In 1946 the Chamber of Commerce had a contest to find a new slogan "best fitting Santa Rosa." Out of 400+ entries the winner was Mrs. B. Taylor, who came up with "The City Designed for Living." She was awarded $25 and it was money well spent; everybody loved the motto, which was added to the city's stationery. It was often part of the Press Democrat's masthead and stores worked it into their newspaper ads. The Chamber wanted to update it in 2007 and paid $80,000 to Tennessee experts who came up with "California Cornucopia" - a catchphrase so hideously vapid it inspired only an abundance of invective. Nor did it help that it came with a logo which looked like someone's doodle on the back of a cocktail napkin.

Today's Santa Rosa would be unrecognizable to Mrs. B. (sorry, no first name I can find). Hers was a city where downtown was a destination - the place you usually were when not at home. It was where you picked up groceries, dropped off shoes for repair, visited the dentist, bought a new toaster, got a haircut or a perm. Mrs. B. saw the sidewalks filled with kids after school and if she was out late the stores beckoned evening shoppers with lighted windows. It was the world as seen in Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" - and who knows, maybe Mrs. B. can be spotted in the background of some scene in the movie.

Mrs. B. might even find herself lost in Santa Rosa's tiny downtown because so many landmarks are gone. What happened to the courthouse? Where are all those blocks of stores between B street and Railroad Square? How did they get rid of Santa Rosa Creek? There's little she will recognize beyond a few scattered buildings.

The story of how all that happened is the theme of this series, "Yesterday is Just Around the Corner," and the short explanation is that Santa Rosa was gripped by an epidemic of Redevelopment Fever in the 1960s and 1970s. Yes, some rich people became richer because of the deals and some of the doings should have probably seen the inside of a courtroom, but it was good intentions, not greed or corruption, that led to the dismantling of "The City Designed for Living." And Santa Rosa was far from alone; communities all over the country were making similar stupid, irreversible decisions in those days.

This chapter is about the Urban Renewal Agency (URA), an unelected five member body with a full-time planner and an executive director (hired from Merced) which had broad powers to make deals for redeveloping all of downtown Santa Rosa. Formed by the city in 1958, they kicked it off a couple of years later by declaring forty acres of it so "blighted" that it needed to be demolished. Designating sections of your town blighted was a necessary first step before applying for free redevelopment money from the government.

The appointed members of the URA had diverse backgrounds that might have served them well on some less critical civic board or committee, but as far as I can tell none of them were educated about urban planning or architecture. Members in the early 1960s included the owner of a building supply company, a retired promotion director of a packing company, a personal injury lawyer, the manager of Sears and the VP of a savings & loan.



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

Another landmark of old Santa Rosa is slated for demolition, so anyone wanting to say farewell shouldn't dawdle. Newcomers to town during, say, the last forty years, probably don't know about it; native Santa Rosans who are Baby Boomers (or older) were probably born in it. That place is the old General Hospital at the corner of A and 7th streets, and it still looks almost exactly as it did about a century ago, when it was built in 1922.

It was just the sort of hospital you'd expect to find here during the town's Shadow of a Doubt years, before and after WWII. The general practitioner doctors patched up farmers gored by bulls and reckless drivers who wrecked their autos on the Redwood Highway. They removed oodles of appendixes and tons of tonsils. So many casts were made for broken arms and legs they probably used enough plaster of paris to plaster every ceiling in Paris.

The tale of Santa Rosa General Hospital neatly breaks down into three acts but before raising that curtain, a few words about why it's being demolished: That entire block - Morgan to A street, 6th to 7th street - is to be torn down in stages in order to build the Caritas Village Project. The hospital is scheduled to be razed in early 2022 and replaced by one of two large  affordable housing apartment buildings and a third large building on the block will be a family and homeless support center. The three buildings have a unified design and are quite attractive; they will surely be an asset to Santa Rosa for decades to come. But there are two really important reasons why the city should not allow them to be built at that location.

Thirty years ago in 1990, Santa Rosa (finally) recognized that much of its unique character had been heedlessly demolished. To save what little was left of its heritage, a few of the old neighborhoods were designated as Preservation Districts, with "St. Rose" being one of the first. New construction has to conform to stylistic guidelines in order to fit in with the overall look. To now exempt an entire block from both letter and spirit of the law is a dangerous precedent which could be used by developers to build anything, anywhere. And since the Caritas Village plans were developed long after this Preservation District was formed, the project backers began with the assumption that they could get away with violating city law.

