1885nw

GOOD TIMES, BAD, BAD CHOICES: 1884

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” sayeth Dickens, and that sums up the year 1884 in Santa Rosa. Those were days giddy with celebrations, easy money and wonderful changes; it was also a time when our ancestors made some awful decisions which would come to haunt the town years later.

First there was an event that brought a windfall to the town along with publicity that boosters craved. Then old dreams suddenly came true; telephone service began and the train line finally reached the ferries on San Francisco Bay directly – go to the city after breakfast, be back before suppertime. Santa Rosa’s 24-carat destiny seemed inevitable and our ancestors invested in that future with wild abandon. A kind of madness seized them, as often happens when people are surprised to find happy days suddenly no longer around the corner.

The city twisted the arms of other towns to agree on a new county courthouse. They used local tax revenue to build a luxe firehouse and city hall/library as well as taking the first steps toward installing a sewer system. (Sure, it would dump everything into Santa Rosa Creek at the west side of Fourth street, but hey, baby steps still count.)1

Private investors also raced to build. The most expensive of these projects was the Athenaeum, which was the second largest theater in the state. Most of the original wooden  stores along Fourth street were torn down and replaced by new brick buildings.

But that money was not particularly well spent. They went on the cheap for the sewer system, which was ridiculously undersized and became a stinking problem in just a few years. The pretty courthouse was so poorly constructed there were safety issues (article to follow shortly). No one questioned why Santa Rosa needed a theater big enough to hold half the town and as a result the place was rarely filled. And because everything mentioned here (except the sewer) was made out of bricks held together with weak mortar, all of it would tumble down in the 1906 earthquake.

Our story begins in late 1883 with the Colton trial. Details can be found in the footnote below but all that we need to know is that the widow of a Central/Southern Pacific executive sued the railroad, charging she had been swindled out of millions. The trial was held in Santa Rosa because it was such a political hot potato no court in San Francisco would touch it, deciding it was best assigned to the Sonoma County Superior Court judge – the esteemed Jackson Temple, a former California Supreme Court justice. The doings lasted almost two years and received considerable national attention, particularly after evidence revealed the corporation routinely bribed judges and members of Congress. Widow Colton lost.2

Writing in the summer of 1884 while the trial was underway, local historian Robert Thompson predicted “…it will cut a considerable figure in any future history of Santa Rosa. It has brought hundreds of persons to this city who would not otherwise have come, and its results will reach in directions not now anticipated.”

It certainly brought in lots of money – legal fees and court costs for the 23 month bench trial exceeded $200k, equal to about $7 million today. There were some thirty lawyers involved; the railroad’s attorneys stayed at the Grand Hotel (“in honor of its distinguished guests, [it] has discarded all the traditions of country hotels and has gone in for a French cook and finger bowls” -Alta California). While Mrs. Colton’s troops were at the Occidental she had rented a house for herself on McDonald avenue, and the carriage company that was usually only in demand at weddings and funerals found itself constantly busy. Their driver even upgraded his old sombrero to a beaver hat.

The Alta California reporter poked fun at provincial Santa Rosa with its “canals of mud, miscalled streets” and that court sessions would begin with the bailiff standing on the balcony outside while barking that Justice Temple had arrived, so the temple of justice was now in session. This was a weary local joke, particularly silly because the bailiff would follow by announcing details of the Sheriff’s livestock auction at noon.

And while the Democrat newspaper had an army of 21 court reporters and printers producing an astonishing eleven thousand pages of court transcripts, the Alta reporter was puzzled why locals seemed indifferent about the case which was mesmerizing others across the country:

The trial of the Colton case is now reaching a point where it is liable to be very interesting. Yet, strangely enough, though Santa Rosa is not suffering from a plethora of dissipation or amusement, the people here leave the trial severely alone. They don’t go the Courtroom, and don’t even discuss the case in bar-rooms, or read the reports, which come up fresh in the San Francisco papers, for the local press never has a word to say about the case, except that the Court is or is not in session.

(In its defense, the Democrat DID offer readers a single column wrapup of the case when the verdict was rendered – although the paper was more interested in boasting of their transcript printing prowess, which the publisher brought up repeatedly over the following years.)

While the trial flooded the town with cash (and nobody certainly expected the gravy train would chug on for two years) it was the railroad that teased the brightest possible future.

The train arrived in Santa Rosa in 1871 but the southern terminus was Donahue Landing, about eight miles south of Petaluma on Lakeville Highway (more background). From there passengers boarded a steamer that paddled down the meandering Petaluma River/Creek until it eventually reached the San Francisco Bay. But starting in May 1884, the train went all the way to the ferry dock at Tiburon, cutting a one-way trip from about four hours to around 2:15 – maybe a few minutes less, if the ferry captains were racing that day.3

That thirteen years passed before the rail line actually connected to the Bay had left many fearing it would never happen, particularly because there were gaps when no construction was underway at all. The train reached San Rafael in 1878, but from that point south it was hard going, with three tunnels needing to be engineered. Towards the end there were steam drills boring away 24/7 while a new invention called a steam shovel was brought in to create a railroad yard in Tiburon, with gawkers flocking to the scene to see this hi-tech “Steam Paddy”. It’s all quite an interesting story but this is SantaRosaHistory.com, not ReallyCoolMarinRailroadHistory.com – visit the webpage of the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society for some historic photos.

The premiere trip was May 1, 1884 and was well described in the Sonoma Democrat. A special train left Cloverdale at 5AM, picking up more passengers at Healdsburg before arriving in Santa Rosa. More clambered aboard at Petaluma and San Rafael. Everyone took the ferry to San Francisco, only to turn around half an hour later with a large delegation of San Franciscans. Back in San Rafael there were speeches and a brass band and ceremonial artillery salvos and sandwiches and wine and everyone apparently had a swell time. Still, it was an anticlimax after over a dozen years of anticipation.

All the advantages one might expect from having easier, faster access to San Francisco were reflected in the Santa Rosa newspapers almost immediately. There were more ads from SF doctors, dentists, and other professionals; there were notices about someone going down there or coming up here just for the day; there were items about church groups and societies from the city holding picnics and tourists prowling for something scenic. A downside was that some of the attorneys in the Colton trial began commuting from San Francisco, which probably meant fewer portions of escargots à la bourguignonne and saumon très chauds were being ordered in the hotel dining rooms.

Round-trip fares were initially $3 from Santa Rosa and $2 for Sunday excursion trips, but there were frequent pricing deals. Before long the excursion trains were bringing a thousand or more visitors to Santa Rosa on some Sundays – which turned out to be a terrible mistake.

Looking ahead a couple of years, a commercial park opened where Fourth st. meets College avenue (today it’s the apartment complex at 1130 Fourth street). The park owner made a deal with the railroad for discount tickets, and soon “hoodlums and roughs” were showing up in Santa Rosa, as described here earlier. Local cops were hard pressed to combat the violent drunks from the city who were brawling, stealing, vandalizing and attacking residents. One evening several dozen of them missed the return train and spent the night raising havoc in our streets.

None of these problems had to happen. Petaluma refused to subsidize excursion trains even while they were being encouraged in Santa Rosa; besides the park, realtors had sales promotions that underwrote half of the already discounted excursion ticket price. That Santa Rosa business interests liked the excursions despite the trouble is shown by it taking four years for the City Council to crack down on the riotous scene, and then just canceling the park’s liquor license and not addressing the larger problem. To the article mentioned above I’ll only add my suspicions that it was such leniency to the excursion traffic which led to our town turning into the Bay Area’s “Sin City,” with the largest red light district between San Francisco and Reno (MORE on that).

Of course, Santa Rosans in the spring of 1884 wouldn’t have believed any ol’ Cassandra who warned their bricky downtown would collapse in a few years or that the train service would lead to their town becoming a haven for prostitution and illegal gambling. It was now time to celebrate all the goodness that was happening – including the opening of the new city hall and starting construction on the new courthouse! They were so excited about the latter that a week after the first train arrived from Tiburon they threw a big party for the laying of the cornerstone – and everyone was invited! The ad here appeared in Petaluma, Marin county and San Francisco newspapers.

The Democrat estimated ten thousand were at the ceremony: “…streets were thronged, and groups of people could be found every where, every available window, veranda and awning along the line of march was filled, and the sidewalks were crowded.”

Out-of-town newspapers also covered the doings, and none better than the Alta California – which, Gentle Reader recalls, had a reporter who earlier described Santa Rosa as the city of roses and yokels. Now their anonymous reporter spent a paragraph describing some volunteer fireman from Healdsburg in prose that is the closest thing to erotica I’ve ever seen in a 19th century news article. I imagine more than a few subscribers choked on their coddled egg breakfasts while reading about a guy who was “if not a joy forever, is at least a thing of beauty:”

…He is immense, all-pervading, superb, gorgeous, resplendent, effulgent, altogether too utterly much. His uniform consists of a blue shirt…dark pants, and a smile of the most comprehensive self-satisfaction that it was ever given to man to wear. As his little heeled boots delicately tamped the Santa Rosa sidewalks and he attracted the furtive notice of the Santa Rosa girls, he was too splendidly conscious of his own beauty for anything…Even Mark McDonald, who is six feet four, owns the gas and water works, besides an Indian bungalow, and has a whole avenue named after him, shrank to small proportions when the beautiful uniform of Rescue Company hove in sight.

Give the Alta due respect, however, for being the only paper which mentioned Julio Carrillo’s presence at the ceremonies – although they badly misspelled his name as “Hullio Carrillio.” The reporter touches on how painful it must have been for old Julio to see the land he donated for a public plaza be (probably illegally) redeveloped as the grounds for a county courthouse:

As the bands began playing, the figure of poor old Hullio Carrillio could be seen leaning from a carriage in the procession. Poor old Hullio. He is one of the last vestiges of the Spanish occupation of Sonoma. His was once the Santa Rosa grant, and far as the eye could reach from where the poor old man stood every inch of the land, every lovely shrub and tree on the hillsides, were once his. He played the role of a Spanish grandee in a lordly fashion; so lordly in fact that one by one his acres slipped away, and as he stood and looked at the gay throng to-day he could not forget that he was poor and landless. In the flush old times, when Santa Rosa first began to be a town, poor Hullio had donated from his possessions two score choice acres for a town plaza, the very plaza on which the Court House was built, and it was but a fitting, kindly act for the committee to have remembered old Hullio and given him a place of honor along with old General Vallejo.

For keynote speaker they dusted off General Vallejo. His whole speech is transcribed below and is notable for not being the usual stemwinder where he would exercise his fractured english until everyone would have begged to give California back to Mexico just to get him to shut up.

The General rambled on about the history of cornerstones and how the Romans begat Spaniards who begat Cortez and the years rolled on, blah blah. But he did say one thing remarkable, claiming he and Governor Figueroa came to the Santa Rosa area in 1835 and every Indian in the area came to meet them: “We had 800 troops. We met here. The tribes of Cayuama, Pinole, Reparato, [sic, sic, sic] and all the tribes were collected here to meet the great General. Very well, and what did we meet? About 20,000 people, all naked; no hats, no shirts, no boots, no anything; well dressed, but all naked.” There’s lots to doubt about that story, but Vallejo really was here in 1835, and it was before the smallpox epidemic which decimated the Native community.

After the ceremony “…the crowd made a vicious rush for Morsehead’s Hotel, where special feeding-troughs had been arranged for their benefit. Soon there was an exodus of teams and travelers by rail, and by afternoon Santa Rosa was sitting clothed in its right mind.” Then the next day the Colton trial resumed and masons went about building lots of brick walls with lousy mortar. It was just another wonderful, busy day in 1884.


1 Prior to 1886 major hotels had private wooden sewers running (south?) to the creek which other businesses could tap into with permission – and presumably a hefty fee. When the new courthouse and Athenaeum were built a year earlier cesspools were included, per usual. Downtown Santa Rosa was honeycombed with them; in early 1886 a storekeeper dug a latrine in his basement only to hit a forgotten cesspool next door. Once the sewer was built and the old cesspools were abandoned, an article in the Democrat titled “The City’s Friend,” noted that well water was improving: “This poisonous discharge was formerly permitted to go into the gravel strata whence we draw our supply of well water. Now the cesspools are being filled up, and the water is becoming purer and more wholesome.” Who would have thunk.

