There were good reasons to feel optimistic in the spring of 1973. The last American soldiers left Vietnam. The Watergate hearings started and people began taking the scandal seriously, with public opinion swinging from it being "just politics" to "very serious."

In Santa Rosa, the Press Democrat published its "Outlook 73" supplement which painted a very rosy picture of things to come. We would soon have a wonderful downtown shopping center with three major department stores and up to 85 stores. And soon after that a renewal project for Railroad Square will include a community center with a 2,500 seat performing arts theater and a 50,000 sq. ft. convention hall.

The photo accompanying that cheery item showed roughly bulldozed acres covered in puddles. Not long before, the land had been filled with mom 'n' pop stores, repair shops, apartment buildings and more. In the name of urban renewal, that business and residential district was turned into this scene of desolation - which is how it would remain for the next seven years. It's tough to stay optimistic for that long, particularly when a growing number of people were beginning to question whether the shopping center was such a good idea in the first place.

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 two Santa Rosas in the early 1970s but unfortunately, the Press Democrat opted to only write about one of them.

The newspaper loved to showcase news about their reborn city. Ever since the 1906 earthquake, editors had touted Santa Rosa as a true (but unappreciated!) Bay Area metropolis which would someday bloom into greatness. Now work was wrapping up on the urban renewal projects directly south and east of Courthouse Square. Contractor vans and pickups still crowded parking spots but the tall office buildings with banks on the ground floor showed how much progress had been made in the 1960s. Our city hall complex, with its elaborate water feature in the courtyard and unadorned concrete walls so pure white you had to squint in bright sun, boldly said this was as modern a city as could be found anywhere. Why, if you didn't know any better it would be easy to imagine all this wonderfulness was in Topeka or Schenectady or any of a hundred other cities.

What the PD avoided writing about was the west side of downtown. Everything between B street and the highway was slated to be demolished, as detailed in the previous chapter. And starting in 1972, the wrecking crews came in and began to wreck.

Other cities had likewise dismantled whole sections of their downtown in the name of urban renewal, particularly Los Angeles (see sidebar). Newspapers in those cities ran articles describing what would be slipping away. Human interest stories of elderly residents who had lived in the area for years and were afraid what would happen to them; shopkeepers worried about losing their livelihood.

Not so the PD. Except for a single story about George and Tillie Cross, who had operated a breakfast and lunch counter on lower Fifth St. since 1929, little in the local paper personalized the upcoming demolition of so much of our community. There was no downside at all to throwing away about a third of the downtown in their editorial eyes.

 

 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

During the first days of 1970, the Press Democrat asked several of Santa Rosa's movers 'n' shakers what changes they thought would come about in the new decade. The city manager believed the population would grow by 40 percent (it actually increased by two-thirds). The assistant city manager imagined they probably would get a computer and use it for payroll and other accounting tasks. And the city planning director predicted by 1980 they were going to wipe away an older section of the downtown core.

Say what?!?

It had been barely three months since the Oct. 1969 quake hit Santa Rosa, causing moderate damage. Building inspector Ray Baker had said about 17 commercial buildings and 28 homes around town were in such bad shape they needed to be demolished, but most property owners were scrambling to arrange repairs. The city had just started talks with federal officials about designating the area west of B Street an urban renewal zone to pay for improvements, but nothing had been said about plans to "wipe away" that part of downtown. (Those developments were covered in the previous chapter, "MONEY FIRST, PLANS LATER.")

Planning Director Ken Blackman continued: "By 1980, redevelopment will be viewed as a continuing effort by all major cities to combat deterioration and blight." Ah, the "B Word" - the incantation that turned historic homes, neighborhoods and districts into cash dispensers. To quote myself from an earlier article:

...[In the 1960s] the nation was gripped by a collective madness called “urban renewal”. Anything new would be better than anything old simply because. There was also free federal money available as long as the magic words were spoken: “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, underdeveloped (read: undertaxed), subject to flooding or otherwise terribly blighted. File your blight report and don’t forget to include the address where Washington can send the money.

