Another thing we lost in the fire (and quake): Real journalism.
The 1906 disaster usually gets credit for pushing Santa Rosa to grow out of its frontier ways to become a 20th century city, but it also destroyed a future that just might have been remarkable.
In the months before the quake, Santa Rosa appeared ready to allow William H. Willcox, a world-class architect who had recently settled here, a free hand in reshaping the town. As described earlier, a funding drive was almost complete to build his auditorium, which would have been large enough to draw state conventions or even national events. Willcox also wanted to develop the Santa Rosa Creek area into a water park that would have become the centerpiece of the town. Both plans were abandoned in the wake of the disaster. Willcox was a prolific architect who liked to design on a grand scale; doubtless many other projects would have followed, and Santa Rosa could have become something of a jewel.
The other great loss to the town’s future was the departure of W.B. Reynolds. Only 18 months had passed since Reynolds and business partner W. H. James took control of the Santa Rosa Republican, and in that short time they had transformed it completely. What once was Santa Rosa’s often-chaotic “other paper” had become a smart evening journal in step with other Bay Area newspapers of the day.
Editor of the competing Press Democrat Ernest L. Finley bashed them regularly, both for honest mistakes and for having big city ideas about newspapering, such as adding a women’s section that he sneeringly called “Sussiety news” (although a few months later the PD introduced its own “Dorothy Anne” column that was far more gossipy). The Republican paper also had enthusiasm for the new art of muckraking, and kept readers abreast of the latest investigations into San Francisco’s corrupt political boss Abe Reuf, even offering its own top-notch analysis of the scandals. Reynolds also cast scrutiny on local politics, and that’s where Finley unleashed open contempt upon Reynolds and the Republican; thou shall not question our mayor or other good-old-boy city officials.
After months of sniping, Reynolds and Finley directly faced off during the lead-up to the city elections that were held just a couple of weeks before the earthquake. The Republican had earlier alluded to graft and law-breaking by officials, but a long editorial manifesto (transcribed below) charged city leaders of being in cahoots with a “scheming coterie of gentlemen who manage to protect their private interests by the conduct of the city government through the present administration.” The Press Democrat fired back in scattershot editorial page comments intended to ridicule the charges (“Oh, chestnuts!”) or rephrase them into something easily refuted. And, along the way, the PD editor tossed out another of his classic Finleyisms which makes no sense whatsoever today, accusing the Republican editor of “talking coconut talk.”
Most of the Democratic party incumbents were reelected, but battle lines were drawn; there can be little doubt that Reynolds’ Santa Rosa Republican would follow the lead of the San Francisco papers and call for Grand Jury hearings on the town’s political elite for graft and corruption.
And then the earthquake struck. A week later, a nondescript notice appeared in the jointly published Democrat-Republican: “The Santa Rosa Republican will in future be published and edited by Allen B. Lemmon.” As noted earlier, Lemmon had only leased the paper to Reynolds and James, having published and edited it himself from 1887-1904. But Lemmon, a progressive in the vein of Teddy Roosevelt, was really more of a printer than journalist, and the paper retook its old stance as something like the loyal opposition to the conservative Press Democrat. The promising future for the Santa Rosa Republican quickly faded.
What happened to W.B. Reynolds is unknown. Before coming here he had a position at the Oakland Enquirer, but I’ve not been able to find his trail after he departed, much less a reason why he left. With the only watchdog over powerful special interests gone, however, there was no one around to ask the questions that needed asking as Santa Rosa launched a century of unprecedented growth.
Will the [Press] Democrat Answer? (Letter to the Republican)
Editor Republican: There are a few laboring men in Santa Rosa who would thank you for looking into a graft in the Street Department. We want to know why it is that the Mayor allows the employment on our streets of so many outside people who don’t have families to support. A Santa Rosa laboring man is entitled to the first chance at earning the bond money spent on the streets, but unless he hangs around a certain cigar stand on Main street is turned down for others who will. We men with families to support can not afford to lose our evenings at the card tables, but a stranger can come along and get employment under the Street Superintendent if he will show up at that store once in a while and risk a few dollars at cards. Now is this a fair deal? It is a mean sort of graft, and I can tell you right now that some of us who are posted are going to vote to stop such business if we can. [signed] DEMOCRAT.– Santa Rosa Republican, March 20, 1906
DOES SANTA ROSA WANT TO BE RUN BY A BANKERS’ TRUST?
Here are the facts:
John P. Overton, nominee for Mayor and President of Savings Bank.
