It was like part of a riddle: What's an orphanage with few orphans, a detention home that has no guards or locked doors? Answer: The Salvation Army Orphanage at Lytton Springs.
In the early 20th century it was formally called the "Boys' and Girls' Industrial Home and Farm," or just the "Industrial Farm" by those who ran it. The Salvation Army still quietly uses it as an adult rehab center, but a century ago the facility about three miles north of Healdsburg was well known, highlighted in newspaper Sunday features and something of a tourist attraction.
(RIGHT: Children at the Lytton Industrial Home and Farm, 1910. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)
The Lytton farm in that era was just one of many outposts in the state's vast child welfare/child labor system. California had more kids per capita in institutions than anywhere else in the United States; in the early 1910s it was estimated more than one child out of 50 was in some sort of institution each year.1
Those staggering numbers reflect the complicated attitudes towards children a century ago. Although Lytton was also known as the "Golden Gate Orphanage," only eight percent of the kids were truly orphans; "Mother Bourne," the driving force at Lytton and wife of the superintendent said most children were there because of unfit parents, particularly drunkenness and "looseness of the marriage tie" (another writer listed "modified hoboism or Bohemianism" as a factor). Altogether, two out of three were there for such reasons or because they were deemed to be "unmanageable." The good news was that very often their stay at Lytton was temporary, with a child returning to his/her family once the situation stabilized.
But "mild delinquents" were also sentenced to Lytton by the courts, and one who made news locally in 1912 was Jimmy Gillespie. The 11 year-old ran away immediately and made his way to Santa Rosa, where he burgled two houses and stole a bike. After being captured by a deputy he escaped before he could be sent back to Lytton, this time stealing $4.60 from the purse of a woman on Orchard street. Superintendent Bourne came to town to pick up the boy after he was caught, promising he would be closely watched, according to the Republican paper. But a week later Jimmy ran away once more, this time breaking into a general store in Geyserville and making off with valuables, including "some marbles." This time he was nabbed after robbing a railroad station of tickets he planned to use to flee to San Francisco. The paper reported he was "rated as an incorrigible by the Sonoma County officials" with "a record of petty offenses that is appalling." One of the headlines in the Republican went so far as to call his mini-crime spree "evil acts."
Jimmy's next stop was probably one of the seven reformatories where he would be locked up until adulthood. Three of those were run by the state but Lytton and the 78 other institutions like it in California were privately owned, and nearly all were operated by a religious organization.2
Conditions at the Lytton farm were among the very best of the institutions; at the other end of the scale were operations that crammed up to fifty kids in a cottage. There were no state standards for living conditions, nutrition, medical care or basic record-keeping on the kids, aside from a statistical report to the State Board of Charities. Nonetheless there was public money available from the state and counties to take care of the children, and that contributed more than half of operating costs in some cases. Lytton was in the middle, with about 30% of its funding coming from taxpayers.
Then there was the tradeoff between education and work. With an average of about 230 children, Lytton was large enough to have its own county grammar school staffed by public schoolteachers. But that was as far as education went in that era; older kids were allowed to attend Healdsburg high school only if the "boy or girl has capacity for high school training and wants it," according to a 1909 feature article in the San Francisco Call, a year when there were only three high school students from there.
This may be the cruelest aspect of the "orphanage" system: Even if your parents' divorce leads to you being sent to one of the nicer places such as Lytton, it ends up costing you an education beyond readin', writin' and 'rithmetic. While Santa Rosa High School was then offering typewriting classes and teaching other office skills which were in growing demand, Lytton was preparing kids for a 19th century future.
Lytton was very much a working farm, with a particularly successful poultry and egg business. Kids had plenty of milk thanks to their own dairy but the place wasn't entirely self-supporting; there wasn't enough water available for irrigation, so they had to buy vegetables and fruit. Choice eggs were sold to the St. Francis hotel in San Francisco, which in turn donated its chipped dishware to the orphanage.
