Busted! The city phoned last week to inform us we were violating Santa Rosa’s mandatory water-use restrictions – we were spotted using sprinklers during the day. After hanging up, I searched out the city’s drought web page. Sure enough, the new rules are “outdoor irrigation must occur between 8pm and 6am.” We did not know that and have adjusted watering accordingly.

The unsettling part of this incident was concern a neighbor might have snitched instead of speaking with us directly, but the water dept. staffer who called – and who undoubtedly has the only civic job more thankless than parking enforcement –  said the report came from someone “with the city.” Looking at the drought web page again, I found “water watch patrols, performed by city staff, are actively looking for water wasting behaviors.” Good Lord, it’s the return of the Water Police of yesteryear –  one of the most peculiar episodes in Santa Rosa’s history a century ago. Before getting into that topic, however, let’s look at some of the things said about our current situation.

* AVERAGE RAINFALL  Santa Rosa gets an average of about 30 inches of rain per season – give or take an inch or so, depending on where you are. Bennett Valley is different from downtown is different from Fountaingrove. While this makes “average rainfall” a bit of a fuzzy target, you can add up all the numbers claiming to represent “Santa Rosa” going back a century and come up with 30.36 inches. (Inexplicably, a search of Press Democrat articles over the last few years finds the paper variously claiming the average is between 31 and 40 inches, consistently skewed to the high side.) Historical data shows a standard deviation of 9.15, so a year with 21 inches of rain would be considered low-normal. 

* ANNUAL VS. SEASON   Not so vague is the definition of our rainy season; like most of the state, our “water year” is July through June. It makes no sense at all to discuss rainfall in terms of a calendar year, yet many resources – including Santa Rosa’s current Wikipedia page – can be found using calendar year totals. On the city web page linked above, it’s claimed “In 2013, Santa Rosa received less than 6 inches of rainfall.” That’s an alarmist statement and badly misleading; in the 2013-2014 water year, the total was nearly three times that. 

* MISSING HISTORY  Any discussion of “average” rainfall should come with the caveat that there are serious gaps in the historical record. In the Santa Rosa rain data between 1903-2010 (LINK) there are months incomplete or missing, and much of the data between 1916 and 1925 appear untrustworthy; move back to the 19th century and there are entire years either blank or have just overall county summaries. There’s a (surprisingly interesting) paper on the history of Sonoma County weather stations that discusses the various old records. The Press Democrat occasionally printed the readings going back to 1889, as seen in the illustration below. Recent measurements can be found from UC Extension and many places elsewhere.

* DROUGHT  Is Santa Rosa currently in a drought? Yes, absolutely – a drought is two or more consecutive dry water years, and this is the fourth we have floated near the bottom of the low-normal range, with 2013-2014 way down at an abnormal 17.91 inches. The situation’s not good, but not nearly as dire as many other parts of the state. Through the end of May our 2014-2015 year stands at borderline-abnormal 20.65 inches. This is probably Santa Rosa’s third worst drought since statehood (see above, re: missing history). Over the two water years of 1862-1864 there was only 29 inches combined, and about the same during the 1975-1977 pair.

Santa Rosa’s water situation was far worse at the turn of the last century, but not because of drought. I’ve written up various parts of that story in posts that can be found in the archives, and am shamelessly plagiarizing myself herewith. Links back to the original pieces appear at the end.

(RIGHT: Santa Rosa rainfall 1889-1912)

Although Santa Rosa was surrounded on all sides by fresh water (river, laguna, aquifer, even large creeks running through the center of town), the stuff that came out of the faucet more than a century ago was always somewhat foul and sometimes scarce. Part of the problem stemmed from the town having both privately owned and public water utilities with separate pipes running down all the main streets.

The water pipes for the private system belonged to the old Santa Rosa Water Works, better known as the McDonald Water Company, which had been operating since the mid-1870s. Water from the McDonald system was “soft” and considered good tasting, even though an 1891 report confirmed suspicions that its reservoir, Lake Ralphine, was contaminated with hog and human waste (maybe it was E.coli that gave the water its je ne sais quoi).

