For more than a decade, it was one of the biggest and most renowned motorcycle rallies in the world and no one will argue that this little town deserves the title of being “The Birthplace of the American Biker.” It is called Hollister, a small California city of roughly 35,000 residents best known for being “The Earthquake Capitol of the World”, because the Calaveras Fault bisects the city. And although they’ve experienced some major shakers over the years (the town was almost destroyed during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake), a riot involving bikers rocked Hollister in a big way more than 63 years ago, and the aftershocks are still being felt today.
Throughout the years, the city has both welcomed and spurned their annual motorcycle rally like an ugly old ex-spouse since its inception in 1997. They’ve even moved the date, from the traditional Independence Day holiday in efforts to reduce the annual stampede of bikers. And now, they no longer hold the Hollister Motorcycle Rally at all, after financial and security obstacles caused the cancellation two years ago.
“They do not want to pay, these city council types,” “Little Glide” Junior Garner said. Garner is a long-time resident of Hollister and he’s seen more “all of them rallies here in town, and I ain’t lying!” he explained with pride. But, Garner thinks it’s silly not to have the rally anymore, just because a few outsiders didn’t play nice a few years back. “Most of the bikers are great people and they have a good time here without anyone getting hassled or hurt. But, some folks wanna get drunk, fight and you know what. They think they’re Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin, but they’re just punks looking for trouble. And that’s why they don’t want to have it here anymore. The Council City said they won’t do it again, unless they can get some sponsors to pay for the event. We gotta special breed of a-holes in this place and their motto is No More Fun!”
When did it all begin, this love-hate relationship between this tiny town in San Benito County and motorcyclists? The Hollister riot occurred during the Gypsy Tour motorcycle rally in Hollister, California, from July 4 to July 6, 1947. The event was sensationalized by yellow news reports of bikers "taking over the town" and staged photos of public rowdiness.
The rally, which was sponsored by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), was attended by approximately 4,000 people. This was several times more than had been expected, and the small town of Hollister was overwhelmed by bikers who were forced to sleep on sidewalks and in parks.
About 50 people were arrested during the event, most for public intoxication, reckless driving, and disturbing the peace. Members of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club, in particular, were reported to be fighting and racing in the streets. There were 60 reported injuries, of which three were reportedly serious.
The 1953 film The Wild One (starring Marlon Brando) was inspired by the event and based on an article run in Life magazine which included a staged picture of a drunk man resting on a motorcycle amidst a mass of beer bottles.
Representatives of the AMA, seeking to deflect the negative press surrounding the rally, are alleged to have stated at a press conference that “the trouble was caused by the one per cent deviant that tarnishes the public image of both motorcycles and motorcyclists”. The AMA now says they have no record of such a statement to the press, and call this story apocryphal. This statement led to the term “one-percenter” to describe “outlaw” bikers. With the riot under control for the moment, officers said there is no apparent organized leader of the activity.
Here are some excerpts from an article about the riot appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 5, 1947:
Motorcyclists Take Over Town, Many Injured
State Highway patrolmen tonight imposed informal martial law in downtown Hollister to curb the riotous activities of an estimated 4,000. Almost 60 persons were injured, three of them seriously. Several more arrests were made and a special night court session was convened to punish those charged with reckless driving and drunkenness.
The outburst of terrorism - wrecking of bars, bottle barrages into the streets from upper story windows and roofs and high speed racing of motorcycles though the streets - came as participants in the annual "Gypsy Tour" sponsored by the American Motorcycle Association converged on Hollister for a three-day meeting.
Shortly after dusk tonight, the force of 40 highway patrol officers, commanded by Captain L.T. Torres of San Benito County, forced a lull in the terrorism.
Armed with tear gas guns, the officers herded the cyclists into a block on San Benito street, between Fifth and Sixth streets, parked a dance band on a truck and ordered the musicians to play.
Hundreds of individuals who invaded the town yesterday for the motorcycle show, about 10 percent of them women halted their riotous "play" to dance. Their formal ball at the American Legion Hall was canceled by police orders.
The dancers scuffed their way through inches of broken glass, debris of bottle barrages thrown during the day. The officers stood almost shoulder to shoulder along the curb.
REQUEST FOR HELP
Captain Torres and his men were sent to the scene by Charles E. Raymond Cato of the highway patrol who received a formal request of assistance from Lieutenant Roy L. McPhail of the seven-men Hollister police department. The request for aid was made at 3:30 P.M. today.
As the state officers moved in, hundreds of cyclists roared through the streets of Hollister, defying traffic regulations. Many of them were injured in spills and crashes. One man's left foot was virtually severed.
Lieutenant McPhail was emphatic in his announcement to The Chronicle that he was asked for assistance by the State Highway Patrol.
Police Chief Fred A. Earin of Hollister said:
"It's just one hell of a mess."
The motorcyclists gathering for a three-day program of social activities, races and hill climbing events scheduled to end tomorrow began "taking over the town" the evening of July 3.
The momentum of their activities gained strength during the 4th of July. By evening, they were virtually out of control, the police reported.
Riders, both men and women, steered their machines into bars, crashing fixtures and bottles and mirrors. They defied all traffic regulations racing full speed through the streets and intersections. Hundreds loosed bottle barrages. Bartenders halted the sale of beer, believing the group could not afford whiskey. Riotous activities continued. The bars closed two hours earlier than permitted by law. The same curfew was to go into effect tonight.
The groups defied the officers to curb their activities. As many arrests as possible were made. Police. Judge Frank Butcher convened a special session of his court tonight to dispose of the cases as he did last night. The sentences ranged from $25 to $250 and up to 75 days in jail. One of the participants identified by the police as Jim Morrison, 19, of Los Angeles, was given 90 days in the county jail for indecent exposure.
The emergency room at Hazel Hawkins Hospital was jammed to overflowing. The first case arrived early yesterday. Late tonight, more than 40 persons had been treated. The San Benito Hospital handled the overflow cases.