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THE UNSUFFERABLE SENATOR SANFORD

“Honest & Fearless,” someone scrawled under a snapshot of him in the California archives, but many more were inclined to denounce him as a disgrace to the State Senate in which he served. He claimed to be speaking on behalf of the natural order intended by “God Almighty,” but critics argued he was the mouthpiece for the liquor industry. He insisted he was just defending the traditional domestic roles of women; a great many saw him as a bully demanding continued discrimination against them.

State Senator J. B. Sanford (D-Ukiah) was the de facto leader of those in California opposed to women’s suffrage during the years before the October, 1911 vote in the state. Every voter was mailed a pamphlet with excerpts of his “grandmother speech” which mocked suffragists and their demands for equality.

His hateful and misogynistic opinions may seem ridiculous today but in viewing history, context is everything. The passage of suffrage in California is all the more remarkable once you realize how extreme Sanford’s views were, and that so many male voters agreed with him. San Francisco, Alameda, and Marin Counties all opposed giving women the right to vote, and suffrage was likewise defeated in Petaluma, Sonoma, Windsor and Healdsburg. It won in Santa Rosa by 14 points, which gave it the boost to pass in Sonoma county overall by four percent. See “THE SUMMER WHEN WOMEN WON THE VOTE” for more background.

As part of the Petaluma Historical Library & Museum suffrage centennial exhibit, we put together a “pseudo-radio play” that imagines a 1911 interview with Sanford. In it he reads a portion of that infamous speech and has a short debate with Frances McG. Martin, the eloquent President of the Santa Rosa Political Equality Club who frequently jousted with Sanford on the editorial pages of the Santa Rosa Republican. In the production almost all of Sanford’s remarks and most of Martin’s are drawn directly from original sources.



Like a certain orange-hued impeachee, Sanford was an anti-intellectual populist. Today we’d also call him a radical Libertarian; when he ran for the nomination for governor in 1914 he vowed to repeal “about three-fourths of all the laws” and change the state constitution so that the legislature would meet only once every four years.

Some of the cloddish things said by Sanford need annotation. He often called his foes “long haired men” and “short haired women.” Yeah, he did make homophobic slurs (in the full Senate speech he tossed off the line, “we all despise a mannish woman and an effeminate, sissy man”) but the hair-length jibes were really shorthand political insults.

sanfordarchivesSanford did not come to oppose suffrage for politically opportunistic reasons in 1911 – his misogyny against what he called “the New Woman” can be traced at least as far back as 1900. That year he praised a commencement address given at a women’s college where a Georgia judge said women shouldn’t expect equal rights until they proved themselves equal to men. “Woman is now an experiment in the working world. She is a new competitor with man. When she becomes established, and whenever she demonstrates to the world and to herself that she is a fixture, her rights will surely follow.” (It’s probably needless to say that the graduating students were indignant over his speech.) Sanford never said anything quite as crazy as that, but he embraced the same point: Women did not deserve equality and “the New Woman” was being pushy by insisting they did.

He often identified his male adversaries as the Los Angeles “long hairs” – pastors and other religious conservatives – who called for prohibition and tough laws against vice. LA was “the promised city for white Protestant America,” as historian Kevin Starr put it, “prudish, smug and chemically pure.” The “chemically pure” remark comes from a famous 1913 essay that bemoaned LA had been taken over by intolerant moral purists from the Midwest with a “frenzy for virtue.” Besides hating them for wanting more regulations passed, Sanford and others believed the Angelenos supported women’s suffrage because they hoped it would lead to voter approval of a completely “bone-dry” version of Prohibition.

As heard in the imagined debate between Sanford and Martin, he did not hesitate to trot out misinformation and flagrant lies to plead his case against suffrage. He might have made up some of it, but the “antis” had been propagandizing the Big Lie for years.

Sanford repeatedly said it was shown that most women did not want the right to vote. He based that on a non-binding 1895 referendum held in Massachusetts, where both men and women could vote to put suffrage on the general ballot. The pro-suffrage side lost badly, although almost every woman who voted wanted it to pass. Yet it failed because only four percent of the women in the state came out to vote in the referendum. The anti-suffrage groups such as the “Man Suffrage Association” (!) spun this result as meaning 96 percent of the women were opposed to suffrage – a completely dishonest interpretation.

The 1911 suffrage campaign wasn’t the end of Sanford’s political career, but he didn’t run again for office. He was mentioned often in the Santa Rosa papers as passing through to his cottage in Dillon Beach, where he apparently lived most of the time. But until his Senate term expired in 1914 he pursued his other favorite bias: Racism.

Since 1907 he had been trying to get his anti-Japanese alien land bill through the state legislature; Sanford was not shy in admitting that his intent was that “California should be maintained as a white man’s country.” After raising alarm in Washington by his big push for passage in 1912-1913, the progressive Governor Hiram Johnson hijacked the issue and passed a watered-down version that had little impact on Japanese farmers and smoothed over Japanese-American diplomatic tensions caused by Sanford’s bill and his acerbic racist comments.

 

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One of the brightest, ablest and most genial young men in the house of representatives is Judge J. M. Griggs of Georgia. Usually he is a man of great discretion and tact, but unless the Baltimore Sun is the greatest liar in the country the judge recently stirred up a most ablebodied hornets’ nest in delivering an address at Rome. Ga., to the graduating class of Shorter College For Young Ladies, for he tackled the new woman and pronounced a eulogy for the old fashioned woman which it does the heart good to read, but which is liable to bring down on the judge’s devoted head the wrath of every short haired woman in the land, and I fear that my genial friend will not have as easy sailing in the contest which he has evoked as he generally has in his debates with his fellow congressmen, where he is thoroughly capable of holding his own. I have no doubt that somehow he will be able to come out victor, but he will need to have all his wits about him. No doubt the judge was influenced by patriotic and philanthropic motives. His address as reported in The Sun is one of the most brilliant that I ever read. It shines and glistens and sparkles like the ocean in the morning sunshine. But the trouble is, the more it shone and the more it glistened and sparkled the madder his audience got, for it was composed of young women who want to belong to the new woman class.

