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

All Bernice wanted was a good night's sleep. She didn't mean to throw the town into an existential crisis. At least, I don't think so.

On July 2, 1951, she went to a City Council meeting. "I am complaining about roosters that wake us up," she said. "I think we should get rid of these birds."

It was a shocking proposal. The birds in question were chickens and Bernice Gardner lived in Petaluma, a town which had long shackled itself to the Leghorn and its skill at reliably cranking out lovely white eggs - which sometimes pop out fuzzy baby chicks, hence: Roosters.

"We must consider the poultry business," Councilman Walter Brown said, adding helpfully "all roosters crow." Perhaps he was wondering if Mrs. Gardner didn't understand she was complaining about chickens. In Petaluma.

The acting City Manager pointed out there was no prohibition on keeping animals within city limits and presented a thumbnail history of an earlier tussle over the issue that limited the animal kingdom to dogs and cats. This was useful, as it gave the Council members a moment to recover from shock and gather their political wits about them.

Councilman Norwood suggested they could write an anti-noise ordinance. A zoning ordinance might be the thing, Councilman Shoemaker thought. Norwood added that they could make it a nuisance ordinance. "We would do something about a howling dog. It's the same thing, only a different noise."

City attorney Brooks offered his two cents, although I'll bet he billed the city at a considerably higher rate. He said the Council could write a general ordinance or a specific rooster ordinance - but if roosters were being kept with malicious intent, a special specific ordinance could be enacted. With that said, the council voted to hold the item over for the next meeting.

Note there was no thought of restricting - much less banishing - chickens within city limits.

Bernice and husband Ralph, both in their early sixties, lived in the 600 block of Baker street, a Westside neighborhood off of Bodega Ave. where many homes have big backyards and plenty of room for a hen house. She told the Council, "at 5AM it's anything but trivial. There are two across the street from my house, and another large on nearby which crows every five seconds. I have called the neighbors at 5AM to complain but nothing has been done about it."

She seemed to make a valid point but at the next Council meeting, a woman named Clara Perry said she represented the neighbors and they had something to say - and not about chickens, but about Bernice. This was an eccentric thing to complain about, Clara charged, and surely the Council had more serious matters to consider. The record does not reveal whether she was, or was not, in possession of a rooster.

Again punting on a decision, the Council decided Bernice should next visit the Planning Commission. She also needed to file a complaint with the police signed by six other persons. It's likely they now believed she was an isolated crank - although there was always a risk the rooster fight could turn into a replay of 1948.

That was the year of the petition against "fowls and livestock within the city limits" (Bernice was one of the three ringleaders in that effort). Petaluma was no longer a rural community the petitioners argued, and animals were both a nuisance and health risk, specifically "chicken raising in residential areas [is] an insurmountable source of rat nuisance." About 300 signed the petition and a draft ordinance was hammered together. At the first Council meeting of 1949 the room was packed with protesters and a counter-petition with 900 signatures was presented. Their lawyer made a 15-point argument against the ordinance; #7 was that seized animals would be denied due process. The Argus-Courier headline the next day was, "Livestock Ordinance Beaten Down by Opposition Barrage."

Alas for Bernice, her 1951 appearance before the Planning Commission didn't go so well, either. Commissioners were only willing to discuss future considerations on the "subject of nuisances." Nor could she muster even six people to sign her noise complaint. All the city had received was a single letter which condemned all "roosters, hens, flies, rats and odors" within the city. It was anonymously signed, "A Petaluma Citizen."

Petalumans, it seems, were a remarkably tolerant bunch when it came to barnyard noises; a quick search of mid-century newspapers turns up surprisingly few police blotter items. In 1952 a woman on I street called the police over her neighbor's cow, who "mooed all night and was still making a noise the next day." A couple of times the Argus-Courier joked that rooster complaints were resolved via a dinner table. In fact, there's only one other occasion that can be found where a resident thought roostering was serious enough to merit the government's attention.

The year was 1945, and a woman complained to the City Council that roosters were waking her up each morning at 4:30. At the next Council meeting five of her neighbors showed up to defend the right to crow. "Mostly all the speakers felt the situation could be amicably corrected by the neighborhood itself," the A-C reported. Note the article implied at least one of them thought the matter couldn't be settled peaceably.

So here's the obl. Believe-it-or-Not! reveal: The warring neighborhood in 1945 was Baker street, same as in 1951. One of the neighbors fighting the complaint in 1945 was again Clara Perry, who lived three door away from the woman who was so bothered by the crowing. The woman who said she couldn't sleep in 1945 was again Bernice Gardner. And Bernice - who apparently couldn't stand to be around chickens even though she was living in the most chicken-y town in America - had spent about twenty years of her early married life on chicken ranches in Vallejo and Cotati. Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say.

The "Diablo Winds" are apparently a Regular Thing now, with the high, dry northeasterly gales ripping through the North Bay and too often creating firestorms. But how common were these damned winds historically?

Start with our three examples that caused major fires: The 2017 Tubbs Fire, the forgotten Great Fire of 1870 and the 1964 Hanly Fire. Beyond those incidents, however, it's hard to say with much certainty.

First, "Diablo Winds" is a modern term, invented in 1991 (Wikipedia has a good explanation of the meteorology), so looking for that name in the old newspapers is a non-starter. A century ago and more they may have sometimes called it “Boreas,” although that was the classical name for a cold north wind often accompanied by rains. But the bigger problem is that our ancestors didn't care much about recording wind speeds; while they diligently kept records of rainfall down to the hundredth of an inch, apparently no one in Sonoma County had an anemometer in the old days.

Searches of the Santa Rosa and Healdsburg newspapers turned up surprisingly few historic windstorms that match the Diablo pattern with certainty (I limited my research to autumn and early winter storms with no rain mentioned). If I find more I'll add it here and flag the update in the title of this article. Sources of all newspaper items are transcribed below. But I think it's safe to presume these big winds weren't very common.

The most surprising discovery was 1871, the year following the Great Fire. Once again there were "large fires were seen in the direction of Napa and Sonoma, and it is feared serious damage was done in those localities."




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



Dear PG&E: We need to talk. I think you're aware (dimly, maybe?) everybody hates you. It's not just because of the deaths and the places that burned up, or even how the recent shutoffs revealed you can't even keep a website running, much less handle the power grid. No, it's not just neglecting to do your job properly; you've been behaving badly for over a century including a hot mess of corporate malfeasance. Maybe you're hoping we'll patch things up after your bankruptcy and jury trial over the Tubbs Fire, but not this time - we want you to get out. Let someone else run the show. Sincerely, Northern California.

Pacific Gas & Electric has a history that deserves a spot in the Hall of Infamy somewhere between the tobacco companies and the railroads. The next time you're hanging with friends, ask each to crawl down memory lane and recall a news story about the company. Someone will surely bring up when eight were killed in the 2010 San Bruno gas explosion; auditors found PG&E had slashed the pipeline maintenance budget in order to award fat bonuses to the CEO and executives. (Afterwards, they spent tens of million$ on ads touting the company's high commitment to safety.) An older friend might remember their mad plan to build a nuclear power plant at Bodega Head which they were determined to do even after it was discovered the San Andreas Fault ran directly through the site. There's plenty more stories to share because the list of outrages goes on and on and on. Okay, one more: PG&E used a loophole to siphon over a billion dollars from a state fund for affordable housing. And on and on. Okay, one more: Diablo Canyon was the only nuclear power plant which generated electricity not with fuel rods, but by throwing dollars down a black hole. (And by the way, PG&E will soon sock customers with a $1.6 billion bill to pay for decomissioning the place, despite repeated promises that it was paid for in advance.) And on.

Aside from rage against dumb schemes like Bodega Head, most pushback against PG&E over the last 75 years has concerned rate increases, and came from the same pocketbook protectors who regularly manned the ramparts against taxes. But in 1952 there was a one-of-a-kind presentation given in Santa Rosa that exposed doings that the company did not want known. The Press Democrat and Argus-Courier followed up with more fact-filled editorials, letters and columns, and as a result the Sonoma county newspaper readers were likely the best informed people in the state that year.



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

If a time machine is ever invented, lord help Santa Rosa's 1960s decision-makers; there will be mobs of howling Facebookers chasing them through the streets for what they did to this town.

Those who hang out in local history and nostalgia social media often write about downtown Santa Rosa in that era as if it were a crime scene; a vintage photo of a picturesque building now demolished, a scene of streets crowded with shoppers will draw tearful emojis and bitter comments. How did all this come to disappear? We know the answer: It was the outcome of the town's gung-ho embrace of urban renewal schemes, which are the subject of this series, "Yesterday is Just Around the Corner.”

(This article covers only "Phase I" of Santa Rosa's redevelopment in the 1960s, when the urban renewal area was limited to the 40 acres between Sonoma ave. and Third street, and from Santa Rosa/Mendocino avenues and E street. Events leading to construction of the Santa Rosa Mall were Phase II and III during the 1970s and will be covered later.)

Other cities and towns climbed aboard the redevelopment gravy train - it was free federal money after all, and the government wasn't too picky about how it was spent. But few communities were willing to go as far as Santa Rosa and gut most of their downtown core.

One reason this is so crazy-making for us today is because there was no compelling reason to declare most of the downtown "blighted," which was their excuse for wiping out entire blocks and more than a hundred historic buildings. The movers 'n' shakers of Santa Rosa saw the opposite - downtown was economically blighted because their projections estimated the taxable value of the area after redevelopment would be at least three times greater.*

They were also true believers that anything new was better than old. In a 1961 editorial the Press Democrat dismissed all the old buildings as "substandard" and said tearing them down would "...serve the Santa Rosa of today and the future instead of continuing to be a deteriorating hodge-podge that 'just growed' over the past 75 years or so."

