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THE GRAND MANSION SANTA ROSA THREW AWAY

It was the grandest, most beautiful house ever built in Santa Rosa, and a century ago this was a town with no shortage of grand and beautiful homes. Its design was bold in a controversial new style; there were few buildings anywhere on the West Coast that looked like this.

And the parties! Hundreds attended one swank affair in 1903, with an orchestra on the balcony and San Francisco chefs in the kitchen. Elaborate evening gowns and diamonds glimmering in myriad electric lights, the rooms perfumed from honeysuckle, azaleas, carnations and roses – overall an ostentatious show of wealth by the scion of an old Sonoma County family with enough money to act like aristocrats.

Then years passed and other families moved in. There were no more orchestras at famous parties. The style of the house was no longer so remarkable and the reasons it was once considered so revolutionary were forgotten. Then in 1969, when the building was only three score and seven, it disappeared.

Why it came down will make you want to scream.

Before diving into all things architectural, this is also the second and final part of the story about Blitz Paxton, the man who commissioned this grand home for his family. His past is dredged over at length in part I, “The Wars of the Paxtons,” but in brief: His parents were among the wealthiest in Sonoma County, building a Healdsburg mansion known today as Madrona Manor. Blitz had a brief first marriage that gave birth to two children. After their divorce, Blitz and his ex-wife would battle over alimony and child support, even after the children became adults. All told they were in court for eighteen years – probably the longest running legal fight in county history. It would be easy to damn Blitz for not aiding his kids – especially as he was claiming to be broke even while hosting a party with three hundred guests – but it’s not as simple as that. Read the story.

Six years after that divorce, Blitz hit the reset button and married again in 1900. His bride was the former Jane Marshall, part of a large well-to-do family involved in many kinds of agriculture in western Marin and Sonoma – the little community of Marshall on Tomales Bay is named for them.

Jane had a five year-old boy from her first marriage, aptly named, “Marshall.” It’s unknown whether Blitz formally adopted his stepson, but Marshall’s last name was officially changed to Paxton and he always identified Blitz as his father on legal documents. (As a little Believe-it-or-not! factoid, the Paxton males had the worst luck with their eyes. Blitz had some unspecified but apparently serious “poor eyesight” issue, his son from the first marriage became totally blind in a childhood accident and Marshall was blind in his left eye.)

Son Blitz Jr. was born a year after they married and by all accounts the four of them made a happy family. Junior and Marshall grew up to be seemingly well-adjusted people (Blitz Jr. was a popular Santa Rosa policeman in the 1930s), so apparently Blitz wasn’t fighting child support for his older kids because he was unwilling or incapable of being a parent.

Jane and Blitz seemed to be best friends with Mattie and James Wyatt Oates; rarely was Jane mentioned at a social event without Mattie being named as well, and the party with 300 guests was in honor of the young woman who was something of a godchild to the Oates. Wyatt was Blitz’ attorney throughout the prolonged court fight, and the only time either of the boys can be spotted on a vacation away from their wives was when the pair of them took off on a week-long fishing trip.

Santa Rosa had some gala weddings in the 1890s but never, ever, had the town seen anything like the Paxton house parties before the Great 1906 Earthquake – it was as if we had our very own branch of the Astor family determined to relaunch the Gilded Age. “Elegance Never Surpassed in this City,” gushed the headline in the Santa Rosa Republican after the 1903 housewarming. “One of the most brilliant social functions ever given in the ‘City of Roses’” swooned the Press Democrat.

The papers also praised the “artistic beauty” of the home with its huge reception hall and a balcony on the broad staircase large enough to fit a small orchestra. “The magnificent home is ideal, as the spacious apartments and halls being well adapted for receiving so many guests. Then, again, the handsome and costly furnishings add much to the effect of everything.”

Two words kept popping up whenever either Santa Rosa newspaper mentioned the Paxton’s house: “Elegant” and “costly.” It was never mentioned how much was required to build and outfit the enormous place but it must have been a fortune – and mostly it must have been Jane’s fortune through inheritance.

