lakejonive1908

LOSING THE LOVELY LAKE JONIVE

Once upon a time Sebastopol had a popular and beautiful lake until the town turned it into an open cesspool. As the saying goes, this is why we can’t have nice things.

A small remnant of the lake can still be seen during the rainy season at the intersection of High School and Occidental Roads but more than a century ago it was year-round. Here’s how the Sebastopol Times described it in 1903: “A beautiful body of water a mile long, 150 feet wide, and from 20 to 30 feet deep, boarded with oaks, willows, etc., is situated within a mile of town and is a favorite place for bathing, boating, and fishing.” Five years earlier a tourist praised in the Sebastopol Times its “crystal laughing waters” which seems a bit embroidered, but it’s safe to presume it was a very pleasant place.

(RIGHT: Colored postcard of Lake Jonive in 1908. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library)

It was known as Lake Jonive (“strangers will take notice that it is pronounced ‘Ho-nee-va,'” the Press Democrat noted in a promotional supplement, adding a syllable lost today). The papers also called it the Lagoon or simply the Laguna, although that shorthand was also used in other stories about plans to drain the entire Laguna de Santa Rosa plain – more about that in a moment.

The Sonoma County Library has about twenty photographs of Lake Jonive, mostly from around 1900 and mostly showing people boating. The photo marked “Pleasure Resort” shows the swimmer’s diving tower and wooden landing where all those women with elaborate, flowery hats rented boats from Joe Moran’s family, on the western shore. Other snapshots show couples lounging on the lake banks, which was also where crews of hop pickers pitched tents during the harvest season. No anglers are pictured but it was a very popular fishing hole where anyone could catch salmon and steelhead, carp (which appeared after a 1878 flood washed them out of a private pond), bass and catfish (which were introduced in following years in efforts to kill the carp). “From the clear waters of this body have been caught salmon-trout that filled the sportsman’s heart with joy,” boasted a promotional article in the 1902 Sebastopol Times.

The last known photo dates from 1912, which may be because the following year Lake Jonive was thick with dead and dying fish.

“I have never seen anything like it in my life,” Deputy Health Officer John L. Gist told the Press Democrat. “I have seen fish but the number and the size–some of them immense–and such queer actions. I have never noticed before in all my experience. There were a great many dead fish on top of the water from some cause. There were hundreds and hundreds of fish, all wiggling and with their mouths open as if they wanted to get out of the water to reach air.”

Water samples and dead fish were sent to San Francisco for analysis. Unfortunately, we don’t know the results; the Santa Rosa papers didn’t mention the topic again, and there is no Sebastopol Times microfilm for 1913. But the fish were clearly gasping for air because they were asphyxiating – the lake was so polluted the water was nearly dead from lack of oxygen. Part of the blame likely goes to the canneries; apple pomace sucks up lots of O2 as it decays, not to mention the peels having residual lead arsenate from the insecticides used in that era. What was mainly killing the lake, however, was the 100,000 gallons of untreated septic tank effluent Sebastopol was pumping into the southern end of the lake every day.

In the years around the turn of the century, Sebastopol was perpetually on the verge of a major public health crisis. Following a diphtheria outbreak in 1898 there were calls to do something about the sewage problem. Homes had an outhouse or cesspool and since most of the town is built on a slope, any overflow or leaks flowed down the street or on to a downhill neighbor’s property – and maybe into their private well. A few years later a Sebastopol Times editorial commented the smell was “the most detestable foulness imaginable.” Once the town incorporated in 1902 efforts were quickly undertaken to buy equipment to pump the failing cesspools and three years later, bonds were sold to build an actual sewer system, which terminated in a big wooden septic tank slightly north of today’s Teen Center on Morris street. From late 1906 everything collected there was flushed directly into Lake Jonive without any treatment. This system remained in place until 1929.

(By the way: Except for the events of 1912 and 1913, most of the research here comes from John Cummings, who wrote several excellent papers on Sebastopol history which are available for download from SSU. If you’re interested in this topic or Sebastopol history in general I encourage you to explore them.)

Sebastopol’s toilets may have been the main culprit in the killing of Lake Jonive, but there were other threats. Over the course of three generations – from 1877 to 1946 – there were numerous plans to drain the Laguna and reclaim the fertile soil for cultivation. The proposal in early 1913 was to blast a four-mile canal between the lake and the Russian River. The Santa Rosa papers commented that property owners were enthusiastic because the land “has no particular value” as it was.

(RIGHT: Swimmers in Lake Jonive in 1909. Kids, don’t swallow the water. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Like most of these half-baked schemes, the 1913 plan didn’t get out of the preliminary stages. One that did find some traction came in 1929, when Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley and L. C. Cnopius of Sebastopol blasted a half-mile ditch between their properties which resulted in Lake Jonive – or what remained of it, by then – dropping eighteen inches. Finley also led efforts during the Great Depression to get the state involved in a works project to drain the entire Laguna de Santa Rosa. More about that can likewise be found in the Cummings papers.

While sewage poisoned the lake and reclamation projects repeatedly threatened to destroy it altogether, neither explain what reduced Lake Jonive to its relatively puddle-like size. In a 1955 story on local history, the Sebastopol Times quoted a member of the Moran family as saying, “when [Sebastopol] put in the sewer plant it encouraged weeds to grow and silt filled it in.” Another significant factor was garbage – next to the sewer farm was the town dump, which covered roughly the area around today’s Community Center, park and ball field.

