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ROAD TO THE MALL: THE BIG BOOK OF RED FLAGS

Had City Council members actually read and understood their own report, they might have discovered their pet project was probably going to ruin downtown Santa Rosa.

The document was the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) related to the downtown shopping mall proposed by Los Angeles developer Ernest W. Hahn. State law requires a study be prepared before construction begins on a major project like that and it mostly addresses the sort of issues you might expect – will the project create air pollution, harm water quality, overload power lines, etc. etc. etc. A 321-page draft version written by a San Mateo company was delivered to Santa Rosa a few days before Christmas 1973.

In the following thirty days anyone could comment on what was found (or not found) in the draft. Questions were directed to city staff, the project architect or others involved. Their replies appeared in the final EIR, which was released Oct. 1974. In any EIR that last volume is worth a close read because it almost always has more of the real lowdown about what’s going on.


QUESTIONS RAISED, RARELY ANSWERED

Remarks from over two dozen individuals, companies and firms can be found in the final EIR but many were technical in nature. For reference sake, these six people contributed most to topics discussed here:

Donna Born   Planning Commission Chairperson

Dolores Clayton   League of Women Voters President

Dan Peterson   Santa Rosa architect

William (Bill) Smith   Codding Enterprises attorney who attended every public hearing regarding the mall and redevelopment of the project area

 

Peter Bolles   Shopping mall architect (also son and partner of John Savage Bolles, who designed Candlestick Park)

James K. Burns   Executive Director of the Urban Renewal Agency (URA)

(Here’s also a reminder that this is part of a broader series on Santa Rosa redevelopment: “YESTERDAY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER,” which includes an index covering everything on the topic going back to the 1960s. This is chapter eight of the series just about the downtown mall)

Critics jumped on the uneven quality of the EIR, but I’ll preface that discussion by noting the consultants didn’t make much of an effort to learn about Santa Rosa or the history of the project. Not one of the well-informed commenters listed in the sidebar were interviewed. Instead, the people they spoke to included a pharmacist best known for collecting old bottles; a driver’s ed teacher; the two women who researched Carrillo family history and the guy who ran the Robert Ripley museum. As far as I can tell, none of the interviewees contributed information or expressed a public opinion about the mall and redevelopment project, either pro or con.

Some of the official replies make you wonder if these experts even visited town. Donna Born asked why it needed to be a sealed-up fortress and cited the “energy crisis,” which was the top news story of early 1974.1 She commented, “I think it is a little silly today to be espousing that large of an air conditioned area in a city like Santa Rosa that really doesn’t need air conditioning.” Architect Bolles’ answer suggested he thought the city was somewhere in the tropics and beset with monsoons:

The climate of Santa Rosa is well known for wet winters and hot, dry summers. Because of the inconvenience and hardship in either climactic extreme, an enclosed mall was considered a must…one only has to carry a shopping bag a block or so in driving rain to recognize the desirable aspects of an enclosed “shopper’s street.”

It’s a lesser quib, but even their logo on the EIR report reflects out-of-town cluelessness. It’s a drawing of a sculpture erected in 1971 near City Hall (a photo can be seen at the end of this article). From what I can gather from the Press Democrat’s coverage at the time, the Arts Council had a grant to commission a work of civic art and that was the only viable submission. The work was never mentioned by the paper again and was otherwise ignored; choosing it to symbolize a project expected to redefine the city into the next century was simply bizarre.2

Odd choices and/or naiveté aside, it seemed Santa Rosa really didn’t want the public to know what was in the EIR. Dolores Clayton remarked, “We would hope that the Urban Renewal Agency would make much greater efforts than it has in the past to get citizen input into the Project. For instance, the Environmental Impact Report is costly to purchase and there is only one non-circulating copy in the Library.”

URA director Burns countered, “The Environmental Impact Report is costly to purchase because it is costly to prepare. Our Agency is always conscious of trying to keep down the cost of governmental services to taxpayers.” He added there were “two copies in the City Clerk’s office, and three copies in our office for public use at no cost.” Please enjoy reading those 300+ pages while standing at a service desk.

Then there was the February Planning Commission meeting where they discussed the EIR. Only four members of the public attended (three of them from Codding Enterprises) because, gosh darn it, nobody from the city thought to put a meeting notice in the paper, although this would be the only time the Commission would discuss the report.

Architect Dan Peterson sent a letter to the Commission saying he would have been there if he had known it was on the agenda:

Over the past month I have discussed the shopping center layout with several persons and discovered they were not aware of the present proposals which to my knowledge have never been published in any public document other than the EIR…the Agency is not making it possible for the public to review and comment upon the project which is the intention of the Environmental Impact Review process.

It rankled all of the critics that the Planning Commission had no say about the EIR or anything else concerning the mall project, per City Council dictum. All they could do was make comments – and as noted earlier, commissioners were attacked when they even dared to raise questions.

