It was a grandest day, to hear the dignitaries tell it.

"It's a day of celebration and a day of tribute," said Mayor Bill Barone. "We as citizens can be very proud of what we've accomplished and of what we see because we've done it all together." Other notables called it "fantastic" and "a very joyous occasion." They all wore flowers on their lapels, pinned there by performers wearing tuxedos and top hats. The Santa Rosa High School marching band played the Rocky theme song and oddly, the "thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat" background music from ABC's Wide World of Sports.

This was happening at the 1982 ribbon-cutting for the mall, which the mayor crowed was "the new heart of our city."

Mall developer Ernest Hahn was also on hand and said he was gratified by all those who supported the project "through thick and thin." The shopping center was going to provide 2,000 permanent new jobs with an annual payroll of $20 million. Oh, sure, only about sixty of the 130 spaces were actually leased at the time, but by the end of the year he expected full occupancy.

What a difference a year makes. In early January 1983 - roughly 300 days since the grand opening - Hahn Inc. sold the mall. Over half the spaces were never rented, and after a lousy Christmas shopping season prospects grew even dimmer as eight tenants moved out.

The Press Democrat had printed countless front page articles and feature spreads cheering for Hahn and portraying the mall as a no-risk road to riches while damning Hugh Codding and other skeptics. Yet when the end came, the PD buried the bombshell story of Hahn's hasty departure in a 500-word item on page eight of a mid-week edition.

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 15, 1978 - groundbreaking day for the downtown mall.

Twice before you've visited this spot; the most recent was the 1982 grand opening of the mall. In 1972 you were also here for a last look-see at the old district west of B before the city began demolishing it all. Those time machine trips were mentioned in the first chapter of this series, "HOW THE MALL CAME TO BE."

But before you now in 1978 is a vast vacant lot, 43 acres scraped clear of the barber shops, the hotels filled with pensioners, the dive bars and the ballet school, the grand Art Deco "Cal" movie palace, the thrift shops and lunch counters. Gone are places where you could swing by after work and go home with the latest Elton John album or a live parakeet in a cage - the sort of eclectic district whose character helps a town thrive. All that remains now is the old Post Office, which will be moved in a couple of years and become the Sonoma County Museum.

About 300 yards away, near what once was the corner of Second and A streets, there's something going on. You see a raised platform with a lectern - although so few are in the audience that a speaker could be easily heard without a microphone.

Such a meager attendance seems odd, considering that morning a PD editorial boasted this is "the beginning of a new day" that will bring "a thriving shopping center in the heart of our city." The paper will later claim a poll shows four out of five residents want the mall opened ASAP.

Yet the crowd doesn't seem too appreciative of the blessings that are surely soon to come. In front of the rostrum a young girl marches back and forth with a protest sign. There are also adults (including a former Planning Commissioner) holding posters that read, "Don't divide our city!" and "Don't isolate Railroad Square" and "Did you vote on urban renewal?"

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

- Jeff Elliott

"This is a grotesque charade!" shouted William Smith, a lawyer prone to spicing his remarks with exclamation points.

He was at City Hall for a 1977 public hearing about a $4 million loan being given to the Santa Rosa Redevelopment Agency. Smith was demanding how and when the money was to be spent. The city was supposed to be repaid either by property taxes or a future bond.

The acting chairman for the Agency, Ted Grosman, gave a curt reply. "Your request will be taken under advisement and our staff, after research, will respond to it," he said, adding it could take a week or more.

"If no one in this room knows when you are going to spend the money, then you must have an incompetent staff," Smith declared.

"We have no intention of answering your questions without more research," said Grosman.

"Research?" Smith yelled, according to the Press Democrat. "Why do you need to research it? You must all be bloomin' idiots!"

Grosman told Smith he was "harrassing the agency." It was around that point when someone called the police.

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

Had City Council members actually read and understood their own report, they might have discovered their pet project was probably going to ruin downtown Santa Rosa.

The document was the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) related to the downtown shopping mall proposed by Los Angeles developer Ernest W. Hahn. State law requires a study be prepared before construction begins on a major project like that and it mostly addresses the sort of issues you might expect - will the project create air pollution, harm water quality, overload power lines, etc. etc. etc. A 321-page draft version written by a San Mateo company was delivered to Santa Rosa a few days before Christmas 1973.

In the following thirty days anyone could comment on what was found (or not found) in the draft. Questions were directed to city staff, the project architect or others involved. Their replies appeared in the final EIR, which was released Oct. 1974. In any EIR that last volume is worth a close read because it almost always has more of the real lowdown about what's going on.