Steering the redevelopment ship was the five-member Urban Renewal Agency (URA), which was created by the City Council in 1958. Its executive director and the appointed members wielded enormous power (including the ability to condemn land using eminent domain without a public hearing) yet faced little criticism except from one persistent fellow named Hugh Codding - more about him in a minute. What the public heard instead was enthusiastic approval from the Council and city staff and particularly the PD, which was the URA's most ardent cheerleader. The paper leaned hard on the notion that the blighted area really was studded with eyesores, and good riddance; there was a photo they liked to use showing a ramshackle house badly in disrepair with a sagging porch - while neglecting to mention one of the first places to be demolished would be Luther Burbank's house.

Redevelopment programs became infamous for graft and corruption but I don't find a whiff of that happening here. While the URA was biased toward particular developers and clearly treated Codding unfairly, I fully believe everyone's motives were well-intentioned - that they expected the result of their labors would truly create a city beautiful. Of course,  very little worked out as well as they expected and they ended up creating a city regrettable. To paraphrase the great disclaimer at the start of the movie, Fargo:

This is a true story. The events described here took place in Santa Rosa, California. Out of respect for the survivors of those times and their families, keep in mind the decision-makers back then were not fools, dunderheads or venal crooks, though some of their choices seem glaringly stupid today. But hey, it was the 1960s, when everybody was a little nuts.



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

Ask baby boomers who grew up in Santa Rosa what they miss from downtown: Chances are most will name the courthouse. Now climb into a time machine. Go back to the years those boomers were born and ask anyone working downtown what they wouldn't miss if it were gone: Chances are most would name the courthouse.

In the mid-1950s downtown Santa Rosa was bustling, but not in a particularly healthy way. The population had grown by about 150 percent over the previous ten years1 and more people meant more businesses. But since this was also the Sonoma county seat, those retail stores or professional services were competing with city, county and state offices. Making matters worse, any available space was extremely tight because the downtown core still had the same footprint as the original tiny 1853 village as discussed in the intro to this series, "Yesterday is Just Around the Corner."

As a result, government offices were mainly scattered between Third and Fifth streets with addresses subject to change. The county probation office was above the Topaz Room (Santa Rosa's premier cocktail lounge) until it was moved to the Rosenberg building; you paid the water bill at the City Hall Annex before the Water Dept. was shuffled a block away to Third st. and the Annex - a small, one story building which was originally a gas station - became the Police Identification Bureau. Got all that? And this was just a small sample of the ongoing game of municipal musical chairs; when you see photos from that era with lots of people downtown, assume that a goodly portion are simply wandering about trying to find where the hell they've moved Parks & Rec.

But even before the population boom made matters so much worse, the courthouse was bursting at the seams from all the county offices housed in there. In 1945 they considered adding a third floor “penthouse on stilts” to the existing building, with most of the expense going to reinforce the structure. The solution settled upon in 1954 was to build a new county center (the present location) and migrate all administrative offices out there starting in 1956.2 By the year 1970, downtown Santa Rosa would only have the county jail and the courthouse which would still house the County Clerk, Tax Collector, and other offices that dealt with the public over a counter.

And then came the 1957 earthquake.



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


"You the boys from Rincon?" The man asked the three teenagers. They said yes.

"You better get your butts back home," the Fire Captain told them. "The Calistoga Fire is heading to Santa Rosa fast."

Edd Vinci and his friends were stunned. They were there in the Glen Ellen Forestry Station because they were waiting for a truck to give them a ride to the fire line in the hills, where a blaze had everyone worried because it was headed for the town of Sonoma. What would be more important than fighting that danger? And what could a fire over in Napa have to do with his neighborhood in Rincon Valley?

Edd and the Fisher brothers did as they were told, hopping on the firetruck heading back to Santa Rosa. It was around 4PM on Monday, September 21, 1964.

Before that day was over, the 16 year-old Edd Vinci would face a wall of flames rushing towards him faster than he could possibly run, and in that moment felt certain he was about to die.

This is the story of Santa Rosa's 1964 Hanly fire. There were other major fires burning at the same time; the Rincon Valley boys were originally headed to the one which was called the Nunns Canyon/Kenwood/Sonoma Valley fire, which threatened Sonoma City and would nearly wipe out the Springs villages. There was the Mt. George fire burning through the canyons east of Napa City, headed for Fairfield. All told, there were 94 wildfires in the North Bay during the ten days between September 18-28. There are many interesting and exciting stories to tell of those days, but this is not the place. This is just the story of the 1964 Hanly fire and how it came to Santa Rosa.

Of particular interest is that the 1964 Hanly fire almost exactly matches the path of the 2017 Tubbs fire. As far as can be determined, this was also the path of the Great Fire of 1870. As mentioned in that article, once can be an accident; twice could be a coincidence but three times is a pattern.



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

"This is why we can't have nice things" was a popular quip a few years ago; it's something to say after discovering something cherished has been trashed. Every time I step into the courtyard of Santa Rosa's city hall complex that's the phrase I mumble (okay, scream) because underneath this reinforced concrete monstrosity is the filled-in bed of Santa Rosa Creek.

(This article is the back half of the story which began in "HOW WE LOST SANTA ROSA CREEK…" and should be read first, as it explains why the creek was covered and traces the origins of the Urban Renewal Agency.)

Even in the URA's early days - while they were still pondering how much of Santa Rosa's historic downtown deserved to be wiped out - there was agreement there should be a "civic center" built somewhere within that area. The contrary voice in 1960 was developer Hugh Codding, who volunteered to donate "as much as you need" on Steele Lane, near where he was building his new shopping center.

Codding's quest to sell, lease, or give away land for a civic center is one of those epic tales about our town's wild and irrepressible developer. He first offered the city space in 1950 at Montgomery Village – although it was then outside of city limits. In the mid-1950s he offered another spot near his shopping center, this time at the corner of Fourth St. and Farmers Lane. Once Coddingtown was up and running he offered either of two Steele Lane sites in 1963 and when the City Council still didn’t bite, he tried to broker a deal for city hall to become part of the new county administration center (which would have put Santa Rosa's city offices on unincorporated county land). After this the Press Democrat editor wrote, "a city hall is not some toy on wheels, to be moved around from one outer boundary of a city to another where property developments happen to be going on." Undeterred, Codding once more pushed the Steele Lane location in 1964. The next year Hugh was back again, this time with site plans. But he was now a member of the Council, and the city attorney pronounced Santa Rosa could never consider any of his properties because it would be a conflict of interest. True to form, Hugh offered to resign on the spot - as long as they would accept his deal.

Although Codding remained the key player in the overall tragedy of Santa Rosa's urban renewal scheme, that's the extent of his involvement in this chapter on the city hall and what was to be built over the entombed creek. This time center stage belongs to one of his main adversaries: The Santa Rosa Burbank Center Redevelopment Company, which was formed in 1963 to "compete" for properties under the URA's control. ("Compete" is in ironic quotes because their bids won even though they paid nothing until the price was negotiated at a later date - a sweetheart deal that never failed to raise Codding's ire.) The locally-owned investment company was headed by five general partners, including Henry Trione as CEO/President. In the newspapers it was commonly called "the Burbank Center" or "the Burbank group," but since those names have other uses today they are referred to as simply SRBCRC here.

The SRBCRC hired a team of top-notch architects and redevelopment experts, launching with an ambitious $12 million proposal to redevelop the entire downtown area including Courthouse Square. It was already presumed that the courthouse would be demolished (there will be an upcoming article about that) and the square would be split in half by the new Santa Rosa Ave/Mendocino Ave connector.

Foremost among their celebrity consultants was architect John Savage Bolles who designed Candlestick Park, the spiky Birkenstock building in Novato beside Hwy 101 and most NorCal Macy's. Straddling the divided Courthouse Square he envisioned a 6-8 story "Civic Tower," later expanded to fifteen floors. The attorney for SRBCRC boasted it would be a "landmark...people will be able to see the tower from as far away as seven miles." The description in the PD said there would be parks on either side, including two lakes (!) and a constant-flow artificial 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

Pity future historians; they will struggle to understand why we destroyed the things we loved most - and even paid for the pleasure. When the 1960s began, Santa Rosa had a lovely creek burbling through its downtown. Before the decade ended, the town's jewel became a flood control channel buried under a pile of reinforced concrete buildings which no one would ever call lovely.

In the history of many towns there's a chapter with an unhappy and wrong-headed tale such as this, and it's because the nation was gripped by a collective madness called "urban renewal" during that era. Anything new would be better than anything old simply because. There was also free federal money available as long as someone spoke the magic words: "urban blight." So cities across America declared large swathes of their communities were indeed filled with areas injurious to public welfare because of being unfit, unsafe, obsolete, deteriorating, not worth as much as it should be (read: undertaxed), subject to flooding or otherwise terribly blighted. File your blight report and don't forget the address where Washington can send the money.

(This is part two of the series, "Yesterday is Just Around the Corner," which examines how  Santa Rosa - a city which has always had swaggering ambitions - only has limited options for betterment today because of terrible 20th century planning decisions. part one showed the downtown core is cramped because we rejected proposals to expand its layout beyond the setting of the original 1853 village, and how highway 101 "sawed the town in half" against the advice of state engineers.)

Santa Rosa took its first redevelopment baby steps in 1958 when the City Council formed an Urban Renewal Agency (URA). Besides its five appointed members there was soon a full-time planner, an executive director hired from Merced and out-of-town consultants to study the issue (bet you didn't see that twist coming). Come September 1960 they discovered that Santa Rosa was indeed blighted, and in the amount of forty acres.

Meanwhile, there was another federal gravy train pulling into the station loaded with even more money, this time for flood control. Normally the Army Corps of Engineers does this kind of work but Sonoma Water (AKA the Sonoma County Water Agency, AKA the Sonoma County Flood Control and Water Conservation District) wrestled away most of the project along with its $11.8M budget - the equivalent to about $106,000,000 today.