There were apparently no restrictions on what could be thrown there and whenever there were heavy rains the tin cans, bottles and other lighter trash washed into the lake. In 1926 the city council declared it an “unsightly mess” and imposed fees (75¢ for an abandoned car, please). Sebastopol didn’t close the dump until 1966, and then only after strong pressure from the county health department citing both Russian river water contamination and air pollution from the dump’s incinerator.

Lake Jonive was Sebastopol’s jewel, an irreplaceable treasure which the town and canneries killed in just six years. There’s irony in noting it was 1910 – smack in the middle of the tragedy – when the town held its very first Gravenstein Apple Show, promoting the apple industry’s special relationship with the community. Such a pity that was the only thing that Sebastopol thought was worth celebrating.

PLAN TO CUT CHANNEL FOR WATERS OF LAGUNA
Project Would Reclaim Two Thousand Acres of Land

Parties interested in the drainage of the lands lying along the water course in western Sonoma county, known as the laguna, have planned to hold a mass meeting at the office of the Leppo Realty Company, on Fourth street, at 10 o’clock on the morning of January 4th. To this meeting all persons owning land along the laguna and adjacent thereto are urged to be present and take part in the discussions.

It is planned to cut a channel in the laguna to guide the waters straight to the river, and not permit them to overflow hundreds of acres each winter, as they have done for hundreds of years past. This annual inundation of these lands have deposited a rich sediment there, but it has made it impossible to farm them. When a channel has been cut to carry off this water and confine it to a narrow bed, these hundreds of acres will be reclaimed, and they will be among the most valuable and productive in the entire country.

Contractors will be in attendance at this meeting and submit plans and estimates for doing the work, and if arrangements are made they will be in position to speedily undertake and carry out the contract. This will give for farming purposes from 1500 to 2000 acres of lance, which is now considered waste, because of the annual overflow, which makes it impossible to get crops therefrom.

The channel which it is proposed to cut will be 25 feet wide and not less than 6 feet deep at any portion of the stream. This will give an abundant passageway for confining the waters of the laguna, and prevent them from spreading over these hundreds of acres, destroying their usefulness from a productive standpoint. This will give a direct channel from Sebastopol to Russian river, and make a water course of about six miles, on which the people of the Sebastopol section could maintain launches and other small craft. This straight channel will give an opportunity for fish to come from the river, and so stock the streams tributary to the laguna, and will provide the local fishermen with an exceptional abundance of sport along that favorite line.

Contractors who are willing to undertake the work of cutting the channel will present their proposition to the property owners at the meeting on January 4th, and it is certain that the reclaiming of this quantity of land will add materially to the wealth of Sonoma county and to its taxable property, besides becoming valuable for the owners, where not it has no particular value. The project is one of far reaching importance, and it is hoped that every one residing along the stream will attend the meeting.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 27, 1912

 

CONSIDER PLAN DRAIN LAGUNA
Seek to Reclaim About 2,000 Acres of Fertile Farm Land in the Gold Ridge Section

To recover about two thousand acres of land by draing the Laguna de Santa Rosa was the proposition discussed at a meeting of the property owners adjoining the Laguna, held on Saturday morning. It is proposed to cut a channel from the Laguna to the Russian river, a distance of about four miles. This will enable the water to be carried off and the rich land placed under cultivation.

The meeting was called to order and J. D. Baliff was chosen chairman…F. C. Stauvel was appointed to take up the matter with the remaining property owners to see if they would join in defraying the cost.

Two methods were discussed to put the proposed ditch through. One was by dredger and the other by dynamite. The latter was favored as being more economical. It is thought that there will be about four miles that will have to be dredged. The project is a large one and the property owners are very enthusiastic about it.

– Press Democrat, January 5, 1913

 

MANY FISH DEAD AND DYING IN LAKE JONIVE ON MONDAY

County Health Officer S. S. Bogle received a telephone message Monday morning from the Lake Jonive section near Sebastopol, stating that for some unknown cause all the fish were dying in Lake Jonive, and asking that the matter be given immediate attention. Dr. Bogle sent Deputy Health Officer John L. Gist to the scene and the officer found that the report was correct. The top of the water of the lake was thick with all kinds of fish, Mr. Gist says. There were immense black bass, carp and catfish, and some smaller ones too, but hundreds of them, wiggling about in the water with their mouths open as if gasping for air, and all presumably endeavoring to get to a fresh water stream at another end of the lake.

“I have never seen anything like it in my life. I have seen fish but the number and the size–some of them immense–and such queer actions. I have never noticed before in all my experience. There were a great many dead fish on top of the water from some cause. There were hundreds and hundreds of fish, all wiggling and with their mouths open as if they wanted to get out of the water to reach air. It beat anything you can imagine.

“Unlike the shyness fish usually exhibit when an angler is after them, these shoals of fish came right towards us. They all seemed to be wanting to get to the fresh water. I telephone and get Deputy Fish and Game Commissioner Henry Lencioni to come over from Santa Rosa and when he arrived he was just as surprised as I was. He could not fathom the cause of the trouble any more than I could. We discovered that some distance further up the Laguna the water from the septic tanks of the Sebastopol sewer system empties into the Laguna which passes through Lake Jonive. Draining from the wineries and some pomace has been passing through the sewer into the water. I think possibly some matter may have gotten into the lake from this source. The fish looked as if they were intoxicated. We got several samples of water from the place where the septic tank water empties into the Laguna, then we got some further down and also a sample from the fish pond. We also caught some of the fish and the water and fish we are going to take to the analyst in San Francisco for examination tomorrow. Then we shall know what has caused this unusual stir among the fish in Lake Jonive. I had been told that a person could not catch fish in the Lake. There were certainly enough of them, dead and living, yesterday.”