Codding attorney Bill Smith pointed out this was unprecedented:

The Urban Renewal Agency is apparently proceeding on the basis that it will act as judge and jury of the EIR which it has caused to be prepared for its own project… [Normally] the EIR procedure would involve a review by the Planning Commission with right of appeal to the City Council. The Hahn proposal will be subject to no such review by the Planning Commission or the City Council; it will be handled internally by the Urban Renewal Agency… It is apparent that the Urban Renewal Agency will not review the draft EIR as intensively as would the Planning Commission if this were any other project.

A major shortfall in the EIR mentioned at the Commission meeting was that it contained nothing about what impact the mall might have on highway traffic – which was particularly surprising considering the mega-mall was supposed to suck up all retail trade between Marin and the redwood netherlands. CalTrans wrote two letters to James Burns complaining the issue should have been considered, although he did say the mall would probably only increase traffic volume by ten percent, so there shouldn’t be problems. Gentle Reader can guess what happened next: By the time the mall was fully opened in 1983, it appears traffic on that section of Highway 101 increased 30-40 percent – far above maximum capacity. Perhaps you remember sitting on the freeway in some of those epic backups; I sure as hell do.3

The Draft EIR also provided the first glimpse of what the future mall might look like. All freeway traffic would come and go through Third Street. Parking lots and a huge, two-story garage along B Street would effectively cut the mall off from downtown. At a February meeting with the Planning Commission, the URA said the drawing – which they had submitted only a few weeks before – was already out of date and B Street parking had been scrapped. Now there was to be underground parking and garages surrounding the mall’s other three sides.

Preliminary layout of proposed shopping center, looking east. Source: 1973 Draft EIR pg. II-3
Preliminary layout of proposed shopping center, looking east. Source: 1973 Draft EIR pg. II-3

Look closely at the layout and note there is an east/west open space through the middle – a direct passageway between B Street and Railroad Square. But was that to be inside the mall (and thus only available when the mall is open) or was it an outdoors corridor? The final EIR made it known the city and the developer were trying to have it both ways:

URA Director Burns promised “The City design staff is working on several other elements that will make the center more a part of downtown. One of the most important elements is the pedestrian link from Courthouse Square to and through the shopping complex to Railroad Square.” Elsewhere, architect Bolles wrote there would be landscape planters “on either side of the Fourth Street pedestrian walk which leads across the site on grade, from Morgan to B Street. The tree­lined Fourth Street pedestrian walk will be an important landscape feature connecting downtown with Railroad Square.”

Above all else, what everyone wanted most was for the mall to be integrated with the rest of downtown. In the EIR there was found a two page discussion revealing the developer had other ideas.4 The authors of the EIR waved the biggest and reddest of flags trying to draw our attention to the fate that would otherwise befall our town:

…the schematic project design does carry some significant, potentially adverse implications for the aesthetic character and urban design quality of downtown Santa Rosa. The progress of the design development of the project deserves the continued attention of the public and reviewing officials…one of the potential problems of the shopping center design is that it must recognize the center is not an isolated community in itself, accessible only to motorists, but should become a member of a larger commercial and social community accesible also to pedestrians…if the shopping center design were to treat the downtown area essentially as another major tenant of the center – which in effect it is – the design of these pedestrian links would undoubtedly be more heavily emphasized.

Although the City Council apparently didn’t take notice, the mall critics did. Planning Commissioner Frances Dias wanted to redefine the project: “I take great exception to anyone that calls this a ‘shopping center.’ It is downtown. It is not a shopping center, And I think it is very important to the health of the community, again, as I say, that the integrity of downtown be maintained.”

Dan Peterson gazed into his crystal ball and saw shoppers wouldn’t venture outside the mall into downtown: “I am not opposed to the commercial land use providing that aesthetics and scale relate to Santa Rosa and not San Jose. The enclosed single structure concept would not encourage shoppers to extend themselves into the downtown area because of the total air conditioned environment – including malls. The planning consideration obviously has not been extended beyond the project property lines.”

And Dolores Clayton accurately predicted the mall would lead to the decay of the downtown business sector:

The Environmental Impact report indicates inadequate provision for pedestrian access to the Project. There is also, we note, no reference to provision of links with public transportation…This lack of integration, this forbidding encapsulation, would seem to be counter productive from the stand point of enhancing the entire Downtown area. Might not the affect of such a self­contained Project rather be that of a vortex drawing all the vitality to itself at the expense of weakening the rest of the Downtown area?

The URA’s James Burns responded to Clayton (hers was the only letter he answered). “The Urban Renewal Agency is using the Central District Development Plan as a guide in developing downtown,” he replied. “The main difference between the Redevelopment Plan and the Central District Development Plan is that, by necessity, the Redevelopment Plan has more flexibility.”

Well, no. The 1968 Central District Development Plan was concerned with remodeling and restoring existing buildings, creating a convention/arts center, a tourist center, a transit center and a hotel/motel complex. It had a four stage schedule to beautify downtown with fountains, greenspace, outdoor cafés, arcades to house cute small shops and a plaza meeting place. It wanted to make downtown ultra-friendly for pedestrians and aimed to fix traffic problems, not make them worse. It said nothing about bulldozing a third of the downtown core to build a colossal shopping center. Comparing the 1968 Plan to what Burns and his crew were planning was like comparing fluffy kittens to ATM machines.

The EIR was officially accepted at a marathon public hearing that lasted seven hours (!) and is covered in the following chapter. But before leaving this topic I yield the floor to Commission Chairperson Donna Born, whose observations perfectly summed up the train wreck that awaited us:

I have been in several centers, like I’m sure everybody has. They [are] all alike, They [are] 2-3 stories, and they have got a 2-story mall with the tile floor and piped-in music and buildings around. And they’re sometimes attractive, but they’re always worlds unto themselves. They’re completely isolated. There is no feeling of identity with anything else, And I think that, unless it has a special relationship with the rest of the downtown, then we are just setting the stage for our next Urban Renewal project. Also, I think that the design as I see it, has no human scale, and I think that is essential to what Santa Rosa is all about. And I am certainly, obviously, no designer, but I think I have hunches about what makes a human scale and I don’t see it in this kind of self-contained 3-story thing.

 

NEXT: THE WAR COUNCIL

 


1 The “energy crisis” lasted approximately between Oct. 1973 and March 1974. Caused by an OPEC embargo on oil sales to the U.S. it created gasoline shortages nationwide. The Press Democrat ran front page stories describing cars lining up several blocks long, starting at dawn, as drivers waited at one of the few gas stations that remained open. Police struggled to keep intersections clear and the Highway Patrol found traffic stopped because off-ramps near stations were backing up onto the freeway. The price for premium gas at the time was about 55 cents a gallon.
2 The City Hall sculpture was created by Shirley Wastell, a Sonoma Valley artist known as something of a character. According to a Gaye LeBaron column, she drove a station wagon festooned with her sculptures of frogs, birds, dragons, and “six cats on the roof reclining in various cat positions.”
3 There was no traffic measurement given directly at the Third Street exit. Between 1974-1983 there was an increase of 32% at the College Ave. exit, so it does not include traffic from the south. The closest exit from that direction was at Todd Road, which increased 64 percent. The average between the two was 48 percent. “The flow on 101”, Press Democrat, March 10 1985, page 1B
4 Draft Environmental Impact Report Vol. II, pg. 98-99

 

Civic art created by Shirley Wastell, unveiled next to Santa Rosa City Hall June 19, 1971. Somewhat in the style of postmodern artist Joan Miró, the sculpture was supposed to represent "man surrounded by world involvement." The artist was paid $3,500. Photo from a 1974 URA pamphlet.
Civic art created by Shirley Wastell, unveiled next to Santa Rosa City Hall June 19, 1971. Somewhat in the style of postmodern artist Joan Miró, the sculpture was supposed to represent “man surrounded by world involvement.” The artist was paid $3,500. Photo from a 1974 URA pamphlet.

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ROAD TO THE MALL: SAVE THE CAL

In the spring of 1972 a couple of notable men came to Santa Rosa. Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz moved here from Sebastopol and Los Angeles developer Ernest Hahn entered “exclusive negotiations” with the city to build a downtown shopping center.

greatpumpkinOne fellow inspired powerful men to believe they could pull off an economic miracle for their town. The other invented a kid who tried to delude people into believing in magic pumpkins.

Since there are already plenty of webpages devoted to Peanuts, let’s just keep talking about the mall that many feel wrecked Santa Rosa.

This chapter is about public opposition to constructing the mall, particularly the “Save the Cal” campaign to preserve the town’s great Art Deco moviehouse on B street. (Here’s also a reminder that this is part of a broader series on Santa Rosa redevelopment: “YESTERDAY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER,” which includes an index covering everything on the topic going back to the 1960s.)

Two years passed before there was any citizen pushback to building the mall. That may be surprising but as discussed earlier, there could be many reasons why people weren’t upset at first about a third of the downtown core being wiped out (and about to be sold to a developer for a fraction of its market value). Some clearly thought a big shopping mall would be a good thing – after all, that’s what the Press Democrat and all the city leaders kept saying. Some probably didn’t understand the scope of what was going to be built; Hahn’s architects hadn’t shown anyone drawings or models of what it might look like. And some were probably wary because Hugh Codding and his lawyer were loudly opposing the project with its giveaway land deal to a competing developer, and Hugh was never more of a polarizing figure than during those years.

