“Black Friday” sales after Thanksgiving are not just about the bargains; we’ve come to expect videos of crowds waiting for hours outside the store, then rushing through the doors in a frenzy. This provides an opportunity for the rest of us to cluck our tongues and moralize. “Oh, look at those uncivilized people pushing and shoving,” we sigh, “people didn’t use to act like that!” Don’t bet on it – great-grandma was willing to trample you to get her hands on a discount teapot.
One of the big events in 1912 Santa Rosa was the opening of the Woolworth 5-10-15¢ store. There were already several homegrown department stores downtown, as well as places where you could buy small hardware items, candy, and whatnot. That Woolworth’s wasn’t locally owned was part of its appeal; it was novel in being the first nationwide chain to set up shop in town. And also nice: Really, really cheap stuff.
The store offered a preview (with live orchestra!) the day before opening, along with a big advertisement announcing the hourly specials. The next morning, a crowd started gathering 90 minutes before the store opened. “When the doors were finally unlocked and the jam was so great that one woman narrowly escaped having her arm broken when she fell before the on rush,” reported the Press Democrat.
“The store filled until those inside could not move about,” the PD added, “while the pressure from without continued.” Surely we can all imagine a store with women packed shoulder to shoulder – but remember this was also 1912, when women’s hats were enormous. There must have been many millinery collisions, and from above it must have looked like a single undulating blanket of ribbons and bows and fake blooming flowers.
Pity, too, the employees trying to serve such a mob. “The women clerks could not wait on the crowd fast enough to satisfy all,” the paper reported, suggesting some customers had ruffled feathers (see again: weird hats) and were snarling at the poor saleswomen. In that era before paper bags, clerks were expected to wrap up the items, but they were too harried to even offer that service. “Many took their articles to nearby stores and secured papers with which to wrap them up. Others carried their purchases home without any wrapping.” What a sight the town must have been that day, with a stream of women, hats askew, trickling away from downtown with their alarm clocks, cake plates and Turkish towels tucked under their arms.
Santa Rosa old timers are probably now waxing nostalgic about the jaw-breakers and comic books they bought at Woolworth’s, just slightly east from Mendocino avenue on Fourth street in the Rosenberg building. But in 1912 the store was elsewhere, directly west of Exchange Bank. And that place is still there – or at least, most of it.
Compare the two photos below. The one taken in 1918 shows five corbels at the top and four fenestrations. The modern building has four corbels and three windows. At some point the building was made slimmer by about fifteen feet. But which side – and why?
The first clue is that the old Woolworth address, 541 Fourth street, no longer exists. The westmost storefront is number 535, which was the late, lamented Caffe Portofino. Offices upstairs are 537 and the beauty shop next to the bank is number 539, which suggests the east side was shaved. Next, the fire maps show the building was built around 1910 and made with reinforced concrete and steel beams. The eastern wall is now brick, which is more evidence that it’s not original. (As an aside, the masonry work looks pretty funky and the inside wall is heavily reinforced with wood trusses.)
So why was the right side of the building chopped off? The answer would certainly be found in a thorough title search, which Gentle Reader is welcome to pursue – far be it for me to deny G. R. a few hours of microfilm fun down at the recorder’s office. Most likely Exchange Bank discovered those few feet of the building were over the property line. Why the owner at the time chose to slice off a section of the building – no mean trick without causing serious damage to the rest of the structure – instead of demolishing the whole thing or paying Exchange for a lot line adjustment is anyone’s guess.
The Woolworth articles transcribed below shows this was once the “Livernash building,” which would mean it was owned by Jessie Livernash, the sister of J. P. and T. T. Overton, two of the wealthiest men in Santa Rosa and landlords for a large chunk of downtown. Jessie died in 1913, and the obituaries reveal she also owned the property directly to the north of the bank; the “Livernash block” mentioned in her obit was apparently that whole end of the block, with a carveout on the corner for Exchange Bank. All of these details would be a yawner if not for the fact she was the ex-wife of Edward J. Livernash, who just may have been the most outrageous character ever associated with Santa Rosa (and that really says something). His tale will appear here in a few weeks.
Bonus item: Below is also a small notice about work starting on the Doyle Building on the corner of Fourth and D streets. This lovely Beaux Arts office and retail building was at the location of the old Athenaeum theater, destroyed in the 1906 quake. It is amazing that this lot remained vacant for over five years, given all the construction downtown at the time.
BIG OPENING ON SATURDAYWoolworth Place of Business Ready for Inspection
The store established in this city by the F. W. Woolworth Company, in the Livernash building on Fourth street, near Mendocino, will be open for inspection by the public on Friday afternoon from 2:30 until 5:30 o’clock. On Saturday morning the establishment will be opened for business at 9 o’clock and thereafter at 8 o’clock each morning. A glance at the show windows gives the people an idea of what to expect to find on the inside of the mammoth store, but the interior presents even greater surprises.
The establishment of the store in this city demonstrates the remarkable growth of the F. W. Woolworth Company from a small store with a capital of $300, into one of the largest corporations known, having a capitalization of $65,000,000. The company operates 650 stores in the United States and CAnada and each is known officially through a numeral. Santa Rosa is Store No. 614.
It will be the aim of the company to carry in its local store the merchandise which the people of Santa Rosa want…
…With such painstaking efforts to please it is hoped the people of Santa Rosa will appreciate the efforts to serve them well. The mammoth store occupies the lower and upper floors of the Livernash building, giving one of the largest floor spaces devoted to a single business in the City of Santa Rosa. From the appearance of the store it looks as if everything under the sun is carried and nothing in the stock will be over 15 cents in price.
W. E. Ward is the local manager of the business, and he is an experienced man in that capacity, and one who always strives to please. He has until recently been assistant manager of the store at San Diego, and is delighted to have been permitted to make his home in Santa Rosa.– Santa Rosa Republican, August 21, 1912A GREAT RUSH AT THE WOOLWORTH STORE
The opening of the new 5, 10 and 15 cent store under the management of the F. W. Woolworth Co., Saturday morning proved quite exciting. The crowd was immense.
Women commenced congregating as early as 7:30 and 9 o’clock when the store opened the sidewalk was blocked and the crowd extended far out into the street. When the doors were finally unlocked and the jam was so great that one woman narrowly escaped having her arm broken when she fell before the on rush.
The store filled until those inside could not move about, while the pressure from without continued. Many wanted special articles which they could not reach. The women clerks could not wait on the crowd fast enough to satisfy all.
Many took their articles to nearby stores and secured papers with which to wrap them up. Others carried their purchases home without any wrapping. All day long the crowds filled the store and at night the counters and shelves showed the result of the day’s business. The firm has a large reserve stock, and by Monday the store will be replenished, ready for all who want to take advantage of the bargains to be found on the counters. And there are some real bargains in the way of prices to be had in the various lines offered.– Press Democrat, August 25, 1912NEW BUILDING FOR CORNER
M. Doyle, who owns the property formerly occupied by the Athenaeum on the corner of Fourth and D streets, is preparing to erect a two story building. It will be a concrete reinforced structure, and the upper floor will be occupied by a hall and offices, while the lower floor will be devoted to stores.
Company E has talked some of making an armory there, but as yet the matter has not been decided.
The contract has been let out for the iron and work will begin immediately on the building. This will be a welcome addition to the city and will complete the corner that has been vacant ever since the fire.
The building will be first class in every respect and Mr. Doyle will give the work his personal attention. Only the best of materials will be used in the construction.– Santa Rosa Republican, April 7, 1911