Should you find yourself in 1876 Santa Rosa, don't expect too much. The pretty little courthouse in Courthouse Square wasn't yet built; neither was the McDonald mansion. It was a frontier village of no particular interest except for one thing - it had the only iron bridge in the West.

I don't usually give away the ending of an article, but bridges aren't the most riveting topic for most, and I fear Gentle Reader might otherwise drift off to other entertainments. So here's my Executive Summary:

Santa Rosa's current downtown plan calls for demolishing the city hall complex and restoring Santa Rosa Creek to a natural condition. With the creek exposed the roadway will have to be rebuilt as a bridge. It would be appropriate to model it's appearance after the "Iron Bridge," Santa Rosa's most famous 19th century landmark and early tourist attraction.

When the Iron Bridge was built the local newspaper commented that Santa Rosa was "a city of bridges." Today there are dozens of places where city streets cross over our many creeks. If the city is serious about creek restoration, it could re-embrace that old slogan and draw better attention to the more important bridges that stretch above them.

Until the first train entered town in 1871 and stopped at today’s Railroad Square, travel to Petaluma and points south could be iffy during bad winters.

The first bridge over Santa Rosa Creek was built in 1859, after a year of twisting arms at the Board of Supervisors - they didn't want to spend any money on "improvement" until the county was completely debt-free (oh, how things have changed).

Up to that point, there were fords on the creek where the banks were worn down enough for a wagon or stagecoach to cross the usually shallow waterway. Even after that first bridge was built, attorney T. J. Butts recalled some avoided using it:

I was in Santa Rosa when the first iron bridge in the state was built over the creek on Main Street. It had been the custom up to that time for farmers to drive down the bank and ford the creek when coming to town instead of crossing the old wooden bridge. When the matter of building the new bridge came up before the Board of Supervisors, one old gentleman, who was a well-known man in this town and was a trustee of one of the colleges here went before the Board to protest against the bridge, and in his speech he said: “We don’t need no bridge and if you put that bridge thar, whar are ye goin’ to set yer tire, and whar are you goin’ to water yer critter?”

The Santa Rosa newspaper assured readers the wooden bridge was high enough "the water can never actually rise to the bridge." They were wrong. Two years later in 1861, a big storm took out the middle pilings causing a dangerous sag, while approaches on both sides were washed away. The same thing happened again in 1864.

A replacement was built in 1865 and the Sonoma Democrat promised it would be a "bridge that will withstand the floods, and be an ornament to the place rather than an 'eye sore,' such as was the old one." But wooden bridge II had its own problems and by 1868 it was also unsafe, the deck having holes and planks worn thin.

Each round of repairs cost nearly as much as (and in one case, possibly more than) the cost of building a new bridge. And after Santa Rosa was officially incorporated in 1868 the question of who owned the bridge was first raised; neither the town nor the county wanted to pay for expensive maintenance and repairs. A judge finally decreed that it belonged to the town in 1875, after the Petaluma road was reborn as "Santa Rosa Avenue" and new additions on the other side of the creek were unofficially dubbed “South Santa Rosa." (I swear, if there's ever a version of Trivial Pursuit Santa Rosa, I'm gonna slap a paywall on pages like this and really clean up.)

By then the bridge was in such rough shape only pedestrians were allowed, the horse-drawn traffic going over the new (1872) bridge on Third street just west of the railroad tracks. While Santa Rosa was hand-wringing over what to do about repairs, into town came Mr. R. Higgins, a salesman with impeccable timing.



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

The eyewitness heard the first shot and turned to look up the side street. He saw the doctor standing on the sidewalk and pointing his pistol at a man across a backyard fence as more shots were fired in rapid succession. The victim slumped to the ground while the doctor pocketed the gun and headed downtown. Someone who passed him thought he was whistling.

This unfortunate event happened on a cool April evening in 1900, near the corner of (modern day) Seventh and Mendocino. The shooter was Dr. Samuel S. Bogle, a 32 year-old physician who had been in Santa Rosa less than two years. The victim was James M. Miller, a Civil War veteran aged 60 who owned a paint and wallpaper store across from the courthouse.

Neighbors who heard the shots rushed to help Miller, carrying him into his house. "I'm done for, I'm done for," Miller said. "Why should a man treat me like that after what I've done for him? If I get up out of this I'll fix him." 

 By this time, the eyewitness had reached the office of Dr. Jesse a couple of blocks away. When the doctor was told the shooting involved Bogle and Miller he presumed it was Bogle who had been shot - Miller had blabbing all over town that he was going to "fix" Bogle for not paying a bill.

