Like zombies they stumbled towards courthouse square in downtown Santa Rosa as county workers, already buried under great piles of documents dumped upon them, struggled bravely on with forlorn hopes that someday the onslaught might somehow end.
Do I exaggerate? Only a little; sans the "zombie" flourish – which, as you'll soon learn becomes weirdly apropos later – that description is true to the spirit of how the Press Democrat described the situation in the beleaguered County Recorder's office during the spring of 1912:
|The recording of these deeds has thrown Recorder Nagle and his force away behind with the regular work...Recorder Nagle is now receiving many letters of inquiry from many States in the Union, and especially has this been so during the past few days. It is impossible for him to answer all the letters that come. They arrive in stacks. Two thirds of the heavy mail received at the Recorder's office Thursday was made up of these deeds...|
At issue were deeds to Sonoma County property which were often won in far-away raffles or drawings for a lucky admission ticket at a nickelodeon movie theater. Other local parcels were sold by real estate hustlers who printed up brochures promising summers spent at a Sonoma County vacation home "roaming through the Redwoods, over the forest-clad hills or along the side of rippling streams, watching and listening to the tumbling falls," or trying ones luck at tempting "the elusive mountain trout from its hiding place in the shady woodland pools." All for as little as $10/acre.
It was a con game, or course, but probably not the kind you suspect. This was actual land – albeit divided up in so-called "paper subdivisions" which only existed on maps. Rarely surveyed and often drawn up as drafting school exercises, the maps presented neat rectangular grids, usually of parcels 25 by 100 feet, that followed streets with charming names: "Cherry Creek Boulevard," or "Walnut way." In reality, the lots were often on steep, unbuildable hillsides where no streets would ever wind around those impassible slopes. Another name for these subdivisions is "wildcat" - they were on land only wildcats roamed.
As the 1912 Press Democrat reported, County Recorder Fred Nagle found himself under siege by people from out of the area who honestly believed they would soon be moving to California's Eden. "Letters from other counties, from British Columbia, from Nevada, from Arizona, from Oregon and Washington are pouring in to the Recorder, the Assessor, the Tax Collector and to other officials of Sonoma, pleading for information regarding these peculiar transactions," historian Tom Gregory wrote in a letter to the PD.
One man wrote to ask if the San Francisco trolley ran out to "Cloverdale Heights." A guy from Albuquerque came out looking for his lot near the town of "Russian River" and someone from Denver stopped by the Recorder's office to record his deed and left disgusted that he had been tricked into also buying another lot adjacent to the phony homesite he won with his "lucky number."
But Recorder Nagle and his staff weren't only kept busy answering letters and fielding long-distance phone calls; they were actually busily recording deeds for those unusable chunks of land because the new owner had sent the county the $6.50 recording fee. "The recording of these deeds has thrown Recorder Nagle and his force away behind with the regular work," reported the PD, noting the volume was particularly harmful because the county was then at the start of a legitimate real estate boom.
While the scam first attracted attention in 1912, that was by no means the end of it; wildcat lots continued to be given away or sold for years to come. Had even a teensy portion of these properties been developed, Sonoma county would be a far different place today. With over 15,000 of these lots in the Cazadero vicinity alone, "Cazadero Woodlands" and the other subdivisions would have been the largest city north of San Francisco - over five times the size of Santa Rosa at the time.
Virtually none of this land was developed, of course, and most buyers simply stopped paying taxes when they realized they had been swindled, so the land went back to the county or state. But holding on to the land was easy, too; the property tax was almost nothing and sometimes Uncle Fletcher's mysterious property out in California was handed down. Taxes paid or not, there always has been a steady trickle of people coming in to the Assessor's office with a yellowed slip of paper to enquire whether it showed they had a secret forgotten fortune. The answer was always: No.
That is, until resurrection day.
Flash forward sixty years as California enacts a minor tweak to the law to "let property owners know where they stand." Say you inherited 100 acres handed down in the family from great-great-grandpa. He bought half of it from a neighbor in the 1880s, tore down the separating fence and farmed it all as a single plot. Did you inherit two parcels or one? According to the new law, you owned two – as long as some paperwork called an "administrative certificate of compliance" was obtained from the county. Sounds fair, right?
But that was just the beginning. State law also decreed anyone with a deed had the right to reclaim property lost in tax default by paying all the back taxes due. Thus whomever had the deed to Uncle Fletcher's worthless little parcel could own it again. That deed-holder could then go to the county to obtain one of those administrative certificates. And with that in hand, the little parcel, once just part of a grid on an old and useless map, sprang into life as a duly-recognized legal property that could be sold – or developed.
'Turns out quite a bit had happened since back in the day when poor old Fred Nagle was grumbling about the futility of recording all those worthless paper lots - namely, it wasn't so certain the land was still worthless. There were now paved roads and utilities available in once wild 'n' wooly places like Cazadero and Dry Creek, and modern construction techniques made it possible to build on places that would have been impossible when the maps were drawn. At the same time all Sonoma county property values were skyrocketing in the 1980s, in large part because there were strict zoning restrictions on new land development - regulations that didn't apply to Uncle Fletcher's movie theater prize, once it was awarded a certificate of compliance.
In the early 1990s I wrote often about the fallout from the certificate process for the old E.I.R. newspaper, California Lawyer magazine, and other publications, and much of what follows is lifted from those articles. I found planners fearful the certificates would destroy Sonoma county agriculture, turning the rural areas into a crazy quilt of McMansion subdivisions, far from sewer lines, modern roads, and other infrastructure needed for their support. And under state law, the county was powerless to stop it. "It's like 'Night of the Living Dead,'" one county planner grimly joked to me, "all of these old properties are rising from the grave."
They had reason to fear: There were an estimated 75,000 lots in this county that could be resurrected by certificates. Recorder Fred and his successors had been busy, indeed.
Making matters worse, developers were always two giant steps ahead of the county. Uncle Fletcher's bungalow-sized parcel wasn't worth developing by itself – but having deeds for almost every parcel in his entire wildcat subdivision was a different story. In the 1980s and early 1990s there were companies formed in Sonoma county to search out descendants of all those people who once sent the county that $6.50 registration fee. It was no easy task; the average size of these wildcat subdivisions was over 800 lots, according to a county memo. The game of find-the-heir was like a marathon scavenger hunt – collect 'em all to win the prize.
Was it worth all that work? You bet; Mr. Developer could then strut through the doors of the county planning department pushing a wheelbarrow full of documents – one infamous submission included over 25 pounds of paperwork – and declare he had the rights to build a mammoth project. As the parcels were recognized as having existed since 1912 (or whenever), his project superseded all modern rules and environmental protections. It didn't matter if the land was in an agricultural preserve or community greenbelt; it didn't matter whether the land could pass a septic "perc" test to allow homeowners the luxury of flush toilets. It even didn't matter whether the property had reasonable access. In a scandalous 1992 application, a developer claimed two hundred certificates on a remote, 3,000 ft. elevation hilltop near the Geysers where the only access was Pine Flat Road, terrifyingly steep and scarcely wider than a private driveway.
But the developers never proposed following the original subdivision layout on the old maps; those were just grid lines, remember, with no relation to actual terrain. No, the certificates of compliance were just bargaining chips. After paperwork for the certificates were filed, developers would follow by requesting "lot-line adjustments," allowing them to cluster lots on the best parts of the land and build as many homes as possible. This also allowed developers to posture as the good guy while negotiating with the county - "Hey, I have 500 certificates, but I'm asking permission to build only 150 houses."
And in some cases, the threat of possible certificates was all a developer needed. The county was so worried about development at the peak of Pine Flat Road that the Open Space District bought it. No paperwork was filed applying for certificates on the supposed 200 parcels, although the Sonoma Land Trust and the developer privately agreed he could probably get at least 27 recognized.
Sonoma county led the legal fight against the certificate process for more than three decades. Details would probably bore most readers here, but it was mostly a story of disheartening defeats. The county adopted a cutoff date of 1929, which was the year the Subdivision Map Act was passed in the state. That law required counties to have regulations and local ordinances defining how subdivision should be done, and the county reasoned that properties after that year would at least have been surveyed or otherwise proven to be real. But a few months later the Attorney General slapped that rule down, leaving all doors open.
Only since the year 2001 has the pendulum has begun swinging back to local control. In a landmark case involving land near Sebastopol, the state Supreme Court ruled that old maps weren't necessarily legitimate simply because they existed, and certainly were no justification for bypassing current rules and regs. Another court decision ruled against a Petaluma developer and has apparently quashed the hopes of anyone using a paper subdivision map created prior to 1929. So at long last, the fake subdivisions seem to be dead and buried.
