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From the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: The 1926 American Legion Convention

One of the many marching bands from the American Legion’s 1926 convention in Susanville. -From an Eastman Studios postcard

by Susan Couso

In 1926, Susanville had a party, and it was a really big party! The excitement began the previous year when local Thomas Tucker Post of the American Legion appointed a committee of five: Harry Coleman, Homer Vincent, A. G. Breitwieser, John Pringle and Dr. Harry Lind, to try to get the 1926 California State Convention assigned to Susanville.

In early September, there was a public meeting at the Orpheum Theater to support sending delegates and alternates to the state convention in Avalon, on Santa Catalina Island. Twelve men from Susanville and 14 from Westwood were chosen to go to the 1925 convention, with instructions to make every effort possible to get the 1926 convention to be held in Susanville.

On Sept. 17th, 1925, at the Avalon Convention, Susanville was unanimously chosen as next year’s site.

In Susanville, a thankful community held a dance to honor the successful delegates. Apparently, dances were the height of fun in those days. But then, the real work began.

The area was canvassed to find accommodations. Private homes, campgrounds, dormitories, hotels, and temporary barracks were assessed to find out just what was available. It was a community-wide effort, and every form of housing was considered.

The American Legion set up a campsite on Inspiration Point and the Monticola Club ladies raised money from a 1925 Christmas dance to install a drinking fountain for them.

The Elks Campground was utilized. Nearby cities got in on the action also. The valley towns, like Chico and Redding planned events to lure the travelers their way, and Reno asked their citizens to house the Legionaries as they attended the event.

Eighteen-and-a-half-inch long wooden keys were sent to every California post. Stained brown with gold lettering, the three-ply white pine veneer keys included an invitation to the soiree. The locals went ‘all out’ to entice attendance.

Miss Susanville, Vivian Lee, presents Jackson Crowley with the Key to Susanville, 1926

Amazingly, in less than a year, all was ready. The freshly built Hotel Mt. Lassen was finished and the New Veteran’s Memorial Hall, was complete. The hall was a beauty!

Construction had begun in February, and it had been designed by local architect Ralph Taylor and constructed by Reno contractor Thomas J. Rees. Land on a knoll across from the high school had been purchased by the American Legion, and then donated to Lassen County.

The 127-foot-long structure, situated about a half-mile below town, had its cornerstone installed in a ceremony on April 18th, 1926. It was noted that the distance from town caused the pedestrian attendees to, “roll up a stately mileage.”

By the middle of August, the Legionaries and their families began to show up and Susanville was ecstatic with joy.

Special trains arrived at the depot and were met by local citizens and bands emitting patriotic music.

The Southern Pacific Railroad had made special arrangement to let Pullman passengers sleep in their train cars.

Streets and businesses were decorated with flags and colored banners and homes were decorated with pine boughs. Automobiles were gaily festooned. Free dances were held all over town.

There were carnival attractions, concessions, and competitions, including three Charleston dance contests at the Elk’s camp at the ballpark.

Two orchestras packed into the back of trucks and drove around town entertaining everyone. There were never so many parades in Susanville.

Many local musical groups, the American Legion Bugle and Drum corps, made up of veterans from the Oakland area, and the Susanville Band and Legion Drum Corps paraded up and down the streets until they “were tooted out”, about 9:00p.m. that evening.

On August 16th, a lawn party was held at the Susanville Country Club, (what is now Mountain Meadows ranch) and on the afternoon of the eighteenth, a huge barbecue was held at Eagle Lake.

This was called the ‘Scenic Convention’ as there were many planned trips to show off the area. There were trips to Lassen Park, Eagle Lake, the fertile valley, sawmills, etc., and they were available to all.

By noon on the 17th, a reported 5,000 Legionnaires and Women Auxiliary members had registered.

Even though it was a California State convention, many came across the border from Oregon and Nevada to join in on the fun.

Housing conditions were surprisingly good. Some grumbled about the quality of their accommodations, but all had a roof over their heads and nearly everybody had been welcomed hospitably.

The campgrounds were full, every available bed was in use, and Susanvillians were widely praised for their management of housing.

The Eighth Annual California State Convention itself took off in Susanville as John R. Quinn, past national commander and past state commander led the dedication of the new Memorial Hall at the opening of the convention.

The hall was dedicated to the veterans of World War I, and to all future veterans who have served the United States and Lassen County.

Two hundred and seven California posts were represented, believed to be a record for a state convention. While the men met at the Memorial Hall, the Women’s Auxiliary met at the Masonic Hall.

The Hotel Mt. Lassen was the headquarters for the Legionaries, and the St. Francis Hotel was headquarters for the Women’s Auxiliary.

Official business was, of course, the purpose of the convention. Elections were held, and there was a “hot struggle” to get the next convention held in Stockton or Santa Barbara.

The party was over on the 19th, but the memories lasted for a good long time. Lassen County had a new Memorial Hall, businesses boomed for a time, and Susanville was put on the map as one ‘spiffy’ little town full of friendly people.

Jeremy Couso
Jeremy Couso Publisher/Editor
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