(RIGHT: Children clearing rocks in a field at the Lytton Industrial Home and Farm, 1909. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)
Yet there's no getting around that Lytton was a commercial farm being subsidized by public monies and nearly free child labor. (The Salvation Army did pay them something for farm work, but no articles could be found describing how much.) Functionally it was not much different from the Sebastopol child labor camps, where many Bay Area institutions sent youngsters to work during summers – often from dawn to dusk during harvest season – and a 1917 study found that work could only be justified as a reason for kids to be outdoors.
For young people inclined towards egg sorting and milking, Lytton was a sanctuary, and some received permission to stay on past the age where the institution received charitable subsidy for them. And while the Salvation Army's main objective was always trying to get each kid into a normal home as soon as possible, state law partially blocked such efforts because Lytton was not a licensed child-placement agency. (The need for adoption regulation seems obvious but before the law changed in 1911, the Salvation Army in Santa Rosa gave away a 7-month-old baby at one of its services.) In 1912 only eleven of those agencies existed in the state; closest to Lytton was Santa Rosa's branch of the Native Sons' and Native Daughters' Central Committee.3
It's a bit surprising to learn the Native Sons of the Golden West and Native Daughters auxiliary ran an adoption agency; the organization is best known today for erecting historical monuments and such. (Their Santa Rosa lodge still exists on Mendocino Ave. near Fifth St.) But in 1912 they ran a notice in the Santa Rosa Republican listing all the adorable "tots who are free for adoption," ages from less than a month to thirteen years. Many were probably Lytton kids except the youngest; Lytton was not setup to handle infants, and only accepted children under three when there were other boys or girls from the family.
Children were listed by religion with the notice, "Protestant children must be placed in Protestant homes and Catholic children in Catholic homes." Categories also specified race/ethnicity: Chinese, "Colored," Jewish or "Spanish." From the descriptions apparently the children could be attractive or smart, but not both. There was a girl that was so pretty it had to be mentioned twice: "Beautiful girl, 11 months old, part Spanish, very beautiful." One also has to feel sorry for the 3½ year old girl someone felt compelled to describe as "not pretty but bright."
1 1910 California census: 621,666 under 20, with over 14,000 different children in care each year
DOES ANY ONE WANT A CHILD?Native Sons Seek Homes for Orphan BabiesSanta Rosa Parlor, Native Sons of the Golden West, met at Native Sons hall on Thursday evening...The Native Sons' and Native Daughters' Central Committee on Homeless children have a large list of little tots who are free for adoption and whom it is wished to secure homes for. C. A. Pool, Jackson Temple and J. M. Boyes compose the committee of the local lodge that has charge of finding homes for the children. The following list includes some of the most attractive children from which proper people can secure a lovable baby by applying to the local committee.
Protestant children must be placed in Protestant homes and Catholic children in Catholic homes.
Brown eyes, 3½ years old, not pretty but bright.
Black eyes, 7 years old, very attractive.
Pretty girl, brown eyes, light hair, 5½ years old.
Attractive girl, 9 years old, brown hair.
Lovely little girl, 2 years old, dark eyes, brown hair.
Handsome boy, blonde, 2 years old.
Two baby girls, 1 year old.
Beautiful girl, 11 months old, part Spanish, very beautiful.
Two pretty babies, 2 years old, have been delicate, need good homes.
Pretty baby 6 months old.
Very attractive baby, 3 months old, blue eyes, brown hair.
Attractive girl, 10 years old.
Italian girl, 13 years old.
Nice girl, 7 years old.
Very attractive and pretty little girl 2 years old.
Lovely girls 2½ years old, brown eyes and grey eyes, curls.
Several lovely baby boys under one month.
Handsome boy, 2 years old, light curls, gray eyes.
Fine boy, 9 months old, brown eyes, light hair.
Bright lad, 3 years old, blue eyes, brown hair.
Three boys, about nine years; want home in country.
Handsome Spanish boy, 2½ years old.
Six fine boys about 3 years old.
Nice boy, 5 years old.
Beautiful boy, 2½ years old, blonde.
Two fine babies, 1 year old, a very high type, brown eyes.
Two nice boys, 5 years old.
Handsome Spanish boy, 7 years old.
Handsome, bright little girl, 3½ years old.
Fine boy, 7 months.