The municipal system came along in 1896 and was also plagued with problems from the start. City water was unmetered and free, but “hard” and tasted of sulphur. Still, they couldn’t keep up with demand because there weren’t enough wells and the steam engine pumps were underpowered. Even with the addition of a 1903 well that nearly doubled capacity, the city’s pipes were always at risk of running dry and a report the next year explained why: Almost a quarter of the water leaving the reservoir was lost somewhere in broken plumbing – 270,000 gallons just dribbled away every day.

(RIGHT: The 1909 rates for the hated Santa Rosa municipal water system. CLICK or TAP to enlarge)

Caught in the middle between these two “just good enough” companies was the public, stuck with choosing between bad and worse. The McDonald system had no incentive to upgrade its service while the city water works had trouble raising bond money for improvements as long as there was a competitor in the private sector. And it surely did not help that at a 1906 City Council meeting Thomas J. Geary was wobbling between jobs as city attorney and lawyer for the McDonald water system, where he argued that the city water works should be shut down. Along the way, Geary also told the Council the rich were entitled to more water than Average Joe because they paid more taxes.

Santa Rosa’s water system was such a mess the town enacted severe conservation measures. Policemen, firemen and city inspectors became the Water Police, empowered to wake you in the middle of the night if someone heard water running. A city inspector was hired to examine toilets, faucets, and other fixtures for leaks, and had powers to issue a $2.50 fine  – equal to a few days’ pay for the average worker – for each violation. There was also a monthly fee for every water fixture in your home; it’ll be 25¢ per month for the pleasure of that bathtub in your house and having an indoor toilet cost another quarter (and worth every penny). Water Police assessed extra charges for nearly everything; watering your lawn cost 1/2 cent per square yard per year, irrigating strawberries and vegetables, 3¢ per square yard.

And then there was the nutty Pavlovian alert system. Lawns and gardens could be watered only at certain times and/or certain days depending whether you lived east or west of Mendocino Avenue; in the scheme used following the earthquake, the east side could use a garden hose between 4 and 8 o’clock, while westerners had the hours between 5 and 9. Starting and stopping times were announced by the Grace Brothers Brewery steam whistle which also sounded to announce lunch time and quitting time. If you’re keeping track, all that meant the brewery whistle was sounding at 12, 4, 5, 8, and 9. When that whistle blew I imagine people often just stood still for a moment with their heads cocked, like puzzled dogs, trying to figure out if they were supposed to eat, start, turn off or go home.

Santa Rosa introduced water meters in 1905 with the promise that a family of five or less still could have 350 gallons of free water a day. But old habits die hard and the town kept the Water Police around at least through 1907, when the reservoir was finally patched and covered, a new well drilled, and high powered electric pumps replaced the antique steam engines. Street repairs after the earthquake also fixed many of those leaky pipes.

But water woes continued, now because the town screwed up installation of the new meters. In one outrageous SNAFU, it was revealed that five businesses – including a bakery and one of Santa Rosa’s largest saloons – were connected through a water meter for a private residence. The homeowner understandably refused to pay the excess-use water bill so the city shut off the meter, and thus the water supply to the home and businesses alike. Two of the businesses agreed to pay the flat business rate, but the others balked, leaving the water turned off. “Without the necessary water, sinks and toilets go without flushing and the neighbors are wondering ‘how about the sanitary condition’ of the block,” commented a letter to the editor.

By 1909, downtown businessmen were flatly refusing to pay their water bills, viewing the rates as capricious – a liquor store owed $2 a month but a dentist paid only a dollar above the base rate and physicians paid nothing. When others heard their neighboring businesses were getting away without paying, they began ignoring their bills as well. Thus on a fine spring morning in 1909, Street Commissioner W. A. Nichols marched up and down the downtown streets and shut off the scofflaw’s water. A standoff began, and soon the Press Democrat reported, “For the last few days block after block on Fourth street has been without water.”