“Save the Cal” is the protest we all commemorate today, but it wasn’t the first anti-mall dissent. More than a year before preservationists tried to protect the theater from demolition over 6,000 signed petitions to block demolition of the Levin Hardware building which was at the end of Fourth street next to the highway. The building had historic value, having survived the 1906 earthquake intact.1

The hardware store struggle began in March 1973, when owner Sam Levin sent an impassioned letter to the City Council. His store was slated to be demolished before September, as the city’s Urban Renewal Agency (URA) was buying up all the property west of B Street and bulldozing it flat in expectation of soon selling it to the developer (see chapter three). Levin complained he only agreed to sell the land under duress because the URA was threatening to otherwise use eminent domain. His letter, bitter and angry, read in part:

…First, I protest the fact that H. Levin Hardware, my family company, is scheduled for extinction. This is a business which has served the Santa Rosa community for 50 years. This is a building with historical value to the city and county since it is one of the last existing old time hardware stores in the West. This is a structure which, according to engineers, suffered no [1969] earthquake damage, is essentially sound, and can meet the new earthquake safety code if I was allowed to spend the money to reinforce it. Therefore, this is a building which does not need to be torn down but which urban renewal intends to destroy in order to make way for the construction of a building which doesn’t need to be built…Although I fully support the basic concepts of urban renewal, I remain humiliated by and disenchanted with the actual program…

Council members were sympathetic and agreed the store should not be torn down just to create a vacant lot. One member pondered whether the building could be moved to Railroad Square on the other side of the freeway. Another wondered if it could be incorporated somehow into the future mall, which is yet another example that suggests some city officials envisioned the design was going to be something of a super-sized version of Montgomery Village.2

The hardware store dodged the wrecking ball for over two years. During that time all those petition signatures were collected and letters appeared in the PD in support of keeping the store where it was. There was talk of trying to get it on the national historic registry. Hahn donated $10,000 to assist the move and the Press Democrat ran a photo of him with Sam Levin and two other men. Finally in August, 1975 the business moved into a new building on the Sonoma Highway designed to resemble the original. The old sign can be seen on the wall and the mezzanine uses historic flooring.

The Levin Hardware building as seen in 1979, after relocating to 4310 Sonoma Highway where it still exists today as Mission Ace Hardware. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library
The Levin Hardware building as seen in 1979, after relocating to 4310 Sonoma Highway where it still exists today as Mission Ace Hardware. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library

While the original hardware store building ultimately was demolished, those cheering for mall construction – city officials, the PD and downtown business interests – were patient with Levin and his supporters, treating them with due respect as they worked towards a compromise solution. But at the exact same time, those interested in preserving the Cal theater were not treated so kindly.


THE MOVIE PALACE ON B

The Cal was originally the G&S Theater built in 1923 and cost about $250k (over $4 million today). Originally with 2,000 seats it was the largest movie/vaudeville house between San Francisco and Portland and had a 40×90 ft. stage. Besides showing the latest hit motion pictures, it was the mid-week stopover for acts on the Pantages vaudeville circuit. Performers were accompanied by a 9 piece orchestra or the Wurlitzer theatre organ, with popular tunes being played between acts or films.

The “Save the Cal” campaign launched July 18, 1974 with the announcement that a committee was formed to get a proposition on the November ballot. The ballot item would also call for the old Post Office and the Scottish Rite building to be saved, as well as for the city to build the long-promised cultural and convention center.

The city immediately tried to smear committee spokesman Eivin Falk as being a flack or patsy for Hugh Codding. Falk, who was the architect for the community center portion of Codding’s planned shopping mall in Rohnert Park, said he was considering suing URA director James Burns for allegedly calling him a “Codding lackey.”3

The Press Democrat chimed in with an editorial, where it sniffed the paper had “as much regard for our charming old buildings as anyone” the campaign was “another flank attack on the downtown shopping center” and didn’t have much community support. News articles in the paper shifted to calling our downtown movie palace the “B Street theater.”

Mention “Save the Cal” on social media today and most wax nostalgic about the fundraising rock concerts at the theater. The same evening the committee was announced, the Pointer Sisters plus Butch Whacks & the Glass Packs performed, with enthusiastic PD reporter Diane Morgan describing the audience dancing in the aisles and calling it “an indisputable success for the committee attempting to ‘save the Cal.'” (A video of the Pointer’s high-energy show from that time can be viewed here.) A concert by Boz Scaggs followed a month later.4

calflyerBut here’s the obl. Believe-it-or-Not! twist: Neither of those concerts were fundraisers. The local promoters allowed the committee to hand out the flyer shown here in the lobby and it’s likely someone onstage mentioned preservation efforts.

Thanks in part to the smashing success of the concerts, the future of the Cal theater was about all anyone talked about in the following weeks. The PD tried to gin up controversy because Falk wouldn’t name others on the “Save the Cal” committee until they had incorporated as a non-profit.5 Hugh Codding and the attorney for Codding Enterprises repeatedly had to deny accusations they were secretly behind the group. Unable to prove any connection, the paper took to claiming they were “inspired” by Hugh. Towards the end of the preservation campaign the PD would print that the committee had been “entirely funded” by him but to date the group had raised all of $1,350 over about two months, not counting 57 bucks collected in donation cans around the city.

Hahn tried to get in front of the parade by announcing it was possible he could incorporate the theater into his mall, but after a quick look-see told the PD it wasn’t realistic:


Hahn said five engineers were testing the building’s structural soundness and acoustics. He said from preliminary reports the Cal looks like a “pretty bad building. We would practically have to rebuild the building.” And he said he wasn’t sure what might make someone want to save the Cal. “I talked to the owner and he does not know anything remarkable about it,” he said.

