Should you find yourself in 1876 Santa Rosa, don't expect too much. The pretty little courthouse in Courthouse Square wasn't yet built; neither was the McDonald mansion. It was a frontier village of no particular interest except for one thing - it had the only iron bridge in the West.

I don't usually give away the ending of an article, but bridges aren't the most riveting topic for most, and I fear Gentle Reader might otherwise drift off to other entertainments. So here's my Executive Summary:

Santa Rosa's current downtown plan calls for demolishing the city hall complex and restoring Santa Rosa Creek to a natural condition. With the creek exposed the roadway will have to be rebuilt as a bridge. It would be appropriate to model it's appearance after the "Iron Bridge," Santa Rosa's most famous 19th century landmark and early tourist attraction.

When the Iron Bridge was built the local newspaper commented that Santa Rosa was "a city of bridges." Today there are dozens of places where city streets cross over our many creeks. If the city is serious about creek restoration, it could re-embrace that old slogan and draw better attention to the more important bridges that stretch above them.

Until the first train entered town in 1871 and stopped at today’s Railroad Square, travel to Petaluma and points south could be iffy during bad winters.

The first bridge over Santa Rosa Creek was built in 1859, after a year of twisting arms at the Board of Supervisors - they didn't want to spend any money on "improvement" until the county was completely debt-free (oh, how things have changed).

Up to that point, there were fords on the creek where the banks were worn down enough for a wagon or stagecoach to cross the usually shallow waterway. Even after that first bridge was built, attorney T. J. Butts recalled some avoided using it:

I was in Santa Rosa when the first iron bridge in the state was built over the creek on Main Street. It had been the custom up to that time for farmers to drive down the bank and ford the creek when coming to town instead of crossing the old wooden bridge. When the matter of building the new bridge came up before the Board of Supervisors, one old gentleman, who was a well-known man in this town and was a trustee of one of the colleges here went before the Board to protest against the bridge, and in his speech he said: “We don’t need no bridge and if you put that bridge thar, whar are ye goin’ to set yer tire, and whar are you goin’ to water yer critter?”

The Santa Rosa newspaper assured readers the wooden bridge was high enough "the water can never actually rise to the bridge." They were wrong. Two years later in 1861, a big storm took out the middle pilings causing a dangerous sag, while approaches on both sides were washed away. The same thing happened again in 1864.

A replacement was built in 1865 and the Sonoma Democrat promised it would be a "bridge that will withstand the floods, and be an ornament to the place rather than an 'eye sore,' such as was the old one." But wooden bridge II had its own problems and by 1868 it was also unsafe, the deck having holes and planks worn thin.

Each round of repairs cost nearly as much as (and in one case, possibly more than) the cost of building a new bridge. And after Santa Rosa was officially incorporated in 1868 the question of who owned the bridge was first raised; neither the town nor the county wanted to pay for expensive maintenance and repairs. A judge finally decreed that it belonged to the town in 1875, after the Petaluma road was reborn as "Santa Rosa Avenue" and new additions on the other side of the creek were unofficially dubbed “South Santa Rosa." (I swear, if there's ever a version of Trivial Pursuit Santa Rosa, I'm gonna slap a paywall on pages like this and really clean up.)

By then the bridge was in such rough shape only pedestrians were allowed, the horse-drawn traffic going over the new (1872) bridge on Third street just west of the railroad tracks. While Santa Rosa was hand-wringing over what to do about repairs, into town came Mr. R. Higgins, a salesman with impeccable timing.



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 eyewitness heard the first shot and turned to look up the side street. He saw the doctor standing on the sidewalk and pointing his pistol at a man across a backyard fence as more shots were fired in rapid succession. The victim slumped to the ground while the doctor pocketed the gun and headed downtown. Someone who passed him thought he was whistling.

This unfortunate event happened on a cool April evening in 1900, near the corner of (modern day) Seventh and Mendocino. The shooter was Dr. Samuel S. Bogle, a 32 year-old physician who had been in Santa Rosa less than two years. The victim was James M. Miller, a Civil War veteran aged 60 who owned a paint and wallpaper store across from the courthouse.

Neighbors who heard the shots rushed to help Miller, carrying him into his house. "I'm done for, I'm done for," Miller said. "Why should a man treat me like that after what I've done for him? If I get up out of this I'll fix him." 

 By this time, the eyewitness had reached the office of Dr. Jesse a couple of blocks away. When the doctor was told the shooting involved Bogle and Miller he presumed it was Bogle who had been shot - Miller had blabbing all over town that he was going to "fix" Bogle for not paying a bill.

 Meanwhile, Bogle had arrived at the sheriff's office, where he went to surrender and turn over his gun. No deputies were present at the time so he gave himself up to the county jail's cook. He also visited his lawyer (a former state senator) and by the end of the evening was arraigned and freed on $10,000 bail.

 On the advice of his attorney Bogle didn't speak to reporters, but the Press Democrat still cobbled together a story which was summarized by the San Francisco papers and wire services.

The PD wrote that Bogle passed Miller's sideyard as he was walking downtown after supper. (Bogle and Miller were next door neighbors, a coincidence which had nothing to do with the bad blood between them.) Miller was outside and saw him. Insults were passed and Miller rushed toward the gate with a knife in his hand. Bogle pulled his gun and fired, striking Miller twice.

Dr. Jesse told the paper Miller was expected to survive. He had a flesh wound on a forearm and the other bullet hit the middle of his left hip, passing between the tail bone and top of the femur before exiting the other side above his groin. 

But Dr. Jesse was wrong. Miller died three days later of peritonitis, the bullet having punctured his intestines. Bogle was rearrested and charged with murder.


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


- Jeff Elliott

It was like winning the Sweepstakes, or maybe better - Luther Burbank was being asked if he would like to hang out with the most famous man in the world.

"We would appreciate it very much if you would consent to head a Committee to go to Sacramento, to greet Mr. Edison and escort him to San Francisco," the letter read. "We believe that nothing could be more fitting than that the Wizard of the West should extend welcome and greeting to the Wizard of the East on his visit to California."

The odd wording might have caused Burbank to wonder if it was a prank, and a followup note would ask him to also meet with the Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion. But it was from the San Francisco Examiner, and closed with "...Of course, it is understood that you will be the guest of The Examiner' in so far as all the expenses are concerned." Oh, Luther, you lucky duck - it had been a long time since he had been offered something without being expected to make a "donation" in return.

Burbank accepted the offer immediately, writing back "Mr. Edison and myself have been long distance friends for some time," which was a little white lie. While Burbank may well have mentioned the inventor at some point, there's no record of any prior correspondence between them in either the Burbank or Edison archives.

It was October, 1915, near the end of what was otherwise a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad year for Burbank. Although it was not yet publicly known, both the Burbank seed company and Burbank Press were teetering on bankruptcy due to inept management, and after having exploited his name to peddle worthless stock to Sonoma County residents and others. His future was far from secure and it was possible he might have to sell his precious farms as well as the rights to every plant he still owned. If you don't know that part of the Burbank story or need a refresher, see "THE UNDOING OF LUTHER BURBANK, PART III."