The long arc of this story is amazing, if you ponder a moment on it: A 1912 movie ticket sold in Kansas became part of a magic talisman that would allow its bearer immunity to laws in California, 70 or 80 or 90 years later. Robert Ripley might have enjoyed writing it up for his Believe It Or Not! series. He liked to tell unbelievable stories.
BUNGALOW LOTS GO WITH SHOWRushing Business Being Carried On by Numerous Nickelodeons Throughout the CountryEditor Press Democrat: The "Bungalow Site Industry" in Sonoma county goes merrily on, and the "Fairy Sylvan Resorts" where the fairies may resort after they have fallen to the "game" and have come through with the $6.50 or other cash for the deed to the lot are going just as fast as the "drawings" can be drawn. Imperial Sonoma has fallen into hard lines, and her name is being used abroad to extract coin from the "easy" ones. The game is a little, simple thing--a sweet little simple thing. Somebody files a map--calls his tract by a catchy name--offers his lots by divers and lottery-ish methods, and the fish rises to the bait. These "opportunities" are not given generally to the public in Sonoma county, but at a distance. Letters from other counties, from British Columbia, from Nevada, from Arizona, from Oregon and Washington are pouring in to the Recorder, the Assessor, the Tax Collector and to other officials of Sonoma, pleading for information regarding these peculiar transactions. The character of the victims may be determined by the tenor of these letters--they are poor, and in many instances, illiterate, just the class of persons that may fall to such a cheap skin-game as this...
...And the location where these "Sharks" are doing their "best" work strike one as peculiar. Around Sacramento, where a local real land-boom is on, the victims are buying $6.50 mirage bungalow site in Sonoma county; in Los Angeles--where every prospect pleases (or is advertised to please) and every man is not vile--they are sending their six-fifty deeds to the county for record. A man in Albuquerque, N. M., in a raffle won a six-shooter, and with his "win" was a lot--20x40 feet--somewhere in the neighborhood of "Russian River," Sonoma county. After he had dropped eight or ten dollars in the game, he loaded the other portion of his winnings and went gunning for the "lot" sharp. He is now putting in his leisure time cussing Sonoma county, Cal., and yet admiring the scheme that beat him--an old, seasoned territorial sport--so easily.
Among the letters the County Recorder receives daily is one he found in his mail yesterday from Oregon City, Or., in which the writer says he won at a Nickelodeon in his city a lot in this county and he wants to know if the property is worth the $6.50. D. Andersen--that's his name--(can anybody give him the information?) inclosed with his note of inquiry a handbill of the show describing the mythical lot, and that description is a gem: "Two bubbling, dashing, splashing, crashing, like the famous waters that come down at Lodore[,] branches of Russian River flow the idealic [sic] place; it is on the Northwestern Pacific line, while Healdsburg, a city of over 4,000 inhabitants, is not; Santa Rosa, "the ideal city of California" and Luther Burbank, "the plant wizzard," (with two z's) are invoked to further the "boost." And it ends up with a request to "Come Along and Bring the Children and take Advantage of Thes FREE DRAWINGS and Secure a Home Site at this Famous Resort in Sonoma County, where a Chance is Given Away ABSOLUTELY FREE With Each Ticket."
The time has come to stop this business. If the Board of Supervisors, or a Grand Jury of this county cannot do something to discourage the traffic, the newspapers should take the matter up. Every exchange should reprint this article, and spread the tiding abroad that this cheap, cheap game may be ended. Our splendid county, with her grand scenic features, is getting the advertising she does not deserve, and does not want. Sonoma wants "everybody to come along and bring the children," but she does not want the bunkoed before they get here.
Santa Rosa, Feb. 9, 1912.
- Press Democrat, February 10, 1912
MANY MYTHICAL LOTS ARE SOLD"Cloverdale Heights" a Rugged Piece of Hill Not Yet Surveyed, They SayFrom Cloverdale comes another complaint of the manner in which people are being duped all over the State and in adjoining states by the sale of lots in worthless tracts.
Mention of what looks like near fraud, at least has been made from time to time in the Press Democrat in connection with the immense amount of work entailed at the office of County Recorder Fred Nagle by the recording of deeds to lots given away with tickets at moving picture shows in different parts of the State. The following from the Cloverdale "Reveille" will be read with interest:
Cloverdale business men have the last several days received letters from parties making inquiries regarding "Cloverdale Heights" and another piece of property which bears the rather high sounding title of "Cloverdale Terrace." These inquiries, which come from San Francisco and other cities, some from as far as Kansas City, Mo., are from people who have invested small sums of money under the delusions that they were securing a fine summer home overlooking Cloverdale. In some instances the inquiries show a lack of information regarding the location of Cloverdale, evidently believing the "Orange City" is a suburb of San Francisco and connected with the metropolis by cable or trolley car. The Reveille is informed that the Recorder's office is kept busy placing deeds on record to lots in the above named tracts. As near as can be learned "Cloverdale Heights" is nothing more than a rugged piece of land located about three miles northwest of Cloverdale via air line, with no road leading to the land, except an old untraveled one new unfit for use. Until sold a short time ago it was owned by Erik Angler, who took it up as a homestead some years ago.
- Press Democrat, April 13, 1912
MANY PEOPLE STILL BITING ON MOVING PICTURE TICKET LOTS"Does San Francisco Street Car Line Run Out to Cloverdale Heights?" Asks One EnquirerWouldn't this jar you?
"Will you tell me if the San Francisco electric car system runs to the place?" asks an inquirer in a letter for information about Cloverdale Heights, one of the rock-bound "paradises" for which tickets are being "given away" in chances in moving picture houses, presumably all over the country. This inquiry came from a lot "winner" in Kansas City.
Such a big laugh. And yet it is quite possible that the inquirer had been led to believe that the beautiful city of Cloverdale was located on the electric car system of San Francisco, when in reality it is many miles away and on the line of the Northwestern Pacific. Some time since the Cloverdale people considered the taking of some steps to prevent deception practiced upon unsuspecting people by such clap-trap as the proposition mentioned.
The other day a well-known citizen of Cloverdale called at the office of County Recorder Fred G. Nagle to ask where the "Heights" were located, and was surprised to find that such a place really existed.
Still They Come
Stacks of deeds are still being received at the Recorder's office from lot owners in the several plots that are being handled in different parts of Sonoma county by means of the moving picture house tickets. The plan has been explained several times in this and other papers. But people are still biting. The recording of these deeds has thrown Recorder Nagle and his force away behind with the regular work. The recording of legitimate transactions has been very heavy for months on account of the activity in the realty business and the many new settlers who are coming to the county and purchasing homes.
Came From Denver
A few days ago a man came to Recorder Nagle's office. He had traveled to Sonoma county from Denver, Colorado, to inspect the lots he had become heir to through holding "a lucky number." In addition, he had been induced to purchase an adjoining lot. It cost him his time and about $200 to come to the "ideal summer site." He turned back disgusted and went home.
The plan has progressed far beyond the boundaries of California, as this instance indicates. Recorder Nagle is now receiving many letters of inquiry from many States in the Union, and especially has this been so during the past few days. It is impossible for him to answer all the letters that come. They arrive in stacks. Two thirds of the heavy mail received at the Recorder's office Thursday was made up of these deeds to lots.
As much as possible, Recorder Nagle, County Assessor Frank E. Dowd, and the newspapers of this city and county have been sending broadcast that the great county of Sonoma, with its unequaled resources and matchless climate, has nothing whatever to do with this false boom of practically worthless property. It could all be avoided if people would reason out the improbability of securing for the song of a few dollars--$6.50 for the deed--must be in the nature of a catch for an easy mark.
- Press Democrat, May 24, 1912
Attention, young people: Your music's terrible and your dancing is so disgusting we might outlaw it, just as Petaluma did.
For several months between 1912-1913, the nation's fabric was threatened by a new dance fad called "ragging." President-elect Woodrow Wilson cancelled the inaugural ball to block the risk of dancing guests creating a scandal. In Patterson, New Jersey, 18 year-old Ethel Foster was sentenced to 50 days in jail for doing it. A New York City club owner named Wallace W. Sweeney died in prison while serving nine months for "keeping a disorderly place" that allowed the dancing, while at least two men went to jail in Petaluma for disturbing the peace by doing the "rag."
So what was this vile dance that had the power to shatter the country, if not civilization itself? It was... the "Turkey Trot."