The other worrisome aspect is the three-story, 42k square-foot building intended to provide one-stop services to the county's homeless. It's a noble idea except the location is three blocks from Courthouse Square, which only ensures that our grown grandchildren will still be avoiding downtown because of its vagrant problems. Look, Santa Rosa has a history of making foolish and short-sighted planning decisions - I'm in the middle of writing a ten-part series just about the 1960s screwups leading up to the mega-mistake of approving the shopping mall - but surely city planners recognize it's not wise to build a magnet for the homeless so close to the city core. Final approval decisions on Caritas Village will be made in coming months (planning reviews start February 13, 2020) so let the City Council know what you think about the project.

In the spotlight for General Hospital's Act I was Henry S. Gutermute (1865-1958), a man who had his fingers in many pies. We first met him in 1905 when he had the Maze Department Store in Petaluma, on the corner where the Bank of America now stands. Fast forward to 1915 and he's now president of the Burke Corporation, the new owner of the Burke Sanitarium, which five years earlier had been the scene of Sonoma County's crime of the century. To scrape away the scandal and relaunch the sanitarium they threw a luxe dinner and dance for 400 movers and shakers. What the store and the sanitarium have in common is that Gutermute liked to heavily advertise - a practice he would continue with General Hospital, although it was unusual to find newspaper ads for actual hospitals.

Meanwhile, a large family home at 804 Fourth street, then two doors east of the county library, was being converted into a new hospital. (Compare that lost majestic home to the squat little bank bunker there now and reflect upon why it was necessary to establish the Preservation Districts.) Called the Lindsay-Thompson Hospital/Sanitarium it was similar to the Mary Jesse/Eliza Tanner Hospital, another residence turned small hospital that was a block away. Both included an operating room.

That incarnation lasted just a year before it was taken over by the Burke Corporation, meaning Gutermute and his partners. They incorporated the General Hospital Association and renamed the place "General Hospital." Presumably their business plan was to offer a package deal with surgery in Santa Rosa and recuperation at their health resort, as many newspaper items reported patients shuffling back and forth.

For the next four years little General Hospital hummed along, with nearly daily ads in the newspapers offering "MEDICAL SURGICAL OBSTETRICAL" services. (Fun fact: In 1916, the McDonald's and other local nabobs marched their kids over there to have their tonsils removed en masse as a preventative measure before the start of the school year.) Then came the eviction notice - the Devoto family wanted their home back in thirty days. Santa Rosa had a 1919 housing crunch because of all the soldiers returning from WWI.

Instead of renting another large house, Gutermute scrambled to construct a temporary hospital from scratch. A special session of the City Council was called to grant him permissions to build something on the corner of Seventh and A streets - and just six weeks later (!!) the new General Hospital was open for business in January, 1920.






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

- Jeff Elliott


It crashed through the treetops on the Vine Hill farm, and the only reason the bomb didn't kill the farmer milking a goat was because it got snagged in the branches. Had it exploded, he would have been the first war casualty on American soil since Pearl Harbor. It was January 4, 1945.

The farmer called the sheriff and soon deputies, FBI agents and Army ballistics experts from Hamilton Field were speeding to that West County goat farm. None of them knew what they were handling - they didn't even realize it was a live bomb, so they took it to the sheriff's office and put it on display in the lobby.

All they knew was that it probably had been dropped from a balloon. "Hundreds of residents of western Sonoma county had seen the mysterious balloon sweeping inland from the vicinity of Jenner, highlighted by rays of the setting sun," the Press Democrat later reported.

A couple of days earlier the PD had a front page story about the "mystery spheres" which had been found in Wyoming, Montana, Washington and Oregon. They were believed to be of Japanese origin, but the Army hadn't confirmed that; all that was known for sure was that they carried incendiary devices. That story repeated speculation that the balloons were carrying enemy soldiers, which was the working theory for a couple of weeks: "There was no actual evidence that the balloon had carried enemy saboteurs but that seemed the only logical explanation for its arrival. It trailed an elastic cable that had been cut, possibly indicating that it once was equipped with a cage capable of carrying a crew of perhaps four or five who, on arriving over the United States, cut themselves free and parachuted to earth in a small-sized 'invasion.'"