- Santa Rosa Republican, August 16, 1912
BOY CONTINUES HIS EVIL ACTSJimmie Gillipsi Escaped From Detention HomeJimmie Gillipsi, the 11 year old boy who was arrested here Friday by Deputy Sheriff C. A. Reynolds and turned over to Probation Officer John Plover, continued his evil ways later that evening. It will be remembered that the lad entered two houses and stole a wheel before being caught here. After his arrest Probation Officer Plover found that the boy had been sent to the Lytton orphanage from Alameda the evening before he ran away and was arrested here.
He was taken to the detention home Friday night, to be cared for before being sent back to the orphanage. While a room was being prepared for him at the detention home and while he was left in the sitting room by himself, Jimmy escaped. When the matron, Mrs. Parish, returned she discovered the boy had gone and the police and probation officer started out to search for him. He was discovered about 2 o'clock in the Northwestern Pacific depot.
Evidently the first course de determined upon after his escape from the detention home was to resume robbery attempts, for he went into the home of Mrs. Wells on Orchard street and took a purse from the lady's handbag. The purse contained $4.60. The boy came down town and purchased another purse, throwing the one away he had stolen, so that the money could not be identified. When arrested he had spent 80 cents of the stolen coin. This he had used in getting the new purse, ham and eggs for supper and an ice cream soda. Saturday Major Bourne took the boy back to the orphanage, where he will be closely watched and cared for.
- Santa Rosa Republican, September 28, 1912
SMALL BOY IN TROUBLEIncorrigible Lad Has Record of Many TheftsJimmie Gillespie, who is rated as an incorrigible by the Sonoma County officials, was captured neatly by Conductor Ab Shera on Tuesday morning and turned over to Officer Andy Miller at the local station when the train from the north arrived here.
During Monday night at the depot of the railroad company at Lytton was robbed and some tickets taken. Conductor Shera was notified of the robbery by the agent at Lytton Tuesday morning and was on the lookout for the pasteboards. Gillespie boarded the train at Healdsburg and passed one of the stolen tickets up for transportation to San Francisco. He had realized that the tickets must be stamped to be good, and had placed a stamp on them, using the postoffice stamp for that purpose.
What will be done with the boy is a matter of conjecture. He has been in trouble before and it looks like he will get a pass from the county to the Ione reform school. The lad is only 11 years of age, but has a record of petty offenses that is appalling. He was taken into custody and placed in the Detention Home here and broke away from that institution, and robbed the Wells residence. He secured $4.60 and some articles of value. He was placed in the Lytton orphanage, from which institution he broke out Sunday night and went to Geyserville. There he robbed the rochdale store of a couple of knives, a watch and some marbles, a stick pin, some other jewelry and some change. Returning to Lyttons he robbed the depot, which led to his capture.
- Santa Rosa Republican, October 8, 1912
Driving to Santa Rosa? Be forewarned police there are enforcing unreasonable new laws, such as requiring cars to have mufflers, red tail lights, and drivers to stay on the right side of the street.
It was 1912 and cars were now seen everywhere, thanks to new inexpensive designs such as the Ford model "T" and the introduction of dealership loan financing. But California still had no motor vehicle code, aside from some basic laws such as requiring drivers to stop after an accident. Cities and counties were expected to set their own rules and regulations. In Santa Rosa drivers were required to honk the horn at intersections; in Lake County motorists had to stop and turn off their engines if a horse was approaching. Petaluma police would write a ticket for having a car without a muffler but until 1912 Santa Rosa didn't care. Speed limits varied everywhere, leading to the birth of the speed trap as a boon for government budgets everywhere. All that and more is covered in an earlier item, "The Rules of the Road are Relative."
Santa Rosa's City Council passed a few new road rules in the summer of 1912, none of them seemingly controversial today. No U-turns in the middle of the street; have lights on after dark; stay to the right, pass on the left. The latter may seem like a particular no-brainer but consider the two photographs of Fourth street below, from 1910 (L) and 1911 (R), both showing a car toodling down the wrong side of the street. (Photos courtesy the Larry Lapeere Collection)
According to the local newspapers, these new laws created a terrific uproar. "[M]any persons expressed disapproval of the new law in the most expressive terms," reported the Santa Rosa Republican. "One man even declared he would never return to Santa Rosa again. Several times during the day it seemed that trouble would ensue and that arrests would have to be made."