Through newspaper coverage of the many child support lawsuits we know Blitz owned some stocks of iffy value, and in the 1890s his main source of income was an allowance from his mother. Prior to his 1900 marriage he was named president of the Santa Rosa Bank co-founded by his father (despite having no apparent experience in banking) where his salary was $175/mo – a good executive salary for the day, but hardly enough to underwrite a mansion.

And soon after they were married, Blitz was spending like never before. He purchased four lots on the corner of Carrillo street and Healdsburg avenue (later renamed Mendocino ave.) and bought a sideboard of carved Flemish oak imported from Italy. It cost $750, which was worth nearly two years’ income for the average American household.

Now all he needed was a house for his Italian sideboard and young family. “Plans are being prepared for the residence by a San Francisco architect,” the PD mentioned a few months later, in March 1901. The paper had it half-right; the home was being designed by a former San Francisco architect who had lately returned to his childhood hometown of Petaluma. His name was Brainerd Jones.

“Illustrated Portfolio of Santa Rosa and Vicinity,” 1909

If you were looking for someone to design your showy, damn-the-cost mansion in 1901, Brainerd Jones would probably be your last choice; the 30 year-old architect had a thin résumé and non-existent portfolio.

Jones had no formal training aside from basic drafting classes; his experience consisted of some carpentry work and apprenticeship with the McDougall Brothers firm, which mostly churned out undistinguished designs for banks, municipal buildings and such. At the time Blitz hired him apparently the only work produced out of his Petaluma home-office were blueprints for two cottages and a modest house, none of which were yet completed. But he had one great advantage: He came of age as an architect in San Francisco during the 1890s, which was possibly the most exciting time and place in the history of American architecture.

Up to then West Coast architecture imitated what was popular in the East and Midwest, usually with a lag of several years. We built “Colonial Revival” homes of various kinds although our part of the country had no past as a British colony; we copied the mansard roofs of the “Second Empire” style even though France was nearly on the opposite side of the globe. But mainly in Victorian America, we all shared the notion that fine architecture had to be “picturesque” in some way. That often meant some kinds of ornamentation and led to the great popularity of the “Queen Anne” style, with elaborate finish work, faux details, witch-hat turrets and the like.

A few high-end architects in the Northeast were headed in the opposite direction, however, designing mansion-sized homes in a style devoid of most decoration and meant to look naturalistic. Later dubbed “Shingle Style,” these houses were broader than tall, with strong horizontal lines. There was more window space than ever used before and there were open interiors, which transformed hallways and vestibules from places you pass through into spaces where you live. It was absolutely radical architecture in the 1870s-1880s (and some of it looks pretty modernistic even today) but it quickly faded in the wake of a renewed interest in classicism. It left a mark, however, as elements began to show up in Queen Anne designs, and it led directly to the “Craftsman Style” and “Prairie Style” of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright. (For more background, see my history of the East Coast Shingle Style, “Behind the Design” with illustrations and footnotes.)

As the scene was fading on the East Coast, a few mavericks who had worked for the firms most associated with Shingle Style moved to San Francisco (in Richard Longstreth’s excellent “On the Edge of the World” there’s a fun picture of many of them getting drunk together in 1890). They had been thoroughly radicalized by their exposure to those new artistic ideas and were not shy about expressing their opinions on the sorry state of architecture. Classicism was boring and designing something in that style was little more than an exercise in draftsmanship; the ultra-popular Queen Anne houses were “architectural monstrosities.” As San Francisco was then jammed with Queen Annes – each of them competing to be more adorable and whimsical than the Queen Anne next door – these guys were in no danger of being overwhelmed with work from the city’s hoi polloi.

Whenever they had a pliable client they designed buildings based on the principles of the East Coast Shingle Style but took it even further. Because the San Francisco Bay Area weather was so much milder than the Northeast, a house could be more harmonious with its setting by incorporating the outdoors into living areas. Local materials – particularly western cedar shingles and old growth redwood – were abundant and of such quality they didn’t have to be painted or varnished for protection. And they placed high value on craftsmanship, insisting it should be on display and not hidden away – after all, a building should be constructed as carefully as if it were a piece of fine furniture. Much later, their kind of architecture was named the “First Bay Tradition.”