Likewise the president of the Redwood Empire Chapter of the American Institute of Architects said it had no architectural or historic value. And the Sonoma County Arts Council – which later received a $15,000 donation from Hahn – would not support preservation of the theater.

The PD quoted the city’s chief building inspector as saying the theater had “apparent damage” from the 1969 earthquake. Hogwash, realtor and committee member Oma Carpenter wrote in a letter to the editor:


…it’s structural safety is questioned now only because of political motives. The acoustics in the building are magnificent, the stage is very large, (one of the largest in Northern California) the 17 dressing rooms are very satisfactory, and the beautiful organ is in good condition, and is considered one of the finest pipe organs in California.

Also jumping on the bandwagon was Codding, who – true to form – came up with a brilliantly odd proposal. The Cal was owned by United Artists. That moviehouse chain rented a theater in Merced which happened to be owned by Codding. Let’s swap ’em! Hugh proffered. Predictably, the PD presented Codding’s new interest in the theater as more evidence he was really the committee’s puppeteer.

While Codding wasn’t involved with the committee (aside from making a $250 personal donation), they shared nearly identical plans. The Cal, old Post Office and the Scottish Rite Temple would remain untouched; there would be a major department store or two, shops, hotel, a convention/community center and housing. The committee’s design (shown below) included quite a bit of greenspace and called for connecting the project area to Juilliard Park.

"Save the Cal Committee Proposal: A Downtown 'Cultural Heritage Center'". Press Democrat, Sept. 10 1974
“Save the Cal Committee Proposal: A Downtown ‘Cultural Heritage Center'”. Press Democrat, Sept. 10 1974
What both resembled most were the plans envisioned by the city prior to the 1969 earthquake and before Hahn was welcomed to town. Yet while the Press Democrat spilled barrels of ink demonizing Codding as some sort of mountebank and the Save the Cal committee as misguided dupes, not once (as far as I can tell) did the paper observe they were promoting conservative ideas which were the accepted wisdom not so long before – redevelopment plans that fundamentally didn’t change the ways the project area had always been used. Alert readers might have caught the paper’s bias when it used character smears and innuendo to blast Codding and the committee, but harder to spot was when the press omitted such pertinent facts. Add this to the long list of ethical problems with the PD’s involvement in the race to build the mall.

Apparently rattled by the popularity of the rock concerts at the Cal, the pro-mall forces came up with a new talking point – ‘we know everyone wants a performing arts venue downtown but gosh darn it, we can’t afford it until the mall’s finished and bringing in tons of cash.’ To justify that point they dusted off a two year-old study from San Francisco consultants Bruce Lord & Associates. Here’s part of a September PD editorial:


It is becoming increasingly evident that the “Save-The-Cal” campaign is in reality an attempt to destroy Santa Rosa’s plans for a regional shopping center and with it the means to finance a convention-cultural center…We suggest that Santa Rosans who are interested in the true costs of such a convention-cultural center go back to the Oct. 16, 1972, study by Lord Associates with coordination by a committee chaired by Gaye LeBaron. They would find that such centers don’t come close to paying their own way. The only way such a center could be constructed in Santa Rosa would be with increased tax funds generated by the proposed new shopping center.

calcostsExcept that wasn’t what the study and its local committee said at all. The main findings – even as reported in the PD at the time – were that Santa Rosa needed two facilities, one being a 2,500 seat auditorium and the other having an open floor for conventions, dances and such. As for financing, Save the Cal President Harry DeLope wrote a letter citing chapter and verse from the study (I’m amazed it was printed, as he exposed such blatant editorial misinformation). He pointed out the study projected the venue would break even after 180 events. Save the Cal followed up with an ad in the PD seen at right, showing the taxpayer’s cost of constructing the convention and cultural centers via the usual route of using muni bonds was almost exactly the same as developing the property before handing it over to Hahn. (Note the PD’s absurd number of typesetting errors.)

In September the committee asked the city to approve twelve locations where they could gather signatures for their ballot initiative. The City Council refused.

Not allowing citizens to sign a petition seems a mite undemocratic, but the City Attorney went even farther, saying the “initiative is illegal under state law and laws governing the city.” Voters had no say on the downtown plan because it was an administrative or executive action, he said. With a straight face. Oh, bullshit, said the attorney for Save the Cal, citing the City Code that specifically allowed that sort of initiative.

But that was just the beginning of the city’s attack on the citizen’s group. The mayor and vice mayor suggested they were going to have the District Attorney investigate them for fraud. The reason? Because they were collecting money under the name of “Save the Cal” while the initiative was, in essence, actually a referendum on construction of the mall.

URA Director James Burns also had been in contact with a San Francisco man who did some work for the committee preparing their alternative layout before being fired for misrepresenting himself (the paper called him an architect but his name isn’t in the PCAD database). He claimed to be owed $150 for his work and wrote to the city hoping they would pressure Falk or Codding into paying him.