After a week without toilets or tap water, about a dozen delinquent businesses paid their bills. At least one major property owner thumbed his nose at the city system and signed with McDonald. But Santa Rosa’s intractable policies placed still other companies in a Catch-22. Most buildings had only a single water hookup, yet there could be more than one business at that address. Under city rules, all water was shut off to the building if any of the businesses there were past due. One company caught in the middle was the main downtown grocery store: Erwin Brothers, at 703-705 Fourth street. They went to city hall to pay every cent in arrears and make a deposit toward future payments but the city refused to accept their money – there was another tenant in the building who still didn’t want to pay. After nine dry days, the Erwins illegally turned the water on themselves and filed an injunction against the city to keep it on.

What happened next probably had the town buzzing. According to comments from the Erwins published in the Republican, the mayor personally asked them to drop the lawsuit, suggesting, “Why don’t you connect with the McDonald system and save all this trouble,” foolishly placing Santa Rosa in legal peril, given they were litigants against the city over this very issue. The mayor claimed none of that was true and he hadn’t even spoken with them; the Erwins countered with details of the visit, including the mayor had left his kid waiting in the buggy.

The suit was dismissed a couple of weeks later and the business hookup rules fixed, bringing to an end over a decade of various skirmishes in the Santa Rosa Water Wars. For years the city still had two water systems – the McDonald Water Company continued to operate through the Roaring Twenties. The city eventually simplified rates so residents were no longer paying different prices to water their watermelons and flowers. But city water still was hard and sulphurous, so on warm summer afternoons the sprinklers danced wild over Santa Rosa lawns with a golden spray and a faint stench of eggs gone rotten.



For further reading: Ample and Pure Water for Santa Rosa, 1867-1926 by John Cummings

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Dear sir or madam; the city destroyed your pioneer ancestor’s grave marker. You may want to hire someone to make a new one. Sincerely, Santa Rosa.

No mistake about it: Santa Rosa’s Rural Cemetery was a real mess in 1951.

“It is a disgrace to Santa Rosa,” Fred Cooke, chairman for that year’s Memorial Day committee wrote the Press Democrat that May. “I visited this cemetery to arrange for the ceremonies and found it difficult to even drive around the roads. In all my experience, and I have visited many a cemetery, I can say this is the worst of them all.”

Another writer, Guy E. Grosse, agreed in letter to the editor a week later. “In some instances [it is] almost a forest, with weeds, underbrush and young trees making it almost impossible to walk through the roads, and in some cases, impossible to locate tombstones.”

City Manager Sam Hood was most specific of all, saying the cemetery was a jungle of tangled brush four feet high, including matted undergrowth of sweet pea “about two feet thick.”

(RIGHT: View of Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery in 1970. Detail of photograph by Don Meacham courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Alas, the old cemetery had been long neglected, but 1951 was apparently a pathetic low. Overgrown with sweet pea, blue periwinkle, acacia, bramble, poison oak and sapling trees, it must have taken decades to build up enough thicket to conceal a tombstone as tall as an eight year-old child. There were community cleanup efforts in 1907 and 1908, but after that plots were weeded only by the occasional family member – and presumably by undertakers preparing a grave for one of the diminishing number of new burials. The year 1951 as well would have likely passed without anything done had it not been for the vandalism incident.

In the bold headline type usually reserved for earthshaking news, the June 5 front page of the Press Democrat screamed: “Vandals Desecrate Graves in Odd Fellows, Rural Cemetery”. Beneath two large photographs, the article stated most of the damage was in the section of the Odd Fellows cemetery near Franklin Avenue, with 22 tombstones knocked over or damaged. “The littered ground looks as if a bulldozer had ploughed over the graves,” the PD reported. Across the fence at the Rural Cemetery, “several stone and wooden crosses were snapped.”