– Ukiah Dispatch Democrat, August 31, 1900

 

 

The “long haired men” and the “short haired women” are all in favor of woman suffrage. The courageous, chivalrous and manly men and the womanly women, the real mothers and home builders of the country, are opposed to this innovation in American political life. There was a bill before the legislature (The Sanford bill) which proposed to leave the matter to the women of the state, before the men should vote on it. The suffragettes, knowing full well that the women would vote down this measure, caused its defeat. Why the women would have beaten it ten to one. The club women and the mannish women, and the effeminate, sissy men are for the suffrage amendment. Let the men and women who are in favor of keeping the home pure and sacred come out in the open and defeat this amendment. The election will take place Oct. 10th.

– Ukiah Dispatch Democrat, September 22, 1911

 

 

Extracts from A Speech Against Woman’s Suffrage
Delivered by Senator J. B. Sanford in the California State Senate

Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Senate: I bow in humble submission to the absolute supremacy of woman so long as she is woman, but when she leaves her sphere she abdicates her throne and throws down the scepter of her power. The gentle influence that goes out from the little circle where woman is queen shapes the destinies of nations. The bedside prayer of one pure, noble. Christian woman far outweighs all the work of all the mannish female politicians on earth. (Applause)

WOMANS’ SPHERE

Men and woman are constituted differently and have different spheres of usefulness. We all admire a manly man and a womanly woman. We all despise a mannish woman and an effeminate, sissy man! The attempt to confer upon woman those duties and responsibilities that are distinctly for men is entirely wrong as it will blunt their finer sensibilities and bring to the front a political type of woman whose conduct and characteristic are repellant to those who cherish conservative and reverent ideals of womanhood.

Woman has her sphere in life and so has man and they cannot be changed without producing an ill effect. Man’s chivalry, love, respect and esteem for woman will never allow him to do aught but what is for her good. And any attempt to shove woman into man’s sphere to be tossed about where men congregate will lessen the respect and esteem for her. There isn’t a man on earth but what respects woman as woman and who would not defend her unto death to preserve her good name and honor. He would go further for the defense of fair woman than in any other cause on earth. But this pro- position of shoving woman into too much familiarity with men breeds contempt and lessens the regard for her.

HOME, THE PLACE FOR WOMAN

Man can attend to all the affairs of a governmental nature. But in order that our country shall endure we must look to the home side of life. The home is the place for woman. God knows she has enough to do there in bringing up the little ones in the way they should go. If she does that duty well and trains up the modest daughter with gentle influences and makes the young boy regardful of the respect that is due his sister and his playmates’ sisters all will be well with this republic of ours. (Applause.)

WOMANS SUFFRAGE A FAILURE

In the states where woman suffrage has been tried it hqs proven to be a failure and the people wish they could undo the wrong they have done. The great majority of women do not want to vote and thus have the added responsibility of serving on juries and doing man’s work. The real mothers and home builders are opposed to this measure. They do not want the sanctity of their home invaded by every little constable that may be traveling up and down the highway for office. (Cheers.)

KEEP THE HOMES PURE.

Let us keep our homes pure and independent and all will be well with the republic. Let us make them homes o£ refinement in which we shall teach our daughters that modesty, gentleness and patience are the charms of woman. Let us make them temples of liberty in which we shall teach our sons that an honest conscience is every man’s first political law, that no force can rob him and no splendor justify the surrender of the simplest right of a free and independent citizen.

PENDULUM HAS SWUNG TOO FAR.

My friends, we have drifted too far from the ideals of the fathers of the republic. The pendulum has swung too far. We have too much new era and too much new woman. Why if some of the old grandmothers that have rocked the cradle of earth’s greatest patriots and reared the best women on earth could be called back to earth they would be astounded beyond comprehension. Let good old grandma come back and take a walk down the street with us and see what meets her gaze. Suddenly a something approaches her, and she eyes the “what-is-it” in amazement.

THE NEW MAN AND THE NEW WOMAN.

It has on a fried collar and a boiled shirt, has a bushy head of hair not unlike a Hottentot, wears a hat about the size of your hand. It also wears one eyeglass, sucks a cane and talks with a drawl. Being told it was a Man suffragette grandma mutters ” what strange things we see when we haven’t got a gun” and soliloquizes as follows;
“A very small brain and a very small cane
And a sweet button-hole bouquet;
A very small hat and a pocket book flat
Wears the nice young man of today.”

Grandma proceeds a little further when a ruffling of skirts causes her to take off her spectacles and view a kangaroo shape that approaches. It has on a man’s shirt front, a collar and tie to match, wears tan shoes and hen skin hose. It has on a hat that sticks out over a half a mile with a multitude of birds and an ostrich on it. It wears a coat, the sleeves of which look like a sack of hops, and walks with a gait that reminds one of a pair of bars as it jumps along in its hobble skirts. Grandma rubs her eyes as the kangaroo shape hops by m its skirts with a large valise-like pocket book satchel in one hand. Being told it was a Suffragette, she soliloquizes thusly:
“A very sweet smile and a bushel of style
And a hat towering up to the sky;
A nobby silk dress and a dog to caress
And a sofa on which to lie.” Is this the woman of today? (Prolonged applause and laughter.)