Burbank was to escort Edison to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) - the world's fair in San Francisco whose legacy can still be seen in the Palace of Fine Arts. He had a small role in the fair's creation, having been among the hundred notable men who were part of a 1912 junket to Vancouver and back, promoting the upcoming event at all major cities along the way. (He was toasted at a banquet but told the audience he wasn’t much of a speaker unless the topic was about something like “spuds.”)

At the expo he had been honored with a designated "Luther Burbank Day" - although it wasn't the spotlight some of his biographers have suggested. June 5 was also "Denmark Day" and "American Library Association Day." Burbank received a commemorative plaque and a few speeches were made at a reception in the Horticultural Palace. So all in all, "Luther Burbank Day" was more like the "Luther Burbank Hour" and thousands of little flower seed packets were donated to the PPIE to give away to visitors.

The Examiner had no role in luring Edison to the expo, and hustling Burbank to Sacramento to intercept the train for the "wizard meets wizard" moment was the newspaper's clever way of getting its nose into the tent. Hearst's paper dominated coverage of Edison's four days in San Francisco to the extent that Gentle Reader would be forgiven for believing they were behind the visit and all related events at the fair. They even printed Burbank's letter agreeing to meet Edison's train, which gave Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley a case of the vapors because the letterhead revealed Burbank lived in Santa Rosa. "Both this city and Sonoma county gets notice which is read probably by a quarter of a million people regarding location of wizard’s home," he gushed.

Burbank must have cringed reading that; more than anything else he wanted to be left alone, but almost daily was already besieged by tourists seeking to meet the "wizard."

The Chamber of Commerce and Finley were surprisingly insensitive to Burbank's plight in the run-up to the PPIE. While the Burbank seed company was planning on advertising “Luther Burbank’s Exhibition Garden” near Hayward specifically to attract fans there instead of making a trek to Santa Rosa, the PD was ready to exploit him as a tourist attraction: "many hundreds of strangers will come within our gates, lured here by the fact that Santa Rosa is the home and work place of the greatest of scientific horticulturists, Luther Burbank..."

Given Burbank's desire to keep out of the limelight and people from tramping around in his experimental gardens, he sent a most unexpected telegram to the PD once Edison arrived:

San Francisco, Oct. 18. Herbert Slater. Santa Rosa: Mr. and Mrs. Edison and sister, and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford will visit Santa Rosa, if possible, on Friday. No bands; no racket. They wish to come quietly. Luther Burbank."

The Chamber and Finley ignored their wishes, of course, and began planning a blowout reception.

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

- Jeff Elliott

Santa Rosa is tinkering with Fourth street again, hoping to keep its moribund business district from completely withering away during the Age of Coronavirus. The latest effort is to close off traffic on the 500 and 700 blocks (but not the 600 block), allowing restaurants and bars to setup more outside tables. The city will keep the blocks closed at least until January 31, 2021 but according to the PD, over 70% of the businesses on those blocks want the street closure to be permanent.

Go back about four decades, however, and tell people that Santa Rosa was going to block cars from Fourth street in 2020 and expect surprised reactions - because they would have expected the city had already done that.

Our story begins almost exactly 45 years ago in 1975, as the City Council clears the last major obstacle to final planning for the Santa Rosa Plaza Mall. The city would allow the developer to sink Third street so part of the shopping center could be built above it while lower Fifth street and A street would be folded into the mall plans. The matter of a Fourth street passageway between B street and Railroad Square was still unsettled - that's a major story by itself and will be handled in a future article.

As much of the money to pay for that would come from the federal government, the Housing and Urban Development Dept. (HUD) had to give its blessing to the project. Its report from earlier that same year declared the mall would be generally a good thing for Santa Rosa, but there was concern that having it downtown could suck the life out of the existing business district: "...the older area could lose business, tenants would move elsewhere and the decline of another area of Santa Rosa would begin, possibly recreating a situation similar to that which necessitated urban renewal in the first place."

To mitigate those concerns, the city and the Downtown Development Association - DDA to its friends - hired a respected San Francisco urban planning company, EDAW Inc. Their mission was to create "a complete, cohesive physical design plan" to "provide the necessary linkage" between the mall and the downtown core. So once again it was time to play Let's Redesign Downtown - that ever-popular game in the 1960s that had enriched many out-of-town consultants. (Those layouts were discussed here in the series, "YESTERDAY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.")

Given what they had to work with, their redesign was innovative. Like earlier plans there was an emphasis on streetscaping with lots of trees (primarily plums and magnolias). There was far more parking than we have today and it envisioned a free "people mover" shuttle looping continually between the garages and the stores.

But the highlight was turning Fourth street into a "meandering semi-mall" closed to traffic except for the people mover. Riley street would also become pedestrian only.



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.

There's a tale Bill Soberanes loved to tell in his Argus-Courier columns that went something like this:

During Prohibition a lawyer was defending a man accused of bootlegging. When the prosecutor introduced a bottle of the moonshine as evidence the lawyer picked it up, put it to his lips and drank it dry. "That wasn't whiskey," he told the court. Case dismissed for lack of evidence.

Odds of that story being true are probably nil (or at least, I can't find anything close to it in the newspapers of the day) but it's the kind of thing people liked to say about Gil P. Hall. Most often he was called some riff on being "a colorful character" and people meant that in a nice way. During the 1910s and 1920s he was the top defense attorney in Sonoma county and rarely lost in court, particularly if it involved a jury trial. He was such a legal hotshot that courtrooms were packed when he defended a high-profile case. "There was only one Gil Hall, and I don't think there will ever be another like him," said the last surviving pre-Prohibition Petaluma bar owner in 1967. "Some of his cases would make Perry Mason look very tame."

In the 1920s Hall defended so many liquor scofflaws that he had a reputation as being the bootlegger's lawyer, but that's not really fair - it seems he took on any and all. While he's best known for high-profile cases his bread and butter was mundane legal work - representing people seeking a divorce, handling probate paperwork, and arguing a farmer had a right to dig a culvert under a county road.

He won an acquittal for Fannie Brown, who was charged with running a "house of ill-fame" at First and C streets in Petaluma. In the murder trial of two doctors charged with the death of a woman from an abortion ("the illegal operation") the courtroom spectators burst into prolonged applause when the jury found them innocent. Even when he lost he usually managed to salvage some kind of victory. The owner of Speedway Hotel in Cotati was caught red-handed selling 72 proof jackass brandy ("with a trace of fuel oil") and had to pay a fine, but Hall blocked the government from shutting down his business - which continued to be busted for selling hootch year after year.

A man who knew him, Petaluma Justice of the Peace Rolland Webb, said "he won most of his cases by outsmarting the young lawyers who came up against him," so it's a pity the newspapers didn't write up some of his Perry Mason-y courtroom arguments. The one sample we have comes from an unusual case - the county election of 1926.



