiers, marines, and workers in war industries.”
When Jasper Sciuto was a boy, Tony Mirabile lived with Mr. Sciuto’s parents in a house near Presidio Park. As a teenager, in 1944 and 1945 when he was 14 and 15, Mr. Sciuto remembered going down to the Rainbow Gardens to help out Mirabile. “That place was so jammed. I used to go there on the weekends and help clean glasses for the service bar. I was in the back, not where the public could see me.” Mr. Sciuto recalled the crowds and the dancing and the music — “big-band style,” he called it.
About the Rainbow Gardens during World War II, Bill Heritage said, “It was a dump. A sailor hangout. It got a big play because it was right down there on skid row. All those bars were dumps.”
“Downtown was like Times Square. Twenty-four hours a day,” David Barreras told me. Mr. Barreras, who has operated a party supply store called Dave’s Display World for almost 40 years, was born in 1935. He arrived in San Diego in 1942. His mother and father, his older sister and Dave and his younger brother and sister came from Albuquerque. “We lived in a garage when we first got here, that’s all we could get, because there wasn’t any housing. My mother and dad and older sister worked graveyard at Consolidated Vultee. My little sister and brother, we sort of took care of each other.”
In late 1943, early 1944, Mr. Barreras started selling the San Diego Tribune downtown. “I don’t know how I got involved selling papers but I did, on weekdays and Saturdays. On Sundays I sold ice cream on the ships."
Young Dave would go directly after school from Our Lady of Angels to the Tribune building on Broadway and pick up his papers. “I would get 50 papers, 25 under each arm. I did the whole circuit. From the foot of Broadway all the way down to 16th and Market. Downtown was packed with sailors and marines. From the Spreckels Theater down to the foot of Broadway, there were at least three carnival-like areas, where they had Ferris wheels and rides. And all the locker clubs were going full blast. The movie theaters. All that went on 24 hours a day. Sometimes I didn’t get home until 10 or 11 o’clock. Because besides selling papers, I met so many people and became friendly with them and was sort of adopted by various people. Not that I didn’t have a great home, because I did. I had great parents.
“I was a cute little kid. I wore a hat with charms on it. I had a ragamuffin look and sort of played it up. I think that during the war I reminded everybody of his little brother back home. They were getting ready to go overseas and didn’t know what was going to happen to them. So I made lots of money.
“I could make up to a hundred dollars a day. Lots of it in tips.” Mr. Barreras had “a lot of reputable business people. I had lawyers and real estate men, insurance company employees who sold insurance to people who owned fishing boats. They tended to be on the other side of Broadway on F Street.”
Although other youngsters peddled newspapers downtown during the war, most “newsboys” were older men. “They were characters,” said Mr. Barreras, “like a Damon Runyon story. There was Slim, he was a very slim fellow. Everybody had his comer. Say Slim would be on Sixth and Broadway. You couldn’t go into their territories. But the other kids like me, we were, like, sort of the dead-end kind of kids, and since we could run faster than the older newsboys, we’d get to their comers soon as we could, so that we could get their customers before they got there.
“I hit all the bars. The Rainbow Gardens was very rowdy — raucous. It was like one of those bars you see in Singapore. The patrons were throwing chairs and were drunk and having a great time. Across the street, there was a whole string of bars that went from the Hollywood Theater, around the corner, all the way to the Balboa Theater, that whole section was bars. The lights inside some of the bars were bright red or blue. And places like Sherman’s Dine and Dance, when I was a little boy, to me it had a plush look, like Ciro’s in Hollywood must have been. The bars were smoky and, you know, you’d think, ‘Marlene Dietrich is sitting.somewhere here.’ It just had that whole feeling.”
Frank Colla, born in 1929, grew up in Little Italy on Grape Street. Like Dave Barreras, Mr. Colla also sold newspapers during the war. “I went around Broadway and Market, in bars and bowling alleys, at Wimpy’s Hamburger place by the bowling alley and the train depot.” He sold papers in the Rainbow Gardens and in strip joints. “Young ladies got on the stage like they did at Oscar’s in Tijuana. They sure did.” Even at night, Mr. Colla said, he felt safe. “You had protection, the military and all were out. As long as you minded your own business, nobody bothered you.”
Mr. Colla boarded a water taxi and went out on the ships to sell his papers. He also sold papers at Camp Pendleton. “The Union would pick me up and take me out.”
Mr. Colla’s wife, on the extension phone, interrupted to explain, “Frank is a midget. Frank is only four two. And he was out there hustling to make a nickel to sell those papers.”
“Three cents a paper,” Mr. Colla said. “Fifty, 60 papers a day. Sometimes I would sell 100. It would depend on the news of the day. It was rough making a living.”
After Pearl Harbor, Bob Guthrie joined the Army Air Corps. “When I got my wings I came back to San Diego and the town was jammed. My picture was in the paper because I got my wings. I had a call from this girl that I knew vaguely, a girlfriend of a friend of mine, and she said, 'Why don’t we get together?’ and I said I would meet her at Paul’s Inn. I went down there and she was a very good looking girl and she had about 14 navy fliers around her, and we were all talking aviation and arguing who was best.
“Pacific Square Ballroom at Pacific Highway and Ash was another big dance place with a big floor. They had an area there where the really good dancers would be boxed off. Jitterbug Corner, they called it. A lot of the guys were Latinos and Filipinos, little speedy guys with great footwork. I remember one guy called Little Eddie. I think he was Mexican, and he was an incredible dancer. I remember a local guy, Lyle Wade, was good enough that he put on exhibitions at the Spreckels Theater, doing swing and jitterbug. It was a style of dance that started out in the late 1930s. The kids started doing kind of a little ‘jig,’ they called it, and it turned into something they called the 'Balboa,’ and then that went into the jitterbug and then into the swing, which was more sophisticated and not as acrobatic. The Balboa was done differently by different people, but the basic step was very smooth but pretty fast.” (Someone with whom I talked about San Diego during World War II mentioned that he had an album of Glenn Miller 78s. “On one record, you can hear the announcer saying, ‘Glenn Miller’s coming to you from Pacific Square, San Diego.’ In the background, you can hear the train coming along the tracks there.”)
Mr. Guthrie also recalled that “During the war, flower girls went around to all the bars and sold corsages — made principally out of gardenias and carnations. A girl would be sitting there with a navy guy or a marine, and the guy would buy a flower for her." And he remembered, “During the war when there weren’t any stockings, the gals used to take an eyebrow pencil and paint a line up the back of their legs so it would look as if they had on stockings.” Stockings, he explained, had seams then, and the drawn-in line, from a distance at least, made a woman appear to be wearing stockings. or “hose," as silk stockings often were called.
While military and war workers crowded downtown streets, another change, less obvious to the general public, took place. During the 1930s the majority of downtown bars were owned by German Americans, Irish Americans like Jimmy Kennedy, and assorted WASPs, like Wilbur Clark and Harold and Betty Smith (the Smiths had the Exchange Café). Dominic Megale (1899-1973), in the mid-1930s, together with Tony Mirabile, was one of the first Italians to have a downtown bar. Megale had Charlie’s. During World War II, other Italians and Sicilians — several Matrangas, Victor Pipitone (1895-1981), Leo (Liborrio) Dia, Joe Adamo, Pete Montana, Charlie Cavesina (1906-1961), opened bars. I asked Albert DeSanti, who after the war ran the Band Box at 227 West C Street, why so many Italians and Sicilians became bar owners.
“It depends on where in Italy you are from. All my people were all fishermen — all my brothers, my father, my grandfather. My grandfather had the nickname of La Diana; Diana was the goddess of the moon. He worked for the French, the Greeks, the Spanish, the English, and he showed them where sponges were and he got paid in pure gold. He had seven children, and they were all fishermen, all of them. They all came to San Diego in the late 1800s and early 1900s. My father came here in 1909. The people who owned the bars were the people from central Sicily, they didn’t know how to fish, they were either farmers who grew grapes or they got into the bar business. How could a farmer be a fisherman? He knew nothing about it. How could a fisherman raise grapes? He couldn’t.
“If you came from Porticello, from Palermo, most likely you were a fisherman. If you came from the central part of Sicily, you were a farmer. That’s how they got into the bar business. I got into the bar business because all my brothers were tuna fishermen and I tried it. My father forced me to go out. I got seasick. I tried over and over again. When I came home from the service, I tried it once more and I got seasick and I said, 'That’s it.’ I tried it three months ago, I got sick. I love fish, I don’t like the ocean. So I got into the bar business.”
I spoke to a retired San Diego policeman now living in a distant state. This retiree, born and raised in San Diego, was on the police department for several decades. As well as the usual patrol duties, he worked vice, and later, intelligence. He wishes to remain anonymous. To help the reader identify this man as he speaks here, from time to time, I will call him “Mr. Owen.” Speaking about the Italians and Sicilians who began to open bars downtown during World War II, Mr. Owen said, “These guys, the bar owners, were all from the old country. The old-timers wore a suit and tie and overcoat and a hat. They weren’t flashy, not like these new guys, with the slick skin suits. They were old school, obviously European, mostly Siciliano, all spoke poor English. They were fairly personable, they got along.”