Both urban renewal and flood control projects kept a low profile over the next few years. Reports were written, best plans were laid. Surveyors surveyed. The most exciting related event was the design proposal by the city's New Jersey consultants. A scale model of their reimagined downtown (“as modern and carefully engineered as the latest model of a star-probing rocket” – PD) circulated around several bank lobbies. Their 1960 layout is seen in the drawing below, with a county/city government center along both banks of a fully restored 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


Anyone downtown on March 15 may have noticed an unusual dark bus slowly rolling along; inside were representatives from Santa Rosa and the Chamber of Commerce who were guiding a tour for about 70 Bay Area developers. Our visitors were promised that we would loosen rules and regs, defer or waive significant fees, all to max out every inch of buildable space near downtown as fast as possible. It makes for an awkward coincidence this was the same date that the soothsayer in Shakespeare's tragedy Julius Caesar croaked out "beware the Ides of March," warning that bad things were about to happen.

An executive with the Bay Area Council told a reporter that the incentives Santa Rosa is offering developers are “unprecedented” for the Bay Area. “Everyone I know in the San Francisco and other Bay Area markets has internalized the trauma of wrestling with city departments,” said a rep from an international investment firm. “I sort of feel like I’m in Disneyland when I’m in Santa Rosa.”

Coverage of that significant event came from the San Jose Mercury News and was reprinted by the Press Democrat (apparently the PD's assignment editor thought their Pulitzer Prize-winning staff would be too busy preparing for the upcoming St. Paddy’s Day - those peppy "holiday tips" listicles don't write themselves).

As the reporter wasn't from here, she framed the story as if this was all being done because of the 2017 fires - but for the last five years, locals have heard about our "historic housing crisis" from every politician allowed near a microphone. It's so bad, we're told, that last year Santa Rosa and Sonoma County formed a "RED JPA" (that's a Renewal Enterprise District created as a Joint Powers Authority, for those who like to know what things mean) to push through as much housing construction as quickly as possible. In Santa Rosa, that translates to adding 7,000 more housing units to the downtown area by the year 2040 - a total of 30k countywide.




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

Come August it's Sonoma County Fair time in Santa Rosa; you can set your calendar by it. Even if you don't attend the Fair anymore it's one of those milestones that stubbornly refuse to be ignored, like Thanksgiving in November and Christmas in December. One morning the checkout line at the Cash & Carry was taking forever because the people ahead of me were mostly paying with crumpled one dollar bills. Then I noticed what was on their warehouse push carts: The cheapest cooking oil, bags of sugar heavier than a five year-old child, gallons of colorful fruit syrups. Ding! August. County Fair.

But it wasn't always in August, or in Santa Rosa, and the fairgrounds has a very spotty history of even being a fairgrounds. Nor was there something every year which could be called the Sonoma County Fair; draw a timeline between 1883 and today and randomly pick a year - about a third of the time you'll come up fairless.

This is a history of how the “Sonoma County Fair” evolved, but just like every evolutionary tree there was no clear, inevitable path from when it took root to where it is now; what we have today is just one branch that won out among several of its kin that didn’t happen to do as well. Some were organized by locals who created an association or society for that purpose; some were an official event of the state’s agricultural district for the North Bay. But even whether the fair was independent vs. government-sponsored doesn’t fully explain how things developed; at different times, what became the “Sonoma County Fair” has been both. The district fairs were mostly exhibits to promote local livestock and produce; the private fairs usually featured professional/semi-professional horse racing. And again, the “Sonoma County Fair” embraced both.

Rightly Petaluma's Sonoma-Marin Fair should probably have the County Fair monicker, as it has a longer record (starting in 1867) and has been held most consistently. Even older was was the San Pablo Bay District Fair, which began in 1859. It was held in both the town of Sonoma and Vallejo and morphed into what was called the first "county fair" in the newspapers - the ongoing "Sonoma-Napa Mechanical Fair," which drew Victorian nerds from all over the state (lots of wine drinking, too). That one will get an article here of its own, someday.

But while those other towns were earnestly trying to establish and maintain those annual festivals, in Santa Rosa there was tepid interest in fair-making, and what did exist proceeded in fits and starts for decades. What the City of Roses really wanted was to become the City of Races.





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 past is never dead. It’s not even past" is a flippant line tossed off in a novel by William Faulkner (don't bother reading it; I did one college summer, when I thought Faulkner novels were something I just had to learn to appreciate, more the fool I) and that quote reflects the theme of the book, which is about the terrible prices we often pay for long-ago mistakes. In recent years it's been misappropriated to mean history in general, particularly as an upbeat catchphrase for historic places. That meaning fits the town of Sonoma, with its adobes haunted by Vallejo's ghosts, or Petaluma, with much of its downtown undisturbed since Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn. But Santa Rosa - not so much. Here the phrase has to be used in its original intent, to express the unhappy ways we are dogged by our past.

 This is the 700th article to appear in this journal, which now clocks in at over 1.5 million words (I have statistically typed the letter "e" about 190,530 times but the letter "z" merely 1,110). Normally such a milestone is an occasion for a "best of" recap but I did that not so long ago back at #650 with "650 KISSES DEEP," so instead I'd like to step back and reflect on some of the reasons Santa Rosa came to be the way it is today.

 This is also timely because right now (summer 2019) the city is working on the Downtown Station Area Specific Plan which "seeks to guide new development with a view to creating a vibrant urban center with a distinct identity and character." The plan calls for wedging up to 7,000 more housing units into the downtown area, which will be quite a trick.

 There are limits to what developers can build, in part because this is a high-risk earthquake zone (a 1 in 3 chance we will have a catastrophe within the next 26 years), but a greater obstacle is that Santa Rosa is uniquely burdened by layers of bad decisions made over several decades.


 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 September 4, 1915, Luther Burbank met his destiny - or rather, he met the man who would eventually write the book which would define history's view of his life's work. Had Burbank somehow enjoyed a miracle of foresight to know that, he might have spent considerably less of the afternoon grousing about how he was being victimized.

"Burbank was thoroughly angry; his resentment had been growing for months," his biographer Walter L. Howard would write some three decades later. "With flashing eyes he declared that the Company had swindled him out of everything he had, which, of course, was an exaggeration but he was crippled financially, with his normal income from sales having been cut off for two or three years."

"The Company" was the Luther Burbank Company, which had been formed back in 1912 to completely take over the sales wing of his business, giving Burbank a guaranteed annual income and allowing him to concentrate on plant breeding. “I have no time to make money,” he told the Press Democrat. “I’ve more important work to do." (More background can be found in "BURBANK INC." - and by the way, have you read, "THE UNDOING OF LUTHER BURBANK, PART I"?)

But by that late summer afternoon in 1915 the company had only paid Burbank a fraction of what was owed, and that only after he had repeatedly twisted arms. The business was on the verge of collapse; that same month, top management was replaced in a last-minute bid to save it from bankruptcy. Another clue that the company was in serious trouble during the summer of 1915 was that a letter went to stockholders offering to sell them more shares at half the $25 face value, as long as they paid for the stock in cash. But even that was too expensive, commented the San Francisco Examiner, as brokers were offering shares at $8 and not finding buyers.

Looking back, it's no surprise the Company was circling the drain by then - the real mystery is why it was even formed; there was really nothing in its prospectus except for the exclusive right to use the respected name of Luther Burbank.



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


Imagine finding a treasure trove which you didn't even know existed - yet there they were stacked on the library table, a dozen high quality images of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake, all photographed in 3D.

Those who follow me on Facebook @OldSantaRosa know I've been recently upgrading images related to the disaster. Sometimes I take my portable scanner to the Sonoma County Library Annex and rescan some of the collection's glossy 8x10 prints at a high resolution, followed by using a Photoshop-like application to slightly enhance brightness/contrast levels as necessary. But some photos are still too dark, too low-res, or have other problems that make it hard to coax out a workable image; that was the case of a few photographs which were the only known pictures taken on the actual day of the earthquake. All of them shared an unusual feature - an arched top, which is sometimes found on stereograph cards. Did this mean there was a photographer in Santa Rosa taking 3D pictures while the crisis was underway?

In the decades around the turn of the last century, probably every middle class home had a stereoscope with an assortment of cards; passing the viewer around was a popular divertissement to while away the hours and to entertain guests in the parlor. The number of stereo views available was seemingly endless - Civil War battlegrounds, world fairs, picturesque scenery, historic events (including the aftermath of natural disasters), exotic places and whatnot. There were also racist views glorifying Antebellum slavery and porn.

Rarely, however, are 3D family snapshots found - the stereoscopes and cards might have been ubiquitous, but stereo cameras were not. They could cost 10x more than a very good quality regular camera (the equivalent to about $1,500 today), used twice as much film, were bulky and each shot needed to be composed with care. While Kodak made low-end stereo cameras  for amateur use they were limited to fixed focus and shutter speeds and did not sell very well.

When I asked Sonoma County Archivist Katherine Rinehart if the library had any information about those arched top images, she said they were copied from stereoscopic cards - which were in the library's collection. Would I like to see the originals?

Be still me quaking jibbers, I could not believe what I found. Not only are the cards in near-mint condition after 110+ years, but the images have none of the problems found in the copies which required enhancement. The photos are bright, in focus and could have been taken yesterday. And because we can now see both parts of the stereo pairs, new details appear - including additional people - at the far sides of the images. 


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 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

On Dec. 1, 1918, Grace Brothers' brewery was closed on account of madness.

Like other breweries across the country, the beer-making section of big plant at the foot of Second street in Santa Rosa was ordered shut down by government regulation. The given reason was the nationwide shortage of coal, which began after the U.S. entered WWI; at the time coal was the fuel that ran almost everything in the country and while the crisis had little impact on the West Coast, the situation in the Eastern states was dire. William Jennings Bryan came to Santa Rosa and told us six million tons of coal a year were wasted on brewing beer; that was almost double the true figure, but it didn't matter that he got it wrong because he sounded so convincing, as he always did.

Bryan was mainly a professional prohibitionist during the war years. When he came here that June he also claimed $50 million worth of food products were being used annually by brewers. At this point of his speech he usually harrumphed indignantly, "how can we justify the making of any part of our breadstuffs into intoxicating liquor when men are crying out for bread?" The brewing industry pushed back that under one percent of the nation's grain was used in making beer, but that was another true factoid not heard in Bryan's Chautauqua tent. 

