Paul Calvo – former SB Councilman

Paul Calvo

Interviewed & Transcribed by Libby Appelgate – June 24, 2003

L. A.:  Libby Appelgate will interview Paul Calvo for the Seal Beach Historical and Cultural Society.  He was elected as a city councilman in 1954 and Mayor of Seal Beach in 1956, 1957 and 1958.  Among other things, he voted for a referendum to be put before the people to make the decision for or against the legality of gambling that had been legal since the 1930’s.  His wife Billie Calvo is sitting in.

L.A.: Please state your name and address.

P.C.:  Paul Calvo, C A L V O, 1325 Catalina Ave., Seal Beach. 

L.A.:  When and where were you born?

P.C.:  I was born March 7,1908 in Columbus, Ohio and when I found out where I was, I left.  (Laughter)

L.A.:  What schools did you attend?

P.C.:  Well, I attended quite a few schools because the folks moved around a lot.  I think I graduated from the fifth grade and that was it.

L. A.:  And look at all you accomplished.  What year did you move to Seal Beach?

P. C.:  I can’t remember, can you remember, Billie? 

B. C.:  I think you moved here in the late forties because you were already well established in Seal Beach.  When I came here in 1953, you said you came here in 1945.

P. C.:  I think that’s right.

L. A.:  What is the name of your wife?

P. C.:  It’s Billie Calvo.  It’s really Clara but everybody knows her as Billie.

L. A.:  When and where did you meet Billie?

P.C.:  I met her at her father-in-law’s office, who was a surveyor and I did work for him.  I just saw her in the office a couple of times and that was it.  I was gone.

L.A.: Is that how you got your knowledge of surveying?

P. C.:  Well, I left home when I was fifteen and I went to sea on an oil tanker and the Captain taught me navigation.  I was on there for three years going back and forth from Massachusetts to here, hauling oil.  The reason I was on the tanker was that I was down on the docks and I met a young man my age and I got talking to him and he said, “Yes, I am going to sea with my father, he is the Captain of this oil tanker and I have T. B. and they think that going to sea with the pure air would help me.”  So I said, “Do you suppose I could get on the crew as a cabin boy or something like that?”  He says, “I don’t know, let’s go see me dad.”  The dad said, “Yes, I would love to have you on here as a companion for my son.  You can work four hours in the morning and have the rest of the time off with my son but I will have to have the written consent from your parents.”  So I said, “Well, I’ll get it.” I went down and bought a tablet, wrote the letter and signed it and came back that afternoon.  By five o’clock that evening, I was headed out to sea.  So knowing navigation was the basis for my profession.

L. A.:  What was your profession?

P. C.:  Licensed land surveyor.  I did a lot of engineering but I didn’t have a license. 

L. A.: What happened to the boy on the tanker?

P. C.:  The boy died and I didn’t like the sea anyhow.  I got off in Fall River, Massachusetts and went to see my brother and sisters in Detroit.  I hadn’t seen them for ten or twelve years so I just stayed there and got a job with a printer who made cuts for the newspapers for J. Hudson Co., a big department store.  I made cuts for ladies fashion.  After going back and forth delivering cuts for the artists, they decided to keep me on and I became a copywriter in the advertising department.  I worked for a lady in house ware ads and she was very pretty and nice and she just turned it over to me.  She said, “Here’s the house wares and you go down there and inspect them and write the copy for them.”  That’s how I got to be a copywriter.  I just fell into luck with my jobs.

L. A.:  So those jobs led to other jobs that were all related?

P. C.:  Copywriting wasn’t related to navigation. 

Billie:  Tell her about going into the CC Camp where you were chosen to be a lead man in the surveying department.  He got his education in surveying in the CC Camp and that was in the ‘30s. 

P. C.:  Well, you know, I was always a small guy so I went into the three C’s during the depression because there weren’t any jobs.  Civilian Conservation Corp.was put in by President Roosevelt.  I landed in Sequoia with three hundred other boys and they lined us up that morning and the L.E.M’s, (Local Experienced Men) picked a crew from all of us.  All the big guys got picked first and finally a bunch of us scrubs are left standing there.  I figured, “Well, I’m good for the kitchen.” Finally, the engineer came who had been in San Francisco and he looked at us and said, “Late, again.  I haven’t got much left to pick from, have I?”  He said, “Come on over to the engineering shack and I will try to place you.”  There were thirty of us.  He called us in and he had a map that he had made.  He says, “Do you know what this is?”  The first guy says, “Beats the hell out of me!”  The engineer says, “You stand over here.” Finally, he got to me and I said, “Well, it looks like lines of dead reckoning in navigation with bearings and distances on them.”  He says, “You’re the Chief!”  From then on I was the Chief and I escaped the kitchen.  I stayed there for five or six years.  In those days, I worked for the park service, Sequoia National Park.  In those days, civil service was a little bit unfair.  Anyone in the system who had seniority could take your job.  So some guys in Massachusetts wanted my job.  My boss tried to save me but my boss said, “I can’t buck the system.”  So, I left. 