– Press Democrat, November 11, 1913

 

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THE MELANCHOLY MILLIONAIRE OF LOS GUILICOS

On the train to Santa Rosa a little over a century ago, you might have exchanged a nod of recognition without knowing who he was. His was a sort-of-familiar face, someone who could be spotted going or coming several times a year, maybe with his wife and daughter or the two young men who were his sons. But once the train arrived, the portly middle-aged man vanished; he couldn’t be found at any of the hotels or bending his elbow at any of Santa Rosa’s many saloons. He wasn’t at card parties or lodge hall dances. He didn’t hobnob at all. Probably not a soul on the trains knew they were looking at Thomas Kearns, the millionaire owner of Los Guilicos.

Official Residence Of The Governor Of Utah Postcard

Kearns had one of those incredible 19th century rags-to-riches life stories. In 1883, legend has it, he was farmhand pitching hay; six years later he was one of the owners of the Silver King mine, then the most valuable silver mine in the world. With his boundless wealth he built an extravagant Salt Lake City home for his family in 1902, which today is the Utah Governor’s Mansion (see postcard at right). Three years later he bought the William Hood House and ranch at Los Guilicos.

Unlike the family’s opulent Utah mansion, the farmhouse near Kenwood was nothing special; it’s unclear if it had been updated since its pre-Civil War construction, or even if electricity was available in 1905. Kearns hired architect William Willcox to expand and modernize the place, but he also took a hands-on approach, working with a Santa Rosa cabinetmaker to design and build a massive 14-foot dining room table and sideboard cabinet. (Photo of the table is below, and the cabinet can be viewed in the previous article.)

From mentions in the Press Democrat column on arrivals and departures we know that Kearns and his family spent quite a bit of time here, including the complete summer of 1905, which was before renovations started. There were some years where he or his wife could be found at Los Guilicos nearly half of the time, particularly after the remodeling ended in 1908. It was a true second home and not a vacation getaway; the Kearns’ should properly be considered locals – their sons even went to college at Santa Clara rather than in Utah or out east. In “Sketches of the Inter-Mountain States,” the 1909 history of Utah and neighboring states, his equal residence in California was acknowledged: “Senator Kearns and his family reside in a magnificent home on East Brigham Street, in Salt Lake City, and at one of the finest ranches in California, near Santa Rosa.”

Yet curiously, this side of his life is rarely, if ever, mentioned in modern profiles, including his book-length biography. Because of that, some of the most interesting questions about Kearns are unanswered and even unasked: Why did he want a house in Sonoma County, where the family apparently had no friends, family, political connections or business interests? And once he owned Hood House, why did he spend so much time here, so far from the life he had struggled to make for himself and everyone he knew? The answer to his Rosebud secret probably lies in the late winter of 1905.

Given his wealth and wealth of connections, it would be surprising if Thomas Kearns had not become a politician. He knew three presidents and hosted a dinner for President Teddy Roosevelt at his Salt Lake City mansion. Consider, for ex, the nexus of money and power revealed in just this one deal: Senator William A. Clark of Montana sought help from Kearns in extending his railway line from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. (Clark was a man so remarkably corrupt that Mark Twain wrote, “He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag,” and also looked just like Conan O’Brien wearing a cheap fake beard, which is conclusive proof that he was a person of low character.) Also involved in the railroad deal was Richard C. Kerens, who was on the National Republican Committee and a personal friend of Kerns. Our very first glimpse of Kerns in Sonoma County comes from a 1906 PD article about Kerns showing off his new place to his pal (misspelled as “Kernes” in the transcription below).

A TWO-THIRDS TERM SENATOR

Thomas Kearns was a U.S. Senator from Utah between 1901 and 1905, filling out the four years remaining on an unexpired term. Many in the LDS church would have liked the seat go to a member of their faith, but just two years earlier a Mormon polygamist had been elected to the House, creating such national uproar that he was expelled immediately after being admitted to Congress. Kearns was politically well-connected with the Republican leadership, and that he was an ardent Roman Catholic “gentile” didn’t hurt a bit. The Mormon hierarchy endorsed Kearns, amid allegations there was a quid pro quo deal for Kearns to buy the Salt Lake Tribune and defang its anti-Mormon slant.

His alliance with the church began crumbling within a year as political fortunes rose for Reed Smoot, who had been talked out of running against Kearns in 1901. The next year Smoot was elected the junior Senator from Utah, despite opposition from Senator Kearns and the rest of the Republican establishment, including President Teddy Roosevelt. Republicans feared Smoot would face a Congressional inquisition similar to the hearings over the polygamist. And indeed, once he was seated, the Senate opened investigations into whether he was a secret polygamist or if his extremely high position in church hierarchy placed him in conflict with his oath of office.

With the end of his term approaching in 1904, Kearns was denied another LDS church endorsement. Supporters of Kearns retaliated by forming the anti-Mormon American Party, and criticism of the church resumed in his Salt Lake Tribune. The political career of Thomas Kearns ended when Senator Reed Smoot convinced the Utah state legislature to replace Kearns with a Mormon (Senators were not yet elected by popular vote). Kearns said farewell to the Senate in his “Conditions in Utah” speech, where he bitterly denounced the power of the Mormon church. He charged the LDS “monarchy” lied repeatedly to the U.S. in order to gain statehood in 1896, falsely claiming polygamy was banned and the church did not meddle in politics.

