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LAistory: The Battle of Santa Monica Bay

Side View of the Tango, anchored in Long Beach, 1933 (LAPL)
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By La Angelena/Special to LAist

On August 1, 1939, California Attorney General Earl Warren sent 250 local and state officers to raid four gambling ships anchored off the coast of Santa Monica and Long Beach. The Tango and Showboat idled off Long Beach while the Texas and the Rex anchored off Santa Monica.

Local and state authorities, riding in Fish and Game boats and 16 rented water taxis, easily boarded the Tango, the Showboat and the Texas. Once aboard, raiding officers eagerly threw roulette wheels, dice tables, black jack tables and slot machines into the Pacific Ocean. Upon approaching the S.S. Rex, officers were greeted with armed gunmen and high-pressure fire hoses. A nine-day standoff ensued, which newspaper men dubbed "The Battle of Santa Monica Bay."

Warren's adversary in this battle was the Rex owner and operator, Anthony Cornero Stralla (known as Tony Cornero). Cornero had been a key Los Angeles rum-runner during prohibition, smuggling bootleg alcohol on boats from Mexico and Canada. When authorities caught him returning from Mexico with a thousand cases of rum, he joked that he’d purchased the illegal cargo "to keep 120 million people from being poisoned to death."