2 The Ellen M. Colton vs. Leland Stanford et al. trial began November 1883 and went on until October 1885. When her lobbyist husband David D. Colton died in 1878 she agreed to a $600k stock buyback, only to discover that another executive who died the same year with an equivalent portfolio received considerably more. Key evidence at the trial were the “Colton letters” (PDF) which were hundreds of letters between her husband and the “Big Four” founders of the railroad. The correspondence – which David Colton had been expected to destroy after reading – proved the railroad was involved in fraud, conspiracy, and corruption with men at the highest levels of federal and state governments. Although she lost on the grounds of having agreed to the unfair stock deal, the outrage which resulted from widespread newspaper coverage weakened the political clout of the railroads (MORE).

3 The SF&NP was the rail line that went from Santa Rosa (and points north) to Tiburon. A different railroad, the narrow gauge North Pacific Coast, went from San Rafael (and points west) to Sausalito. The NPC liked to boast it offered better service and had better equipment including faster ferries, and would thrill passengers by racing the SF&NP ferry from the San Francisco docks. An oft-repeated story was that the NPC superintendent would give a ferryboat captain five demerits if he was caught racing – and ten demerits if he lost the race.

Looking northwest across Fourth street in 1885 at some of the newly-built brick buildings which would collapse in the 1906 earthquake. (Photo: Sonoma County Library)

THE COLTON TRIAL
A Truthful Report of Yesterday’s Proceedings.
MRS. COLTON’S TESTIMONY.
Her Early Life, Marriage and Widowhood — Her Legal and Business Advisers – Moneys Drawn from the W. D. Co.

Santa Rosa, February 20th.— The trial of the Colton case is now reaching a point where it is liable to be very interesting. Yet, strangely enough, though Santa Rosa is not suffering from a plethora of dissipation or amusement, the people here leave the trial severely alone. They don’t go the Courtroom, and don’t even discuss the case in bar-rooms, or read the reports, which come up fresh in the San Francisco papers, for the local press never has a word to say about the case, except that the Court is or is not in session. By a sort of mutual agreement the two sides to the case, together with all their henchmen, experts, lawyers and witnesses, live at different hotels, and never by any chance cross the thresholds of each other’s strongholds. The Colton headquarters are at the Occidental, though Mrs. Colton and Mrs. Crittenden have taken a private house on McDonald avenue, Thomas Thompson’s old residence. This, by the way, was a godsend to the United Carriage Company of Santa Rosa. Their hack never expected a job except at burials and weddings, but now it does steady duty drawing Mrs. Colton and her companions two or three times a day through the McDonald mud to the Court House and back. United States Carriage Company’s stock has gone up three points in consequence of the boom, and out of respect to city style the company’s driver now wears a brown beaver hat in lieu of the old white sombrero, his customary head-gear. Charles Crocker and the railroad folks are all at the Grand, between which hotel and the Court intervenes the Plaza, in which a new Court House is building, and canals of mud, miscalled streets. This

DIVISION OF THE FACTIONS

Was the cause of a good deal of anguish to a Call reporter, who came up here last Monday. First, be went to the Occidental, but he had no sooner dumped his trunk than he found it was a partisan headquarters, and for fear of becoming identified with one side, he hastily fled to the Grand. He was eating his supper there when some one mentioned that all the railroad folks were stopping at the house. With an agonised look at the remnants of the meal, he fled to another boardinghouse, from whence he was driven by a remark of the landlady’s that she did hope “that dear old Mrs. Colton would win the case.” It is rumored that he asked leave to sleep in the Courtroom, as that was the only unbiased place he could find, but while several people have reported the rumor, it is not as strongly verified as such an allegation should be before a strictly reliable commercial and family paper, like the Alta, accepts it as a proven fact. Yesterday, when the case was resumed, the Court-room looked more like an old horse auction than a temple of justice. The prisoner’s dock was packed with huge wooden cases, bearing such legends as “Rocky Mountain Coal and Iron Company,” “Contract and Finance,” “Arizona Contract,” etc., and all full of books, papers and accounts of the most solid character. Each of

THE ATTORNEYS

Had a grip-sack full of papers on his own private account, and by the time the bailiff stood on the balcony outside and bawled in loud tones that Justice Temple having arrived, the temple of justice (a standard local joke) was open, and that an auction would be held by the Sheriff of some fat stock at noon, the Court-room was so littered up that Judge Wallace and Charles Crocker, neither of whom possess very sylph-like forms, could scarcely force a passage through the debris…

– Daily Alta California, February 21 1884

THE COLTON TRIAL
Resumed at Santa Rosa After Six Weeks’ Rest.
SEVERAL PARTIES ABSENT.
A Disappointed Attorney for the Prosecution — The Non-Arrival of Certain Books Necessitates an Adjournment.

After a rest of nearly six weeks the Colton trial is again occupying the attention of the whole state with the exception of Santa Rosa, for this pretty little town is too busy watching the slow progress of the new Court House being built in the plaza to be able to pay any attention to so unimportant a matter as a suit for half a dozen railroads and an express company.

The two parties to the suit have observed the same care in the selection of camping grounds as before — the Colton party putting up at the Occidental and the railroad crew away on the other side of town, at the Grand, which latter house, in honor of its distinguished guests, has discarded all the traditions of country hotels and has gone in for a French cook and finger bowls…

– Daily Alta California, April 2 1884

Santa Rosa.

The outlook this coming season is very encouraging, and it seems that building will not cease during the present season. One brick block on Fourth street is approaching completion, and the foundations of two more are being laid. The new Young Ladies’ Seminary building on McDonald Avenue is approaching completion, while in all parts of the city new residences, mainly of that style so peculiar to our city as to be known as the “Santa Rosa Villa,” are being erected. The Santa Rosa Water Company are laying large pipes to the Agricultural Park, which will insure them an ample supply of water during the coming season, and other improvements of minor note, but aggregating thousands of dollars are being made. The city shows no signs of coming to a stand-still in this matter. We hear hints of several more important improvements, but negotiations are still pending, and nothing definite is yet reported. City property is in moderate demand, but the would-be purchasers are more than the sellers at present. Improved property is more in demand than vacant lots, but in the course of the summer, when trains arrive several times a day from the metropolis, building lots will be in still greater demand. A drive through our thoroughfares at present is a pleasure. Many of the gardens are beginning to exhibit Flora’s rare treasures in profusion, and during the coming two months, the “City of Roses” will appear in her glory. Rose culture should be encouraged by all. Nothing adds more to the beauty of our city than neatly kept gardens, which are so easily maintained here.

In the surrounding country the improvements are still more manifest. Everywhere young orchards, and vineyards are to be seen, which in a very few years will add materially to our wealth and prosperity. This is the secret of our prosperity. All this section is notably suited for fruit and vine culture, and after thirty years experience, the best qualities, — those varieties best suited for this soil and climate are known, and fruit and vine is not so much a matter of experiment as it has been in the past. There are yet thousands of acres of chemisal covered hills which should teem with vineyards or orchards. We have mentioned the fact of olive culture being undertaken, and the young trees set out this year in the hills east of here are already showing signs of life, budding and preparing to leaf out. Ten, twenty, thirty and forty acre “patches” of vines and tree fruits are to be found every where, while new houses, barns and other outbuildings abound.

The commencement season of the various institutions of learning, which are the boast of our fair city is at hand, and all who attend from distant parts of the state will see a marked improvement over the past year, and a year hence, it will be found that we have fully kept pace with the preceding one.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 3 1884

The S. F. and S. R. R. R.

Thursday last was a red letter day on the east side of town. Col. Donahue had issued invitations to many citizens to take a run to Point Tiburon and back, on that day. A large number of the prominent men of Sonoma county came down on the 8 o’clock train, and were joined here by our people. After a charming run to Tiburon, a part went to the city, and others stopped at the Point, anxious to take in the improvements located there and have a look at the surroundings. At 10 o’clock Col. Donahue, with several hundred invited guests, left the city by special boat, and reached San Rafael about 11. They were met at the Fourth street depot by a great many of our people who received them with hearty cheering, supplemented by music by the San Rafael Band, all of which but feebly expressed the joy of our citizens at the successful organization of an enterprise which will double our facilities of communication with the metropolis, and confer upon us the countless substantial benefits which must follow that consummation.

the company alighted and inspected the grand and ornate depot, which though not yet completed, is pronounced the finest except one in California.

[..]

COL. DONAHUE

Took the stand reluctantly, but when he spoke it was practical and pointed. This is May Day, he said, the day of play for children, and we are all children. I am glad to see you here, and to be here to see you. We have now the means to bring you here, to give you all a ride. We have had many obstacles to fight in making this road, and it is not yet finished. We have to go slow yet, because we don’t want to hurt you, nor to have any big damages to pay. But we expect to perfect our work by and by, and carry you all to the city and bring you back. And we will do it in forty-five minutes. We want you all to ride, and pay your fare, low fare, and we don’t want any deadheads. I see my banker is here, looking after his security, and I guess he’ll let me have some more money to-morrow. But we will now go on, to Petaluma and Santa Rosa. All get aboard, and we’ll have a ride and some sandwiches.

The train moved off. It only went to Petaluma, and returned about 2 PM. So opened the S. F. and S. R. railroad.

– Marin Journal, May 8 1884


SANTA ROSA’S HOLIDAY.
Laying of the Corner-Stone of the New Court-House.
AN IMPOSING PROCESSION.
The Knights Templar and Masonic Order Participate — Addresses by Judge Wheeler and Others — The Ceremonies.

The man who could imagine Santa Rosa in a real ferment would indeed be blessed with a lively brain, bnt yesterday the quiet little town woke up a little and for a while snorted around considerably. It was indeed a great day for Santa Rosa, and the 7th of May, 1884, will pass hereafter out of the commonplace line of dates and become a never-to-be-forgotten epoch. It was the crowning act of Santa Rosa’s triumph over Petaluma, and Santa Rosa nobly put forth every effort to do itself proper glory. The momentous occasion was nothing less than the laying of the corner-stone of the new $80,000 Sonoma County Court House, which is being built in the old Santa Rosa Plaza. It is true that Santa Rosa gave up to the county a lovely plaza, worth more than a couple of hundred thousand dollars, to get the Court House located within its precincts, and it is equally true that many Santa Rosans speak of the act as an act of vandalism, but then Santa Rosa triumphed over Petaluma and everything went…

…Long before 8 AM, Santa Rosa commenced to fill up with folks from the surrounding country. They came in all sorts of teams, generally well provided with lunch baskets, for there was to be a dance at the Pavilion in the evening, and they proposed not to squander their substance on Santa Rosa hotels. One features of the procession was the presence of all the local and neighboring fire companies, and it was really a beautiful sight to see the Santa Rosa company dip hose to the Healdsburg company, as the “Rescue” from the latter place hove in sight. On each occasions as this a Healdsburg fire Jake, if not a joy forever, is at least a thing of beauty. He is immense, all-pervading, superb, gorgeous, resplendent, effulgent, altogether too utterly much.

HIS UNIFORM

Consists of a blue shirt stamped “Rescue,” a glazed tarpaulin hat which looks as if left over from the Hayes’ and Wheeler campaign. A belt stamped “Rescue,” dark pants, and a smile of the most comprehensive self-satisfaction that it was ever given to man to wear. As his little heeled boots delicately tamped the Santa Rosa sidewalks and he attracted the furtive notice of the Santa Rosa girls, he was too splendidly conscious of his own beauty for anything, and if old Grant had come along just then the General’s hat would have been in his hand before he could restrain a salute to so imposing a spectacle. It was too much for Santa Rosa. The town is hardly large enough of so much gorgeousness and the consequence is that the Court House, town, procession, and the whole Grand Lodge were overshadowed and obscured by Rescue Company Healdsburg No. 1. Even Mark McDonald, who is six feet four, owns the gas and water works, besides an Indian bungalow, and has a whole avenue named after him, shrank to small proportions when the beautiful uniform of Rescue Company hove in sight.