But Kearns had no fervent political loyalties. Earlier he made large contributions to both parties, first to the Democrats in 1896 because he supported candidate William Jennings Bryan’s demand for currency using silver, and then to the Republicans in 1900 when it was clear that the McKinley-Roosevelt ticket would win the White House. He was fond of going to conventions and speechified on behalf of his friend Teddy Roosevelt at every opportunity. That he served in the Senate at all was a bit of a fluke, as discussed in the sidebar.

Kearns’ stint in the Senate was uneventful, perhaps because it was so short. No legislation bears his name, and what bills he introduced were pork barrel giveaways for special interests in Utah. He asked for 20 acres be given to his wife’s aunt for a home for old miners; he wanted to open up part of an Indian reservation for mining. An old military fort received an upgrade. It was all apparently small matters like that. A researcher would need to drill down to the voting records to find what issues he supported or opposed and if not for the passion exhibited in his infamous farewell speech, one might think he didn’t really want the job at all.

When the Mormons declined to support his candidacy for reelection, Kearns felt used and betrayed. He had valid reasons; he had brokered a relationship between the Republican party and LDS church long sought by Mormon leaders (a good paper on this topic can be read here) and found patronage jobs in Washington for Mormons. He had vowed to oppose any proposed constitutional amendment against polygamy. He had purchased the Salt Lake Tribune and quashed its LDS criticism (although there’s no proof church leaders demanded he do so). And probably most bitterly, he had been used as a stalking horse to ease the way for Utah to have two Mormon senators. Kearns’ “Et tu, Brute” moment came when Utah’s junior senator, Reed Smoot, personally led the Utah politicking to oust Kearns and replace him with his friend and fellow Mormon, George Sutherland. Smoot drove the knife in further with his remarks about Kearns’ farewell speech, adding an ethnic slur: “It certainly was a spectacle to see Kearns deliver his speech yesterday. It made the people from Utah ashamed that there was such a person as Tom Kearns claiming to be a citizen of Utah. His speech was written in English and delivered in Irish.”

Thus Hood House might also be nicknamed, “Kearns’ Redoubt.” His four-year ascent into politics had ended with an abrupt and humiliating crash, through no fault of his own. He apparently purchased the Los Guilicos estate shortly thereafter. In the summer that followed he probably saw the roomy home with bucolic views of Sonoma Valley as a fine place to lick wounds and drift in melancholy. Years later Santa Rosa newspapers frequently mentioned he was entertaining friends from Utah, and you can bet their small talk tread lightly around some topics of political gossip, particularly the sore point of his own fall from greatness as the Catholic who lost his Mormon blessings.

In hindsight, we can see everyone lost when Kearns was forced out of the Senate, including the Latter-Day Saints church.

The Senate allowed Reed Smoot to be seated, but opened hearings on his fitness to stay. The Smoot hearings dragged on for three years, and became a trial of the LDS church itself. Women’s groups nationally lined up against Smoot and Mormonism in an anti-polygamy crusade that smothered Washington in petitions and letters. But over those long three years, anti-Mormon sentiments weakened. President Roosevelt originally commented that Smoot was not fit for office, but by end of 1906 he said the women crusaders were guilty of “persecution” and “hysterical sensationalism.” The New York Times also flipped, denouncing in 1907 opposition to Smoot as “mindless and bigoted”. At the end of it all, a majority of Senators did vote to boot Smoot, but he was admitted because a two-thirds vote was required.

The big loser in this draw were the women’s groups, having lost some popular sympathy as well as momentum in their great fight for suffrage. The LDS church lost because Kearns might have been able to shorten the hearings – or lobby other Senators to drop some of the most damaging lines of inquiry – if he had remained as the senior Senator. In Utah, the Kearns affair boosted opponents of the church and the American Party dominated Salt Lake City politics through the rest of the decade.

The drama also had far-reaching impacts on American history. Senator Smoot was co-author of the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff, which is considered one of the major causes of economic hardship during the early years of the Great Depression. Kearns’ replacement in the Senate, George Sutherland, was eventually appointed to the Supreme Court, where he became the leader of the “Four Horsemen,” a reactionary bloc that sought to overturn FDR’s New Deal programs for recovery. The four Justices were frequently hung in effigy at political rallies.

Kearns didn’t live to see what would become of Smoot and Sutherland two decades later; he died in 1918, shortly after he sold Hood House. I would like to think his ghost is still rattling chains in those empty rooms of the place he must have thought of as a sanctum. I would like to think his ghost is having a good chuckle over the two men who destroyed his political life becoming two of the most hated politicians in America.

Fourteen-foot dining room table designed and built by Santa Rosa cabinetmaker F. S. Smith in 1909 for Senator and Mrs. Kearns. Other photographs of the sideboard and dining room can be found in the original article on Hood HousePhoto courtesy Mark Parry/Artisan Architecture

MILLIONAIRES IN SANTA ROSA NOW
Senator and Prominent Chicago Railway Magnate in Party

Former United States Senator and Mrs. Thomas Kearns of Salt Lake City, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. R. C. Kernes [sic], Miss Kernes and Miss Baney of St. Louis, and Miss Bettinger of St. Joseph, Mo., are at the St. Rose. The party came up to the Senator’s Los Guillicos [sic] ranch yesterday morning and were met at Kenwood by automobiles from Santa Rosa. After a visit to the ranch the party were taken for a ride through the valley and then for a visit to the grounds of Luther Burbank.

