By midsummer 1906, post-earthquake life in Santa Rosa was less about coping with crisis than it was enduring a hundred annoyances. Piles of construction materials had replaced the piles of rubble downtown, making 4th Street shopping difficult, and even dangerous, not to mention the inconvenience for farmers probably being unable to hitch their horse and buggy near the makeshift stores. Other merchants were dispersed to temporary locations on side streets, working from home, or at the business district shantytown thrown together on an empty lot near the corner of 5th and Mendocino.
The greatest disruption was probably social, however. Life before the earthquake was punctuated by endless get-togethers, dances, and card parties hosted by the fraternal lodges and ladies’ social clubs, and almost all of these gatherings were on hold since the disaster. The Athenaeum theatre and the Novelty vaudeville hall were both gone, so there was little to do at night, either. So after you’ve told your how-I-survived-the- disaster story to everyone you knew and tsk’d over their disaster stories, there was precious little to do in Santa Rosa. Maybe that’s why the town went crazy as a betsy bug over roller skating that summer.
But Santa Rosa’s roller mania wasn’t created by the quake. Roller skating was quite a fad that year nationwide, and the San Francisco Bay Area was a hotspot with the famed Idora Amusement Park in Oakland, said to have the largest and best rink in the world. Two downtown skating rinks were opened in Santa Rosa in the weeks before the quake to great success, and the Press Democrat noted that a popular salutation around town was, “Have you had a skate on?”
Then came the earthquake. The urge to put on wheeled shoes was quelled but not extinguished. Three weeks past the disaster, a rink was opened at the old Grace Brothers Park near the Macdonald Ave. and 4th street intersection. Frank Leppo, who had operated one of the pre-quake rinks announced that he was going to build a new one on Humboldt Street. And with no fanfare, Mr. Green and Bowers asked City Council for permission to build a pavilion that would cost about $15,000.
The Pavilion Skating Rink opened three months after the quake. Located in the middle of the A Street block between 4th and 5th (think of their front door as the menswear department at Macy’s), it was about 15,000 square feet of no-frill steel and wood construction – a standard warehouse, more or less. The owners instead spent a chunk of money on installing a quality maple skating floor, with two layers of felt underneath to muffle the roar of hundreds of skaters and to make it more springy. Every afternoon they polished the floor using a large slab of marble attached to the back of an automobile, which then “ran around the room at a lively clip.”
(RIGHT: “Professor” Franks and his 7 year-old daughter, “Baby Lillian.” The Franks toured California roller rinks in 1906, visiting Santa Rosa in late September. Other newspapers described their act including dad skating on 30-inch stilts. The finale of the act had him skating up a special 70-foot ramp and jumping thirty feet, landing with a pirouette. His daughter followed with a similar leap into her father’s arms)
It was immediately a terrific success. Santa Rosans packed the place; even if you didn’t skate, there was enough seating for a thousand to watch. Within days, the Santa Rosa Republican began running a “Skating Rink News” section on the front page to keep everyone up-to-date on the latest doings at the Pavilion, and the Press Democrat followed with its own front page column soon after. Here was news you really needed to know; that evening there might be a match between Santa Rosa’s “polo team” (roller skate hockey) and competitors from Healdsburg or Petaluma, or there could be a grand march where all comers would be given a red, white, or blue Japanese lantern to carry, or there might be an hour reserved for couples near closing. Professionals also came through regularly with “fancy skating” exhibitions. Every day there was something new to see, and you or someone you knew probably saw it.
But skating was just part of the fun. Two months later, Bowers and his partner opened Santa Rosa’s first swimming pool next door. At 40 x 100 feet it wasn’t modern Olympic size, but then again, competition pools usually don’t have a slide, trapeze swing, rings, or an attached skating rink. This likewise was a great success, and come November, they closed the swimming baths for the winter and placed a dance floor over the pool. Now it became “Bowers’ Hall,” Santa Rosa’s ballroom.
Together, the Pavilion and Bowers’ Hall became the town center that Santa Rosa never before had. The buildings even functioned as a convention hall for large gatherings, somewhat like the grand auditorium that architect William Willcox had recently hoped to build. in January 1907, more than 3,000 packed into the skating rink on a Saturday afternoon to hear William Jennings Bryan pontificate about America’s greatness and its destiny to lead the world.