Today it's nigh impossible to understand the enormous fuss. It's a silly, up-tempo dance step that has a couple holding each other in (non-controversial) waltz position, one arm out and the other on shoulder/waist. You can see a snippet of professional dancers here, although in practice it was probably more like this clip, with sweaty couples just bouncing around the dance floor more or less in time with the music. In some descriptions the couple was supposed to flap their elbows like an agitated turkey which led more than a few newspapers to pun about the "poultry of motion."
The Turkey Trot might have been the most (in)famous dance around that time, but there were a number of equally dumb novelty dances such as the Bunny Hug (cheek-to-cheek but hips canted as far back as possible). Other dances with animal themes that year included the Monkey Glide, Fresno Flea, Angle Worm Wiggle, Possum Trot, Kangaroo Dip and Horse Trot (see photo below). Sometimes the dances had a specific gimmick; the music for the Grizzly Bear would stop abruptly whereupon the dancers would shout, "It's a bear!"
These were called at the time "huggly-wiggly dances" (!) and now scholars seem to agree they were popular because of the opportunities they offered couples for "lingering close contact." I don't completely buy that explanation – a major part of the appeal was that dancers looked silly because the dance instructions required them to look silly. America was mostly a rhythm-challenged nation that liked the catchy toe-tapping tunes such as Alexander's Ragtime Band, but had no clue as to how to dance to this new pop music. So let's follow the dance directions and wiggle our hips doing the Jelly Jiggle and laugh about how ridiculous everyone looks.
(RIGHT: Excerpt of NY Times article, January 21, 1913)
The ragging crisis led Press Democrat gossip columnist "Dorothy Anne" to write a lengthy essay, transcribed below. Normally she penned a boring weekly column on the doings of Santa Rosa's gentry (she was Mrs. Mary McConnell Houts and her husband owned the town's major auto dealership) but occasionally she dished up an offering like this, posing as the snooty arbiter of decency and good taste – often with unintentionally funny results (see "IN LOVE WITH DOROTHY ANNE" for more).
Here she began by pointing out Santa Rosa was torn between those who "ragged" and the "anti-raggers," while Petaluma had done the right thing and banned it outright. "The result is that the crowd that dances on Saturday night do not dance in Petaluma, they come to Santa Rosa!" she moaned. Women's groups in other Bay Area cities were trying to shut down the dancing at "exclusive" venues, she continued, and it was time for Santa Rosa women to do likewise:
|When the "rag" drifted into Santa Rosa is not quite definitely known. It was first danced at the Sunday night dances in the Italian quarter, west of the track. There it is rumored certainly society young men learned it. They liked it so well they taught it to their society girl friends in a modest form. An attempt to stop it was made but teaching it to society proved a boomerang. If society can "rag" at their exclusive dances, anybody can "rag." And the result? Well, there are several stories--numerous ones that drift in from different quarters--but they are unprintable! That's why my strong plea that Santa Rosa women come to the realization that "ragging" is what it is--a dance of the tenderloin and has no place in polite society.|
Whether Dorothy Anne's moralistic hissy fit had much effect is unknown, but there were a few stories in the local papers of raggers being kicked out of dances. Police apparently were called to break up a dance at a Fulton roadhouse.
Santa Rosa's National Guard Company E announced it would hold "clean and appropriate" Saturday night dances at their downtown armory. "Nothing will be permitted at any time that savors of ragging, and those who want to rag are warned that none of that character of dancing will be permitted under any circumstances," the Republican newspaper stated. But only a few weeks later, the paper reported, "the dances were discontinued because of the small amount of patronage which was given them." The article also mentioned, "...other parties who have maintained strict decorum at their places of entertainment have also suffered from a lack of patronage." The headline for that article: "DO SANTA ROSA PEOPLE WANT DECENT DANCES?" Clearly, the answer was no.
As a Comstock House footnote to the Turkey Trot tumult, it was probably at one of those Company E dances where 21 year-old second lieutenant Hilliard Comstock met his future wife Helen. In her oral history, she recalled Hilliard always said he asked to dance with the pretty little girl who had "red cheeks and curls up on top of her head." According to him, 13 year-old Helen stuck a finger in her mouth and replied, "I don't rag, thank you."
Raggingby Dorothy AnnFor some weeks past Santa Rosa society has been in the throes of a discussion that has divided itself into--not four parts--but those who did not.
For the benefit of the uninitiated will explain that "ragging" is a dance and that one of its mystic mazes is the "Turkey Trot." All are closely identified with "Alexander's Rag Time Band." In fact, so close is the relationship that even the "anti-raggers" show symptoms of motion when the first strains of "Come on Along" are heard.
Society in Santa Rosa has "ragged." From the children that compose the sub-debutante set to the staid married people, all have taken a fling at the dance that had its origin in Barbary Coast in San Francisco. Those who had charge of the Saturday night dances announced that if society could dance the rag in the Saturday Afternoon Clubhouse, they also could dance it. They did. This merely to show you that the "rag" is not confined to one class. Mercy, no!
Nor is it confined to one town. Petaluma is a bit conservative. They do not allow the "Turkey Trot," the "Bunny Hug" or the "Grizzly Bear" danced in their halls at any time. They have printed signs to warn one. It does not make any difference which crowd hires the hall, the sign remains in the same place. And they say that the result is that the crowd that dances on Saturday night do not dance in Petaluma, they come to Santa Rosa!
There has been much discussion as to the actual origin of the "Turkey Trot." Every one knows that the waltz originated in Germany. The Germans are very proud of the fact. But the "Turkey Trot" originated in San Francisco. No one has yet stepped forward to accept the laurels for introducing it. The actual origin of the dance is said to have been at the time that the fleet visited San Francisco, when a few half drunken sailors taught it to the demi-monde of the Barbary Coast.
Quite recently, Sacramento society was split asunder by a discussion that resulted in the Tuesday Club, the prominent woman's club of that city, pass the following resolution:
"Resolved, That the Board of Directors of the Tuesday Club of Sacramento deem the consideration of 'ragging' of sufficient importance to be referred to the Women's Council."
The Women's Council is the moral arbitrator of Sacramento. The reasons given for this step were as follows:
"It was brought out in the discussion that such dances were questionable in their origin, had a bad influence, especially on the young and impressionable, and that the general nature tended towards evil."
The ban has been put on "ragging" by the Board of Directors of the Ebell building which is occupied by the prominent Ebell Club of Oakland. This club is composed of 600 representatives of Oakland's best families. These women followed the example of the Home Club, another exclusive women's organization of Oakland, who passed resolutions "the craze which has swept from Barbary Coast to New York and back again."
The L'Amida Assembly of Oakland, an exclusive dancing club, cut its invitational list almost in twain in order to eliminate the "raggers." They solved the problem simply. They did not invite those who had "ragging" proclivities.
The new mode of terpsichorean art has aroused the ire of the patronesses of the exclusive Junior Assembly in Oakland, with the result that an announcement was made that the rag would not be tolerated. A meeting was called of the patronesses who discussed the various glides and turns which have their origin in the "Turkey Trot," "Grizzly Bear" and "Bunny Hug," with the result that any suggestion of "ragging" was unheard.
The San Jose Cotillion Club quite recently gave a party at the Vendome. During the evening several couples dared to dance the "rag." The haughty matrons of San Jose did not mince their opinions. They took their daughters and went home. They would not even be a party to looking on. The controversy still wages at blood heat in that city.
When the "rag" drifted into Santa Rosa is not quite definitely known. It was first danced at the Sunday night dances in the Italian quarter, west of the track. There it is rumored certainly society young men learned it. They liked it so well they taught it to their society girl friends in a modest form. An attempt to stop it was made but teaching it to society proved a boomerang. If society can "rag" at their exclusive dances, anybody can "rag." And the result? Well, there are several stories--numerous ones that drift in from different quarters--but they are unprintable! That's why my strong plea that Santa Rosa women come to the realization that "ragging" is what it is--a dance of the tenderloin and has no place in polite society.
Many local observers have expressed their unfavorable opinion of these dances, and among these I note one which is brief and clear to the simplest understanding:
"The dances are not graceful in motion, are not dignified in character, and having originated in places of vile repute, they have not the approval of respectable people. If the beautiful old waltz, the more modern two-step, et als., have lost their place in society, cut out the dancing and take up politics."
The "Turkey Trot", the "Texas Tommy," The "Grizzly Bear," The "Fresno Flea", the "Chicken Reel," the "Bunny Hug," the "Frisco Flip," are all on a par and belong where they originated on Barbary Coast--where half drunken sailors dance with the demi-monde.