THE PROCESSION

Began to form about ten o’clock, by which time the Plaza was almost full. As the bands began playing, the figure of poor old Hullio Carrillio could be seen leaning from a carriage in the procession. Poor old Hullio. He is one of the last vestiges of the Spanish occupation of Sonoma. His was once the Santa Rosa grant, and far as the eye could reach from where the poor old man stood every inch of the land, every lovely shrub and tree on the hillsides, were once his. He played the role of a Spanish grandee in a lordly fashion; so lordly in fact that one by one his acres slipped away, and as he stood and looked at the gay throng to-day he could not forget that he was poor and landless. In the flush old times, when Santa Rosa first began to be a town, poor Hullio had donated from his possessions two score choice acres for a town plaza, the very plaza on which the Court House was built, and it was but a fitting, kindly act for the committee to have remembered old Hullio and given him a place of honor along with old General Vallejo. The procession formed at the plaza and was a pretty fair article of procession, as the processions go nowadays.

THE MARSHAL AND HIS AIDS

Were a fine lot of men, and though some of them found the honors sat a bit uneasily, they all rode their horses well, and that is more than Marshal’s aids in larger cities always do. The Knights Templar had the van, then came the plain, ordinary Masons, then the Healdsburg and Santa Rosa fire jakes, next a delegation of cadets from some local college, and then the rag-tag and bobtail. The procession marched and countermarched, and then brought up short at the Courthouse, where a stage and an awning had been put up for the accommodation of the orators and the mob. The orators and invited guests were staked out in a square lot by themselves, and it is much to their credit that they smiled pleasantly on the lower orders who were grouped around old Hullio’s plaza. After Grand Marshal Hines, General Vallejo, the original locator of the whole country, opened the ball, so to speak, by paying the weather, the ladies, Santa Rosa and the rest of the folks as many compliments as his grasp on the English language would permit. Supervisor Allen, of Petaluma, was next in say, and he recited the whole

HISTORY OF THE COURT-HOUSE

And the steps taken towards its erection. The next orator was ex-Judge Wheeler of San Francisco, who read a beautiful oration on the Santa Rosa Court-House in particular, and Court-houses in general. The usual box of relics was put in the corner-stone. In it was put copies of the San Francisco and local papers, a copy of the deed of gift of poor old Hullio to the town, a copy of Fullerton’s corrections of exhibit D, as a memento of the Colton trial, a few coins and the card of Miss Bennett, the daughter of the architect of the building. Whenever there was a lull in the proceedings one or more of the rival bands played a tune, and added to the general hilarity of the occasion. After the usual Masonic ceremonies the gathering broke up, and the crowd made a vicious rush for Morsehead’s Hotel, where special feeding-troughs had been arranged for their benefit. Soon there was an exodus of teams and travelers by rail, and by afternoon Santa Rosa was sitting clothed in its right mind. During the evening there was a grand ball at the race track pavilion, where to the music of the boss Santa Rosa band the fairest youth of old Sonoma did the light fantastic till the “wee sma’ hours.” The affair was voted most recherche and the most thoroughly enjoyable event of the season.

– Daily Alta California, May 8 1884

Santa Rosa, May 6th.— The case of Ellen M. Colton versus Leland Stanford et al. was resumed to-day. Donahue’s new train arrangement enables the attorneys to stop over in the city till this morning and reach the Court House by 10 AM…

– Daily Alta California, May 7 1884

Santa Rosa having laid its Court House cornerstone, danced all night at the Pavilion ball, and in other ways worked off the pent-up energy of a dull year, peace was restored yesterday morning and Judge Temple was enabled to resume the hearing of the Colton case…

– Daily Alta California, May 9 1884

THROUGH BY RAIL.
Formal Opening of the Tiburon Route Attendant Festivities.

May-day excursions are frequent, but the one in which a large number of the residents of this county and of other sections of the State participated on Thursday, May 1st, was one of unusual interest and importance. A large, number of invitations had been issued to persona in this county, and a special train left Cloverdale at 5 AM, to convey invited guests from all points above here. When those invited boarded the train at the depot here, about thirty-five persons were found occupying seats, fifteen of whom got in at Cloverdale, and twenty at Healdsburg. The train sped on to Petaluma, another large delegation joined them, and at every station between the last named point and San Rafael, others joined the party. Of course, but little interest was manifested until the train left San Rafael, except an occasional remark relative to the numerous young orchards and vineyards visible at all points, or a casual reference to the beauty of the scenery, now shown to its greatest advantage, as hill and valley are all clad in their green vestments. Such an ever-varying scene of beauty and grandure can be presented on no other line of equal length in the world.

Leaving San Rafael, we glide smoothly along the new road, through a tunnel, over Corte Madera creek, through “the long tunnel,” and over cut and fill with Richardson’s Bay and Saucelito, in full view on the right, past hills on which innumerable herds of cattle are feeding, through the last tunnel, on to Point Tiburon. Here we found the steamer James M. Donahue in the slip, step on board and in twenty-three minutes later, are ready to disembark at Clay street wharf.

On the way down, we noticed among the invited guests…On arriving, [others] joined the party in company with a large delegation of San Franciscans, among whom were the following persons connected with the S. F. and N. P. R. R., Peter Donahue, President, Mervyn J. Donahue, Vice President…

After remaining at the slips about half an hour, the party returned to the Point, and boarded a train composed of the six new cars, the observation car, and Col. Donahue’s parlor car, steamed slowly away to San Rafael. Salvos of artillery from a couple of brass pieces on the bluff above the Point greeted the party. While waiting here, an opportunity was afforded all to witness the “Steam Paddy” load a gravel train.

On arriving at San Rafael, the party was greeted by a delegation of citizens, headed by a brass band. All alighted, and brief addresses were delivered by John Saunders Esq., Judge Bowers and Peter Donahue. Then the larger portion of the guests boarded the train, and went up the road to Petaluma. It was the intention to visit this city, but circumstances prevented, and after remaining at our sister city about half an hour, the train returned. After leaving San Rafael, and all the way back, refreshments were served, and wine flowed freely. The rejoyicing [sic] at the completion of this enterprise was made manifest. When the train reached San Rafael again, the guests again alighted and addresses were made by M. L. McDonald and H. W. Byington of this city. When, after hearty expressions of good will, the guests from San Francisco boarded the train and departed to their homes, while those from this county waited until the arrival of the regular evening train.

The events of the day were enjoyable in the extreme. All the railroad officials exerted themselves to the utmost to entertain the numerous guests, and were preeminently successful. Conductor Chas. H. Mold had charge of the trains, and laid all under obligation for his courtesy and attention.

The expressions of surprise and gratification from some of Sonoma’s best citizens that the work was done, and so splendid a terminus at deep water, were numerous and sincere. It is a grand enterprise, and one in every way worthy the grand old empire of Sonoma.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 10 1884

LOCAL NOTES

—lt ia pronounced Tib-er-oon.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 10 1884

New Time Table.

The new time table of the SF & NPRR which goes into effect on Sunday, May 4th, provides for three passenger trains to arrive and leave this city daily on week days. The times of departure ere 4 AM, 6:40 AM, and 3:45 PM; the times of arrival in San Francisco are 6:45 AM, 8:50 AM and 6:10 PM. The trains returning will leave San Francisco at 7:40 AM, 5 PM and 6:30 PM, arriving here at 10:05 AM, 7:15 PM and 9:20 PM. Trains 4 and 10 will run all the way through from Cloverdale, leaving this point at 5:20 AM and 2:25 PM. No. 1 connects at Fulton for Guerneville, leaving Fulton at 10:15 AM for Guerneville, and returning leaves Guerneville at 1:55 PM.

On Sundays the train leaves San Francisco at 8 AM and arrives in this city at 10:25 AM, and another will leave San Francisco at 5:30 PM, and arrive here at 7:55 p.m. Trains will leave here at 6:45 AM, arriving at San Francisco at 9:10 AM and at 4:25 PM, arriving at 6:15. There is one through train on Sundays, which leaves San Francisco at 8 AM and arrives at Cloverdale at 11:45, and returning leaves Cloverdale at 3 PM.

Freight will continue to come by way of Donahue, leaving San Francisco at 3 PM and arriving at this city at 7:45 AM, and at Cloverdale at 20:30 AM, returning, leaves Cloverdale at 10:20 AM, this city at 2:25 PM, and arriving at San Francisco at 10 AM. The early train, we infer from the appearance of the new time table, will remain over night at this city. The Sonoma travel will pass by the way of Sonoma landing as usual, although there may be a change of time.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 10 1884

THE CORNER STONE LAID.
Gorgeous Ceremonies Witnessed by Ten Thousand Citizens of Sonoma County—Every Section Represented.

Wednesday was just a perfect day. Not even the slightest fleecy cloud was visible in the heavens, and nature seemed in perfect harmony with the events that were to transpire here. The down train, which left Cloverdale at 5 AM, found hundreds waiting all along the line, and when it arrived here at 6:20, the largest number of passengers that ever arrived in this city at any one time, disembarked. Shortly afterwards, vehicles of every description began to arrive, bearing their burdens of humanity, all anxious to participate in the ceremonies, or to witness them. Every interest and firm in our neighboring town, Healdsburg, was represented, and every vehicle that could be obtained was engaged for this occasion. The Hook and Ladder Company, Hose Company, and Rod Matheson Post, G. A. R, arrived about 8 AM, and were taken in charge by the kindred organizations here. At 9:30, Santa Rosa Commandery headed by the Santa Rosa Brass Band, went to the depot to receive Mount Olivet Commandery, of Petaluma, which arrived on the 10:05 train, and escorted them to their asylum. By this time the streets were thronged, and groups of people could be found every where, every available window, veranda and awning along the line of march was filled, and the sidewalks were crowded. By 11 AM, the different divisions were formed, and shortly afterward Grand Marshal De Turk gave the signal, and the column moved in the following order…

[long list of parade participants and parade route]

…After the column halted and disbanded, the Grand Lodge F. and A. M., took their positions on the platform, accompanied by the officers of the Day and a number of invited guests, the different orders of the Masons formed in due and ancient form about the corner stone.

Exercises at the Laying of the Corner-Stone of the Sonoma County Court House, at Santa Rosa, May 7,1884.

 Mr. R. A. Thompson. Fellow citizens, I have the honor of introducing to you one of the most distinguished citizens of Sonoma county, as President of the Day, on this most auspicious occasion. I allude to the Honorable Mariano G. Vallejo, the oldest, as well as one of the moat honored citizens in all the confines of Sonoma. (Applause.)

 General Vallejo. Members of the Committee on Invitation: Ladies and Gentlemen.

 I thank you very much, out of the fullness of my heart, for the invitation tendered me by the Committee in charge of the celebration of this day. I cannot speak the English language well, but I will try my best to make a few remarks about this celebration.

According to tradition and history, if my memory does not deceive me, ceremonies of this kind commenced with the Egyptian nation. Their civilization they transmitted to Greece. When those great pyramids were built they say that the corner-stone of the great pyramid was laid with great formalities. At those times those cornerstones meant power, despotism and slavery. Now we mast together to lay this corner-stone for civilization, not for tyranny. We are all free and we do it of our own will. (Applause.)

I congratulate the people and the citizens of Santa Rosa and of the whole of Sonoma County on the wisdom ol the Supervisors of our county here, in planning the erection of this building, I congratulate you on this joyful occasion. The ceremonies of this day here remind me how that they built with great ceremony the famous edifices of antiquity, as for instance, how they laid the corner stone of the Temple of Ephesus. Excuse me, gentlemen, this is a surprise to me, and these remarks are unpremeditated. If I commit a little blunder, excuse me. After Greece, the next civilization was the Roman. With the Romans, after Sylla and the old Caesars, one of the best and most stupendous occasions was to lay the corner stone of the Column of Trajan. It exists now in that very Rome today. From Rome, after seven hundred years of war with the Spaniards, they bring the Roman civilization and get persons to lay corner stones on those old monuments.

One of them, built about 300 years ago, was the Escurial at Madrid. Madrid is the capital of Spain; everybody knows it, but there are not many monuments like that.

From Spain I must make a jump with Columbus to this continent 390 years ago. On the island of Cuba they built a fine building, and had a great time in erecting it, for they did everything with great ostentation and ceremony. From Cuba, Cortez went to Mexico and established the National Palace and the Cathedral of Mexico. That was a great day, or as we call it, a gay day for a celebration, and there were great formalities.

Then I remember, according to the history of the United States, that vessel by the name of the Mayflower came to Plymouth. They made a landing there, and years rolled on, until Independence was achieved, under General Washington. Then they laid the corner stone of the Capital of our nation at Washington, as it stands there, and that capital was built with a great deal of ceremony and grandeur.