By the following day, it was apparent the overgrown condition of the older cemetery had concealed the vandal’s scope: the paper now said, “most of the scattered destruction took place in secluded areas of the rambling rural cemetery, where at least 35 ravaged graves have been counted.” A subscriber later wrote he or she counted 87 headstones turned over. The damage estimate there came in at $15,000, with a North Bay Monument quote of over $1,000 to simply right all the toppled markers. In contrast, it was expected to cost only $150 for repairs at the Odd Fellows cemetery. ($15,000 is equivalent to about $140,000 in today’s dollars.)

The vandals were quickly caught – schoolboys age 9 and 12, who said they were “just having fun after school.” Their parents agreed to pay full restitution. The last we hear of the young hooligans was that “State psychiatrists” would soon be examining them. “Investigating officers who questioned the boys expressed the belief that neither vandal was aware of the sacrilegious nature of the crime.”

(For what it’s worth: Every 1951 Press Democrat article described the vandalism as being “sacrilegious” or “desecration” – the offense against morality trumped the criminal act – and there was an editorial on the vandalism titled, “Moral Revival Should Start in the Homes.” This was in step with the pious tone of the newspaper in that era; every day there was a section on the front or editorial page titled “The Shepherd,” with a Bible verse and little homily. In the letters section readers debated bits of scripture continually.)

For reasons unclear, it was decided the monument company needed written consent from relatives of the deceased before they could repair damaged tombstones at the Rural Cemetery. But very few wrote to grant permission; the PD noted “survivors of many whose graves were mutilated have themselves died or moved from the area.” Doubtless there were others who lived around here but didn’t even know there were family members up on the hill, hidden somewhere under the weeds.

And that was the nub of the problems with the Rural Cemetery; nobody took responsibility for the place. It was outside Santa Rosa city limits. Most of it was supposedly owned by the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery Association, but that organization was long defunct and there were no records to be found. According to the Recorder’s Office, the last time a burial plot had been sold was in 1930.

Shift forward now two months. Northern California had sweltered through a long hot summer and nearly every day the papers reported there were fires burning out of control in the forests. About then, City Manager Hood and other officials apparently remembered there was a vandal-friendly, six acre tinderbox right on the edge of town.

“It’s getting so we can’t sleep night worrying about the situation,” Hood told the Board of Supervisors. “We could have a major catastrophe on our hands” if a blaze at the cemetery jumped to surrounding neighborhoods.

Hood’s proposal was that a workcrew of twenty prisoners from the county jail should be provided to clear the weed-choked narrow roads winding around the cemetery. Following that there would be a controlled burn, supervised by the city fire chief and firefighters from the state Forest Service.

The only objections to the plan came from Supervisor William Kennedy of Sebastopol, who was worried about setting precedent by using country jail labor. “There are plenty of other cemeteries in the county which aren’t in good condition,” he said, adding a cleanup at the Pleasant Hill Cemetery was paid for privately. The decision was that prisoners could be used because fire prevention was in the county’s interest, but no money would be spent to “beautify” the cemetery, which presumably meant resetting pushed-over monuments. “The resulting improvement of the neglected cemetery’s appearance will be only incidental,” summarized the PD.

Thus on August 25, 1951, the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery was burned in a controlled fire.

Or maybe not so controlled; a small item in the PD a couple of days later claimed success, with a small qualification:

Some wooden grave markers were inadvertently destroyed, when the burning revealed a number of plots that had lain concealed for years. An attempt will be made to trace families of those whose graves were hidden, City Manager Sam B. Hood said. He indicated that “private arrangements” will have to be made, since most of the cemetery is outside city limits.

It was a true Pyrrhic victory – Santa Rosa had “saved” its historic cemetery, and in the process, destroyed many of the oldest markers that made it historic. It is a loss that plagues historians today.

We can argue the city and county should be held blameless; the thick overgrowth completely concealed the old wood markers from the fire crews and conditions at the cemetery truly represented a serious fire risk. Or we can also argue it was irresponsible to do it in such a great rush and on the cheap. But whether by accident or carelessness, it’s difficult to defend Santa Rosa’s stance that descendants were responsible to make their own “private arrangements” to replace what was destroyed by the city.

