How the outlaw biker gang culture got its start in a small California town.
The Hollister riot occurred at the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) sanctioned Gypsy Tour motorcycle rally in Hollister, California from July 3-6, 1947. The AMA had been running races in the area since the 30’s with no problems. These Gypsy Tour Motorcycle Rallys were a great way for riders to gather, socialize and party. However, after WWII, the popularity of motorcycle riding sky rocketed, mostly driven by the many WWII veterans returning home. The 1947 Hollister Rally had one major problem – a completely unexpected massive attendance. Initially the bikers received a warm welcome from the locals and business owners, but then the trouble started.
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1947 July 4th weekend, it is estimated that over 4000 bikers were in attendance. With the small city now beyond full capacity, the city’s resources such as food and lodging were consumed and those without lodging were forced to sleep in the city park, and some were even reported to have slept on
sidewalks and on people’s lawns. Slowly, a few bikers that were racing up and down the city’s main drag went from mildly raucous to alarmingly out of control. Two such bikers were riding their bikes in and out of the local bar, while another was doing wheelies up and down the street.
The local police, which consisted of 1 chief and 6 officers, were quickly overwhelmed with the huge crowd of rowdy drunken bikers who had taken over the city’s main drag, Arrests were made for being drunk in public, and other minor incidents. Hollister’s city’s police chief, Lieutenant Roy McPhail called the CHP asking for help.
Long before police reinforcements had arrived, the majority of the bikers that had earlier flooded into Hollister, California left for other destinations leaving only a small group behind. Only 3 serious incidents were reported, but when the CHP arrived on July 5th they made a total of 50 arrests, mostly for public intoxication and disturbing the peace. Those reported ‘serious’ incidents were a broken leg, a fractured skull, and one other injury. All 3 injuries had happened to the motorcyclists who were either drag racing, or just riding recklessly on the main drag.
This negative depiction of bikers created quite a stir in Hollywood which helped to make an anti-hero out of actor Marlon Brando, who played Johnny Strabler in the 1953 film “The Wild One.” Along with his arrogance and the devil may care attitude, Brando unknowingly fueled the popularity of what today is known as the biker or motorcycle lifestyle.
Teenagers and men alike all swarmed to get a Schott Perfecto leather jacket, which was exactly the same one worn by Brando in the movie, and many more bought both Harley Davidson and Triumph motorcycles. While Brando rode a 1950 Triumph T6, many other fans and followers of this new motorcycle lifestyle choose the Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
The movie was considered so controversial that it got many negative reviews by American movie critics, as well as leaders in other local communities. The film was even banned in the U.K. until 1968 when it was then given an “X” rating. This ban helped to fuel those drawn to this new lifestyle to abandon their 4 wheel cars in favor of the motorcycle and riding leathers!
Over the years as the rally grew in popularity local law enforcement continued to view the bikers with mistrutst and would make various negative reports on the rally and its attendees. When a discussion by the Hollister City Council was held to decide if the 2009 rally would be cancelled, San Benito County Sheriff Curtis Hall said, “the rally is a dirty, rotten, stinking event.” The general consensus was because a few well known “outlaw” motorcycle clubs come to Hollister, California, it was unsafe and the police felt the need to protect the public. The event was cancelled.
Many who lived in Hollister, CA applauded the decision to cancel the event, but when they realized the immense financial loss, after all those “dirty rotten stinking” bikers brought a reported eight million dollars to the 2005 rally. The discussion began to bring the rally back and after serious communication with local officials and law enforcement, the 2013 Hollister Rally was approved for the July 4th weekend.