Falk – who had announced earlier in the meeting he was stepping down as President of Save the Cal “so that I may not be the reason the City Council chooses to use for ignoring [the initiative]” – said he might start a recall against council members. In what he said would be his last public statement, he accused Mayor Downey and Councilman Jones of possible conflicts of interest:


It is below my professional dignity to seek further support from city council members who conduct themselves like a circus sideshow while in session…Of what are the council members afraid? That their vested interests may not materialize without Hahn’s development or that the future promises they may have been given may not come true?

The City Council and the Press Democrat remained determined to find some link between Codding and the Save the Cal committee. When Hugh Codding and wife Nell were spotted at a City Council hearing sitting near two members of the committee, the PD ran a large photo. A Councilman demanded Harry DeLope name any Codding Enterprises employees who attended a rally. “Remember, you’re under oath,” Councilman Poznanovich said. (The reason they gave for requiring speakers to be sworn was supposedly because remarks could be later used used in lawsuits. This example, however, reveals it was used for intimidation. And if it’s an act of perjury to be imprecise at a City Council meeting, I can think of a few developers who should be enjoying San Quentin vacations.)

The attorney for Save the Cal filed suit to force the city to permit signature gathering. Meanwhile, a new group, the Taxpayers Committee for the Right to Vote (which was mostly – but not entirely – financed by Codding) took the initiative and circulated a petition for a referendum that didn’t just propose to save the Cal, but to ask voters whether plans for the mall should be scrapped. The City Council decided it was just a stalking horse for the theater advocates, and indulged in some snarky banter demonstrating they didn’t take the issue seriously:

Councilman Gerald Poznanovich said “I understand they have a new name.”

“Save the World.” Councilman Murray Zatman said.

“Save Codding Enterprises,” Jones said.

To counter the Taxpayers petition drive, the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Development Assoc. hired a PR consultant to collect pro-mall signatures. A few weeks later the consultant boasted of gathering 1,500 names. Then the Taxpayers group dropped off a box at City Hall with 7,000 – almost twice the number required to hold a special vote.

Predictably, the Council again refused to consider a referendum. The Taxpayers committee sued, as the Save the Cal group had done earlier.

That was at the end of 1974; looking forward 17 months, Superior Court Judge Joseph P. Murphy Jr. made a ruling. In a rather convoluted decision, he blocked referendums from either group. Yes, citizen groups may place referendums up for a vote – but in this case there was a conflict with state law on redevelopment, so the committees would have to show the outcome might have impact beyond Santa Rosa.6

And that was the death knell for the Cal. The public wouldn’t be allowed even an advisory vote on preserving the three historic buildings. Santa Rosans would not be asked whether or not they wanted the shopping mall. (In 1976, however, the Corte Madera City Council said “participatory democracy” was important enough to put an item on the ballot regarding a mall Hahn intended to build there. The vote was against the mall.)7

Save the Cal had not been dissolved when Judge Murphy issued his decision but a few months had passed without signs of activism or even letters to the Press Democrat. That’s likely because Hahn filed a $40M lawsuit against Codding and any person, place or thing associated with him. More on this can be found in the next chapter, but the suit mentioned “Various persons, corporations and associations, not named at this time as defendants herein, have participated and acted in concert and conspiracy with defendants…” According to the PD, the list included committee members Olma Carpenter, Harry DeLope, and the Falks.

As Gentle Reader knows today, only the old Post Office was saved and that was only because of generous donations made to the Historical Museum Foundation of Sonoma County (DeLope was the group’s secretary).

The last picture show at the Cal was July 5, 1977. It was a Disney double feature: “Boatniks” and “The Gnome-Mobile.” The PD headline for the obit was “Three years later…the Cal Dies Unsaved.” Gloat much?

There were requests to the URA for permission to hold a farewell event at the theater but all were refused. In August there was a liquidation sale. The ticket booth cost $500 and seats were $40 each. The Wurlitzer pipe organ was dismantled and went to San Diego’s California Theater. Gaye LeBaron offered an item about the old stage curtain:


One interesting note about the oleograph that has become the most sought-after item in the Cal sale with even the City Council expressing interest. That colorful piece of memorabilia, with advertising from Santa Rosa for forty years ago, is up to $2,000 now and bidding is still going on. A couple of years ago it was soooo close to the garbage can I cannot tell you how close. When the Pointer Sisters appeared at the Cal two or three years ago, manager Wes Porter planned to use the old oleograph for a backdrop but the fire marshal, examining its flammability, ixnayed that. Porter took it down, rolled it up and was just about to chuck it out when he had a second thought and shoved it in a closet instead.

The Cal was torn down over the course of several weeks in November 1977. The Press Democrat’s front page on the 13th featured a heartbreaking photo of a bulldozer inside the theater, plowing away the remaining seats. The article noted it would soon be replaced by a parking garage for an “ultra-modern downtown shopping center.”