Tempers flared at a big Chamber of Commerce meeting a few days later as store owners complained "many of their patrons had told them and many other merchants that rather than be held up for failing to comply with the ordinance they would trade elsewhere." A resolution was passed to create a committee to advise City Council on what downtown wanted for traffic enforcement, and by the end of the year the part of the ordinance was repealed that made U-turns illegal in the middle of the street. The police officers, who had been "busier than bird dogs" when the new laws took effect, also backed off writing tickets.
But come the beginning of 1913, enough was enough. According to the Press Democrat, "Every effort has been made to instruct the traveling public in the new ordinance and to give them the benefit of all doubt. Recently a man has been placed on duty at Fourth and Mendocino avenue, to enforce the ordinance, and he has barely escaped being run down repeatedly himself."
It seems Santa Rosa's driving maniacs were keeping to the proper lane only on the straight-away, but when they made turns some were cutting the corner dangerously. "Plans are being made to place officers on duty at various corners in the city without further warning and arrest every one who fails to make proper turns...A string of fines will, it is believed, have the most effect that warnings have failed to give," noted the PD.
Of course, this gave the city cops – who already had great discretionary power to judge who was speeding, in those days before radar guns or other tools – the ability to write tickets based on the degree to which they thought drivers strayed out of their lanes while turning. "It will also enrich the city treasury," the PD added. You bet it would.
LOOK OUT! DON'T VIOLATE THE LAWTraffic Ordinance Regulations Regarding Cutting of Corners, Etc., Will Be Strictly Enforced NowOwing to the persistent ignoring of the traffic ordinance by auto and team drivers, drastic steps looking to a strict enforcement of the measure. Every effort has been made to instruct the traveling public in the new ordinance and to give them the benefit of all doubt. Recently a man has been placed on duty at Fourth and Mendocino avenue, to enforce the ordinance, and he has barely escaped being run down repeatedly himself.
Plans are being made to place officers on duty at various corners in the city without further warning and arrest every one who fails to make proper turns. The law is made for the safety of drivers as well as of those in vehicles, and when an accident occurs it is always because some one has ignored the right of road.
Monday afternoon a motorcycle was run down at the above-named corner, owing to an auto driver ignoring the law and cutting the corners. The police are determined that the practice shall be stopped. A string of fines will, it is believed, have the most effect that warnings have failed to give. It will also enrich the city treasury.
- Press Democrat, February 11, 1913
WARNING GIVEN AUTO DRIVERSMust Carry Tail Lights as Required by Law or Arrests are Likely to FollowThe attention of the police department has been called to the fact that many of the automobilists are not observing the law in regards to carrying tail lights on their machines. Several rear end collisions have been narrowly averted of late.
Chief of Police John M. Boyes wishes automobile drivers to see to it that they carry lights as prescribed by law, and which includes a tail light. He hopes this warning will be obeyed immediately or else arrest and prosecutions will follow. A lamp in time means the saving of a fine.
- Press Democrat, January 28, 1912
AUTOS AND MOTOR CYCLES MUST ALL BE MUFFLEDThere are doubtless many people who will give vent to a fervent "Amen," or something of the sort equally as expressive when they read that at last night's council meeting an ordinance was introduced by Chairman R. L. Johnston, and passed the first reading, which provides among other things for the use of mufflers on all automobiles, motor cars and motorcycles driven or ridden in the city limits. When this ordinance is adopted it will mean the ending of a decided nusiance.
The ordinance contemplated also provides strict regulation for the observance of the rules of the road, compelling drivers of machines, etc., upon meeting each other to go always to the right, and in overtaking to go to the left. It also provides for the proper turning of street corners and a number of other desirable changes from the old order of things, which daily causes much confusion.
It also provides that after nightfall all automobiles, motorcycles and ordinary bicycles shall carry lights. There are many other requirements in this ordinance which was referred back to the Ordinance Committee.
- Press Democrat, May 22, 1912
CITY FATHERS TRANSACT BIG VOLUME OF BUSINESS[..]
