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

Any progress on saving the Carrillo Adobe? Nope; as of this writing (2022) what walls still exist continue to melt like very slowly thawing snow. The last restoration effort remains the shed roof put over the place thirty years ago, paid for by the Carrillo family and other donors. We should also be thankful the chainlink fence was finally repaired in 2012 after a homeless camp was found to be stealing original timbers from the building to use for firewood and tent poles.

Although it's destined to be a city park someday (yes?) its future rests with the San Jose developer who owns the land and intends to build 162 condos next to it. That project is now called the "Creekside Village Townhomes" and a development plan was filed in 2020 (PDF) complete with blueprints, architectural sections, landscaping, elevation setbacks, chosen paint colors, streetlight designs and all the other trimmings a city would expect for a major housing development. The site plans only specify an outline for a "Future Carrillo Adobe Park" next door.

Devil's advocate: Why should we even care if those ruins are preserved? We've been telling ourselves the same tale about the place for 150 years and frankly, it's not all that interesting. The widow Carrillo arrives with her many children and they build the adobe. After the family moves out, a group of Americans use it for a store. Before long those fellows dash off to establish Santa Rosa and the adobe becomes a barn, a warehouse, a prune drying shed and other uninteresting things. A joke plaque could read: "On this spot nothing happened."

It's tragic we have allowed the adobe to fall into shambles, but it's just as bad (or worse, in my opinion) that we have allowed its history to be scraped down to those bare bones, shorn of anything having to do with the lives of the Carrillos or the cultural importance of the place while they were there. Why has this happened?

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

Guess which of these men is fake. Hint: It's the one whose smile actually seems genuine.

Between 1971 and 1998, Santa Rosa had a Ripley museum near downtown. No, it wasn't one of the amusement halls as can be visited down on Fisherman's Wharf, with its shrunken heads and other curiosities. This was a museum dedicated to the memory of Robert Ripley, whose popular "Believe it or Not!" syndicated cartoons made him a celebrity. He was also a Santa Rosa native and is buried in the Odd Fellows cemetery.

Despite his fame, it's a bit of a puzzle why anyone would want to create a museum in his honor. A biography was published a few years ago which I reviewed here; Ripley, I wrote, was "a creepy, manipulative jerk that seemed to fundamentally dislike people, probably himself most of all." He had few (if any) friends and when he died in 1949 he passed mostly unmourned, with hardly anyone turning out for his funeral other than immediate family.

Still, his was a household name even after death and Santa Rosa enthusiastically endorsed the idea of the museum. No surprise; after all, if this city is known for anything it's for leeching off the names of famous people who lived here, so Robert Ripley slips in neatly post-Luther Burbank and pre-Charles Schulz.

A Ripley museum had been proposed twice while he was still alive, both times by Ripley himself. And he specified it had to be in a particular building - the Church From One Tree.

Even before Ripley was born in 1890, the church was a local landmark and a West Coast tourist attraction (see sidebar below). It was actually the First Baptist Church, located at the corner of Ross and B streets, and the Ripley family were members - well, his mother, at least. His father Isaac was among those who helped build it in 1873. The church gained much wider recognition when Ripley included it in one of his cartoons that appeared in newspapers everywhere.

Ripley's first bid for the church came in 1940, when he wrote to the pastor and political leaders that he wished to buy it "to house the relics, records and mementoes of early California days" alongside his own "exhibits sufficient to make a complete and interesting museum." (Decades later, Hugh Codding tried the same feint by claiming he planned to donate a museum to the Historical Society while just a “remainder would be devoted" to his taxidermy collection, which ended up glomming most of the building.)

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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