Pity Charlie Holmes; his bad luck streak continued as his wife nearly burned to death.

That misplaced sympathy appeared in a 1901 Press Democrat item (transcribed below). Today we find it offensive the PD would cast him as the main victim, but turn of the century Santa Rosa ain't like today. The odd story of Charlie Holmes - and particularly, the troubled history of his relationships - offers a revealing peek at how much of a dark side from someone extremely well liked our ancestors were willing to tolerate.

As explored in the previous two chapters, Charlie was front and center for every banquet, holiday parade and amateur stage show. He joined every club he could and was an officer in our local National Guard Company E. Charlie was elected City Marshal (same as being a Chief of Police) in 1898 and was easily reelected two years later.

As Marshal, his duties included being the city tax collector and on November 19, 1901 it was discovered his office had been robbed overnight. Nearly $1,300 - equal to about two years of a worker's earnings - was gone, but nobody knew at the time how much was missing because Holmes' wasn't paying attention to bookkeeping. Worse, the PD article suggested it was an inside job. If that were true, Charlie was the main suspect but regardless, he was on the hook to pay the money back if it was not recovered.

It was two days after the theft that Margaret Holmes had her accident, her clothes catching fire after she fell while carrying a lighted oil lamp. Charles was still at his office but others in the household came to her rescue. "The flames were extinguished, but not before Mrs. Holmes sustained several bad burns," it was reported.

The PD did not link the accident to stress resulting from her husband's legal woes. The paper observed, "...Mrs. Holmes is subject to sudden spells of illness...one of the attacks spoken of came on and she fell with the lamp." More about this in a minute.

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 wasn't supposed to turn out that way. The 1895 Rose Festival was a perfect example of a Victorian American community celebration and afterward was considered a great success, drawing visitors from all over the West Coast, including the mayor of San Francisco and the Governor. It was viewed as being something like Santa Rosa's coming out party.

Hundreds of our ancestors dived in to make that Rose Carnival (its real name) a success through diligent planning and hard work. It also had a major boost because all of the major San Francisco newspapers - the Chronicle, Examiner and Call - touted it as they might a must-see gala happening in their own city. There were full-page features and front page updates over several days. All papers sent artists here to sketch the street scenes and people involved, and as a result it's the best visually documented glimpse we have from 19th century Santa Rosa. Below are a sampling of the drawings which appeared in SF newspaper articles.

Those 1895 doings were also surprising because the previous Rose Carnival in 1894 was remarkable only in that Santa Rosa was able to pull off anything at all. There were less than three weeks from when that one was proposed to the day of the parade. The idea that year was to draw visitors from the "Midwinter Exposition" which was kind of a World's Fair being held in Golden Gate Park.

This time the festivities would stretch over three days in May, Wednesday through Friday. Today we might expect a town celebration like that to be scheduled for a weekend, but in those times Saturday was the big market day, when farmers shopped in town and stores stayed open late. On the last day there was to be a high-profile race (which would mean gambling) and heaven forfend such a thing happen on the same day we were all supposed to be piously sitting in pews.

Newspapers began whipping up interest weeks before the carnival. Their main focus was on the Carnival Queen competition, which gave editors an excuse to print lots of portraits of pretty women. The papers framed it as a beauty contest, cheering for different favorites to win.

Over 7,000 votes were cast at 10¢ per, and during the final hours ballot boxes were stuffed with envelopes containing up to $100. Isabel Donovan won with 4,610 votes. She was a leader in planning this carnival and the one before; she was also a working woman (general manager of the Sunset Telephone Company's office in Santa Rosa) and unlike other nominees, wasn't part of the society clique.

The publicity spotlight was also on cycling, and not just the race held on the final day. John Sheehy's Petaluma Historian blog has a great essay on the 1890s bicycle craze and our Santa Rosa Wheelmen Club invited other clubs large and small. The Democrat reported the head of the Reliance club of Oakland vowed their group "...with its large contingent of lady bicyclists, will come up in a body to our Rose Carnival if invited. It is the boss club of the State, and will come uniformed and all together on wheels....Just think of it, one hundred and fifty gentlemen and ladies to enter the town on wheels escorted by our local wheelers, won’t it be a fine sight?"

