Brutal Poolie Attack

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

In the 1880s, “poolrooms” began springing up across the country, including Sausalito. These thinly designed gambling dens organized betting pools for off-track wagering on horse race results brought in by telegraph. 

In his book Moments in Time, Historical Society founder Jack Tracy noted: “Opposition to poolroom gambling quickly organized as the Municipal Improvement Club. The Sausalito News, dedicated to boosterism and disinclined to print anything negative about Sausalito, remained silent on the issue. The Improvement Club countered in September 1900 with its own newspaper, the Sausalito Advocate. Here were the means to take on the ‘poolies’ and challenge the ‘push,’ a collective term for the paid poolroom advocates that always showed up at town meetings.”

E.D. Sparrow taking a break from his duties at the Sausalito Advocate. Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

E.D. Sparrow taking a break from his duties at the Sausalito Advocate.
Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

One of the key members of the Improvement Club was E.D. Sparrow, who edited the Advocate.  His work was not without risk, as reported in the April 1, 1902 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle:

E. D. SPARROW, 5 feet 6 and weighing 140 pounds, was brutally beaten In Sausalito yesterday morning by Tom Frost, 6 feet 1 and weighing over 200 pounds. Frost is said to have waylaid his victim in a lonely quarter and attacked him without warning.

Sausalito is recognized as a strenuous political center in campaign or out, for one issue it has always— that of the poolrooms. The location was designed as a resident district, and as such the heights were settled principally by business and professional men along [San Francisco’s] California Street; there are others, but California street predominates—on the heights. Then came what is known as the "Beachcombers," who settled along the water front. There are reputable business men along the "front," but the majority of the residents of that locality affiliate with the poolroom element. The "hill" dwellers are opposed to licensing that evil, and no matter what the other issues involved in a political campaign, that of the poolrooms takes precedence.

"License" is the slogan of the Lowlands, and is answered by "no license," the gathering cry of the Highlands. Often have the clans been arrayed against each other; weapons have been displayed in and out of courts of justice by the leaders of the Lowlands, who have generally been victorious. Now another municipal campaign is on, and the fiery cross has gone around with a speed that to the Highlands betokens an urgent need of muster.

Sparrow is a real estate man, with offices at 303 California Street, and is one of the managers of the Sausalito Advocate, the organ of the Improvement Club, composed of dwellers on the heights, where Sparrow resides. Tom Frost Is a leader of one faction of the poolroom element. Recently a number of persons alleged to have been colonized by that element were arrested on the charge of Illegal [voter] registration. This, together with editorials In the Advocate that hurt, aroused the ire of the Lowlands and of Frost in particular. With reference to the encounter yesterday Sparrow said:

"I was on my way to catch the 9:15 boat to the city and was passing by the long cement wall on Water Street, when Frost stepped out of a niche, where he had evidently been in waiting. I know him by sight, but do not speak to him.  When he stepped in front of me he asked, 'Are you one of the managers of the Advocate?'  I replied that I was, and the next Instant he grabbed me by the throat with his left hand and struck me a powerful blow on the mouth with his right, and, jamming me against the cement wall,   continued  to rain blows on my face until I dropped insensible to the ground.  When I recovered consciousness, there was no one near me, and my money and papers were scattered around on the   sidewalk. My clothing was covered with blood and I was obliged to return to my home for a change and to dress my Injuries. I am not a match for Frost physically, neither am I a pugilist."

The incident has aroused the members of the Improvement Club and those opposed to the poolrooms.   There have been threats, but this la the first time that the blood of one of the "Highlanders" has been shed, and no one ventures to say there will be no further trouble. The Lowlanders are said to be divided into two factions. [Adolph Sylva, attorney, and mayor], who is known as the "Boss of Sausallto," is, or has been, the recognized leader of the pool-room element, but there are indications that his leadership is to be contested by Frost, who aspires to the chieftainship, and It is even said that he has applied the same method to Sylva that he did to Sparrow.  In this division of forces the Highlands see encouragement, and If the Clan Frost gets into serious trouble it is probable that the Clan Sylva will sit on the wall and laugh.

Frost claims that an article published by Sparrow in the Sausalito Advocate was the cause of his vicious attack.

In an April, 1902 election of the Board of Trustee’s, the Improvement Club and other “anti-poolies” were stunned when a pro-pool slate won. But the election actually proved to be a victory for them, because Adolph Sylva was defeated and a moderate, E. H. Shoemaker, was elected mayor in his place. Finally, in 1909 California outlawed off-track betting, putting the pool halls out of business for good.