 Meanwhile, Bogle had arrived at the sheriff's office, where he went to surrender and turn over his gun. No deputies were present at the time so he gave himself up to the county jail's cook. He also visited his lawyer (a former state senator) and by the end of the evening was arraigned and freed on $10,000 bail.

 On the advice of his attorney Bogle didn't speak to reporters, but the Press Democrat still cobbled together a story which was summarized by the San Francisco papers and wire services.

The PD wrote that Bogle passed Miller's sideyard as he was walking downtown after supper. (Bogle and Miller were next door neighbors, a coincidence which had nothing to do with the bad blood between them.) Miller was outside and saw him. Insults were passed and Miller rushed toward the gate with a knife in his hand. Bogle pulled his gun and fired, striking Miller twice.

Dr. Jesse told the paper Miller was expected to survive. He had a flesh wound on a forearm and the other bullet hit the middle of his left hip, passing between the tail bone and top of the femur before exiting the other side above his groin. 

But Dr. Jesse was wrong. Miller died three days later of peritonitis, the bullet having punctured his intestines. Bogle was rearrested and charged with murder.


The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. 


- Jeff Elliott

It was like winning the Sweepstakes, or maybe better - Luther Burbank was being asked if he would like to hang out with the most famous man in the world.

"We would appreciate it very much if you would consent to head a Committee to go to Sacramento, to greet Mr. Edison and escort him to San Francisco," the letter read. "We believe that nothing could be more fitting than that the Wizard of the West should extend welcome and greeting to the Wizard of the East on his visit to California."

The odd wording might have caused Burbank to wonder if it was a prank, and a followup note would ask him to also meet with the Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion. But it was from the San Francisco Examiner, and closed with "...Of course, it is understood that you will be the guest of The Examiner' in so far as all the expenses are concerned." Oh, Luther, you lucky duck - it had been a long time since he had been offered something without being expected to make a "donation" in return.

Burbank accepted the offer immediately, writing back "Mr. Edison and myself have been long distance friends for some time," which was a little white lie. While Burbank may well have mentioned the inventor at some point, there's no record of any prior correspondence between them in either the Burbank or Edison archives.

It was October, 1915, near the end of what was otherwise a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad year for Burbank. Although it was not yet publicly known, both the Burbank seed company and Burbank Press were teetering on bankruptcy due to inept management, and after having exploited his name to peddle worthless stock to Sonoma County residents and others. His future was far from secure and it was possible he might have to sell his precious farms as well as the rights to every plant he still owned. If you don't know that part of the Burbank story or need a refresher, see "THE UNDOING OF LUTHER BURBANK, PART III."

Burbank was to escort Edison to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) - the world's fair in San Francisco whose legacy can still be seen in the Palace of Fine Arts. He had a small role in the fair's creation, having been among the hundred notable men who were part of a 1912 junket to Vancouver and back, promoting the upcoming event at all major cities along the way. (He was toasted at a banquet but told the audience he wasn’t much of a speaker unless the topic was about something like “spuds.”)

At the expo he had been honored with a designated "Luther Burbank Day" - although it wasn't the spotlight some of his biographers have suggested. June 5 was also "Denmark Day" and "American Library Association Day." Burbank received a commemorative plaque and a few speeches were made at a reception in the Horticultural Palace. So all in all, "Luther Burbank Day" was more like the "Luther Burbank Hour" and thousands of little flower seed packets were donated to the PPIE to give away to visitors.

The Examiner had no role in luring Edison to the expo, and hustling Burbank to Sacramento to intercept the train for the "wizard meets wizard" moment was the newspaper's clever way of getting its nose into the tent. Hearst's paper dominated coverage of Edison's four days in San Francisco to the extent that Gentle Reader would be forgiven for believing they were behind the visit and all related events at the fair. They even printed Burbank's letter agreeing to meet Edison's train, which gave Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley a case of the vapors because the letterhead revealed Burbank lived in Santa Rosa. "Both this city and Sonoma county gets notice which is read probably by a quarter of a million people regarding location of wizard’s home," he gushed.

Burbank must have cringed reading that; more than anything else he wanted to be left alone, but almost daily was already besieged by tourists seeking to meet the "wizard."

The Chamber of Commerce and Finley were surprisingly insensitive to Burbank's plight in the run-up to the PPIE. While the Burbank seed company was planning on advertising “Luther Burbank’s Exhibition Garden” near Hayward specifically to attract fans there instead of making a trek to Santa Rosa, the PD was ready to exploit him as a tourist attraction: "many hundreds of strangers will come within our gates, lured here by the fact that Santa Rosa is the home and work place of the greatest of scientific horticulturists, Luther Burbank..."