Mr. Kernes is a prominent railroad man from St. Louis and the fact that he is visiting through the Sonoma Valley has given rise to the suspicion that he may be inspecting the line of the proposed electric railroad from Sonoma to Santa Rosa, which is believed to be part of a through line to the bay or to connect with the other lines planned to cross the lower end of the county en route from San Francisco to Lake county with a view of investing in the enterprise. It is known that he was given a good opportunity to see all the advantages of the valley while taking the automobile ride.

– Press Democrat, March 28, 1906
A HANDSOME HAND MADE DININGROOM SET

F. S. Smith of 1209 Ripley street has just completed at his place and has ready for delivery a handsome natural oak dining room set for Senator and Mrs. Thomas Kearns of Kenwood. The dining table is a massive affair weighing 850 pounds, and is six feet square closed. It can be extended to fourteen feet and is one of the most attractive pieces of furniture ever seen in this city. The buffet, serving table, pedestal and dozen chairs are all made to match. The whole set is handwork by Mr. Smith, and were worked up from designs he drew and submitted to Senator and Mrs. Kearns for approval prior to receiving the order.

– Press Democrat, July 11, 1909
THE KEARNS FAMILY HAVE RETURNED
Senator and Mrs. Thomas Kearns Entertain Cardinal Gibbons and Other Catholic Church Dignitaries

Former United States Senator and Mrs. Thomas Kearns and family and Miss Bess Faddies have returned to their beautiful country home in the Los Guilicos Valley, from Salt Lake City. They went to Salt Lake recently to be present at the dedication of the new Roman Catholic Cathedral there, one of the most costly and handsomest edifices in the west.

At their Salt Lake City residence Senator and Mrs. Kearns had the honor of entertaining His Eminence Cardinal Gibbons, who dedicated the cathedral. They had other distinguished guests, including several of the Bishops and other dignitaries of the church.

– Press Democrat, August 28, 1909

The many local friends of Senator and Mrs. Thomas Kearns will be pleased to know that they expect to spend the Christmas holidays at their very hospitable home “Kearns Ranch” in Sonoma Valley. They will have a large house party of relatives and friends to enjoy the holidays with them. Mrs. Kearns is expected back from New York about the first of December.

– “Society Gossip,” Press Democrat, November 21, 1909

The two sons of Senator and Mrs. Thomas Kearns will be here from Santa Clara College to spend the Christmas holidays. Senator Kearns will also join the family for celebration of the holidays at the beautiful Kearns residence at Los Guilocos [sic].

– “Society Gossip,” Press Democrat, December 19, 1909
DELIGHTFUL EVENT AT KEARNS RANCH
Party Given by Senator and Mrs. Kearns in Honor of Miss Clara Driscoll

At the picturesque Kearns ranch last night there was a brilliant party at which Senator and Mrs. Thos. Kearns were “at home” to many invited guests. The function was arranged in honor of Miss Clara Driscoll who is visiting the Kearns ranch from her home in Salt Lake City.

Many guests from this city drove out to Los Guillicos to enjoy the delightful hospitality and participate in the many pleasures of the evening. Mrs. Kearns, as usual, entertained with the cordial and lavish hospitality for which the home is known far and wide.

After the hour devoted to the reception during which all the guests had the pleasure of a formal introduction to Miss Driscoll, dancing was enjoyed in the ball room adjoining the mansion. Later an elaborate supper was served.

– Press Democrat, December 29, 1909

Mrs. Thomas Kearns expects to leave for Salt Lake City about January 15. The Hearns have a magnificent home there and it is like ‘Kearns Ranch’ near this city, one of the most hospitable of homes. I overheard Mrs. Kearns telling some friends at the Overton party the other evening how much she and Senator Kearns enjoyed their picturesque county mansion in the Los Guilocos [sic] Valley. Thanks to them many Santa Rosa friends have been afforded much pleasure there, too.

– “Society Gossip,” Press Democrat, January 9, 1910
SENATOR THOS. KEARNS HERE FROM SALT LAKE

Former United States Senator Thomas Kearns has arrived here from Salt Lake City, accompanied by Mrs. Kearns, and is spending a few days at his beautiful country home near this city, Kearns Ranch. Since his last visit here Senator Kearns has made several trips East and has been a very busy man. He is delighted with the appearance of things in Sonoma county at the present time.

– Press Democrat, April 7, 1910

The week of festivity will be auspiciously ushered in by the reception and high tea Sunday afternoon, at which Mrs. Thomas Kearns will entertain in honor of her sister, Mrs. Gallivan, a charming woman of Salt Lake City, who is here to spend the summer. The hours of the function are from four to seven o’clock and many Santa Rosans are included in the invitation list. They will drive to Kearns Ranch or will take the afternoon train from this city. Of course, it goes without saying that Mrs. Kearns’ attractive hospitality will be delightfully exerted. The hostess and her guests were wishing Saturday when the threatening raindrops fell that sunshine would abound for the happy hours to be spent at Kearns Ranch.

– “Society Gossip,” Press Democrat, May 1, 1910

KEARNS RANCH, the delightful country seat of Senator and Mrs. Thomas Kearns near this city, was the scene last Sunday afternoon of a reception given by Mrs. Kearns in honor of her sister, Mrs. Gallivan, a charming woman from Salt Lake City.

With its commodious rooms, richly furnished and arranged in luxury and comfort, the Kearns home is an ideal one for entertaining. It was specially so on this occasion as the affair partook of an outdoor party on the beautiful grounds where Nature has aided the landscape gardner in a distribution of majestic oaks, shrubbery and flowers in all their glory.

