Lt. Bruce Holt has learned a lot about the Seaside Police Department during his 36 years of service, but it required additional research to give him further insight into the history of the department and track its evolution from the late 19th century up to present day.
Holt shared bits and pieces of his research during a History and Hops presentation, hosted by the Seaside Museum and Historical Society on Nov. 21 at the Seaside Brewery, which used to house Seaside’s jail.
Holt gathered his information from a variety of sources, including the Astoria Evening Budget; the Seaside Signal; the Polk City Directories; and relatives of former officers. While there are “some discrepancies” among records, Holt said, he was still able to develop a fairly comprehensive timeline.
According to Holt, the history of policing in Seaside can be traced back to 1898 and reports of a sheriff and his deputy being killed in West Seaside, or the part of present day Seaside that is west of the Necanicum River. Constable Alvin E. Miller, who was involved in handling the case, also served as a city council member, street superintendent, and the mayor from 1902 to 1907.
“That’s how city government ran back in the day,” Holt said. “You wore several hats.”
In 1990, Jack Fosmark — who was a typesetter, columnist, and contributor to the Seaside Signal in the 1980s and ’90s — interviewed a man named William Nelson, who provided information on former bootleggers in the county who were active during the Prohibition Era, Holt said. Nelson told Fosmark of receiving a phone call when a certain A. Miller passed away.
“Mr. Nelson was called to go to the home of Mr. Miller before the caretaker got there and found all the alcohol under and behind his bed,” Holt said. He provided a facetious explanation that maybe Miller was saving it as “evidence,” adding, “We don’t do that anymore – take [evidence] home.”
Among the other amusing anecdotes shared by Holt during the presentation is one involving a man named B.J. Callahan, who ran a saloon known for its seedy nightlife.
“He wasn’t well-liked, but his bar was very well-attended,” Holt said.
He shared a statement made in 1906 by the Seaside Signal editor, who claimed, “Five saloons are too many for a town of this size. And the council would please the people and benefit the town by cutting one or two of them out. One of them, Callahan’s place, ought to be closed up.”
“The editor of the Signal and Mr. Callahan obviously had strong opinion about each other,” Holt said.
This was later confirmed in 1907 when Callahan was arrested and charged with assault and battery upon the editor of the Signal. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay a fine of $31.65.
“It goes on — they never quite saw eye to eye,” Holt said.
In 1915, Callahan was arrested by a night marshal for staying open past 1 a.m. He was acquitted, however, by Seaside Judge J.L. Berry, who found the night marshal didn’t “secure sufficient evidence and failed to file his return on the warrant of arrest until six days after the trial.”
The Seaside riots
Holt’s presentation also touched on the Seaside riots that occurred in the 1960s, and which were witnessed by some of the audience members. Studies on what caused the riots to spiral out of control have identified, among others, the state of the local economy, the sociopolitical climate, and the limitations of the Seaside police department and city government at the time.
According to Stew Dodge, a bystander, who was interviewed by Portlander David Craig, the riots in 1962 were sparked by a disagreement between a few young adults who were vacationing at the beach for spring break and some local lifeguards. In Dodge’s rendition, the lifeguards beat up the visitors “and took their girls,” Holt said. The following day, the group went looking for the lifeguards and things got “out of hand in short order,” he added.
Rioters not only tipped over a two-and-a-half-story lifeguard tower on the beach but dragged it to the Turnaround and down Broadway attached to a vehicle. They also smashed store windows and caused other property damage. Holt’s father, who joined the department as a reserve officer in 1962, helped with crowd control and de-escalating the ruckus, which also required a response from the state police.
For the next several years, “we stayed beefed up with extra personnel” for spring break in preparation of additional brawls, Holt said. As with other aspects of Seaside’s history, however, Holt acknowledged there are differing accounts of how the riots went down and what started them in the first place.
“I’m not here to set the record straight,” he said, adding his focus was sharing the various accounts and stories he has discovered over the years.
History and Hops is a series of local history discussion hosted by the museum on the last Thursday of each month from September to May. The next lecture will take place Dec. 26 at the brewery.