DEFINITION OF A SUFFRAGETIE

(At this juncture a voice from the gallery asks “What is a Suffragette”?)
“I will tell you,” continued the Senator, “by reading from a letter of a dear old mother in Oakland.— A Suffragette is a mannish woman who kisses lap dogs instead of babies and who wants to raise hell but no children” (Wild applause in gallery and hisses from Suffragettes.)

A Suffragette is a woman who believes in single blessedness and would decimate the race if she could. With her the world is all wrong. She wants to regulate the birth rate of the nation and propigate her own species by a process of chemical analysis or “Chickaluma incubation”. Now, if she will only regulate the death rate the problem of human life will have been solved. (Tumultuous applause and laughter.)

Oh, you kid, I’ll get you yet, you Suffragette!

A GLANCE INTO THE FUTURE

Poor old grandma, of whom we were just speaking, sees how the pendulum has swung the wrong way and goes back to her grave and turns over with a sigh. But if she returns to this realm fifty years hence she will see still greater wonders. Time has wrought great changes and wonderful changes are yet to come.

We are standing in the daybreak of he 20th century and wonderful things will the mind of man evolve. Paraphrasing Bob Taylor, I think some magician greater even than Edison will coax the laws of nature into easy compliance with his dreams. He will invent a huge tube and call it the “Electroscoot”. Passengers will enter it at one end in New York, press the button and arrive in San Francisco two hours before they started. An invention will be made where by the young man of the future can stand at his “Kissophone” in Sacramento and kiss his sweetheart in San Francisco with the same delightful sensations as though he were holding her hand. Some noble Liebig will, by a concentration of the elements of food, enable a man to carry a whole years’ provisions in his vest pocket. Senator Charley Shortridge can then store his raiment in the head of his cane and the commissary department of the entire army need consist of but one lop-eared mule and a pair of saddle bags. Some dreaming learuss will perfect the flying machine and on the aluminum wings of the swift Pegasus of the air the light hearted society girl will sail among the stars and behind a dark cloud where no one’s allowed, make love to the man in the moon. The rainbow will be converted into a vast Ferris wheel. All men will become baldheaded and learn to sing sweet baby songs as they rock the cradle and wash the dishes. The women will wear bloomers and run the government——and then the world will come to an end. Cheers.

And, from out of the wreck of world and the dissolution of nature and the smoke and dust of the awful crash will emerge a Suffragette; and seating herself on the top rail of creation she will shake the dust and ashes out of her feathers and look around over the ruin she has wrought and say; Well, haven’t I raised h—?” (Laughter and applause.)

– Ukiah Dispatch Democrat, September 22, 1911

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WHEN THE GREAT OLD LIBRARY CLOSED FOREVER

It happened without any warning: “Santa Rosa’s Public Library will close at 6PM today and suspend services until another building can be found,” the Press Democrat article announced on November 17, 1960.

What town closes down its library? And can they even do that? Oh, sure, the old building had its faults, everybody knew. The building could be overcrowded after school or on weekends and the shelves were so full that books were also piled on the floor, which had something of a slant.

Behind those ivy-covered walls the place was thick with sentiment. Three generations of Santa Rosans had warm memories starting with children’s story hours, of later reference desk help with homework, of taking home lightweight books to pass the time or stronger reading to sharpen one’s wits. Out-of-town newspapers had classified ads to help find a new job or place to live that wasn’t here; magazines presented stories and pictures of places to dream they could someday see.

soad(RIGHT: Scene from Shadow of a Doubt, 1943)

And not to overlook that the building was a landmark – the library had been a centerpiece in two major motion pictures, with the Chamber of Commerce touting it as a tourist attraction.

Whatever was wrong with the old place, couldn’t the damage be fixed?

No, authorities said. Or maybe yes – with the caveat that everyone would hate how it looked afterwards. But it wasn’t really that simple a question because the real, unspoken answer was this: “Don’t ask the question because we’ve already made a decision.” And what the city and Library Board of Trustees had decided to do was tear the building completely down and replace it with something they had already committed to build. Landmark, public will, and everything else be damned.

The given reason for padlocking the doors was that the building wasn’t up to fire codes and was structurally unsound. A letter to the Trustees from City Manager Sam Hood told them to immediately “move out of the building or close it” (i.e. shut down all town library services).

1961library(RIGHT: Find the temporary Santa Rosa Library. Photo: Sonoma County Library)

After a mad scramble to find space downtown, a shrunken version of the Santa Rosa Free Public Library opened just three weeks later on Exchange Avenue across from the courthouse. It was now in a former dance hall, on the second floor above the “Uptown Beauty Salon” and the “Bambi Room” cocktail lounge. The new digs were probably not rated to carry that much of a weight load and were just as much a firetrap (or more) than the old library, as the only access was via a narrow set of stairs. And so the world turned for over six years, until the new library finally opened on February 19, 1967.

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The topic of the old library still comes up surprisingly often on social media; in FaceBook nostalgia groups some can still recall being there and lament that it’s gone. It also often comes up in regards of the 1906 earthquake, as photos of its partial collapse seem to be second in popularity only to those of the courthouse with its toppled dome.

In those forums two reasons are usually given for why it was torn down. Its unreinforced masonry was a huge danger (a topic discussed below) and/or it was another victim of Santa Rosa’s maniac efforts in the 1960s to destroy much of its own history, when the downtown area was declared chock-full of urban blight that must be bulldozed ASAP. Those dark years are handled in the ongoing series, “YESTERDAY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.”

But neither of those arguments were made at the time – when the push for a new library began in 1959, the only issue was that Santa Rosa had outgrown its 6,000 sq. ft. building. As the Library Board hired an architect and bickered with the City Council about their proposed construction budget that year and over much of the next, not once did any article in the Press Democrat mention there were safety concerns about the building. It was just the library was very crowded and had to limit purchases of new books because there wasn’t enough shelf space.

bookstacked(RIGHT: Books stored on the floor in Santa Rosa Carnegie Library, 1960. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

The budget debate had two angles. The Library Board said they needed $1,250,000 while the Council argued they could cut back by eliminating frivolities, such as an elevator and air conditioning. The Board insisted the new library stay at the same location, while some on the Council wanted its prime real estate sold to help pay for the new place.