(Begin opinion rant: I hate this term because it’s used to lend credibility to claims a “Second Bay Tradition” grew from it around the 1930s. In my view there’s hardly any connection either architecturally or philosophically; the latter was just early California Modernism and not even that closely linked to the region, except for its continued use of redwood.)

For an apprentice architect like twenty-something Brainerd Jones, 1890s San Francisco was a heady clime. We don’t know if he actually bumped elbows with any of the rebel architects but it really doesn’t matter; their new kind of architecture one of the hottest topics to discuss (read: argue about) in local magazines dedicated to the arts. Jones obviously knew what they were building and liked it, as he used his big commission to make a bold statement in their style.

The Paxton House was a deconstruction of a well-known example of the new West Coast Shingle Style: The Anna Head School for Girls in Berkeley. A few years later, Jones would again fold other elements into the design of Comstock House.

“Anna Head” was a famous day/boarding school for young women and this building was completed in 1892, one of the earliest major projects in the style. It was designed by Soule Edgar Fisher, a local architect who fell in with the East Coast firebrands (he’s in the drinking photo mentioned above). Amazingly, the building still exists – albeit in poor condition; it’s on Channing Way and now part of UC/Berkeley. A modern photo shows it has been altered somewhat and is partially concealed by ivy.

The first thing to notice is they have the same massing – a wider than usual building with a heavy roof. This view of the Paxton House clips off the southern end, but in other images below it can be seen there was a significant gabled extension projecting out from the main building. Although the face of both buildings is anything but flat, they share deep eaves and a second floor slight overhang which creates a shadow to emphasize the horizontal lines. Both used decorative corbels to lend an illusion of support for projecting walls.

Even if all the similarities were coincidental, they shared an unusual design for the entrances, with the front door recessed several feet and steps coming up sideways, from the left. The porch landing is concealed by a parapet, and we know from the family photos the Paxtons used this as part of their main outdoor living area.

Both buildings harkened back more to the original Eastern Shingle Style of the 1880s than the newer, anti-Queen Anne designs. The front face (and possibly the original sides and back) of the school was shingled with white cedar so it would age to gray, just like the mansions in the Northeast. We don’t know if the Paxton House had those shipped in or used the cheap, easily-available brown cedar from the Pacific Northwest, but Jones did specify that Comstock House was to be shingled with the white variety. (It wasn’t originally, but when we reshingled in 2010 we used white cedar for the walls and brown cedar for the roof.) Both also had decorative Queen Anne touches; look closely at the modern photo of Anna Head and note there are diamond-shaped shingle medallions on the walls. Jones reinterpreted the cross gable next to the massive chimney as a Queen Anne turret.

Brainerd Jones’ interpretation added two features that would have been met with high approval by the new wave architects. He extended the landing into a porch room enclosed on three sides, which another family photo shows the Paxtons enjoying. Jones also changed the cross gable to the right of the door into a gable with a massive bank of windows. Presumably this was the reception room that dropped the jaws of visitors.

For Jones his design was an artistic statement but not a manifesto. For the rest of his life he worked within whatever style pleased his client; the same time Paxton House was under construction they were also building his design for the Lumsden House (now the Belvedere) next door, and that is a cookie-cutter Queen Anne.

Two years later Jones revisited his ideas with the contract to design (the home that would become known as) Comstock House. Mattie and Wyatt Oates might even have suggested he mirror the home of their best friends, two doors down; they certainly must have made a striking pair, even with the unremarkable Davis House sandwiched between.

With Comstock House Jones again borrowed from the Anna Head School, this time adapting its gambrel roof and true cross gable. He also copied exactly the Tudor-style row of lead glass casement windows with diamond panes, all under a prominent second floor overhang. He borrowed the use of small dormer windows popping out of the roof and reinterpreted the oriel and bay windows on a larger scale – Comstock House has four bays, each over ten feet wide. What Jones’ design for the Oates did not have was a speck of Queen Anne influence, even lacking the herringbone shingle work used as trim on the school and Paxton House.

So now we come to the painful part of the story: What happened to Brainerd Jones’ masterpiece?