After meeting Mrs. Gallivan, the motif for the function, and the hostess Mrs. Kearns, who received their guests on the veranda beneath a clustering rose vine, which was a riotous mass of sweet-scented rosebuds, the guests wandered at will among the flowerbeds and amid a wilderness of roses–at Kearns Ranch during the blossoming time it is a continuous rose carnival–rested on the rustic benches or in the hammocks or swing seats in the shade of the overhanging branches of trees. It was an afternoon of sunshine and everything looked its best. Music, sweet and an allurement to pleasure, mingled very effectively with the enjoyment of the rambles through the grounds. It was furnished by a large orchestra stationed in a leafy nook on the lawn. During the hours of the reception and during the serving of high tea the orchestra played, Miss McDermott presided over the punch-bowl, serving the guests with delicious refreshment.

At tea the guests assembled in the large reception rooms, where tasteful bouquets of roses and other blooms gave a delightful finish to the pretty scene. In serving Miss Bess Faddis, Miss Clara Einhorn, Miss Geraldine Grace, Miss Wickson, Miss Elizabeth McDermott and Miss Helen Kearns were among those assisting.

Mrs. Kearns and Miss Wickson ex- [missing line of type] people from Santa Rosa, Kenwood, San Francisco and other places. Many of those invited drove down to the Kearns home in automobiles and others came by train and in vehicles. Mrs. Kearns was a much complimented hostess. She could not have entertained more effectively.

Mr. Kearns and Miss Wickson expect to leave shortly for Salt Lake City where they will spend some time. They will return before the summer is over, however, to pass several months here.

– “Society Gossip,” Press Democrat, May 8, 1910
MRS. KEARNS RETURNS FROM SALT LAKE

Mrs. Thomas Kearns returned to her beautiful country home, Kearns Ranch, near this city, on Saturday night after an extended absence in Salt Lake City as well as on a  trip to the East. Mrs. Kearns expects to spend a considerable portion of the summer in Sonoma county. She went to Santa Clara College on Monday to attend the commencement. The Kearns boys are students at Santa Clara. Mrs. Kearns’ many friends are glad to welcome her back.

– Press Democrat, June 21, 1910

The week opened very auspiciously with the dinner party at Kearns Ranch…The scene in the spacious dining room of the Kearns mansion was fascinating in the extreme when the guests entered to the strains of music from an orchestra. They stepped into a lovely bower of flowers and light with the immense round table artistically set with its silver and glass and its clusters of daintily shaded candelabra, occupying the center. The rich old oak ceiling and the oak-panelled sides of the room were set off with bright adornments of flowers and more candelabra. It would be hard to picture a more alluring effect from a decorative standpoint or a greater incentive to appetite as one course followed another during the two hours the guests sat at the table enjoying the delightful menu and the intermingling chit chat, story and orchestral music.

The pretty place cards at each corner were set off with a miniature of an ocean liner, this latter feature particularly complimentary to Miss Wright in view of her coming voyage…

– “Society Gossip,” Press Democrat, July 3, 1910
SEN. THOMAS KEARNS IS HERE FOR A VISIT

Former United States Senator Thomas Kearns of Salt Lake City is here for a visit of several weeks at his beautiful country home “Kearns Ranch” near Kenwood. Senator Kearns is a man of much prominence financially as well as politically and is the head of the American party which in Utah has given battle to the Mormon forces. He is a mining man, and owns a large amount of property in Salt Lake, in addition to several newspapers, and other public service enterprises.

– Press Democrat, July 13, 1910
SENATOR KEARNS RETURNS FROM SALT LAKE CITY

Senator Thomas Kearns has returned from Salt Lake and is now at his country home, the Kearns Ranch near Kenwood. Mrs. Kearns has been spending the past week in San Francisco awaiting the arrival of the Senator and they have both returned. The Senator is a busy man and will only remain here for a few days and then he and Mrs. Kearns will go east to stay until after the holidays.

– Press Democrat, October 10, 1910
SENATOR KEARNS AND WIFE HERE FOR A VISIT

Former United States Senator and Mrs. Kearns arrived from Utah on Sunday at their beautiful country home, Kearns Ranch, near this city. Senator Kearns took an active part in the recent elections in Utah, and otherwise has been very busy with the handling of his immense interests. He enjoys a visit to his picturesque estate in the Sonoma Valley, where he is carrying out many improvements. Thomas Kearns is also here and is feeling much better. He recently underwent an operation for appendicitis.

– Press Democrat, November 29, 1910

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LAST FROM A LOST ERA

It’s the “last building” many times over, including being one of the last buildings you would ever think was notable. It was the last work in the North Bay of a great architect, and likely one of his last completed designs. It is the last remaining grand lodge hall in Santa Rosa, a survivor from a time when anyone downtown was only a few steps away from the imposing home of Elks or Eagles or other. It is the last building tied to Santa Rosa’s culture during the early Twentieth Century, when most everyone flocked to weekend dances and big parties. It is still there at 404 Mendocino Avenue, and its doors opened on February 25, 1909.

William H. Willcox was an esteemed architect (introduced here) who created quite a storm in the months before the 1906 earthquake. He presented a vision where Santa Rosa might leapfrog San Jose and other up-and-coming Bay Area communities and become a showcase for modern urban development. Santa Rosa Creek was to be transformed into a waterfront park that would be the centerpiece of an expanded downtown that included a convention auditorium large enough to host statewide and even national events. Investors lined up and he was only weeks (days?) away from having enough funding to break ground for the big pavilion when the quake struck. Money immediately dried up as the bankers and speculators concentrated on rebuilding their downtown holdings. The earthquake and fires not only took 77 lives, but also killed off Santa Rosa’s brightest possible future.