- Press Democrat, January 14, 1912
"RAGGERS" EXCLUDEDSeveral couples of young people who attended Miss Vitale's dancing academy Wednesday evening were made to leave that place because they refused to desist from ragging. Their money was refunded and they were asked not to attend the academy dances in the future. Miss Vitale conducts an orderly and proper dancing academy and will at all times prevent ragging at her institution.
- Santa Rosa Republican, July 11, 1912
BROKE UP RAG DANCE AT FULTONYes, we had a little ragging at Fulton Saturday night, but no orgy or free for all fight in my premises.
I never violated the mandates of the officers.
At 12 o'clock sharp my place of business was closed, according to law.
What happened in the streets or on the railroad track--I don't pay any more poll tax, and I don't think I had any business--
But just about the time the dance was broken up, every body was in the hall, dancing.
They were all too hungry to be carousing or fighting in the streets o [sic] any place else.
And then they all had to leave without their supper, after paying for it.
It'a a conundrum to me why the Rag dance was broken up.
- Santa Rosa Republican, October 10, 1912
COMPANY E WILL HAVE ONLY APPROVED DANCINGCompany E, N. G. C., has determined to inaugurate a series of Saturday evening dances at their armory at the corner of Fourth and D streets, and will cater only to those who desire and believe in clean and appropriate dancing. Nothing will be permitted at any time that savors of ragging, and those who want to rag are warned that none of that character of dancing will be permitted under any circumstances.
An able floor manager has been secured and he will be assisted by members of the company. The dancing will begin at 8:30 o'clock and will continue until midnight each Saturday evening, and the soldier boys hope to have the patronage of the good people of the city, who are pleased to dance properly.
Good music will be furnished at all times, and the floor at armory hall is one of the best and roomiest in the city. With this combination and appropriate behavior, people can enjoy themselves at all times.
The invitations which the militiamen are presenting to their friends has the following on it:
"We are running a clean dance and want clean people. You are invited to bring your wife, sister, daughter or sweetheart, and enjoy a few hours' approved dancing. Good floor; good music. Gentlemen 50 cents, ladies free. The other kind not admitted at any price."
The militiamen are in earnest and hope to make their dances among the most popular in the City of Roses.
- Santa Rosa Republican, December 5, 1912
EJECT TWO DANCERS FOR "RAGGING"After repeated warnings to desist from "ragging" at the Woodman hall dance Saturday night, two men were ejected. There was considerable excitement for a time, but the management insists that no "ragging" will be tolerated. All who desire to dance, according to the rules are welcome to the dance, but those who will not abide by the rules will not be allowed to dance.
- Press Democrat, December 8, 1912
DO SANTA ROSA PEOPLE WANT DECENT DANCES?Recently Company E started a series of Saturday evening dances and announced they would permit nothing but proper dances at their parties. After a thorough trial the dances were discontinued because of the small amount of patronage which was given them. Other academics and dances in this city secure crowds, possibly because they were not so strict in their interpretation of what constituted "decent" dancing. Most of the places where public dances pay [sic] are places where "ragging" and "dipping" and other questionable dancing are permitted through the connivance of those in charge. Certain parties have announced that their places would not permit such questionable dancing, simply to induce mothers to let their daughters attend their public dances. The question arises. Do the people of Santa Rosa want decent dances? If they do they should have patronized the Company E dances instead of other places where rules were less strict. Other parties who have maintained strict decorum at their places of entertainment have also suffered from a lack of patronage. It seems only proper that the public should patronize those places which insist on strict deportment, and are attempting to elevate this pleasant pastime.
The Saturday evening dances under the auspices of Company E were discontinued at the suggestion of friends of the organization, who though perhaps some other night might be better, and the members may soon inaugurate a series of Thursday evening parties.
- Santa Rosa Republican, January 11, 1913
PETALUMA BARS ALL RAG DANCINGIf you go to a dance in Petaluma don't "rag" or you are liable to find yourself in jail charge with disturbing the peace. This is the fate the befell E. F. Soutz, a visitor to the Egg city. Soutz attended a dance at the Unique theatre the other night and started to "rag." He was arrested and after a time spent in jail was released on $25 bail. He will be tried on the charge of disturbing the peace.
- Press Democrat, February 7, 1913
"RAGGING" CHARGE WAS TRIVIAL; DISMISSEDThe arrest of one E. H. Silva of Petaluma on a charge of "ragging" at a public dance given in that city has been dismissed. The charge in this instance was considered trivial. The evidence of a number of witnesses is said to have been somewhat amusing and did not warrant a conviction. Silva may bring an action for damages in the Superior court against his accuser for false imprisonment. "Ragging" does not go in the egg center.
- Press Democrat, February 18, 1913
Good news, Sonoma County! There are now two power companies competing to sell electricity. Sure, rates are about the same for most customers, but there's more to the decision than who offers slightly cheaper volts. One of the companies doesn't just want your business – it wants your love and respect. The company wants you to know it shares your values. The company wants to advise you on how to use energy wisely. The company is being run by your neighbors and if there's anything, anything at all you don't like about the service the company wants to listen to your complaint. The company wants you to be happy.
The company trying so hard to cuddle up to you is PG&E. Welcome to 1912.
Up to that point, there had been a rocky relationship between the county and PG&E and its various predecessors. Electrical service was crazy unreliable; the company superintendent for the county was called before an angry Board of Supervisors in 1908, where he told them he hated the situation as much as anyone else but there was nothing he could do. Sometimes his boss in Napa ordered him to shutdown for no apparent reason at all. Part of the problem was the entire North Bay was powered by a single transmission line from the Sierras; the situation only became marginally better after Snow Mountain, a much smaller hydroelectric plant on the Eel River began selling PG&E some juice for the local grid (see: " Everybody Hates the Electric Company").
But everything changed that June when the Railroad Commission (forerunner to the Public Utilities Commission) granted permission for another company to extend electrical service into Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties. The commission specifically cited Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Sebastopol as being poorly served by PG&E. Exactly two weeks later, the first of a continuing series of large feel-good PG&E ads began appearing in both Santa Rosa newspapers. "'PACIFIC SERVICE' means 'PERFECT SERVICE' always AT YOUR SERVICE" read the ad. (Note to self: Cryptic "slogans" are always IMPROVED BY ODD capitalization and quotes.)
The competition came from an outfit called the Great Western Power Co. – more on their story below. Unlike today's "Sonoma Clean Power," Great Western was an actual competitor to PG&E, setting poles along streets to carry their own electricity across their own power lines directly to homes and businesses.
Great Western's arrival was no great surprise. Months before commission approval, the company penned a tentative deal with the city of Santa Rosa to take over street lighting. For the same price PG&E had been charging for service, Great Western would expand the system to "light up the most remote sections of the city," according to the Press Democrat. From Railroad Square to McDonald avenue there would be no less than 217 electric bulbs burning all night. This represented a very big deal. "Santa Rosa will be the best lighted city of its size on the Pacific Coast when the present system is completed," the PD quoted a Great Western official.
At the same time, PG&E salesmen were swooping over Santa Rosa trying to lock residential and business users into multi-year contracts. "It is said the solicitors have met with a cool reception and find very few business men or property holders who desire to place any obstacle in the way of the new company coming here," noted the Press Democrat.
Once the Railroad Commission gave the go-ahead, Great Western raced into Sonoma county. In just a month they erected 1,600 power poles in Santa Rosa alone, not to mention transmission lines from Vallejo to Napa to Petaluma. Crews were at work constantly, including Sundays. And exactly a month to the day from approval, at 10 o'clock on the evening of July 20, 1912, they threw the switch. Santa Rosa lit up like a diamond, a jeweled city newly borne into the Twentieth Century. "Almost with the word the current of 22,000 volts was heard in the transformers and sparks of light were visible at contact points, while a small circuit of incandescent lights in the substation lighted the place brilliantly." It really must have been something to see.
In response, PG&E made minimal and overdue improvements in its service. The company extended electric service to Bennett Valley and brought gas lines to the subdivisions south of Santa Rosa Creek. They upgraded the coal gas plant on First street to minimize the stink and pollution. "The new smoke consumer at the plant will do away entirely with the great clouds of smoke seen floating over the city whenever gas is being made," reported the PD.
PG&E also matched Great Western's lower rates and offered its electricians for hire as contractors to wire homes, with the work to be paid on an installment plan. One wonders how many people took them up on that offer, at least in Santa Rosa; while electricity was expensive, it had been available since 1888 (two years before that in Petaluma). Surely every home within range of the power lines had some wiring by the late date of 1912 unless the house was very old and the owner very poor. Nothing of this program was further mentioned in the local newspapers.