NEXT: THE BIG BOOK OF RED FLAGS

1 It was repeatedly stated in the March 8, 1973 Press Democrat and other articles at the time that Levin’s building was fifty years old, which was an error. The Levin Hardware Co. apparently had been there since 1935, but before that the building was the well-known McKinney & Titus home furnishings and appliance store, which began advertising in Jan. 1907 for customers to visit their new store at 304 Fourth. Prior to the Great Earthquake it was “The Santa Rosa Department Store.” The building was constructed in 1898.
2 At its February 14, 1974 meeting, members of the city Planning Commission raised questions about whether it could be an open air mall (MORE).
3 Falk’s wife countered the “Codding lackey” insult by charging Burns had a conflict of interest because of earlier dealings with Hahn, and should be replaced as Executive Director of the Santa Rosa URA. Burns denied the accusation and told the PD he was briefly the vice-chair of the URA in Cerritos, where Hahn was planning to build a shopping center. As Hahn already owned the property, that Agency had no role in selecting him to be the developer. Mrs. Falk withdrew her statement and apologized to Burns. Nonetheless, the previously unmentioned Cerritos history showed Burns indeed had a connection with Hahn years before he took a position in Santa Rosa, where he advanced Hahn as the sole viable developer.
4 The same local promoters, Crossaxe Promotions, brought Butch Whacks back in October for a concert pairing the band with Pablo Cruise. That one was held at the Santa Rosa High School auditorium instead of the Cal which meant a permit was required, and reportedly the promoters had to assure the city it was not a theater fundraiser.
5 Besides Eivin Falk, the “Save the Cal” committee was Harry DeLope (President), Jack Spiegelman, Fred Barclay and Oma Carpenter.

6 “Murphy’s decision indicated Santa Rosa’s charter and city code provide for the exercise of the right of initiative and referendum while the state Community Redevelopment Law provides for legal action as the exclusive remedy. In cases where such conflict occurs, Murphy said, jurisdiction will be decided by ‘whether the subject matter is a municipal affair or whether it is of statewide concern.’ Murphy’s decision that the question was one of statewide concern resulted in a ruling for the city.” (Press Democrat, March 31, 1976)
7 The issue of the Corte Madera mall was introduced in the previous chapter, where Hahn was threatening a $17.5 million suit if he couldn’t build there. He did file a $10M suit alleging “inverse condemnation.” The Marin project was initially proposed to be 1.2 million sq. ft. but when The Village at Corte Madera was eventually built by Hahn’s company it was pared down to roughly a third the size.
The Cal Theater in 1928, when it was also still known as the G&S. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library
The Cal Theater in 1928, when it was also still known as the G&S. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library
Cal Theater interior. Image courtesy Larry Lapeere Collection
Cal Theater interior. Image courtesy Larry Lapeere Collection

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000-postcard

AN UNMITIGATED NUISANCE

From c. 1888 to 1909, Santa Rosa had a flourishing redlight district just two blocks from Courthouse Square. City leaders not only tolerated its presence but encouraged it, even legalizing something very much like modern-day Nevada style prostitution.

Recently (Oct. 20, 2022) I presented a webinar on its history for the Historical Society of Santa Rosa, “Turn on Your Red Light,” drawing from material I’ve published over the last fifteen years here at SantaRosaHistory.com. Below are links to articles which explore all of the topics in greater depth and supplement the webinar presentation.



 

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WHEN WE ALL MET DOWNTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT   A brass band played on the courthouse balcony as families wearing their “Sunday best” came downtown to shop on Saturday nights. Here’s another description that appeared in the Press Democrat:

“One of the biggest crowds that have attended Saturday night band concerts in Santa Rosa in the past, listened to the music rendered by the Santa Rosa Band in front of the court house and the other attraction provided by the merchants at the other end of the street. It consisted of moving pictures, illustrated songs and other features of entertainment in the Hopper Block, The pictures were thrown on a large canvass against a building on one side of the street. The crowd of spectators was a dense one, completely blockading the thoroughfare at times” (Press Democrat, June 11, 1905).

Color postcard of the courthouse courtesy Denise Hill.

 

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SANTA ROSA’S QUEST FOR A HEART   “Kroncke’s Park” drew up to 1,500 visitors to Santa Rosa each Sunday. As these special excursion trains continued, problems mounted because the trips were attracting more and more trouble-makers.

 

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MORALITY LAWS APPLY TO THEE, NOT TO ME   In the webinar I skipped over most of the 1890s except for the anecdote about the Rev. John B. Reid Jr. In 1892 he was voted in as permanent pastor of the Presbyterian church in Santa Rosa, then fired in 1895 because he “greatly displeased some of the wealthiest members of the congregation” with his sermons against “dancing, card-playing and other matters.”

The first mention of the redlight district was in 1892, when the City Council discussed a building under construction on D Street between Second and Third. A citizen protested there were “other houses of ill fame which have been for some time running on D street in open defiance of the law” (Sonoma Democrat, April 23 1892). In 1897 someone wrote a letter to editor complaining about “an unmitigated nuisance that has been maintained in our neighborhood for several years. The nuisance alluded to is the houses of ill-fame located in the vicinity of D, First and Second streets. Nearly all these houses — all we believe with but one exception, are owned by citizens of the city, who are renting them to women in violation of law, to be used for purposes of assignation and prostitution.” (Sonoma Democrat, May 29 1897).