An ordinance regulating the driving of automobiles, motorcycles and bicycles in this city was adopted. It provides that mufflers on motor vehicles be closed; that all motor vehicles pass to the right, and to take to the right side of the street. In passing vehicles of all kinds from the rear, motor vehicles must turn to the left, while the one in front must turn to the right, and that on the business streets motor vehicles must not turn around except on street corners. In turning into a street, the motor vehicles must keep to the center of the street crossing. With the exception of motorcycles all motor vehicles must maintain two white lights facing to the front and a red tail light one hour after sunset.
Bicycle and motorcycle riders must not ride without having hands on their handlebars. Vehicles must run to the edge of the curb and stop when the fire bell rings. The penalty for disobeying the ordinance is a fine from $10 to $250 for each offense.
- Press Democrat, June 5, 1912
TRAFFIC SQUAD BUSY SATURDAYMany People Express Indignation Over Law
The Santa Rosa traffic squad, consisting of Officer I. N. Lindley and Officer George W. Mathews, had a busy day on Saturday. As one of them expressed it, they had been "busier than bird dogs," and at nightfall they felt that they had doubly earned their stipend.
It was the duty of these officers to instruct drivers of vehicles in the new ordinance which has been adopted and to them many persons expressed disapproval of the new law in the most expressive terms. One man even declared he would never return to Santa Rosa again.
Several times during the day it seemed that trouble would ensue and that arrests would have to be made. These were avoided, however. After a certain time in instructing the people, arrests will be made for violations of the ordinance.
- Santa Rosa Republican, June 15, 1912
MERCHANTS DISCUSS THE NEW TRAFFIC ORDINANCEMany Present at the Meeting Held Last Night
The special feature of business at the meeting of the Chamber of Commerce Thursday night was a discussion of the new traffic ordinance. There was the largest attendance of the members that has been noticed in some time, and the interest taken in the discussion was very marked. Many business men of the city participated and gave their view. Two resolution prevailed.
[Resolution to create three member committee to advise City Council]
A further resolution, offered by A. O. Erwin and seconded by Max Rosenberg and carried was to the effect that the present ordinance, inasmuch as it provides a regulation that traffic keep to the right, is all that should really apply to Santa Rosa at the present time, this suggestion not including, of course, those regulations regarding speeding, riding on sidewalks, lights and other essentials for the safety of the public alson in the ordinance.
Among those who spoke on the subject were...
One of the main faults found with the ordinance by the speakers at the meeting was the requirement that wagons be unloaded alongside the curb and not permitting wagons to be backed up against the curb at heretofore. It was stated by several that in large cities where similar ordinances are in force wagons are allowed fifteen minutes to unload or load while backed up against the sidewalk.
Another objection was the requirement that people drive to the corners of streets before they can turn around. An opinion was expressed that this requirement rather aggravated instead of relieved congestion.
It was suggested that people be permitted to turn in the center of the street, where it could be done without putting traffic in a hazardous condition.
Not Criticizing Council
It should be stated that the speakers made it plain that they were not speaking in a spirit of criticism of the City Council's enactment of the traffic ordinance, but rather in the interests of the city as many of their patrons had told them and many other merchants that rather than be held up for failing to comply with the ordinance they would trade elsewhere.
- Press Democrat, June 26, 1912
TRAFFIC ORDINANCE IS AMENDED FRIDAY EVENINGPersons May Turn Any Place Desired From Present TimeMayor Jack Mercier and members of the city council passed an amendment to the traffic ordinance at a meeting of the city fathers held on Friday evening.
Under the terms of the amendment section five was permitted so as to permit teamsters and drivers of any kind of vehicles to turn any place on the streets without the necessity of going to the intersecting corners, as was necessary under the former ordinance.
The ordinance regarding vehicles keeping to the right side of the street is still in full force and effect and all vehicles must turn to the left in reversing their direction on the street.
Many persons will hear with pleasure that the obnoxious section of the ordinance requiring the going to intersecting streets has been abolished and that they may turn at will wherever they find it necessary or take the notion.