Santa Rosa had already received $8 million for redevelopment east and south of Courthouse Square - the bank buildings and government offices still in use today. Now the city was asking for a new tranche of redevelopment money, that earlier project began to be called Phase I, with the west of B St. area dubbed Phase II. There was also mention made of potential Phase III, IV and V later.

Thus the day came to pass when Santa Rosa's mall-destined future was cast in stone: March 10, 1970. That's when the City Council unanimously passed ordinance 1439, which declared "...the area is a blighted area and that it is detrimental and a menace to the safety, health, and welfare of the inhabitants and users thereof..."

It allowed for the city agency to condemn buildings and force the owners to sell the property via eminent domain. It stated that a program would aid those living in the area move to somewhere else "not generally less desirable." It promised "due consideration" would be given to providing new parks and recreational facilities "with special consideration for the health, safety, and welfare of children residing in the general vicinity."

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 a victory lap more than just a building dedication ceremony with windy speeches. Some 700 gathered for the June 7, 1969 opening of the new city hall/civic center; Santa Rosa was on the "threshold of an era," cheered the Press Democrat. And that was true. The city government complex was the keystone of a project which brought drastic changes to downtown, more so than anything that had happened since the 1906 earthquake.

About a quarter of the downtown core was new construction east and south of Courthouse Sq. - mostly tall office buildings associated with big banks, government offices and parking garages/lots. There were no new shops or restaurants; the only retail business in that area was the White House Department Store, relocated from two blocks away. The city designed for living was starting to look more like the city designed for providing office space for a brigade of bureaucrats, bank tellers and accountants.

The ceremony was also somewhat of a wrap party. For more than a decade Santa Rosa had been daydreaming about a complete makeover of the downtown area; architects had produced designs - some lovable and some laughable, but all destined for the wastebasket. Aside from the state and federal buildings which were yet to be built in this redevelopment zone, there were no big construction projects on the horizon for Santa Rosa. (Here's a short recap of what happened over those ten years.)

The day after the ceremony, the Congress for Community Progress held its annual meeting. The Congress was an ad hoc coalition of local social clubs, downtown business interests and city manager/directors; it was formed by the Chamber of Commerce and (no surprise) their suggestions rubber-stamped what the Chamber wanted. At the top of the wishlist that year was a convention center, probably at the current location of Westamerica Bank on Santa Rosa Ave. They also urged a major hotel/motel be built near Railroad Square, which could become a "tourist-oriented 'old town.'" But these ideas were whiffs of smoke; the coalition had no clout to make anything happen.

And then came the October 1 earthquakes. I suppose there must be an alternate universe where city leaders could have screwed up worse - but it's hard to imagine.

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're standing at the intersection of Fourth and B streets, next to where the Citibank building is now. It is March 4, 1972 - a day of no particular importance.

Directly across B St. from you is Hardisty's; that's where your sister's wedding china came from. On the north corner is the big Occidental Hotel. Your mom takes grandma there on her birthday for an afternoon tea which she says makes her feel like a debutante again. A few doors farther down from the hotel is the "Cal," Santa Rosa's grand Art Deco movie theater. You've spent countless hours inside. So did you dad when he was a little kid in the 1930s, participating in the live Saturday afternoon Mickey Mouse Club show.

You have passed this exact spot hundreds and hundreds of times and everything before your eyes is as it has been for decades. The "New" Hotel Santa Rosa next to you opened in 1936. The Occidental Hotel was built shortly after the 1906 earthquake. The only slight change is across Fourth Street from you at the NE corner; that was always the White House Department Store but they moved so the building's now vacant.

Now close your eyes tight as we jump into the future. You are at the exact same spot but it is now March 4, 1982 - precisely ten years later. You cannot believe what you see.

The White House building is still on the corner (it's really the "Carithers building" and remains there today, albeit heavily altered). B Street - which used to be a little-used two lane crosstown street with stop signs - is now a four lane (sometimes five) thoroughfare with traffic lights on nearly every block. But everything else is... gone.

