What better place to hear about mobsters, gun battles, prostitution, booze, gambling and all other sorts of debauchery than the City College International Book Fair?
On Sept. 30 the fair hosted a reading and book signing with Paul Vanderwood, featured author and San Diego State University history professor.
Vanderwood recently published a fascinating book, “Satan’s Playground: Mobsters and Movie Stars at America’s Greatest Gaming Resort.” Vanderwood delighted a modest crowd of students, teachers and various literature fans with a collection of excerpts and vignettes from his informative and exciting book.
Vanderwood’s story delves into the history of Tijuana’s famed resort and casino, Agua Caliente, which opened its doors in 1928 and closed them soon after in 1935.
The reading began with Vanderwood describing multiple stories about the resort from the politically connected “barons” who owned it, the workers who built it, the gangsters who taxed it and the Hollywood movie stars and American socialites who gambled their money, drank the alcohol and lived it up for as long as the resort was open.
Interestingly, Vanderwood tied America’s experiment with prohibition to the building of the resort, suggesting it was built primarily to take advantage of the fact that American’s could no longer drink legally in the late 1920’s. The “barons” then created an escape for thousands of American’s who could enjoy the taste of booze, gambling and whorehouses without consequence.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the reading came when Vanderwood discussed of a robbery involving Agua Caliente guards while they were transporting money out of the casino. A group of robbers intercepted the delivery of money and receipts and brutally murdered the guards by machine gun after the guards fired pistols at the robbers’ car in defense. Fascinatingly enough this heist occurred on the streets of early day San Diego, and was the first ever report of machine gun use in Southern California.
Vanderwood went on to explain that the result of the attack lead to a sensational and highly publicized investigation and trial, which convicted the robbers and also uncovered a huge conspiracy exposing the casino owners as the ones who planned and helped execute the robbery.
The reading concluded with a question and answer session. Vanderwood then thanked the crowd and received a loud and well-deserved applause.
Vanderwood’s reading was very captivating, and had my pockets not been so thin that day, I would have bought a copy of his book.
With events like Paul Vanderwood’s reading, one can enjoy the entertainment of seeing and listening to a great writer at no cost. The best things in life really are free.