- Santa Rosa Republican, August 17, 1912
Once I heard a renowned journalist asked about his worst assignment as a newspaper cub reporter. "Dog shows," he answered without hesitation. "People get miffed if their own personal details are slightly wrong in a story, but misspell the name of their prize-winning dog or make a mistake about its precise breed and the owner will call your editor, publisher, and chairman of the board demanding a front page correction and your head on a plate."
Yikes! If dog show assignments were that dreaded in the 1950s and 1960s, one can only imagine how nervous reporters must have been a half century earlier when the events were a really big deal, with newspapers devoting several pages to list the complete judging results. Photos of selected dogs and their owners often accompanied the coverage, which typically appeared in the sports section - unless the show was sponsored by a "ladies" kennel club, in which case it was shunted off to the society pages.
The first contest in America to judge dogs supposedly happened in 1876, but I'll bet it probably occurred about five minutes after the guy with the second dog stepped off a ship from England and encountered the guy with the first dog. Dog shows also appear to function as a kind of cultural barometer; lots of shows in good times, not so many when times are lean. The years following the Great Earthquake and the 1907 Bank Panic were not happy ones in the Bay Area, and there were only three shows each in 1907-1908, one of which was a combined dog and poultry affair. But the boom year of 1912 witnessed seven around the Bay Area, including one in Santa Rosa. (There was also a single Bay Area cat show that year, but it turned into a "free for all," according to the San Francisco Call, after cat owners took umbrage at the judging.)
(RIGHT: Undated photo of unknown child in dog costume. Via doggypostcardsandephemera.tumblr.com)
That 1912 dog show generated considerable excitement in Santa Rosa; despite the town being filled with visitors, most downtown stores closed early that Saturday night so store clerks could attend the show. Less clear today is what kind of impression the show left upon them because our attitudes towards our pets have changed so much. Dog show attendees back then might have been shocked at the idea of our modern pampered pooches living indoors as members of the family, and considering neither kibble nor canned dog food existed yet, they would have been gobsmacked to learn that feeding our doggies is now a multi-billion dollar industry.
Not to say our ancestors did not have great affection for dogs; when Santa Rosa's fire department dog, "Buster," was hit by a car he merited an obituary in the Press Democrat. "He was run over and killed by a careless auto driver who had the entire street, and yet would not get by without killing Buster," lamented the PD, noting the pup was "a favorite with all who have occasion to visit the house or pass it regularly." Years earlier in the coverage of the heated 1905 Battle of Sebastopol Avenue the only true "human interest" story described "Bum," a dog that became the mascot of the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railway, catching rides back and forth as workers competed for his/her attention. And one of the most popular stories ever to appear here involved the 1905-1908 court battle between two men over ownership of "Queen, a valuable varmint dog" - even though the dog had actually died in 1906.
The dark side of the dog show event is whether the economic boost it brought to Santa Rosa caused its newspaper editors to censor themselves. A few weeks before the 1912 show, the San Francisco papers reported Mrs. Maude Duffy, a 24 year-old mother of two, had died of rabies (it was called "the violent disease" in that day) which she contracted from a Santa Rosa dog. Although this was exactly the sort of horrible and tragic death the Press Democrat loved to feature, not a word about her fate appeared in either paper. On the day of her funeral, the Santa Rosa Republican even offered a little editorial about the cruelty of docking a dog's tail, comparing it to cutting out someone's tongue so they could not speak.
When the show was over the PD ran an article where the judges and dog owners praised Santa Rosa for its swell show, accompanied by a three page list of ribbon winners. Among them were "Aviator Wonder" and "Dictagraph C" (bull terriers), "Wally von Bluetenwinkle" (dachshund), "Pom Patch Psyche" and "Fluffy Ruffles III," which took the prize as the best toy dog. Champions all.
ALL DOGDOM IS A'FLUTTERBluest Blooded "Toy Dogs" of State Here SaturdayUnless you chance to be a 1913 model of the toy dog fancier, whose fetich [sic] in dogology is real blue blood of the bluest color, you are quite naturally oblivious to the fact that Santa Rosa is at the very crater's edge of a social function in dog land that is setting the aristocrats of the dogdom of the state into a frenzy of expectant excitement.