At least the house wiring advertisement offered a tangible service; most of PG&E's ads at the time simply tried to push the message, "please don't hate our guts."
"Are You Satisfied?" read the headline of one ad. "Perhaps you are not entirely satisfied with 'Pacific Service' -- you may have a grievance against the Company. If so, don't keep it to yourself. Tell us about it. The person who is continually nursing a grouch is harboring a bad enemy."
On Thanksgiving, PG&E offered a little essay which included giving thanks for the "comforts and conveniences" that Americans enjoyed, including "well-lighted homes" and "brilliantly illuminated streets." Of course, those streets were now being illuminated by their competitors because PG&E did a lousy job of it in previous years, but maybe they hoped Santa Rosans had a short memory.
In this period PG&E also ran ads for their gas service that leaned even heavier on the clunky "Pacific Service" slogan. These ads targeted women – specifically promoting gas ranges as being more convenient, easier to use and cleaner than cooking over a coal or wood stove – and sometimes wandered awkwardly into the theme of women's rights. "Freedom for Women," was one headline. "King GAS RANGE issues the proclamation freeing female subjects hereafter and forever from the drudgery of household servitude. COOK WITH GAS and be free." Read that again and try to understand the copy writer was trying to be funny and clever.
The Great Western Power Company presented only a single advertisement in 1912 and it didn't even have to publish that one, seeing as both Santa Rosa papers wrote articles about the event they were promoting. During "electrical week" the public was invited to see all the latest electric appliances, gizmos and doodads. The Press Democrat offered a list (my fave is the "combined cigar lighter and lamp for automobiles"):
|Among the many electrical appliances for use in homes which may be seen in operation and their workings thoroughly explained may be mentioned the electrical range, electrical vacuum sweeper, washing machine with wringer attached, coffee percolators, bread toasters, egg boilers, curling irons, chafing dishes, tea Samover [sic], irons, combined cigar lighter and lamp for automobiles, and Ozonator which purifies the air, etc.|
Taken together, all of these power company ads and related news articles provide a great deal of new information about life in 1912 Santa Rosa. Now we know how brightly lit the town was at night, including the detail of Great Western's 12-foot electric sign with lights running "mouse style" outside their office at the corner of Fourth and D streets. We now have a better idea of the air pollution from the gas plant on First street. And it may be a trivial thing, but we now know that the motor vehicle seen at right was called an "auto truck" – as discussed earlier, it wasn't clear how quickly the present meaning of the word "truck" evolved.
(RIGHT: Great Western Power Company truck in Los Angeles, c.1910. Photo courtesy the USC Digital Library)
Most valuable of all were the electrical rates, published for the first time. Today for about 500 total kWh we pay a little over 12 cents per kWh; in 1912 it was a nickel. Thus adjusted for inflation that's $1.24 in 2015 dollars, or nearly ten times more than we are now paying. Still, that was a quite a deal compared to 1905, when electrical service was more than 25 times what it is now.
Great Western's rate sheet also shows how they expected to make a profit. Their residential service was priced the same as PG&E and commercial service was a little higher overall. But once a business guaranteed to hit a minimum goal of usage the cost began to drop sharply. Just as "electrical week" encouraged consumers to buy gadgets to use more electricity, a store might now leave the showroom windows illuminated all night at little extra cost.
By the end of 1912 Santa Rosa looked much different than it had a year earlier, all thanks to Great Western, a company most Santa Rosans probably had never heard of until that year. What was this upstart company that transformed the town?
When the Great Western Power Company muscled its way into Sonoma county in 1912, the corporation was only ten years old. As recently as 1909 its name was mostly unknown outside the utility industry, seemingly destined to be another wholesale electricity seller to PG&E like a larger version of Snow Mountain.
Search the books on California history and you'll find little about Edwin T. Earl; his key role in the formation of the Great Western Power Co. is almost completely forgotten – as is his involvement in the greatest controversy in modern state history.
E. T. Earl (1858-1919) is mostly known today for being publisher and editor of the Los Angeles Express and later the L.A. Tribune, newspapers with enormous influence in Southern California between the turn of the century and World War I. Earl's papers were the voice of the reform and progressive movement as it grew in strength, and served as the counterbalance to the anti-union Los Angeles Times and Hearst's yellow-journalism Examiner. Thanks to his papers, Southland voters made progressive Hiram Johnson governor in 1910 and thanks partly to Earl's personal assurance he would carry the state, Teddy Roosevelt made his "Bull Moose" run for president two years later.
Newspapering and playing political kingmaker was Edwin Earl's mid-life career change; he made his fortune in the fruit packing business, having invented and patented in 1890 an improved design for refrigerated rail cars that allowed California oranges to make the 16-day trip to the East Coast. He sold the company to Armour in 1900 for today's equivalent of a half-billion dollars, allowing him to buy the newspapers, swing the Great Western Power Co. deal and stand near the pinnacle of top Southern California investors.
But the most controversial episode in his history is rarely mentioned and remains poorly understood: He was part of the San Fernando Mission Land Company syndicate. Books have been written about the sleazy origins of the Los Angeles Aqueduct (not to mention the great movie, Chinatown) but Earl's role has escaped scrutiny.
Debate still rages to the degree of active conspiracy and/or collusion between city officials and a wide range of promoters, from investors to the Chamber of Commerce to the newspapers. Briefly: At the turn of the century Los Angeles coveted the water in the fertile Owens Valley, over 200 miles east on the other side of the San Fernando Valley. While Owens Valley water rights were being chipped away by a federal regulator tied to pro-development interests in Los Angeles, a group of speculators were buying options on land in the San Fernando Valley. The last federal barrier protecting Owens Valley water was removed in a private 1904 meeting between city officials and their friendly regulator, and less than a week later the speculators incorporated as the Mission Land Company, with rights to buy over 16 thousand acres for $35 each. When Los Angeles announced the bond to build the aqueduct through the San Fernando Valley seven months later, those real estate values increased tenfold overnight and would double or triple again before the aqueduct was finished.
With all newspapers except Hearst's pushing for the aqueduct and fear-mongering that Los Angeles was in a serious drought (1905 was actually an unusually wet year), voters approved of the bond and another one in 1907. After that San Fernando Valley land prices skyrocketed, enriching the Mission Land Company syndicate - yet without irony a 1911 editorial in Earl's evening Tribune decried "certain rich men" were building fortunes by selling Valley land on speculation. How much Earl profited and the degree of his personal involvement is unknown, but the only known time aqueduct mastermind William Mulholland discussed the land syndicates he distanced himself from all investors except Earl. The aqueduct company was even located in the same building as Earl's own offices – which was either intentional or a truly remarkable coincidence, given downtown Los Angeles was then chockablock in high-rise office space.
Why he reached out to Earl in 1901 is the first mystery of the story. While Earl was fabulously rich (see sidebar) he had no experience with massive building projects, plus he had just purchased a Los Angeles newspaper to reinvent himself as a liberal version of William Randolph Hearst. Maybe it was all that money burning a hole in his pocket, but Earl was intrigued. He talked it over with his brother Guy – a practicing Oakland attorney who also lacked any relevant experience but had social connections to San Francisco's wealth – and they decided to cautiously move ahead. Over the next few months an agent of theirs (the moonlighting Oakland city auditor) bought options on about 15,000 acres in Big Meadows and an adjoining valley, misleading locals to believe that he was representing a wealthy rancher planning to build a cattle spread of epic size.
Once those deals were sealed, Howells was sent there to claim the water rights under the archaic rules carried over from the Gold Rush days. On a tree near the location of the future dam, he nailed a sign claiming 100,000 inches of the river for almost all uses including "generation of electrical power."
Afterwards he rode a couple of miles downstream and found a couple of men posting their own sign claiming electrical power rights. Howell had noticed them on the same train he had taken from San Francisco because they were wearing the sort of high-laced boots favored by surveyors and engineers. Because the water rules were "prior in time, prior in right," a race followed to see who could first register their claim at the Plumas county seat. Perhaps because he had the advantage of knowing the terrain, Howells filed his papers forty minutes ahead of the other guys.
Now that they had the land and water rights, they seemed unsure what to do with it. Even Earl's fortune wasn't enough for a project of this magnitude and the brothers approached the forerunner to PG&E, offering to sell the whole package. The company turned them down – it was too big and risky a deal even for them.
It took four years for the Earls to put together a syndicate of New York and Boston investors to form the Great Western Power Company; among the group were banking, tobacco, and oil interests. The deal almost fell apart after the 1906 earthquake because the East Coast group thought San Francisco would never recover; it was up to Guy Earl to convince them the disaster would increase demand for electricity. For their troubles the Earl brothers and their associates received $2.5 million in stock. Guy Earl was named VP and later president of Great Western.