Ideally Santa Rosa should have offered these venues at a public park, where admission would be free or nearly so (and which Willcox also tried to create here). Bowers charged up to 50¢ a person for some events, the equivalent of something around twelve dollars today. It was an expensive night out in a farm town. Still, gratitude was owed to Bowers and Green for providing a service that probably helped many escape their woes and mourning, at least for a bit.
And as the annus horribilis of 1906 came to an end, two dances at Bowers’ Hall helped close the year on a pleasant note. The week before Christmas there was a dignified “Grand Masque Ball,” and then on New Year’s Eve, a decidedly UNdignified “Sheet and Pillowcase Masquerade.” There dancers wrapped their bodies in a bedsheet and covered their head with a pillowcase with two holes cut for the eyes. “The amusing feature is that often it is hard to tell whether your partner is a gentleman or a lady, and times have been when men have had men for their partners, much to the amusement of all,” promised a blurb in the Republican. It’s another of those moments that make me yearn for a time machine; how fun it must have been to watch everyone in their boiled sheets struggling to dance like clumsy ghosts, while next door, others dressed in their Sunday best glided gracefully around and around until at last the new year came.
RINKS ARE MERRY
Large Crowds Patronizing Roller Skating Here
“Have you had a skate on?” is a popular salutation these days in Santa Rosa.
The skating rinks which opened Saturday evening at Ridgeway hall and Red Men’s hall are doing a land office business every night and in the afternoons many take the opportunity to become acquainted with the fascinating pastime.– Press Democrat, March 28, 1906
“Billy” Cowan Shows Skaters How to Skate
Attorney Willaim Finley Cowan is nursing some strained ligaments of the arm and wearing one of these member is splints as he result of an attempt to use roller skates at a local rink Friday morning. He was formerly one of the best skaters in Santa Rosa… [when] he was something like twenty-three years younger and over a hundred pounds lighter…Those in the vicinity declare that an earthquake had occurred when “Billy” hit the floor, but their fears were soon dispelled.– Santa Rosa Republican, March 31, 1906
FINE SKATING RINK SOON TO BE OPENED
The new skating rink which is being erected on A street in this city is one of the most pretentious affairs of the kind to be found in this part of the state. Messrs. H. A. Bowers and I. L. Green, who are financing the rink, state that they expect to have the place completed by the last of next week and will be ready then for their opening.
The rink is a splendid building, 74×200 feet, and is being constructed of rustic, [sic] with a pressed steel front in imitation of bricks. There will be room for some four hundred skaters on the floor, and seats will be provided for one thousand spectators, while the hall will be large enough for convention purposes and will hold fully 3500 people on such occasions. Already there is some talk of having the coming lecture of William Jennings Bryan in this building next fall.
One of the most interesting features of the ring is the manner in which the floor will be laid. Mr. Bowers stated this morning that he will have each of the floor joists covered with a thickness of felt before the roof floor is laid, and on top of this first floor there will be a complete covering of felt before the maple floor is placed in position. This will make the floor flexible, and also overcome the disagreeable noise of the skating.
Adjoining the rink Mr. Bowers is having his large public bath house erected. The excavation for the swimming tank is being rushed to completion at the present, and when completed will be 40×100 feet, while the building itself will be 60×120 feet. The baths will be fitted up in the latest manner, being equipped with slide trapese, rings, and the like and will be connected with the skating rink so that there will be an opportunity to pass from one to the other.
The feature of the swimming tank will be the incline floor that is to be laid, giving the bathers any depth of water they may desire. When completed the rink and baths will be the best to be found anywhere and no expense is being spared to fith them up right.– Santa Rosa Republican, July 12, 1906
UNIQUE MANNER OF DRESSING DOWN FLOOR
At the New Pavilion Skating rink in this city, the manager, H. A. Bowers, has contrived a very unique way to dress down the floor for the skaters. He secured a large piece of marble nearly two feet square and about four inches thick, and every afternoon just after the rink has been closed to visitors, an automobile is run into the building and hitched to the stone. Then the fun begins. The auto is ran around the room at a lively clip, dragging the stone, and giving the hardwood floor a splendid satin surface.