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.

Santa Rosa made national news in the days after Christmas, 1894. Hundreds of newspapers nationwide, from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to the Wah-shah-she News in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, ran a wire story that began this way:

Santa Rosa, Cal., Dec. 28.—Santa Rosa had the biggest sensation in its history today. The county treasury was robbed of nearly $8000 and County Treasurer Stofen was left insensible in the vault to suffocate by the robbers, who locked the door of the vault on him. The robbery occurred about 9 o'clock this morning, but was not discovered until about 5 o'clock this afternoon. All this time Treasurer Stofen lay on the floor of tbe vault gasping for breath, fearing every moment during conscious intervals would be his last.

Stofen told reporters the next day that he had opened his office at the county courthouse as usual on Dec. 28 and was bringing coin trays out of the vault (it was 1894, remember, and "money" meant gold and silver coins, not greenback dollars). Suddenly there was a man in front of him holding a large dagger. "Drop that money," he ordered. The 58 year-old Stofen put the tray on the table and either was struck on the head or fainted. The next thing he knew was waking up to discover he was locked in the vault.

"I pounded on the door, but of course no one could hear me," he told reporters. He knew there was a faint draught at the bottom of the door and lay with his face near it. He passed out again.

Meanwhile, his two kids stop by at noon to drop off his lunch. Not finding dad in the office and the door locked, they hung around waiting for him. A man from San Francisco wanted to make a payment and was annoyed to find the office closed, as he did not want to make another trip to Santa Rosa. The sheriff - whose office was next door - suggested he give the money to Stofen's 18 year-old daughter which he did, since it's 1894 and you can trust a teenager you don't know with making cash deposits and I wish we were all living back then.

In the middle of the afternoon Mrs. Stofen drops by the office after a day trip to Cloverdale. Finding his lunch outside the door, she goes home, fearing he might be ill. Not finding him there either, she rushes back to the courthouse and learns no one had seen him since morning. She has the janitor open the door and finds the office in disarray. "Then I screamed and immediately heard knocks coming from the vault," she told the SF Examiner.

She tries the combination of the vault, since it's 1894, of course the wife of the country treasurer knows the combination and is the only other person who does. It doesn't work. She tries again, and this time the door opens. “When we got Mr. Stofen out,” the janitor told the Sonoma Democrat, “he looked pale and much prostrated. The meeting between Mr. and Mrs. Stofen was one of the most painful things I ever saw in all my life.”



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.

In the beginning there was Ernest L. Finley. He bought the old Sonoma Democrat in 1897, merged it with his own newspaper, the Evening Press, becoming the owner, editor and publisher of the new Press Democrat.

That's the version of the paper's beginnings as told on the PD's "about" page, on Wikipedia, by the Northern California Media Museum and in various columns and feature items published in the paper over the last 75-odd years.

Trouble is, that's not actually true. The new paper was a partnership, and Finley wasn't even the key player - he was one of two business managers. The founding editor and the person greatly responsible for the Press Democrat's success was Grant O. Richards, although it's rare to find mentions of him after the 1930s. And even before he was erased from the picture, items about the paper's earliest days just mentioned Richards "left the firm" or "sold his interest" to Finley. Neither of those claims were true either, as he killed himself while still editor (although I guess that would qualify as leaving the firm).

The PD - and the city of Santa Rosa itself - has polished Finley's reputation to a gleam ever since his death in 1942, inflating his role in positive events such as founding the paper. But it's particularly unfair to build up Finley at the expense of Richards because it steals away the place he deserved in the history books. Not to mention that townsfolk of his day would have been gobsmacked to learn such a man would become so completely forgotten; hell, everybody in 1890s Santa Rosa probably wished they were Grant O. Richards.

Should you be very lucky, you might meet someone who has that one in a million billion quality which makes everyone (s)he meets fall at their feet. Call it ultra charisma, magnetic charm or even stardust, you are absolutely absolutely devoted to that person from the first meeting. Grant Oswald Richards had that magical ability; people not only really, really liked him, but they couldn't help themselves from jabbering about how much they loved the guy - scroll down through some of the excerpts in the sources below. Such people can become very powerful (and dangerous) when drawn to politics or religion; we should probably be thankful Richards wanted only to be a very good newspaper editor in small towns.



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.

Santa Rosa was wild with joy. Every store and business downtown closed immediately as people flooded into the streets, some shouting, some crying, some laughing; to an outsider it would have looked like everyone in town had suddenly gone barking mad. Nothing like that had ever occurred before and probably will never happen again. So once they invent a time machine, rush down to the atavachron station and buy a ticket for Tuesday, Aug. 14, 1945 at 3:10 in the afternoon. It was V-J Day.

"Almost before the radio and newspaper flashes had been recorded, automobile horns added their din to the sirens' wail and hundreds of cars raced around the courthouse and up and down business streets - serpentine [party streamers] appeared from nowhere and wastebaskets were emptied from second and third-story windows," reported the Press Democrat. "Exuberant youngsters raided the paper balers at the rear of The Press Democrat office, hurled the contents into the street and scattered paper ribbons from rooftops...Streets were littered with paper that backed up into the gutters and overflowed onto the courthouse lawn." There was so much paper in the streets that it looked like the town was hit by a freak snowstorm.

"Fire trucks, flag-bedecked, raced through downtown streets, followed by countless cars, motorcycles, bicycles and shouting pedestrians," the PD noted. Anyone in a vehicle with a horn leaned on it. "Once in a while you see a perfectly sane-appearing person driving by, not honking the horn on his car, and he looks sort of silly," someone told the paper. Probably every kid with a stash of firecrackers - banned by the government since 1943 - gathered on the courthouse steps and earnestly went to work trying to maim themselves.

"Weeping women, many of them wives or mothers of servicemen in the Pacific, stood in doorways and offered their thanks to God...Tears streamed down their cheeks as they mingled with the milling throngs - grief-stricken by their own losses and thankful, along with the rest, that the lives of other sons have been spared." The toll had been terrible; 82 Santa Rosa had been killed in the war with another 19 missing. Another 200 from the county were also dead.

The priest from St. Rose and several ministers tried to organize a thanksgiving ceremony in front of the courthouse but the crowd wasn't in the mood: "the din of auto horns, sirens, backfires and firecrackers exploding in the streets drowned out the voices of the clergymen," the PD noted. Giving up, Father Raters returned to his car and tried to leave, only to find himself trapped in the traffic jam. "The St. Rose pastor made the best of things, honking the horn of his car with the rest ot the hundreds that jammed Fourth street," according to the PD.

The Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce had published a set of rules about what was supposed to happen once the announcement came (see "THE DAY BEFORE THE GREATEST DAY"), including a decree that the bars, along with all other businesses, were supposed to immediately close. One entrepreneurial barkeep apparently "forgot" about that and kept his doors open. A reporter from the PD found "the lone exception was swamped with servicemen and civilians until Police Chief Melvin Flohr and other officers 'cracked down' at 5:30 o'clock."

