Los Angeles Almanac Logo
Home | All Almanac Topics | History

Los Angeles Mayor Frank Shaw

L.A.'s Only Mayor Recalled From Office

Portrait of Los Angeles Mayor Frank Shaw, mayor from 1933-1938.
Courtesy of Security Pacific Bank Collection at the Los Angeles Public Library.

In 1933, after serving on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Frank L. Shaw was elected to be Mayor of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, he would eventually go into the history books as having led the most corrupt city administration in Los Angeles history.

In Shaw's first campaign for mayor, the Los Angeles Times questioned his qualifications, even calling into question his citizenship (he was Canadian born). After Shaw won office, however, he seemed to win the Times over by reappointing a favorite of theirs, James Davis, to be police chief. Shaw also arranged for the acquisition of Times property for the city civic center at four times assessed value. By the 1937 reelection campaign, the Times had become a solid Shaw supporter. Also among Shaw’s early appointments was his brother Joe Shaw, who became a "private secretary" on the city payroll. Joe Shaw came to be seen as the "chief fixer" in City Hall and was allowed to impose his authority over the police and fire departments.

Clifford Clinton, founder of Clifton Cafeterias and anti-crime and graft crusader, had early formed with others the organization CIVIC (Citizens Independent Vice Investigating Committee) to look into rumors of corruption in local government. CIVIC followed rumors of corruption at the Los Angeles County General Hospital that seemed to lead to former supervisor Shaw. With the urging of county supervisor and reformer John Anson Ford, Judge Fletcher Bowron appointed Clinton to the County Grand Jury to look into allegations of corruption at City Hall. After an investigation of his own, Clinton issued a report that identified more than a thousand gambling and prostitution rackets allegedly under the protection of Shaw’s administration. Few gave much weight, however, to these charges. Rather, Clinton’s cafeterias endured unusual scrutiny by city health inspectors and police.

On January 14, 1937, a bomb exploded in the car of private investigator and former cop Harry Raymond. Raymond had been investigating the Shaw administration for anti-Shaw forces and was scheduled to give his testimony. Despite being struck by more than 150 pieces of shrapnel, Raymond survived the blast. The media initially suggested that the bombing was the work of the mob. Shaw critics, however, immediately aired their suspicions that the Shaw administration was involved. The Los Angeles Times then suggested that Raymond and Clinton themselves had staged the bombing as a publicity stunt. The answer began coming, however, when it was discovered that Raymond had been under surveillance by a secret police unit for months. Even more damaging was the eyewitness account of an immigrant fruit vendor, who, despite threats, identified those who planted the bomb. LAPD Captain Earl Kynette was indicted and convicted for the bombing attack. Yet indications were that Kynette took his direction from somewhere in City Hall.

This was the final straw for Angelenos. In 1938, after the implication of police in the bombing and years of corruption allegations surrounding City Hall, Los Angeles voters turned on Shaw and gave him the distinction of being the first and only mayor of Los Angeles to be removed from office by recall (see comment box below). Judge Bowron, who, as mentioned earlier, had appointed Clinton to the Grand Jury, was elected as the reform candidate to replace Shaw and clean up city government. Historians generally believe that the downfall of Shaw’s administration led to the abandonment of Los Angeles for Las Vegas by the mob.

Shaw was never charged with any crime. Although most historical viewpoints paint Shaw’s administration as one of the most corrupt in Los Angeles history, a few historians argue that Shaw was never as corrupt as alleged. At least one historian maintains that Clinton had, in fact, staged the bombing. We may never know for sure. Shaw was age 61 when ejected from office and he went into retirement. He died in 1958 and is buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery.

Also see: The Most Regrettable Mayors of Los Angeles.

Prior to Los Angeles removing Shaw from office in 1938, five other major U.S. cities successfully recalled their mayors (Seattle, Tacoma and Witchita in 1911, Boise in 1916, Detroit in 1930, and Seattle again in 1931). In 1909, Los Angeles Mayor Arthur C. Harper almost had the distinction of being the first U.S. mayor of a large city to be removed by recall, but he resigned before the recall election could be held. A decade before Shaw's recall, L.A. City Councilman Lester R. Rice-Wray was successfully recalled from office. In 1932, three Los Angeles County Superior Court judges, John L. Fleming, Dailey S. Stafford, and Walter Guerin were removed from the bench by recall election.