Mr. Owen told me that some but by no means all of these Sicilian and Italian bar owners were “hoods.” “They [the hoods] were devious as hell, of course. They liked to stand around on street corners in those days and talk to that person and this because they had stooges running the bar.”
On a yellow legal pad, Mr. Owen, as I sat with him far away from San Diego, ticked off a list of names, mostly Sicilian and Italian. “There were some 30-plus hood-owned bars in the late ’30s on into the '40s, at their peak in the ’40s. The buildup in the bars they owned was in the beginning of the war.” He added, “San Diego was a crook city, it was easy pickings, a government that would sell anything. It made it easier for people who had records to own bars.” (That Mr. Owen was not just talking off the top of his head when he speaks of a “crook city” is evidenced by the mid-1950s trials that uncovered the reselling of liquor licenses at exorbitant prices, the bribes to liquor authorities. As well, there were bad apples in the city’s vice squad, taking hush money and goods and favors from bookies and madams and bar owners.)
Tony Mirabile — Mirabile means “wonderful or beautiful to behold" — was the name everyone returned to when discussing the post-Prohibition and World War II buildup of Sicilians and Italians in downtown bars. About Mirabile, retired San Diego policeman Bill Heritage said, “It was kind of an unwritten law that you didn’t mess with Tony. I can still see him coming down the street with his overcoat slung over his shoulders and his bodyguard behind him. Tony never put his arms in his sleeves. When I saw that entourage coming down the street, I got out of the way."
The “bodyguard” of whom Mr. Heritage spoke was Marco Impastato. In the October 1958 hearings conducted by the California Assembly Judiciary Committee’s rackets subcommittee in the Hotel San Diego Continental Room, San Diego County Sheriffs Sgt. Robert Newsom said, describing Impastato: “He is a lackey, a hireling, you might say, an employee of Tony Mirabile. He has been around the Rainbow Gardens for a number of years. I have observed him myself on numerous occasions with Mirabile in the city of San Diego, also in the county area around the racetrack. He is, you might say, a Hollywood version of a bodyguard. He is usually about three paces behind Mirabile and has a snap brim he carries very low on his forehead. Kind of comical, as a matter of fact, to watch him.”
Antonino (Tony) Mirabile was born on New Year’s Day in 1894, the third of four sons. He was born in Alcamo, in northwestern Sicily, a town that lies some 23 miles west-southwest of Palermo. The name “Alcamo” comes from that of a Saracen fortress, Alqamah, that stands on nearby Mount Bonifato. Present-day Alcamo was founded in 1233 by Emperor Frederick II. Guides to Sicily note that Alcamo’s churches include the 17th-century Assunta Church and the Church of San Tomaso, known for its elaborate 14th-century doorway. Alcamo remains, as it was when Tony was born, an agricultural center. Both Tony and his brother Paul, born two and one-half years after Tony, would write in their wills that they wished to be buried in Alcamo, in the family mausoleum; when Tony was murdered in 1958 and Paul died in 1990, their caskets were flown by Flying Tiger to Palermo and borne on up through the hills from Palermo to Alcamo to the family mausoleum.
Six months after Paul’s birth, the boys’ father died, leaving behind four sons and a daughter. According to Tony Mirabile’s FBI files, acquired through the Freedom of Information Act, Tony and Paul “sailed from Naples, Italy, on or about the 25th day of October, 1907, aboard the S.S. Madonna and arrived on or about the 12th day of November, 1907, at the Port of New York.” They traveled on to Detroit, where they had relatives. Tony’s FBI files show that in Detroit, on March 4, 1915, shortly after his 21st birthday, he appeared in circuit court and declared his intentions to become a U.S. citizen.
Tony Mirabile was known to speak among friends about his association, in Detroit, with Detroit’s infamous and violent Purple Gang, a group that eventually transmuted into the Detroit Mafia family. Mirabile’s FBI files show that in Detroit, Mirabile “appeared before the Honorable Judge Charles T. Wilkins after being arrested on May 5, 1918, for Grand Larceny [theft of three Ford touring automobiles]. The case was continued to October 15, 1918, at which time it was 'nolle prossequed.’ ” The FBI notation continues, with the information that “No further information appears in the records explaining the reason for this case being ‘nolle prossequed.’ ” Mirabile appeared again before Judge Wilkins on December 6, 1918, “for his arrest of September 16, 1918, in violation of the Prohibition Law. Mirabile entered a plea of guilty and was fined $10.00 or thirty days. The record indicates that the fine was paid.” (This was the Michigan Prohibition law that Mirabile was accused of violating. Michigan, together with many other states, had dry laws in effect before the 18th Amendment came into being.)
Tony and Paul stayed in Detroit 13 years. Paul, for several of those years, attended a university in Canada. In testimony Tony gave before the October 1958 rackets subcommittee hearings, he answered questions about his employment in Detroit. Asked, “Were you distributing liquor?” Tony said, “Well, I used to, my brother, many times, help him out, cases of beer at the time, 1908, 1909, with a wagon. So I don’t know whether you call it distributor, with the same license. Those days it were a different operation than they do today. But they had to have $25 license, or have a different license. I don’t believe that they did have license. The brewery, we used to work out of the brewery. I was a kid, and I don’t really know. I was about 14, 15.”
His questioner asked, “Were you in the liquor business in any capacity in Detroit, Michigan, after the Prohibition Act went into effect?” To which Tony replied, “Well, we continued to run the cafe. We call it saloon, whatever you call it; restaurant”
Q: Did you sell drinks there?
A: Soft drinks, and things like that.
Q: No, I mean whiskey.
A: No, we couldn’t then. Prohibition went on.
Q: Were you in the distribution of whiskey and beer after the Prohibition Act went into effect in Michigan?
A: No. No, I didn't. I came over here to California after that. No, I didn’t have any distribute then.
November 13, 1920, Tony became a U.S. citizen and received a certificate of naturalization. Shortly after, the Mirabile brothers left Detroit for Los Angeles. A search of telephone books for those years and of police records and newspaper files reveals nothing about either Mirabile. Jack Dragna and his brother Tom, by 1920, were active in Los Angeles’s Little Italy, with Jack Dragna running what he called the “Italian Protective League,” described by the Los Angeles Police Department as “strictly a muscle outfit, preying on various business activities," which “also had its fingers in gambling, bootlegging, and smuggling and was suspected of many Black Hand killings."
Mirabile was asked by his rackets subcommittee questioner, “When did you first know Jack Dragna?"
A: I told you.
A: 1921, yes.
Mirabile was asked what businesses Dragna had when the men first met. Mirabile said, “I believe he used to have a winery, or a winery farm, or something like that. Close to Los Angeles. I can’t think of name. He had a winery when I met him. And also distill, some perfume, or something. I don’t know what, but I know that.”
In 1924, Tony and Paul crossed the border into Tijuana and opened two cabaret bars on Avenida Revolución, one called the Midnight Follies. Tijuana was a small town then. In 1920 its population was 1028; in 1930, it had only 3300 residents. A small Italian colony existed in Tijuana during the 1920s — Cardinis, Santinis, Cardinales. Jack Dragna and other Mafia-associated Sicilians occasionally visited the Mirabiles there. A woman employed for many years by Paul Mirabile said in his later years (Paul lived to be 94) Paul talked of having booked entertainment into the Midnight Follies, including Rita Hayworth, then still known as Margarita Cansino. Paul said he had “something to do with getting Rita Hayworth into Hollywood.” A man whose family was close to the Mirabiles said his parents often went across the border to the Midnight Follies, that in addition to “stage entertainment” and ballroom dancing, the cabaret offered gambling and slot machines. Tony Mirabile’s FBI report states that the Midnight Follies burned to the ground in 1933, the same year Tony and Paul arrived in San Diego.
When Prohibition ended, Tony opened the Rainbow Gardens. According to articles written in 1953 in the Los Angeles Mirror by reporter Art White, Nick Licata loaned Tony $7000 to help him start the Rainbow Gardens. Licata (1897-1974), like the Mirabiles, was born in Sicily and settled as a teenager in Detroit. Jay Robert Nash writes in his World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime that Licata soon joined the Detroit Mafia family of Joe Zerilli. “But Licata somehow offended Zerilli and was forced to flee to California. Zerilli took a contract on Licata with the boss of the Los Angeles territory. Jack Dragna. Instead of murdering Licata, Dragna convinced Zerilli to cancel the contract and took Licata into his organization.” (Licata did well in Southern California. After Los Angeles Mafia chieftain Frank Desimone died in 1969, Licata succeeded Desimone as head of the L.A. family.)
Tony, early on, was making enough money to allow him to buy stocks and bonds. His last will, prepared in 1952 and 1953, shows that on November 19, 1931, while still in Tijuana, he bought 3 shares in the Bancamerica-Blair Corporation. May 27, 1935, he bought 40 shares of stock in the Chicago department store Marshall Field and Company. In 1937, on January 30, he bought 24 shares of Bancamerica-Blair. April 15, 1937, he acquired 19 shares in the National City Bank of New York. July 31, 1937, Tony bought 121 shares of common stock in the Bank of America. August 13, 1938, he purchased 605 shares in the Transamerica Corporation.