And perhaps the burn may not have been so controlled after all. A few days later a letter appeared in the paper: “For years it has been a disgrace to the community with its majority of unkept lots and weed-covered roads. Now we have acres of blackened fire-swept stubble, smoke-covered monuments, burnt wooden markers and scorched trees.”

As the obl. Believe-it-or-Not footnote, there’s an unseen player to be spotted in all corners of this story: Hyperactive developer Hugh Codding.

Codding had opened his Montgomery Village shopping center a year earlier – hijacking a chunk of downtown Santa Rosa’s mercantile base in the process – and in 1951 was building hundreds of tract houses nearby which were intended to be the foundation of a sister city to Santa Rosa. Just before the cemetery vandalism a wag wrote the Press Democrat to suggest we should surrender and just rename the whole area “Coddingville.” Another PD correspondent at the time thought we should beg Codding to “clean up the terrible unsightly condition that exists” at the Rural Cemetery as a civic duty. (Codding didn’t reply, but in the same edition a letter from him denied “The Montgomery Village News” was about to become a daily newspaper in competition with the Press Democrat.)

But there are cosmic ironies in Sam Hood’s appeal to the Supervisors for an emergency prisoner work crew, which he said was based on the threat a cemetery fire posed to “the Codding Village area.” Hood was then new to the post of City Manager, and three years later would be locking horns with Codding over whether Montgomery Village should be incorporated into the city. By eliminating the greatest fire risk in the area, Hood also lost a major bargaining chip – no longer was there urgency for Codding to compromise in order to ensure his sprawling subdivisions were under the protection offered by Santa Rosa fire stations.

EDITOR: There are many men and women buried in the Rural Cemetery who were well known and well liked citizens of Santa Rosa.

When alive and active in making this city “Designed For Better Living” they gave their time, money, labor and they paid taxes and had hopes for the progress of Santa Rosa.

Now they seem to be forgotten, with but few exceptions, and to show how shameful all this is, just take a walk or drive through this cemetery. It is a disgrace to Santa Rosa.

Why do we neglect the respect for our dead? When you read the names on the headstones of many who were well known, and see the condition of them, you wonder why something is not done to care for this cemetery.

Being the chairman of the committee for Memorial Day Exercises, I visited this cemetery to arrange for the ceremonies and found it difficult to even drive around the roads. In all my experience, and I have visited many a cemetery, I can say this is the worst of them all…

..You may say the relatives of the dead should clean it up. Some whole families are buried here and no one left. Others have moved away. Decency demands that some provision should be made to clean this cemetery, at least, before Memorial Day.

I have been told the Board of Supervisors are responsible for this condition and I hope that everyone interested in cleaning up this terrible condition will demand some effort be made to clean up this condition which is a disgrace.

Let us not forget and forsake our dead.

FRED A. COOKE, Commander, United Spanish War Veterans.

– Press Democrat, May 18, 1951

EDITOR: I read with great interest the magnificent article written by Commander Fred A. Cooke…

…Why not call up your favorite supervisor or several of them, and they will possibly arrange to have the county jail prisoners do the clean-up work under the supervision of the city or county park gardeners, or let them use common sense.

Certainly it will not take any amount of brains to do the job. Of course the supervisors may have a better solution for cleaning up not only these graves, but the roads and paths into the plots of our pioneer dead…

…Their resting places are, in some instances, almost a forest, with weeds, underbrush and young trees making it almost impossible to walk through the roads, and in some cases, impossible to locate tombstones, let alone the markers of the revered dead. Shame on you, Santa Rosa and community citizenry. Do you want your lot to be the same?

Why not make it a semi-annual affair to clean up the Rural Cemetery. Then we will be able at least to pass the cemetery without a shudder and be ashamed to drive past it with visitors who have been attracted here by what our Chamber of Commerce and we like to say is a city “designed for living”…

GUY E. GROSSE, Santa Rosa

– Press Democrat, May 24, 1951

EDITOR: I hope that the public will read the following lines and be as serious about the entire matter as I am. I am sincere and have no thought of sarcasm and I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Hugh Codding, and feel that this town and Sonoma County are indeed fortunate in having as progressive a man as he in regard to his terrific subdivisions.