And not to be long in my remarks, some friends came to this very county, in my own Sonoma house, and they raised the Bear Flag. Then the government was changed and we had a Legislature, and we built a Capital at Sacramento, which is there now. That means civilization and power. They are the people to do what they please, If they try to make the tower of Babel again I think the people of the United States can do it. (Applause and laughter.)

Now, sir, to go a little further down, our counties began to be built up; Sacramento was the capital of the State, and other counties began. But this is the first one to come to this formality, and I am so glad to hear it, because this very month, nearly fifty years ago, in 1835, I was not on this stone, but in the neighborhood here, with General Figueroa, Governor of the State then. We had 800 troops. We met here. The tribes of Cayuama, Pinole, Reparato, and all the tribes were collected here to meet the great General. Very well, and what did we meet? About 20,000 people, all naked; no hats, no shirts, no boots, no anything; well dressed, but all naked. (Laughter and applause.)

Well, gentlemen, now, what a surprise to me. I was here the first; not the discoverer, but the first settler in this very country, Sonoma county. I was the Chairman in 1850, of the Senate committee to select Sonoma county. Very well. What a contrast to see here a heaven of ladies, who all seem to me angels! [Applause.] Respectable gentlemen here, Supervisors, printing offices, science, arts, railroads, sewing machines, telephones and everything. [Laughter and applause.] You see what a difference it is to me. I am astonished. It seems to me I ought to die here, because I see now the end. Not the end of civilization, but this is one of the proofs that Sonoma county must be a great and powerful county anyhow. [Applause.]

The poets say that those who are born in a country like this with such scenery, climate, water, trees and flowers, must be in harmony with their surroundings. So you are a great tremendous bouquet of flowers and intelligence.

Now, the day when we were here, fifty years ago, was a day of great distress to the chiefs of those tribes. One of the chiefs died, and they made preparations to cremate his body. They made a great funeral pyre of logs, small pieces of wood, and trees, and they burned the body there. That circumstance is brought to my mind now, and I hope that after this corner stone is laid and this house is built to stand for ages, that we will adopt cremation, because we should not allow our bodies to go to the worms and be eaten up. If we are spiritual, we must go to the spirit world at once, and not be ploughed up afterwards.

 Ladies and gentlemen; I hope you will excuse my remarks. I do not know how to speak, but I am trembling with pleasure to see such a concourse here. Masons, Druids, Odd Fellows, and everybody else, and I am here alone seeing these things with joy. My heart is full. I ought to explode. (Laughter and applause.) Allow me to introduce the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors…

…The Grand Master. Brother Grand Treasurer, it has ever been the custom of the craft, upon occasions like the present, to deposit within a cavity in the stone, placed at the northeast corner of an edifice, certain memorials of the period at which it was erected, so that, if in the lapse of ages, the fury of the elements, the violence of man, or the slow but certain ravages of time should lay bare its foundations, an enduring record may be found by succeeding generations to bear testimony to the untiring, unending industry of the fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons. Has such a record been prepared?

The Grand Treasurer, A. Wright. It has, most worshipful Grand Master, and is contained in the casket now sealed before you.

The Grand Master. Brother Grand Secretary, you will read the records of the contents of the casket.

(The Grand Secretary, E. W. Davis, reads the list of the articles contained in the casket.)

Articles contributed tor the comer stone by R. A. Thompson: “California As It Is” written by seventy leading editors and authors of the Golden State, for the weekly Call; map of the State of California; historical and descriptive sketch of Sonoma county; map of Sonoma county; Resources of California, with pictures and descriptive sketches of Santa Rosa and Petaluma, Sonoma county; one cent, date 1817; one half-dollar, date 1831; Obsidian arrow-head from California; Indian arrow-head from Washington Ty.; Russian River Flag; Pacific Sentinel; the Sonoma weekly Index; the Petaluma Courier; the Sonoma Democrat; the Healdsburg Enterprise; the Petaluma Argus; rosters of State and county officers; State and county Governments, 1883, Executive, Judicial and legislative Departments; Thompson’s map of Sonoma county, 1884; copy of Republican. daily and weekly; Sonoma County Journal, (German); Sonoma county “Land Register,” published by Guy E. Grosse, Proctor, Reynolds A Co., real estate agents; cards of the architect and his daughter; copy of Day Book… [lodge rosters and documents] …financial report of Sonoma county for 1881, 1882, 1833 and 1884; Sonoma county Court House—A. A. Bennett and J. M. Curtis, architects; Carle & Croly, contractors; copy of San Francisco evening “Bulletin;” copy of daily “Alta California;” copy of daily “Chronicle;” copy of dally “Call;” copy of daily “Examiner;” copy of daily evening “Post,” with compliments of C. A. Wright, news agent Santa Rosa; muster roll, bylaws and constitution of Santa Rosa Commandery, No. 14, K. T.; muster roll, bylaws and constitution of Mt. Olivet Commandery, No. 20, K. T., of Petaluma; by Losson Ross, a quarter of a dollar, date 1854; by James Samuels, 5 cent nickel, 1869; by A. P. Overton, ½ dime, 1840; by E. Crane and A. P. Overton, one standard silver dollar, 1884; by Mr. and Mrs. S. R. Smith, one copper cent, 1833; and one copper two-cent piece of 1865; card of M. Rosenburg, merchant, builder of the first brick store in Santa Rosa.

The Grand Master. Brother Grand Treasurer, you will now place the casket within the cavity, beneath the corner-stone. (The casket is deposited in its place.)

[..]

– Sonoma Democrat, May 10 1884

1884.
Sonoma County’s Advance in Importance and Interest.
A Cursory Review of the Events of the Year That Has Just Passed.

SANTA ROSA
Has made splendid advancement. In public improvements, ten brick stores, one hall and a brick warehouse have been completed in 1884, while not less than thirty frame houses have been added to this city in the form of residences, besides the Athenaeum, which, when completed, will be one of the finest theater buildings in the State, and a new and commodious grammar school. Santa Rosa presents one of the most modern appearances of any interior city in the State. The residences, generally, are picturesque and handsome, while the splendid location and salubrious climate present attractions not to be resisted. For the coming year, contracts for the erection of over $40,000 of new brick buildings are already let, and the prospects for a prosperous year were, never so good.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 3 1885

Read More

GoldenHorseshoeSaloon

THE JEWEL IN THE BOOMTOWN

The first time Santa Rosa had more than a couple of dimes rattling around its coin purse, the town bought itself a present. A really big present.

“It gives us unlimited pleasure to chronicle the fact that a long felt want, in the shape of an opera house is at last to be built in Santa Rosa,” boasted the town’s Sonoma Democrat newspaper in mid-summer, 1884.

That opera house was to be called the Athenaeum (a name usually given to a library or academic/literary salons, not so often public theaters). It filled the western side of D street, from Fourth to Fifth streets and was 80 feet wide. Newspaper readers were repeatedly reminded that it was the largest auditorium in the state outside of San Francisco.

athenaeum1890

The Santa Rosa Athenaeum in 1890. (Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

 

Why a farm town of 5,000 needed an auditorium large enough to hold up to half its population was never discussed. But the mid-1880s were boom times for Santa Rosa, and much of the original downtown was being replaced with entire blocks of new buildings. A new city hall was built along with that pretty little courthouse in Courthouse Square. There were forty other projects under construction at the same time as the Athenaeum, almost all of them made out of bricks. Almost all of them would collapse in the 1906 earthquake, including the Athenaeum.

Outside it looked like a nondescript brick warehouse, but the interior drew high praise. Alas, there are no (surviving) pictures of it – a dilemma I often encounter here, so indulge me a short rant: Except for a couple of postcard views of the exterior, there are likewise no photos of the fabled 40 room “Buena Vista Castle” near Sonoma. Jack London’s Wolf House was nearly complete when it burned down, but there is only a single glimpse of the place under construction and most of it is obscured by a horse-drawn wagon in the foreground. There are no images of the inside – all of which is particularly aggravating because London was a photojournalist. I could name scads of other really interesting-but-lost-forever views just in Santa Rosa during the era when Kodak cameras were ubiquitous; I can’t understand why something was considered picturesque or important enough to be described in a newspaper – yet apparently no one thought of whipping out a Brownie camera to take a snapshot.

Fortunately there are multiple descriptions of the theater which paint a pretty detailed picture. I still wanted to find an image of an auditorium that was a reasonably close match and spent much of the last week prowling through hundreds of photos and period drawings of theater interiors here and in Europe. Two finalists were the Memphis TN Lyceum and the Virginia City NV Opera House, but the former is a little too cavernous and the other lacking architectural details. I could find only one theater that fits comfortably in the Goldilocks zone – and may the goddesses forgive me, it’s the Golden Horseshoe at Disneyland. All important details and proportions match except the Athenaeum was a few seats wider.

Let’s take a look inside the Athenaeum: Start your virtual tour by standing in front of the lovely 1911 Beaux-Arts style Doyle Building at 641-647 Fourth street. This has exactly the same footprint as the Athenaeum, except the stairway to the upper floor was almost twice as wide. At street level there was always a grocery to the west side of the stairs (more about that below) and in later years the Santa Rosa post office was on the corner side.*

The theater occupied the second and third floors. At the top of the stairs was the foyer with the box office. Wainscotting in the foyer used black walnut – a nice signal that you were entering a space that was posh and as permanent as a bank. Staircases on either side led to the third floor, where there was another larger foyer which took up about sixty feet of the top story. This was called the Society Hall and was rented out for banquets and dances when the theater wasn’t booked.

Beyond the top floor hall/foyer, theatergoers took seats in the balcony which wrapped around three sides of the auditorium. Called the “gallery” at the time, the balcony was both suspended from the ceiling and supported with posts. An item in the Democrat paper suggested some were squeamish over the safety of the overhanging balcony. “Let us whisper to the timid, if any such are left, that each of the seven iron columns under the gallery will support a weight equal to two hundred tons, or fourteen hundred tons in the aggregate.”

The gallery had the cheap seats but anyone who could afford better would sit below. There was the parquet circle directly beneath the gallery; like the balcony there was a baluster rail in front. It was (probably) at stage level, which meant the sight lines and acoustics were better than the main floor. The primary difference from the Disneyland theater was that the Athenaeum had more private boxes overlooking the stage; six on each side at the gallery level, and two on either side of the parquet circle.

The stage lights and everything else in the auditorium was lit by gaslights which were individually controlled by a panel. In the middle of the ceiling was an enormous “sun burner” (MORE info) which brilliantly illuminated the hall when turned up full. But what everyone was buzzing about was the artwork – the ceiling and walls were covered with murals. The Sonoma Democrat had the most detailed description:


About the ventilator in the center is a bit of sky, with clouds piled cumulus like, just as we sometimes see them on the horizon, while trailing vines, laden with blossoms seem to be peeping in the windows of some conservatory. The entire ceiling and gallery walls are hand painted, and at each corner a lyre and sprays of vines retain the eye, with elegantly designed borders enclosing numerous sky blue spaces. At the corners are huge clusters of reeds, conventionalized branches of leaves beneath. The area in front of the top of the stage is resplendent with flowers and sprays, and must be seen to be appreciated.

The stage itself was in the classic proscenium 19th century style, with drapery and an olio painted curtain depicting “a villa in the distance, amidst a beautiful grove with a magnificent garden in the foreground.” The artist was Thomas Moses who later became a top artist in this niche, painting scenic drops like this for theaters all over the country, including Broadway.

The official seating capacity was 1,600 although numbers up to a thousand higher were also mentioned. Theaters like this used wooden chairs, not seats bolted to the floor, so it was only a matter of placing them farther or closer together. (The cheapest gallery seats were apparently fixed in place, however.) Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley wrote an appreciation of the old place in 1932, which was abridged in a book, “Santa Rosans I Have Known.” Finley wrote “The theatre itself seated 1700 persons while 2500 could be and frequently were crowded in.”

Finley, who grew up in Santa Rosa, also recalled the Athenaeum box office was a popular place for kids to money launder any counterfeit coin which “sometimes found its way into their pockets without its spurious character being noticed.”