Given Burbank's desire to keep out of the limelight and people from tramping around in his experimental gardens, he sent a most unexpected telegram to the PD once Edison arrived:

San Francisco, Oct. 18. Herbert Slater. Santa Rosa: Mr. and Mrs. Edison and sister, and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford will visit Santa Rosa, if possible, on Friday. No bands; no racket. They wish to come quietly. Luther Burbank."

The Chamber and Finley ignored their wishes, of course, and began planning a blowout reception.

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

Santa Rosa is tinkering with Fourth street again, hoping to keep its moribund business district from completely withering away during the Age of Coronavirus. The latest effort is to close off traffic on the 500 and 700 blocks (but not the 600 block), allowing restaurants and bars to setup more outside tables. The city will keep the blocks closed at least until January 31, 2021 but according to the PD, over 70% of the businesses on those blocks want the street closure to be permanent.

Go back about four decades, however, and tell people that Santa Rosa was going to block cars from Fourth street in 2020 and expect surprised reactions - because they would have expected the city had already done that.

Our story begins almost exactly 45 years ago in 1975, as the City Council clears the last major obstacle to final planning for the Santa Rosa Plaza Mall. The city would allow the developer to sink Third street so part of the shopping center could be built above it while lower Fifth street and A street would be folded into the mall plans. The matter of a Fourth street passageway between B street and Railroad Square was still unsettled - that's a major story by itself and will be handled in a future article.

As much of the money to pay for that would come from the federal government, the Housing and Urban Development Dept. (HUD) had to give its blessing to the project. Its report from earlier that same year declared the mall would be generally a good thing for Santa Rosa, but there was concern that having it downtown could suck the life out of the existing business district: "...the older area could lose business, tenants would move elsewhere and the decline of another area of Santa Rosa would begin, possibly recreating a situation similar to that which necessitated urban renewal in the first place."

To mitigate those concerns, the city and the Downtown Development Association - DDA to its friends - hired a respected San Francisco urban planning company, EDAW Inc. Their mission was to create "a complete, cohesive physical design plan" to "provide the necessary linkage" between the mall and the downtown core. So once again it was time to play Let's Redesign Downtown - that ever-popular game in the 1960s that had enriched many out-of-town consultants. (Those layouts were discussed here in the series, "YESTERDAY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.")

Given what they had to work with, their redesign was innovative. Like earlier plans there was an emphasis on streetscaping with lots of trees (primarily plums and magnolias). There was far more parking than we have today and it envisioned a free "people mover" shuttle looping continually between the garages and the stores.

But the highlight was turning Fourth street into a "meandering semi-mall" closed to traffic except for the people mover. Riley street would also become pedestrian only.



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

There's a tale Bill Soberanes loved to tell in his Argus-Courier columns that went something like this:

During Prohibition a lawyer was defending a man accused of bootlegging. When the prosecutor introduced a bottle of the moonshine as evidence the lawyer picked it up, put it to his lips and drank it dry. "That wasn't whiskey," he told the court. Case dismissed for lack of evidence.

Odds of that story being true are probably nil (or at least, I can't find anything close to it in the newspapers of the day) but it's the kind of thing people liked to say about Gil P. Hall. Most often he was called some riff on being "a colorful character" and people meant that in a nice way. During the 1910s and 1920s he was the top defense attorney in Sonoma county and rarely lost in court, particularly if it involved a jury trial. He was such a legal hotshot that courtrooms were packed when he defended a high-profile case. "There was only one Gil Hall, and I don't think there will ever be another like him," said the last surviving pre-Prohibition Petaluma bar owner in 1967. "Some of his cases would make Perry Mason look very tame."

In the 1920s Hall defended so many liquor scofflaws that he had a reputation as being the bootlegger's lawyer, but that's not really fair - it seems he took on any and all. While he's best known for high-profile cases his bread and butter was mundane legal work - representing people seeking a divorce, handling probate paperwork, and arguing a farmer had a right to dig a culvert under a county road.

He won an acquittal for Fannie Brown, who was charged with running a "house of ill-fame" at First and C streets in Petaluma. In the murder trial of two doctors charged with the death of a woman from an abortion ("the illegal operation") the courtroom spectators burst into prolonged applause when the jury found them innocent. Even when he lost he usually managed to salvage some kind of victory. The owner of Speedway Hotel in Cotati was caught red-handed selling 72 proof jackass brandy ("with a trace of fuel oil") and had to pay a fine, but Hall blocked the government from shutting down his business - which continued to be busted for selling hootch year after year.