There has been much comment regarding the terrible condition surrounding the cemetery at the end of McDonald Ave., and I, too, feel that this is one of the most disgraceful situations we have in this beautiful city of Santa Rosa.

Everyone feels that something should be done to correct this unsightly condition, but there seemse to be no heads or tails as to what should be done.

Now if Mr. Codding is able to move the bank which was to be built on 4th street to the Codding subdivision in Montgomery Village, and if Mr. Codding was able to get a permit to build a theater in Montgomery Village, and I think if he tries hard enough he will move the court house to Montgomery Village–if all this is possible, why isn’t it reasonable to believe that with a little encouragement Mr. Codding could move the present cemetery and clean up the terrible unsightly condition that exists?


HARRY B. FETCH, Santa Rosa

– Press Democrat, June 3, 1951

EDITOR: I am wondering how many have been through the Rural Cemetery since the recent cleanup and just what they think of it.

For years it has been a disgrace to the community with its majority of unkept lots and weed-covered roads.

Now we have acres of blackened fire-swept stubble, smoke-covered monuments, burnt wooden markers and scorched trees.

Surely it is a showplace for a “City Designed for Living” to be extremely proud of.

MARY A. McDANNEL, Santa Rosa

– Press Democrat, August 30, 1951

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It’s nearly Christmas, 1912. Want a nice gift for your spouse? There’s an art auction in Santa Rosa, and the paper says original oil paintings would be sold “at a remarkably low figure.” You might even know the guy who painted those landscapes – he’s S. Tilden Daken, “the Sonoma County artist.”

Other painters blew through Sonoma county with brushes and easels in the first few years of the Twentieth Century, most notably Carl Dahlgren, who was hired in 1908 to paint Burbank creations by one of the publishing groups trying to write a series of books on Burbank’s plant breeding. Dahlgren also found time for at least one landscape painting and some sketching on the river (“oh, in your coundy it iss beautiful, b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l!” he raved to a reporter for the Press Democrat in his Danish accent) but he was still a visitor, working out of San Francisco. Daken lived here with his family on Chestnut street (off Sebastopol Ave.) and rubbed shoulders with Santa Rosa’s hoi polloi; when the Press Democrat ran a silly 1909 scavenger hunt contest to promote downtown businesses, there he was as question #91, between the Gamble Brothers grocery store and the Harper Hair Dressing Parlor. “What is the name of the eminent artist who came to Sonoma county three years ago and established a studio and school of art?”

(RIGHT: Samuel Tilden Daken portraits in the Santa Rosa Republican, 1911 and 1912)

The art studio could be found on Fourth street, but there never was a “school of art.” He had moved to Santa Rosa in late 1908 hoping to establish an art institute affiliated with a national association of art schools. Plans never advanced past the drafting board, but he was so convincing the Chamber of Commerce included his architectural drawing of the proposed building in its hyped 1909 “Illustrated Portfolio of Santa Rosa and Vicinity” promotional book. Lack of funding probably killed that project but he stuck around, painting redwoods and valleys and geysers and more. Sonoma county is “b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l,” after all. In summertimes the family, with two baby daughters born here, enjoyed painting excursions to Yosemite and Lake Tahoe.

Daken also was the focus of a 1911 promotional campaign to distribute prints of three of his Sonoma county views to selected parties in the Midwest and Eastern states with the goal to hopefully “induce them to come to this favored section to make their homes.” The printing was done by the Santa Rosa Republican, which patted itself on the back in announcing “This is the most extensive 3-color cut work ever done in Sonoma county…It is superb in every way.” In truth, the printing is terrible; with poor registration and the colors oddly washed out, the prints look like the sort of crappy halftone found on baseball cards from twenty years earlier.