Accurate facts weren't important to his audiences who didn't seem to mind that he was hammering simplistic either-or fallacies into their poor, soft skulls; they went away thinking it was a choice between closed schools or open saloons, bread for starving war orphans or a nickel beer. They were given the impression that making alcohol - or drinking it - was both unpatriotic and shameful.

But Grace Brothers' wasn't forced to stop brewing because of an actual shortage of coal or pressing demand for flour or the eloquent lips of William Jennings Bryan. It happened because by the end of 1918 most Americans were nuts.



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 January 17, 1920, Prohibition came to Sonoma county, as it did the rest of the land. While San Francisco marked the event by carousing and debauchery excessive even by Barbary Coast standards, the milestone passed with little notice up here. At midnight some bozo on Western avenue in Petaluma began shooting in the air and managed to knock out a PG&E powerline, likely pitching that side of town into darkness. With church bells clanging in celebration, residents suddenly without lights probably wondered if the end of the world had come - and many in wine-making, wine-loving Sonoma county were nervous that it had.

This article is part of a series on the 1920s culture wars, an era with numerous parallels to America today - particularly now that the nation is as divided as it was during the ignoble experiment which was Prohibition.

Much has been written about Prohibition; there's a substantial number of books and internet resources on the topic although all seem to share the same flaw - events before it started are given short shrift and then it's quickly on to Chicago gangsters, bathtub gin and the jazz age. You know: The fun stuff.

But take a step further back and a bigger picture emerges: Fear and loathing of alcohol was the moralistic glue holding together the various threads in America's culture wars. Many preachers howled liquor must be scourged from the earth via a rigorous crackdown by law enforcement, which was a militant stance shared with the revived Ku Klux Klan - and while you were at their lecture, the boyz in the hoods also had a few other things to tell you about hatred and white nationalism. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union didn't just demonize demon rum; the group had a “purity lecturer” who addressed their 1913 convention in Santa Rosa, where she spoke about “social immorality” and “race betterment” (eugenics, in other words).

Here I've written dozens of articles about doings regarding alcohol both trivial and notable, such as the anti-suffrage propaganda that women would vote as a bloc to ban alcohol and that the first speakeasy in the county was the Electric Hotel in Forestville. Below the main stories are arranged to show how the Prohibition movement gained steam in Sonoma county; the article following this one takes us to the start of Prohibition and shows the early impact it had here. Spoiler alert: Prohibition generally turned out to be a good thing for Sonoma county.




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 past is just a story we keep telling ourselves.

 That's a throwaway line from a recent film, "Her" (good movie) and not entirely original; "[something is] a story we tell ourselves" first appeared around 1960 and has become exponentially more popular since then, as shown by Google's Ngram Viewer. What makes this version memorable, however, is that it's uniquely wrong.

 History (for the most part) is a story we DON'T keep telling ourselves. We only talk about an event when it's big and momentous or directly related to our lives in the here and now. A more accurate version of the quote would be, "The past is just a story we keep forgetting to tell ourselves" and as a result, we don't learn from the past and find ourselves repeating it. History is not a guide to understand our march toward the future; history is a treadmill.

This article is part of a series on the 1920s culture wars, an era with numerous parallels to America today - and no issue has found itself resonating again as much as the anti-vaccination movement. I've written twice before about the "antis" of a century ago (here's part one and part two) but to recap and expand:

The only vaccine that existed in the early 20th century was against smallpox (MMR, HepB, DTaP, RV or any of the other modern vaccines were decades away). Since 1889 California had required all children to present a smallpox vaccination certificate when they registered for school. Opponents lobbied Sacramento to pass a couple of bills repealing the law but governors vetoed the legislation both times. The state Supreme Court upheld the requirement in 1904 and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the same way the following year. Yet the anti-vaccinationists never gave up; they kept forming grassroots anti chapters, signing repeal petitions and writing letters. At the start of every school year some parents would keep their kids at home or protest to the school board - some apparently not over vaccine anxiety but because they couldn't afford to consult a doctor.




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

Imagine an America which seems to become increasingly divided with every passing day. One side is mainly rural and feels their values are under attack. They are warned by religious and political figures that evildoers could be plotting to sneak into their neighborhood to commit terrible crimes and these fears are also fueled by popular media repeating stories which are lies and exaggerations. This group disdains city folk as being morally weak and believe urbanites must be forced - by new laws, if necessary - to behave properly. They think sex outside of marriage is dangerous and children should be taught to be afraid of it. Meanwhile, the Republican party is being torn apart by the loud upstarts who now dominate the party, much to the dismay of the old guard.

 Welcome to 1914 - exactly 105 years ago.

 This is the story about the swirling conflicts in the years leading up to Prohibition - a kind of cultural civil war that started in 1914, so it's probably fair to say that was the year when the 1920s really began.

 The divide was not red-state versus blue-state, Bugtussle Miss. vs. Boston Mass. The nation was still mostly rural/semi-rural and small towns like Santa Rosa were almost evenly split between those who were certain the country was headed on the wrong track or not.



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

Here's the ultimate Trivial Pursuit question, Sonoma county edition: How many times has it been proposed for Petaluma to seize the county seat from Santa Rosa and/or split off to become the seat of a new county?

Recently I conducted a scientific survey of expert historians (I asked guests at a Christmas party, a few friends, some followers on Facebook and that cashier at Trader Joe's who seems to know everything) and the consensus was that it's happened two or three times. The correct answer?

Nine...probably; I hedge because there could be yet another skirmish or three that could crawl out of the late 19th century woodwork.

A couple were like war campaigns and lasted more than a year; others apparently went little further than a committee being formed or the passing around of petitions. Some efforts are difficult to evaluate because few newspapers from that particular time still exist.

While all of the schemes end up with Petaluma becoming a county seat, they are remarkably different otherwise. Sometimes a new county is formed, borrowing a bit of northern Marin (or not). Sometimes Sonoma county is broken up into three counties - four, in one proposal - and sometimes Petaluma is annexed to be part of Marin. A common thread is that Petaluma has more in common with Marin and points south than everything north of them in Sonoma county, which is hard to dispute; until the train arrived in 1871, it was easier for the Petalumi to get to San Francisco than Santa Rosa, particularly in winter.

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 the summer of 1883 most West Coast newspapers were complaining about the unusually hot weather; but here in Sonoma county, we were too busy complaining about each other. For months the air was heavy with angst and acrimony and there was no telling how long it would be before the winds changed.

The Board of Supervisors were determined to build a county courthouse in the middle of Santa Rosa's plaza. Petaluma wanted the new courthouse in their town - which would make them the county seat. Factions from Petaluma were circulating a petition demanding a vote on the issue while also threatening to split off and form a new county. Meanwhile, the rest of the county was upset at both Santa Rosa and Petaluma for dragging them into their fuss. All of that melodrama was covered in part one, "HOW COURTHOUSE SQUARE TORE SONOMA COUNTY APART."

Our story resumes in the third week of July 1883, when there was something of a lull in the fighting. There had been no mention of the Petaluma petition since early June, when it was said they were about ready to present it to the Board. Having already contracted with architects, the Supervisors now requested construction bids; it would be another ten weeks before they chose a contractor, and hopefully by then the petition matter would be settled.



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. The Blogger platform has become increasingly unstable and as of this writing I am unable to upload images; there is no help available to interpret the cryptic error messages, which may (or may not) go away. I will continue to create stubs here for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. - Jeff Elliott

Next time you're in Courthouse Square, notice the grassy area in the center is a cross. That's a nod to the old historic courthouse which was there (albeit with a larger footprint) before it was wrecked by the 1906 earthquake. It was a such a pretty building; it looked like an ornate Victorian music box. And it was quite a popular attraction in the years around turn-of-the-century - there are more postcards and snapshots of it than any other place in Santa Rosa. But in 1883 Sonoma county was so bitterly divided over constructing it that Petaluma wanted to break away to form a new county rather than have anything to do with the project.

This happened at the start of Santa Rosa's boom times, although the big changes really didn't begin until the following year. Still, there was plenty for them to cheer about in 1883. There was a new city hall/library/firehouse, new homes and commercial buildings were going up all over town and property values were up almost 25 percent from the previous year. T. J. Ludwig, Santa Rosa's busiest contractor, had a weekly payroll equivalent to about a quarter million dollars today, plus he also owned a lumber yard and co-owned a planing mill. Then in November the Colton trial began (see link above) and the town found itself awash in big-spending lawyers.

With all that progress in the air it's not too surprising the Board of Supervisors brought up the issue of a new county courthouse. The existing one dated to 1855 and was so poorly constructed the Supervisors initially refused to pay the contractor. The roof leaked, the walls cracked; ongoing repairs and do-overs tripled the original cost. Grand juries repeatedly denounced it as unsafe as well as a “public nuisance.” Lacking any dispute that a replacement was needed, the only issues were how to pay for it - and more critically, where to put it.

Rebuilding on the existing location was never considered - another old complaint was that the space was too cramped. But there were not a lot of other options in 1883; the core town was already pretty built out by then, with the few remaining large parcels being east of E street or west of the railroad tracks. Only the big, empty plaza smack in the heart of the downtown remained.

Santa Rosa had a love/hate relationship with its public square going back to the Civil War. It was simply a small park criss-crossed by footpaths; there was originally a small grove of heritage oaks on the east side but by 1883 photos shows a haphazard mix of spindly trees, evergreens, pampas grass and century plants. Two years earlier a stray pig rooted up the grass and the newspaper bemoaned the soil was so sun-baked it would be best to plow it up and pray the place wouldn’t look so craptastic next season.