The same day the Vine Hill bomb landed, the Office of Censorship ordered a complete blackout of any balloon stories in newspapers and on radio. The curtain of silence remained in place until the war ended in August.



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


In other times and places they may have been considered twin villages. The two communities brushed against each other, each with a mercantile district, its own places of worship and sometimes populations of roughly the same size. But never did they have equal standing, which is because one of those communities was entirely Chinese immigrants and this was the American West in the 19th century. Specifically, this was Sebastopol and its Chinatown. Its two Chinatowns, actually.

Before diving in, it pains me to admit the tale you're about to read is incomplete. I've pecked away at the history of this fascinating lost world for ages, returning to it whenever another historic newspaper or trove of other data came online. But it's been a while since anything really significant surfaced; it looks like some sections of the puzzle - critically important sections, at that - will always be missing. So here I've put together what I have, in the hope that someday a family memoir, a dusty photo album or a history by one of San Francisco's Six Companies will appear, allowing scholars of Chinese culture in the West to cement more parts of the picture together.

This project began over seven years ago after finding a remark by West County historian Bill Borba: "Sebastopol had two Chinatowns that must have had in the neighborhood of 200-300 Chinese in them..." Sure enough, I found the fire maps which showed the village seemed to have two Chinese enclaves about a block apart. I soon learned this was a very unusual situation.



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

Interpreting history is sometimes like assembling IKEA furniture. After an unexpected amount of sweat and cussing you've finally got the thing put together and it looks okay - but then you discover an overlooked part which seems as if it must be important. So back you go, pouring over the documents to figure out where the hell it fits in. And that, Gentle Reader, is how we have arrived at the puzzle of Santa Rosa and its hoboes. They had a significant presence here (albeit usually an unwanted one) for decades; where do they fit into the Santa Rosa story? Why and when did they arrive?

Before diving into that history, however, comments on Facebook and other social media about my previous article, "THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOBOES," suggest many are comparing those 1931 hoboes and their hobo jungle with today's homeless and their encampments on the Joe Rodota trail and elsewhere. The situations could hardly be more different.

First, the hoboes never considered themselves homeless. Living a rootless life under the sky was theirs by choice; this point came across strongly in the profile of the Santa Rosa hoboes as it does in other primary writings, such as the (highly recommended!) Tales of the Iron Road. They chafed when forced to stay under a roof because of weather or infirmity, itching to get back to the camp fire world they loved.

Despite the hardships, their attraction to hobo life was being part of an extended community where acceptance was unconditional as long as you honored their rules and customs. Since it appears most were cast away at a young age or suffered some form of parental abuse or abandonment, becoming a hobo was like joining the Club of Lost Boys. The far-reaching hobo network became a new family, and many of those men spent most (or all) of their adulthood in the comfort of being part of that.

Our modern homeless do share one thing with the hoboes of yore - Santa Rosa's cluster of "skid row" services on Morgan and Wilson streets.

Hoboing was at its heyday c. 1910 when an evangelical group started a rescue mission on Washington street, near the current location of the Catholic Charities homeless services center on Morgan. That was followed by a shelter for “down and outs” at 117 Eighth street, between Davis and Wilson. In the mid 1960s - even as the hobo life was on the wane - the Redwood Gospel Mission and House of Refuge opened in the same area, with the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen and Catholic Charities following later. It made sense at the time for all those Good Samaritans to operate their charities there because the locations were only steps away from Santa Rosa's railroad yard, which was where all hoboes came and went.

Indulge me a moment to editorialize about how this is still causing problems today: It's now been a long time since trains were the hobo express, and continuing to offer those services in that neighborhood only tethers the homeless to the downtown area. Today everyone concerned would be better off if the charities there moved to a designated area where the homeless living in vehicles could park, others could camp and where meaningful humanitarian aid could be coordinated.



Theirs was a distinct American subculture that lasted roughly one hundred years, from the end of the Civil War to circa 1970. At its 1910 peak the hobo population was estimated at 700,000, large enough to make them the fourth largest city in the United States, should they all get an unlikely itch to settle down in a mondo hobo jungle.

