William Guthrie, San Bernardino City Attorney
October 2, 2013 Leave a comment
William R. Guthrie was the San Bernardino City Attorney from 1913 to 1927, and 1931 until 1935. He was also the founder of what today is Gresham Savage (from their website http://www.greshamsavage.com/firm-100years.html):
The Gresham Savage story begins in 1910, when founder William Guthrie opened his solo practice in San Bernardino, Calif. Like the rest of the country, the city was in transition, shedding its image as a rough-and-ready saloon town where shootouts and public hangings were commonplace. During the first 20 years of the new century, as Santa Fe locomotives brought thousands of new settlers down the Cajon Pass, the city tripled in size and grew in respectability and importance.
Guthrie served as city attorney for 12 years, gaining valuable experience in industry, mining, tax valuation and assessments. He became an influential figure in business, political and social circles and was an imposing local presence, strolling the streets of San Bernardino in his distinctive white hat.
His reputation for getting results grew rapidly, catching the attention of large corporations, including the Southern Pacific Railroad, California Portland Cement Company, still a Gresham Savage client, and American Potash & Chemical Co., now Searles Valley Minerals, also still with the firm. Later in Guthrie’s career, Henry Kaiser hired him to handle the legal affairs of Kaiser’s new Fontana Steel Mill.
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By the economic crash of 1929, Guthrie had moved into San Bernardino’s new Andreson Building, which still stands today. Throughout the Depression, he continued serving major corporations, including the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, now the BNSF Railway Company and the longest-standing current Gresham Savage client, Southern California Edison and the predecessor to General Telephone, which is now Verizon.
As the country struggled through those difficult years, Guthrie expanded his practice, bringing on Carl B. Hilliard, Donald W. Jordan, John B. Lonergan and Jesse W. Curtis Jr. In 1937, he formed a partnership with Curtis, whose father had been a pioneer San Bernardino County lawyer, Superior Court judge and Supreme Court justice.
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Now as Guthrie & Curtis, the firm prospered during World War II, serving heavy industry companies such as Kaiser Steel and California Portland Cement Company, whose successors remain clients of the firm. These were precedent-setting times, requiring attorneys of strong character and high intellect to properly interpret complex laws dealing with local and regional government regulations. Guthrie would often convene the area’s captains of industry at a local restaurant or meeting place to discuss the important legal and political issues of the day.
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After Curtis left the firm in 1947, Guthrie, Lonergan and Jordan established a legendary partnership that was to be unmatched at handling legal matters involving labor, public land and mining. “New Law Firm Formed in City,” trumpeted the headline in the local newspaper, describing Guthrie as “long one of the outstanding figures” of the county’s bar.
Sadly, failing health forced Guthrie to retire soon after, but not a single client left the firm as Lonergan and Jordan took up the challenge of moving on without the legendary founding attorney. Though practicing in a small-town geographically, they were widely regarded as big-city professionals, expanding the practice even further and attracting multinational corporations as clients.
William Guthrie was born in San Bernardino on November 1, 1886 to William James Guthrie and Anna B. Lawson (Guthrie). In 1900, he lived with his parents at 472 West Fourth Street in the Second Ward. His father was listed as a Dry Goods Merchant on the 1900 Census.
By the next Census, he was the head of household as his mother was listed as widowed. They were living at 626 North E Street in the Second Ward. William Guthrie was listed as a Deputy County Clerk and as a lawyer. The State Bar of California gives his State Bar number of 3059, and says he was admitted in January 1910. The Census was taken on April 16-18, 2010, so he had just passed the Bar. His brother, James Guthrie, was already listed as a newspaper reporter (he was later the publisher of the Sun).
In 1910, William Guthrie lived not far from Charles L. Allison (491 West Fourth Street). Charles Allison was elected City Attorney in 1911, and was defeated by William Guthrie in 1913. In the 1910-1911 San Bernardino City Directory, Gutherie’s address is listed as 527 E Street, and he is listed as Chief Deputy County Clerk. By the 1911-1912 listing, he is living at 626 North E Street with his brothers, and is listed as a lawyer with Willis & Guthrie.