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 just the grandest day. Veterans marched in the parade, civic leaders rode horseback. Noble men gave noteworthy speeches and afterwards the Squeedunks ridiculed it all. And on that Fourth of July in 1876, Charles H. Holmes Jr. met his destiny.

For the centennial Santa Rosa threw the biggest party yet seen in Sonoma County. An estimated 8,000 celebrated here; "At an early hour the streets were thronged with carriages, horsemen and well dressed and happy looking men and women," reported the Democrat paper. It was surely more people than the 12 year-old boy had ever seen anywhere, much less crowding the unpaved streets and wooden sidewalks of his hometown.

A procession marched through the "principal streets" led by the Grand Marshal followed by the Santa Rosa Brass Band ("they have improved vastly in their music of late"), the police and departments, veterans (both regular and Bear Flaggers), city and county officials and Odd Fellows' lodge members. There were some participants that might be surprising to us today, such as "Professors of the Colleges" and a "wagon loaded with coal from The Taylor Mountain Coal Mine." Charlie Holmes might well have been in the parade as part of "a company of boys, nearly 100 in number, mounted on horses and appropriately uniformed." By the latter presumably the reporter meant they were wearing shoes, their second best Sunday School clothes and their hair gleamed with a fresh coat of oil.

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

Everyone in Santa Rosa knew him; Charlie Holmes had lived here since he was a small boy, and it's safe to say he was the most popular guy in town at the turn of the century. When his first term as City Marshal expired in 1900 he ran for reelection, and at the local Democratic Party convention he was given their support by unanimous vote.

He was in great demand as a toastmaster and speaker at banquets and such because he had a gift for telling funny stories and reciting comic verse. Following him in the PD is like taking a Grand Tour through the halls of fraternal social clubs, all pungent with the odor of 5¢ cigars. Not only did he entertain at events held by well-known groups such as the Elks, Druids and Native Sons, but he did humorous recitations at a Pumpkin Pie Social for the Woodmen of the World and a smoker hosted by the Knights of the Maccabees. He surely held the town record for the person treated to the most free meals.

The chummy, good ol' boy tenor of those gatherings was quite different than the sides of Santa Rosa he saw as City Marshal (which was the same as being Chief of Police - see part I).

Holmes and his four-man police force were busy, making 225 arrests in the first three months of 1900 alone. That seems like a lot considering the population was smaller than Cotati has today but little of it was serious law-breaking, at least if you went by what appeared in the newspapers. Offenders riding a bike on the sidewalk were subject to arrest; so were curfew violators (anyone 18 or younger out after 8:30PM "without any lawful business"). Boys with air guns were shooting at chickens. Laundry burglaries were a thing, which presumably was stealing off clotheslines. In 1901 they thought there was a serial laundry thief, but Holmes tracked the culprit down - it was a "big dog" dragging away coats, shoes and rugs to gnaw on. It sometimes seemed Marshal Holmes and Santa Rosa must be down the road a piece from Sheriff Andy and Mayberry.

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

William Cox was having lunch at home when he heard the whistle of his train. “Toot, toot,” it blew as the locomotive left Sebastopol bound for Santa Rosa.

As William was the train's engineer and he was clearly not aboard it, he assumed Eugene, who kept the engine stoked with wood, had received an urgent order from the California Northwestern railway station in Santa Rosa to bring the train there.

But Eugene Ellison was not in the cab either. The man with his hand on the throttle was Will Thompson, who everybody called "Brick." He was 31 years old and had never driven a train before. He was also insane.

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 nearly dawn when a Boy Scout jumped off his bicycle and burst into the hotel lobby with an urgent message: The building next door was on fire. At about the same time, the driver of the city street sweeper found billowing smoke in the alley behind the hotel and pulled the nearby fire alarm. It was 5AM on May 8, 1936.

