The Press Democrat just helped solve a century-old mystery, and it's all thanks to the paper's laziness back in 1919.

This adventure begins just before Hallowe'en when a large ad began appearing in the PD, promoting an appearance by concert singer. "The music lovers of Santa Rosa will rejoice in the news that Miss Ida Gardner, the well known contralto, will sing in this city Thursday night November 6, at the Cline theater," announced a related news item. The Cline was the most famous of early Santa Rosa movie palaces (it became the Roxy in 1935) and was a big, cavernous hall that also hosted vaudeville acts and traveling stage shows. What made this performance unique, however, was that tickets were free but could only be obtained from the Santa Rosa Furniture Company. Also, the ad noted cryptically, "Mr. Thomas A. Edison's Three Million Dollar Phonograph will assist."

A review appeared about a week after the concert: "Probably a number of people who attended the recital given Thursday night by Miss Ida Gardner and Mr. Lyman at the Cline Theater, were at first puzzled and disappointed when they discovered a phonograph cabinet occupying the center of the stage. They felt that they had been beguiled into going to hear a charming singer and a clever flutist and naturally thought they had been imposed upon."

Flutist/Edison Company pitchman Harold Lyman came onstage and told the audience that he and Miss Gardner were going to demonstrate why Edison's new record player was so terrific. "It finally became apparent that the phonograph was at least to receive assistance from the singer, but even then the mental outlook was not exactly bright."

A record was placed on the turntable and Ida began to sing along. "She paused from time to time, apparently at random and permitted her re-created voice to be heard alone. This gave an opportunity to compare one with the other, and it is no more than just to state that there was no discernable difference in tone quality."

The PD reported, "It was only by watching the singer’s lips that one could be sure when she sang and when she did not...This proof was very convincing. If it were not, another proof was offered. After Miss Gardner commenced to sing the lights were turned out - ostensibly so that the audience could not watch the singer’s lips.

"It did not seem difficult to determine in the dark when the singer sang and when she did not. The writer was pretty sure about it himself, [until the] lights were turned on again and it was discovered that Miss Gardner was not on the stage at all and that the new Edison alone had been heard."



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


Uh, that story about finding a dead girl was a joke, the editor of the Santa Rosa newspaper sheepishly revealed, a week after his hoax had enraged people all over the state.

The corpus delicti described in the 1882 article was actually the old statue of Lady Justice which was once mounted atop the cupola of the first Sonoma County courthouse - but the story was written as if it described a real murder victim, with only the faintest hints that it was a hoax.

The whole item is transcribed below, but it had Julio Carrillo - then the janitor of the county buildings on Fourth street - discovering "a young lady who has spent her whole life in Santa Rosa, and whom he had known from her birth..."



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 forecast was cloudy with a chance of doom.

In the final weeks of 1919, no one in Sonoma county knew what would happen when Prohibition officially began on Jan. 17, 1920. Was it just token political gimcrackery to appeal to a certain class of voters, or was this really the end of the wine industry in the United States? Our wine-making, grape-growing and beer-brewing ancestors already had endured a year of being whipsawed by good/bad news, and now the frightful precipice yawned directly before them.

For those new here, some background will help: This is the third and final article about that bumpy road to national Prohibition. Part one ("Onward, Prohibition Soldiers") covers local efforts by the “dry” prohibitionists to close or restrict saloons in Sonoma county in the years following the 1906 earthquake. Part two ("Winter is Coming: The Year Before Prohibition") picks up the story in 1918, when the notion of prohibition has expanded beyond simple demands for temperance into a tribal war between rural, conservative and WASPy sections of the nation against those who lived in areas which were urban, progressive and multicultural.

Much of the angst during the latter part of 1919 centered around the "Wartime Prohibition Act," a law that pretended the U.S. was still fighting WWI although the war had been over for a while. The real intent of the Act was to impose bone-dry prohibition upon America months before the real 18th Amendment Prohibition took effect, but there were legal questions raised and the Justice Department said the government (probably) wouldn't enforce it, leading to patchwork compliance.

Saloons in Petaluma and Healdsburg closed, but many in Santa Rosa remained open pending a court decision, the bars becoming de facto speakeasies: "In some saloons, it is said, you have to cock your left eyebrow and ask for ginger ale, while in others you ask for whisky and get it," reported the Press Democrat.


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

Ah, Spring in Santa Rosa. The colorful roses, the whiff of barbecue, the deafening roar of overpowered engines at the fairgrounds that ruin the evenings for everyone living near downtown. Now that the city is trying to lure developers into building high-rise apartment buildings, perhaps someone should mention that those units will be uninhabitable on weekends when there are motorcycle/hotrod races, destruction derbies or monster truck rallies. Hey, while we're discussing a makeover of the downtown area anyway, could we please consider swapping the locations of the county fairgrounds and county admin center? Just a thought.

Santa Rosa's always been a race-lovin' town, however, starting with our hosting the first California Grand Prize Race in 1909. Even when there were fuel shortages during WWI and WWII we packed the grandstand to watch drivers spin around the dirt track and not-so-rarely crash. There have been deaths (two motorcycle racers were killed in 2016) and some of the pileups became the stuff of legend, such as the flaming tangle of nineteen Model T Fords in 1939 ("a smash-up spectacle Cecil B. De Mille couldn't have staged," gasped the Press Democrat).

Of all the events at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds I've read about in the old newspapers, there's one I'd have truly loved to have attended: On July 4, 1918, Ed Dooley and another driver slammed their massive cars together head-on at an impact speed of 100 MPH, the men jumping out at the last second. At age 39, Dooley had never done anything like this before; he was a portly ex-salesman who apparently woke up one morning and decided he was fearless.



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

Prohibition is starting soon, or maybe not. When it begins (if it does) enforcement will be really strict, or the law will be mostly ignored. No alcohol will be allowed anywhere, or there will be exemptions for wine and light beer.

The year was 1919 and anyone who claimed to know what was going to happen was a fool or a liar. Both probably.

This is the story of how Prohibition came to be the law of the land. Before continuing, Gentle Reader should not expect the sort of tale usually found here. Santa Rosa or even Sonoma county are not center stage; this time our ancestors are in the audience, where they would have been watching with rapt attention and gripping their seats tightly - because the ending of this drama just might end up causing financial catastrophe for many dependent upon the wine industry.

In 1918-1919 most Americans likely thought there were long odds that a completely "bone-dry" version of Prohibition would be enacted. Several times during the lead-up it seemed there were going to be exemptions for beer and wine, or the law would be toothless because it wouldn't be enforced, or the amendment would be tossed out as unconstitutional. All of this kept the nation (and particularly, wine-making Sonoma and Napa counties) on edge.

What happened nationally in those months before Prohibition is a story well worth telling - and that's even without mixing in the dramatic detail that crucial decisions were supposedly being made by a President of the United States who was only dimly aware of current events, having just suffered a massive stroke. But strangely, I can't find a single book (much less an internet resource) that gives this tale its due. Prohibition authors waste little ink on everything between Congress proposing the Eighteenth Amendment and the dawn of the bootleggers; Woodrow Wilson biographers focus on the stroke and his obsession with having the U.S. join the League of Nations.

Read the old newspapers, however, and find this stumbling march towards Prohibition was told in screaming headlines, making it one of the top news stories in the year following Germany's surrender.




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

Planning a time trip to witness the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake? Be careful where you'll pop up; anywhere downtown will be dangerous as all of the brick buildings collapse. Surprisingly, the safest place while the earth is shaking will be inside a massive stone building - St. Rose catholic church, on B street, built in 1900-1901.

It was (to state the obvious) an extraordinarily strong building.

"With the exception of a few stones from a cornice, St. Rose came through the dreadful ordeal unscathed," wrote historian Tom Gregory in his Sonoma County history five years later. A photo of the church apparently taken right after the earthquake shows a sawhorse next to the portico, where a a chunk of the corner appears missing. There was also some repair work needed on the steeple, but the whole job was already finished before downtown rebuilding began in earnest. The whole cost was reportedly $200; to raise funds the "ladies of St. Rose's Church" threw a dance at Grace Brothers' Park, illuminated by "many electric globes."

The expert masonry was done by a crew led by Peter Maroni, one of the skilled Italian-American stone cutters in Sonoma county. Gaye Lebaron has written often about these gentlemen from Tuscany and I have nothing further about them to offer. The basalt came from the Titania Quarry between Highway 12 and Montgomery Drive, where Santa Rosa Creek and Brush Creek join (the remains of the quarry are still there and can be visited).

All of that is fairly well-trod history but there's a whopper of a believe-it-or-not! twist to the St. Rose story: It's a forgotten design by a famous architect.

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

"All of the buildings fell at once; no one first," a man named Green Thompson told an investigator into the 1906 earthquake in Santa Rosa. He added the dust was so great on Fourth street he couldn't see.

Yes, the buildings that collapsed downtown were almost all brick, and mostly built 1883-1885 during the town's first building boom. Yes, unreinforced masonry buildings are not particularly earthquake friendly. But it has always rankled that the official 1908 State Earthquake Commission report put the blame on our ancestors not knowing the basics of building construction:

In general, inquiries as to direction of fall of buildings met no definite answer...many told me that there was no direction of fall; that the buildings simply crumbled to the ground. The Masonic Temple and the Theater, I was told, fell so directly downward "that the debris did not extend beyond the walls 10 feet in any direction"...The great damage in Santa Rosa may be accounted for by the physiographic conditions and by the weakness of the buildings in many cases. The sand for mortar has usually been obtained from the creek and contains considerable loam. Some of the mortar seems to have been made with good sand and with cement...usually throughout the wrecked area the mortar taken from the walls is easily crumbled to incoherent sand by pressure of the fingers.

It's understandable that too much loam is undesirable (although there's a 1903 researcher who says up to 10 percent dirt is actually beneficial) but we don't know what the investigator meant by "considerable", nor how he learned this. That goes to the heart of the question: before all the buildings fell down, did anyone know the mortar was weak? If it was always crumbly, that would have been apparent soon after the first brick buildings went up in 1883, and surely they would not have continued making the same mistake for another two years.



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

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