Paul opened several restaurants, including the Saratoga Grill (226 Broadway) and Paul’s Inn (which Bob Guthrie remembers so fondly) in downtown San Diego, and invested in real estate in Alpine, in downtown San Diego, and along Balboa Park. Tony ran Rainbow Gardens, a liquor store (Tony’s Liquors), the Barbet (836 Fourth Avenue), and the Senator Cafe (101 F Street). He also had interests in other downtown spots. “Everything,” a retired San Diego Police Department intelligence specialist told me, “that Tony had was predicated on the liquor industry.” By the mid-1940s Tony and Paul were worth at least one million dollars.
Mr. Owen said, about Mirabile, “No question in my mind that Tony was a made man." By “made man,” Mr. Owen meant that Tony, at some point, had become a member of the Mafia. He went on to say, about Tony, “You don’t get in a position in control like that if you aren’t a made man. He was considered by the local hoods to be the one in charge. Everybody came to see him. In the middle of the night, in the middle of the day, meetings were held. Little Apalachins. Usually they went to the back room in the bar he hung around the most that he owned, the Rainbow Gardens.”
I spoke with another local law enforcement retiree, who, like Mr. Owen, wishes me to give him a name other than his own. I call him Mr. Willis. A man now in his 80s, Mr. Willis, blessed with a disposition toward wry humor, said, about Tony’s being a “made man": “So he was a made man, so what. So they went through a ritual. To me these guys just get together because there's an ethnic quality to this, they hang together. We heard the word Mafia, but what in the hell is a Mafia, it’s a bunch of dumb dagos."
The story on Tony Mirabile’s being a “made man” seems to me a sad story. According to a local near-octogenarian unconnected to law enforcement, a man whose inside knowledge of organized crime is impeccable, “Tony was a joke. Tony couldn’t do any work. He never did any work. He paid Jack Dragna to make him. He gave Jack $150,000, along in 1941, 1942. That’s where Jack got the money to buy the banana boats.” (Jack Dragna and Girolamo “Momo” Adamo during the 1940s and early 1950s had a business in Los Angeles that they called “Latin American Import” They bought several LCIs [landing craft infantry], registered the vessels in Panama, then converted them and put in refrigeration; Dragna and Adamo supposedly used the boats to bring bananas from Costa Rica. Dragna had long had an interest in watercraft; in the 1930s he operated an offshore gambling ship.) At best, my informant suggested, Tony Mirabile was an old-fashioned padrone, a distributor of petty favors to employees and other bar owners. Where Tony was a joke, he explained, was in the larger, outer world of what variously could be described as organized crime, connected people, the Mafia, or Cosa Nostra, a world where gossip is rife. “Everyone knew about Tony,” my informant said, “even back East they knew.” A man who pays to be made, rather than making his bones by “doing work," or killing, will always be looked down upon by true “workers.” And so, my informant said, Tony was “a joke.”
There is only one word from the Sicilian dialect of Italian that is known around the world: mafia. According to Giovanni Schiavo’s 1962 book The Truth about the Mafia and Organized Crime in America, “The adjective mafiusu (mafioso, in Italian) has been common in Sicily for at least two hundred years.... The word was common in the Borgo section of Palermo and...meant beauty, charm, perfection, excellence.
“Today the noun mafia commonly means criminal organization or gang, but the adjective mafioso still has two meanings; first, that of a member of the Mafia, and second, that of tough, or what the lower classes would call ‘wise guy.’ Thus, it is common to hear one say, ma chi ti senti mafiusu? (you think you are tough?).”
Schiavo, himself Sicilian American, notes that one “can be a mafioso without being a criminal.” He explains, “Mafia pertains to something inherent or almost innate in the Sicilian character, the Sicilian mentality, the Sicilian way of life, such as the code of honor, omertá, longing for freedom, intolerance of injustice.... Such sentiments...are embodied in the word Mafia as a state of mind.”
About the Mafia, Mr. Owen said, “People gave them respect and they always had something we never had, they had omertá. ” Jay Robert Nash in his World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime writes, about the Mafia, “The original concept for this secret society was to liken it to a family, related not by blood but by Sicilian nationality. By an oath, members vowed never to reveal Mafia secrets under pain of death. The discipline that kept the Mafia together one century after another was omertá, meaning ’manliness,’ or, more generally, silence.’ [According to an authority on Sicilian folklore, omertá derives from omoneitá, or “acting like a man.”] This was the code of the Mafia then as it is now. Betrayal was likened to the act of Judas, and no authority, church or state, was superior to or held in more respect than the Mafia itself.”
A retired FBI agent said to me, about omertá, “It’s inbred with these people. Even the law-abiding, honest day-to-day person in that community knows better, and it’s just something that’s inbred. They don’t like to talk about it. They are embarrassed, they have to live here in these communities and the peer pressure is such that even if they are not afraid of physical violence, they are afraid of being ostracized, because the mob guys have enough influence to put out the word and make these people appear to be snitches and disloyal. So they are very concerned about talking.” According to Schiavo’s book, “The worst insult a Sicilian can hurl at another Sicilian Is that of ’nfami or cascittuni, both of which mean the same thing, ‘informer’ or ‘stool pigeon.’ Calling an American ‘a dirty liar’ is mild compared to that."
A reader here can scoff at the notion of omertá. He or she can scoff at the notion that contemporary Sicilian American and Italian American San Diegans fear discussing Tony Mirable, dead now since 1958. But they did and they do. Off and on over seven years, I have asked men and women who knew Mirabile to tell me something about him. At best, they responded with bland generalities. “Oh, Papa Tony was such a wonderful man... ” was typical. I have telephoned families of San Diegans to whom Mirabile loaned money to go into business as well as Mirabile cousins and nieces in Michigan and asked about Tony and heard the telephone receiver slam down.
A reasonably fulsome response was this, from a Sicilian American man in his mid-70s. “I knew who they were, Tony and his brother Paul. They were big, important and strong and they had liquor stores and bars and whether it was legitimate or not, I don’t know. They were important and strong people in those days is what I know. Tony had the big Rainbow Gardens. That was a rough place. I never went there, never.”
A sharper answer came from an elderly Sicilian, a very legitimate businessman. “Tony wasn’t scum. He knew how to keep that head of his high. He would not be dealt with in any other than a gentlemanly way.”
Ross Rizzo, Bernardo Winery’s owner, born here in 1939, spoke generously with me about Tony and Paul. “They were cousins,” he said, “on my dad’s side.” About Tony, he said, “He was a hard-working old boy. He treated us kids good, really good. He was out here every Sunday. Tall, straight, thin man, very gentlemanly looking, always wore a tie. Even when we went hunting, he wore a tie. Tony was a good hunter — rabbits, quail, dove.”
About Paul, Mr. Rizzo offered, “He used to live out in Alpine first, when he was married to Bertha. They never had children. He had a ranch up there, off of Honey Hills. They grew olive trees, had some horses and barns, hay. That was in the 1940s and 1950s. Be nice to have them days back.”
He recalled the Saratoga Grill. “It was one of the big restaurants in San Diego. I remember when I was a kid, being in there. It was a real nice restaurant, it had a bar in it. I remember a lot of pictures of horses and trainers and owners that he knew. He liked the races. It was Italian-type foods, and American.”
I asked if Mr. Rizzo, nowadays, saw the distant Mirabile relatives that still live part of each year in the San Diego area (they go for five, six months each year to Alcamo). “Years now since I saw them. Not anymore. Not like we used to. They used to be out here every Sunday for dinner. We had everything you can think of — spaghetti, different pastas, lamb, beef, chicken, fish, steaks, rabbit, a lot of rabbit. We used to do a lot of that. But not anymore. When they passed away, that was it”
Albert DeSanti, born in 1926 and raised in San Diego, and later a downtown bar owner himself (the Rio and the Caliph) said, “We knew Tony real close. We knew him real well. Met him when I was a kid when I had a fish market during the war. He said, ‘When you grow up, you are going to come to work for me.’ I did too. I worked at the Barbet for about six months. I worked at the Senator Café. Tony had a lot of friends. He helped a lot of people out. He was a good guy. His reputation was all talk. He made money. He was a good businessman.
“Paul married Bertha. He had his ranch up in Alpine. Paul had a lot of property, he owned the Admiral Hotel, property in Coronado, apartments. He used to own Paul’s Inn, which was on Fourth, up from the Orpheum Theatre, the high-class place in San Diego. He opened up the Saratoga Grill on Broadway, and his first cook was Tommy Sheng from Sheng Haw Low, that’s where Tommy started, at the Saratoga Grill. Paul’s Inn was a high-class place, and when he sold it, it changed into the Blue Note and became an officer’s hangout.”