After that, out came the bottles purchased during the "peace jitters" of the previous four days. There were "numberless house parties where friends gathered to jointly celebrate the greatest day in the history of the United States and the world."

Another part of the best-laid plans was a parade, but the Chamber and Parade Marshal decided to put it off until the next day, after efforts failed "to form a parade from the aimless mass of motorcars."





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 wait was unbearable. Few probably slept although it was nice August weather, with cool fog after dark. Had it happened overnight? Tune in KSRO at 6:15 for the first morning newscast. Grab the Press Democrat on the doorstep and study it. Every word of news in it. You have to know everything about the situation. TODAY is the day. Okay, it will happen tomorrow, for sure. No need to set the clock. You'll be awake long before 6:15. It will be THE day.

For five days in August, 1945, Santa Rosa was as wound up as a 6 year-old eating spoonfuls of sugar on Christmas Eve.

Friday, August 10, was the day after the U.S. dropped the second atomic bomb on Japan, destroying much of the city of Nagasaki. Truman warned Japanese civilians to flee industrial cities to save their lives from further atomic destruction. The Soviets declared war on Japan. Japan announced it would broadcast "news of vital importance to everyone" on Sunday night, which everyone presumed would be a surrender, marking the end of WWII.

The Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce laid out the rules: When the fire sirens go off, all bars were to close and to stay closed for the rest of the day. Ditto for retail stores: "...stores will close immediately if official end-of-the-war announcement is received during business hours. In this event - receipt of word while stores are open - they will close not only for the balance of the day, but also for the entire following day provided the following day is a business day. If the word is received in the early morning, before the usual time of opening, they will remain closed all day..." There will be a victory parade, although "...There will be no Sunday parade, however, in event the word is received on that day, or late Saturday..." They apparently spent the entire day in meetings to make sure we knew how to have fun properly.

Santa Rosa was having a bad case of the "peace jitters," as the Press Democrat called it. There was little news on Saturday - Washington was keeping negotiations hush-hush, but it was reported Japan wanted conditional terms of surrender. Not much on Sunday, either. The PD ran a letter to the editor decrying parking meters.

Everyone was waiting for the Sunday night message from Japan. And at the expected time, radio announcers interrupted the regular programming to announce "Japan accepts surrender terms of the Allies." The PD reported what happened next:





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

"I firmly believe, from what I have seen, that this is the chosen spot of all this earth," wrote Luther Burbank in his first letter from Santa Rosa in 1875. But then he added a qualifier: "...as far as Nature is concerned."


Something about Santa Rosa apparently didn't sit well with old Luther, but we'll never know what. The town was welcoming to "immigrants" such as himself, yet it was still rough around the edges - a Chinese man had just been shot in the back and no one seemed very interested in finding out who did it. It was also a saloon town, where men argued endlessly about race horses and politics, topics which didn't hold any interest for Burbank. Or maybe he didn't know what to make of a "humor" item which appeared in the local newspaper around the time he arrived. It went like this: An ex-slave encountered a friend of his former "Massa" and said all the changes since the Civil War had left him sad. While he managed to save enough before the war to buy his freedom, now he wished he kept the money instead. The punchline: As a slave he was worth $1,000 - now he wasn't worth a damn. 


The weekly Sonoma Democrat regularly offered racist items like that - so many that it would be easy to mistake it for a newspaper published in the Deep South. That vignette, in fact, was reprinted from a paper in Mississippi.


This article is a coda to the series "THE HIDDEN LIVES OF BLACK SANTA ROSA," which explored how the Democrat in the late 19th century ignored African-American townspeople, even when they were men and women of distinction. It disappeared them by rarely offering obituaries and not mentioning weddings, deaths, births, arrivals and departures. But that doesn't mean the paper ignored African-Americans; it published something about them almost every week - albeit only things which ground them down by reinforcing the ugliest racist stereotypes.


Blacks in the late 19th century faced myriad problems nationwide, although today we focus mainly on the dramatic acts of violence and overt acts of discrimination - lynchings, the Klan, Jim Crow laws and the like. But reading the old Democrat it's shocking to discover how normalized racism was in Santa Rosa. Those toxic little stinkbombs in the paper reminded African-Americans they were inferior and fair game to be pushed around, and they sent a clear message to whites that blacks deserved lowly status. And probably worst of all, it taught white children all this was just the way of the world. Coming soon: White Supremacy, The Next Generation.


Let Gentle Reader be forewarned that this is not the sort of historical amusement usually found here, and what follows will stray into uncomfortable territory - reading (or writing) about hateful speech is No. Fun. At. All. But we can't discuss Santa Rosa's history without being honest about how ugly some of it really was. We can debate how much this material shaped the town, but we can't deny it existed. And we can't pretend this problem stopped when the Sonoma Democrat folded in 1897; the Press Democrat continued dishing out offensive racial jokes and short fiction well into the 1930s, only not as vigorously.




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


- Jeff Elliott


It came to this: He was afraid to step outside at night because they might be waiting for him in the dark.

His attackers during 1886 were a troupe of Santa Rosa boys who thought it was great fun to pelt Henry's little house with stones and other objects, with Henry sometimes being struck himself. The boys made a project of it, curating rotten chicken eggs and spoiled fruit  along with heavy-but-throwable rocks, hauling this ammunition stockpile down to the poorest part of town on First Street. His door was their target, but sometimes the missiles went through windows.

The harassment had gone on for a while - weeks, maybe months - while his pleas for help were ignored by the authorities. "The Marshal told him that the boys would not do it if they did not think it annoyed him, and they do it to hear the old gentleman complain", reported the Democrat newspaper in January. Another item about the ongoing attacks appeared nine months later, with the comment it was too bad that it was happening because Henry and his wife were good Christians.

The boys likely picked on the Davisons because they were African-Americans. Santa Rosa in the 19th century never had much tolerance for its non-white residents, and 1886 was particularly bad - on a downtown street that summer, a youth repeatedly beat a Chinese man in the head with an iron bar; no arrests were made and the newspaper waved it off with the same "boys will be boys" attitude.

Henry was also an easy target because he was elderly (67) and had the humblest job in town, shining shoes at Gus Koch’s barber shop on the corner of Mendocino and Fourth Street. His nickname was even "Shiner" - and let's not overlook that was also racist slang for anyone with a black complexion.

Another reason they may have gone after him was because he had to be a liar or a fabulist. There were stories told about him which couldn't possibly be true - such a frail, old shoeshine man in a farmtown like Santa Rosa couldn't have known famous people, taken part in historic events or done any other remarkable things. It all had to be made up. Right?



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



Quiz: Name the successful woman in 1870s Santa Rosa who was a real estate investor. Answer: It's a trick question (sorry!) because we don't know her real name.