Jumping into this conflict came Hugh Codding, who in that era kept relentlessly popping up in the news like an Alfred Hitchcock cameo. Codding was his usual obnoxious – yet charming! – self in trying to sweet-talk both sides to instead remodel the old shoe factory, on the west side of modern Brookwood Ave between 2nd and 3rd. Sure, it had less than half the space the library needed, but so what? There was plenty of parking. Even when librarian David Sabsay pointed out that 4 in 5 patrons walked to the library while doing other downtown errands, old Hugh was undeterred and followed with a pitch for a lease-back deal. The word “no” wasn’t in his vocabulary (nor was “rebar” apparently).

Through 1959 and early 1960 talks slogged on. Did the library really need to buy so many new books? Why can’t it be moved out to the sticks so we can sell the property? Hey, Codding is back with a new proposal for his old factory! And while we should never cast all of our elected officials as bonafide idiots, at one City Council meet an apparently exasperated Sabsay even had to explain that a library was a hallmark of, you know, civilization.

Finally, in May 1960 – fifteen months into the process – the city sent the chief building inspector over to evaluate the old library’s condition. From the PD article on the report, it seemed like he was still giving the City Council the option to kick the can further down the road, although his conclusion was that “the structural safety and stability of the building are questionable.”

But the details found in the report should have caused the building to be immediately red tagged. Floors were overloaded with twice the weight they were designed for and not fastened to the foundation, which was settling unevenly. Efforts to brace the building after the 1906 earthquake included two steel cross beams connecting the opposite walls – but that rigidity only made matters worse as the library’s foundation settled, resulting in severe vertical cracks and the walls bulging outward.

librarybracing(RIGHT: Bookshelf bracing in Santa Rosa Carnegie Library, 1960. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Ironically, the report appeared exactly a week after the PD printed a promo section with the claim, “The Santa Rosa library facilities are good, although not large enough at present for the growing city, but plans call for new and larger library facilities soon.”

The Library Trustees hired a San Francisco engineer to produce another report. His conclusion was that the only way the building could be made structurally sound was by encasing the whole shebang in a steel exoskeleton, then covering that with four inches of high density concrete. Less City of Roses, more City of Chernobyl.

A senior state Fire Marshal surveyed the 57 year-old building and said that unless two more exits were added there was no “reasonable degree of safety from fire and panic to occupants.” An electrician’s report stated the wiring was “very inadequate” and a fire danger. They immediately took the space heaters away from library staff.

The City Council had already approved putting a library construction bond on a Jan. 1961 special bond election along with several million$ for city infrastructure improvements. But after those alarming reports came the tense meetings with the city where it was decided to lock the doors; the city library’s future now rested on spinning the election roulette wheel in hopes the public would agree to build a new library.

Things began moving fast. Until the new library was built, the city library would have to immediately find an interim location for the two years that was expected for construction. Before they settled on upper Bambi, Codding had offered a spot in Montgomery Village that used to be the Big Boy Market (2400 Magowan Drive, currently Dano’s Liquors). Everybody ignored him.

Voters who read the Press Democrat now found a steady stream of alarming articles casting the library story as a crisis. “I’m amazed to find some people who still think the building is usable,” said City Manager Sam Hood. A library Board member called it an “acute and desperate situation.” Councilman Karl Stolting pointed to the part from engineer’s report about the unbolted floor joists and remarked that an earthquake jolt might knock them off the masonry, causing the floors to pancake. “At least don’t have so many kids in there,” he remarked.

But the hair-on-fire award goes to the editor who wrote a PD op-ed, “Library Closing Overdue” just a few months after that promo piece assuring that “the Santa Rosa library facilities are good”:

If you want, you can take along a plumb-bob to confirm that your eyes are not playing tricks on you when they see that the stone walls are bowing outward. You can bring along a spirit-level to confirm that one of your legs is not shorter than the other, but that the floor actually sags downward. Take a look at the leaning walls and the sagging floor of the main library floor. Then go down to the basement and look at the children’s library that is directly underneath. Figure out for yourself whether you would want your own children in there.

Let’s hit the pause button for a moment to consider what someone living in Santa Rosa at the time might have thought of all this. Part of it would have felt very familiar – because it was almost an exact replay of the ongoing courthouse drama.

The story of events leading to the demolition of the downtown courthouse are told in “HOW WE LOST THE COURTHOUSE,” but to recap: By the early 1950s it was recognized that a larger courthouse was needed. Someday a new one would be built on the site northwest of town which would also be the new home for all county offices but there was no great hurry, just as the City Council would later dawdle over the question of whether a new library was really needed.

The came the 1957 earthquake. The courthouse damage was cosmetic, not structural; repairs could be made and while they wouldn’t be cheap, repair costs and other needed upgrades would still be a fraction of the price to build a new whole place. But out-of-town consultants told the Board of Supervisors the best thing was to tear it down and sell off Courthouse Square. Similarly, the city didn’t take the library’s problems seriously until a San Francisco engineer in 1960 said that building could be fixed at a reasonable cost with the exoskeleton, but it wasn’t worth doing it.

The Press Democrat – firmly behind any flavor of redevelopment – never missed a chance to make the quake-damaged courthouse seem a deathtrap, like it would later paint the library as a ticking time bomb. In 1957 the PD falsely told readers the courthouse may be in structurally “poor condition,” just as in 1960 the paper would exaggerate claims of library danger via collapsing floors (a scenario not mentioned in the engineer’s report).