Mr. Willis recalled, about Mirabile, “Now Tony, if there was a don, a godfather, whatever you want to call them, Tony was that person in San Diego. Tony was the respected head. People came to visit Tony, other Italians, and the other Italians around town showed him great respect, even though he could be a little crude at times. Actually, he could be damned crude at times. Tony is the one who had the visitors, he had Pete Licavoli [the then-retired reputed head of what in congressional hearings was described as the Detroit Mafia. Licavoli lived part of the year near Phoenix, Arizona, on a spread he called the Grace Ranch. Mirabile regularly visited the Licavolis in Arizona].
“Tony,” the retired law-man remembered, “was in his small way a don, as they called them then. Paul, his brother, was a businessman, he had his connections through Tony. Never was Paul involved in anything of which we knew. He owned a lot of property, he was a very wealthy man. Paul was the cynosure of all eyes, everybody was always looking at him.”
The woman who worked for Paul Mirabile in his later years said, about Bertha, that she was not Italian and that she came from Evansville, Indiana. In Alpine, she said, the couple had a large house, and yes, they grew olive trees. Bertha brined and canned the olives. “A fine, fine woman Bertha was, very beautiful mannerisms, very thrifty. Mr. Mirabile had a very high respect for women. A nice mannerism too. Which I think Bertha had a lot to do with. She was older than Paul and taught him a lot of mannerisms he didn’t know, coming from Italy.
“He was a real gentleman. Whenever he was in the presence of other people, he stood out as a gentleman.” When I asked what Paul drove, she answered, “He would never buy anything but a Cadillac because it was made in the USA. An Eldorado, Guy Hill Cadillac can vouch for that.
“Paul’s Inn he had for quite a while. Politicians, big men all ate there because it was right downtown on Fourth Avenue.” She said that after Paul’s Inn closed, Mr. Mirabile’s cooks and maitre d’ “all went to work at Lubach’s.” She added, “He was a good cook and a good eater, which in part is why he opened the restaurant. He could make just about anything, even veal scaloppine.”
Paul Mirabile’s former employee made much of Paul’s erudition. He read, she said, in Italian and English. There was an English teacher at San Diego High School, “she helped him quite a great deal with all of his studies. He had a complete history of the Roman Empire. He could tell you all about Rome and all about Caesar. He was quite a historian, there was nothing about the Roman Empire that he did not know.”
Tony Mirabile, when he testified before the rackets sub-committee, said he could not read English.
Q: Can you read the newspapers?
A: Very, very little. I never read them, just the headline, things like that.
Q: Can you read the promissory notes that you co-sign?
A: Some of them, yes.
Q: But not all of them?
A: Well, not all of the detail when the bank give you a form that they have. It is a long form like that. The bank, they read it off for me and explain what it is all about.
Q: So the record will be clear, is it that you can’t read English, or you don’t understand the words?
A: Well, it is I don’t —
Q: You don’t read English?
A: Let’s put it up this way. I can read it but not hilly understand what I read. Now, that is what I am driving at. So, in other words, when I go to the bank, and I will say, “Mr. Reeder,” which I do business with the man, he can verify it, he gets the paper, put it up, read it over and he tell me this is what it is, and we go along.
“But some of the things I can, yes. When it is a lot of words, then I don’t understand them when I read them. If you want to know, I didn’t go no school either.”
Mr. Willis said, about the Mirabile brothers, “Paul always portrayed the gentleman, always well dressed, and very polite, very courteous; his demeanor was that of a proud don, he didn't use any rough language. Paul wasn’t a slob, but the culture he had, well, you wouldn’t say he was a cultured gentleman. You look at the two together, you would never put them as brothers. Tony was the rough one, but Tony was the boss. Tony dressed well, but he was kind’ve a slob — a tall, muscular size but sinuous. Tony worked the bars, and he acted and talked just like a bar owner. These weren’t distinguished restaurants Tony ran, these were watering holes.”
Tony was the older brother,” said Paul Mirabile’s former employee. “Paul was the baby and the older brothers protected the baby brother. Tony saw that Paul was taken care of, that Paul was okay. He helped him get set up in the restaurant and real estate business.”
The two brothers, she said, “worked very hard together.” She added, “Tony and he were not together very much. Tony was in a different business than he was, had some bars in San Diego. Mr. Mirabile didn’t handle the bars, he didn’t like the group of people that was in the bar area, he liked the people better in the dining area.
“Mr. Mirabile was a lot different than his brother Tony. They didn’t even seem like brothers. Tony was a little shorter than Paul, not nearly the gentleman type. Tony used rougher language than Paul. Paul always tried to use the best English possible, so he tried to lean toward people like that who would use good English because he felt since he was not from the United States he always wanted to use the best English possible. So he tried to lean toward people like that who would use good English, not use the kind that Tony did. But Tony worked in bars.
"Tony," she allowed, “was quite a businessman, a good businessman. But the other problem was that he was also very good about lending money to friends and sometimes I have been told that’s what killed him, these people that he associated with, he lent money to them. He was very friendly and willing to give people whatever they needed, and sometimes that doesn’t always pay, obviously. He helped a lot of big businessmen in San Diego get started.”
According to Ovid Demaris’s (1970) Poso del Mundo: Inside the Mexican-American Border, from Tijuana to Matamoros, one local business family with whom Mirabile was acquainted were the Lipinskys — Lew Lipton (who in later years was a vice president at C. Arnholt Smith’s United States National Bank), William Lipin, and Bernard Lipinsky (Lew and William slightly altered their names from the original “Lipinsky”). Beginning in the late 1920s or early 1930s, the Lipinskys (who later would acquire vast real estate holdings and become owners of the Kona Kai Club) managed a pawnshop — the Roxy at 850 Fourth Avenue — down the street from Mirabile’s Rainbow Gardens.
William Lipin majored in accounting at University of Southern California. At USC, Lipin became friendly with USC law student Frank Desimone, who in 1956 would succeed Jack Dragna as head of the Los Angeles Mafia. Desimone would be one of two Californians arrested at the 1957 meeting in Apalachin, New York, where 65 men met Among these men were some considered by the federal government to be leaders of America’s Mafia and crime syndicates.
I telephoned Bernard Lipinsky, 82 years old now and living downtown in the Meridien, not far from where his pawnshop stood in the mid-1950s. Mr. Lipinsky said, “The only reason we knew Tony Mirabile was that he had a bar on the same street that we had a loan office on.”
“The Rainbow Gardens?” I asked.
“Yes, yes. That’s how we knew him. Because that was half a block away from us. Tony, the only way we knew him was that he was a bar owner.”
Mr. Lipinsky recalled, then, about Tony, “Sometimes when he needed money he would pawn his diamond belt buckle. [Tony was noted for his large diamond buckle and his equally large diamond ring.] The only relationship we had with Tony was that he would borrow money on his belt buckle and he would redeem it. I don’t even remember how much we loaned him on it, a couple hundred dollars?”
When I asked Ross Rizzo if Tony Mirabile ever married, he said, “Never did. Being in that bar life, I guess, he enjoyed life the way he did with all those girls. Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free, is that how that goes?"
Even Italians and Sicilians with whom I talked hinted, some with no small pride, at Tony’s reputation as a womanizer. Tony was known among his men friends to speak of his “endowment”: his penis was of such size that he was called, behind his back and to his face, “Mule Dick." One person told me of sitting late one night in the back room of the Rainbow, sipping brandy with Tony. Tony pushed across the table a black-and-white photograph of a huge engorged and erect penis. He claimed the photo was of him. He was known to carry in his trousers pocket a thousand dollar bill marked in lipstick with the imprint of women’s lips. Friends said he told them girls had kissed the bill. More than one person told me bar owners and other “sportsmen” sent women as “gifts” to Tony’s apartment overlooking Balboa Park. Several people mentioned Tony’s long affair with a local married woman and his eventual and unrequited and, let me stress, unconsummated fondness for her teenage daughter. The latter was seen at Sunday Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary wearing a full-length ranch mink and diamonds, gifts from a love-besotted “Papa Tony.”
Mr. Willis had this to say about Tony Mirabile and sex: “He was a bar owner, he was an Italian, what do you expect? If something was available, he would take care of it and then go along his way.”
After being in business in San Diego only a few years, Tony began to help various of his countrymen buy homes and get started in the bar business. Some were men from Detroit, like Charles Cavesina, who worked for the Mirabiles in Tijuana. According to Art White’s 1953 Los Angeles Mirror article, “Mirabile’s astonishing financial setup dates back to the mid-1930s, when he made arrangements for his friends to borrow cash without red tape from the Security Trust and Savings Bank, 904 Fifth Avenue, San Diego. Papa Tony obligingly fixed up a $50,000 fund for the boys. Photostats of Mirabile’s account in the Mirror’s possession show hundreds of loans ranging from $20 to $10,000.”
The reason Art White was writing about Tony Mirabile in 1953 had little to do with Tony. White (and White’s boss, the Los Angeles Times’s then-54-year-old publisher Norman Chandler) was really after “Big Bill Bonelli," emperor of the “Saloon Empire.” The Mirror, correctly, as myriad investigations later would show, charged that Bonelli “displayed incredible laxity in freely handing out liquor licenses to racketeers and political cronies, for only $525 each, and allowing them to be resold at the going rate of $6,500.”
