The club’s beginnings go back to the early 1960s and several individuals — Mel Saddler, Ron Tonkins, and Gordon Marten — who had strong interests in both motorcycles and uniforms. Photos taken in those years show them in the desert on their motorcycles and suited up in authentic appearing and perfectly fitting CHP and LAPD uniforms with tall motor boots. By 1967, the three of them were joined by an additional friend, Mel Joy. About this time, the interest of the four in socializing in their uniforms caught the attention of Neil Cowan, Art Malham, and Chuck Romanski, who started hanging out with them. Neil Cowan indicated that it was he who suggested that they start a club. The idea of starting a club was accepted, and the new club’s first official meeting took place on December 1, 1968. According to club tradition and validated by Neil Cowan, the club’s founding members were Mel Saddler, Ron Tonkins, Gordon Marten, Mel Joy, Neil Cowan, and Art Malham. Neil Cowan recalls that in this initial period, “Gordon was our leader. He did it well.”
In the Los Angeles of the 1960’s, the idea of men banding together to start a club wasn’t entirely novel. At that time, motorcycle clubs for gay men were starting to proliferate in Southern California. The first of these clubs, the Satyrs, was founded in 1954. It had a constitution and a set of bylaws, and sponsored a full schedule of motorcycle runs, including an annual summer run to Badger Flat. Within a decade or so the club model established by the Satyrs was replicated by others in Southern California, with the establishment of the Buddy Club in 1965, the Oedipus and Blue Max motorcycle clubs in 1968, the Warriors in 1969, and the LOBOC club in 1972. By the late 1970s, there were more than 20 motorcycle clubs in Los Angeles. One of these clubs, the Blue Max, which idealized the Red Baron and the military culture and traditions of imperial Prussia, adopted a uniform based on the uniforms worn by Kaiser Wilhelm II’s personal guard. However, wearing this anachronistic Prussian uniform appears to have been secondary to the club’s primary focus as a motorcycle club. Although none of these clubs was oriented to the needs of men interested in collecting, wearing, and appreciating police and military uniforms, they provided examples of how uniform men could set up and operate a club of their own to fulfill their needs.
Clubs were particularly needed during that era to provide men with opportunities to socialize in private, away from the bars, where they were at risk of being arrested in raids by the police. Today, it is difficult for younger men to appreciate, but gay sex was against the law in California until 1975, and any sign of gay male physical contact in public was vigorously prosecuted. In Los Angeles in particular, police vice squad raids on gay bars were relatively common, with men arrested for simply touching each other, which was considered to be a “lewd act.” Men rounded up in those raids were subject to being taken to the police station, charged with a crime, and booked, with their names published in the paper the next day, leading to embarrassment, if not harm to their careers. Jim Neuman recalled that when you went into the bars, you would often park yourself near the exits so that you could bail out if the police came in from the other end. Although these raids were first challenged by a demonstration in front of the Black Cat in Sunset Junction in February 1967, the raids continued until 1974. In that year, the LA City Attorney ruled that his office would no longer prosecute people for holding hands, dancing, or making sexual propositions in gay bars. He also directed the LA Police Department to stop harassing homosexuals and start hiring qualified homosexuals as police officers. In 1968, this change was still six years away, so at that time, a club for uniform men was much needed.
Another issue for uniform men was that, as Neil Cowan put it, the motorcycle
clubs held sway socially in the bars, and uniform clubs had to go in the closet.
Jim Neuman recalled the experience of being in uniform at Griff’s (at that time on Melrose by Lucy’s El Adobe) with two other club members one night during these early years. He recounts that “...and all of a sudden, we realized that the three of us who were in uniform were alone in the middle of the bar and all of these people were standing around just gawking at us, ‘...like what is this?’ And this was at the time that the police were raiding bars, and here we were, showing up at Griff’s in a police uniform.” He indicated that at that time, “...it was just not done, you just didn’t go out in uniform.” This reality provided an additional incentive for uniform men to band together to create times and places to enjoy being in uniform.
As the 1993 club history put it in looking back at the creation of the club: “Today, we attend events in uniform and enjoy good times with men who serve on local law enforcement agencies without fear of discrimination, but it was not always so. In fact, it was just because of this desire of ours to wear a uniform without fear of harassment that the California B&B Corps was formed.”
Photo of a B&B meeting at a member’s home in 1968. From left to right, Neil Cowan, Mel Saddler, Gordon Marten, Jim Bachman, Chuck Romanski, Mel Joy, and kneeling in front, Art Malham. Founding member Ron Tonkins who is missing from the photo may have been the one who took it. At this initial stage in the club’s existence, before the club uniform was codified, the uniforms worn are a mix, and some have an improvised appearance.
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