At that first 1883 meeting of the Board, it was Supervisor George Allen of Petaluma who suggested putting a new courthouse on the plaza. The Petaluma Courier agreed it was a good idea, but said so without conviction. Santa Rosa's daily and weekly Democrat insisted it shouldn't be done. "Our neighbor does not understand the situation," wrote editor Linthicum.* "However much the City Trustees might desire to donate the plaza for that purpose, it could not be done. The plaza was deeded to the people of Sonoma county for a public plaza." As we'll learn it a moment, that issue was very much in question.

Then at the Board meeting three weeks later, Supervisor Allen made a new proposal: Build the new courthouse in Petaluma and the town will donate Hill Plaza Park (now called Penry Park) for the purpose - and locals will throw in $100,000 to sweeten the deal.

Which, of course, would also make Petaluma the Sonoma county seat.

Everyone's positions flipped faster than a politician being handed a blank check. The Petaluma paper discovered a new urgency in having the courthouse built; the Santa Rosa paper decided "...the new Court House question has developed one fact, we think, pretty clearly, and that is that the plaza is the only place for a site upon which there can be anything like a substantial agreement." The Santa Rosa City Council rushed through a resolution that the county could build it on the plaza or any other place it wanted as long as it was in the town.

And so began another bout in the Santa Rosa and Petaluma newspaper prizefight. As editorial MMA fighters Cassiday and Thompson were not available to slug it out this time, it was mainly just sparring with peppery insults and snark.

The Democrat sneered "the people of Sonoma county will never vote to place the county seat in an off corner of the county," even though Petaluma offered a bribe and would "smile a Santa Rosa man out of his boots." Since Petaluma's park is on a small hill, a correspondent wrote the Democrat that a step ladder would be needed to reach a courthouse there. The Courier snapped back, "When the gentleman was here he tried to walk up the five steps from Main street to the plaza above the wall, but his legs were so infernally tired that he couldn't make the landing." Round one goes to the Democrat for a parody written in backwoods dialect. "Petalumar" stank and looked "as if Natur had spewed up the town site sumtime when mity sick at the stumick, and then tried to hide it by scratchin a litter of houses on it."

I suspect most folks at the time thought it was all big talk and the topic would soon be forgotten. What was the urgency, anyway? There was nothing actually wrong with the existing courthouse and jail (at least, at that moment), aside from its long-standing problems. But come Spring and the Board of Supervisors were still pushing ahead and not considering any location other than the plaza. They solicited architectural bids with a $80 thousand budget - more money than the county had ever spent on a project.

It was around this time that factions in Petaluma began circulating petitions. It's not clear if there were two separate petitions, but the issues at hand were both a vote to move the county seat to Petaluma and to split Sonoma county in half. This was the third time such attempts was made; in 1870 there was a similar call to make Petaluma the county seat for a new county and there was an 1861 effort to move the Sonoma county seat to Petaluma (that same year there was also a proposal to make it part of Marin).

Moving the county seat could be done by a two-thirds popular vote (which is how Santa Rosa snatched it away from Sonoma City, remember) but creating a new county was a far more difficult legal and political maneuver; a split could only be done by the state legislature. It would also entail Brexit-like negotiations to untangle the new county from the old in terms of deeds and other legal records, bond debt and laws.

Quixotic or no, both Santa Rosa and Petaluma took the petition seriously. "The petition has been circulated and runners sent out over the county to build up a prejudice against Santa Rosa," complained the Democrat. Santa Rosa had an agent in Healdsburg (and probably other towns) discouraging voters from signing it - there was even a story that he was paying signers to remove their name, although that may be apocryphal.

The Petaluma Argus also began sewing doubt that the county might not even own the plaza property:

...would it not be well for the Supervisors to ascertain to a certainty about the title before they expend the first installment of $80,000. The claimants to the plaza would, as a matter of course, remain very quiet while a big, fine building was going up on their property - or, in other words, upon property they claim will revert to them when used for any purpose other than that of a plaza.  Of course, we very much desire to have the Court House down here, but if we can't get it Santa Rosa will do pretty well, but we protest against building even an $80,000 house on somebody's land, who will want it just as soon as the last coat of paint is put on.

The paper was referring to events fifteen years earlier. Gentle Reader surely recalls when Santa Rosa was founded back in 1853 that half of the new town belonged to Hoen & Co. (Barney Hoen, Feodore Hahman and J. H. Hartman) and the other half was Julio Carrillo's. The acre composing the east side of the plaza was donated by the company with Carrillo giving the western acre. Then in 1868 Julio found himself destitute and unable to feed his large family (12 kids!) and sold his side of the plaza for $300, saying he hadn't formally granted a deed to the county or city or anyone else back in the day. The three local men who made the deal with him tried twice to establish their claim to the plaza by constructing a shanty, only to see the shacks quickly knocked down. The city then passed a new ordinance making it illegal to put up any sort building in the plaza - a law which was still in effect in 1883, as far as I can tell. All those events are hashed out here in "COURTHOUSE SQUARE FOR SALE, CHEAP."

Despite the risk those three claimants (whom I suspect had sold silent partnerships to pay for their San Francisco lawyers) might resurface, the Board of Supervisors kept plowing ahead. Let's step back for a moment and gape in amazement at all the balls that were in the air:


*
WAS IT LEGAL?   Besides Julio's buyers, everything about the title to the plaza land was unclear. Had the founders given it to the town, or the "people of Sonoma," viz. the county? Apparently Julio was right in saying there was no deed or other paperwork. And even if that question could be waived, it still had been gifted with the clear intent of it remaining a park - founders Hahman and Hoen had already objected to the courthouse plan. In agreement, District Attorney Thomas Geary opined "the county had no more right to put a building there than they had on the county road."


*
WAS THERE FUNDING?   The Board of Supervisors had no serious discussions on how to pay for the expensive new courthouse aside from the expectation they could get around $30 thousand for the parcel with the existing courthouse/jail and create a special tax levy to collect the rest. The best offer came in on the low end: $26,000. (The bidder was Matt Doyle and his partner, who used the land to build the Exchange Bank, which is at the same location today.) Because of this shortfall, the Supervisors raised county property taxes by 21 percent for two years.


*
WOULD PETALUMA GIVE UP?   It was never revealed who was behind the Petaluma petitions, but it was clear they had money and were persistent. Should the Supervisors not allow the vote, the Democrat voiced fears they would sue the county, and the matter would "undoubtedly go to the Supreme Court, [and] it will be several years before it is decided...Suit will also be brought in the name of the people, by parties in Petaluma, to test the validity of the title to the Plaza, and it seems us though there will be an endless amount of litigation brought about by those who oppose the erection of a new Court House." 


*
WILL THE PROJECT BE ABANDONED?   Besides all the above, there was the question of whether the Supervisors should be signing contracts before there was a single penny in funding from either the property tax increase or selloff of the old courthouse land. This became an issue when the architects showed up three months after the contract and requested a partial payment to cover their expenses. The Board said it could not pay them anything at all - and conceded there was a chance the courthouse might not even be built: "if the building was constructed the architects were to receive 5 per cent., and if it is not built, 2½ per cent."


*
CAN WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?   Not since the Civil War had Sonoma county been so torn apart by an issue. Although the Supervisors who were making all the decisions represented the entire county, it was clearly seen as a Petaluma vs. Santa Rosa battle. The Argus charged there was a Santa Rosa "Court House Ring" behind the push for the plaza courthouse; the Democrat saw the Petaluma petition as something like an extortion threat. Other towns apparently were wishing a plague on both their houses. Should the Petaluma vote get on the ballot, the Russian River Flag warned readers to vote against separation, and that Petaluma was just making a "cats-paw of Healdsburg and northern Sonoma, to rake Petaluma’s chestnuts out of the fire" (i. e. playing them for suckers). The Flag also claimed "there are dark hints about 'jobbery,'" (a fine old word for political graft) "which should be explained in full or all proceedings stopped."  


And that's how matters stood in the midsummer of 1883. Probably everyone in the county had strong opinions concerning not only the courthouse and the petition and actions by the Supervisors, but all the deceptions and machinations - and before it was all over, Santa Rosa would be divided as well. Some of these wounds would be salved over by the time the cornerstone was laid about a year later, but before then it would get even worse. And that expensive new courthouse would soon prove to be as much of a white elephant as the rickety building it replaced.



* Thomas L. Thompson was elected California Secretary of State in November, 1882 and moved to Sacramento until he stepped down in 1886. He remained on the masthead as manager of both newspapers, but they were edited and published by veteran journalist John F. Linthicum.





Sonoma County Courthouse c. 1904 (Photo: Sonoma County Library)


A New Court House.

The new Board of Supervisors, at their first meeting last week, brought up and discussed the question of a new Court House. All the members were in favor of a new building, but its location created some little discussion. Our Supervisor, Allen, was in favor of building a new Court House, provided the citizens of Santa Rosa would donate the plaza in front of the present Court House for the purpose. We coincide with the views of Supervisor Allen...

- Petaluma Courier, January 17 1883



A New Court House.

There was an informal discussion before the Board of Supervisors on Saturday of exceeding interest to the people of Santa Rosa. As soon as the pressing business of the Board was over the newly elected Supervisor, from this district, Mr. T. J. Proctor, brought up for the purpose of getting an expression of opinion from his colleagues, the matter of the building of a new Court House. He stated briefly, but forcibly, the necessity for action in this matter at once. There could he said, be no difference of opinion as to the necessity of a new Court House; that was admitted by all. Laying aside the unsightly appearance and inadequacy of the Court House to the increasing business of the county, there was necessity for a new building to protect the records which were liable to destruction at any time from fire, having more than once narrowly escaped that calamity. Judge Morse, the Chairmen of the Board, thought that there was a necessity for a new Court House. Supervisor Allen took the floor and expressed his views at some length. He said, in substance, he would favor the project if the building could be erected on a portion of the plaza. He said that, if a new Court House was built on the plaza, the present county property could be sold for a good price and that the Hall of Records would be close at hand and would be as useful to the county as it now is. If the Court House was removed from near its present site, it would necessitate the abandonment of that structure and would greatly depreciate its value and the value of the property on which the present Court House stands, which would, of course, have to be placed on the market. His idea, if it was correctly understood by your reporter, seemed to be to build on the north-easterly half of the Plaza, leaving the south-westerly half for a Plaza or grounds which would be useful and ornamental. Mr. Proctor expressed no opinion on the question of location of the building, but reiterated his formerly expressed views of the necessity for a new building, and his desire that the matter be at once considered. There was then a general discussion on the probable cost of a new Court House and the best means of paying for its construction, if determined on. Mr. Proctor stated that he would bring the matter before the Board at the next meeting, when he hoped some definite action would be taken. From the above it will be seen that the matter of a new Court House is now a live issue and it stands our citizens in hand to supplement Supervisor Proctor in every way in their power. An active, intelligent and immediate co-operation with him is of vital importance.