In both cases, the way forward required voters to approve construction bonds. The courthouse bond measure was on the ballot in November 1960. It failed to pass.

The library bond came up two months later and the PD tried hard to make it seem appealing to voters, with big front page stories. The old library had reached max efficiency back in 1930, when the population was just 11 thousand; there were now over 30k residents. The new library was projected to fill the city’s needs all the way up to 1980 and would have a modern design including a “glassed-in smoking court.” It also failed to pass – badly, getting only 36 percent approval of voters.

Bonds for the courthouse and the library continued to march lockstep in defeat. In 1961 courthouse funding was again turned down. In 1962 it was voted against twice, and once more in 1963. They tried again to pass a library bond in 1963 and it likewise failed.

It’s almost easy to understand why the courthouse bonds couldn’t pass. They were asking for lots of money (about $34 million in today’s dollars) and was strongly fought by the Sonoma County Taxpayers’ Association. Opposition to the library bond seemed to come from people who apparently never actually used the library. A sample of letters that appeared in the PD:

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  “The engineers say the building shouldn’t have been repaired after the 1906 earthquake, but it’s still standing after 54 years, so it must be pretty sound. When will our public officials get it into their heads that we want economy.”
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  The library could be expanded by building a two story annex on the west side of the property, suggested Harry B. Fetch, with a parking garage underneath it. He added he would not vote to construct a new building.
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  A voter wrote he would approve a bond for $500k but not a penny more, since the library was mostly just used by high school students.

The Friends of the Santa Rosa Public Library created a short film, “The Library Story” to shame the town into supporting a bond and finally, in 1964 voters approved the $1.25M bond to tear down the Carnegie Library and build a new one at the same location. This time the vote wasn’t even close – it won with almost 84 points.

Construction didn’t begin for almost a full year. Shortly before demolition started in March 1965 the public was invited to take one last look inside the building – if any readers remember taking this final tour, please contact me. A PD photo by John LeBaron, taken through the old glass entrance door, showed the book checkout desk, now littered with junk. Leaning against it on the floor was the original portrait of Andrew Carnegie that had welcomed patrons to his library for so long.

Dedication of cornerstone for Santa Rosa Carnegie Library, April 13, 1903. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library
Dedication of cornerstone for Santa Rosa Carnegie Library, April 13, 1903. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

There’s no question that the Carnegie Library was structurally unsound and there was no realistic hope of saving it. But claiming its fatal flaw was just “unreinforced masonry” is simplistic hand waving.

There were other buildings in Santa Rosa with unreinforced masonry that weathered the 1906 earthquake without serious problems; St. Rose church, two years older than the library, came through with trivial damage – its Nave would have been one of the safest places in town during the shake. Likewise the Western Hotel in Railroad Square – now home to Flying Goat Coffee – only needed minor repair. There was apparently no harm done to the train depot, which was even built by the same contractor who constructed the library: William Peacock of San Francisco.*

Yes, the stone walls were badly cracked and slowly collapsing, but that wasn’t the underlying problem – it was the foundation. The building was doomed before a patron checked out the first book.

The structure was unstable, Santa Rosa’s chief building inspector wrote in his May, 1960 report, not because of earthquake shakes but because its foundation had been settling and shifting for a long time. His report continued:

…The very mass and weight that were designed into the building are contributing to its deterioration by causing excessive settlement of exterior walls to take place, thus overstressing the walls…it is evident that the foundation of the building is inadequate for the loads imposed and will continue to settle in an uneven manner.

Details about the construction work are unknown, except that the basalt came from the Titania Quarry between Highway 12 and Montgomery Drive. The building inspector’s report said “the building was well constructed, of good materials and workmanship.” We don’t know how much time and effort contractor Peacock put into site preparation or if there were any earthworks beyond simple grading. What we do know is that Peacock’s bid for the job was significantly lower than the competing seven other builders.

emhoenThe architect for the library was Ernest Martin Hoen (1872 – 1914), who was 29 years old when he was awarded the contract. He was the son of Barney Hoen, one of Santa Rosa’s founders.

He had graduated from Washington University in 1889 (the Manual Training School, not the School of Architecture) and worked for a few years at the McDougall family construction firm, as Brainerd Jones also did when he was starting out. (His background info, BTW, comes from one of the Lewis Publishing Company “mug books” where people paid to have their biographies included as part of a local history book – there’s no entry for him in any of the historical architect databases.)

He lived in Sacramento where he worked for the school district, teaching mechanical drawing at the high school and night school for $100/mo. Prior to getting the contract for the Santa Rosa Library, the only architectural credits I can find are the Shasta County high school in Redding – which wasn’t built until after our library – and the wood frame Union Primary School in Sacramento. (There was a legal issue when he submitted his bill for the latter, as he was also a salaried employee of the district. That building was repurposed as a warehouse in 1932.)

With such a tissue-thin résumé, it’s surprising that he won out over “six prominent architects of the state” as the Press Democrat claimed – except for the fact that he was “an old Santa Rosa boy” as the PD reminded readers at every opportunity.

Besides being the library’s architect, he was paid additionally to be its supervising architect. And since he was indeed “an old Santa Rosa boy,” the Personal Mention column of the PD paid special attention every time he came to town. For 1903 it showed he visited seven times – but only once prior the dedication of cornerstone when the foundation work was already completed, as seen in the photo above.

When the doors of the Santa Rosa Free Public Library opened on March 10, 1904, a PD editorial promised “it should and doubtless will prove a source of both pleasure and profit to the residents of this city and vicinity for the next hundred years.” Spoiler alert: It didn’t.

Contractor Peacock can’t be held blameless, of course, but the final responsibility lay with Hoen. Through his lack of supervision on the construction project or lack of experience in designing masonry buildings – or both – he fashioned a building that would not long stand.