Amazingly, researcher Bonnie Portnoy – Daken’s granddaughter – has a mint-condition copy of the 1911 “Sonoma County Beautiful” portfolio. With permission the prints are reproduced below and a higher resolution copy of the entire brochure is available at the Comstock House digital library (DOWNLOAD). Bonnie writes and curates the tildendaken.com website and has penned articles about Daken for the Sonoma Historian. She has unearthed a trove of information on him and is preparing a full biography.

There was apparently no East Coast tour by the artist following distribution of the art portfolio, but Daken was busy anyway; “For some time past Mr. Daken has been making displays of the Sonoma county scenes throughout the state, at county fairs and industrial exhibitions, particularly the one at San Jose, where he spent some weeks,” the Republican reported. A particularly fine painting, “View of Russian River from Guernewood Heights,” was often exhibited and won awards.

But these must have been lean times; until the 1912 auction, there are few mentions in the papers of paintings sold. One of the few known commissions during these years was a pastoral scene painted on the “drop curtain” for the theater at the Union Hotel in Sonoma (now on display at the Depot Park Museum). Before moving to Santa Rosa he lived in Glen Ellen for a couple of years, and in the Sonoma State archives Bonnie Portnoy found he was sued by a storekeeper there for an amount due of $27.35 – about two weeks’ average household income at the time – and to settle the paltry debt, he had to turn over two paintings. Adding to his misery, he was summoned back to court because he still owed $2.70 in fees.

The 1912 auction marked the end of his reign as “the Sonoma County artist” and the Daken family returned to San Francisco. This was also apparently the year the Comstocks closed “The Gift Shop” in downtown Santa Rosa, where they sold work by members of the local Arts and Crafts Guild as well as artwork from many pioneers of the emerging Arts and Crafts style. It is left to you, Gentle Reader, to ponder why the town’s only two purveyors of fine art both closed studios while Santa Rosa was enjoying its first truly prosperous year since the Great Earthquake.

It turned out his six years in Sonoma county were an idyl in an otherwise bold, tempestuous life. In 1913 he left his family behind and moved to Mazatlan, where he was caught up in the Mexican Revolution, wounded a couple of times and imprisoned as a POW. His marriage ended after he had an affair with Sophie Tucker (“The Last of the Red Hot Mamas”). There were years in Hawaii where he designed a custom diving bell so he could paint underwater landscapes seascapes. He painted headhunters in New Guinea and silent film stars in Hollywood. He wrote short stories based on his restless adventures.

Examples of his art can be viewed at the tildendaken.com website, but he created an estimated four thousand paintings – if it were possible to view them all and spend just one minute looking at each, it would take nearly three days straight. Until he died at age 59 in 1935, his brushes must have been never dry for a single moment.

Daken’s Art Portfolios Ready for Public Distribution

The REPUBLICAN office has turned out some of the most artistic printing ever done north of San Francisco in an Art Portfolio issued for Samuel T. Daken, the Sonoma county artist. The work is done in three colors, and represents some of the splendid paintings from the brush of the artist. This is the most extensive 3-color cut work ever done in Sonoma county and it shows the ability of the REPUBLICAN mechanical force to do the best work that can be done.

The three pictures which are reproduced in the colors are “Glimpses of the Sonoma Valley,” “Overlooking the Lowlands of Sonoma County,” and “Redwoods at Sunset.” They are among the best works of Artist Daken, and are to be given free to some persons in an effort to raise funds for an exhibit of Sonoma county scenes in eastern cities.

The portfolios are to be sold at one dollar each. The matter has the hearty approval of the Board of Supervisors.

With the funds thus raised for the disposal of these pictures, an exhibition of the famous Sonoma county scenes depicted on canvas by Artist Daken will be made in all of the principal cities of the east and middle west. Mr. Daken will make this exhibit with the handsome scenes which he has transferred to canvas and it will be a matter of the best kind of publicity for Sonoma county to have these beautiful scenes shown in the eastern states.