You have lazily read, or perhaps heard of the fact that the Kennel Club of this city is arranging its first annual dog show. Perhaps you have yawned your indifference, but the fact may not so much as have percolated your cuticle that the same dog show, with its very first bow to the public, is going to prove one of the most aristocratic events in highly bred dog society ever attempted in any city of the state, aside from the home of dog shows, the City of San Francisco itself.
Because of your possibly near confession of indifference, this is solemn warning for you to wake up and rub your eyes and then bestir yourself, for Saturday, next Saturday, and all day and evening Saturday, this city is to be the guest of scores of the most famous prize winning, heart capturing dogs of every class, color, size and breed you have ever seen assembled.
World's champions, national champions, state champions and several score of aspirants for championship honors to come are to be here. To be exact, there was the glittering total of one hundred and sixty dogs entered last night. And there may be more to come.
And with these dogs, one hundred and thirty of which come from the most famous breeding kennels of the state outside of Sonoma county, will come many of the elect in society from exclusive Burlingame, San Mateo and Piedmont to battle for supremacy with the owners of dog kennels in this portion of the state. Great Danes and Bernards and Newfoundlands will yelp and bark their challenges to English Bulls and Scotch Collies, while pink- beribboned poodles of the fluffiest and softest of coats will strut their pride to the delight of the women and children and the disdain of their more powerful brother and sister canines.
Sixty-one handsome trophies have already been hung up as rich prizes to the dogs of most decided points of superiority. With such an array of trophies the reason for such a phenomenal entry list is not far to seek.
The show is to be held in the old armory, adjoining the A street rink, which is fast being prepared for the blue bloods of dogdom. And you who still lazily read these lines would better beshake [sic] yourself and view these dogs on dress parade next Saturday. All Sonoma county dog lovers will be there in force and it will be a dreary day for you if you attempt to find your ordinary relaxations in your usual haunts, because they will be deserted. Everyone will be at Santa Rosa's first aristicratic [sic] dog show.
- Santa Rosa Republican, October 17, 1912
DOG SHOW SATURDAY WILL INTRODUCE SOME WONDERSA little army of men is as busy as bees pushing the work at the old armory on A street, preliminary to the big "toy dog" show which the local Kennel Club is offering as its curtain raiser in Sonoma County.
Two facts in themselves will make Saturday's "toy dog show" unusually notable, if there were not a dozen or a score, other casing to accomplish that result.
These two principal facts are, first, the large number of blue ribbon winners from other dog shows, which will be brought to Santa Rosa for competition, and second, the famous dog show judges who will come here to indicate the blue ribbon winners.
To name the famous prize winners that are coming would be to name many of the nation's finest canines. In all there will be fully 170 pure blood dogs of every breed and size displayed on the benches that are now being built around the entire outside of the immense floor space. Thirty of these animals will come from Sonoma county, while the balance, some 140 in number, will come from the most noted kennels of the state, including the kennels of many wealthy dog fanciers of Burlingame, San Mateo, Piedmont and other fashionable society sections.
Probably the most notable dog, from the standpoint of "perfect," is Miss Vera Lindgren's toy poodle. Nicholas Longworth, said to be the most perfect poodle in America. No less a dog authority than Judge James Mortimer is responsible for the statement that Nicholas Longworth is as near 100 per cent correct as he believes a dog can be bred. Nicholas, although diminutive in size, carries his championship honors with a dignity that would do a Great Dane proud, holding his somber, though baby-like face, at an angle that reflects an almost snobbish knowledge of his doggish superiority. Even the curl of his tassel-cropped tail shows that Nicholas realizes he is "some dog" and doesn't care who know its [sic].
- Press Democrat, October 17, 1912
THE STORES TO CLOSE AT EIGHTEverybody Will Visit the Dog Show Tonight and Business Will Be Suspended EarlyLocal merchants are interested in the first bench show given under the auspices of the Santa Rosa Kennell [sic] Club and to manifest this interest in a way to assist the mangagement to make the show a success have agreed to close their places of business tonight at 8 o'clock to allow employes [sic] and others to attend the show.
Under the rule adopted some weeks ago all grocery stores close at 8 o'clock. In addition for tonight the following will also close at that hour:
[19 stores listed, including millineries, clothing, shoe and department stores]
- Press Democrat, October 18, 1912
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