The Athenaeum’s official dedication was the night of July 9, 1885. After the orchestra gave “a preliminary toot or two,” there were remarks by the president of the Athenaeum association and a San Francisco theatrical manager, then an actress read a really bad poem. (“…Through groves of drooping oak, a glistening stream/ Runs, like a silver thread, through emerald green/ And over all is sunset’s purple sheen./ Another change the Mexican appears/ He seems a centaur, horse and man, and spurs./ Across the unfenced valley, like a bird/ He sweeps, amid his startled sleek skinned herd…”) Once that was suffered through, the curtain went up for the performance of a blood-and-thunder melodrama based on Jules Verne’s novel “Michael Strogoff.”

The Santa Rosa paper enthused over everything about the evening (“It was the first time Don Mills’ mule ever greeted an audience”) but glossed over the detail that the theater wasn’t even half full on its opening night. It appears that it would be more than a year before the Athenaeum was actually filled, and that was for a free October, 1886 speech by the Republican candidate for governor. (Predictably, the highly-partisan Democrat sniffed, “His speech was dry, prosy and wearisome, and elicited very little applause.”)

Thus was the fate of the Athenaeum clouded from its earliest days. Although the theater itself was a jewel by any measure, it’s hard to imagine that a hall which was only open  every week or so – and then usually around half empty – could be profitable. When the entire hall was rented out and open for free admission it was sometimes reported filled: Church coalitions brought in famous bible thumpers, political parties had election eve rallies and small groups held conventions – the State Sunday School Association was scheduled to be there in late April, 1906, with plans cancelled because of the earthquake.

Finley and others wrote of the celebrated performers who appeared on its stage. Yes, John Philip Sousa’s famous brass band played a rousing concert and modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller was here. Heavyweight boxing champ James Jeffries tried to jumpstart a new career starring in a play about Davy Crockett (the audience liked it most when he hit things or flexed his muscles) and San Francisco promoters sometimes booked a slate of classical music artists, mainly opera singers past their prime.

But for every highbrow concert by a “tenor robusto” there were twenty performances of hoary melodramas like “Ingomar the Barbarian” or trite comedies such as “James Wobberts, Freshman.” For every serious debate or lecture by someone like the guy predicting the year 2000 there were a dozen touring comedians such as “Yon Yonson,” “Ole Olson,” or vaudeville acts like “Thirty Educated Dogs.” And there were minstrel shows – lots and lots of minstrel shows.

1900plays1The melodrama “Chimes of Normandy” and the comedy “Wang” both appeared at the Athenaeum in 1900

 

Ridgway Hall was the only other venue downtown for large gatherings and it was mainly used for dances and county conventions, but the Athenaeum was used for local events, too, including commencement ceremonies and school literary exercises. Locals also put on shows at the Athenaeum; Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Mikado” was produced here and Santa Rosa Attorney T. J. Butts produced a farce he had written, “Misery, or Three Spasms for a Half.” (A few years later, Butts participated in a lecture series on the topic, “What Is the Matter with Santa Rosa?” His position was that “our city government is as good as we deserve,” which gets my vote as our city motto.)

The Athenaeum was completely destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and many commented that it was a good thing it didn’t hit when the theater was occupied. Three days earlier, nearly every kid in town was in there for choir practice before the upcoming Sunday School convention. Ernest Finley wrote the best obit in his 1932 reminisces:


The Athenaeum went down at the time of the earthquake, together with everything else in that entire block…the Athenaeum was built by T. J. Ludwig, active here as a contractor at that time, and its plan of construction was much criticized. Resting on the side walls of the building were great trusses which stretched across from one wall to another and from these the auditorium was practically suspended in air. There was some underneath support, but not too much. There was no regulation of such matters in those days. This type of construction would not now be permitted anywhere. After the building collapsed, investigation showed that certain beams in the great trusses, which were entirely of redwood, had decayed at the edges. It is not improbable that, had the building continued in use many years longer, some of these beams might have given way under the tremendous strain and a holocaust far greater than that occasioned by the earthquake itself might have resulted.

Oddly, some of the early hype about the theater focused on the impossibility of its collapse. The Democrat promised before construction began that it was to be an “earthquake proof building,” and a few days before it opened, the paper offered a commentary on the safety of the Athenaeum and the new courthouse. “This is a good time to kill the idle street talk we hear about one building being unsafe, and another one just ready to topple over…So will Santa Rosa outgrow the little fellows who go whining about the streets. If none of them die until they are killed by the falling of Athenaeum, or the new Court House, they will survive a hundred years, which would be a greater misfortune to the city than the fall of both those substantial and elegant structures.”


*The Athenaeum Grocery was an ambitious effort to create a real food market, complete with canned goods, fresh produce, a butcher and fish counter, and something like a deli offering lunch. “Many a lady dreads the Saturday’s marketing, because she knows that she will perhaps have to walk over the whole town before completing her purchases, but when the new central market is opened it will be different; she may do all of her marketing in the one building, and her purchases will be delivered at the same time.”

athenaeum1906

Santa Rosa Athenaeum, 1906 (Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

 

 

Santa Rosa Athenaeum.

It gives us unlimited pleasure to chronicle the fact that a long felt want, in the shape of an opera house is at last to be built in Santa Rosa. A joint stock company with a capital stock of $20,000 has been organized, and incorporated under the laws of this State for of constructing a solid, substantial and earthquake proof building, on the corner of Fourth and D streets, covering that entire lot, extending through to Fifth street, known as the T. H. Pyatt lot. The building will have an eighty foot front on Fourth and Fifth streets, and will be 200 feet in depth. The seating capacity will be from 1,600 to 2,000 people. Two stores will be fitted up on Fourth street, and a society hall will also front on the same street. A gallery will extend around three sides of the building. The main entrance to the auditorium, will be from Fourth street with side entrance from Fifth aud D streets, so that the hall can be quickly cleared in case of a panic. The stage will extend across the Fifth street end of the building, and will be seven feet from the door. On each side will be three dressing rooms for theatrical companies. Under the stage a kitchen with range and all other necessary equipments, and a spacious banquet hall will be fitted up for the convenience and benefit of fairs, festivals, etc. The structure promises to be one of the most convenient and perfect ever built, and fills a long felt want in this community.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 5 1884

The lot for the Santa Rosa Athenaeum, on the corner of Fourth and D street is cleared, and work excavating for the foundation has commenced.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 19 1884

 

Our Opera House.

We strolled into the Athenaeum on Friday afternoon and found the timbers for the gallery being placed in position, and the scantling for the different partitions being erected. The inside is going to present a handsome appearance. The gallery is semi-circular in form, and the timbers for the “circle” are being bent as they are being placed in position, under the immediate supervision of Col. Gray, whom we saw, with hammer in hand, as busy as any of the artisans. We should suppose that there were about thirty men engaged with hammer and saw, and noted that the work was progressing very satisfactorily.

Mr. Mailer, of the firm of W. C. Good & Co., informs us that the tin for the roof is all in readiness in the shop, and that twelve men are putting the work on the roof, as rapidly as possible. A few days fine weather, and the roof will be tinned. This firm have just received a consignment of ninety boxes of tin for the roofs o( other buildings now in the course of completion.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 28 1885

 

Handsome Ornamentations.

We were permitted to take a view of the ceiling of the Athenaeum, on Friday, as the decorative artists had just completed their work. It is a study in art. About the ventilator in the center is a bit of sky, with clouds piled cumulus like, just as we sometimes see them on the horizon, while trailing vines, laden with blossoms seem to be peeping in the windows of some conservatory. The entire ceiling and gallery walls are hand painted, and at each corner a lyre and sprays of vines retain the eye, with elegantly designed borders enclosing numerous sky blue spaces. At the corners are huge clusters of reeds, conventionalized branches of leaves beneath. The area in front of the top of the stage is resplendent with flowers and sprays, and must be seen to be appreciated. We consider it the most elegant finish we have ever seen in so large a building. The theater will be ready for occupation about the first June. In the main auditorium the seating and finishing touches only remain to be attended to, but the stage and the front hall yet remain to be finished.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 16 1885

 

Ambitions Santa Rosa.

The San Francisco Figaro, of a recent date, contains the following: “It may seem strange, but it is true nevertheless, that Santa Rosa will soon have the largest and most magnificent theatre building outside of San Francisco. Though occupying nearly as much space as our Grand Opera House, it will have only two circles, it is decorated in grand style, is called the Athenaeum, and will be finished about the middle of next month. Good for Santa Rosa, which is one of the most delightful cities of the interior, and a growing one, surrounded by a rich farming region, belted by timber lands almost inexhaustible. With a modesty unusual and worthy of note, the owner of the edifice did not give to it his own name.” Come up and see it Bro. Bogardus, and if we don’t give you a hearty welcome for old time’s sake, we will try it. Call soon.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 6 1885

 

The Athenaeum.

We stopped a moment at the Athenaeum, on Tuesday. Preparations are being made to lay the stone sidewalk, by putting in the curbing. Work on the inside is progressing. Painters are priming the woodwork, and graining has commenced. The railing for the boxes and about the orchestra are placed in position. The handsome railing for the stairways leading to the gallery is being put up. The doors about the entrance to the parquette and dress circle are being hung. The racks and slides for the scenery are being put in place and the lower hall is being graveled for cement pavement.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 13 1885

 

Dedicating the Athenaeum.

In response to an invitation of the Board of Directors of the Santa Rosa Athenaeum Company, a number of gentlemen met at the parlors of Occidental Hotel to consult in regard to the formal opening of the building, now so near at hand. In response to this, there were present…

…The building is nearly completed. The seats in the gallery are about finished. At the ends of the gallery circle, nearest the stage, are six compartments on each side the building set apart by railing as mezzanine boxes. Directly below them, at the terminus of the dress circle, are four elegant boxes, two on each side, decorated very handsomely and elaborately.

We have stated that six iron pillars have been placed beneath the gallery, which support it, so that it is no longer suspended from the roof.

The chairs for the boxes, dress circle and orchestra will arrive in a few days. They are on the way. There are 800 of them.

Work laying the scenery is progressing rapidly, and the stage now begins to have the appearance of business.

The painters and grainers are putting the finishing touches to the main hall, and back stairway, and glaziers are preparing the sash for the numerous windows. The wainscotting in the foyer passages, doors and stairways is black walnut. In the banquet, ball and offices, oak.

The patent stone work for the sidewalk and lower portion of the main entrance is completed and is now hardening. Work laying the basalt blocks in the gutter is progressing.

RECEPTION AND PROMENADE CONCERT.

The Committee appointed, as mentioned above, met immediately after the conference adjourned, and adopted the following programme:
1. Overture by orchestra.
2. Prayer by Rev. J. Avery Shepherd.
3. Remarks by the President. B. M. Spencer.
4. Dedicatory by A. B. Ware.
5. Vocal Music.
6. Remarks by R. A. Thompson.
7. Vocal Solo.
8. Closing remarks by Senator G. A. Johnson.
9. Overture by orchestra.
10. Promenade concert and reception.

[..]

– Sonoma Democrat, June 20 1885

 

The Athenaeum.

We were permitted to visit the interior of the Athenaeum on Tuesday, and found Mr. Bumbaugh with a large force of painters at work. The main hall has been most artistically and beautifully adorned, and the work is well done.

We met Mr. C. N. Crouse, who came from Chicago to arrange the scenery and mount it. He showed us the drop curtain, which is the finest we have seen in California, not even excepting the famous one at the Sacramento Theater, “Othello relating his adventures.” It represents a villa in the distance, amidst a beautiful grove with a magnificent garden in the foreground, while the whole is enclosed in gorgeous and elegant drapery. It is superb. Mr. Crouse says that nearly all the scenery is now ready. There are one or two set pieces to be arranged, a bridge forty feet long and a cottage scene.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 27 1885

 

The Opening of the Athenaeum.

On Thursday, Secretary C. A. Wright, of the Athenaeum Company, signed a contract with Al. Hayman, the well known theatrical manager, of San Francisco, to lease our new opera house for three nights, viz; July 2d, 3d and 4th.

There will be presented on these evenings, on the 2d, “Michael Strogoff,” on the 3d, “Lights o’ London,” and on the 4th,the magnificent drama. “The Count of Monte Christo.” The Company of the Baldwin Theater will present the plays, and they will be put on the stage in the best manner possible. The scenery will be superb, all most all new. Mr. Hayman has pledged himself to make the opening a credit to the handsome building, and to sustain the enviable reputation his company has gained. It will all be first class in every particular. The orchestra will consist of seven or eight accomplished musicians.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 27 1885

 

A WORD WITH YOU.