He served as Santa Rosa’s building inspector immediately after the quake, a time when a dozen or so architects in San Francisco and Berkeley were winning contracts to design the town’s new hotels and office buildings. As far is known, Willcox received none of this work (although one building appeared to rip off his convention hall design). It’s possible he had jobs in San Francisco, or was too busy because so much on-site supervision was required of him to enlarge and modernize Hood Mansion at Los Guilicos, which was completed in 1908.

Willcox appeared destined to leave no legacy in Santa Rosa at all, so it was surprising to find in the 1909 newspapers that one of his pre-quake designs was actually built and about to open. The building was the lodge hall for the Native Sons of the Golden West (NSGW, to its friends).


Construction of the building apparently began in late 1907, per the medallion on the wall. It could have started much sooner, had the fraternal society not welcomed Santa Rosa to use their vacant lot as the temporary site of a shantytown for city hall and the rest of the civic center in the sixteen months after the quake. During this time gap Willcox modified the design of the building in several ways, and we’re lucky to have a copy of his original drawing as well as his revision.

All versions of the front face – including what was actually built – were equal parts California Mission Revival Style and Romanesque. With its overhanging tile eaves and Spanish-baroque parapet, the roofline was strongly Mission, particularly when there still was a north tower to showcase more tile. Everything below that is Romanesque, but not busy; even today, the archtop ribbon windows against the smooth stucco wall looks clean and modern-ish. Few architects could blend these very different styles so successfully. “Masterpiece” might be going too far, but it’s truly damned impressive.

TOP: Drawing published 1906 (Mar. 4 Press Democrat)
MIDDLE: Drawing
published 1909 (May 6 Republican)
BOTTOM: Circa 1935 postcard

The roof design evolved the most. Originally Willcox plopped a cupola on the north end to be the base for a flagpole. He did much the same in his convention center design, and those two 1906 drawings even show U.S. and state flags fluttering in the same way over the buildings. In the later NSGW drawing, the cupola became a steep pinnacle over columns suggesting a tower with turrets. The California motto, “EUREKA”, was now in framed relief as part of the wall. In the finished version, the pinnacle became squat and more conventional while the turrets became taller and heavier. If you isolated the profile of the northwest corner as shown in the 1935 postcard, it could be the bell tower of a nice Methodist church. Today the north tower is completely gone and as a result, you can’t look at the building from the other side of the street without thinking how strangely lopsided it seems.


On the south end of the roof, design changes were less dramatic. The parapet was simplified and lost its flagpole. Instead, there was a “brilliant electric star that burned on top of the turret outside,” according to the description below. Solomon’s Seal (not a Star of David; the NSGW wasn’t a Jewish group) remained unchanged through all the versions. On the second floor, the Palladian windows at either end of the building became single windows framed by engaged columns, which nicely complimented the entranceway.

With its large upstairs ballroom and banquet facilities, the hall was an immediate hit with the social set, accommodating parties too large – and maybe, too boisterous – for the Saturday Afternoon Clubhouse, which was about Santa Rosa’s only other venue for rent. If you danced before 1940, you danced here. Hardly a week went by in following decades without the papers announcing one or two doings down at Native Sons’ hall, and according to “Santa Rosa’s Architectural Heritage,” the Native Sons of the Golden West only sold the place after it was declared unsafe to continue hosting large gatherings.

Sadly, the only interior view we have shows just the lodge room (besides the large image below, the Sonoma County Library supposedly has a partial view taken from another angle, but the details don’t match). While Willcox went through multiple revisions of the exterior until he elegantly simplified the design, this photo shows a Beaux-Arts mess. Under a breathtaking stained glass skylight were walls smothered with fussy ornament, from swags to thick entablature to oversized corbels to ribbon molding over arches interrupted with band molding. There was an architrave in the arch behind the dais, although that’s the sort of detail you normally only find above the doorway of cathedrals.

In sum: It looked like a wedding cake where the baker kept larding on more layers of mascarpone decorations just to jack up the bill. Except for the skylight, maybe it’s not such a tragedy that the interior has been since remodeled to death and apparently retains no original details (some interior views are available via the leasing agent).

Even while Willcox was collecting Santa Rosa’s praise, he wasn’t collecting money from the City Council that he thought was his due. His lawyer threatened suit over $1,630: $1,000 for plans drawn up before the earthquake for the E street bridge, and $630 for a firehouse design. Whether he was paid or even had a legitimate case is unknown, but Empire Building architect John Galen Howard had also submitted plans for a new fire station, so Willcox probably had cause to believe the city was soliciting designs (the City Council decided to go on the cheap and just build a replica of the old 19th century building). As for the bridge, Willcox had already demanded $300 for the blueprints in 1907, which is probably why the Press Democrat dryly noted, “Mr. Willcox’s claims have been heard from before.”

Willcox probably didn’t work again in the North Bay (although he died twenty years later at the Veteran’s Home in Yountville), but the PD had another little item about him in 1909, noting that he had a commission to design the Elks Hall/office building in Stockton. That turned out to be a nice but undistinguished design in a restrained Beaux Arts style (picture here). He stayed active as an architect through at least part of the 1910s, but it’s unknown if he actually built anything after Stockton. If not, the Native Sons’ hall in Santa Rosa will stand as his last great work.

New Structure on Mendocino Street for Which the Plans Have Just Been Adopted

One of the finest structures to be built in Santa Rosa this year is the handsome Native Sons’ Hall which is to occupy a conspicuous lot within half a block of the Courthouse, on Mendocino street adjoining the Riley property. It will be a building worthy of the advancement and progress of the City of Roses and one that will be redound with credit to Santa Rosa Parlor of Native of Sons of the Golden West [sic], whose home it will be, and an attractive ornament to the city.