In looking for a job, I went into this office and there was a girl there and I kind of liked her and I think she liked me a little bit.  It was for the Bureau of Water and Power in Mono Lake.  We went out to lunch and she says, “My boss is a recruiter and he needs one more man today to go to Mono Lake to work on the water tunnels.  But don’t tell him you know me.  That will kill you, he is my boyfriend.” 

L.A.:  Now that we know some of your background, will you tell me what years you were on the Seal Beach City Council and how did you get involved in city government?

P. C.:  I was on the city council from 1954 to 1958.  To tell you the truth, I don’t know how I got involved.  Admiral McKinney, over here at the base, wanted me to run.  He said, “The city is corrupt.”

L.A.:  He lived on Ocean Ave. and he wanted gambling out, didn’t he?

P. C.:  Yes, he did.  We became friends and he says, “I would love to have you run for Mayor.”  I didn’t want to run for Mayor and I didn’t want to get involved in that fracas.  The day that I had to sign up, I, fortunately, had a job in the office where I had to stay a little late.  I didn’t come home because I didn’t want to anyhow because I knew.  There was Admiral McKinney.  He says, “God damn it, I wondered why you didn’t come home.”  I said, “Admiral, I didn’t want to run.”  He said, “You’ve got to run, it’s your duty.”  So they took me over there and signed me up!  I didn’t think I would win. 

L. A.:  They needed that third vote to get gambling out.

P. C.:  I don’t know how I got in and I was no match for those vultures.  I didn’t care whether there was gambling or whether there wasn’t.  But if the people didn’t want it, I was all for it. 

L.A.:  What are some of the accomplishments that you are most proud of as a city councilman?

P. C.:  My biggest was cooking up a scheme so that fifteen seventy-year-olds could retire.  The city had to have $200,000 to match the state of California and Seal Beach didn’t have it, so those people couldn’t retire.  There was no oil drilling in the city so I contacted Signal Oil and they said, “ Yes, we would be very happy to drill an oil well in Seal Beach and supply you with $200,000 but I don’t know how we are going to overcome the no drilling ordinance.”  I said, “Well, I’ll arrange that.”  I wrote the legal description for part of the property of Seal Beach to de-annex.  I had two councilmen backing me to push it through.  We drilled the well because it was no longer in Seal Beach and we got our $200,000 and the state matched the $200,000 and the next day they all retired.  You know, not one of them ever thanked me for that.  Not one of them.

L. A.:  Did you get retirement and benefits for all the employees from then on?

P. C.:  Yes, forever.  I also got the police their uniforms. 

L. A.:  What did they wear before?

P. C.:  They had to buy their own uniforms.  If you ask the Police Department today, they don’t know that.  Now, they’ll know.  Then the gambling issue came up.  I didn’t really care one way or the other but the Good Government Group organized by Charlotte Shuman.  We got it on the ballot and the people voted against it. 

L. A.:  What about the issue of the removal of the Ocean Ave. bridge leading to Long Beach?

P. C.:  The bridge was condemned but was still being used.  They wanted to take it out but Mr. Buffum of Buffum’s Department Store, who lived on Ocean Ave., Seal Beach didn’t want it taken out.  He was my friend until I took out the bridge and he never spoke to me again.  The dredge came down from San Francisco and couldn’t get in to do the dredging for the new marina and it stayed out there in the ocean for two months because the bridge wasn’t removed.  So the two councilmen and myself decided to take it out.  We decided this in the back room.  We would always go to the back room to discuss current issues and to decide how we were going to vote.  They were all for it in the back room but the minute they came out and saw the city hall full to the brim of residents.  They froze and I couldn’t get a second.  So I said to the attorney, “What does it take to have the bridge removed?”  He said, “Just your signature.  You are the Mayor.”  You can’t imagine the hullabaloo that went up in that city hall. 

L.A.:  Why did the people not want the bridge removed?