(Here's also a reminder that this is part of a broader series on Santa Rosa redevelopment: "YESTERDAY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER," which includes an index covering everything on the topic going back to the 1960s. This is chapter eight of the series just about the downtown mall)

Critics jumped on the uneven quality of the EIR, but I'll preface that discussion by noting the consultants didn't make much of an effort to learn about Santa Rosa or the history of the project. Not one of the well-informed commenters listed in the sidebar were interviewed. Instead, the people they spoke to included a pharmacist best known for collecting old bottles; a driver's ed teacher; the two women who researched Carrillo family history and the guy who ran the Robert Ripley museum. As far as I can tell, none of the interviewees contributed information or expressed a public opinion about the mall and redevelopment project, either pro or con.

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

In the spring of 1972 a couple of notable men came to Santa Rosa. Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz moved here from Sebastopol and Los Angeles developer Ernest Hahn entered "exclusive negotiations" with the city to build a downtown shopping center.

One fellow inspired powerful men to believe they could pull off an economic miracle for their town. The other invented a kid who tried to delude people into believing in magic pumpkins.

Since there are already plenty of webpages devoted to Peanuts, let's just keep talking about the mall that many feel wrecked Santa Rosa.

This chapter is about public opposition to constructing the mall, particularly the "Save the Cal" campaign to preserve the town's great Art Deco moviehouse on B street. (Here's also a reminder that this is part of a broader series on Santa Rosa redevelopment: "YESTERDAY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER," which includes an index covering everything on the topic going back to the 1960s.)

Two years passed before there was any citizen pushback to building the mall. That may be surprising but as discussed earlier, there could be many reasons why people weren't upset at first about a third of the downtown core being wiped out (and about to be sold to a developer for a fraction of its market value). Some probably thought a big shopping mall would be a good thing - after all, that's what the Press Democrat and all the city leaders kept saying. Some probably didn't understand the scope of what was going to be built; Hahn's architects hadn't shown anyone drawings or models of what it might look like. And some were probably wary because Hugh Codding and his lawyer were loudly opposing the project with its giveaway land deal, and Hugh was never more of a polarizing figure than during those years.

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

From c. 1888 to 1909, Santa Rosa had a flourishing redlight district just two blocks from Courthouse Square. City leaders not only tolerated its presence but encouraged it, even legalizing something very much like modern-day Nevada style prostitution.

Recently (Oct. 20, 2022) I presented a webinar on its history for the Historical Society of Santa Rosa, "Turn on Your Red Light," drawing from material I've published over the last fifteen years here at SantaRosaHistory.com. Here are links to articles which explore all of the topics in greater depth and supplement the webinar presentation.

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

By Christmas 1974, Santa Rosa City Hall was at war. Not good, but at least the bleak concrete architecture that made the government complex look like a fortified bunker now seemed fitting.

The city was fighting its war on several fronts. The county was suing the city, accusing it of exploiting a loophole which would cheat the treasury out of millions of dollars per year. Hugh Codding was now on his seventh lawsuit to block Santa Rosa's Urban Renewal Agency (URA) from working with the developer planning to build the downtown mall, and likewise the city had sued Codding to put obstacles in his plans for a shopping center in Rohnert Park. (A peek into our crystal ball shows that about a year later Rohnert Park will be suing Santa Rosa over building the downtown mall and the developer will sue Codding.) And meanwhile Santa Rosa's City Council was warring with the public, not only refusing to allow a referendum vote on the shopping center but calling the referendum proposal itself as being illegal.

Watch "Game of Thrones"? What happened in Santa Rosa during 1974 and 1975 was filled with just as much conflict and intrigue - not to mention being just as difficult to follow, should you not keep up with each confusing turn in a story that seemed as if it would never end.

The key takeaway from this chapter should be there was never any resistance to building the downtown shopping mall from the City Council or other Santa Rosa decision makers. Making a deal with Los Angeles developer Ernest W. Hahn had broad support from the beginning, even from downtown merchants. They believed it would make Santa Rosa a more prosperous and better place to live.

But as the project became more ambitious the city became more dependent upon it being built, and they indebted the town in ways that would have been considered risky, even scandalous, in other times. City planners convinced themselves the mall would bring in staggering piles of cash and every delay in construction meant the town was being cheated out of what was its due. Money fever raged through the many offices in City Hall like a pandemic, and people who raised questions or urged caution were deemed enemies. Community betterment took a backseat to making sure developer Hahn was kept happy. That 1974 Christmas lawsuit was over the Board of Supervisors fearing school districts would be screwed out of funding in order to keep Hahn's property taxes artificially low.

(Developments described here follow key events in 1972 and early 1973 which were introduced in the previous chapter. If there are unfamiliar terms or names "MR. CODDING HAS SOME OBJECTIONS" is a good starting point, with an index to the whole “ROAD TO THE MALL” series also available.)

Our story resumes as Codding's second lawsuit was filed in June 1973. It raised a valid complaint there had been no public hearings concerning a downtown shopping center - much less, had government approval to build same - yet the city was more gung-ho over Hahn's mall with every passing week.

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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