The best mini-bio of Bonelli (1895-1970) appears in Carol Dunlap’s 1984 California People. “For 16 years,” Dunlap writes, “Bonelli represented Southern California on the Board of Equalization (1938-1954), the powerful state agency charged with tax assessments and liquor licenses. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of USC (1916) with an MA from Occidental, he taught political science before going into politics. Bonelli survived two major attempts to link him with corruption and racketeering: in 1940 he was indicted for bribery but acquitted, and late in the 1940s he was questioned by the Kefauver Committee. Then in 1953 the Los Angeles Mirror, the second-string Chandler newspaper, ran an expose of California’s 'saloon emperor,’ master salesman of liquor licenses. Bonelli knew where a few Chandler bodies were buried, too, and retaliated with a ghostwritten book [Billion-Dollar Blackjack] about the publishing family, including some undoubtedly authentic material on gross underassessment of Chandler property. The upshot was that Bonelli was defeated for reelection, indicted for election code violations and income tax evasion, and fled as a fugitive, first to Arizona, and then to Mexico, where he died after years in exile. In 1955, authority over liquor licenses was transferred to a new state Alcohol Beverage Control Department. It is not known what action if any was taken to reappraise the Chandler properties.” Dunlap goes on to note, correctly, that "Billion-Dollar Blackjack, published in 1954, actually written by Leo Katcher, was for years the only book published about the Chandlers and now ranks as an underground classic.”
On the first day of the October 1958 hearings conducted by the California Assembly Judiciary Committee’s rackets subcommittee in the Hotel San Diego Continental Room, Captain James E Hamilton, head of Los Angeles Police Departments Intelligence Division was questioned:
Q: During your work for the Crime Commission did you have occasion to investigate a series of bar licenses owned by Mr. Tony Mirabile, or in which he had an interest?
A: One of our projects was to investigate the distribution of liquor licenses in the State of California. During that investigation down here in San Diego in 1951 and 1952 we had access to the State Board of Equalization records here in San Diego. Those records were made available to the various organizations, and in there it gave the names and addresses of all individuals who had liquor licenses.
The names are actually on the liquor licenses. As I recall now, one name of Tony Mirabile was on a number of those liquor licenses issued by the State Board of Equalization.
Q: Actually, didn’t you find there were only about three licenses disclosed with his name, but there were others in which he had an interest in some way?
A: I don’t remember the exact number with his name on there, but the feeling of individuals was that there must be around 30 of them, in which Tony Mirabile had some relationship, or his friends had some ownership.
Q: Didn’t you have occasion to inquire into these 30-odd licenses, whatever the number was, to go to the State Board of Equalization at that time and look over their files on those?
A: Yes. I had complete access to their records.
Q. What happened to those records right after you looked at them?
A: The information was taken from their records and was dictated on the Soundscriber discs. The information was transcribed. I was informed shortly thereafter that those records were destroyed within about 48 hours. So I have been informed that those records do not exist after the information had been taken out of them, such as who owned these licenses and how they were issued; investigators; reports, and that sort of thing.
Q: These records were destroyed, according to your information, on orders from who?
A: The information I had is that the order came down from Mr. William G. Bonelli, from Los Angeles, to destroy those records.
Q: Didn’t you actually look at them on, like, a Friday, and they were destroyed the following Monday?
A: Yes. I looked at them Friday and Saturday, and I was told that they were destroyed on Monday.
The rackets subcommittee also had access to what was called Tony Mirabile’s “liability ledger,” a ledger kept at Security Trust and Savings Bank. “This ledger,” a person active in the liquor license investigation told me, “had the names of all the bar owners to whom Tony had loaned money. It was all done in hand-writing, the guy’s name, amount of loan, date of payments, balance.”
I asked if local law enforcement believed Mirabile engaged in loan sharking. “No,” my informant said, “it wasn’t loan sharking. He loaned money and he got influence by loaning money. Are you going to bite the hand of a guy who loans you money at low interest rates? He charged less than private lenders. You can’t get a loan from a bank, you don’t qualify, and he loans it. The money he loaned, of course, all came from what he earned in his bars.
“Influence. Power, subtle power, is what Tony got by loaning out that money. You can imagine the guy he loaned it to, thinking, about Tony, ‘Here’s the hand reaching out there, here’s the guy who took care of me when I was in trouble and needed bucks, loaned me money and didn’t take any interest.’ And you couldn’t say it was a bribe, because the guys paid it back. It was subtle influence that Tony had, and he was building on it.”
In part, what Tony Mirabile did with what he earned during World War II (in addition to buying more Bank of America stock) was to squirrel some of those earnings away from the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service. A retired San Diego law enforcement intelligence specialist chatted one day about Mirabile and his taxes. “In June 1952,” he recalled, “the state crime commission was really heating up. Tony decided he would go back to Sicily for a visit, just to be out of here. I got the word through an informant that this visit was being planned. I got hold of someone with the IRS and told him, Tony’s going to leave before we can get him before the commission.’ The revenuer said, ‘I really want to see what he’s got.’ So the IRS put what they call a jeopardy assessment on all his stuff. And he was served the jeopardy assessment at the L.A. airport, just about 30 minutes before he was to get on the plane to fly to New York Boy, there was one angry Italian. He came back to San Diego. He never went to Italy that year.”
Sheriff's Sergeant Newsom, questioned about Tony and his taxes by the rackets subcommittee, testified, “We established his [Tony’s] itinerary through an agency here in town. We got this information, we turned it over to the local Federal agency of the IRS, who immediately filed a jeopardy assessment against him because of the income tax trouble.
“This jeopardy assessment was to be levied on all monies and properties in San Diego, or any other area they could find that would not preclude his going to Italy, but he could not take his funds with him. This was levied, I think, in April of 1952. He didn’t make the trip for some time. I believe he did make a trip around 1954 or 1955.
“Now, when the jeopardy assessment was levied, if my memory can serve me correctly, there was around $300,000, which was tied up in two local banks. There was also some indication from a very reliable source that there was other funds of a much larger type tied up in banks in the east in Detroit and in New York. However, I have never been able to establish that as factual; I do know they tied up around $300,000 in San Diego banks.”
About Tony and money and his often-annual trips back home to Alcamo, one of the officers involved in the investigation of Tony’s murder said, “When Tony made these trips to Sicily, he carried back money to his relatives. Some lady that he knew would make him a wallet from woolen material, and he would carry eight to ten thousand dollars in one of these form-fitting woolen wallets, you might call it, where it wouldn’t bulge out and become noticeable to anybody who wanted to pick his pocket. The wallet followed the contour of his rear end.”
A May 10, 1955, article in the San Diego Union makes clear that this “jeopardy assessment” on Paul’s and Tony’s assets had somewhat an unhappy outcome for Tony. “Tony was able,” a retired lawman said, “to settle with the IRS for about 14 cents on the dollar."
Mirabile Tax Claim Settled for $17,901
“Tony Mirabile, local tavern owner, has settled a $253,396 federal income tax claim for $17,901, U.S. Tax Court records in Washington revealed yesterday. An agreement between Mirabile and the IRS stipulated that Mirabile had no income tax deficiency for 1942, 1945, and 1946 as originally claimed. It stipulated that he pay additional taxes of $17,901 for 1947 but no fraud penalty.
“The government originally charged that Mirabile had unreported income of $95,118 for 1947 on which there were income taxes of $67,346 due and fraud penalties of $33,623.09.
“Mirabile reported a 1947 income of $13,652 and paid a tax of $3,700. He is operator of the Rainbow Gardens, the Senator Cafe and the Barbet Cafe in San Diego."
In the October 1958 rackets subcommittee hearings, San Diego County Sheriff's Sgt. Robert Newsom said, when questioned about Mirabile, “He, by record, established a series of loans over the years to practically every Sicilian bar owner in San Diego. Their names appear on a contingent liability ledger at one of the local banks, and I don’t believe it leaves any question that this man, you can see the subservient attitude most of these people have when they are associating with him, how they speak of him, and his answers. This man is the leader of that particular element.”
Newsom was interrogated by subcommittee investigator Lloyd Harris:
Q: In the course of your investigations did you ever get any evidence that Tony Mirabile had made a statement here that someday he was going to own every bar in San Diego?
A: Yes, sir, Mr. Harris. That statement has been attributed to Mirabile, and I have heard it on numerous occasions over the years. I think that was probably one of his main purposes.
Q: Did you have any evidence that he was making a step or steps toward that through this loan hind that you have testified to where he was advancing money to various licensees or persons who became licensees?
A Yes, sir. I think just about every Sicilian or Italian name, or many gentile, or American names, or Anglo-Saxon names appear on that list at very long length. Just about every one of them were employees of Mirabile and eventually owned their own bars. And I don’t think that Mirabile is in such a benevolent frame of mind, being the business man that he is, that he is going to set up competitive operations in his own locality.