We hate to give advice and absolutely won’t scold, but we wish to say to you that this is a good time to kill the idle street talk we hear about one building being unsafe, and another one just ready to topple over, that the town is overgrown, the land given out, and the bugs have taken the country. In point of fact the croaker is the bug that is doing the most harm just now. His idle talk reminds us of an incident which came under our observation. A plant was growing vigorously in a garden. It was thoroughly in sympathy with the soil in which it grew and the air with which it stretched its limbs, but its young and tender branches were covered with the aphide, a pestiferous parasite that mars the beauty while it sucks the life of the plant upon which it feeds.

Fears were expressed to an old gardener that the “bugs” would kill the plant. “O no,” said he, “it will outgrow those little fellows.”

So will Santa Rosa outgrow the little fellows who go whining about the streets. If none of them die until they are killed by the falling of Athenaeum, or the new Court House, they will survive a hundred years, which would be a greater misfortune to the city than the fall of both those substantial and elegant structures.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 4 1885

 

THE TEMPLE OF ATHAENE
Brilliant Opening of Santa Rosa’s Beautiful Opera House

The youth, beauty and fashion of our fair city were out in force at the opening of the Athenaeum on Thursday evening. It must have been the greatest pleasure imaginable to those of our enterprising citizens who took such a leading part in the construction of the beautiful temple of the muses to hear the exclamations of unfeigned delight which fell almost unconsciously from the lips of nearly all present, most of whom had not seen the interior of the building since the work of ornamentation had begun. The comfortable opera chair, the pleasant Mezzanine and elegant proscenium boxes and the superb decorations on every hand.

THE ATTENDANCE.

Was a pleasing surprise to all. Over one half of the seating capacity was occupied, and we noticed in prominent parts of the foyer representatives of every leading interest in our city, and in the dress circle, parquette and boxes the elegant toilets of our pride, Santa Rosa’s fair ones, lent an air most charming to the most novel and really pleasant scene ever witnessed in the “City of Roses” not less than five hundred persons were present, the gallery was about half filled, and the lower portion more than half filled. The gallery was of anything the most sedate portion of the house.

It was 8:15 when Prof. S. L. Parks’ orchestra gave “a preliminary toot or two,” and then began the first overture, and at its close, B. M. Spencer appeared and introduced Mr. Al. Hayman, who spoke in glowing tones of this new building and referred in eloquent terms to the enterprise of those who built this temple to the muses. He then introduced Miss Phoebe Davies, who read the following prologue:

THE OPENING OF THE ATHENAEUM.
INVOCATION.

[..]

All was enthusiasm. The prologue was read before a scene carefully prepared, and as Miss Davies left the scene, the beautiful drop curtain fell, and was displayed to an audience for the first time. Miss Davies was heartily applauded, and the curtain was the signal for another burst of enthusiasm.

[..]

NOTES.

It was the first time Don Mills’ mule ever greeted an audience.

Sosman & Landers of Chicago painted and prepared the scenery which every one so much admired, and it was mounted by C. M. Crouse, one of the most experienced in the United States, and who was brought here by the Athenaeum Company especially to fit up this stage. He had done his work in the most satisfactory possible.

The drop curtain was designed and painted by a special artist employed by Sosman & Landers, and who devotes his entire time to this class of work. His name is Thomas Moses.

An important feature is the nickel plated gas stand, by means of which the gas in any part of the building can be readily regulated. It was made by H. C. Hickey of Chicago.

The lights are perfection. The huge sun-burner in the center of the ceiling and the numerous side lights illuminate the auditorium perfectly.

Let us whisper to the timid, if any such are left, that each of the seven iron columns under the gallery will support a weight equal to two hundred tons, or fourteen hundred tons in the aggregate. General John A. Brewster says so, and he knows. This is independent of all support from the roof.

Mr. Hayman says we can say for him that we have the prettiest and most commodios [sic] theater in the State outside of San Francisco, and that it is perfect in all its appointments.

The acoustic properties of the building are excellent. Each line was as distinctly heard as could be. There is no difficulty in hearing at all in any part of the building. It is a credit to the architect and contractor, T. J. Ludwig.

The painting and graining by C. M. Bumbaugh, is the best in Santa Rosa.

The drapery about the boxes is splendid and is the work of Doubleday Bros.

We must give credit to Mr. Lyons, who has been the foreman of the construction ever since the foundation was laid, for the evident excellence of his work.

The opening was a brilliant success, and to the Board of Directors and officers…we extend the congratulations and thanks of this entire community.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 11 1885

 

The Athenaeum.

Arrangements were completed on Monday to have a sectional floor put in the Athenaeum, so that balls and parties can be given in the main room. This will make a floor of 100×50, and will contain no seats. It will be completed by New Year’s eve, and has been engaged by the Knights of Pythias for that occasion.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 5 1885

 

New Enterprise.

Mr. O. Howell signed a five years’ lease with the managers of the Athenaeum Saturday morning, for the large storeroom under the west half of the theater, where he will open a central market. It is Mr. Howell’s intention to supply a want long felt, viz: a place where the housewife can do her morning marketing in the one store, or as it should more properly be called, the market. There will be the grocery department, butcher’s stalls, greengrocer’s stalls, fresh fish and oyster department, flour and feed department, poultry and game department and lunch counter, where the farmers and their families, when in town over the dinner hour, can partake of a lunch without the expense of the restaurants and hotels. This market will not only be a great success to its projector, but will be hailed as a solution to the problem of the housewife and busy husband, “What shall I get for dinner?” or supper, as the case may be. Many a lady dreads the Saturday’s marketing, because she knows that she will perhaps have to walk over the whole town before completing her purchases, but when the new central market is opened it will be different; she may do all of her marketing in the one building, and her purchases will be delivered at the same time. Mr. Howell has undertaken no small job in consummating his plans to a successful issue, and he appreciates his situation and enters into it with the determination of making it one of the successful and useful institutions of Santa Rosa.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 18 1886

 

Read More

firebug1

SANTA ROSA, WE HAVE A FIREBUG

The fourth time someone tried to burn down Robert Ross’s building he became agitated and said some things he shouldn’t. He was taken to jail and charged for “using language too strenuous to suit the occasion,” making him the only person who was arrested in connection with a string of arson attempts which plagued Santa Rosa for 28 months.

Between 1902 and 1904 there were eighteen suspicious fires, all but four of which were declared to be positively caused by “incendiarism,” which was our ancestor’s word at the time for arson. Among the incidents was the 1903 Railroad Square fire which burned for two days, making it the worst blaze Santa Rosa firemen had yet faced.

In the months that followed, the Fire Chief and police repeatedly told the Press Democrat there was a firebug at work here, but a broader analysis shows a pattern which probably began in early 1902. With one exception, all 18 were on the south side of downtown, mostly within a block from Santa Rosa Creek. Most happened during the months of April, May or July and were discovered around midnight, with Saturday being by far the favorite night.

(UPDATE: There were 19 suspicious fires, not 18. I neglected to count one of the Ross fires blamed on arson.)

Those familiar with this journal know I often end with a Believe-it-or-Not! oddity or twist to a story, but this time the surprise has to be revealed at the top: Incidents of serial arson were shockingly common out here at the turn of the century – and authorities didn’t seem too concerned about finding the culprits. When the firebugs were caught it was usually by accident.

Thankfully rare today, a search of turn-of-the-century era newspapers found arson sprees in rural towns like Santa Rosa all over the Bay Area. Almost always the pyromaniacs were teenage boys (MORE on the psychology of fire setting). The only known adult was Carlos Benedetto, a Petaluma firebug 1897-1898 who destroyed the town’s largest warehouses, part of a lumber yard and tried to burn a bridge. He was described as “a demented Italian laborer” (SF Examiner) and as “vicious looking, has a wild eye and is no doubt insane” (Petaluma Courier).

(RIGHT: Illustration of the San Rafael firebugs, San Francisco Call, Sept. 25 1902)

A 14 year-old was caught in Martinez for fires at the school, town hall and coal yard in 1904; a couple of years later a 15 year-old boy in Santa Cruz burned several barns, a school house and two bridges. There were also serial arsonists in Hopland (caught) and Ukiah (not caught). In 1901-1902 San Rafael, two boys aged 9 and 14 set as many as 16 fires; the younger boy was the ringleader and said he did it because he “liked to see firemen run.”

What made the Santa Rosa arsonist unique, however, was that he repeatedly went after the same buildings. Robert Ross’s blacksmith shop at First and Main was torched six times. A few doors down at Second and Main he tried to burn a barn/horse stable twice. Three times he hit the Star Feed Mill building at Fourth and A streets and two fires were set in vacant houses in the tenderloin district along First street.

While Fire Chief Lynchberg Adams apparently listed the Railroad Square conflagration as cause unknown, circumstances suggest it was our arsonist. It was the fourth suspicious fire in six weeks, and Adams had said the others were definitely incendiary. The fire began BENEATH the freight loading platform, and in the northwest corner – the only point which could not be seen from the train depot. There were rumors that boys were seen throwing firecrackers under the platform, although a policeman told the Press Democrat he was certain there was no truth in it.

Two days afterward the City Marshal offered a $50 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of “the incendiary.” After another rash of fires the next year Board of Fire Commissioners discussed raising it to $100, but nothing came of it. (The money would have been better spent by just paying a guard to sit in Robert Ross’s place.) But other than adding a streetlight at First and Main, no further preventative measures were mentioned in the papers.

The pattern of arson fires ended May 28, 1904, with the final attempt to torch the building with the mill. As the PD reported about the last of the Ross fires, “the identity of the miscreant remains a mystery.”

There were suspects but they were never named. Fire Chief Adams said two boys were seen playing in one of the red light district vacant houses before flames were spotted. And on July 2, 1903 – three days before the Railroad Square blaze – there was an incident at the high school on Humboldt street. A janitor was cleaning up the grounds when “a lad named Gardner” asked if he could help. The janitor said yes, but told the boy not to burn the rubbish. He did anyway, and the resulting fire destroyed a neighbor’s barn, two sheds and tons of hay. Nothing more was mentioned about that lad who couldn’t resist lighting a match.

 

APPLIED A TORCH
Attempt to Burn the Cnopius Barn on Second Street
Fire Discovered Before it Had Gained Much Headway and Was Extinguished

Some miscreant made an attempt Thursday night about 7 o’clock to burn the barn and stable of Cnopius & Co. on Second street near Main street. A piece of rag or matting, presumably soaked with oil, was thrust through a hole in the front of the barn and was snugly tucked in against a bale of hay. The torch was then applied and the would-be incendiary doubtless hurried away. Luckily Frank Cootes happened to pass along the street and noticed the flame. He gave an alarm at once and several men were quickly on the scene. Dr. Summerfield, the veterinary, and others forced open the barn doors and water was thrown on the fire and it was extinguished before any damage to speak of was done. Had the fire gained headway serious damage would have resulted. There were six horses in the barn Thursday night. What prompted the Incendiary to act in the manner described is unknown.

– Press Democrat, January 10 1902

 

HOP BARN BURNED
Destruction of a Building on the Burgess Place
Origin of the Fire Unknown — Building Reduced to Ashes In a Short Time

Shortly after midnight the large hop barn nearest the city pumping station alongside the road on the Burgess hop ranch on Sonoma avenue, was burned to the ground.

The building was reduced to ashes, together with the fence around it. From Chief Engineer Will Yandel at the pumping station it was learned by phone that the barn was empty at the time, according to a statement made by Mr. Burgess, who was awakened and told of the fire.

How the fire originated is a mystery. It was undoubtedly incendiary. At first it was stated that many bales of hops were stored in the barn. It was afterward learned that the hops were in another barn. The fire caused a big reflection in the sky, which attracted considerable attention among those who were abroad on the streets awaiting the election returns.

– Press Democrat, April 3 1902

 

WORK OF INCENDIARY
Attempt to Burn Robert Ross’ Establishment on Sunday Night

About 11:30 o’clock on Sunday night what appears to have been an attempt to burn down Robert Ross’ blacksmith shop at First and Main streets was discovered. Some people who were driving by happened to notice the flames on the First-street side and gave the alarm.