- Sonoma Democrat, January 20 1883



The New Court House Proposition.

Editor Democrat: I see in your paper of yesterday, under the head "New Court House,” an article in which it seems to be generally conceded by the Honorable Board, that the County is much needing a new building, a fact which is apparent to everybody. One of the members expressed himself ready to build, provided the City would give up a portion of the Plaza for a building site. Now, Mr. Editor, I don't think that the member meant what he said. If so, the remark was evidently made without first having duly considered it. Santa Rosa has no more interest in the question of a "New Court House,” than Petaluma. Healdsburg, or any other part of the county. Then why ask Santa Rosa to donate that which is the pride of our City? and should our City obtain that size [sic] which it bids fair to in the next decade of years, it will be of more advantage than the County buildings. There seems to be an economic view also taken by the Board. They say they can sell the present location for a good figure. I would ask the Honorable Board who made the present location valuable? The people of this city who have spent their hundreds of thousands, while the County has not so much as placed a decent sidewalk in front of its property; and now comes the cool proposition: "If we will give them part of our Plaza, the pride of our City, they will sell the land that was given to the County and build a new building.” I wonder if they will give us a guarantee not to sell the other after the city has built up and made it more valuable? Mr. Editor, permit me to say that if there is never a new building for the County until it is placed on the public Plaza, by the consent of the citizens of Santa Rosa, I doubt if many of the present generation lives to see the long wished for new building.

Justice to All.

- Sonoma Democrat, January 20 1883



The local press, we are glad to observe, is unanimously in favor of the erection of a new Court House. The Flag says, "Serious attention seems about to be given by the Supervisors to the subject of a new Court House. In the Flag's humble opinion the present structure is unsafe and unsightly. It should be demolished and a pile erected suitable to so prosperous and so great a county as this — a county of the first class." The Courier heartily endorses the proposition to build, but thinks the new structure should be located in the public plaza. Our neighbor does not understand the situation. However much the City Trustees might desire to donate the plaza for that purpose, it could not be done. The plaza was deeded to the people of Sonoma county for a public plaza, the northerly half by F. G. Hahman and ----- Hahman; and the southerly half by Julio Carrillo. Julio Carrillo afterward sold his half to some one else, claiming that he never delivered the deed to it, that it was surreptitiously obtained and placed on record, and the party to whom he sold has not abandoned his claim. We are also informed that Mr. Hahman will not consent to the use of the part deeded by him for any other purpose than a public square. The title to the plaza is, in short, in a complete tangle, and it would be folly for the county to think of erecting a building there, for it would simply be an invitation for half a dozen law suits.

- Sonoma Democrat, January 20 1883



The agitation of the question of building a new Court House, by the Board of Supervisors, on Monday, has been the general topic of conversation since the facts were made known through the columns of the Democrat. The necessity of a new building is conceded by every one. On this subject there is no diversity of opinion, but the proposition to appropriate a part of the public Plaza as a site for it, does not meet with favor. A correspondent in this issue of the Democrat discusses the proposition quite fully, and perhaps at greater length than would be necessary but for the fact that it is best to have a clear understanding at the outset. The proposition emanated from a single Supervisor, and he had evidently given the subject a very superficial examination. The project is impracticable. The Plaza was set apart and given the city for the purpose to which it is applied at present, and neither the city, if so inclined, can authorize its use for another purpose, nor can the county appropriate it. But fortunately the county has ample ground, very desirably located, for all requisite purposes, — ground given it for that specific purpose if we are not mistaken. If this be true, is it not doubtful whether the county could sell it, or use it for any other purpose?

But since there is so general an agreement as to the necessity of a new Court House, our citizens should do everything in their power to sustain our Supervisor in pushing the matter to a successful issue. There ought not to be any opposition to the measure from any source, and it is possible that there will be none except as to details.

- Sonoma Democrat, January 20 1883



A Bid from Petaluma

At the meeting of the Board of Supervisors today (Tuesday) a communication was received and read from prominent citizens of Petaluma, offering to donate their city plaza, valued at $50,000, together with the sum of $100,000 in cash, to the county on condition of the Court House being removed thither. A long list of subscribers to the $100,000 fund was read, the various amounts aggregating the sum mentioned. On motion of Supervisor Allen the communication was ordered received and placed on file.

- Sonoma Democrat, February 10 1883



The New Court House Question.

Almost every grand jury that has met at Santa Rosa for years past has condemned the "old Court House" as unsafe and a disgrace to the county. The reports of the grand jury were generally approved throughout the county, and in Santa Rosa public opinion against such an unsightly pile of brick and mortar, was almost unanimous...

- Petaluma Courier, February 14 1883



How about that unsightly, rickety old tumble-down concern called a Court House at Santa Rosa. The people are getting tired of looking at it, and besides that, it is considered unsafe! Let's have a new one. Why has this agitation ceased?

- Petaluma Argus, March 3, 1883



CITY COUNCIL.

...In view of the necessity of steps being taken by the Honorable Board of Supervisors soon for the erection of suitable public buildings for the county of Sonoma and a location for its erection being the first thing in order, it is hereby resolved by the Honorable Board of Councilmen of the City of Santa Rosa, that the public Plaza of said city of Santa Rosa, or any other place they may choose to select in the city of Santa Rosa, be, and the same is, hereby tendered to said County of Sonoma for the purpose of erecting thereon suitable public buildings for said County of Sonoma.

- Sonoma Democrat, March 10 1883



THE PLAZA FOR THE COURTHOUSE.

The City Council, at its meeting Tuesday evening, adopted a resolution tendering to the County the use of the public plaza as a site for a new Court House, or any other place that the Board of Supervisors may choose to select. This tender of “any other place,” we presume, means any place over which the city has control, as it cannot present to the county the property of private citizens without their co-operation. In considering the question of location, there has been some clashing of private interests. Every owner of real estate is quite naturally alive to the importance of enhancing the value of his property. No doubt, there are citizens who would be glad to sell their property to the county at a good figure; others would be glad to have the Court House near, while perhaps others would be willing to donate sufficient ground with the expectation that the increased value of other property would repay them. This is selfish, it is true, but it is selfishness that moves the world and paves the way to Heaven. It becomes a fault only when it opposes itself unreasonably to the public welfare, and we trust there is no citizen of Santa Rosa who would allow himself to become amenable to a charge of that kind. The agitation of the new Court House question has developed one fact, we think, pretty clearly, and that is that the plaza is the only place for a site upon which there can be anything like a substantial agreement. The Board of Supervisors, we are informed desire to make that the location. The people outside of the town seem to want it there, and apart from some interested real estate owners, the people of the city appear to be favorable to it. If the selection of a site were left to those who want it elsewhere, they could not agree. One would be in favor of this location and another of that, and hence we believe to locate the Court House in the plaza would give more general satisfaction to that class even than if put somewhere else. In view of all the circumstances, therefore, we believe the City Council has acted wisely in tendering to the county the use of the plaza, and, after all that has been said, we do not believe the objections to it are as serious as some of our citizens have been inclined to believe.

- Sonoma Democrat, March 10 1883



REMOVING THE COUNTY SEAT.

There is a little army of capitalists in our neighboring town of Petaluma, that are bent on having a Court House. Nothing will satisfy their cravings but a new Court House with an iron dog on the step and a weather sign on top. They sign any subscription that comes along and in amount of hundreds of thousands if necessary. They hold a full hand and would sooner bet on a new Court House coming to Petaluma than on four aces. They will subscribe any amount, sign any petition, and smile a Santa Rosa man out of his boots. Now that this fuss and flurry is going on, it is just as well to say right here that the people of Sonoma county will never vote to place the county seat in an off corner of the county, and outside of the immediate vicinity of Petaluma, nobody wants it there. The people of Petaluma propose to pay tor the new buildings necessary. This is a bribe offered the voters as an inducement to make them vote the county seat from Santa Rosa to Petaluma. If an election were held, and two-thirds of the people should vote to change the county seat on this proposition the election would be null and void on the grounds of this offer. This is against public policy. The Courts have decided this question. The result is that Petaluma can never get the county seat - no matter how much they offer. Another agreement proposed is to divide the county, giving Healdsburg also a Court House. Now it is just as well to say that dividing the county is simply out of the question. It can't be done. There is no law provided for it. Then there is the bonded debt that would have to be apportioned, the records would have to be transcribed anew — one set going to one county and the other to the other. A thousand other difficulties will arise. There is no machinery of law to carry out the details; so the best thing for the people of Sonoma county to do is to set down on this changing the county seat business.
JONITA.

- Sonoma Democrat, March 31 1883



A CANDID STATEMENT.