On her tombstone at Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery she is Elizabeth Potter. Legally she was C. E. Hudson; that was the only name on her will and how she bought and sold land - except for once when she identified herself as Charlotte E. Hudson. The 1860 census named her as Elizabeth Hudson, and her death notice in the local newspaper stated she was known as Lizzie Hudson. Whatever her name, Elizabeth/Charlotte Potter/Hudson was a remarkable woman. The reason you've never heard of her before is certainly because she was African-American and Santa Rosa's 19th century Democrat paper had a single-minded determination to erase the presence of its black citizens, only mentioning them when there was a shot at grinding them down with ridicule.

(This is the second installment in the series, "THE HIDDEN LIVES OF BLACK SANTA ROSA." It will be helpful to read the introduction for background.)

Most of what we know about her comes from her tombstone and mentions in her brother's obituary (there was no obituary for her - she received only that two-line "Lizzie" death notice, which appeared for a single day). From real estate transactions we can guess her net worth was about $7,000 before she died in 1876; at that time in Sonoma County, $10k was the threshold for being considered wealthy.

Her birth name was almost certainly Elizabeth Potter and she was born a slave in Maryland, 1826. Bondage ended when she escaped a slaveholder in Virginia and somehow made her way to Santa Rosa, California. Speculate if you want that "Hudson" was related to a deceased husband, but note she never once used "Mrs." with any form of her name, as was the custom at the time for widows.

We first meet her locally as Elizabeth Hudson in the 1860 census, where she is part of the household of civil rights activist John Richards, counted as a servant. (A servant was defined as a paid domestic worker.) She was listed as 37 years old and from Maryland. But a few days later, she was listed a second time as a servant for John H. Holman - but this time from Virginia. A double-count mistake like that is unusual, but not all that rare; the respondent for the household was almost certainly one of the Holmans and not Elizabeth herself.

After the Civil War she managed to reach her older brother who had remained in captivity until emancipation, having been sold four or five times in his fifty-odd years. At her urging, Edmund joined his sister here in 1872 and two years later, they became co-owners of 50+ acres north of town next to the county poor farm. Presumably all or most of the $1,200 price was contributed by Elizabeth (this deal was the only time she used "Charlotte").

There Edmund and his wife, Martha, made a small farm. Elizabeth may have lived with them as well; it was where she died in 1876.

Elizabeth knew she was dying and sold one of her investment properties for the first time, getting $1,700 for a downtown parcel. She also tried to lure more of her family to Santa Rosa; in a poignant bequest in her will, she offered 13 of an even more valuable lot to "any cousin of mine who may come out from the East and attend me in my last sickness and may be here before my burial." Nobody came. When she passed away just before Thanksgiving, her 59 year-old brother Edmund - who could read but not write - inherited everything.




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


With all the interest in correcting the historical record by pulling down monuments to racists and traitors, let's talk about honoring someone, too: He was Sonoma County's first civil rights activist and a lonely patriot in Santa Rosa's swamp of Confederate sympathizers. His name was John Richards and he had a radical notion: African-American children were entitled to receive a basic education.

Nothing apparently was more important to Richards than the "colored school" but under 1860 California law, “Negroes, Mongolians and Indians shall not be allowed into public schools" so parents like John and Philena Richards had to pay for a private school or send their children away to board with someone where a school was available. Petaluma was among six communities in Northern California that bucked the law and created a public school for black children in 1864, and nothing stopped Santa Rosa from doing likewise, if it had the will.1

Since Richards was a man of means, he hired teachers to educate the town's black children, including his two adopted kids, Ella and Frank - even though he was also paying $70 a year in county taxes to underwrite public schools for whites.2

(This is the first profile in the series, THE HIDDEN LIVES OF BLACK SANTA ROSA." It will be helpful to read the introduction for background.)

By trade Richards was a barber, which was one of the better occupations open to African-Americans in 19th century white America. Santa Rosa's weekly newspaper, the Sonoma Democrat, typically flung racist epithets at blacks as a race, white abolitionists and  Lincoln Republicans, but Richards was never demeaned in editor Thomas Thompson's Democrat, likely because his business was a regular advertiser and he was a wealthy man. But just because the Democrat didn't target Richards does not mean Thompson treated him with respect. In an 1869 screed against the Democratic Party not sufficiently defending a "White Man's Government," a contributor sneered he "would rather marry John Richard’s wife, if a widow, than the widow of a democrat.” Thompson added helpfully, "[This is a negro family in Santa Rosa.]"

Instead of openly insulting Richards himself, Thompson ghosted him by ignoring his remarkable deeds. The only time Richards' school was mentioned in the newspaper was a grudging nod via reprinting a tribute from one of San Francisco's African-American weekly newspapers. It was written by Judge William Churchman, a local abolitionist - but Thompson added a preface that it showed the town wasn't as hateful as it really was: "It may seem a little remarkable to some intensely loyal people, but the fact is nevertheless true, that Santa Rosa which has long enjoyed the reputation with loyalty of being a perfect hot bed of traitors and negro-haters should afford one of the best schools for the education of negro children to be found in the State." The Democrat did not even acknowledge, however, that Richards was sponsoring the school.

And, of course, Thompson didn't reprint another part of the same article that revealed some white Santa Rosans were apparently attending the graduation ceremony looking to pick fault with the children's learning, yet came up short themselves:



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

There were worst places to live in California than Santa Rosa in the 19th century - there's always gotta be someplace worse - but if you were an African-American, this town was a hard place to call home.

There are 23 African-Americans buried at Santa Rosa's old graveyard, the Rural Cemetery (listed below). We don't know much about most of them aside from vitals - birth/death, coroner's reason why they died, maybe their job. At least four had been slaves, possibly up to seven. Very few had an obituary in a newspaper; what little trace remains will appear in the revised cemetery book which comes out later this year with thumbnail profiles on almost every person there, which will instantly make it the most important work on local history ever published. About half of the African-Americans buried there are lost, meaning the locations of their graves are unknown. Any wooden or temporary markers are long gone.

But three of them have remarkable histories which are explored in the following three articles; John Richards, Edmund Potter and Henry Davidson deserve to be remembered and honored.

Their stories are intertwined with Santa Rosa as it existed in their day - which is to say, a shockingly racist small town. While it's always been generally well known that this village was a cheerleader for the Confederacy around the Civil War, little has been detailed about the way black members of the community were treated here in the decades after, often facing routine cruelty and sometimes violence. Yes, Santa Rosa discriminated against the Chinese and like many communities in the West formed an Anti-Chinese League in 1886, but that hostility simmered down. Not so the feelings toward African-Americans.

Other towns in California were sympathetic to the antebellum South, but try and find another place where anger at its defeat burned for decades like a fire which would never extinguish. Read the old Democrat newspaper and enter a world with upside-down racial grievances; everything would be okay if only African-Americans just went away (somewhere); there was sometimes inchoate rage that slaves had (somehow) instigated the Civil War. The Democrat liberally sprinkled its pages with the "n word" and other racial slurs before, during and after the war, often reprinting the most racist filth scraped from Southern newspapers. The hatefulness in that paper was unrelenting and often savage.