In the early years tramps, vagabonds or "vags" were apparently rare in Sonoma county, although they were frequently the subject of little filler items in the local newspapers, usually jokey vignettes reprinted from East Coast journals. The gags were usually that a tramp is ignorant (trying to eat ice cream with a fork), rude (correcting his host's grammar after receiving a free meal) or deceitful (a haven't-eaten-for-days tramp begs for a penny and is told the person only has a silver dollar; no problem, says the vagrant, he can make change).

The first mention of drifters in the area came from the Santa Rosa paper in the summer of 1876, when a tramp attempted to sexually assault a 7 year-old girl south of Hopland (he wasn't turned over to the sheriff, but members of the family beat the man severely). There was an influx of unemployed men the following year when the Long Depression hit California and caused massive unemployment, and the Democrat made the point that these fellows were different that the usual vagabonds found around here: "Many of them are now in this section of the State seeking work, and they are generally designated 'tramps.' From the fact that there are every year some persons strolling about the country pretending to be hunting work but really trying to make a living without having to work for it, the name of tramp has become one of opprobrium..." (Transcriptions of this and assorted other articles follow at the end.)

After that the Santa Rosa newspaper was mostly silent about tramps for nearly a decade - but come 1886, there was plenty to report. "The question, 'What shall be done with the tramps,' has been frequently asked," began one story in the Democrat. A reporter counted fifty living in the seasonally-dry bed of Santa Rosa Creek.




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

- Jeff Elliott

Santa Rosa was filled with bums; there were panhandlers on Fourth street and drunks hanging out in the park, there were petty thefts and burglaries and vegetable gardens raided. The Press Democrat said the Police Chief and Sheriff were working together on "a new drive to rid the city of all 'undesirables,' especially the canned heaters." Uh, "canned heaters?" Everyone knew that was what you called the worst screwed-up addicts - in 1931.

If there's any year in Santa Rosa's history to NOT visit in your time machine, it's 1931 (see sidebar). Prohibition was still very much a thing and that year about 800 people were arrested in Santa Rosa, more than half of them for something to do with booze. Money was tight and pockets were empty; farmers and chicken ranchers were lucky to break even and only prunes and Gravensteins made any profit at all. In the Press Democrat's classifieds, the Help Wanted section was usually entirely missing - while the Real Estate section filled several columns. ("For Sale at foreclosure: 5 acre; modern 5-rm house, chicken equipment. Near town, $3,800.")

Add a few more points to the misery index because of the influx of hoboes that spring. There were several well-established "hobo jungles" along the railroad tracks in Sonoma County: on Lakeville in Petaluma, near Cotati, under the Healdsburg Railroad Bridge, by the Laguna in Sebastopol and close to Fulton. But the best known jungle of all was in Santa Rosa - and that's where many hoboes went in March, after a murder in the Petaluma jungle led to a police crackdown. The same month Marin authorities ordered every jungle in that county cleared out "for keeps" after a robbery at the San Rafael railroad station. The PD reported that sent about 150 denizens headed north.




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


On a fine clear winter's day in January, 1896, Kanaye Nagasawa walked into the office of the Santa Rosa Republican. He must have been a most welcome sight - readers were always interested in the big Fountaingrove vineyard just outside of town - and as a bonus for the newspaper this was right after New Year's, which is always the sleepiest time of the year for news gathering. Was he bringing in an item about prestigious visitors at the winery, perhaps? That a record-setting number of barrels were sold over the holidays on the East Coast and in England?

Nagasawa brought news, all right, but it came with the request that it be suppressed as much as possible. He likely paid calls on Santa Rosa's other two daily papers and made the same plea to their editors.1 Thus a day later, in its column of short local items the Republican printed this brief notice, following tidbits about members of the Congregational church having "a real good social time" and Elmer Carter getting a new bicycle:

While laboring under temporary insanity, Miss Mary M. Harris of Helena, Montana, took an overdose of strychnine and died of the same Thursday night at Fountain Grove. A coroner's inquest was held.

There was no obituary, or even mention that she was only sixteen years old.


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

Older Posts