Santa Rosa's Fire Department was there almost immediately with their eight year-old La France "Quad" fire truck, capable of throwing 750 gallons of water a minute. Fire Chief William Muenter saw that wouldn't be adequate so he also brought on line their older 650 gallon pumper.

Meanwhile, The New Hotel Santa Rosa was being evacuated. Although the building on the corner of Fourth and B (currently the location of the CitiBank office) was best known as Rosenberg's, the department store only occupied the street level with a mezzanine. The eighty room residential hotel took up the second and third floors, with about 65 people staying there when the fire began.

As soon as the Boy Scout with a newspaper route told night clerk Russell Sutor about the fire he roused his boss Leo Bonalanza, who lived at the hotel with his wife and two kids. Sutor began calling rooms from the switchboard to awaken guests while hotel manager Bonalanza contacted the Occidental Hotel and other places in town to accomodate their displaced residents. An elderly woman was carried to the Occidental but otherwise people gathered in the lobby still in their pajamas ("scantily clad" and "partially clad" were the terms used by our Santa Rosa newspapers).

Evacuating the hotel was precautionary - the fire was contained at first to the McDannel Building on its east side and besides, the big store-hotel was built with reinforced concrete after the 1906 earthquake and always touted as fireproof.

There were several tenants in the McDannel, most prominently a hat shop and the L. A. Drake electrical supply and paint store. Signs for those businesses can be seen in the photographs below. The fire started in the backroom of Drake's store, but the exact cause was never determined (as far as I can find). Muenter told the press he thought it might have been a wiring short circuit or spontaneous combustion from flammable dirty rags.

The sequence of events during the early part of the fire are unclear, but by the end of the first hour Chief Muenter realized his two engines weren't enough, so he reached out to Petaluma and Guerneville for assistance. What we don't know is whether that happened before or after McDannel's exploded.

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

What does a town do after suffering a traumatic event? Try to quickly forget or make an effort to remember? It was mid-December 1920, after the sheriff was murdered and his killers were lynched. Santa Rosa seemed to want to move on; Christmas was two weeks away and most everyone had better things to do than stew over those horrific events.

Yet there were some who couldn't let it pass. Sheriff James “Sunny Jim” Petray was extremely popular throughout Sonoma County, known as a cheerful guy with a big heart. He deserved to be remembered and honored - a monument dedicated to him, maybe.

This is the surprising epilogue to the series “THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID” about the aftermath of the 1920 lynching in Santa Rosa. It's surprising because some were very upset over the design and setting of the memorial to Petray. It's also surprising because in more than a century we haven't heard about them getting so worked up - I stumbled across this forgotten history while researching something completely different.

Our story picks up four days after the sheriff's funeral. The concept of building a Petray Memorial Fund quickly turned to organizing a benefit baseball game between Santa Rosa's home team Rosebuds and a pickup team of major league professionals spending the winter in San Francisco. Included were indeed some celebrities of the time: “Lefty” O’Doul, "Duster" Mails and "Duffy" Lewis. (I know nothing about baseball so anyone who wants to argue about them pls. squabble elsewhere.) The Press Democrat claimed Babe Ruth might play, which was never likely.

With only two months to organize (game day was February 22) the community came together and pulled it off with remarkable ease. Extra streetcars and buses were scheduled. They formed committees galore; one prepped the grounds at Recreation Park (right behind our present high school) and extended the bleachers; others managed ticket sales by districts. A brass band of forty local musicians formed to play at the courthouse before the game, with Lee Brothers' freight trucks prepared to cart them over to the baseball field so they could toot more tunes between innings.

The Governor sent his regrets for not being able to attend but the Lieutenant Governor threw out the first pitch, the band entertained and comics performed a warmup show. The "Salient Six" all-stars beat the Rosebuds 2-1.