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

Great Scott! There was a summer camp in Alexander Valley where kids were brainwashed with Commie propaganda! Under a banner front page headline the Press Democrat reported July 20, 1929, "...boys and girls of tender years are taught the principles of communism and hatred of the American government."

There were 36 kids there, ages from 8 to 17, and after morning exercises and swearing allegiance "to the Soviet flag, red with a symbolic sledge and sickle, the children paraded behind their flag and sang the Internationale," the PD continued. Then came "weird ceremonials and class instructions on the river beach," including an exercise where an instructor took rocks which "he pounded in his hands until one crumpled, [showing] how the 'workers' should crush the 'capitalist' government of the United States." On a bulletin board was a poster reading, "Down with the Boy Scouts."

"Bay Cities' Pioneer Camp #1" was near the Alexander Valley Bridge and just one of many summer camps on the river.1 According to the PD story, there was "a near-riot" when women and girls from another one nearby "paraded behind the youngsters of 'Pioneer Camp,' waving the American flag and singing The Star-Spangled Banner."

The PD story was picked up by both the AP and UP newswires and proved quite popular, appearing in papers nationwide and usually on page one. While the item was sometimes cut down to a paragraph or two, the editors always mentioned the camp was on the Russian River. (Oscar Wilde: "The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.")

Hearst's San Francisco Examiner lied to readers (no surprise, there) by claiming "authorities immediately raided the place and seized propaganda pamphlets and other evidence," but what the District Attorney actually said was he could do nothing under state law. He passed the matter to the U. S. District Attorney in San Francisco while sending County Detective John W. Pemberton to investigate. A Press Democrat reporter tagged along and the piece that appeared the next day revealed that much of the original article was either made up or grossly exaggerated. That story apparently relied only upon hearsay from Arthur H. Meese, commander of Healdsburg's American Legion Post.

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

When the history of Prohibition in Sonoma County is written, one name will appear more than any other: John W. Pemberton, County Detective - the nemesis of bootleggers and rum-runners and the scourge of anyone with a blind pig or backroom speakeasy.

Technically the County Detective was the investigator for the District Attorney but "Jock" Pemberton was like our resident G-man, on hand whenever federal Prohibition Agents conducted local raids (in the photo above Pemberton is the man on the right next to the feds). He also was often alongside the sheriff or Santa Rosa police chief during harrowing moments while they were trying to apprehend the most dangerous criminals.

Yet the most important moment of his career happened after his retirement, when he gave crucial testimony showing the California Attorney General was so corrupt he was running a protection racket out of his office.

In 1926, the peak year of Prohibition here, Pemberton was appointed County Detective although he seemed an unlikely prospect for the job. He was 49 when he took the position, with no background in investigating crime; his only experience in law enforcement being a dozen years as Santa Rosa constable, ending in 1923. He had the gregarious personality of a salesman, which is what he was before and after being constable (real estate, then autos). Jock held high rank in both the Elks and Eagles; he and wife Maude were constantly mentioned in the society columns for attending or hosting parties and whatnot.

Not long after being hired, though, he showed his worth. A 27 year-old man named Jasper Parkins was found dead in his bedroom with a bullet wound to his right temple. The sheriff pegged it as an obvious suicide, even though the dead guy didn't seem troubled and was about to take a walk along the railroad tracks with his brother and niece. Pemberton argued Parkins had his little target pistol in hand when he bent over to pick something up from the floor and bumped his elbow against the edge of the bed. The coroner's jury ruled it an accidental death.

A few weeks later came the bust of the most famous bootlegging operation in county history. In March 1927 Pemberton led a raid on the old Kawana Springs resort where he and the sheriff's department found the long-closed hotel had been retrofitted for a three-story copper still that produced 1,400 gallons of pure alcohol/day. The booze was then trucked to San Francisco and LA where it was processed and bottled as "genuine Gordon gin."

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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