More on SFPD Liquor Permits

The spines of SFPD Board of Police Commissioners Minutes, showing red rot.

In May, we posted about permit and license applications that can be found in the San Francisco Police Department Records here in the San Francisco History Center. If surviving records are any indication, turn-of-the-century (19th-to-20th century, that is) Police Commissioners were inordinately concerned with liquor permits. In this month's post, we digress from the promised post on vehicle and automobile permits to present a few additional tips about researching liquor permits.

The ledgers of permit applications are not the only place to look in the SFPD records for information on liquor permits: the business of granting, refusing, revoking, and renewing them is also recorded in another type of Police Commissioners' paperwork: the "Official Journals," or minute books. In minute books, one can sometimes fill in dates that are missing from the permit ledgers or find additional details on why a permit was granted, denied, or revoked. These two examples concern selling liquor to women:

San Francisco Board of Police Commissioners Minute Books, 1909-1910.

San Francisco Board of Police Commissioners Minute Books, 1909-1910.

After Prohibition, the liquor permit ledgers offer only one volume, dated1938-1941. The ubiquitous red leather-bound tome has been replaced by a more modern format, a sort of spring-loaded canvas and leather-tipped contraption:

SFPD Liquor Permit Applications Book, 1938-1941.

 The pages are bound from the back, so if you're searching for a last name beginning with "A," look in the back of the book, not the front: "XYZ" is the first page of entries one sees when reading from the front. Another thing to notice in the back of the book is a small printed notice pasted in that announces when the State Board of Equalization started fingerprinting applicants:

Fingerprinting notice in SFPD license applications, 1939.
SFPD Liquor License Applications, 1938-1941.

The statement is confusing, because if you look closely at the entry columns, you'll notice a column for fingerprinting, and there are entries back to 1938. If anyone has ideas about this contradiction, please comment! Perhaps the SFPD was fingerprinting applicants before the State Board of Equalization mandated it.

To conclude from a wider perspective: as many folks interested in primary sources know, the reasons for documenting records are often far-removed from the reasons that people peruse them later. People looking for information on family members or businesses could find answers via liquor permit research. Researchers may also find liquor permits to be useful for their wider implications in fields such as city administration, gender studies, and social policy. The minute books are also a good source for information about police officers: besides managing liquor applications, the Board of Police Commissioners heard charges against officers--sometimes for "unofficer-like conduct" such as drinking-- and approved or denied appointments, promotions, and retirements.As always, to learn more about the SFPD Records, please contact us, or come up to the 6th floor for a visit!

Because the San Francisco Police Department Records are still being processed, some volumes may not yet be available for public use. Please contact the San Francisco History Center with questions at 415-557-4567.

All images are from  the San Francisco Police Department Records (SFH 61), courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.