You can bet jaws were dropping all over 1912 Santa Rosa when rumors spread Luther Burbank was moving out of town. He wasn’t going far – only about a mile from downtown, to a new subdivision called “West Roseland” – but Santa Rosa without its Burbank was unthinkable. Being the home of the “plant wizard” defined Santa Rosa’s image, with a perpetual stream of visitors coming from far away to see him and his gardens. And that’s exactly why he would have wanted to move away from the well-beaten path; Burbank was besieged by pesky pilgrims whenever he worked in his fields.
Financially secure for one of the few times in his life, Burbank could afford building a new place. A couple of months earlier he had signed a deal with investors to create the Luther Burbank Company, which would henceforth sell his seeds and plants. He was paid $30,000 up front, worth about $4 million today. Work was also underway at the newly-formed Luther Burbank Press to finally create an encyclopedic series of books on Burbank’s works. All in all, 1912 was very likely his happiest year.
Everything was going so well that he even risked a few days off. In August Burbank was part of the “flying legion,” a ten day junket to promote the upcoming Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Traveling on a special Southern Pacific train, about a hundred men took the trip up the coast to Vancouver and back, with stops at all major cities on the way. The only other local man in the delegation was Robert John, an officer of the Luther Burbank Press and Luther Burbank Society, who appears to have been the linchpin in both projects.
Burbank kept a very low profile. He was toasted at a banquet in Canada but told the audience he wasn’t much of a speaker unless the topic was something like “spuds,” which he could discuss at length. A reporter in Oregon quoted his views on the importance of the trip, where in characteristic Burbank fashion he managed to complain and boast in the same breath: “This is almost the first day’s vacation I have taken in ten years, and I came at a time when I have on the place, working toward the publication of my books, 43 stenographers and typewriters, besides my usual executive work is hard to get away from.”
After the trip, nothing more about a planned new home was reported and the Burbank archives have no entry regarding a possible move to West Roseland. It’s more likely he bought the land on speculation; central Sonoma County was then enjoying its first building boom of the Twentieth Century. Ads for new subdivisions appeared regularly in the papers, and developers competed with each other by offering choice locations or no-money-down contracts. Here, it seems the developer was promoting West Roseland as an upscale neighborhood, where buyers would rub elbows with Burbank, George Dutton, Max Rosenberg, and other well-heeled local luminaries. And to cement the link to Santa Rosa’s favorite son, the main road was named “Burbank avenue.”
It appears none of the movers-and-shakers built grand homes in the subdivision. Today, Burbank avenue – which runs north-south, between Stony Point and Dutton Ave. – is almost entirely post-WWII construction, with a couple of older cottages. As you move farther away from Sebastopol Road it turns into a pleasant country lane with pastures and large empty lots that are surprising to discover so close to downtown. Much of it looks like it probably did in Luther’s era, when it was unincorporated county land. Of course, as it’s part of greater Roseland it is still unincorporated county land, only now surrounded on all sides by Santa Rosa proper. Of all the subdivisions then being developed outside of Santa Rosa, Petaluma, and Sebastopol, West Roseland was the only one that didn’t make it into city limits.
BURBANK BUYS LANDReport Says He is Going to Build New Home
Luther Burbank, the well known resident and great horticulturist of this city, has purchased 16 2/3 acres of the Richardson tract on Sebastopol avenue, one mile west of this city. When asked as to his plans of use of the property, Mr. Burbank stated that he had made no plans to announce at present. The report was current on the streets, however, that he intended to build a fine, modern residence there.
The property adjoins the property recently purchased by Max Rosenberg, Dr. J. H. McLeod and John Rinner, and which they are now having surveyed to be placed on the market. The survey includes an avenue a mile long, which runs southerly from the Sebastopol road and which the purchasers will name Burbank avenue. The tract being subdivided will be called West Roseland.
Mr. Burbank made his purchase through the agency of Barnett & Reading.
George Dutton has purchased a piece of property adjoining Burbank’s new property and is planning a fine residence on his new possession.– Santa Rosa Republican, July 3, 1912