ABOVE: Santa Rosa Carnegie Library during 1965 demolition. TOP: Library following 1960 closure. Both photos courtesy Sonoma County Library
ABOVE: Santa Rosa Carnegie Library during 1965 demolition. TOP: Library following 1960 closure. Both photos courtesy Sonoma County Library

* William Peacock and his wife were killed here during the 1906 earthquake and in one of the more bizarre Believe-it-or-Not! episodes of the disaster, there were years of court hearings to determine which one of them died first because they left very different wills.

 

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SELECTED PRESS DEMOCRAT ARTICLES

February 12, 1959; SR Library Program May Total $1 Million
May 15, 1960: City Library Structural Safety Questioned in Report
November 10, 1960: Fire Marshal Hits Safety of Library
November 16, 1960: Council Backs Library Trustees on Abandonment
November 17, 1960: Santa Rosa’s Library Closing Doors Tonight
November 20, 1960: Library Danger Signs Couldn’t Be Ignored
November 22, 1960: Library Closing Overdue (editorial)
January 1, 1961: Why Does Santa Rosa Need a New Library

 

PLANS ACCEPTED
Architect Ernest Hoen Will Supervise Building of Library

At a special meeting of the Library Trustees held on Wednesday afternoon the plans of Ernest M. Hoen of Sacramento, an old Santa Rosa boy, were accepted and he will supervise the construction of the new Carnegie library building, or as it will be known the Santa Rosa Free Public Library. Mr. Hoen’s plans provide for a handsome structure which will contain ample room for the carrying out of the scheme to give the city a modern library building. He was the successful competitor out of six prominent architects of the state. For his plans and specifications and the supervision of the erection of the building he will receive $1,000. Mr. Hoen stands high in his profession and has designed many important buildings in different sections of this state. A colored drawing of the new building prepared by him can be seen at the library room. The main entrance of the new building will be on Fourth street and the basement entrance on E street. Interested citizens may inspect the plans selected. They are at the office of the president of the board of Trustees, W. D. Reynolds, on Hinton avenue.

– Press Democrat, September 11 1902

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The Press Democrat did a cross promotion with KSRO where a newspaper photographer would take a picture of someone during a "Man on the Street" interview. If your face was circled in the photo printed the next day you won a prize (in this case, a turkey) by identifying yourself. Press Democrat, Dec. 15 1937

KSRO IS ON THE AIR

The high school auditorium was packed that Sunday morning in 1937 with people from all over Sonoma county. Uniformed boy scouts ushered the last of the audience to their seats as an announcer hushed the audience. Promptly at 10:30, the speakers crackled to life with a recording of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Waiting at the microphone for the music to finish was a slight 67 year-old man in his customary three-piece suit. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. With the playing of the national anthem, station KSRO, voice of the Redwood Empire, takes the air for the first time.” He continued with the required sign on announcement before ending: “This is Ernest Finley speaking and I now turn this fine new radio station over to the people of the Redwood Empire for their use and enjoyment.”

Finley wasn’t really handing over KSRO to the public, of course – he was the sole owner of the station as well as the two newspapers in town, the Santa Rosa Republican and the Press Democrat, where he was also editor and publisher. The papers would promote the station which would promote the papers. So cozy was this little media empire that the broadcasting studios were in the PD building on Mendocino Ave.

After an invocation by the rector of the Church of the Incarnation and playing a recording of religious music, the live program continued with 15-minute salutes to Marin county and seven communities in Sonoma. Usually the mayor said a few words which were followed by music from someone in that town – there had been talent contests over the previous weeks to choose the artists. Santa Rosa was represented by a singer and Walter Trembley, harmonica virtuoso; Cloverdale sent Glen Bonham, imitator.

There were other live performances that day woven between recorded music before the big dedicatory program at 3:00, where the mayor of San Francisco spoke and the KSRO orchestra performed, along with others. The hour long program closed with an audience singalong.

And that was pretty much the end of the first broadcast day, September 19, 1937. The station signed off at 6PM, having only a permit to operate from dawn to dusk. This was typical of little commercial stations all over the country; night hours were only for the high power clear channel stations that could sometimes be heard for a thousand miles. With its 250 watt (!) transmitter, KSRO reached from San Rafael to Ukiah – but came in as far away as Eureka and San Jose when conditions were ideal.

By 1937 the radio market was well-established in the Bay Area. Probably any radio in Sonoma County could pick up the big stations in San Francisco such as KGO, KSFO and KPO (which became KNBR), which were network affiliates broadcasting all the popular programs we associate with the golden age of radio. During the day there were the soaps, including Vic and Sade, Our Gal Sunday and Ma Perkins; in the evening were the top shows such as Burns and Allen, One Man’s Family, Amos ‘n’ Andy, Gangbusters, Jack Benny.

ksro19370924(RIGHT: KSRO schedule for September 24, 1937; local programming highlighted)

Pipsqueak independent stations like KSRO instead relied on a mix of local programming and a transcription service (the one first used by KSRO was NBC’s Thesaurus, upgraded soon to World). A subscribing station would get 16-inch records that played at 3313RPM, which would provide fifteen minutes of content per side. Thus a station operating on the cheap could fill much (even all!) of its schedule using just an engineer and an announcer – who could also be the engineer – to read commercials and announce time/call letters. And as you see by this schedule taken from its first week of broadcasting, that’s pretty much what KSRO did at the beginning.

The problem with transcription services was that their offerings often… sucked. In its earliest weeks KSRO mostly played transcriptions of D-list musicians such as the Mountaineers hillbilly band (who apparently never made a record) and Robin Hood Bowers (somewhat known for a 1919 ditty, “The Moon Shines on the Moonshine”). The station also broadcast generic canned programs with titles like “Melody Time” and “Rhythm Makers.” It was music to do chores by.

