Back to Business 1930’s-The Five Boys Take Over

On August 6 of 1930, Frank P. Grace died, and Frank P. Jr, known as Moses, became president of the Frank P. Grace Company. He was 27 at the time, the oldest of the five boys. Tom was 26 and just a few years out of college (He earned a masters from Harvard in business after graduating from Stanford). Jim was 24, Jack was 22, and Bill was still in high school. The boys were thrown into a new world once Prohibition was repealed in 1933 because the big breweries took off their gloves and really never put them back on. That is not to say that the time before 1919 was bucolic, but the competition increased ten-fold once beer production was resumed. Market share, mass advertising, changing beer tastes, and, eventually, the shutting down of regional breweries were all part of the changing brewing landscape. That was, however, down the road a bit. At the time of Frank P.’s death, the Frank P Grace Company operated the ice company, the Velvet line of dairy products and ranch land. The brewery still produced near beer and soft drinks. The loss of their father must have been a blow to the five boys. Frank and Joseph T. Grace were community leaders, as well as business leaders, and Frank had been Sheriff of Sonoma County. The oldest of seven children, Frank was 72 at the time of his death.

His wife, Pearl Cockrill Grace, who lived until 1939, traced her lineage back to the Revolutionary war, and she was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). She traced her family to Joseph Venable, who resided in South Carolina and fought for the colonies in the war. She apparently was strict and, as noted, did not allow liquor in her house and tried as best she could to corral five boys who had eight years difference between the oldest (Moses) and youngest (Bill). The only picture we have of her is the one of her and her boys at Tom’s wedding in 1937 (see the picture in the appendix

I have often wondered what it was like to be one of the boys in Santa Rosa in the 1930’s. They all were bachelors until Jack married. In 1937 and Tom followed, marrying Virginia Williams six months later. They were busy running a series of commercial businesses. It must have been a heady experience for these young men to have the responsibility thrust upon them at their father’s death. On top of responsibility came the process of re-opening the brewery a mere three years after their father’s death. To go from late adolescence to adulthood in such a short period of time must have been quite an adjustment. They had to modernize an antiquated brewery to compete in the beer wars soon to come. They experienced a real baptism of fire.

( picture toms wedding, all 5 boys-need Ben to rescan-my copy has only 4 brothers, or john burtons on Gb Photos, emma grace honeymoon 1937, Jack emma1937, Jack Grace 1937)

As I mentioned above, I have often thought about the 1930’s and the five Grace boys running all these businesses and running around town. There isn’t a lot written about them, but I assume that Moses was apparently a bit shy but was well known and well liked. Moses made his home at the foot of what is now Grace Heights–or the Santa Rosa ranch. It was located on both sides of Grosse Ave and ran about to Thomas Drive on the south and to Montecito Ave on the west and from El Camino Drive to the top of the hill and back to the other side. I have heard Moses described as reclusive and a large, kindly man always dressed in his overalls, with a jug of wine close by. He apparently grew a variety of vegetables because Mom said he always made sure she had her fair share of the vegetables after she and dad were married. Moses never married and passed in 1940–far too young at age 37- from a stomach hemorrhage-despite receiving numerous blood transfusions.
( picture scanned photos 1930-60 front brewery 1938)

There were four remaining brothers at this time and I’d bet rumors flew around town concerning their antics because one story that filtered down to John and me concerned our father and his pursuit of a fair lady. Apparently, a contender tried to enter the arena and Dad tossed a half stick of dynamite under the poor fellow’s porch. I don’t know the truth—maybe he tossed a few barrel bombs–but it makes a great family story. Jim Grace was described as a dedicated hunter and fisherman and seemed to be loved by all. Because Jim was a Cal man and Tom was a Stanford man, there was the stuff of great intra-family rivalry every Big Game. Bill Geary recalls Jim as a big guy…and a close friend of his Uncle Finlaw. Finlaw Geary was a local attorney who died in 1951 at the age of 62 and was a close friend of the Grace family throughout his life. He may have had to use his legal skills on occasion on behalf of his five buddies.

( scanned 1930-60 pics 4 grace boys at picnic, Jack at brewery picnic)

The years from 1930 to 1940 were full of change and loss for the brothers, beginning with their father’s death in 1930. Prohibition ended in 1933, the beer can was introduced in 1935 their mother passed away in 1939 and Moses in 1940. Most importantly, the five boys operated the many commercial enterprises with their uncle, Joseph T Grace. It must have been a challenge for these young men to bring the brewery back to production and manage all the lands with the nation still in the midst of the Great Depression.

The beer business was a vastly different business from the one Frank P and Joe Grace had left in 1919. The big breweries exerted their influence on the market place. The last part of the 19th century saw the expansion of these breweries, mainly through the use of refrigerated railroad cars that extended the territory and forced intense competition. Breweries were forced to buy saloons that were tied to their beer to control the local market, and then later expanded into new markets. As many breweries opened, an equal number closed. In many ways, it was similar to America just prior to the micro-brewing revolution in the 1980’s. For every brewpub that opened then, it seemed one closed. Microbreweries seemed to either close or be absorbed by a larger (read Budweiser) brewery.