Q: Would you estimate the number of persons to whom he made loans who became licensees?
A: At one time I believe we gave an estimate of approximately 32 names. Now, wait a minute. Yes, 32, I think, was the result of that, that eventually became bar owners of some description.
Q: All of those bars were located within a compact geographical area?
A: With a few minor exceptions, yes.
Q: Would you say, then, it is a true statement that perhaps two and three and sometimes four bars on the same block were in this group?
A: Yes, sir, up on 4th Street you can find them between E and F Streets.
Q: But these persons to whom he advanced money to go into business, they were actually competitors of his?
A: Well, obviously, on the surface they should be.
Art White, in his Mirror article, made much of the fact that not only San Diego bar owners got loans from Mirabile. “Police files,” White wrote, “observe crisply that this dossier [photostats of Mirabile’s bank accounts] ‘contains the names of practically every known hoodlum in the San Diego-Los Angeles area.’ But it also reveals loans to such persons as Lt. Nevedomsky of the San Diego Police Department (1942), Rudy Schmoke, California Highway Patrol inspector (1948), A.W. Bennet, a leading San Diego liquor license broker and (when he got his loan in 1936) a City Councilman."
Mr. Owen noted, about Tony’s connections with people outside the Sicilian Italian community, "Tony was Sicilian. Most of these guys with rare exception are Sicilian, the Mafioso. But Irishmen, Jews, all kinds of people work for them. Whoever can make money can be involved with them. Businessmen, most of them are candies anyway, and one of these guys walked in, those businessmen melted. They would kill you, everyone knows that, so you don’t fool with them.”
Tony Mirabile, then 64, was called to testify on October 15. He said he’d been ill, something with his back, although the problem is never made clear. Mirabile wore a gray suit, white shirt, dark tie. A photo taken that day shows his hair had turned white; but he looks strong and his posture, erect His attorney — Edgar G. Langford — was at his side.
At 9:30 that Wednesday morning, Chairman Bruce Allen, assemblyman from San Jose, a Republican, called the meeting to order. “The purpose of this hearing and that of previous hearings, as stated yesterday, is the continuing investigation into organized crime, and the adequacy of the penal statutes of the State of California to cope with this problem.”
After a series of getting-acquainted questions and inquiries into a jukebox-and-entertainment-machine leasing company, Maestro Music, in which Mirabile owned stock, Chairman Allen asked Mirabile, “Do you know Jimmy Fratianno?”
Q: Do you know Joe Matranga?
Q: Does he live here in San Diego?
A: Now, let’s get straight. There is about a dozen Joe Matrangas.
Q: Well, just tell us which ones that you know.
A: Well, Joe Matranga. That is all I can tell you.
Q: What does he do?
A: Well, they are all, practically, in the liquor business.
Q: Did you ever finance any of the bars that the Matrangas have an interest in?
A: Well, I didn’t finance a bar, but I finance, sign a note, I believe, for one of the Matrangas. I don’t know which one you are referring to.
Q: Well, which one did you sign a note for?
A: For Joe Matranga. [Married in the post-World War II years to the daughter of “Papa John” Priziola, described by the FBI as a high-ranking member of the Detroit Mafia, Joseph E. Matranga, of whom Mirabile speaks here, in 1985 would be convicted by a federal court jury in San Diego of racketeering and loan sharking.]
Q: What did he get the note for?
A: Fix his place, I think they call it Poppa Joe’s, something like that. Poppa Joe’s Cafe, restaurant.
Q: How much was the note?
A: Well, now, you tell me. Let’s see, it was $15,000. I believe.
Investigator Harris took over Mirabile’s examination: “Mr. Mirabile, a loan of $15,000 you made, you testified, to a Joe Matranga?”
A: I didn’t make the loan, I say I signed a note.
Q: Will you tell us the approximate location of that bar on Broadway?
A: Between 2nd and — across from the Spreckels Building. Between 2nd and 3rd, I believe it is.
Q: Do you know the name of the father of this Joe Matranga that you signed the note for?
A: Izadore, he used to be.
A: Yes. He died.
The queries went on. Harris wrested from the increasingly querulous Mirabile that in 1942 he loaned an unspecified sum to a Mr. Margiota. He loaned a Mr. Sapienza $13,000 to buy a cafe or liquor store “on Harbor Drive in National City, right across from the destroyer base where they are making a new highway there."
Mirabile agreed that he signed a note for S.M. Milazzo to buy a home. “On 16th Street they had a liquor store and apartment house.” About Milazzo, Mirabile, after aggressive questioning, informed the subcommittee, “Milazzo used to work for me at Tijuana. I was in Tijuana when he came from Italy. He was only a boy, about eight years old.” Mirabile said that when Repeal came in he encouraged Milazzo to move to San Diego. “I done everything I could to bring him across because he was nice people.” Beginning, Mirabile guessed, in 1935 or 1936, he began to loan Milazzo various amounts — for adding rooms to his house, for improvements to his liquor store.
Mirabile affirmed that in 1941, just prior to World War II, he loaned a Mr. Ingrao $2000. Ingrao, Mirabile said he knew “from Italy when I was a kid together.” Ingrao, he added, came “from my same town.” Ingrao worked for the Mirabiles in Tijuana, beginning in 1925. When Prohibition ended, according to Mirabile’s testimony, with help of a loan from Mirabile, Ingrao “had a grocery store on Redwood and India Street. Beer and wine he might have had. I know beer for sure. Wine, I don’t know."
Mirabile’s records indicated that on May 10, 1944, Mirabile loaned $15,000 to Victor Ruggiello, or Ruggiero — no one ever seemed able to decide upon the correct spelling — who owned the Gay Paree at 839 Fourth Avenue, just down the street from another beneficiary of Mirabile’s largess, the Panama, owned by Joe Adamo. Mirabile balked when the investigator read this entry. “It is impossible,” Mirabile said, “that I did sign for that man who give $15,000, it is an error somewhere.”
Asked if Victor Ruggiero had any interest in the liquor business, Mirabile became infuriated. “NO. NO. NO. NO.” Mirabile was led to explain how he knew Ruggiero. “I used to know his brother,” he said. Ruggiero, Mirabile allowed, worked for him as a bartender at the Barbel “And then he was going to buy a home, I believe it was.”
Chairman Allen asked, “Have you financed other bars in San Diego?”
A: I believe not finance, but I have signed notes for fellows, people that has been buying cafes. Not financed.
An exasperated Harris finally moved on to his next question. “All right. Now, in April of 1944 the record shows that you signed on a note in the amount of $8,000 for the name Matranga.”
A: What Matranga?
Q: There is no first name shown. I believe the testimony was you were only well acquainted with one Joe Matranga?
A: No. I am well acquainted with, I told you, about a dozen Matrangas. They are all related and close to each other.
Q: Well, how many of the Matrangas of the dozen or more that you know...
Mirabile began to stand out of his seat and attempted to interrupt Harris. Mirabile’s attorney said to his client, “Let him ask the question.”
MR. HARRIS: I know you don’t want to be on the stand on account of your ailment any longer than you have to, but it will speed up a little if you let me ask the questions. How many of the twelve or more Matrangas that you know or are acquainted with have you signed notes for?
A: I believe Joe Matranga.
Q: Just joe Matranga, that ran “Poppa Joe’s”?
A: Yes, I believe.
Mirabile then agreed that in 1944 he had loaned Joseph E. Matranga $8000. “I did it, on a bar, or something like that”
Mirabile conceded he had loaned his old friend Charles Cavesina money “for buying café.” The name of this café, its location, Mirabile claimed he did not know. He added, without prompting, about Cavesina, “I don’t know whether he wanted to buy a cafe or what he done, and I loaned him some more money on a house.”
Mirabile resolved finally that he had signed many notes for Charles Cavesina. “Yes,” he said, “lots of them. Not only one. Since 1934, we started with $50. Then a hundred, then two hundred. The kid, he always was in debts. He used to work for me. That is when we started. Many notes. Now, if I recall, I tell you yes, every one of them.” Cavesina, added Mirabiie, “has been operating bars since 1938."
Asked if he had signed a note for local bar owner Joe Adamo, brother to Los Angeles Mafia underboss Girolamo (“Momo”) Adamo, Mirabile said, “I did sign the note for Adamo and any time he comes. I don’t want to say as a brag-pot, that the day the kid would come for me and said he wanted $100,000, I will. That is how much I think of him. He has been working for me since 1932. He worked. He was close to me. And anything the kid wants, I give it to him. And I don’t ask him any questions.”
About Adamo, Mirabile testified, “We know him from Italy, I believe. We know the family. We used to live about a block or two away from them, our home.”