P. C.:  They wanted no progress and to leave Seal Beach just the way it was.  The bridge started to be removed the next day.  The Long Beach City Council thanked me and they said I could have a boat slip.  I said, “I haven’t got a boat and I don’t want a boat slip.”  That ended that.

L.A.:  Well, I guess they weren’t going to give you a boat.

P. C.:  They were going to charge me rent.  I didn’t want to pay rent on an empty slip. 

L. A.:  What were the circumstances surrounding the battle to abolish gambling?

P. C:  We had gambling in Seal Beach before and Bill Robertson, a retired ex police chief from Los Angeles, came down here and wanted in.  The gambling hall was where Walt’s Wharf Restaurant is now.  Bill Robertson, the gambler, came in and told them he wanted a partnership.  They said, “We don’t want you.”  He said, “Well, suffer the consequences.” and there was a shoot up right there on Central and Main. 

L. A.:  Did someone draw a gun?

P. C.:  The old time gamblers couldn’t put up with him so they told him he could take it over. 

L. A.:  He opened up the Airport Club where people played draw poker, didn’t he?

P. C.:  That was when gambling was out.  I happened to be the building inspector for Seal Beach at that time when he opened up the Quonset hut on Pacific Coast Highway and First St.  I told him, “Your five feet too low to get into the main sewer system.  I can’t OK this because it is structurally bad.”  He said, “Oh, you and your god damned figures.” He fought me like mad. 

L. A.:  This is later after gambling was out and he had opened a dance hall for teenagers called Marina Palace.  No drinking allowed, just food and soft drinks.

P. C.:  Yes, he had one hundred employees and he was controlling the city.  Which I didn’t think was right.  Finally, I said, “You are building this against city ordinances so I am vetoing it.”  He built a holding tank, a square tank about thirty by thirty and five feet deep out of gunnite and he lowered it into the ground but the water table was so high over there near the river and unless it was full, it was floating.  It was a floating vehicle!  I said, “I won’t OK it.”  Then I called the sanitation district of Orange County because that was leaking into the surfaces.  They made him take it out.  Of course, you know what my name was?  It was mud. 

L.A.:  With his group?

P.C.:  Oh, he hated me.  He called me a little F-A-R-T.  I was kind of afraid of him, to tell you the truth.  He had one hundred employees that were all for him in the city.  The city attorney had the cigarette concession in there.  He wasn’t helping me, either.  I still had the two councilmen backing me.

L. A.:  What were the councilmen’s names?

P. C.:  Joe Tancre and I can’t remember the other one.  He worked for the lumber company and he was a mild sort of a soul and I don’t think he even liked being a …..anyway, he voted with me.

L. A.:  On a council with five members, all you need is two more to get the things you want for the city.  I would like to know how you planned the subdivision here on the Hellman Ranch while you were in office?

P. C.:  The people who built Lakewood wanted to subdivide this and of course I had the two councilman with me and the other two councilmen were plenty mad.  I made the first layout for it but when I became the mayor, I had to drop it because of the conflict of interest.  I got a hold of some other people who had built Lakewood.  I made the first layout and presented it to them and then they took it over.  It was bound to happen.  The  Hellman’s sold it.  The sewer system was overwhelmed.  Admiral McKinney furnished one hundred thousand dollars to the city and the oil company furnished another hundred thousand because I de-annexed part of Seal Beach so that Signal Oil could drill and make us some money.  To get on the bandwagon, Mr. Robertson, the gambler went to the people and told them that he would donate one hundred thousand dollars to connect to the sewer system on the Navy Weapons property.  What a complicated mess that was.  I changed the dates so that Robertson missed the deadline, which was dirty pool but I knew this man could not run this city.  He took me to court and I darn near lost.  The city attorney was defending me, the one who was really on Robertson’s side because he had a cigarette concession in the Airport Club.  I told him, “You better come up with something or before I’m through, I’ll fire you.”   He had a pretty good deal here, you know.  So he finally came up with a case in Connecticut, if you please, that was almost similar.  So the court ruled in my favor so I got off the hook.  Robertson was always wanting to have a meeting out of town.  He was smarter than I was and very shrewd, very clever. He was more devious so I couldn’t deal with that guy.  He said, “I’ll bury you.”  He darn near did.  Let me tell you about that tank that he built.  He said, “This is a holding tank, I’ve got it in place.  What do you think of it?”  I said, “I don’t think it will work because of the outside pressures.  If it was round the outside pressures would be uniform.”  Within three weeks, it was cracking and I said you are going to have to take it out.  So you know that S.O.B. built another one but twice as strong and it held.