The fire was burning against one of the posts of the doors leading into the blacksmith shop and had it once gained headway a serious conflagration would have resulted as the room in which the dry wood is stored and the paint and oil room are in close proximity. The fire was started from the outside. A big wagon was drawn up alongside the doors. There is a probability that a lighted cigar stump might have been thrown against the woodwork which is old and would burn easily. No damage was done. The fire department responded with commendable promptitude.

Dr. Summerfield pulled the wagon out of the way and Fireman Len Colgan, assisted by Gus Donovan, who hurried to the scene, accompanied by Mr. Bertolani, put the fire out with a tub of water, which Mr. Ross keeps standing near the door for use in case of an outbreak of fire. Mr. Ross was home in bed at the time the alarm was rung in and in a few minutes Dr. Summerfield telephoned to him that everything was safe and the fire out. The damage was slight.

The authorities are investigating. They believe that they have their eye on the guilty party. It is believed to be the same person who set fire to another building some time ago. Mr. Rosa will repair the damage to his building immediately.

– Press Democrat, July 15 1902

 

ROOF WAS ON FIRE
EARLY MORNING BLAZE DISCOVERED AT PETERSON BROS. WAREHOUSE LAST NIGHT
Fire Department Called Out to Extinguish Another Mysterious Fire — Flames Were Making Headway When Discovered

A disastrous fire was narrowly averted at an early hour this morning.

At 1:10 an alarm was rung in from box 26 at Second and Wilson streets aod the fire department hurried to the large fruit packing warehouse of Peterson Brothers on Third street near the railroad crossing, whore a fire in the center of the roof was gaining headway.

The flames were quickly extinguished by the use of the chemical engine. Firemen got on the roof and chopped away the burning embers with axes and a small quantity of water was used to thoroughly prevent any danger of a further blaze.

Thanks to Mike McNulty, who was on his way home, a more serious fire was prevented. McNulty chanced to look through the warehouse windows as he passed and noticed showers of sparks falling from the roof onto the floor of the warehouse. He at once ran around the brewery premises to where the fire alarm box is located me gave the alarm.

How the fire originated is a mystery. It may have been caused by a spark or may be the work of the incendiary who has apparently plied his work on other buildings in Santa Rosa lately. The damage to the roof was nominal.

– Press Democrat, July 26 1902

 

Fire Still a Mystery

The fire at the Peterson warehouse early Saturday morning is still a mystery. It may have been caused by boys climbing on the roof and playing with matches although it is not very likely. The more general opinion is that it may be work of the incendiary who fired the Robert Ross building on First street a few nights ago and also the Cnopius warehouse.

– Press Democrat, July 27 1902

 

DISASTROUS FIRE
Barn Destroyed and Horse Burned to Death Early Monday Morning

The barn back of E. H. Hollenbeck’s residence on Sonoma avenue was destroyed by fire at 1 o’clock Monday morning. The flames wiped out everything in the barn. A horse was burned to death. The conflagration was noticed by the crew of the night freight on the C. N. W. R. and the locomotive whistle was blown for sometime before the fire alarm was rung in. Before the fire department was called the barn was in ruins. The property was owned by Mr. Hollenbeck. The fire was undoubtedly incendiary. The barn was recently built.

– Press Democrat, October 28 1902

 

HORSES IN DANGER
A BARN AND CONTENTS DESTROYED AND 18 EQUINES RESCUED
Conflagration at 10:30 O’Clock Wednesday Night in the Rear of the Bizzini Place on Tupper Street

A large barn in the rear of the Bizzini place on Tupper street, between Henley and Brown streets, was destroyed by fire Wednesday night.

Shortly before 10:30 o’clock Jack Barrickio, who noticed the blaze, phoned into the fire station and the department responded quickly. An alarm was also rung in.

The barn contained sixteen head of horses, the property of Ross Garrison, the horse-trader, and a large quantity of hay and straw. The horses were all rescued by Mr. Garrison, Edward Campbell and Mr. Whitcomb. A few minutes later and three at least of the horses would have been burned. The burning straw and hay made a fierce fire, which was soon dampened by the streams of water poured on.

Despite the stormy weather a large crowd ot men, women and children hurried to the scene. The Bizzini residence is occupied by a family by the name of Brown. For a time the Browns feared some of their property in a barn on the place would be destroyed. The barn, however, being some distance from the burning structure, was not harmed.

The origin of the fire is a mystery. In response to a number of inquiries made at the scene no one could explain how it originated, other than it was incendiary.

– Press Democrat, December 11 1902

 

THE TORCH APPLIED
FIRE DOES DAMAGE AT ROBERT ROSS’ CARRIAGE WORKS ON MAIN STREET
Third Attempt Made by Incendiary to Burn the Building Was Discovered Late Last Night

At 11:05 o’clock last night a fire was discovered in Robert Ross’ carriage works on Main street. Flames were burning in the top end of the building on the corner of Second street, on the roof and side of the structure. The fire department were soon on the scene and the fire was extinguished before much damage was done, except by water. How the fire originated is a mystery. It was undoubtedly of incendiary origin. Mr. Ross inclines to the belief that the same party, who on two previous occasions has fired the building. is responsible for last night’s conflagration. The fire apparently caught from the outside as investigation last night failed to show where it had originated on the inside. From the corner the flames ran along the rafters for some distance. Lumber and tools in a portion of the building will suffer by reason of the water.

– Press Democrat, January 7 1903

 

Investigating the Recent Fire

The cause of the fire of Tuesday night, when for the third time an attempt was made to destroy the blacksmith shop and carriage manufactory of Robert Ross, is carefully investigated. A survey of the building on Wednesday showed that, as stated in these columns, the fire was started outside near the corner of First and Main streets. From there the flames traveled to the roof, finally burning through and working along and under the shingles towards the rear of the structure. It was thought by some that the flames might have originated in the paint shop, but this theory is incorrect. There was no fire inside the building except where it burned through the side wall and roof. Mr Ross says that a number of tools marked with his name have disappeared.

– Press Democrat, January 8 1903

 


INCENDIARY AT WORK
Another Attempt to Burn the Barn of Cnopius & Co.

At half past four o’clock yesterday morning the fire department were called to Second and Main streets where a conflagration was in progress in Cnopius & Co.’s barn and storehouse. The flames were burning among the bales of hay. The fire was soon subdued, and what would have been a bad fire but for the promptitude of the response to the alarm was averted. The fire was undoubtedly incendiary.

– Press Democrat, May 16 1903

 

Want Light In Darkness

Residents and property owners of the vicinity of First and Main streets in view of the recent incendiary fires, petitioned the Council for a street light at the intersection of those streets for the protection of their property. The petition was referred to the Street Committee.

– Press Democrat, June 3 1903

 

APPLIED THE TORCH
AN INCENDIARY SETS FIRE TO A HOUSE ON D STREET ON SATURDAY NIGHT
Fire Was Discovered Shortly Before Midnight and Promptly Extinguished—Wanted to Drive Over Hose

About twelve o’clock the fire department was called to D street to extinguished a fire at No. 5, an unoccupied house. While the house is not a very valuable one the fire was a deliberate attempt to destroy the property.

The incendiary had placed a pile of blankets on the floor of a room in the corner and applied the torch. When discovered the fire was gaining headway. The flames were extinguished before much damage was done.

At the scene of the fire a youth from the country essayed to drive over the hose and was ordered to desist by Fireman Ed Hyde. He was abusive and Hyde without much ceremony jerked him from the vehicle. The youth afterward deemed it discretion to leave the hose and Hyde unmolested and went his way.

– Press Democrat, June 28 1903

 

PRETTY WARM BLAZE
Fire Department Busy On Thursday Afternoon

An alarm from box 52 called the fire department to Humboldt street on Thursday afternoon where a lively blaze was in progress, and before it was extinguished a barn and several tons of hay and two sheds and a summer kitchen went up in smoke and flame. The flames had gained considerable headway before the department were called. After the firemen arrived on the scene the conflagration was soon under control.

The fire originated on the grounds of the High School which adjoins the residence of G. W. Wallace of the Wallace Brokerage Company, who was the loser by the spreading flames through the fence. From Janitor Jones it was learned that the fire was started in some rubbish by a lad named Gardner, who had wanted to assist him in cleaning up the grounds. Jones says he cautioned Gardner not to start the fire.

Despite the warmth of the temperature there was the usual large crowd of spectators at the fire. They came in ail directions in vehicles, on horseback, in automobiles and a foot.

– Press Democrat, July 3 1903

 

HOUSE SET ON FIRE
DEPARTMENT CALLED SHORTLY BEFORE MIDNIGHT FOR FIRE ON FIRST STREET
Another Incendiary Fire Nearly Destroys an Unoccupied House — The Fire Had a Good Start

Last night shortly before midnight there was another alarm of fire and the department hurried to First street, near D street, where a fierce fire was in progress in an unoccupied house. The fire occurred just around the corner from the scene of the fire the other night, and like that one was the work of an incendiary. The building was damaged considerably and would have been entirely destroyed but for the exertions of the department. Two boys were noticed in the house in the morning, but no one was seen there later in the day. Fire Chief Adams had no hesitancy in saying that the fire was of incendiary origin.

– Press Democrat, July 4 1903

 

DISASTROUS BLAZE
RESIDENCE OF THE HON. J. T. CAMPBELL BADLY GUTTED BY FIRE LAST EVENING
Willing Hands Assist in Removing the Valuable Bric-a-brac — Fire Fighters Included a Number of Ladies

The pretty residence of the Hon. and Mrs. J. T. Campbell was practically gutted by fire last evening soon after six o’clock. Thanks to the energies of many willing hands much of the very valuable bric-a-brac and curios, which have been their great pride, were saved. Much of the furniture was rescued but of course many of the articles, including some of the curios and other furnishings were badly damaged or burned. From top to bottom the house was drenched with water and plastering and ceiling fell everywhere. The roof and the rear end of the residence was a prey of the flames to a greater extent than the front. What was a delightfully furnished house up to last night is now pretty much of a wreck.

How the fire originated is something of a mystery. There had been no fire in the house for some time, as a gas stove is used principally. The fire started in the upper story, and the burning roof was the first intimation to outsiders that a fire was in progress. Mr. and Mrs. Campbell were enjoying a chat after supper totally unaware that overhead a fire threatened to destroy their home was in progress. Two theories as to the cause of the fire were advanced. It was suggested that probably the conflagration might have been caused by electric wires, or might have been caused by combustion in the storeroom which is under the roof in the rear of the house upstairs. In this storeroom a great many things were stored. The blaze was a stubborn one to get under control, but the firemen succeeded well.

Among those assisting in the removal of the curios and works of art so highly prized by Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, were a number of the fair sex. They worked like Trojans and did not mind getting deluged by the water pouring through the roof. The fair fire fighters were indefatigable in their efforts and a number of men also assisted. The articles saved from destruction were carried into the residence of E. Morris Cox, which adjoins the Campbell home. The conflagration caused some little excitement while it lasted. It was very fortunate it did not prove worse.

 

  WILL PAY REWARD
Information as to Incendiary Wanted by the Marshal

City Marshal George Severson has offered a reward of fifty dollars for information that will lead to the arrest and conviction of the incendiary, who has fired several buildings in this city of late. The Marshal is determined, if possible, to locate the guilty person and citizens should assist in the endeavor.

– Press Democrat, July 8 1903

 

THE FIRE RECORD
LAST MONTH WAS RECORD BREAKER FOR FIRE ALARMS AND FIRES HERE
Fire Chief Thanks Citizens for Help at Depot Fires — Urges Purchase of New Engine and More Hose

Last month was a record breaker for fire alarms and damage done by fires in Santa Rosa. There were nine alarms of fire during the month. The most serious of the fires were those that destroyed the depots and other buildings on Sunday. July 5, and the one that destroyed $2,400 of the property at the residence of the Hon. J. T. Campbell. Fire Chief Adams made his report at the monthly meeting of the Fire Commissioners last night at the city hall. In making his report Chief Adams urged the purchase of another fire engine and 1,500 feet of new hose. He called attention to the destruction of fire hose at the time of the depot fire. A new engine and more hose are necessities, he said. Chief Adams thanked the citizens for the assistance rendered the regular firemen on the occasion of the depot fire. Acting President L. L. Veirs was in the chair and Commissioners Fred King, C. D. Johnson and G. S. Brown were present. At the other fires outside of the two mentioned considerable damage was done. The Council at its meeting subsequently ordered the purchase of 1,000 feet of new hose.