This blog is not the place to describe details of how the project was built – that's covered in some depth in the 1952 corporate hagiography, "P. G. & E. of California" – but there are a few stories too good not to share:
Work began in 1907, with a camp set up large enough for a thousand workers. When the Bank Panic hit that October, many large construction projects shut down because workers refused to accept the "clearing house certificates" that temporarily were issued by banks instead of money. To keep them on the job, Great Western paid them weekly in gold coin delivered under guard from San Francisco. To get the cash, the secretary of the corporation made nightly tours of New York City theaters, restaurants, hotels and other places where he could trade certificates for gold. Only after he deposited a payroll's worth of gold at the New York Subtreasury would the government allow the company to withdraw an equivalent amount of gold in San Francisco.
While construction was underway, three record-book sized transformers were being built to create the high voltage needed for transmission. Each transformer weighted 60 tons – and a third of that weight was just the 5,000 gallons of oil needed to cool and insulate a machine.
Conflict arose in 1911 when a company supplying power to nearby Oroville began building a small dam across a creek that fed into the north fork of the Feather River. Claiming this "threatened" the water supply needed by a small, temporary power plant Great Western was using during construction of their massive dam, Great Western's superintendent led a group of workers to the site and "blew it to splinters with dynamite," according to the official PG&E history. Lawsuits from both sides were fought in the courts for the next six years, and settled only when PG&E bought the Oroville company.
The Earls had acquired most of Big Meadows, but not all of it; on the western side was the little town of Prattville with homeowners unwilling to sell, some apparently hoping to have lakefront property once water filled the valley and became "Lake Almanor." According to a local history, most residents were a Fourth of July celebration about a mile away in 1909 when a fire swept the town, destroying most of it. The company was immediately suspected; at the Lake Almanor museum is an old schoolteacher's handbell with a card reading, "Taken from the Prattville School the day before Great Western Power Company burned the town." Author of that card was Dr. Fred Davis, who ran the company hospital for injured workers. Some in Prattville still refused to sell and over the next two years Great Western asked the courts to condemn the properties. "Before water flooded the area, the partly burned remains of the old mining town of Prattville were cleared away," the PG&E book noted, matter-of-factly. Great Western was also compelled to move bodies from the Prattville graveyard to the cemetery in nearby Chester, but the power company neglected to purchase land there for those new graves. The title to the property was only settled recently by PG&E.
|The dam at Lake Almanor was completed in 1914, but Great Western continued operations there from an island called "Nevis." Working in a building that had been the tavern from another submerged village named Meadow View – abandoned after the rising lake contaminated drinking water supplies – the company eventually moved headquarters to the shore. The little island and old tavern might have made a nice tourist attraction; but as noted in the local history, "Following the established company practice it was burned."|
PG&E finally became the monopoly we know and loathe in 1930 when it acquired Great Western and the San Joaquin Light & Power Company.
BRISK BUSINESS IN LIGHT BILLSBoth Concerns are Busy With Men in the Field With Contracts and PetitionsWith the view of preventing the Great Western Power Co. from securing sufficient encouragement in the way of signed agreements with local merchants and householders for light and power to warrant them coming into Santa Rosa with their power line the Pacific Gas & Electric Company has a force of three men here seeking to have the local patrons of the company sign contracts for a period of years at the present rates.
It is said the solicitors have met with a cool reception and find very few business men or property holders who desire to place any obstacle in the way of the new company coming here, while most of them desire to assit it in every way even to signing contracts to patronize it.
In fact the solicitors of the Pacific Gas & Electric Company are making no inducement for patrons to sign contracts whatever. For a time before the soliciting for contracts began a representative of the company visited some of the patrons of the company warning them not to sign contracts with the Great Western Power Company, as any rate the latter might make if it entered the field would be met and gone one better by the old company. Many light and power users were not slow in informing the representatives of the P. G. E. Co. that now was the time to offer a reduction if they expected and favors from the patrons.
- Press Democrat, January 25, 1912
WESTERN POWER OFFICIALS HEREMen Are at Work Here Preparing Poles for Installing System in Santa Rosa[Three executives] of the Great Western Power Company with their wives were visitors to Santa Rosa Sunday. The gentlemen desired to look over the city and took Sunday and brought their wives that all might enjoy the outing. They were greatly pleased with what they saw and returned delighted with the City of Roses.
Monday afternoon a crew of men were put to work in the Southern Pacific yards preparing the poles for the city distributing system, which the new company is to erect in this city for use in lighting the city on and after July 1. Five carloads of 300 poles are on the ground...
- Press Democrat, April 2, 1912
THE PLAN FOR THE NEW LIGHTINGSuburbs Will Have More Attention in the Way of Lighting Under the New ProvisionThe outlaying district will be well lighted under the new contract with the Great Western Power Co. By the change from arc lights to 100 watt Tungsten lamps with 20 inch porcelain deflected suspended in the middle of the streets there will be sufficient lights to light up the most remote sections of the city.
According to a map just completed for the information of the City Council, there will be 35 lights west of the Northwestern Pacific railroad; 77 south of Santa Rosa Creek; 54 between the creek and Fourth street; 217 on Fourth street from the railroad to McDonald avenue; 34 east of the Southern Pacific railroad and north of Fourth street; 30 on Fifth and the same number on College avenue.
...Every street intersection will have a light, while in the thickly settled and dark sections of the city there will be one in the middle of the block to dispel the gloom. The expense will be no more to the city that the present method. The lights will all be turned on and off from the power station, doing away entirely with the lights burning all day if not turned off by some one with the pole they are on as at present.
- Press Democrat, May 11, 1912
PACIFIC GAS MAY REDUCE RATESRailroad Commission Grants P. G. & E. Permission to Reduce its Rates Outside of City LimitsThe Pacific Gas & Electric Company has been granted permission by the State Railroad Commission to reduce its rates outside of Santa Rosa to the same price they are within the city...the company recently reduced its rates within city limits to meet the prices made by the new competitor, the Great Western Power Company, but under the new Public Utilities law could not reduce outside of the city without first receiving permission from the State Commission...
- Press Democrat, July 13, 1912
COMPLAINT AGAINST HIGH POWER LINESComplaint has been filed with the State Railroad Commission by the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company against the Great Western Power Company, in which the telephone company charges that the power company is considering a poer line from Napa to Sonoma so that it parallels the wires of the telephone company for several miles, the wires of the two companies being within fifty feet of each other. The telephone company charges that its service will be ruined by the close proximity of the high power electrical wires. It is also alleged that the danger to employees and property is greatly increased by the nearness of the power company's line. The telephone company has filed similar charge against the Sierra and San Francisco Power Company...
- Santa Rosa Republican, July 10, 1912
GREAT WESTERN "CUTS IN" AT SANTA ROSA LAST NIGHTThe Great Western Power Company "cut in" its transmission power line last night at the stroke of 10 o'clock for the first time, and for two hours the entire district south of Fourth street was lighted by the new system.
It was the intention at first to try out the new power line at 4 o'clock so that any defect might be found and remedied before night, but the line and substation could not be made ready...it was striking ten o'clock when the word was given over the telephone to "cut in."
Almost with the word the current of 22,000 volts was heard in the transformers and sparks of light were visible at contact points, while a small circuit of incandescent lights in the substation lighted the place brilliantly. The proper tests were made and everything having been found working in proper shape, the street light circuit was switched on and practically half of the new street lights were burning. The lights burned without a flaw for two hours showing that the installation work had been well done...
...Parts of the city which have never had a street light now are lighted almost as well as some of the best lighted streets have been heretofore. In fact [General Superintendent E. E. Sproul] is of the opinion that Santa Rosa will be the best lighted city of its size on the Pacific Coast when the present system is completed.
The State Railroad Commission announced its ruling granting the Great Western Power Company the required certificate of convenience and necessity on June 19, just 30 days ago, to enter Napa and Sonoma Counties. Since that date the corporation has erected the transmission lines from the Vallejo straits at Vallejo to Napa, thence to the eastern edge of Petaluma, and thence to Santa Rosa, and erected its complete distributing system in Santa Rosa, as well as installed the transformers and substation on E and First streets.
In making this system complete for the conduct of business, there have been 1,600 poles erected within Santa Rosa and 100 miles of wire strung, in addition to putting in place 576 street lighting fixtures and providing half of them with the 100-watt lamps. Between Vallejo and Santa Rosa there has been erected 1,000 poles and 1380 miles of transmission lines. To do this in the 30 days has taken some work, and the employees have been busy early and late as well as all day Sundays. They pay roll from July 1 to 15, inclusive, between Schellville and Santa Rosa, including men working in this city reached the total of $12,000.