According to the Minutes of the Mayor and Common Council dated March 20, 1913, he received the following votes in the Primary Municipal Election: In the Republican Primary, 389 votes; in the Democratic Primary, 97 votes; in the Socialist Primary, 10 votes; and the Prohibition Primary, 6 votes.
In the minutes of the Mayor and Common Council Meeting of April 16, 1913, William Guthrie received the following votes in the April 14, 1913 General Municipal Election, 1432 votes over the Socialist candidate J.W. Stephenson’s 823 votes and H.H. Chase received 918 votes.
By the time of the 1913-1914 City Directory, William Guthrie is listed as Attorney and City Attorney, Room 413 of the Katz Building, telephone HOme [sic] 1141, and still living at 646 D Street. By the 1916 City Directory, he had moved his residence to 939 D Street.
He ran for re-election on April 12, 1915, and gained 2704 votes to his opponent, Cecil H. Phillips’ 1987 votes.
On June 5, 1917, on his draft card, William Guthrie listed his residence as 939 (North) D street, and his occupation as City Attorney, and employed by the City of San Bernardino. He claimed exemptions for supporting his wife and as a City officer.
William Guthrie again ran in the 1919 primary and general elections. In the primary municipal election, he ran against Fred A. Wilson for the first time. Guthrie received 2144 votes, Fred A. Wilson received 1170 votes, and Frank T. Bates received 631 votes.
In 1920, he lived at 1151 North D Street with his wife Mary, and he is listed as a general practice attorney. The City Attorney position at that time was part-time. It did not become full time until a Charter section 55 was amended in a special election on January 6, 1955.
William Guthrie ran unopposed in the 1923 election.
By 1924, the San Bernardino Directory lists him as City Attorney, with his office at 205-210 Katz Building, and his residence as 1151 North D Street.
In the March 1927 primary election, Guthrie defeated Fred A. Wilson. Fred A. Wilson was a San Bernardino attorney, State Bar Number 7329 admitted in September 1911. However, in the 1927 general primary election, Fred A. Wilson won.
By 1928, his office was at 506 Andreson Building, 320 North E, and his home was still at 1151 North D Street.
In 1930, he still lived at 1151 N. D Street with his wife Mary and daughter Elizabeth. Their home was listed as valued at $12,000. His occupation is lawyer (owns office).
William Guthrie ran for City attorney again in 1931, beating City Attorney Fred A. Wilson in the General Election by a vote of 4,180 to 3,543.
In the April 8, 1935 General Municipal Election, H.R. Griffin defeated William Guthrie in a close race. H.R. Griffin, received 4,508 votes, and Guthrie received 4,040 votes. Theo G. Krumm received 889 votes.
By 1940, he was living at 356 West 18th Street. He was listed as a lawyer in his own private practice. He lived with his wife Mary, his daughter Elizabeth, and a young man named Felix Flint, who was their “hired yard man.”
William Guthrie died on November 2, 1947 at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Los Angeles, California.
His obituary in the Los Angeles Times of November 4, 1947 read:
William Guthrie, San Bernardino Attorney, Dies
William Guthrie, 61, San Bernardino attorney, died at St. Vincent’s Hospital Sunday night of a lung infection. In failing health since September, he was brought here from his home last Tuesday to undergo treatment by specialists.
A native of San Bernardino, Mr. Guthrie was admitted to the California Bar 35 years ago. He prepared himself for his bar examination by studying law in his after-office hours while he was employed as a deputy county clerk. He served as City Attorney of San Bernardino for 12 years.
Mr. Guthrie was known as an authority on corporation law. His clients included many of the industrial corporations of the State. He practiced frequently in Los Angeles courts, and was a member of the California, University and Jonathan clubs here.
He leaves his widow, Mrs. Mary D. Guthrie, a daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Goss, Claremont, and two brothers, James A. Guthrie, publisher and editor of the San Bernardino Sun, and Howard M. Guthrie, San Bernardino businessman.