 

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THE END OF THE OTHER NEWSPAPER   In 1904 the Santa Rosa Republican was leased to W.B. Reynolds and W. H. James, muckraking journalists who set about to expose Santa Rosa being something of the Sin City of the North Bay. If not for their abrupt departure after the 1906 earthquake, there can be little doubt that they would have followed the lead of the San Francisco papers and call for Grand Jury hearings on the town’s political elite for graft and corruption.

 

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WIDE-OPEN TOWN   In August 1905 the Santa Rosa Republican published an exposé of saloon gambling that left no question that Santa Rosa had become a deeply corrupt place. The “Wide-Open Town” series has four chapters.

 

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SALOON TOWN   There were probably about 35 saloons in Santa Rosa during 1905. About a dozen saloons each were clustered around the train station and Courthouse Square. The places closer to the courthouse seemed to appeal to men from the town’s business class and gamblers visiting Santa Rosa. The ones closest to Railroad Square apparently catered to a rougher crowd.

 

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THE YEAR SANTA ROSA LEGALIZED PROSTITUTION   The City Council approved the ordinance in secret session – with no public notice or citizen debate – so we don’t know the reason for their decision. Although it was likely because of complaints about venereal disease, the reason given in the newspapers was that it was somehow better than having the police do a monthly shakedown of the brothels for liquor sale violations. (The account of Doc Summerfield poisoning himself with a drug used to treat syphilis can be found here.)

 

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MISS FARMER’S NEIGHBORS   If you asked Nancy Lou Farmer about her neighbors, you’d better have some time to spare. Miss Farmer taught sixth and seventh grade at the Fremont School, seen here in 1907 or 1908.

 

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HOW DO YOU CLOSE A TENDERLOIN?   In the 1908 elections, Santa Rosa voters that year had to choose between two radically different slates. On one side was a “fusion” ticket created jointly by the Democratic and Republican parties that represented the old guard that had long held a political grip over the town. Running against them was a new grassroots coalition of progressives and prohibitionists, led in part by Luther Burbank. Both sides wanted to shutter the redlight district, but on the very morning of election day, the fusion candidate for mayor announced he had a trick up his sleeve. See also: ELECTION 1908: THE WRONG ROAD TAKEN

 

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LET’S DUMP THE PROSTITUTES ON THE ITALIAN DISTRICT   Following the city elections of 1908, the clique that ran the town wanted to keep the red light district around at all costs. The craziest idea was to create a tenderloin district on West Sixth Street in the Italian section of town: “…This would leave them within the city limits and thus under police control, and yet they would be away from practically everybody.”

 

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TENDERLOIN CRACKDOWN   Finally in April 1909, the state supreme court upheld the Farmer decision and ruled a property owner may not injure his neighbor by permitting his premises to be used for prostitution. But that didn’t stop the property owners for trying to find a loophole.

 

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ALL ROADS ALWAYS LEAD TO THE ROADHOUSE   From 1910 on, the roadhouse and its offshoots took more of a central role in Sonoma County history. But increasingly activities in the unincorporated parts of the county would be tied to more serious crimes, including prostitution.

 

Other items from the webinar I mentioned in the Q&A section:

 

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THE HOME FOR DELINQUENT WOMEN   In the early 1920s the state turned the mansion at the old Buena Vista winery near the town of Sonoma into the “California Industrial Farm for Women.” Prostitutes were to be held under an indefinite quarantine because they had venereal diseases considered nearly incurable at the time. Correction: in the Q&A I said inmates were sent to the farm before the U.S. entered WWI. A plan was being formed at that time, but the first women did not arrive until 1922.

 

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WHITE SLAVERY IN SONOMA COUNTY?   A woman in El Verano was arrested in 1909 for having forced her teenage sister into prostitution. For more on El Verano prostitution and other vice, see: THE VILLAGE OF VICE IN THE VALLEY OF THE MOON

 

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A GLIMPSE OF SANTA ROSA’S UNDERWORLD   The Santa Rosa Republican began publishing more items from the police blotter in 1907, although the paper still couldn’t bear admitting in print that there were prostitutes in town; the women were instead described euphemistically as vagrants, a “tenderloin habitue,” or a “member of the demi-monde.”

 

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THE SHORT CRAZY SUMMER OF DAREDEVIL DOOLEY   Of all the events at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds I’ve read about in the old newspapers, there’s one I’d have truly loved to have attended: On July 4, 1918, Ed Dooley and another driver slammed their massive cars together head-on at an impact speed of 100 MPH, the men jumping out at the last second. At age 39, Dooley had never done anything like this before; he was a portly ex-salesman who apparently woke up one morning and decided he was fearless. Correction: in the Q&A I said this happened in 1914, but the correct year was 1918.

 

A gag postcard mailed from Santa Rosa, July 8, 1910. On the back, “Milt” tells Miss Pederson in Napa he is “feeling blue.”
A gag postcard mailed from Santa Rosa, July 8, 1910. On the back, “Milt” tells Miss Pederson in Napa he is “feeling blue.”

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