One of the features of the construction work and one which has materially aided in the hastening of it, has been the use of eight auto trucks for handling materials and men, both in and out of the city. One of the auto car trucks has been assigned to the Santa Rosa division for permanent use.
- Press Democrat, July 20, 1912
GAS AND ELECTRIC CO.Great Work is Outline For the FutureHaving secured the necessary permission from the State Railroad Commission, the Pacific Gas & Electric Company has started to expend a very large sum of money, in the neighborhood of $3,500,000, for the purpose of improving and extending its hydroelectric power system which supplies electricity to the inhabitants of not less than thirty counties in the State of California...
[lengthy generic PR article with no direct application to Sonoma county, adjacent to PG&E advertisement]
- Santa Rosa Republican, July 22, 1912
ORDERED BACK TO WORK; ELECTRICIANS REFUSEVote to Continue Struggle With Great Western Power Co.
Despite the fact that orders were received by the electrical workers of Santa Rosa to return to their employment with the Great Western Power Company, the men held a meeting on Tuesday morning and decided they would continue the present controversy with the company, which, they declare is a lock-out...
...The recent trouble between the men and the company is founded on the fact that the pay checks did not come as promptly as the men considered they should. The agreement, it is alleged, calls for a pay day not later than the sixth and twenty-first of each month and recently when the 9th day of August rolled around and the money was not forthcoming the men declared that they would take a vacation until they were paid. The men claim the public was demanding money from them for their board and lodging and that they took the vacation to enforce the demand for a prompt pay day...
...R. W. Garrison, foreman of construction for the Great Western Power Company, and a prominent member of the Electrical Workers' Union, declared to a Republican representative on Tuesday afternoon that the company was willing at the present to reinstate all of its former employees in their old positions which they held at the time they quit their jobs.
Mr. Garrison stated that the morning the men quit work they held a meeting and decided that they would not labor until their pay checks arrived. When this decision was reached the men sent a representative to Mr. Garrison to acquaint him with the decision. He thereupon called up Napa, where the paymaster of the company had been paying the employees and ascertained the paymaster had left Napa with the checks for the Santa Rosa boys half an hour previous to that time. Mr. Garrison gave the men this information with the further statement that the checks should arrive in an hour and a half. Garrison announced that if the men wanted to go back to work they could do so, but that if they did not go back at once they need not go back at all. The men, according to Garrison, have construed themselves as being discharged while Garrison claims that the men quit their positions voluntarily by refusing to work.
The foreman of construction claims that the refusal of the men to wait for their money when it was on the road between Napa and Santa Rosa as unreasonable and that because of the unreasonableness of the matter the district council refused to back up their stand and has ordered them to return to work at once. This order was sent out officially.
- Santa Rosa Republican, August 13, 1912
GREAT WESTERN OFFICIALS HEREWill Have Conference Over Trouble With Linemen--Linemen in Conference Last Night
- Press Democrat, August 14, 1912
GREAT WESTERN HAS A FINE SIGN
The Great Western Power Co., is erecting a 12-foot electric sign on the front of the Masonic Temple in which building the company has its Santa Rosa office. The sign reaches from above the entrance to the company's offices to the top of the fire wall, and will be the largest sign in the city.
The sign stands edge to the building with the letters, "Electric Service" beginning at the top and spelled downward. Between the two words will be the circular trade mark of the corporation, with the letters "G. W. P. Co." The sign will be extremely attractive, as the lights will run mouse style, and with the flasher in the office any number of variations of lighting will be possible, and it will be changed frequently.
The sign will be discernable the entire length of Fourth street, and will light up the corner brilliantly at night.
- Press Democrat, September 13, 1912
ELECTRIC LIGHTS IN THE BENNETT VALLEYThe Pacific Gas & Electric Company are running an electric power and light line into Bennett Valley from this city to provide residents along that road with light and power. Martin Hoff, Mrs. Peter Segrist, Frank Arnold and Charles Reese will have their homes in the Valley illuminated this week and in a short time. It is expected the company will extend the line out the avenue for the convenience of other people who would like light and power.
- Press Democrat, September 18, 1912
ELECTRIC CO. SPECIAL WEEKCampaign of Education is to Begin MondayThe Great Western Power Company has adopted its slogan, "Electric Service." The company will take six days next week to show to the people of Santa Rosa what their idea is concerning electric service. Such a demonstration as they propose to make next week has never been attempted before in the west.
The company not only believes it is their duty to sell electric current, but also the best appliances for which electricity is used. With this idea the best appliances that have been made in this country have been secured and will be demonstrated to the company's patron's next week. The company will sell nothing that it cannot fearlessly stand behind with a guarantee.
The various appliances, irons, toasters, ranges, fans, oxinators [sic], motors, etc., which will be for sale will be demonstrated morning, noon and night daily during the electrical week, men who know their business being on hand for that purpose.
Two features are attached to the "electrical service week." One is that the company will distribute 500 of the best electric irons made to the company's patrons for 30 days' trial. If they prove satisfactory the patrons may purchase them, but if they do not want them, they can return them to the company and no charge will be made.
The other feature will be a boost for a "Brighter Santa Rosa." This is an important part of the campaign during electrical week. The company will show the merchants of this city the best methods of lighting their stores and windows and the kind of signs they should use.
The Great Western Power Company hopes to make "electrical week" a yearly institution. They have brought to this city from their general offices in San Francisco several of their best electric sign specialists and illuminating engineers. The excellent service the company is going to demonstrate next week is going to be give the company's patrons all through the year and all time in the future.
- Santa Rosa Republican, September 21, 1912
MUCH EXTENSION OF THE GAS MAINSPacific Gas & Electric Is Increasing Its Supply Service in Several Parts of TownSherwood Grover, assistant engineer for the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. was a visitor to Santa Rosa yesterday looking over the city and local gas plant of the company with the view of ascertaining what improvements are required to increase the facilities in this city. The company is seeking at all times to enlarge its capacity and better its service. A large amount of new pipe has been laid and many new service connections made in the past few months.
Special attention is now being given to the South side which has increased materially in population and new homes during the past year. A new four inch main is to be laid the entire lenght of Santa Rosa avenue as soon as the material can be secured, while a four inch cast iron pipe will be laid down Sebastopol avenue with laterals in all directions.
- Press Democrat, October 23, 1912
PACIFIC GAS MAKING SOME EXTENSIONS IN THIS CITYThe Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has a large amount of work outlined for Santa Rosa and immediate vicinity. The company is putting about $40,000 in new pipe work also in the way of extending, replacing and enlarging its present pipe lines. In addition a new 100-horsepower boiler is being installed at the plant on First street, which will do away entirely with the smoke from the gas making retorts...
...The new smoke consumer at the plant will do away entirely with the great clouds of smoke seen floating over the city whenever gas is being made. It consists of a series of immense cast iron pipe which will carry the smoke off, cool it and finally by means of a magnetized surren of air take up all the carbon, leaving nothing but a gas to escape, which has no dirt or injurious substance in it. The system is an adoption of that being installed in smelters to carry off the deadly fumes which kills all vegetation in the vicinity for miles around. The iron in this piece of work alone will weigh approximately 13,300 pounds or over nine tons. A large concrete tank forms a part of the plant also.
- Press Democrat, November 30, 1912
Fool our readers once, shame on us, but try it again and it's perfectly okay if you're a paid advertiser.
In 1912, both Santa Rosa newspapers ran ads for a medicine show quack who called himself "Brother Benjamin." Nothing unusual about that; every issue of every paper offered ads for nostrums promising to soothe what-ails-you. Unlike other ads, however, the ones from Brother Benjamin were almost indistinguishable from news articles – they were typeset in the same fonts as regular stories and were featured high up on the page, not buried beneath the fold with all the other patent medicines. But while Brother Benjamin did sell a cure-all potion, in Santa Rosa he was advertising the services of his "Marvelous Medical Specialists" who could cure anything – including cancer – thanks to their skills in "bloodless surgery."