– Press Democrat, July 22 1903

 

NEW RESIDENCE GUTTED BY FIRE
CONTRACTOR BUSH’S HOME ON SOUTH E STREET RUINED ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT
The Residence Had Just Been Completed and Family Were About to Occupy the Same

At a few minutes to ten o’clock on Wednesday night fire was discovered in Contractor H. N. Bush’s new residence on South E, street and before the flames were extinguished the house was completely gutted.

The residence had just been completed and Mr. and Mr. Bush and family were ready to move into the place. In fact they thought something of moving in the beds Wednesday night and occupying it for the first time, but later derided to give the paint more time to dry. The family had been occupying the barn in the rear of the house which was completed first. Some articles were moved into the new house on Wednesday, principally canned fruits and preserves.

The origin of the fire is a mystery. It started first near the roof and when the flames were noticed first they had gained considerable headway. The fire department were summoned by a still alarm and had a long run to the fire. There was a copious supply of water but the new lumber made the fire a stubborn one to fight.

The gutted residence was one of the neatest and best in the neighborhood and was built by Mr. Bush himself, and the loss is considerable for him. The house cost about $2,600 and was insured for $2000 in a company represented by B. M Spencer.

As usual there was a very large crowd of spectators at the fire, many of whom walked to the scene, while others went in automobiles and vehicles and on bicycles. It is thought by some that the fire was deliberately started by an incendiary. Others say that it may have been a case of spontaneous combustion caused by painters’ rags. The residence had bean wired for electricity but had not been connected.

– Press Democrat, September 17 1903

 

May Be an Incendiary Here

There is an impression around that there may be an incendiary in Santa Rosa at tho present time, judging from the several suspicious fires that have occurred here lately. Fire Chief Adams says beyond doubt in his opinion the conflagration that gutted the Bush residence on E street on Wednesday night was the work of an incendiary.

– Press Democrat, September 18 1903

 

INCENDIARY AGAIN AT WORK
Fourth Attempt to Burn Robert Ross’ Carriage Repository

Shortly before one o’clock on Monday morning fire was discovered in the rear of Robert Ross’ building at Main and First streets. The fire was of incendiary origin making the fourth attempt to burn the building. Little damage was done by the fire. Had the flames once gained headway the result might have been very serious.

The identity of the miscreant remains a mystery and not only Mr. Ross but other property owners in the block and in the neighborhood would like to have the matter solved. This fire like the preceding ones was started with the aid of kerosene, the odor being plainly detected by those early at the scene of the conflagration.

After the fire was about over, Mr. Ross who was naturally somewhat excited got into a controversy with the Fire Department officials over the taking of a hose through the store room used as a carriage repository, with the result that he was temporarily placed under arrest upon a charge of using language too strenuous to suit the occasion. Later he appeared and paid a small fine, which ended the matter.

– Press Democrat, April 5, 1904

 

FIRE DAMAGES THE TOSCANO HOTEL
CONFLAGRATION ORIGINATED IN ROOM IN THE UPPER STORY OF THE BUILDING
Exact Cause of the Fire Not Known— Building Drenched With Copious Supply of Water Thrown

Considerable damage was done by a fire at the Toscano hotel at Seventh and Adams streets yesterday evening about half past five o’clock, for which the fire department was called by an alarm rung in from Box 25. The fire started in room 3 on the upper story of the hotel building. The room was gutted and its contents were destroyed. In addition other parts of the building were charred, but owing to the prompt work of the department the damage was not nearly as serious as it otherwise would have been, as the flames had considerable headway at the time of the alarm and it seemed as if the entire upper portion of the place was on fire. The smoke was so dense that the firemen had considerable difficulty in at first locating the seat of the conflagration. The room in which the fire started was like a blazing furnace when the department arrived and the fire was spreading.

Two streams of water were quickly poured on the flames and the fire was soon extinguished. The building was drenched with water and this and the smoke will necessitate the complete renovation of a part of the interior of the building. Many willing hands removed most of the furniture and effects from the building, and these articles were piled up here and there, some distance from the scene of the conflagration.

 The hotel is owned and occupied by Mrs. T. Guidotti. The fire was discovered by A. Guidotti. The origin of the fire at present is somewhat of a mystery. There was no stove in the room and the flue from the stove below runs up in another room The fire seemed to have started in the corner of the apartment. The occupants of the hotel could not account for the fire, and there were suggestions that the origin might have been of an incendiary nature. Chief Adams picked up a piece of newspaper in the room most damaged by the fire and it smelt strongly of coal oil. Strange enough this piece of paper was not singed and everything else in the room was charred. Another report at the fire was that a man had laid his lighted pipe on the bed in the room, but this story was not confirmed. A defective flue was also suggested. The building was insured. The water was played on the flames with so much effect that the roof overhead was not damaged. The fire occasioned some excitement among those living in the immediate neighborhood of the hotel and some of them were prepared to remove their belongings and did do so until assured that the danger of the fire spreading was past.

– Press Democrat, April 16, 1904

 

FIREBUG AT WORK SATURDAY NIGHT
ATTEMPT TO BURN THE “STAR FEED MILLS” AT FOURTH AND A STREETS
Fire Started in a Bale of Hay in the Rear of the Building — Flame Seen By Passerby on the Street

On Saturday night shortly after eleven o’clock Loren Jenkins, Will Carter and Val Calhoun while walking along Fourth street, chanced to notice a flame shoot up into the air in the rear of the Star Feed Mills at Fourth and A streets where the hay is stored. They gave the alarm at once and Mr. Jenkins ran to Fourth and Washington streets and turned in an alarm from the box there.

He then rushed back to the place and by this time Police Officer Boyes had arrived on the scene. Jenkins was assisted through the window and unfastened the door on A street. Police Officer Boyes made his way as quickly as possible to the fire and chanced to see a small hose attached to a faucet kept for supplying the boiler in the mill. He quickly turned on the water and extinguished the blaze, which had been kindled on a bale of hay.

The department were quickly on the scene and Police Officers Boyes and McIntosh and Fire Chief Adams made an investigation of the premises. At first it was thought that an electric wire had caused the fire. Investigation proved, however, that this was not the case and that it was a deliberate case of incendiarism. The fire had been started on top of the bale. Had the flames gained headway the old frame building would have gone up in smoke. The prompt action of the youths after they had noticed the flame through the windows on Fourth street and the prompt application of the hose undoubtedly saved a worse conflagration and damage to the contents of the mill and building.

– Press Democrat, May 1 1904

 

YEARS’ FIRE RECORD IN SANTA ROSA
ANNUAL REPORT OF FIRE CHIEF ADAMS PRESENTS INTERESTING STATISTICS
The Loss by Fire and the Insurance on the Property—The Causes of Conflagrations of Past Year

Fire Chief Adams has filed his annual report at the City Hall, which gives statistics regarding the fire record in Santa Rosa for the past year. The Chief states that there were thirty-eight alarms of fire in the city during the year. At thirteen of these fires the engine was used. At twenty-fie the chemical extinguishers were brought into play. The loss by fire in Santa Rosa during the twelve months was $57,017.05. The insurance on the property was $25,217.90, and the net loss was $31,799.15. Of the total number of fires seven were of incendiary origin; three were caused by children playing with matches, thirteen were chimney fires and nine fires resulted from unknown causes.

– Press Democrat, May 4, 1904

 

ANOTHER ATTEMPT MADE TO BURN ROSS’ BUILDING
TORCH IS APPLIED FOR SIXTH TIME
FLAMES DISCOVERED IN ROBERT ROSS’ CARRIAGE REPOSITORY SATURDAY NIGHT
Identity of the Incendiary Still a Mystery — Prompt Work of Firemen Prevent a Serious Fire

For the sixth time the firebug who seems bent on destroying Robert Ross’ building at Main and First streets, applied the torch on Saturday night. The fire was discovered about eleven o’clock and an alarm brought the department in quick time to the place.

The fire was burning in the paint shop which occupies the second floor facing on First street near the end of the building. A hose was attached in a few seconds and the flames were extinguished before much damage was done to the building. The glow of the fire could be plainly seen through the windows and the smoke poured through the roof. Like the five other previous attempts, it was a deliberate plan on the part of the firebug to destroy the premises. Mr. Walsh ahs [sic] the paint shop, and a buggy in the shop was pulled out of the way of the flame by one of the firemen. Like all the previous fires, the work of the incendiary was discovered before the flames had made much headway.

The fire had probably been smoldering some time before the flames shot up. The odor of something burning was noticed some time before the alarm was turned in summoning the fire department. The fire was in among the paints and had it gained much headway the inflammable material would have kindled a fierce blaze. A large crowd was attracted to the scene of the fire in a very few minutes and some little excitement was caused.

The identity of the firebug is apparently as much of a mystery as it has been at the fires that have preceded the one of Saturday night. It has also been noticeable that the incendiary chooses either a Saturday night or Sunday night for his work. While at a loss as to the identity of the guilty person, Chief of Police Severson intends to make a rigid investigation and will probably offer a reward for the necessary information that will lead to the arrest of the guilty party. Once before Mr. Severson offered a reward but without result.

Why this place should be singled out by the incendiary is also mysterious. Mr. Ross has been in business here for many years and so far as is known there is no reason for the dastardly attempts made to destroy his premises on six occasions. This was talked of very generally among the crowd gathered at the fire Saturday night, but no solution could be arrived at. One thing is sure, everybody in the neighborhood would like to have the guilty one brought to justice, as a fire once started in that section, if it got headway, would be very disastrous.

– Press Democrat, May 16, 1904

 

MAY OFFER REWARD TO CATCH FIREBUG
WORK OF INCENDIARIES DISCUSSED AT FIRE COMMISSIONERS’ MEETING
Fire Chief’s Report Discussed—Rigid Investigation Ordered of Main Street Fires

The Board of Fire Commissioners met last night…Commissioner Reynolds called attention to the frequent attempts to burn the Ross building on Main street and asked if some steps should not be taken to locate the incendiary.

Fire Chief Adams said in view of the investigation he had made he was confident that all the fires had been of an incendiary nature.

It was suggested that possibly the last fire in Walsh’s paint shop in the Ross building, might have been caused by spontaneous combustion as it occurred among the paints.

The matter was discussed at some length. It was remarked that three of the fires reported for the month by the Fire Chief had been of incendiary origin…Several of the commissioners were of the opinion that the city should offer a standing reward of one hundred dollars for the information that would lead to the arrest and conviction of incendiaries.

– Press Democrat, May 18, 1904

 

ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO BURN BUILDING
FIERCE FIRE IN THE CHARTRAND BUILDING AT FOURTH AND A STREETS
Conflagration on Saturday Night Looked Threatening for Some Time and Was Stubborn One to Handle

Another determined effort was made to burn down the Chartrand building at the corner of Fourth and A streets about half past eleven o’clock on Saturday night. The fire was discovered about the same time at night as one the occasion of the first application of the torch a few weeks ago. That attempt was also on a Saturday night.

The fire on Saturday night was in the rear end of the room occupied by A. Sander’s second hand store. The flames broke out and spread with great rapidity, as a few minutes before the alarm was given Police Officer Mclntosh had passed by the premises and could not detect anything wrong.

When the department arrived the fire had gained considerable headway in the rear of the building and the flames shot up for a fierce conflagration. A line of hose was attached to the hydrant at the corner of the streets named and water was thrown on the flames. The fire engine ran back to Fourth and A streets and another line of hose was attached to the hydrant there and the engine was soon pumping away with remarkable promptitude. The engine was moved to this hydrant so as not to be too close to the heat of the burning building in the event of the fire getting beyond the control of the firemen.

The fire did considerable damage to the stock in Sanders’ store and water and smoke assisted. The fire was a stubborn one and it was some time before the flames were subdued. Then Chief Adams detailed Fireman Doc Cozad to watch the premises and a section of hose was left attached to the hydrant.

The first attempt to burn the building was in that portion of it occupied by the Star Feed Mill. The building is owned by A. E. Chartrand and alongside the part where the fire was started he is erecting a new brick building. A large crowd of people gathered at the scene of the fire, coming from all parts of the city. The accepted theory is that the fire was undoubtedly of incendiary origin.

– Press Democrat, May 29, 1904

Read More