L.A.:  Another square one or a round one?

P.C.:  A square one, but twice as heavy.  That continued on, good grief, until finally he gave up and the other two gave up.  But if it hadn’t been for the two councilmen who were with me, I would have been sunk.  I remember the Leschers, who operated the end of the pier fishing, were having a very hard time.  They could hardly make their yearly lease payment to the city.  Finally, they drilled a well out in the water and all they needed was my signature to do that.  They drilled a pipeline under the city to the main holding tanks.  Let’s see if I can remember.  This is a hell of a lot to hold in your mind, at 95.

L. A.:  Yes.

P. C.:  I may have some of the dates wrong.  But these can be verified.

L.A.:  Yes, I can check the council minutes that are on file at city hall.

P. C.:  Well, anyway, that was the end of that episode until we moved the sewer plant inland near Leisure World.  Incidentally, my last big job was doing the survey for North American in Seal Beach.  I mapped all the buildings and prepared all the plans and was ready to record it and all of a sudden North American says, “Don’t record it!”  The County of Orange was ready to record all that survey.  I still have that survey and the maps of it in my drawer here.  Fortunately, I supplied it to the County of Orange so it is on record. 

L.A.:  Why didn’t they want you to record it?

P. C.:  I’ll never know.  They gave no answers at all.  They just said, “Don’t record it.”  Those were the words and of course, I couldn’t.  But anyway, I have the maps and everything.  It took me almost eight months to prepare that. 

L.A.:  In what capacity were you working?

P. C.:  I was the surveyor – engineer that was preparing all the data.

L. A.:  Were you a city councilman at the time?

P.C.:  No, I was off the city council.  That would have been a conflict of interest.

L. A.:  With whom did you work while doing the surveying?

P. C.:  I was in private practice.  North American hired me to do this but who knows why they didn’t want me to record it.

L. A.: That was a long way to come from being an uneducated fifteen-year-old boy who shipped out on an oil boat.  You learned a lot from life experiences and didn’t need to go to school.

P. C.:  Well, I wasn’t any good at anyhow.  But as soon as I learned reading, writing and arithmetic, I figured that was all I needed from school.

L. A.:  Is there anything else you would like to tell?  A memory or story you might want to specially record?  Anything you haven’t told me that you would like to talk about?

P. C.:  That’s about all.  You yourself probably know all the rest.  But what I don’t understand is why the lady that prepared the book, The Story of Seal Beach stopped dead at my election.  Why did she stop?

L.A.:  You mean she stopped at a certain date, a certain year?

P. C.: Yes, she stopped in 1953.  I was on the council from 1954 – 1958.

L. A.:  I’ll have to read the book again.

Billie:  Friends of ours that we have shown it to wonder why Paul wasn’t mentioned.  He operated his own business from about 1950 until he retired at age 90.  So I think that is interesting.

P. C.:  I made the survey for Wake Island.  We were invited to go to Hawaii to work on the underground fuel tank.

L. A.:  How did you learn surveying?

P. C.:  In the CCC Camp.  That was about a four-year education.  If I didn’t know something, I went to the library and I researched it.  I took the engineer and surveying test and I passed it. I have a license.  I did the big trailer park on Loynes Road called Belmont Shores Mobile Homes.  Hollywood Savings and Loan came to me and they said, “We want to put a trailer park on that property.  I said, “I have never done a trailer park.”  They said, “Can you do it?” and I said, “Yes.”  The next day I visited all the trailer parks and talked to all the women in the washrooms and asked about all the pitfalls they had run into.  So I went back and designed it. It was for the city of Long Beach.  Since I couldn’t do the engineering, they hired another engineer.  I did the concept and the other engineer did the engineering.  But he gave up because the damn thing was on a dump and the property was live and sinking.  But the city wanted to do it.  He backed out but the city said if you come up with a concept, we’ll OK it.  It was sinking all the time with gases forming and it was kind of dangerous.  I said I would do the concept but I don’t have an engineering license.  They said, well we will sign it if you come up with a concept.  So I went over there and designed the thing.  There couldn’t be any sewers because the pipes would all sink into the wetlands.  So I designed pilings.  A piling here, a piling there and I bridged the pipes across the dump and on top of the piling, I put a manhole on top of the piling to pump the sewage and leapfrogged across and it still works today.  I wasn’t responsible for it, the city of Long Beach was. 

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