A man who knew him, Petaluma Justice of the Peace Rolland Webb, said "he won most of his cases by outsmarting the young lawyers who came up against him," so it's a pity the newspapers didn't write up some of his Perry Mason-y courtroom arguments. The one sample we have comes from an unusual case - the county election of 1926.



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

Santa Rosa made national news in the days after Christmas, 1894. Hundreds of newspapers nationwide, from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to the Wah-shah-she News in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, ran a wire story that began this way:

Santa Rosa, Cal., Dec. 28.—Santa Rosa had the biggest sensation in its history today. The county treasury was robbed of nearly $8000 and County Treasurer Stofen was left insensible in the vault to suffocate by the robbers, who locked the door of the vault on him. The robbery occurred about 9 o'clock this morning, but was not discovered until about 5 o'clock this afternoon. All this time Treasurer Stofen lay on the floor of tbe vault gasping for breath, fearing every moment during conscious intervals would be his last.

Stofen told reporters the next day that he had opened his office at the county courthouse as usual on Dec. 28 and was bringing coin trays out of the vault (it was 1894, remember, and "money" meant gold and silver coins, not greenback dollars). Suddenly there was a man in front of him holding a large dagger. "Drop that money," he ordered. The 58 year-old Stofen put the tray on the table and either was struck on the head or fainted. The next thing he knew was waking up to discover he was locked in the vault.

"I pounded on the door, but of course no one could hear me," he told reporters. He knew there was a faint draught at the bottom of the door and lay with his face near it. He passed out again.

Meanwhile, his two kids stop by at noon to drop off his lunch. Not finding dad in the office and the door locked, they hung around waiting for him. A man from San Francisco wanted to make a payment and was annoyed to find the office closed, as he did not want to make another trip to Santa Rosa. The sheriff - whose office was next door - suggested he give the money to Stofen's 18 year-old daughter which he did, since it's 1894 and you can trust a teenager you don't know with making cash deposits and I wish we were all living back then.

In the middle of the afternoon Mrs. Stofen drops by the office after a day trip to Cloverdale. Finding his lunch outside the door, she goes home, fearing he might be ill. Not finding him there either, she rushes back to the courthouse and learns no one had seen him since morning. She has the janitor open the door and finds the office in disarray. "Then I screamed and immediately heard knocks coming from the vault," she told the SF Examiner.

She tries the combination of the vault, since it's 1894, of course the wife of the country treasurer knows the combination and is the only other person who does. It doesn't work. She tries again, and this time the door opens. “When we got Mr. Stofen out,” the janitor told the Sonoma Democrat, “he looked pale and much prostrated. The meeting between Mr. and Mrs. Stofen was one of the most painful things I ever saw in all my life.”



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

In the beginning there was Ernest L. Finley. He bought the old Sonoma Democrat in 1897, merged it with his own newspaper, the Evening Press, becoming the owner, editor and publisher of the new Press Democrat.

That's the version of the paper's beginnings as told on the PD's "about" page, on Wikipedia, by the Northern California Media Museum and in various columns and feature items published in the paper over the last 75-odd years.

Trouble is, that's not actually true. The new paper was a partnership, and Finley wasn't even the key player - he was one of two business managers. The founding editor and the person greatly responsible for the Press Democrat's success was Grant O. Richards, although it's rare to find mentions of him after the 1930s. And even before he was erased from the picture, items about the paper's earliest days just mentioned Richards "left the firm" or "sold his interest" to Finley. Neither of those claims were true either, as he killed himself while still editor (although I guess that would qualify as leaving the firm).

The PD - and the city of Santa Rosa itself - has polished Finley's reputation to a gleam ever since his death in 1942, inflating his role in positive events such as founding the paper. But it's particularly unfair to build up Finley at the expense of Richards because it steals away the place he deserved in the history books. Not to mention that townsfolk of his day would have been gobsmacked to learn such a man would become so completely forgotten; hell, everybody in 1890s Santa Rosa probably wished they were Grant O. Richards.

Should you be very lucky, you might meet someone who has that one in a million billion quality which makes everyone (s)he meets fall at their feet. Call it ultra charisma, magnetic charm or even stardust, you are absolutely absolutely devoted to that person from the first meeting. Grant Oswald Richards had that magical ability; people not only really, really liked him, but they couldn't help themselves from jabbering about how much they loved the guy - scroll down through some of the excerpts in the sources below. Such people can become very powerful (and dangerous) when drawn to politics or religion; we should probably be thankful Richards wanted only to be a very good newspaper editor in small towns.



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

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