Fate Rolled the Dice of Fortune for “Farmer” Page


Image courtesy of the LA Times Historical Archive

By the time he was 12, Milton B. Page had his own corner of downtown Los Angeles, as well as his nickname “Farmer,” for his shambling gait and ill-fitting clothes.  By morning, Farmer Page sold newspapers at 2nd and Spring; by night he rolled dice and played poker with his fellow newsboys in the alley nearby.   After a stint playing valet to his younger brother Stanley, a famous jockey, Farmer returned to the city and eventually conducted a big game in the basement of the Del Monte Bar on West Third Street.  Club after club followed, until Farmer owned controlling interests in five establishments, and was the de facto leading gambler in Southern California. 

While Page and his dealings were well known to the downtown police force, his first significant clash with the law didn’t come until 1925, after he bested a disgruntled former employee, Al Joseph, in a gunfight at the Sorrento, on 1348 West 6th Street. Page claimed the shooting was in self-defense, the culmination of a drawn-out underworld feud between himself and Joseph, who had become a member of the notorious “Spud” Murphy gang of San Francisco, and had made repeated threats on Page’s life.  Page turned himself into the authorities after the slaying.

In the court proceedings, Joseph was portrayed by the defense as a vicious and turbulent man, a hijacker and a thug, who “packed a business gun of large caliber, and a smaller social gun for festive occasions.”  Farmer was found innocent of murder, and was excused his 50 thousand dollar bond. 

The trial might have freed Farmer, but the testimony of his many associates revealed the extent of the gambler’s bootlegging operations, and resulted in eventually driving Farmer out of downtown and on to a gambling boat moored off the coast of Santa Monica. From there he followed fellow kingpins Guy McAfee and Tudor Scherer to Las Vegas. These big shots of the Roaring Twenties banded together and bought controlling stakes in such hotels and casinos as the El Rancho Vegas. Fittingly, “Farmer” Page died in a hotel at 2205 West Sixth Street in 1960, at the age of 73.  He was survived by a son, the seemingly mild-mannered bookstore owner, Milton B, Page, Jr.

Spring Street’s Monte Carlo

What was SROland’s grandest gaming establishment? Milton “Farmer” Page’s El Dorado Club. “Farmer” Page was an unlikely gambling kingpin. His nickname came from “his shambling gait and ill-fitting clothes.” He dropped out of school at age 12. But Page was an enterprising fellow. As a newsboy, he secured the lucrative corner of Second and Spring Streets. There he developed a feel for the dice. Younger brother Stanley, a famous jockey, got “Farmer” off the street and made him his personal valet, but Page just took his dice and card games to the tracks. In 1917, he moved back to Los Angeles and opened a game in the basement of the old Del Monte bar on West Third Street. He soon gained a reputation as an “honest gambler.” By 1918, he had five gambling clubs. He was now ready for the big-time — the El Dorado Club. Occupying the entire top floor of a Spring Street office building, the El Dorado had a great run, hosting hundreds of devotees of poker, black jack, and dice games. Crowds of 500 or 600 people a night were common. When the police felt obliged to raid the aforementioned establishment, 15-20 “house men” would step forward to be arrested. Page would later bail them out of Central Police Station. Three months was a typical run, after which time Page would let the police shut things down and then move to another location.


But by early 1925, things looked bad for Mr. Page. He’d shot a man, in self defense, but the cops were watching him. Customers stopped coming. Now, murmur the “wise ones on Spring Street” the gambling trust is broken. But have no doubt, they say: a new combine will inevitably rise to replace it… We’ll see more of Mr. Page and such confreres as “Zeke” Caress, Bob Sherwood, Guy McAfee, Albert Marco, and Charles Crawford, as well as rivals such as Frank and Tony Cornero. We’ll also begin to explore the shadowy entity that controlled the Los Angeles underworld and that in time came to be known as “the Combination.” Spring Street Monte Carlo Illustration credit: The Los Angeles Times, from the February 15, 1925 article, “Farmer Page—King of Spring Street’s Monte Carlo.”