This endearing vignette of Saturday nights in 1905 Santa Rosa is a treasure; our local history would be rich if only Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley had spent more time writing such lyric first-hand observations.

Every other year or so, the PD produced a promotional section designed to be mailed outside the area, describing all the wonders of Sonoma county in hopes of luring new residents and businesses. Wedged between crop reports, glowing descriptions of prosperous industries and praise for local churches (and pictures of the more popular saloons) were a few thumbnails of places and characters such as French Louie, the frog king, who lived near Sebastopol’s Lake Jonive (“strangers will take notice that it is pronounced ‘Ho-nee-va,'” the PD noted, adding a syllable lost today), and events like these weekly downtown shopping concerts.

For those not tempted merely by brass bands on the courthouse balcony, Finley offered another item revealing that local women and girls didn’t wear bonnets during these outings, which would’ve been considered scandalous elsewhere. “In their ‘summer-girl’ garments, and without hats or bonnets, your Santa Rosa women reveal the quintessence of feminine charm,” leered a visitor from the hinterlands.

Summer Saturday Nights’ Diversion In Sonoma County’s Capital

Saturday evenings in Santa Rosa are bright and lively throughout the summer and the early autumn months. Five evenings each week the stores and markets close at 6 o’clock; but on Saturdays, the doors are open until midnight or thereabouts, and the town does its belated shopping.

Summer and autumn are the seasons when the population of the town is greatest. All the factories are busy; those in the fruit-packing business employ at least a thousand people at that time. Of Saturday evenings these draw their weekly wage, as likewise the employees of the tanneries, the woolen mills, the wineries and all the other factories. Most of them are relieved from duty an hour earlier than usual. Then working clothes are laid aside, and “Sunday best” is donned without waiting for Sunday to come. After the evening meal, it is the custom for all the family to go “down town” together. No matter if there is no need of shopping (although generally there is), the head of the household, “and the missus and the kids,” all want to go and listen to the band.

Each Saturday evening in the summer and the early fall, Parks’ band gives a concert on the north balcony of the Court House, which overlooks the junction of Fourth and Mendocino streets. These thoroughfares are thronged for several blocks and so is the Court House park; and around the square, on Exhange avenue and Hinton avenue to Third street, promenaders fill the sidewalks, the streets are blocked with vehicles, and the stores and markets busy with buyers.

The concert program is generally of ten numbers, varied to please a wide range of musical tastes. Always first there is a military march, frequently one of Sousa’s or Pettee’s. Next, a waltz and a polka, or sometimes a schottische. Then an old ballad tune, a fantasie, a medley or a potpourri; a solo for concert or trombone or piccolo, something classic from Wagner or Mozart or Mendelssohn, or perhaps the “Anvil Chorus” from “Il Trovatore”; then, by way of contrast a bit of rag-time. Always, at the end, a frisky galop, giving a homeward hurry to the heels of the multitude.

Parks’ band is one of the “institutions” of Santa Rosa. It was organized in the ’70s by S. L. Parks, who is still its leader. Few towns of Santa Rosa’s size have so good a band, or one so large. Besides the customary reeds and brasses of the ordinary town band, it musters a saxophone, a French horn, an oboe and bassoon, and kettledrums with all their accessories. Its players are all “readers at sight,” and most of them solo performers. This band is frequently called upon to play for parades and other events at a distance, and acquits itself creditably in comparison with musical organization from the great cities. The people at home appreciate Parks’ band and are proud of it.

The Saturday-evening concerts are given under the patronage of Santa Rosa merchants, and the courtesy is an acceptable one to the townspeople, who enjoy doing their shopping to music; also to the promenaders, and to the children who frisk and frolic and dance on the Court House lawns upon the only night when such trespass is permitted. But before the hands of the Court House clock in the dome have drawn together in token of midnight, the music ceases, the bright lights fade, and the shoppers, the promenaders and the children all go home, to sleep against the dawn of Sunday morning.

– Press Democrat promotional insert, November, 1905

Hatless Girls

“The prettiest sight imaginable, and one that I have seldom seen outside of California, is the promenade of your beautiful girls and young women on the streets of evenings without any sort of head covering,” said an Eastern visitor who was watching the throng and listening to the band concert one Saturday evening in this city. “To my mind it is one of the neatest, most picturesque and fascinating customs that the fair sex ever adopted, and it seems to have reached the acme of development right here in Santa Rosa. In their ‘summer-girl’ garments, and without hats or bonnets, your Santa Rosa women reveal the quintessence of feminine charm.”

– Press Democrat promotional insert, November, 1905

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *