Santa Rosa had in 1907 a nice Carnegie public library, a popular skating rink and swimming pool (in winter, a floor was placed over the pool and it became a dance hall), and a couple of small theatres. But it didn’t have a single public park.
The closest thing they had was Grace Brother’s park at the corner of Fourth St. and McDonald Ave, a place where Santa Rosa had celebrated since before the Civil War. But it was privately owned so it wasn’t always open, and by 1907, it was looking seedy; “buildings vacant, old, and dilapidated” was the note on the fire map produced the following year. Santa Rosa also had a ball field or two, including “Recreation Park” (location unknown to me) which appears to have been just a vacant lot; the Rose Parade that year marched around the field because the downtown streets were still clogged with post-quake building materials. Both were far short of what the town wanted.
In February of that year, PD gossip columnist Dorothy Anne took a break from her usual format (announcing weddings, reporting on ladies’ club tea parties, and settling personal scores) to ask eighteen prominent women what they’d like to see in a town park. The answers were thoughtful and offer rare descriptions of what Santa Rosa really looked like in 1907.
Several proposed a park focused on Santa Rosa Creek, similar to the design that architect William H. Willcox had sketched out a year earlier, with a little dam that would allow swimming and boating. Alas, the Creek was apparently quite a mess in 1907, described below as a dumping ground that would require a great deal of cleanup. Later in the year, the local power company would be charged with releasing some sort of fish-killing effluent.
Another idea mentioned often was doing something with the old campus of the Pacific Methodist College, now the site of Santa Rosa Middle School, between E Street and Brookwood Avenue. It might have made a nice, park, albeit flat and square-ish. One woman suggested that an ersatz stream could be added (perhaps by not fixing a few of the town’s perpetually leaking water mains).
Among the surprises were a couple of suggestions to use the old Ridgway property, which would later become the Santa Rosa High School grounds. Two women also thought outside the box and wanted the new courthouse to be built somewhere else, so the center of downtown could become the park.
Of great personal interest was the comment from Mattie Oates that she wanted roses and Virginia creeper to “run in profusion over the trees.” The Virginia creeper vine still climbs the trees around her old home, and turns a brilliant scarlet in the autumn, as shown here on the great oak behind Comstock House. We didn’t know that this was a heritage plant dating back to her garden.
Most fun of all the responses were the snippy remarks of Mrs. T. J. Geary, wife of the city attorney who had told the City Council that the rich were entitled to more water because they paid more taxes). Mrs. Geary snorted, “Don’t I think Santa Rosa ought to have a park? Don’t I think we all ought to have diamond earrings? While fully appreciating their beauty and desirability, I think our needs should be well supplied before indulging in luxuries, When our streets, water supply, and sewers are all improved it will be time enough to talk park.” Cripes, lady, sorry to have asked.
A selection of the replies from that February 24, 1907 Press Democrat:
|Mrs. William Martin: “It seems to me that nature has pointed out the most appropriate spot for a city park. Cleanse and dam up the naturally pretty stream running through the town, lay out the banks tastefully, and tract on either side and you will have one of the most beautiful and central places of recreation possible. It seems a pity that a stream which might be made so attractive should be used as a dumping place for rubbish.”
|Mrs. C. D. Barnett: “In my opinion the best location for a park would be along the Santa Rosa creek, if it were not too mammoth an undertaking to remove the objectionable features. With these taken away the place could be transformed into an ideal park with all the natural beauty which it affords. However, there would be so much to undo before anything positive could be accomplished that it seems hardly practical for Santa Rosa to undertake in the near future. My second choice would be the old College ground, affording as it would seem the best natural facilities for transformation into a park. The grand old trees, the creek bed, where an artificial stream could be directed, the broad stretch of grass, and other natural advantages present wonderful opportunities for a city park which would fulfill all the needs and requirements of such a public improvement.”
|Mrs. Judge Seawell: “My ideas are so extravagant I am afraid to give them to you. I would like to see the Ridgway tract north of town bordering on Healdsburg avenue, made into a park. With drivers through broad lawns, bordered by varicolored flower beds, with fountains and statuary, I think we would have the ideal park of the state.”
|Mrs. E. F. Woodward: “I should like to see two parks, one on each side of the town. The College grounds at the east side is most preferable, and the block bordering Seventh, between A and Washington street at the west side.”
|Mrs. W. D. Reynolds: “I would prefer several small parks scattered [illegible microfilm] the triangle formed by Mendocino avenue, tenth, and Joe Davis streets would be a desirable location for one; the triangle at the corner of College avenue and Fourth street, another. I would like to see the new court house put on the Grand hotel site and utilize the court house square for park purposes.”
|Miss Adelaide Elliott: “Our beautiful new Santa Rosa needs a beautiful new park. We can have it by adopting the fine plan of Mr. Willcox to improve Santa Rosa creek from E street to Main. I agree with him that this is decidedly our most desirable location. Nature has done wonders for us there. Trees, vines, a winding stream that could easily be dammed to hold water enough to make boating ideal on summer evenings…All visitors to Santa Rosa wish to see the home and grounds of our eminent and esteemed friend and townsman, Mr. Luther Burbank. It would be greatly to our credit and satisfaction if we were able to take these strangers through a part of town of which we could be proud instead of being ashamed…”
|Mrs. John S. Taylor: “…[G]ive us back our plaza. No other place can combine utility and convenience with beautiful effect, as could the plaza, used as originally intended as a public park. All large cities have their breathing spaces, lungs, so to speak, in the crowded business sections. We can never aspire to metropolitan effects without city parks.”
|Mrs. T. A. Proctor: “…[T]he only place to my idea is Mr. Ridgway’s field of lively oak trees on the Healdsburg road, already a natural park. But, oh! I am afraid I am like the boy who asked for the man in the moon to play with.”
|Mrs. James W. Oates: “Make parks of the banks of all the creeks near the city; letting roses and Virginia creeper run in profusion over the trees; placing seats beneath the shade of the latter; and keeping the streams of water free from refuse.”