For some years it has been well known that the present Court House building was not adequate to the business demands of a rapidly increasing population, and still more rapidly multiplying Court records. Greater safety is demanded, especially for the records of the former Probate Court and its successor, the probate department of the Superior Court which form a link in the chain of title to almost every piece of property in the county. It cannot be denied that these important records, and others scarcely less so, are in a very exposed condition. In case of a fire in or near the Court House their loss would be almost certain. In view of these facts and the successive recommendations of several grand juries, the subject of a new Court House was brought before the Board of Supervisors. Santa Rosa, as a city, was not especially interested in bringing up the question. It came about in furtherance of the often expressed wishes of citizens from all parts of the county. When the matter was brought up the people of this city very naturally took interest in it and endeavored, by all means in their power, to conform to the wishes of the Board of Supervisors who represent the people at large. The City Council and our citizens generally considered that the members of the Board were unbiased judges of the question of location and in that spirit offered any building site the Board might select, without regard to their own views or wishes. The matter was brought up informally before the Board and a general expression of opinion was made by the members, each one expressing himself in favor of building a new Court House in Santa Rosa provided the city would donate for that purpose the public plaza. Supervisor Allen, of Petaluma, committing himself as fully to this as any other member of the Board. This took place at the February term of the Board. The Mayor of Santa Rosa, J. P. Clark, was present at the time of this expression of opinion, and said in effect that he would at once take steps to convene the Council, and that he would do what he could to satisfy the expressed wish of the Board, and would give them a definite answer as soon as he could get it from his colleagues. With this understanding the matter was laid over until the March meeting. At that meeting Mayor Clark appeared before the Board with the written consent of the City Council giving by unanimous vote all right, title and interest the city might have to the plaza for the erection of the proposed building. Supervisor Allen, notwithstanding his public declaration that he only asked the city to surrender her title to the plaza, made, as Mayor Clark and others supposed, in good faith and carried out on the part of the city in good faith, at once introduced a series of dilatory and evasive motions, one of which was that a day should be set at the April meeting of the Board when the citizens of Petaluma could be heard on a proposition which they had made to donate their plaza and a certain sum of money to build a Court House in that city. This motion was an idle one as the Board had no power to build a Court House any where else than at the county seat, no matter what sum was contributed, and it was simply a waste of time and money to set down for hearing by the Board a matter over which it had no jurisdiction. A county seat can only be changed by a two thirds vote of all the voters of the county, and until so removed, to entertain a proposition of building a Court House elsewhere than at the County seat is a legislative absurdity. The motion of the Supervisor from Petaluma accomplished its object, not, however, without a sacrifice of honesty of purpose in the minds of all candid persons who heard his open and unsolicited declaration at the February meeting of the Board. The hidden object of the Supervisor was delay, that a petition might be circulated calling for a vote on a removal of the county seat to the town that gentleman represents Petaluma. The petition has been circulated and runners sent out over the county to build up a prejudice against Santa Rosa, with a promise at the extreme ends of the county of its ultimate division and two county seats and two sets of county officers, which means double taxation and more debt. In this equivocal manner the scheme for a division of the county was set afloat, it started with bad faith on the part of its originators and it will end in their entire confusion.

In the local jealousy, if such exists, between Petaluma and Santa Rosa, the people of the county at large have no part or parcel. If one populous county with a greater subdivision of the expense of government is better than two small ones with increased taxation, they will, of course decide in favor of one county, and no sophistical reasoning can induce them to do otherwise, whether they vote on the proposition next week, next month or next year, or in the next five years.

So far as this city is concerned it has the friendliest feelings toward Petaluma. For our part we are proud of its growth and prosperity. As for Santa Rosa, we have no fear of its future. In 1870 it was an insignificant village of less than 900 inhabitants; in 1880 it had nearly 4,000 and at this time the number is nearer five than four thousand. It is the geographical center of the county, the agricultural and manufacturing center and its growth could not be impeded by the local jealousy of Petaluma, even if such a feeling existed. We are far from believing it does exist in a majority of the people of that city, but there are a few persons there who are never so happy as when they can make themselves conspicuous. To their love of notoriety is due the bringing up at this time of the question of a division of the county.

- Sonoma Democrat, March 31 1883



A Santa Rosian [sic] who visited Petaluma last week on his return home reported to the Democrat that it would require a step-ladder to reach our court-house plaza. When the gentleman was here he tried to walk up the five steps from Main street to the plaza above the wall, but his legs were so infernally tired that he couldn't make the landing. He had been floundering around that sink hole in the center of his own town so long, that he couldn't appreciate an elevation of a few feet.

- Petaluma Courier, April 4, 1883



Division of the County!
PETALUMA AND HEALDSBURG TO BECOME COUNTY SEATS —WHOOP !
THE REQUISITE NUMBER OF SIGNATURES SURE TO BE OBTAINED.

A correspondent in the Petaluma Courier says :

"There is not much doubt but that a petition with the requisite number of names for the submission of the County-Seat question to the people will be presented to the Board of Supervisors."

With regard to the necessary cost of a court-house, it is seated that the imposing structure at San Rafael a building in every way suitable to the purpose, cost but $75,000; and referring to the expenses of fitting up new county-seats, the Courier has the following: Petaluma will donate her plaza, and furthermore offers $150,000 besides, which will build a magnificent court house, combining a splendid jail, hall of records and all the offices complete. And Petaluma will do more, and in order to comprehend every possible expense, will defray her part of the few thousands of dollars it will cost to copy the records. And Healdsburg proposes and will do the same...Each distinct county government could actually be run cheaper than half the total cost annually of the present county government: and it can be demonstrated by comparison with a dozen other counties in the State — some smaller and others less compact, and all having smaller population than either of the two proposed counties, many of which were blessed with a smaller tax rate than Sonoma last year.

Just think of it! Healdsburg to become a county-seat. What shall we call the new counties? Where shall we locate all the lawyers’ offices? The Bank of Healdsburg building will have to be run up another story or two and a patent Hinckley elevator put in. We presume we shall have to run the Flag building up some and put in a steam elevator, and steam engine and presses, at the same time. The court-house must have four fronts, you know, because the four sides of the plaza, all filled with beautiful stores, will demand it: one front must face our way, sure. Won’t the building look fine, with a dome like the State Capitol, and the stars and stripes floating from the loftiest pinnacle; of course!

- Russian River Flag, April 5 1883



After all, perhaps we’d better let Petaluma have the county seat. A gentleman who claims to know states that the Sheriff’s records prove that more criminals come from our southern neighbor than any other three towns in the county. They all have to be transported here at the public expense, and it would perhaps be cheaper to move the Court House and jail thither. Then there wouldn’t be such a decrease in Petaluma’s population every time the court meets.

- Sonoma Democrat, April 7 1883



THE DIVISION. - It is only a question of time when the county of Sonoma will be divided. It would be cheaper to divide it now while we can get a new Court House in each county without cost to the tax-payers.

- Petaluma Argus, April 14, 1883



SANTA ROSA'S GENEROSITY

The city of Santa Rosa has very generously offered to donate her fine plaza to the county if the Supervisors will erect a suitable Court House thereon. We are informed by Major James Singley, of this city, that the plaza already belonged to the county, and that he was present when Julio Carrillo donated it to the county. The city of Santa Rosa has been taking care of the plaza for some years past, and has taken good care of it, too, for it is one of the finest little parks in the county. We have also heard it stated, on what we consider reliable authority, that when the plaza was donated by the successors in interest of Mr. Carrillo, it was done with the understanding that it was to be used as a public plaza, or park, and not for any other purpose. In view of this, would it not be well for the Supervisors to ascertain to a certainty about the title before they expend the first installment of $80,000. The claimants to the plaza would, as a matter of course, remain very quiet while a big, fine building was going up on their property - or, in other words, upon property they claim will revert to them when used for any purpose other than that of a plaza. Of course, we very much desire to have the Court House down here, but if we can't get it Santa Rosa will do pretty well, but we protest against building even an $80,000 house on somebody's land, who will want it just as soon as the last coat of paint is put on.

- Petaluma Argus, April 14, 1883



ON THE WAR PATH.

It is now perfectly evident that the Court House Ring in Santa Rosa is afraid to trust the people with a vote on the county seat question. An agent from that town appeared in Healdsburg this week and “opened the sack,” but found no takers. He offered the signers of the petition one dollar each if they would take their names off! The proposition was indignantly spurned by the signers...They have started in too late. Our petition is out of the woods! Save your "sack" for the election. You will need it then. We will give that "boss" at Santa Rosa a chance to bleed, who says he has nothing to give for a Court House, but has $10,000 to put up to beat Petaluma...

- Petaluma Argus, April 21, 1883



Petaluma is making the county-seat question hotter than ever. It says the recent action of the Board in ordering a new Court House had no force whatever, and that at the next meeting the requisite number of names will be had and a petition presented, praying the Board to grant an election for selection of site for the Court-House, which it will he bound to respect. In and about Healdsburg the petition is being generally signed, and the protest from Santa Rosa, in the hands of solicitors, is a failure. We do not know of their obtaining a single signature. The protest we saw certainly had none upon it, although the solicitor had been around some time. We have one word of advice to offer, and it is this; Before our people finally vote for division, let them be certain that Healdsburg will become the county-seat of the new county. The present agitation is a perfectly selfish one in all respects, and unless Healdsburg and northern Sonoma can be benefitted by it, we urge every voter to emphatically set down on all efforts to involve us all in the interminable confusion, in general, and entire wreckage of Santa Rosa in particular, to follow the removal of the county-seat to Petaluma. Thus far, the whole aspect of the affair seems to be to make a cats-paw of Healdsburg and northern Sonoma, to rake Petaluma’s chestnuts out of the fire; and unless our leading citizens organize and take steps to direct public sentiment aright, we advise here and now, that when the matter comes to a vote, the removal matter be absolutely and unanimously sat down upon. We have had our fun and put forth our chaff in this matter heretofore, but now that it is assuming a serious aspect, we venture this paragraph of warning.

- Russian River Flag, April 26 1883



The Petaluma Court House.

Mo and our Samantha went to Petalumar in sarch of the keounty-seat. When we drove down thru Healdsburg we stopped at the post orifice, wich is tended by Jurdan, to ask the way. He’s a shinin lite and a very Sivil Sarvice Reformer. He reformed Wright out of his plais, and is actin’ as a finger bored pintin’ to Washinton and Petalumar. Suckses to Jurdan and Reform — as long as he stays reformed.