W. D. Reynolds, Councilman and Vice President of Santa Rosa Bank.
L. W. Burris, nominee for Councilman and Cashier of Santa Rosa Bank.
The bankers trust in New York has the country by the throat.
THE STRANGE SOLICITUDE OF THE MORNING PAPER FOR THE REPUBLICANS WELFARE AND THE REASONS THEREFOR.
It will take the erroneous Republican a long time to recover from the injury it has worked itself during the present campaign. – Press Democrat.
Now wouldn’t that make you smile?
Our dearly beloved morning contemporary reveals an astonishing solicitude for the welfare of the Republican. Thanks, awfully, but we really do not need any commiseration. It is really good of the morning paper to point out to us the error of our way and express regret that we should have strayed from the straight and narrow path of the rules of newspaper conduct established for Sonoma county by the deeply interested morning paper.
But really, we fail to see the why and where of the injury of which our contemporary so regretfully speaks.
Is it a crime for a Republican newspaper to support the nominees of the Republican ticket?
Is it a crime for a Republican newspaper to have nerve enough to criticize the official actions and public utterances of a Democratic candidate for the mayorality?
Or possibly, does the terrible injury the Republican has done itself consist in its having made a legitimate fight against the nominees supported by the Democrat, which exhibits such unusual alarm for the future welfare of its competitor?
Perhaps the Democrat would have us understand that we have made an unwarranted expose of the facts in connection with its mayorality candidate’s attitude on the subject of enforcing the state law in regard to polluting public water courses.
Then again, it way be newspaper treason to have referred to the history of the electric railway’s trouble in getting a franchise in Santa Rosa.
If this be not the occasion for the Democrat’s solicitude possibly the Republican should have shut up and said nothing about the public complaints at the non-development of the city water works.
Of course the Republican humbly apologizes to the Democrat for having offered the slightest objection to the Democratic ticket and to the re-election of Mayor Overton, but we really thought that there were a few people in Santa Rosa who believed a change might be advisable.
If we remember right nine-tenths of the recent Republican city convention “turned down” hard the so-called Overton program which included the slating for councilmen of men who never could be elected by a vote of the people in a contest between nominees.
It doubtless would have pleased those 80 delegates and the people they represented if the Republican had, like some people have, sold itself out to the Democratic cause and permitted the Republican nominees to scramble along any old way, not caring a rap whether they won or not so long as Mr. Overton was elected.
In the conduct of its editorial policy during the present campaign the Republican is conscious of having tread on some Democratic corns, for there has been considerable squealing going on in Democratic quarters about this paper’s terrible unfairness(?) in laying bare some of the things for which the present city administration is to be criticized. The Republican has studiously avoided “mud slinging” or personal abuse, either of the Democratic candidates or of that Democratic newspaper oracle which sets itself up as a censor of newspaper privileges in Sonoma county. In addition the Republican convention’s nominees are at least, just as capable of serving the people of Santa Rosa as are the Democratic nominees, and perhaps able to do so without permitting their private interests to interfere with their public duties.
If these things will work an irreparable injury to the Republican’s welfare we are thoroughly content to take our medicine. A candidate for public office expects to be criticized and if Mr. Overton accepted the Democratic nomination expecting that this paper would wear a gag during the campaign he made the mistake of his life.
No, thank you, Mr. Press-Democrat, we are doing Republican politics in support of Republican nominees and we enjoy the American citizen’s ancient and inalienable right to criticize public officials.
Incidentally, we notice, Mr. Press-Democrat that you to not ask anybody for the privilege to criticize Congressman McKinlay, against whom you appear to have a personal grudge.
Your political trick to trap the Republicans at the recent convention and would compel a distribution of offices that would leave unmolested the scheming coterie of gentlemen who manage to protect their private interests by the conduct of the city government through the present administration, didn’t work out.
And what is more, realizing that this precious outfit of schemers is in danger of losing its hold on affairs a week from tomorrow, it is quite the proper caper for you to prate about “Progress being the watchword,” as if none but your own candidates are interested in the progress of Santa Rosa!
Mr. Overton interested in the progress of Santa Rosa when he favors the continuation of foul-smelling conditions in the creek and has private business interests which would not be able longer to break the state law if that creek were beautified and made a pleasure resort for the entire community?
Mr. Overton interested in the progress of Santa Rosa when his administration accomplished absolutely nothing toward the development of municipal watter supply?