Ovid Demaris’s biography of Jimmy ‘The Weasel” Fratianno, The Last Mafioso, offers much intriguing information about San Diegans. Fratianno was resident in San Diego on several occasions; in the 1950s he lived for a short time on Dove Street and in the late 1970s, after entering the Witness Protection Program, he was sequestered in the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center. The Last Mafioso makes mention of Joe Adamo, who owned the Panama (827 Fourth Avenue) in San Diego. "Early in 1952,” Demaris writes from tales told him by Fratianno, "the LA Cosa Nostra family went through another initiation rite in the storeroom at the Dippolito vineyard. Six men were made on that day — Angelo Polizzi, Charley Battaglia, Carlo Licata [son of Nick Licata, who loaned Tony $7000 in the 1930s], Joe Dippolito, Joe Limandri, and Joe Adamo.” Joe Limandri, also, was a San Diegan. Limandri, until his retirement in 1981, was business agent for Local 30 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union. As such, he was much courted in San Diego bar-owning circles. In 1984 the San Diego Union reported that a three-year investigation by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concluded that the international and its San Diego Local 30 were mismanaged and had ties to organized crime figures. "According to a district attorney’s investigator here, Local 30’s connections to organized crime date to Prohibition. But they certainly didn’t end when liquor became legal. The local’s former business agent Joseph LiMandri...has long been linked to Southern California organized crime figures. His son, Marco Limandri, now serves as the local’s secretary-treasurer and was one of several Local 30 officials who declined to answer questions from the subcommittee to avoid possible self-incrimination.”
Mirabile was queried about his loans to and relationship with Victor Pepitone (now spelled “Pipitone”) and his son Charles Pipitone. “I know Pepitone through his marriage. His wife that I knew when I was a kid in Los Angeles. He marry a friend of mine, we will say, when we were kids over to Los Angeles, when I first went to Los Angeles. Victor Pepitone worked for me at the Barbet Café — might have been six months, ora year. I couldn’t recall.”
Records indicated that Mirabile loaned $2500 to Frank Desimone (who at some point after borrowing money from Mirabile would become head of the Los Angeles Mafia) and, in 1941, loaned $7500 to Jack Dragna (who in 1941 was head of the L.A. Mafia). Mirabile agreed he made these loans.
Investigator Harris asked Mirabile, “Can you tell us how much in interest you received approximately? We don’t expect you to know without your books, but approximately how much interest did you receive from these persons for whom you guaranteed the notes?”
A: I don’t even smoke, and I didn’t even took a cigar.
Q: Your answer is you received no interest whatsoever?
A: No. No.
Harris concluded, "I have no further questions at this time.”
Mirabile then cried out, addressing the audience at large, "No, I don’t smoke. And I wouldn’t even take a cigar for that reason.”
Later that day. Assemblyman Thomas J. MacBride, a Democrat from Sacramento, asked Mirabile about the loan to Mr. Sapienza, who after receiving his loan, had died. "Sapienza,” Mirabile said, “is related to me.”
MacBride asked, “You had nothing to do with the selection of the location of his bar?”
Mirabile responded angrily. "No, sir. You can still ask the daughter and wife and sons. They got a wonderful business in La Mesa, and I wish you would go there and look. They will kiss my ass any time, and you go there, they will kiss your ass when you go talk about me.”
Q: Now, that same thing applies to Cavesina, Charles?
Q. He is the fellow you say you would loan any amount?
A: All he wants. In fact, I bought a home for him. And he pay it to the bank. You missed that. I will tell you that myself. $21,500. Now, is that clear. Did you miss that? That $21,500?
In early 1940, 29-year-old Victor Carlino came from Los Angeles to San Diego and took a Job as a waiter at Mirabile’s Rainbow Gardens. On March 29, Carlino’s car was found abandoned near La Mesa in the 7900 block of University Avenue. What appeared to be bloodstains were found on the seat, upholstery, and door.
Mr. Willis, who recalled the Carlino incident, had told me, “Carlino’s brains were scattered all over the dashboard and the cowling. They never did find his body. They did a real good Job on him, a real permanent Job. His body obviously ended up off Coronado Islands or somewhere, fish food.”
Mirabile, 18 years later, was asked by the subcommittee investigator, “Did you ever know Victor Carlino?”
A: No. Wait a minute. Just a minute.
Q: Didn’t he work for you?
A: Wait a minute. That is what I say. Wait a minute. Just hold on now. What is it? How you pronounce the name?
A: Carlino, no Carlino. Yes, work for me.
Q: Do you know what happened to him?
A: Well, no. All I know that he was working, he took off, and he didn't come back to get his check.
Q: Do you know where he is?
A: No, sir.
Q: Do you know whether or not he was killed?
A: Well, I don’t know. How would I know? All I know, he didn’t come back. The money was coming. I gave the check to his wife, so that is all I know.
Q: I will show you a picture of a man and ask you if you have ever seen this fellow.
A: No, I don’t think I ever saw the man.
Q: The picture I just showed you —
A: I don’t believe I ever seen him.
Q: You don’t recognize that?
A: No, I don’t never did see the man.
Assemblyman Clark Bradley, a Republican from San Jose, took over Mirabile’s questioning. “When you were a youngster, a little boy in Sicily, did you ever hear of the Mafia there?”
A: No. I never heard that.
Q: You never heard of it there?
A: Well, that I don’t want to say yes or no, because I don’t know whether they do know or not. I know that I didn’t know and I don’t know until I been reading, and it been pushing in my head so many times this Mafia. That is all I can tell you.
Q: Is it your testimony before this Committee that the first time you ever heard of the Mafia was what you just read in the paper yesterday?
A: No. I heard that before. I been bungled right on my head all the time. Mafia, Mafia, Mafia, until I am sick to hear about it.
Q: Where did you first hear about the Mafia?
A: Where I first hear it?
A: All the time. Since I been 18 that is all I been hearing. First they used to call them different. They all have a slam for some one of the Italian. Then they brought it up to this Mafia, what the hell, that is all that is left. Now, would you tell me what is this?
Q: Is there any other name for the Mafia besides the Mafia?
A: Well, they used to call it the “Black Hand.”
Q: Did you ever hear of the name “Black Hand” before you heard of the name Mafia?
A: Mafia, “Black Hands,” I don’t know. I hear talk, read, listen to newspapers, watch and laughing.
Q: All I am trying to find out from you, as a person who used to live in Sicily, is what you know about the Mafia.
A: Nothing from Sicily, I told you.
Assemblyman Bradley, peeved with Mirabile, said to Chairman Allen, “I submit that this witness is an intelligent man and I cannot believe that he doesn’t know anything about the Mafia.”
Chairman Allen then addressed Mirabile, “Well, let’s get the record straight, now. Mr. Mirabile, we want to know what you know yourself."
Mirabile remained defiant. “I do not know nothing about Mafia. That is all I can tell you.”
After a brief recess. Assemblyman Bradley returned to Mirabile, “Why did you cosign so many notes for relatives or friends?”
A: It is hard for you to believe it, but I can tell you that the day I arrived in this country, that I went to work and lend a dollar, and five, and ten, and twenty. And it was my love. I love to do that.
Q: And it never caused you any worry —
Q: — that somebody would not repay you, or that you would have to make good to the bank?
A: Well, I will tell you. Money never worried me.
Q: Money never worried you?
A: No. And I am not money hungry either.
Assemblyman Bradley returned to the Mafia. “You testified in answer to my questions earlier today that you have never heard much about Mafia. Do you know of any person that has ever been a member of this organization?"
A: No, sir. No, sir.
Q: I will ask you point-blank, were you or have you ever been a member of the Mafia?
A: No, sir.
Q: And of that you are sure? Would it make your answers any different, Mr. Mirabile, if I were to ask you, do you know of an organization known as the “Black Hand”?
A: Well, I remember when I was a kid I used to hear that word. But I don’t know what they were. All I know was dirty hands. It was what they call “Black Hand.” That is when I was a kid, that is all I know. They were dirty hands, like.
Q: But you never heard of Mafia?
A: No, I hear. Wait. I told you I hear about talking in the paper, and things like that, and this discussion like we are doing now, like with you. I never was interest in no other things to talk about. In fact, if you keep on talking some more, I am going to stop answering because I just don’t like even to hear about it because I am not in it. You study about those foreigners, they come in with a cap, they come in with trucks, and run in the city. And I know that is what they are. But as far as read it, I don’t. And then I make another bet with you, if you want to lose a dollar. Not very much. If you can show someone ever sold me a newspaper, I will give you a dollar every time that he did. I don’t even buy it.
When Mirabile stood down from the witness chair in the Hotel San Diego’s Continental Room that October afternoon — to that date one of the hottest Octobers on record in San Diego — he had only 75 days left to live. In the audience that day was the man who would be accused of engineering a robbery in Mirabile’s third-floor penthouse apartment overlooking Balboa Park. The robbery, bungled, would end in Mirabile’s murder. Mirabile’s still-warm body would be found in his bathroom; he was wearing only an undershirt and a bathrobe whose fabric was a leopard-skin print. (The Tribune described the robe as "shimmering.") He was expecting a woman that evening, “a gift," he had been told, from someone in Vegas. A money clip in Mirabile s right trouser pocket — the trousers were tossed in a corner of his bedroom — contained $1597 in bills. No trace was found of the infamous one thousand dollar bill covered with lipstick kisses.
