Verdugo Views: Three cheers for soda fountains and bingo
Harry Pryor was in charge of the bingo nights at the Verdugo Club for many years. (Couresy of theSpecial Collections Room, Glendale Public Library) (December 14, 2012)
Pryor began developing his leadership skills when he was just 9 years old. That’s when he started delivering papers for the San Bernardino Sun.
While in high school, his principal asked him to plan a daylong event for members of the orchestras, oratorical societies and sports teams of all five high schools in the San Bernardino area. He visited each of the schools to drum up interest and later reported excellent attendance at the event.
Pryor put himself through college at the University of Southern California, majoring in business administration in the days when tuition was $250 per year, he told Glendale News-Press columnist Wanda Owen, June 23, 1992. One of his first jobs was as a soda jerk at the Broadway Department Store in downtown Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, on campus, he was making history as one of the university’s first yell leaders and was creating the first card stunts to ever be performed at a collegiate football game. Not only is he credited with starting the halftime card stunts, he was one of three founders of the Trojan Knights, which began in 1921. The Knights have since become a symbol of the school’s spirit, according to the Trojan Knights website.
Pryor graduated in 1925, married fellow student Alys Maxfield in 1927, and went into the then-new field of mechanical refrigeration, selling the first mechanical soda fountain to his former employer, the Broadway Department Store.
He began working for a large dry goods company, but soon bought them out and formed his own company. This was in 1929, the year the Great Depression began, but, he told Owen, “I was too busy to be bothered and besides my company was too small to be affected, so I just kept moving ahead.’’
The Pryors moved to Glendale in 1930. As their business grew, they did a great deal of entertaining in their home and at various clubs, including the Jonathan Club and the Oakmont Country Club. They also joined the Verdugo Club, where Pryor’s claim to fame was organizing the bingo games.
Bingo night was a monthly event, according to Nancy DeWind, who worked in the club’s office. “It was very popular because of the gourmet dinner, great prizes and enthusiastic players.’’ She remembers Pryor as being very involved. ``Harry had been a cheerleader at USC (probably the first). He never lost his cheerleading enthusiasm,’’ she said.
Fellow club member Lola Archer also recalled Pryor. ``He was in charge of selecting the callers for each game,’’ she said. ``The bingo nights were always a sell-out because the prizes were so fabulous.‘’ With a budget of $700 or $800 per event, there was always great anticipation about the prizes, which were awarded according to the level of difficulty, starting with regular bingo, then moving on to more difficult games and finishing with a blackout game. That winner received the major prize. “If there were two or more winners for a specific game,”’ Archer explained, “cards would be drawn and whoever drew the high card would get the prize; the losers would be given a bottle of wine. There were many disappointed losers. Some tables would have their own game going with stakes.”
Archer said Pryor was already in charge of the bingo nights when she and her husband, Clifford, joined in 1979 and he was still in charge when the club closed in 1994. ``Those were the days,’’ she said.