At $1.00 each, tickets were "going like hot cakes at Davis' Rotisserie" (per Santa Rosa Republican). The Farm Bureau bought a block so they could attend together, as did the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. The sheriff's office in Eureka ordered 100 and the San Francisco sheriff took 500. Another 700 were sold at the gate. The final attendance was not recorded, but estimated up to 3,000. The total receipts ended up being over $2700, with a net profit of $2400 - over $80k today.

They had expected to raise about $800 so getting 3x as much was quite a windfall. Original memorial plans were modest - just a drinking fountain in front of the sheriff's office (on Hinton Ave. across from Courthouse Square). But now that there were fistfuls of money available, ideas on how it should be spent rolled in. The Sonoma County Federation of Women’s Clubs lobbied for a double row of trees planted along Redwood Highway, which the Santa Rosa Republican was quick to shoot down.

A committee of three was formed to make a decision; it was headed by Judge Seawell and included a representative from Petaluma and Healdsburg. By the end of the year it was announced they had commissioned J. W. Dolliver, architect of the beautiful courthouse, to construct a memorial on the northeast corner of Courthouse Square.

The design would be a kind of proscenium stage, raised a couple of steps above the sidewalk and 24 feet wide, with a drinking fountain on each side. The back was curved and at the top was carved, "Noble Life Crowned With Heroic Death Rises Above Self and Outlives the Pride and Pomp and Glory of the Mightiest Empire of The Earth." (It was from an 1868 speech by future president Garfield at the first Memorial Day celebration.)

But this was to be no empty stage - a San Francisco artist was separately commissioned to create a statue. "The main figure in the design is the Goddess of Justice, seated, with sword and wreath upon her knee. The whole is to be eight feet high and constructed of artificial stone," wrote the Healdsburg Tribune. It was so large that sculptor Henry von Sabern used three tons of clay just to build the model.

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 March 1963, the first annual "Congress for Community Progress" was held at the Flamingo Hotel. Formed by the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, its avowed mission was to "unify community thought and action" around ways to improve the city, according to general chairman Judge Hilliard Comstock, while avoiding "rehashing mistakes of the past."

The 268 participants - drawn from downtown business interests, social clubs, churches, unions and the City Hall bureaucracy - were split into seven panels. Some of their recommendations had little or no chance: An arts festival intended to draw visitors by the hundreds of thousands, a volunteer-run "central service club" for all elderly and handicapped residents, donations of large plots of land for new parks and baseball fields, and a "United Crusade" to collect donations for all local charities.

In contrast, the streets and traffic panel did not indulge in daydreams. They pushed to lobby for a bill in the state legislature for higher gas and road taxes, plus an upcoming municipal bond vote that would fund over $1 million in streetwork. "There's nothing wrong with Sonoma County and Santa Rosa's road, street and parking problems that money won't cure," promised Press Democrat editor Art Volkerts.

Much has been written here about Santa Rosa's urban renewal misadventures during the 1960s and 1970s, which culminated with the city bulldozing a third of downtown so a private developer could build the mall. Should you be unfamiliar with that sad story, here’s a short recap or Gentle Reader can plunge into the extensive series about it all, “YESTERDAY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.”

But before we began tearing those buildings down, there was another civic program that set the stage for Santa Rosa destroying its Shadow of a Doubt character in the name of progress. That was the city's embrace of a street improvement plan to supersize many of our streets, both commercial and residential. Because of it, Santa Rosa gradually turned from “The City Designed for Living” into "The City Designed for Cars."

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

Let's play a game: Try to name a city more self-destructive than Santa Rosa.

We split the town in half (twice!) and hid the downtown creek from sight, although it was the natural feature beloved by all. We encouraged demolishing historic neighborhoods, plowing ahead with urban renewal even after that kind of planning was widely discredited. And if you wanna see someone's blood actually boil, take an older person down to Courthouse Square and ask them to point out the courthouse.