 Wen we ambled across the crick approchin the new keounty-seat the plase, like some other korporate dignitaries, sort of presented its wust aspect to the view. Thar wuz skattered, permisquous like, sum mity mean looking tenamints along the mud fiats; and Samantha sez to me, sez she: “What Butchertown is this, Dad?”

 Sez I; This is one of the scrubs of the sitty, and they call it “Upper Hog Thief.”

 By’m by we jolted along over the stones so we culd see part way down Mane street, to the first crook. There wuz several tomb stone shops on each side, and a cheerful view of the salt mash to be seen in the near future. Perceeding along karefuly we found Mane street the wust piece of road on the jurney. Big bowlders clogged it and the ground was sidelin and sticky as if Natur had spewed up the town site sumtime when mity sick at the stumick, and then tried to hide it by scratchin a litter of houses on it.

 Sez I: “That’s the plaza, Samantha.”

 Says she: “That high bluff of bed rock the plaza? Well, I should snicker right out. Ugh!”

 Skudder, Dinwiddie & Co., and all the real estate benefactors an’ offis hunters stood round, expectant like, on the korners wearin’ a be9 smile of welkum. For it is the day of small things.

“Yes," says I to Samantha, “that’s the plaza; but I don’t see the Kourt House. I feel like I smelled suthin, though.”

Sez she: “Fox the finder, Daddy.”

Sez I: “It’s net kolone, Samantha. It’s that blarsted crick. Don’t you smell the brine and the mud flats?”

“You bet,” sez she. Kounty seat! Why the sight aint fit for it. The laziest thief would break jail to get away from Petalumar.”

Sez I: “Korrect, Samantha.”

Specs. Cloverdale.

- Sonoma Democrat, April 28 1883



BOARD OF SUPERVISORS.

[..]

At 11:20 it was determined to consider the plans of such architects as were present. Among them are Kenitzer & Raum, William Patton, Newsom & Gash, Thos. D. Newsom, R. H. Daley, S. and J. C. Newsom, McDougall & Son, and Curtis & Bennett. R. H. Daley was the first one called upon, and he exhibited plans of a building three stories in height, 120 feet in length and breadth, and 120 feet from the base to the top of the dome...

...B. McDougall & Son presented one of the general plans of those preceding, with two stories and a basement. Sheriff’s office, cells and apartments for various purposes in the basement...Kenitzer & Raum next presented their plan...T. D. Newsom presented a plan of the Court House at Oakland on a smaller scale. He placed the Sheriff's office and jail on the basement floor and proposed to heat the entire building by steam. Had plans for an elevator in the rear for the purpose of conveying prisoners to the court room in such a manner as to preclude the possibility of escape...S. and J. C. Newsom presented plans... Messrs. Newsom & Gash presented their plan next. It provides for a passage way on a level with the ground all the way through the basement, and for a floor two feet in height on either side. The basement story is provided with cells and the Sheriff’s office, and is very completely divided off into apartments for females, insane persons, etc...Wm. Patton was the last architect that presented a plan at this session...Messrs. Bennett & Curtis having shipped their plans by express, and they having failed to come to hand, the Board decided to defer the further consideration of this matter until to-morrow morning.

[..]

 On Wednesday morning the gavel of the chairman fell at 9:20. The Supervisors’ room presented the appearance of a cross between a school of design and an art gallery. On every available space on the walls the competing architects had spread their designs, plans, outlines, in pencil, ink, or in crayon, in frames, without frames, and the atmosphere was filled with a confused sound of “outline," "cell-rooms,” “designs." A number of well executed outlines in frames hung back of chairman's desk, and from the criticisms we heard, our citizens have developed intb art and architectural critics of no mean talent. Messrs. Bennett & Curtis of San Francisco, presented a set of elaborate plans, and explained them fully. Like all those that proceeded it, it is for two stories and a basement, and differs from some others in the fact that the Surveyor’s, Treasurer’s and Sheriff’s offices are all in the basement. Supervisors’ room, the offices of the Assessor, Clerk, District Attorney, School Superintendent and the Judges’ chambers on the second floor, third floor is occupied by the two Court rooms, one of which is 87x57 and the other 33x39, the jury rooms and the Hall of Records, The length of building is about 100 feet.

 The designs all being in, Supervisor Allen suggested that the best plan to pursue would be to select a committee of disinterested persons and in conference decide upon the merits of the plans. That considerable had been said in relation to the opposition s»f the section that he represented to the erection of a Court House here, but that this feeling woald not affect the action of the Board at all, and that the plan or some plan would be adopted, that the location of the Court House was an after consideration but that a plan that would be a credit to the county wherever erected should be selected, and that to do this the Board should not act hastily but select only after mature deliberation. Mr. Proctor thought that the idea of having a conference committee an excellent ene, and thought that they could select the plan before to-morrow night.

 Mr. Allen thought that one day was not sufficient time for such deliberation, that one week or two weeks might be well occupied with such deliberation. That it would be a good idea for the Board to visit the new court houses erected in neighboring counties add inspect their workings. That it had been rumored on the street that himself and the District Attorney intended to obstruct the adoption of plans, and he would take this occasion to deny this... This gave Mr. Allen the opportunity to remark that that was his principles; that on this committee there should be no interested parties, no one from Petaluma, Santa Rosa, or from any other part of the county, so that when the plans were finally adopted no one coaid say that some one bad an axe to grind in the matter...

 ... Mr. Morse responded, in other words to get some one outside the county to tell us what we want.

 Mr. Houser said the people had sufficient confidence in the seven men constituting the Board to allow them to decide this question, and that the architects could explain the plans better than anyone else.

 Mr. Proctor would just as lief take the architects statements as anyones, let them come in one at a time and explain their designs. Mr. Houser felt the same about the matter. Mr. Allen thought that to bar the architects from explaining would be an unjust discrimination. After a little more informal discussion, Mr. Proctor moved that at 1PM they commence with the architects as they did before and let them come in in the same order and each one fully explain his plan.

- Sonoma Democrat, May 12 1883



THE PLAN ADOPTED. — We hare already referred briefly to the plans proposed in our report of the proceedings of the Board of Supervisors, and now that they have made a selection, a more completely detailed description will not be out of place. The original plan will be modified in some respects, and we will note all the changes as they occur. The plan offered in competition by Messrs. Curtis & Bennett was similar to the others in that it provided for a building consisting of two stories and a basement, but differing materially from all the others in the location of the offices, and this difference was most marked in the fact that it placed the Judges’ chambers on a different floor to that on which the Superior Court rooms were located. In their plans, the following are located in the basement...

On the first floor...

On the second floor ...

Col. A. A. Bennett, the senior member of the successful firm, has resided on this coast since 1849, and has always held a prominent place in his profession, and has drawn the plans for, and superintended the erection of a large number of public buildings. Among them are the following court houses: Woodland, Yolo county, Modesto, Stanislaus county, Merced City, Merced county, Fresno, Fresno county, Bakersfield, Kern county, Visalia, Tulare county. He superintended the work and drew the plans when the old State Capitol building at Sacramento was changed into the County court house, planned and superintended the changes made in the Tehama county court house at Red Bluff; was associate architect at the time the present State Capitol building was erected at Sacramento; drew the plans for the proposed Governor’s mansion, which is now used as the State Printing office; the plans of the Golden Eagle, Capitol, Arcade and International Hotels at Sacramento were executed by him; the Mechanics Art College at Berkeley, the workshops and iron cells at San Quentin were also planned by him, and be also superintended the completion of the Folsom prison, making numerous changes and alterations in the original plans.

- Sonoma Democrat, May 19 1883



The Court House Excitement.

The Court House question is still very important, and the following from the Petaluma Courier is not without interest:

Parties here, knowing something of architecture, make serious objections to the plan adopted by the Board of Supervisors for the new Court House. It is entirely too small for the purposes of a large county like Sonoma, and rooms for the different departments are not conveniently located for the public’s use. Notwithstanding the fact that our petition for a vote on the county seat relocation subject still circulates with a fair prospect of soon having upon it more than a majority of the electors of the county. Our citizens feel an interest in the new Court House wherever it is located and don't want a bad or unsatisfactory job made of it. Seventy-five or eighty thousand dollars will not be sufficient to construct a building suitable for the wants of this county. It will take a hundred thousand dollars at least. The offer of the people of Petaluma was to put up a hundred-thousand-dollar building and they will do it if it will bring the county seat here. Santa Rosa will be largely benefited by retaining the county seat and under the circumstances should do something towards building the new capitol. They have offered as we understand, to give the plaza and pay $50,000 for the old Court House, the Hall of Records and the lots upon which they stand. Leading citizens here, with whom we have conversed, will oppose with energy any sale of the Hall of Records property. It is well adapted for the purposes intended, cost a large sum of money and is more convenient of access and roomy in every respect than any hall that could be set apart for record purposes in the new building. The old Court House property is worth from $25,000 to $35,000. If the citizens of Santa Rosa will guarantee to the county to take it at a fair figure, this added to seventy or eighty thousand dollars to be raised by taxation would, properly expended, be sufficient to construct a building worthy of the county. Our petition will be ready for presentation at the next meeting of the Board of Supervisors, and whatever the good people of Santa Rosa propose to do, if anything, had better be made known before that time.

- Russian River Flag, May 31 1883



On motion of Mr. Ellis, in the matter of percentage to be allowed to the architects, Messrs. Curtis & Bennett, (whose plans for a Court House for Sonoma county have been adopted) it is now therefore the expression of this Board that they will not allow the architects as superintendent of construction of said building, if the same shall be constructed, a percentage greater than five per cent, on the cost of said building, and said percentage shall include the cost for plans and specifications and detail drawings necessary for the completion of said building.

- Sonoma Democrat, June 6 1883



The Court House question has progressed as far as the examination of the specifications. There are dark hints about “jobbery” already in the matter, which should be explained in full or all proceedings stopped. The Petaluma petition is quiet.

- Russian River Flag, July 12 1883


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