If this scam sounds painfully familiar to longtime readers, it was almost an exact replay of the 1909 visit by the "Great Fer-Don". As explained earlier, James M. Ferdon toured the Western states with his step-right-up medicine show - and was supposedly accompanied by some of the world's leading doctors. (Amazingly, many people apparently did not think it was a bit incongruous that such experts would be working with a huckster whose show included stunts like catching a live pig.) Ferdon's downfall came after he encountered newspapers elsewhere that refused his lucrative ads and instead sent investigative reporters to expose his operation as a fraud and even a public danger, as victims were lulled into believing they were receiving life-saving (and extremely expensive) treatments. Indictments followed in several states and Ferdon became a fugitive, with two of his accomplices sent to prison; yet despite these developments being widely reported in Bay Area papers and elsewhere, there was not a peep in the Santa Rosa press about the woes of their former advertiser. It was a shameful episode in the history of our local newspapers – and here they were, three years later, helping another con man do exactly the same thing.
One of the few differences between the Great Fer-Don and Brother Benjamin was the latter claimed to be a Quaker offering Quaker medicines created by "Old Brother Benjamin" (who coincidentally had the same name, apparently). The Quaker image was even part of his trademark, as seen in the ad shown to right. But before Ferdon reinvented himself as the Great Fer-Don he had also pretended to be a trustworthy Quaker and called himself "Brother Paul," so even that part of Benjamin's shtick was stolen.
Both of them emphasized in their fake news-ads they had removed really disgusting things from the bodies of clients, and everyone in town could come over and take a good close look at bottled collections of them. In the case of the Great Fer-Don it was jars of tapeworms of epic lengths; Benjamin showed hundreds of gallstones supposedly removed from a single patient. Give them credit for being the Don Drapers of their day – they knew precisely how to use turn-of-the-century morbid curiosity to draw in the rubes.
Every night in 1909 the Great Fer-Don peddled his patent medicines at an old-fashioned medicine show and in 1912 Brother Benjamin likewise drew crowds in the early autumn to his temporary stage at the big vacant lot at Third and B streets (think the current location of Luther Burbank Savings). A man from Red Bluff recalled these shows in a "good ol' days" section of the Oakland Tribune in 1941:
|There were always two or more black face performers who put on skits and sang songs, as well as musical numbers. Between intermissions, attendants would pass through the crowd selling different kinds of medicine products that were guaranteed to cure everything from a corn to appendicitis and warts on the back of the neck. One products that stands out in my memory was Brother Benjamin's Herbalo, which sold for $1.00 per bottle, and every time the hawker made a sale he would yell out, Sold out again, Doctor. Some times a so-called doctor with the show would establish a local office temporarily to treat the sick, much to the annoyance of local reputable practicing physicians...|
Technically, they were selling Bro. Benjamin's "Herbalo Blood Purifier Stomach-Liver & Kidney Renovator" plus other custom liniments and whatnot, but the real money came from steering seriously ill members of the audience to his phony doctors set up in a Fourth street office across from the courthouse.
Like the Great Fer-Don previously claimed his "European Medical Experts" could handle the most serious medical problems, Bro. Benjamin boasted his team would "positively cure" a long list of ailments from asthma to diabetes to tumors. "Wednesday a large monster parasite over 100 feet long was removed from a leading lady of this vicinity," one of his Press Democrat ads announced, and "Thursday a cancer was removed and is on exhibition at the concert ground every night." Undoubtedly the "doctors" were using sleight-of-hand (better known today as "psychic surgery") where the practitioner's fingers magically appear to enter the body and pull out bloody diseased bits, all without breaking the skin. "No knife, and no pain," promised Benjamin's advert.
We don't know what Benjamin charged for these "cures," but Ferdon was caught sometimes bilking the sick for the equivalent of an average worker's entire annual wage. One ad of Benjamin's listed the names of several local people who supposedly had been treated by his "Medical Specialists;" of those who can be identified, all had lower-income jobs, such as laborer, waitress, and candy salesman.
Brother Benjamin apparently did not get into serious legal trouble – or at least, nothing can be found in the newspapers. Perhaps that was because he kept a lower profile; Ferdon's downfall came after he tried his con in larger towns such as Sacramento and Seattle. It looks like Benjamin kept to the backwaters of California.
Benjamin J. Bruns – his real name – seems to have stopped touring in 1914, although he kept manufacturing Herbalo at least through the end of the decade from his hometown of Cincinnati. After he left Santa Rosa the Hahman drugstore advertised Benjamin's tonics were for sale there, and similar newspaper ads can be found from pharmacies elsewhere. It was probably harmless stuff - at least, harmless compared to that "Marvelous Specialist" scam our newspapers helped promote. Again.
IT IS TO LAUGH, SAYS BENJAMINBro. Benjamin, who has been herewith with the Marvelous Medical Specialists for the fast four weeks, meets with many laughable and peculiar experiences in his travels--notably arguments his detractors and envious competitors put up to try and stay his onward victorious career.
Benjamin and the Marvelous Specialists represent all that is new and late in the discoveries of medicine and surgery, hence those who are back numbers and cannot make the wonderful cures these Scientists are famous for, stoop to some ridiculous depths to try and decry the good work done by the Medical Specialists.
Some physicians claim that it is impossible for more than two or three gall stones to be in the gall gladder. Now such a statement is absurd and any physician who claims to be such knows better, and when he makes such a statement, he simply holds himself up to ridicule to all intelligent people.
Benjamin laughed when the statement was repeated to him and said he was for a physician that said that, as he himself had seen over 400 gall stones cut out of the gall bladder of a subject at a post mortem at the Cincinnati hospital, one of the largest and best hospitals in the United States and owned by the city of Cincinnati. It only goes to show that even envious physicians do not hesitate to make the most absurd statements to try and harm the good work done here by these wonderful specialists.
They have scores of friends here, made by their marvelous cures. They have done their work in the most stubborn case.
What is remarkable about the Medical Specialists is the marvelous results they bring about in such a short time.
From Mr. J. M. Lucas, 734 Third street, Santa Rosa, traveling salesman, these specialists removed over 200 gall stones with their secret medicines--and no operation. He has been ailing over three years and is loud in his praise of the good work done in his case in such a short time.
Mr. M. H. Inman, Route 6, box 607, well known in Santa Rosa, is emphatic in his testimony of the good results obtained in his case, removing 182 gall stones without an operation.
From Mr. P. A. Lawson, Route 4, box 10, ailing over four years, these specialists removed over 200 gall stones with their secret remedies.
When we can give testimonials in your own city from such well known and prominent people as ...[ten names, with J. M. Lucas repeated]...all prominent and well known in Santa Rosa; Mrs. Josephine McCrone of Lodi, who was cured of a complication of diseases, and scores of others from people here and in other places, even the most skeptical must concede that we are as we claim and can perform the cures we advertise.
It is the same story wherever these Marvelous Experts go. Seemingly impossible cures and wonderful work. Space forbids giving the many hundreds and thousands of testimonials they have, and they are still pouring in every day.
Many other names might be mentioned to show what work the Specialists are doing in our city, names of people who have tried other doctors and other medicines without avail but who are now being cured. Hundreds are taking advantage of the presence of these Medical Marvels at their office.
Our office hours at 609A Fourth St. upstairs, are from 10 to 12 mornings, 2 to 4 afternoons, only a few days more. The big free show continues every night at 7:45, at Third and B street, opposite the Columbia theater, another week.
The Bro. Benjamin Medical Specialists have their own private waiting rooms and offices and everything is absolutely confidential. They positively cure asthma, dropsy, epilepsy, St. Vitus dance and nervous disorders, lung trouble, incipient consumption, diseases of women and children successfully treated and cured without operation, old chronic diseases of the stomach, blood, liver and kidneys, diabetes, gravel, piles, hemorrhoids, incipient Bright's disease, rheumatism (acute, chronic, muscular and sciatic), hip joint disease, rupture, hernia, goitre, diseases of the eye, ear, nose and throat--in fact, what has puzzled you and your doctors gives way to the wonderful medicines of these specialists. Cancer, tape worms, tumors and gall stones removed; no knife, and no pain. These specialists speak all languages.
- Santa Rosa Republican, October 1, 1912
MARVELOUS CURES BY THE BRO. BENJAMIN SPECIALISTSTHEY REMAIN IN SANTA ROSA ONE MORE WEEKOVER 150 GALL STONES REMOVED FROM MR. W. E. COOK, PROMINENT IN SANTA ROSABro. Benjamin and the Marvelous Specialists remain in Santa Rosa another week owing to the insistent demand of people from far and wide.
They are greeted every night by large and enthusiastic crowds of our best citizens at the show grounds... the free show at Third and B sts., attracts the largest crowds every night and under the blaze of electricity, a really novel and clever program is presented which abounds in mirth, melody and music and causes enjoyment to young and old, and will be talked of for months after Bro. Benjamin leaves...
- Press Democrat, October 6, 1912