The crime scene indicated Mirabile fought his attackers hard The Tribune reported: "Bloody floors told of the death struggle just after midnight. Two bullets had smashed, head high, through the Venetian blinds, which covered the big double windows facing south. They crashed through the glass to fall somewhere downtown.”
Mirabile’s nephew, Philip Acquaro, recently arrived from Sicily, was living with Mirabile at the time of the murder. Investigators found in Acquaro’s bedroom a record player on whose spindle was a record titled Living and Learning English.
An admirer of Mirabile’s said, about the fight Tony put up against his killers, "He was a very positive man, he would let nobody take him down. He was a very firm man. He wasn’t afraid of anybody.” Ross Rizzo said, “He was too strong a man to go that way.”
Tony's is a complicated story. Tony was a complicated man. I believe that he did indeed pay to be "made” by Jack Dragna, just as I believe his own testimony that he loaned money, without interest, to many of his countrymen to enable them to open bars. I believe that just as he longed to draw to himself the power and charisma of being a Mafia “made man” that he genuinely wanted to help his countrymen, to whom he loaned and gave money, succeed. (In the rackets subcommittee's final report, Organized Crime in California, the subcommittee concluded, about Mirabile’s loans, that from 1935 through 1958, he loaned out approximately $850,000.) I believe that he lied through his big square teeth to the rackets subcommittee questioners. I believe that he knew precisely what happened in 1940 to his hapless employee, Victor Carlino. I believe that he knew the notorious West Coast mobster Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno. I even believe the story, not mentioned in the rackets hearings, told to Ovid Demaris by Jimmy Fratianno in The Last Mafioso, that, at the behest of Jack Dragna, Tony betrayed his old friend, the ex-bootlegger and “sugar man” (the “sugar man” provided sugar to the Prohibition-era whiskey makers) Tony Borgia. Tony Mirabile, according to Demaris’s book, drove Borgia to a house in Kensington, knowing that the men waiting there would murder Borgia, which, according to Demaris’s book, they did.
About the “hood,” or Mafia, connections in downtown bars, retired San Diego policeman Bill Heritage offered, “We knew that this downtown area was loaded with Mafia. I don’t know if these sailor boys knew it, but the townspeople knew about it. Mirabile was just part of that whole Damon Runyon crowd down there that you put up with. But they were real interesting people.” Mr. Heritage laughed, “There’s always been bad guys in the world.”
Mr. Owen wasn’t as sanguine. “Tony always allowed whores to work out of his places. He ran a bad joint. All of the hoods ran bad joints, not a clean bar. They did that and they destroyed many a woman. Runaways would come into town and they would have them shilling and then the next thing they were whores and then they were drunks and three years later they were used up. They ruined a lot of women that way.”
Mr. Willis, ever coolly detached, said, “You talk about a guy who made money in the liquor business, you’re talking Tony Mirabile. He was good. Very objective about everything he did, almost phlegmatic He was funny. I remember 1952 during the presidential election, Eisenhower was running and we were up at the racetrack and I ran into Tony at the paddock and he’s standing there and he’s looking at these horses, and I said, ‘What are you going to bet on, Tony?’ And he said, ‘Listen to me, always bet the gray horse.’ I said, ‘Why?’ And he said. The gray horse always wins. Just remember this, anytime you see a gray horse in a race, you bet him.’ I said, ‘Okay, Tony.’ And then we got talking a little later. I’m looking at the hoods and the gamblers all around out there on the balcony of the Turf Club and Tony and I, we got to talking about politics. ‘Tony,’ I say, ‘who are you going to vote for?’ And he looks at me, and he gives me the French salute, and he says, ‘What difference does it make? All you do is exchange one set of burglars for another.’ ”
I asked Armand Viora if he thought bar owners got rich during World War II. “Yes and no,” he said, “yes and no. For a long while they had trouble getting the product, getting the liquor. It became real scarce. A lot of things became scarce — automobiles, hardware. Being in the lock-and-key business, hardware was hard to get for me. I even made some keys out of plastic, it beat standing out in the rain, but not much. They were brittle and broke easily. Brass, nickel, silver were extremely scarce during the war. As was liquor.
“Sometimes they [bar owners] waited in vain. They got a limited amount through from time to time, but things would have been better if they'd had the product. Beer was the only thing that they had in any amount, but it was scarce too. I recall the bar next to me had to sign up to buy beer for six months from one company in order to get any at all. And beer was kind’ve scarce too Also the quality of liquor was extremely poor. Some had current labels but they were mislabeled; it was junk quality with current labels that I guess fooled the people.”
“During World War II,” Mr. Owen said, “the hoods, at least, they made plenty of money. Don’t let anybody fool you. The reason they made more money than anyone else was because they could get liquor where a square couldn’t. During the war booze wasn’t always available, there just wasn’t enough booze to go around, sure, that’s true. There were some strange names of liquor they were selling. But these hoods could get all the booze they wanted. A square had a bar he could have a hell of a time getting beer or whiskey, but the hoods got beer and whiskey. They got bootleg stuff. What they did was to bring booze in that didn’t show on any bills of lading. They'd sell that I think mostly from the East the bootlegged whiskey would come. Some of it was hijacked liquor. During World War II, liquor was regularly hijacked. I recall a $200,000 deal, a liquor truck hijacked in Del Mar, coming into San Diego. But these hoods, they had the connections to get liquor. A straight person couldn’t pick up a phone and call Cleveland and Chicago and say, ‘How about we do each other a favor?’ These guys had the connections.
“They had to keep decent records, but they all skimmed. No doubt in my mind that they skimmed. They would run two tapes. They would run the tape for the night and then they would rerun a tape after closing time and they would take one-third or one-fourth off that tape of their intake. A simple operation. Easy to do. Easy to run two tapes. You don’t pay any tax on what you take off. It’s all clean money. Dollar for dollar, it’s all yours. No taxes. Every buck you take in like that is yours. Another reason these guys liked to have bars was that it gave them alibi income, so they could hide away what else they were up to. They made fortunes during the war. They moved into bigger homes in better neighborhoods. A lot of them moved into Kensington.”
Tony Mirabile made his last will in 1952, amending it in 1953. Paul was named his executor and with the exception of disbursements to relatives, he was the will’s principal beneficiary. The will shows that Tony and Paul jointly owned three apartment houses overlooking Balboa Park, in addition to properties in Little Italy. Tony owned a lengthy list of stocks and bonds acquired beginning in the 1930s; he continued buying stocks into his last years. There was the diamond belt buckle, assessed at $800 and a diamond ring, assessed at $950. There was his percentage of ownership of the Southland Amusement Corporation. He had $6012.17 in his Security First National savings account Edward Addleson, a local pawnbroker, owed him $4010; Joseph and Josie Sciuto owed him $3614.
After Tony’s death, Paul sold Tony’s 1953 Cadillac to John Martinico for $800. Leo Dia bought the Barbet, together with its on-sale general license and all liquor and beverages, its miscellaneous fixtures, and leasehold interest for $10,000 in cash. The Senator Cafe, with its on-sale general license, all liquor, beverages, rent deposit, and all other assets was sold to Frank and Mary Virgilio for $3700 in cash, with the Virgilios agreeing to pay all the indebtedness, amounting to some $4650.
The bill from Benbough Mortuary and Crematory came to $3464.92. Frank Pomeranz received $15,000 in attorney’s fees. When all was gathered and sold and paid, what remained was $504,659.79.
Dave Barreras, who peddled the San Diego Tribune through downtown San Diego during the war, recalls those years fondly. “There was such joy,” he said, “even though it was tragic with the war. There was something about the togetherness and the laughter and that whole spirit of World War II that is so touching and so wonderful. There was so much caring and togetherness and the young boys here going off to war.... Sounds like one of those movies, doesn’t it?”
I asked Mr. Barreras what he did with the money he earned during the war. “I gave it to my mother. We all saved our money, and then after the war we bought a house in East San Diego.”
I have often wondered if Paul Mirabile ever read Demaris’s book. Whether he did or not, I do believe that for Paul, as his former employee broadly suggested, Tony in many ways may have been a great embarrassment, even shame, to his younger brother. Paul’s wife Bertha died in 1957, a year before Tony was murdered. Paul never remarried.
He lived across from Balboa Park and walked there daily. The presence in the park of an increasing number of homeless people upset him. He stopped and talked with them, trying to learn, I am told, how in the land of opportunity these men found themselves without a roof, a job, a suit of clean clothes. At some point during his last years he changed his will, giving the bulk of his and Tony’s considerable fortune to the Paul Mirabile Foundation for the Homeless, from which has grown St. Vincent de Paul’s $9.6 million, 350-bed Paul Mirabile Center.
— Judith Moore
Next week: Why did the Black Dahlia come to San Diego?
Judith Moore Is recipient of two NEA Fellowships for literature, most recently in 1996. She is coauthor with Sue Coe of X, published by Raw Books and Graphics and reissued by New Press. She is author of The Left Coast of Paradise (Soho Press). Her newest book. Never Eat Your Heart Out (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), will be published in January 1997.