All persons should secure some of the portfolios, not only for their intrinsic value and the opportunity presented to secure one of the three paintings mentioned, but because it will enable the beauties of this splendid section to be shown in the east. When the edition has been disposed of Artist Daken will arrange the exhibit at once and start on his eastern journey to give the people there an opportunity to view Sonoma county, and induce them to come to this favored section to make their homes.

The color work done by the mechanical department of the REPUBLICAN office reflects great credit on the force. It is superb in every way, and shows how well all classes of printing can be handled on the up-to-date machinery with which the office is equipped.

For some time past Mr. Daken has been making displays of the Sonoma county scenes throughout the state, at county fairs and industrial exhibitions, particularly the one at San Jose, where he spent some weeks. At this display between ten and twelve thousand people attended daily and viewed the beautiful pictures of Sonoma county scenes and landscapes of different sections of the county.

These three pictures, which are to be presented to the persons purchasing the folios, will be placed on display in the Hotel Overton lobby, where they may be viewed by the people.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 13, 1911
Pictures May Be Seen at Odd Fellows’ Hall Sunday

The elegant display of paintings from the brush of S. Tilden Daken, the well known Sonoma county artist, is attracting much attention. The display is made at the reception rooms of the Odd Fellows’ building on Mendocino avenue, and many visitors are going in daily to inspect the canvasses. The exhibit will be open on Sunday from 10 in the morning until 9 o’clock at night and Mr. Daken will be present during these hours. An invitation is extended to the public to come in and view these elegant works of art.

Daken is the first artist to paint the beauties of Sonoma county scenes, and he has a number of splendid views of this county, including pretty landscapes from various sections. Some of these are from the Pluton [sic] regions, others from the redwood section and still others from the fertile valleys. Persons can find just what they desire in the Daken collection, and these beautiful paintings will make elegant Christmas presents.

Among the canvases displayed are some of the beautiful Yosemite valley, to which place Artist Daken made a number of pilgrimakes [sic], and whose beauties have been transferred to canvass [sic]. The display is well worth seeing, and none should fail to make a visit to it.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 14, 1912
Daken Collection to Go Under Hammer Friday Eve

The splendid collection of paintings which have been on exhibition at Odd Fellows’ hall on Mendocino avenue, will be offered at auction on Friday evening, December 20th. There are about forty beautiful views in this collection, and it is by far the best that Artist Daken has ever grouped together. It represents a number of beautiful landscapes from Sonoma county scenes and some from Yosemite Valley, which is the ideal spot for artists. In variety the collection is one of the finest that could be found anywhere, and the pictures will be auctioned without reservation. The auction will begin at 8 o’clock sharp and it is more than probable that a large crowd of Santa Rosa and Sonoma county people will be in attendance.

Every one is cordially invited to come in and look over the collection of pictures, whether they purchase or not. The pictures will be sold under the second bid, and this will afford a fine opportunity to get a fine example of Artist Daken’s work at a low figure. Daken is the Sonoma county artist, and has done more with the brush to make Sonoma county popular and prominent than all the other artists combined.

Edward Curtis, the noted art auctioneer of San Francisco, who conducts a studio at 1700 Van Ness avenue, and who is the greatest art auctioneer of the Pacific coast, will conduct the auction of this splendid collection of paintings. Mr. Curtis has conducted large sales of paintings on the Pacific Coast and in the east, and is a noted critic of all the schools of art. One of the large sales which he conducted was that of the collection of the late Colonel Issac Trumbo. This collection of paintings was appraised at $35,000 and was conducted at the St. Francis hotel in the metropolis.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 19, 1912

S. Tilden Daken, whose likeness is presented in the cut printed herewith, is known all over the state as the Sonoma county artist. It was he who first produced on canvass in great numbers the many beautiful scenes to be found within the confines of Imperial Sonoma. This evening at 8 o’clock at the Odd Fellows’ Hall, on Mendocino avenue, an auction of his pictures will take place. This will afford an excellent opportunity to get a splendid Daken picture at a remarkably low figure.


– Santa Rosa Republican, December 20, 1912

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