Those transcription shows were mostly sustained (unsponsored, except promos for other shows or perhaps Finley’s newspapers) because KSRO didn’t have many advertisers at its outset. The first sponsor was mentioned only a few days before the premiere broadcast – the White House Department Store would advertise on the noon newscast.

Among other early live studio programs were 15 minute weekly shows by The Rincon Valley Ramblers, a quartet which entertained sometimes at lodge or club meetings, and “Songs of the Island,” with Hawaiian melodies sung by the Carroll Boys from Napa: Slip, Arky, Gat and Alky. There was the 30-minute “Mickey Mouse Club” on Fridays at 4, which resurrected the riotous live show that once commandeered the California Theater on Saturday afternoons (see “LET’S ALL YELL AT THE MICKEY MOUSE MATINEE“).

On weekdays the anchoring live show was the mid-afternoon “Time for Tea,” which was completely free form. There were usually announcements from women’s clubs, churches and the like, but you might also hear some kid scraping his bow across a violin string or squeezing an accordion. They sometimes did a “Name That Tune” type game show or brought in an elementary school class to do a spelling bee.

The popular morning “Breakfast Club” opened the broadcast day at 7 (sadistically, by beating a gong that nearly blew out your speaker) and received lots of mail because the host encouraged listeners to send in their birthdates to be announced on air. A farmer from the Sonoma Valley who wanted to sell his ranch wrote that he would come on the show and do his (presumably terrific) imitation of a calf and a squeaky clothesline in trade for commercials.

Gradually over the first couple of months their live programming pushed out more of the transcribed shows. KSRO was becoming a radio station that locals wanted to actively listen to instead of just being a source of ignorable background music.

Remotes were a large reason for the station’s success. They kept their portable transmitter busy; Evelyn Billing’s organ concerts on the grand instrument at the California Theater were always popular, although sometimes she played at the Chapel of the Chimes, which wasn’t exactly a venue where one expected to hear peppy dance tunes.

They broadcast SRHS and Petaluma High football games live from the 50 yard line; Sunday morning church services; KSRO was there for the opening of Rosenberg’s Department Store (now Barnes & Noble). They took the equipment to Healdsburg to cover their Veterans Day celebration: “If the weather is nice you will get a word by word picture of the parade, bands and all. If it rains you will probably get a drop by drop sound of a rainstorm in the Redwood Empire.”

Most of all, they broadcast live every weekday at 12:45 from the Exchange Bank corner downtown. The “Man on the Street” show was easily KSRO’s most popular program of 1937. The very first question asked: “Do you think Santa Rosa should have stop lights at downtown intersections?”

The Press Democrat did a cross promotion with KSRO where a newspaper photographer would take a picture of someone during a "Man on the Street" interview. If your face was circled in the photo printed the next day you won a prize (in this case, a turkey) by identifying yourself. Press Democrat, Dec. 15 1937
The Press Democrat did a cross promotion with KSRO where a newspaper photographer would take a picture of someone during a “Man on the Street” interview. If your face was circled in the photo printed the next day you won a prize (in this case, a turkey) by identifying yourself. Press Democrat, Dec. 15 1937

KSRO wasn’t the first radio station in Santa Rosa, however. Years before – as the radio era was just beginning – there was KFNV, broadcasting with a mighty five watts from March 1924 to October 1925, off on Sundays.

Lennard Drake – yes, that’s the spelling – and his wife Aimee, who ran the Drake Battery and Radio Shop downtown, convinced the publisher of the Republican (not yet owned by Finley) to provide space for an equipment room at the newspaper’s office on Fifth street. They put it together with the aid of local radio entusiasts and using gear unapproved by the government.

Programming at KFNV was mainly phonograph records, a player piano and anyone who drifted in to talk. Their only regularly scheduled program was the “Sunset Matinee,” a 6:30PM children’s program of bedtime stories by “dear oid Uncle Silas.” The Republican radio columnist noted Silas was the father of two and “I know for I have had the pleasure of seeing them” – which is such an odd thing to write that it makes one wonder if there were whispers about the doings over at La Casa Silas.

kfnvIn 1937 Lennard was interviewed by the PD and said the station folded because of lack of sponsorship. “Radio was [considered] just a child’s toy, a fancy of the moment.” Aimee added, “no one, of course, in those days foresaw commercial sponsors.” Apparently the only advertisers were the Drake radio store and the Republican. (By 1937 the Drakes had dropped the radio business and were now selling electrical supplies, including fixtures and wiring for KSRO.)

A dozen years passed between the end of KFNV and birth of KSRO and in that time radio had become an essential part of daily life. By 1937 there were 28,000 households from San Rafael to Ukiah where the radio was on 3-4 hours during the day – all listening to commercials for stores in San Francisco, Oakland or Sacramento.

Not having a local station was also a big reminder that the North Bay wasn’t a full-fledged member of the Bay Area. Promoters and developers in Marin and Sonoma counties had pushed through construction of the Golden Gate Bridge primarily to draw tourists and increase property values; when it opened just a few months before KSRO went on the air, Finley spoke of the “untold advantages and development for Santa Rosa” the bridge would bring.

Likewise KSRO wouldn’t be intended only for locals seeking department store sales on tea towels. For those tuning in from the fringes of its reception area, it also would serve as an advertisement for Sonoma county itself – that this was a great place if you were thinking of buying a little chicken farm or looking to escape the city. The homey vibe of shows like “Time for Tea” were a panacea to the slick productions cranked out by the networks and big urban stations.

But Finley et. al. weren’t alone in viewing the region as an untapped market; when the Press Democrat Publishing Company filed for a broadcasting permit from the Federal Communications Commission in early 1935, there was already someone ahead of them in line.