The marble grinds off all the rough and uneven places on the wood and gives the surface a smooth and pleasing finish. After the marble has been used, then there is a large pad, arranged nearly four feet square, which is faced behind the machine, and in a short time there is absolutely no dust to be found on the floor. Another advantage in the method is the doing away of all chalk and other applications. This makes it especially pleasing for the ladies, as there is no danger of soiling the white clothes while skating. Mr. Bowers’ plans is certainly a very unique one, and by test has been found to do its work to perfection.– Santa Rosa Republican, July 26, 1906
AUSPICIOUS OPENING OF SKATING RINK
The new skating rink of Bowers & Green opened as scheduled Saturday evening, and there was a perfect crush of visitors to the new place of amusement. The large pavilion was crowded, many visitors going into the galleries to witness the animated scene on the floor below. The management had provided generously for the opening night, but the attendance exceeded their expectations, and the number of skaters was greater than there were skates on hand. Many had to be turned away because all the skates were in use. More than two thousand persons were in the pavilion, and a more auspicious opening could not have been desired…– Santa Rosa Republican, July 23, 1906
SKATING RINK NEWS
The attraction at the Pavilion Skating Rink this evening will be the presence of Joe Waldstein, the world’s champion skater…Waldstein will be present Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings, and for these three evenings the management has decided to charge an admission of 25 cents. On each of the evenings mentioned there will be a grand skating march led by Mrs. Bender and Mr. Waldstein and much interest is being taken in the event.
This afternoon there was a practice by the ladies preparatory to the march this evening.
[..]– Santa Rosa Republican, July 31, 1906
SKATING RINK NEWS
Tonight a potatoe [sic] race will be the chief amusement. The one who gathers the most potatoes and covers the distance in the shortest time will be given a new pair of skates.
On Thursday night the rink will be run by the polo team, at which time there will be a polo game and possibly a ladies’ tournament. The entire management will be turned over to the polo boys, and Captain Burris will act as floor manager. The time for closing will be extended a half hour longer than the usual time for closing, and one and a half hours will be devoted to ladies and escorts only. The boys are desirous of making a good showing on that occasion, and have planned to make the evening a very interesting one for the spectators.– Press Democrat, August 21, 1906
BATHS ARE OPENED WITH LARGE CROWDS
The opening of the baths at the Pavilion Rink yesterday afforded a large number of people no little amusement and pleasure in bathing. The night was filled with good water and just nicely warmed and long before the noon hour there was a large crowd in the water. Early in the afternoon every bathing suit was taken and many of the patrons of the place remained in the water for a long time. They seemed loath to leave the sport.
[..]– Santa Rosa Republican, September 4, 1906
SKATING RINK NEWS
Last night at the Pavillion Rink, the grand march was presented in a very pleasing manner by a large number of the best skaters of the vicinity. There were many new and very pretty figures introduced, among which was a lantern march in which each skater carried a Japanese lantern of red, white, or blue, and as the march progressed they produced a very pleasing effect. Tonight there will be another grand march, and after the march plain skating will be the order of the evening.
Monday night will be mens and boys night and there will be many games played. The main feature of the evening will be a two-mile race for a purse of $25…
The new floor that has been laid over the big tank has been completed and there will be a first class dance given tonight. Butler’s orchestra will furnish the music for the occasion,– Press Democrat, November 10, 1906
SHEET AND PILLOWCASE MASQUERADE BALL
Considerable interest is centering in the Sheet and Pillowcase Masquerade which is announced to take place at Bower’s hall next Monday night. The idea is something novel and there will be a large attendance. The reason the plan is proving so popular is that it is no easy to secure the costume for the event. All that is necessary to make it complete is to have a sheet wrapped around the body up to the arm-pits, and a pillowcase over the head, having cut two holes for the eyes.
The amusing feature is that often it is hard to tell whether your partner is a gentleman or a lady, and times have been when men have had men for their partners, much to the amusement of all.
Butler’s orchestra will furnish the music for the event, and the admission will be twenty-five cents for spectators and fifty cents for maskers.– Santa Rosa Republican, December 26, 1906