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 if the Golden Gate Bridge was never built - engineering issues couldn't be solved, perhaps, or maybe there were insurmountable economic hurdles, or just not enough political will. What would Sonoma County be like today?

The only way to get here from San Francisco is by ferry, for starters, so Santa Rosa is a much smaller place. There was no population boom after World War Two; it's a rural county seat somewhat like Ukiah, and the courthouse is still in Courthouse Square because they patched up the mostly cosmetic damage from the 1957 earthquake instead of tearing it down. Stony Point Road is the Highway 101 bypass, its two lanes swelling to three at the stoplights where there is cross traffic and turn lanes. Tourists clog the Redwood Highway on weekends because the winery events, resorts, spas and casinos in the countryside make this a popular getaway destination for the rest of the Bay Area, while the weekly Press Democrat is always pushing for year-round motocross and horse racing at the fairgrounds in order to draw visitors downtown. "Sonoma County? Sure, it's a nice place to visit, but no, I..."

Building the Bridge was never a sure thing, but it wasn't because there was formidable opposition. Yes, there were efforts to slow or stop the project but it wasn't ongoing, popping up only when the project neared a funding or construction milestone. None or those challenges posed serious threats, but were more like pesky nuisances.

Yet when the project launched in 1923 it seemed delusional to believe it would ever pass beyond the blueprint stage. Not only were there some engineers who thought it was folly to attempt constructing the longest bridge of its kind at that particular place, but its promoters had to run an incredibly complex political gauntlet, convincing Washington and Sacramento to back it enthusiastically - all before doing the basic studies which would prove the concept was viable. And even after construction began in January 1933, a retired geologist made a splash by predicting the south end could never be made stable, requiring months of further testing to prove him wrong.

All in all, it took almost 20 years to get to ribbon-cutting day. This is not the place to tell that whole story; the Golden Gate Bridge District has history pages for further details on the critical years of 1928 and 1930 (although some of the information on bridge opponents is wrong). A version of the original 1916 article proposing the idea is transcribed below.

Local folks probably know that the key part of the origin story concerns doings in Sonoma County by two men: Frank Doyle, president of the Exchange Bank as well as the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, and Press Democrat editor/publisher Ernest Finley. Although Doyle modestly said he was "just one of the hundreds who helped to put the bridge over," he always will be remembered for kicking the project off by organizing the January 13, 1923 conference in Santa Rosa which brought together over 250 bankers, business leaders and politicians, which earned him his spot standing next to the governor and the mayor of San Francisco when the bridge was officially opened. Finley was the indefatigable champion for the cause, turning the Press Democrat into a soapbox for promoting funding and construction, cheering every nugget of good news and booing every bit of bad.

After Finley's death in 1942, however, the story shifted; it was said the newspaper suffered by losing subscribers because of its bridge advocacy and Finley was a warrior editor battling powerful railroad, logging and farm special interests opposed to the bridge. This version has taken root over the years in the PD and elsewhere; here's the version from the Media Museum of Northern California: "...In this particular crusade, which spanned at least two decades, Finley stood almost alone...he was opposed by nearly everyone. His business suffered as he lost advertising accounts and subscriptions. But he continued the campaign, insisting, 'Damn the circulation! The bridge must be built!'” That's now his legacy quote although it's probably apocryphal.1

The problem with that narrative is it's not really true.


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

- Jeff Elliott

It pains to write this, but the coronavirus probably will be an extinction level event for most print newspapers. This is not a shocking new development; the Nieman Journalism Lab started the death watch even before the National Emergency was declared. Go back to the 2008-2009 recession and find pundits were warning that print was unlikely to survive another economic downturn - newspapers were like a flotilla of Titanics all drifting towards the iceberg zones. And so here we are today; sans charitable bailouts from billionaires or megacorps, lots of ships are soon to sink together into the cold sea.

This is not the place to go into all the reasons why this is happening, but some are well hashed over: Printing presses can keep rolling only so long without advertisers to pay for the paper and ink. Too many newspapers were being run by the MBA-types who saw journalism as little different from selling soup - if the demand slacks off, keep the profits high via cutbacks. Many were even taken over by hedge funds and investors who saw them only as cash cows to be milked dry; a must-read is a 2018 article, "This Is How a Newspaper Dies" (the term "harvesting market position" will definitely be on the quiz).

The deeper problem for newspapers is that nobody's reading them. U.S. circulation is the lowest it's ever been since they began keeping records in 1940. Why is that? It's not like we've become a sub-literate society; Americans are typically spending over six hours a day online and not all of it is looking at cat videos. And particularly now in the spring of 2020 we're news-junkies, with 89% of U.S. adults following the latest about coronavirus closely - only not via newspapers. We've given up on newspapers, but as I've said for over 25 years: Readers did not give up on newspapers until newspapers abandoned their readers.



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


No tombstone in the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery attracts more attention than the one for Davis Wright, "colored boy" - or so it seems, as every few months questions or comments pop up on social media when someone discovers it and expresses amazement. What's the story behind it? There has to be a story.

We only know four things about Davis Wright. He was 12 when he died; he was "colored," but born in California so he was never a slave; he was buried in the Wright family plot. It's the latter connection which intrigues.

Davis was part of the household of Sampson Wright - a wealthy farmer and horse breeder -  where in the 1860 census the 8 year-old boy was listed as a servant. In itself that's not unusual; also in the census Davis' 5 year-old brother was likewise enumerated as a servant, as was a toddler at another house in Santa Rosa and an Indian baby in Sebastopol. It simply meant a person of color who was living under a white man's roof.

What made the Wright situation so unusual in 1860 was that he had six other black "servants" beside Davis.1 No other home near Santa Rosa had more than a couple - and in those situations, the second servant appeared to be the baby or the mother of the other.

The other curious thing about the Wright black servants was that they all had the last name "Wright:" Esther (age 50), John (25, but actually 29), Mary (18), James (13), Henry (11), David [sic] (8) and Georg [sic] (5). Except for Davis and George, all of them were born in Missouri, where Sampson Wright had lived before coming to California. Missouri was a slave state and Wright was a slaveholder there, with five slaves counted in the 1850 census.



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 V-E Day celebrations in Sonoma County didn't have much have much bang to them, but that's okay - we were saving our juices for the wild hell-raising that would come three months later when Japan surrendered.

 For a week before the official V-E Day on May 8, 1945, two stories dominated the news: The United Nations Conference on International Organization AKA "World Peace Conference," which had just started in San Francisco. (Fun fact: In Nov. 1946, the 1,640 acre Sobre Vista estate near Glen Ellen was among the sites considered as a possible location for building the UN. And you think traffic on Highway 12 is sometimes bad now...)