Mr. Overton interested in the progress of Santa Rosa, we ask, when his administration keeps nearly half of the city’s bond money tied up so that certain banks may have the use of that money and earn interest to the disadvantage of the public.
Mr. Overton interested in Santa Rosa’s progress when, to satisfy certain city officials who are interested in a concern that supplies crushed rock, his administration delays through a whole winter the improving of our streets, some of which are positively disgraceful?
Mr. Overton interested in the progress of Santa Rosa when he permits a certain city official to employ outside labor in preference to local labor,
Save the mark!
We repeat again, that we may not be misunderstood, that the Republican platform meant just what it said when it protested against the election to office of men whose private interests conflicted with the public welfare.
Doubtless this bald statement of the situation adds materially, in the estimation of the morning paper, to the Republican’s record for recklessness and absurdity, but we cannot help it if the Democrat doesn’t forgive us. Unfortunately we are not in business for the health and comfort of the Democrat and mean to say and do what seems right and proper from a Republican standpoint.
In conclusion a thought suggests itself: Can it be possible that the morning paper’s remarkable alarm for the welfare of the Republican in the estimation of the community is due to a hope that the Republican, for the next ten days, will be good and let up in its criticism of the present city administration? We feel so flattered that even by inference the Democrat should accord the Republican any weight at all in the community that instead of being induced to quit we are actually encouraged to keep up our end of the campaign for we may be able yet to contribute in some small way to the election of one or two of the nominees who are so unfortunate as to be on a ticket that does not enjoy the powerful support of the Democrat.– Santa Rosa Republican, March 26, 1906
THE REPUBLICAN’S APOLOGY
For the unprecedented course it has pursued during the campaign now drawing to a close–a course characterized throughout by wilful misrepresentations, absurd statements having no foundation, ridiculous charges, that it has been utterly unable to sustain–the Republican now offers the following apology:
Is it a crime for a Republican newspaper to support the nominees of the Republican ticket?
Of course it is not a crime for a political newspaper to support its party nominees, provided it can do so in a legitimate way; but during the present campaign the Republican has not done this. It has put in all its time making silly charges that everybody knows to be untrue, and then when they have been fully refuted–why, just beginning at the start and making them all over again, and with never a fact or figure to back them up, and without even the slightest attempt to controvert the positive proof of their perfidy. Oh, no; the Republican’s “support” of its municipal ticket has not been a crime. It has only been a farce. And it is so regarded by the general public.
The Evening Republican’s policy in the present city campaign: “To hell with the progress and welfare of this town: what we want is to win out.”
Mr. Overton interested in the progress of Santa Rosa when his administration accomplished absolutely nothing toward the development of municipal watter supply? – Republican
Don’t you know that everybody in town is thoroughly acquainted with the fact that the present administration has sunk three wells to connect with the present tunnel, let the contract for another to go to bedrock, visited several other cities and investigated the system and plants in operation there, laid four or five miles of new mains, installed something like a thousand meters to suppress unnecessary waste, and in addition to all this let the contract for pumping the water by modern methods, as the result of which, in addition to supplying the city with twenty more street lights than it has a present, the sum of $67,100 will be saved to the taxpayers within the next five years?
The fact of the matter is that the present administration has gone about the work of solving local water problem[s] in a more systematic and thorough manner than has ever before been attempted. The matter has been studied carefully from every conceivable standpoint, eminent engineers from a distance have been called into consultation, and in short, many months of arduous work accomplished which in the event of turning affairs over to new hands will all have to be done over again.
The sage guardian of the interests of the Republican party in this vicinity alleges that a certain city official “employs outside labor in preference to local labor.” If we understand the situation correctly, the official probably referred to here is Inspector M. H. Damon of the Sewer Farm. He has had the hiring of most of the men employed in the construction of the new sewers. Mr. Damon is a Republican, and not a Democrat.
But why can’t the Republican find out some of these things for itself?
There has been no delay in the matter of improving the streets under the terms of the bond issue, except those occasioned by the weather and a desire to properly protect the interests of the taxpayers. When crushed rock was advertised for outside firms offered to furnish it, but the price was too high. A local firm then offered to put up a plant and supply the material needed at a much cheaper figure than could be bought for elsewhere, and the offer was accepted. The plant is now about completed and as a result of the plan adopted by the administration the rock will not only be procured at a fair figure, but the money for its hauling will all be paid out to local workmen and teamsters. And in addition better rock will be used than could have been procured in any other way.
“We are doing Republican politics.” –Evening Apologizer. Talking coconut talk you mean.– Press Democrat, March 27, 1906