Mayor Klusman – “Forgotten Man”

July 11, 2009 at 4:06 am 2 comments

klusman2[1]I first came across William T. Klusman while doing some research for a lecture on Torrance city history. A subsequent LINK Logs posting, 25 Things about the Torrance Public Library, contained a Klusman factoid which generated some interest in this colorful local politician. According to Historic Torrance, Klusman was a socialist which may explain why he lost every council election but one from 1922 to 1940. However, at the start of the depression the citizens of Torrance were fed up with business as usual (and some shenanigans in City Hall) and voted by a landslide for change, that change was Klusman’s “forgotten man” ticket.

Evidently his term was not too successful. Elected to the City Council in 1932, and appointed mayor (direct election of Torrance mayors would not take place until 1957), his fellow council members removed him in September of 1933. The Los Angeles Times reported in 1932 that Klusman’s “lifting of 14,000,000 cubic yards of mud flats to make the Los Angeles Harbor prepared him for some of the exigencies of his political career.”

Torrance Herald publisher, Grover T. Whyte, gave Klusman his signature top hat after losing an election bet. This top hat became the mayor’s “badge of office” which he wore for every public occasion while in office.

Klusman was tried by the Police Commission for “abusive language” and defamatory remarks made at a public meeting. (I guess he was acquitted because he was still mayor in 1933.) Councilman Wright was his constant foe, it was he who demanded the police probe of the mayor’s behavior. Wright was also behind the recall of Klusman. Eventually Klusman was removed for, according to the L.A. Times, “lack of dignity, secretiveness, untruthfulness, harboring destructive policies, creating class prejudice and undermining the morale of city employees and conducting himself in such a manner that he is unable to render proper and efficient service to the city.” Wow, quite an indictment.

To learn more about this gadfly mayor you will need to turn to the Torrance Herald of 1932-33 (the microfilm of which is available at the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library). I am looking forward to delving more deeply into the newspapers to see why this mayor was elected by a landslide and discarded less then a year and a half later. Fortunately, the Torrance Herald will soon be digitized, which not only will preserve and make this historic news source more widely available, but will also make searching the newspaper much easier.

Klusman committed suicide on his Lomita chicken ranch in 1944. Born in Oldenburg Germany in 1870, Klusman came to California in 1884. He worked as stationary engineer for the National Supply Company. He is buried locally in Pacific Crest Cemetery. Has anyone some interesting stories about this unique Torrance mayor?  Please leave a comment below and share with us.

–mg

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. FuddyDuddy  |  July 22, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Thank you for following up on this story and giving us more information. He sounds like quite the character! I am very excited to hear that the Torrance Herald archives are being digitized. Will they be available for search from the library website, or will people need to go into the library to use this resource? What other local papers are available in a digital format and how far back to they go?

    Reply
    • 2. torrancepubliclibrary  |  July 27, 2009 at 7:53 pm

      I share your excitement about the Torrance Herald, Torrance Press and old city directories being preserved and made available to a larger audience. This project, which would not have been possible without the unflagging support of the Torrance Historical Society and the cooperation of the Friends of the Torrance Library and the City of Torrance, will allow patrons to review over a half a century of unique history. While I don’t have many details for you at this time, it is hoped that you can start searching the resources by next year. We hope to have the papers accessible on the web, but at the very least, the papers will be available through the library’s computers. Another bonus is that the papers will be keyword searchable, a great advantage for a source without an index.

      We will be the only South Bay city with the local paper digitally preserved and online. While much has been done recently in newspaper digitization, the digitization of an entire local paper’s run is still rare. Fortunately, more communities are putting their newspapers online. A notable example is Whittier – http://digi.whittierlibrary.org/wpl/index.html. If you have a Palos Verdes Library card you can get access to ProQuest’s Historic LA Times (from 1880 to the 1980s) from home. Lastly, if you want to know who may have a copy of an obscure California local paper or, indeed, if a town had its own paper, the California Newspaper Project http://cnp.ucr.edu/cnpsearchdb.html will point you to that paper. I hope this helps and please feel free to post other digitized newspaper resources you have found helpful.

      – mg

      Reply

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