Two men from Berkeley, Arthur Westland and Jules Cohn, had applied for a 100 watt station to cover Santa Rosa alone. They were pioneers in the radio biz and operated KRE in Berkeley, a station which dated back to 1922.

In February of 1935 the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce – always in lockstep with Finley and the PD – sent the FCC a telegram asking them to deny the Berkeley application because Westland had falsely told the Commission “there was no opposition to the proposal.” Two months later an FCC examiner recommended denying Westland and Cohn. The reasons, according to the PD, were that it was “not shown there was a substantial need for additional broadcast service in that area” and that any station was unlikely to be a viable business because there just wasn’t enough interest.

Yet that same April there was a formal hearing on Finley’s application. Presumably he and others attended that meeting in Washington, but it wasn’t mentioned in either newspaper at the time. Final arguments for the permit were made in October 1936, and a month later the FCC denied the Berkeley-ites and granted the license to Finley.

ksroasbestosBoth of Finley’s newspapers covered the 1937 build-out of KSRO obsessively. Readers saw photos of the antenna going up in the Laguna – it was at the corner of modern-day Finley and Leddy avenues – and the transmission “shack” built at its base (it remained there even after the antenna was moved close to Stony Point Road, but burned up in a 1968 fire caused by homeless squatters).

The papers also admiringly described the remodeling done to turn the second floor of the Press Democrat office into broadcast studios (alas, no photos). Since the rooms had to be soundproof there were no windows; there was a gee-whiz astonishment that they were to be air conditioned full time.

They hoped to be running by August 15 so they could broadcast remote from the county fair, but obstacles arose which were not explained. But a month later there was that ceremony where 750 people packed into the high school auditorium.

KSRO was now on the air.

Guerneville during the 1937 flood. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library
Guerneville during the 1937 flood. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

The station may have continued down its uneventful path for years, slowly building an audience as it kept improving local programming. But before it was even three months old its coming of age moment arrived: People’s lives became dependent upon listening to KSRO.

In December 10-11, all of Northern California was saturated by ultra-massive rains. The PD called it “worst storm in all history” and “the greatest havoc ever wreaked in Sonoma County.” Unfortunately, we can’t compare it to other disasters because Russian River flood records are inexact before 1940 – but old-timers insisted it was the worst in 60-70 years. It was the damage caused by this flood that would eventually lead to the construction of the Warm Springs Dam.

Parts of Healdsburg were under ten feet of water and the deck of its railroad (Memorial) bridge was covered. Goats and calves were herded into a church near the town – and then had to be moved again a couple of hours later when the water reached the church. A two story house from Rio Nido was hurled against the Guerneville Bridge. Before the water reached the switchboard, operators at the Monte Rio telephone exchange were wearing hip boots and standing in 40 inches of water.

The Russian River kept rising, first three inches an hour, then four. Five. Electricity was out everywhere and phone service was spotty. Hundreds of families, hungry and cold, were huddled in upstairs bedrooms, in attics, on their roof and nobody knew how bad it would get or what to do – unless you had a battery-powered radio tuned to KSRO.

News bulletins from the station warned listeners to conserve drinking water because well pumps wouldn’t be working for days. There were phone interviews with mayors or other officials in many of the hard-hit towns, updating citizens on the latest conditions. There were road reports from AAA. In Geyserville, the director of relief work announced on KSRO that anyone needing help should fly a white flag from the top of their house. Soon a dozen or more flags were spotted by volunteers with binoculars watching from high ground and they directed rescue boats where to go.

ksro19380806Amazingly, no one died locally during the disaster – and KSRO surely must deserve some measure of credit for that.

(RIGHT: KSRO schedule for August 6, 1938; local programming highlighted. Capitalized shows were sponsored)

In the months that followed the local radio columnists mentioned the growing amount of fan mail being received by “KSRO personalities.” Live programming was now about half the schedule. Added to the schedule were popular new shows such as “KSROlling Along,” the “Italian Program With Guiseppe Comelli,” and the “X-Bar-B Cowhands.” The country-western band was a bit of a coup for the station as they already had a following, having been heard on a San Francisco station for six years before the group moved to the Russian River area.

Finally KSRO gained permission for evening broadcasts and as of August 1, 1938 it was now on the air up to 11 o’clock, midnight on weekends. As before, there was a dedication ceremony (this one featuring 21 year-old Miss Ruth Finley, “concert pianist”) and a short speech by Ernest Finley. He said, in part:

In inaugurating Station KSRO, we were pleased to call it the ‘Voice of the Redwood Empire.’ We feel that it has been just that. Every effort has been made to bring the various communities of the Redwood Empire closer together. Our survey shows that Station KSRO has a listening audience of 150,000 persons. This does not take into account Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, San Francisco or any of the cities about the bay, in many of which reception is fully as good as it is here.

In some ways that moment was as significant as the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge for Sonoma county. KSRO had brought all of us closer together via its news coverage during the flood. And although Finley was thinking of the promotional value of the station luring Bay Area residents, it also meant we could take part of our community with us when we went away.

As your car crossed the beautiful bridge and the northern counties slipped from sight behind the city hills, the signal might become crackly and drift in and out – but it would always be a steady beacon which would later guide you home.

"Night Time Now KSRO Time" Press Democrat, July 31, 1938
“Night Time Now KSRO Time” Press Democrat, July 31, 1938
KSRO Orchestra. Santa Rosa Republican, September 18, 1937
KSRO Orchestra. Santa Rosa Republican, September 18, 1937
"KSRO Greets You". Santa Rosa Republican, September 18, 1937
“KSRO Greets You”. Santa Rosa Republican, September 18, 1937

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