The other big news at the top of the front pages concerned the fall of the Nazis and when V-E Day would be officially declared. Joe Stalin had proclaimed the war over on May Day. Eisenhower had said on May 4 that Germans were "thoroughly whipped." So why the wait? In newsrooms across the country, there was much squirming in editorial chairs. "Don't blame your newspaper and its press services for not telling you in this edition that 'It's all over in Europe,'" griped the Press Democrat. "Evidently there are good and valid reasons why the responsible military leaders of the Allies, and their governments who depend upon their judgments do not give out that final, fateful symbol 'V-E DAY.'"

Then early on Monday, May 7, the wire services broke the news that the war in Europe would be declared over at 9AM Eastern War Time the next day, as Truman, Churchill and Stalin would make simultaneous radio announcements.



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.


Here's a rare historical nugget: A summary of the reasons why people were behind bars in the Sonoma County jail during 1892, which I think was the only time such a list appeared in a Santa Rosa newspaper.

There were 500 prisoners that year, more than half (315) being held for misdemeanors, vagrancy, drunkenness and unspecified minor offenses - the whole list can be found below. Mostly the rest is predictable: People steal things valuable or not, people hurt other people causing varying degrees of damage, and people do stupid things that may show they are crazy. Two items that might surprise us today were child stealing (yikes!) and using vulgar language.

Both Santa Rosa and the county had laws against saying bad words in front of children or women, which was the topic of a previous article (see "THE HIGH COST OF CUSSING"). It was usually a charge thrown in with other offenses such as drunkenness or fighting, and continued to be used that way into the 1920s. But there were two cases in the 1890s that stand out because the law was seemingly used in a cruel and vindictive manner.

Alfred Jacobs, a Sebastopol 13 year-old was arrested in 1890 on two counts: assaulting his sixth grade school teacher and for using vulgar language. He was given two consecutive 60-day sentences by Judge Dougherty, but one of them was dropped when the assault charge was dismissed.

The boy stayed in jail as lawyers returned to court four times to debate a writ of habeas corpus. It's unclear what that meant in this situation - perhaps they were trying to square the circle of arresting a child by using a law meant to protect children. At any rate, they dithered until two months had passed and he was released anyway.

Jacobs would spend much of the 1890s behind bars, including two years at San Quentin for  grand larceny. "After his release from the prison, Jacobs devoted himself most industriously to thievery, and has been in trouble many times," the Santa Rosa paper tsk-tsked in 1897. "District Attorney Seawell regards Jacobs as a dangerous menace to society." During that decade he was also locked up for vagrancy, horse theft and burglary.

Even if you don't take his age into account, there's no question his punishment was harsh; that same year adults were sentenced to only ten days for swearing. Perhaps the judge intended the extended sentence as sort of a "time out" to contemplate and reform his ways - or maybe the judge was an old-school "spare the rod, spoil the child" sadist. Whatever the reason, it's interesting to note just three days after Jacobs was given his long punishment, that judge gave a lecture on "the moral, intellectual and religious formation of character."

The other incident where profanity was treated as a serious crime happened in 1894 - and like the case of Alfred Jacobs, it was also heard in the courtroom of Judge Dougherty.

Until she was arrested Kate Norton lived in poverty with her three children. She and her 22 year-old daughter, Bertha, were taken by the Bodega constable to Santa Rosa on charges of insanity.

There was a history of the women being harassed by local boys, which the Democrat shamefully reported as if it were a big joke. "It seems to have been their part at the town of Bodega to amuse the boys, against their will of course, but the young boys of the town have been in the habit of annoying them into a frenzy to enjoy a little loquacious concert intersperced with pungent profanity." The paper said both were "intensely excitable and emotional and well stored with vulgar phrases and grossest profanity" because they were Irish immigrants.



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

Luther Burbank was in trouble. The 66 year-old horticulturist was watching helplessly as his dreams of a secure future and assured legacy faded through no fault of his own, but because of the failures and scandals of other men.

"Do you think Luther Burbank is an honorable person?" Would have been an interesting question to ask on a public opinion poll in 1915 (well, except polling wasn't a thing, yet) and the replies probably would have shown a sharp divide.

To many he was the Plant Wizard, a man with almost mystical powers to bend nature to his will, someone with integrity and nearly saintly bearing. Others viewed him with disdain; a conman, or the dupe of conmen, or at best, someone so injudicious he entrusted his reputation to men who ruined it. Which answer pollsters received was decided not only on who they asked, but also when in 1915 they asked the question.

Burbank was in the news much that year. He was being celebrated for different reasons both locally and nationally; that tale will be told in the following article. This piece wraps up the stories of the two companies which used his name - and in 1915, both companies dragged his name through the mud. The best thing that can be said about them was that they were run by men who were not very competent, and the worst was that both companies exploited local trust in Burbank himself to peddle worthless stock to Sonoma County residents.

Both companies were founded in 1912 and introduced in previous articles here. Most prominent was the Luther Burbank Company, which completely took over the commercial side of his business selling plants and seeds. Burbank was elated. “For fifteen years at least I have been endeavoring to make some such arrangements,” he told the Press Democrat. “Henceforth I shall only engage myself in the creation of more novelties in fruits, flowers and plants.” The deal was for Burbank to be paid $30k, followed by annual payments of $15,000.

The Luther Burbank Company had problems from the start. It had little to sell except for his spineless cactus, which Burbank was already cultivating commercially at a cactus plantation near Livermore. And it didn't help that the Company was run by an enthusiastic young go-getter and former bank teller who had no experience running any sort of business, much less a highly-specialized nursery. (For more, see part II of this series.)

What they did have to sell was corporation stock, and about $375k (equivalent to about $10M today) worth of shares were sold - which was quite a lot, considering the main asset was the intangible value of the Luther Burbank brand and faith that he would not approve any products which were not top quality. Most of the shareholders were from the usual Bay Area investor class, but a block was set aside for Burbank's friends in Santa Rosa.

The company was never financially sound, however, and had paid Burbank only a fraction of what was agreed upon ($5,920 total for the years 1913-1914). By the midsummer of 1915 rumors were circulating that the business was failing.

And here is where Burbank may have broken the law: As the corporation was trying to sell a new round of stock, the PD and other local papers reported he gave an interview stating the company was in fine shape (the newspaper wasn't named, and the rumors weren't specified). Although Burbank wasn't on the Board, he was completely dependent on the company for his income and certainly had insider knowledge that the company was headed off the cliff - after all, he had been complaining privately about their inability to pay him more than a fraction of what was owed. Keeping that info secret would be considered securities fraud today.

Then just before the end of 1915, Luther Burbank pulled the trigger and sued the Luther Burbank Company. Interviewed by the PD, his lawyer said, “Burbank has been the victim of stock pirates…They paid him the $30,000, sold stock like hot cakes and never paid him another dollar." A few weeks later, the company declared bankruptcy and liquidated.