There's lots more. We needlessly widened many commercial and residential streets to better accomodate the Car Culture of the 1960s (this is the topic of the following article). One of those street projects was so outrageous it demands special attention because it involved the demolition of Luther Burbank's home. That happened just a few days before the annual Rose Festival - technically the Luther Burbank Rose Festival, of course - and where that year's theme was "Our American Heritage." Oh, the irony. Ironies.

The history of Burbank's lost house was told here earlier, so there's no need to rehash all the details. But briefly, it was built to his specifications in 1906 and remained his home until he died there twenty years later. The ground floor was almost entirely used as his office and on its front steps he was photographed with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and other luminaries. Once the home was built, he referred to the place we now call Luther Burbank Home & Gardens as the “Old Homestead,” or the “Experimental Farm.”

The seeds for its destruction were planted in 1960 when a New Jersey consulting firm hired by the city proposed connecting Sonoma Ave. to Ellis St. As with so many of Santa Rosa's urban renewal plans, there was no good reason given why this should be done.

Their design - which can be seen in a previous article - would have diverted Metanzas Creek into Santa Rosa Creek around E Street. The city could then reclaim the filled in lower part of Metanzas to create a new park or maybe "a civic center perhaps to include a new City Hall, Chamber of Commerce building, and state offices." Although we'll see there was a later squabble over the route of the Sonoma/Ellis connection, it was always going to cut through the property with Burbank's home.

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's early 1861 and the nation is falling apart. Seven states have seceded from the Union and their troops are seizing local military forts. The New Orleans Mint and Customhouse are commandeered along with $350,000 (equivalent to $18M today). There are widespread worries an attack on Washington D.C. is imminent - yet hope abounds an outright war can still be avoided.

Most Americans could stay reasonably abreast of the crisis without too much effort. There were an estimated 3,000 newspapers and trains, stagecoaches and the post office carried those papers far and wide. News also could also spread quickly via telegrams and letters. It was a wondrously efficient network - at least, as long as you lived east of the Mississippi River.

In the critical months leading up to the Civil War there was no transcontinental railroad or telegraph. Not even a tiny wisp of news from the East Coast could reach California or Oregon in less than three weeks, which was how long it took mail or a messenger to get here via stagecoach from Missouri. And that was only under ideal conditions with the best luck; a lot might go wrong during a 2,000 mile bumpy trip across deserts and mountains on rough trails.

Thus it came to pass a freight company that supplied western military forts started the Pony Express in April 1860, with the promise that a relay of fast horsemen could deliver mail to California in 7-10 days. Only rarely, under ideal weather conditions and with a great deal of luck, did it meet such a tight schedule.

By coincidence, the Pony Express launched just as Sonoma County newspapers were starting to gain wider Bay Area circulation. During the mid-1850s there were two lackluster rural weeklies, the Sonoma County Journal in Petaluma and the Sonoma Democrat in Santa Rosa. In April 1860 the Democrat was bought by Thomas L. Thompson and in May Samuel Cassiday and a partner took over the nascent Petaluma Argus, which was only a few months old and thus far had been published in fits and starts. (MORE on the genealogy of these early newspapers)

There weren't many places in the West during 1860 that could support three papers, but Sonoma County then had the most people on the coast after San Francisco. Also, the papers offered more than the usual market reports and items on local farmers drunkenly falling off barn roofs. Thompson's Democrat was rabidly pro secession, pro slavery and anti Lincoln. Cassiday was a "Black Republican" (meaning an abolitionist) and once the war started the Argus offered extensive coverage of Union troop movements along with battlefield reports. The Journal took a moderate stance and advocated for peace until the war began, then often wrote about it with a detached tone as if it were a conflict between two nations overseas.

The Pony Express updates were like catnip to their readers. Columns headlined "EASTERN NEWS - BY PONY EXPRESS" (or similar) were usually at the top of the front pages and it's easy to understand the appeal; the news in those columns has an exciting immediacy even though the events happened weeks earlier. It reminds me of what it was like following breaking news on Twitter during its heyday: A frothy mixture of solid facts, opinionated guesswork and crazy bullshit.

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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