As stated in this paper the plans for the building were finally adopted at a meeting of the directors of the Santa Rosa Native Sons’ Hall Association  incorporated, and the accepted design is reproduced in the picture above.

Judge Emmet Seawell is the president of the Board of Directors of the Hall Association. The plans were accepted after very careful consideration, the object being to have a structure that would meet all requirements.

Santa Rosa Parlor has a large and growing membership and the securing of such a commodious and comfortable home, with the additional attraction of the social features that the possession of clubrooms will afford is sure to prove advantageous in an increase of membership. While the social and fraternal sides were considered it was also deemed advisable to see that the building should be made a good financial [illegible microfilm] has been given that it will be so.

The plans adopted call for a two story building, modified Mission style, with handsome entrance and wide stairway to the upper floor. The lower floor will be divided into four stores, 20 feet wide in the clear, with modern plate glass fronts and marble base. The upper floor will include the largest and handsomest lodge room in the city, commodious ante-rooms, handsome club rooms, large banquet hall, with kitchen, pantries, and all necessary conveniences. There will be a stage in the banquet room and a fine floor in the hall for dancing. The estimated cost of the building with the furnishings is $30,000. The plans accepted were those prepared by Architect William H. Willcox of this city.

– Press Democrat, March 4, 1906

NATIVE SONS GATHER IN MAGNIFICENT NEW HOME
Santa Rosa Parlor Officers Are Installed

Santa Rosa Parlor of the Native Sons of the Golden West took formal possession of their fine hall and clubrooms on Thursday night, and right proud are the members over the completion and acquisition of their handsome new home. They have a right to be. The City of Roses is also particularly pleased over the addition of such a noble structure to her newer and greater self.

Thursday night’s installation of the new officers of the Parlor in the new hall was the first regular meeting, for the previous meeting of the parlor held there, was a special one. There was a large gathering of the members present, and they entered heartily into the occasion and its attendant significance. The brilliant electric star that burned on top of the turret outside furnished a suggestion of the welcome inside, and the idea was admired by many who looked up at the lights and were informed of the importance of the gathering within.

Inside and outside the Native Sons’ building presents an attractive appearance. Many citizens have been privileged with an inspection of the building, and have come away expressing their admiration for it. The entrance, with its marble finish, broad stairs and clusters of lights, is very imposing, and a fitting introduction to the fine equipment of the building. The reception hall at the top of the stairs is very neat and right here it can be truthfully said that Architect William H. Willcox planned very cleverly in the arrangement of the building throughout, and is certainly entitled to congratulations. He is personally proud of the successful completion of his plans.

From the hall entrance is gained to the main lodge room, the clubrooms and the dance hall. The lodge room is a beauty. It presents a very attractive picture, particularly with the arch and and dome effects that have been carried out in its construction. The lighting, by stained glass skylight by day, and by a myriad of electric globes by night, is most effective.

The lodge room furnishing is also very tasteful. The mahogany furniture and chairs upholstered in Spanish leather. and the fine Brussels carpet on the floor add a finish that is very pleasing.

Mention has already been made of the dance hall. This will be a thing of beauty and a joy to devotees of the fascinating pastime for years to come. When all is completed and the bevelled mirrors adorn the walls and other artistic furnishings are seen in all their radiance there is no doubt of the popularity of the place for dances and parties. The orchestra will be stationed in the northeast corner of the room.

The same style of elegance that is noted in the other rooms applies to the clubrooms. There is a home-like appearance at once gives the rooms by the large fireplace and its African marble finish. In these rooms there will be billiard tables and other accessories for the pleasure of the members. The possession of this notable home should be the means of bringing into the fold of Santa Rosa Parlor all the available membership.

The banquet room must not be lost sight of, either. It is in the third story, and when fully equipped will be as nice a place for its purpose as could be found anywhere. Then there are the dressing rooms and the other offices, all complete in their details, and designed with the idea of comfort and convenience uppermost.

There is no doubt but that Santa Rosa has one of the finest homes the order has in the Golden West, and there are very few fraternal buildings of the kind to be found anywhere in the state that excell [sic] it.

[..]

– Press Democrat, February 26, 1909
Willcox’s Claims

Attorney G. W. Barlett of San Francisco sent a letter stating that W. H. Willcox, the architect, had referred to him his claim for $630 for plans which Willcox says he once furnished to the city for a fire department station, and $1,000 for plans for the E street bridge. The letter was referred to City Attorney Allison B. Ware for consideration. Mr. Willcox’s claims have been heard from before. Bartlett threatened a suit.

– City Council notes, Press Democrat, September 22, 1909

SANTA ROSA ARCHITECT WINS
Wm. H. Willcox’s Plans for Stockton Elks Hall are Accepted

The plans for the new $100,000 Elks hall and building in the city of Stockton prepared by William H. Willcox, the well known architect of this city, have been accepted and naturally Mr. Willcox and his friends here are very much pleased at the recognition given. Mr. Willcox has a fine record as an architect and has designed many large and important buildings in this and other states. The building in Stockton is to be a magnificent structure and will be modern and unique in many respects.

Mr. Willcox’s friends among the members of Santa Rosa Elks lodge are very much pleased over the fact that his plans have been accepted. Mr. Willcox is one of the “baby Elks” of Santa Rosa lodge, that is he was one of the last of the new members to be initiated.

– Press Democrat, February 1, 1909

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