All of those who had invested - including Burbank's friends in Santa Rosa - lost everything. Locals had to remember he had personally reassured everyone the business was fundamentally secure, and not too long before.

The Luther Burbank Company failed for the reasons most businesses fail: It was just badly run. Had they better management, more investment, more time, yap, yap, they might have survived, as would many companies that flop. But that comment about "stock pirates" aside, it was not a scam. The intentions of the Luther Burbank Press, however, were another story.




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 (or remember): It was near the end of that day in 1969 and you were winding down, watching TV and planning to stay up late - a Johnny Carson anniversary show was coming up and everybody would be talking about it tomorrow. You were deciding between the 10 o'clock news on channel two, Hawaii Five-O or that new NBC series by the former Press Democrat reporter. 

Then too much happened all at once.

"And then came the jolt and the furious shake, lasting for seconds but seeming like minutes. Everyone could feel it but many couldn't see it: the lights were the first to go," said Dick Torkelson's article in the Press Democrat the next day.

Earthquake! A bad one. Sharp flashes of light from outside flooded the dark room as if the house was struck by lightning, only there was no sound at all. Omygod, had Santa Rosa been hit by an atomic bomb?

"Books and dishes cascaded down," Torkelson continued. "Shouts filled households as parents groped in darkness for their children. Residential streets filled instantly, everyone wondering if there would be more."

Such were the first few terrifying moments of the Santa Rosa Earthquake of October 1, 1969. Earthquakes, actually, as another one followed about eighty minutes later and was just about as violent (see sidebar).

No one was killed and while many buildings were damaged, none fell down. Now more than a half-century later, it's only remembered for the unusual double shake. But that event changed Santa Rosa's future dramatically, as it became the driving justification for the city to later bulldoze 30 acres of downtown in order to build the shopping mall - the worst mistake in the long list of planning mistakes made by the City of Roses. How this tragedy unfolded will be told in upcoming parts of this ongoing series, "Yesterday is Just Around the Corner."




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 menu for SantaRosaHistory.com now has a "RANDOM" option which randomly picks any of 700+ articles about Santa Rosa and Sonoma County history.

Other ways to explore the offerings include the search field (also in the menu) and the tags beneath each article headline, which function as a topic index. There are also two "best of" compilations - there's some overlap between the lists, but not much:

650 KISSES DEEP (2018)

and

THE BEST OF THE BLOG, CHAPTER 500 (2014)



As always, SantaRosaHistory.com is ad-free and requires no signup.


Santa Rosa has a history of making regrettable decisions, lord knows, and this series, "YESTERDAY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER," delves into just the cascading series of failures leading up to construction of the shopping mall, which was the ultimissimo mistake. But in our big book of blunders there's one small chapter where the town didn't embrace a terrible, irreversible option - although it wasn't for a lack of trying.

The project we were trying so hard to screwup was (once again) Courthouse Square, and this attempt started in 1966, the same year we tore down the courthouse. Immediately following that we stabbed a four-lane street through the middle and declared that the western sliver of what remained would now be called “Old Courthouse Square.” That part of the story was explored in the previous article, "TEARING APART 'THE CITY DESIGNED FOR LIVING'".

All of that had been done under the authority of Santa Rosa's Urban Renewal Agency (URA), an unelected five member body which had broad powers for redeveloping all of downtown Santa Rosa, as also discussed in that article. As a first step that year the county had sold all of Courthouse Square (plus the county garage and jail) to the URA for $400k, but the county only expected to be paid half of that, considering the new street and west side of the Square as a donation. To raise the remaining $200k, the plan was that the city would sell the east side of the Square to a developer. "For Sale: 26,000 sq. Feet," read the URA marketing blurb, with an asking price of $305k.

But a year passed with only a single bid: Eureka Federal Savings offered $260k (can't have enough massive bank buildings squatting on prime downtown locations). Potential buyers found the city's right to sell the property was...uncertain, to say the least.

This was hardly the first time questions about ownership of the Square were raised; you could say it was Sonoma County's oldest parlor game, going back to just after the Civil War (see sidebar).



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

Riiinnng! Hello? Why, it's aunt Ginny in Peoria! How are you, au- What's that you say? We're a bunch of naked perverts undermining the war effort?

There were probably lots of calls from angry aunties on that morning of July 6, 1944, as an AP wire story hit the pages of newspapers nationwide: "At least 200 members of a vast nudist retreat in the Valley of the Moon were called on the office of price administration carpet today to explain how they reached the place on 'A' ration gasoline, some from as far away as Oregon and southern California."

Even without the nudity angle, this would still have been a major story at the time. Gasoline rationing during WWII was a hot-button issue; nobody liked it but cheating was viewed as awfully selfish and unpatriotic. For fuel efficiency and preservation of rubber tires, the national speedlimit was 35 MPH and anyone caught going faster not only got a fine but their name in the paper - and repeat violators could lose their gas coupons for the duration of the war, however long that might be. For some of these people to be driving hundreds of miles to visit Sonoma county strongly implied they were tapping into the black market.

Headline editors were surprisingly restrained (Kingsport Tenn. Times: "Nudists Must Give OPA The Bare Facts") with the most sensationalistic being our own Press Democrat: "Professional Men, Housewives Found Flitting About Hilltop Elysium From All Over State". While the San Francisco Examiner printed a fuzzy photo of naked people on a volleyball court, the PD also published the most salacious account:

...Surprise arrival of the agents at first sent an array of 'nudies' of all ages, sizes and descriptions scurrying for cover, disappearing into the array of cabins or into the bushes. But before it was over the nudists apparently said 'what the heck' or its equivalent and returned to their games of volley ball, croquet, swimming, and dancing to a boogie-woogie piano...As one young lass, standing unabashed with her curves, moaned: "Heavens! My husband doesn't know I've been using our car to come here. What will he say?"


That "Hilltop Elysium" was the Sun-O-Ma nudist colony, which is currently on the market for $11.3M and redubbed the "Castle Road Estate," in the hills above the Bartholomew Park Estate Vineyards - and therein lies the nut of our tale.

Those vineyards are the remnants of Agoston Haraszthy’s historic Buena Vista winery. Stories about what became of the ranch after he was (supposedly) eaten by alligators have appeared here twice before: Kate Johnson built a 40-room "castle" in 1885 (see "THE MAKING OF A CRAZY CAT LADY") which the state purchased to create the California Industrial Farm for Women (see "THE DELINQUENT WOMEN OF SONOMA"). After the castle burned down in 1923 there were several proposals made for the state to build some sort of new institution, but aside from the infirmary building becoming an unofficial annex of the nearby Sonoma State Home at Eldridge, the grand estate - which was once often compared to Golden Gate Park - went to rack and ruin for a decade. Then arrived the nudist's nemesis, Frank Bartholomew.




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

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

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

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

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

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



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

- Jeff Elliott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

- Jeff Elliott


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

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

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

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

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



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

- Jeff Elliott


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

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

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



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

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