“There used to be a house just like yours on the corner,” a long-time resident of our neighborhood told us shortly after we moved into Comstock House. “Except it was bigger.”

Larger it was. Although the building is gone, its footprint can be seen on the old fire maps. Guesstimating from the irregular shape, Paxton House was between 6,500 and 7,000 square feet – and that’s not even counting whatever was above the second floor.

But what happened to it? Strangely, nobody recalled. There was no memory of it being torn down or catching fire, although many people remembered it well: “I used to bicycle around the U-shaped driveway in the ’60s,” a woman told me. “I walked past it every day when I was going to school,” someone else remembered. “It was such a pretty house.” Some thought it might have been destroyed by the 1969 earthquake(s) and that seemed to be as good an answer as anything else. The mystery deepened after I visited the Building Department and found there was no demolition permit issued for 747 Mendocino avenue; it was as if the place really had been spirited away overnight.

From the newspapers it was known the Paxtons sold the house in 1920 to the Slusser family, who passed it on to their daughter. (Blitz and Jane stayed in the area for about a dozen years before retiring in Los Angeles.) I could have traced ownership beyond that through a title search but there didn’t seem to be any point as long as there was no record of demolition.

The only remaining lead was that the address used to be 739 Mendocino avenue instead of 747. I had asked about this on my visit to the city office, but was told the records should be linked as long as the property was not subdivided since. This time I returned  and asked directly for #739. After a bit the clerk returned with a single sheet of microfiche – and there was the whole sad story. The house was demolished in 1969 alright, but not because of damage from the October 1 quake.

In January, the city building inspector posted a notice of hazardous conditions and ordered PG&E to shut off power, stating “the building was in very poor condition…making it unsafe for occupancy.” Santa Rosa sent the owner a letter declaring the home a public nuisance, listing four reasons:

1. Abandonment and lack of maintenance
2. Obsolescence, dilapidated condition, deterioration, damage and decay
3. Faulty wiring
4. Unsafe venting of gas appliances

The following month it was an item on the City Council agenda and the owner given thirty days for abatement. In June, the city sent a notice that since no abatement work was done, demolition was ordered. The building was torn down on June 30 with the owner billed $1,600.

So the magnificent building was just left to fall to ruin – there was nothing in the records showing the man who owned it corresponded with the city about making efforts at repair or even attended the times it came before the Council. He just walked away from it.

That owner was Ted Snyder. He was among the county’s movers ‘n’ shakers in those days, living near the Santa Rosa Country Club and president in the 1960s of the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce, the county chambers of commerce association, the Healdsburg Republican Club, head of the Knights of Columbus and probably active in even more clubs and civic groups the newspapers didn’t mention. For awhile in the early part of the decade he was co-owner of an important sawmill near Healdsburg but that was liquidated; later he identified himself as a real estate broker, but it’s not clear he was ever associated with an established realty office or even had a license.

It would be easy to blame Snyder alone for the destruction of this gem because he apparently did nothing at all to save it. But the real burden of shame lies on the city of Santa Rosa, who gave this grand structure no more consideration that it would a dilapidated backyard shack.

The City Council considered no other options. No architect or historian was sought to report upon such a major building’s significance; it was enough that Senior Inspector G. R. Martin deemed it obsolete. From today’s perspective, that might well be deemed irresponsible.

In a better world the Council could have required Snyder to simply provide an abatement plan (“unsafe venting of gas appliances,” really?) or with his continued failure to respond, even used powers of eminent domain for the city to take it over and restore it to code for use as municipal offices or something. Aside from “faulty wiring” it does not appear the building was in irreparable shape – and it’s safe to bet that just meant it still had knob-and-tube wiring, which remains perfectly safe as long as it isn’t tampered with.

But that was the late 1960s – early 1970s, which for historic architecture preservation was the darkest of the Dark Ages. That Snyder did nothing and the city did nothing and the grand house which was laid to waste is merely part of an indictment of that era, which witnessed so much of America’s heritage demolished in the name of redevelopment and urban renewal. It was a modern age and time to clear out the old and make way for the new, which was always better because. In this case, however, it wasn’t just any nondescript house – it was something uniquely historical and still beautiful. It could have long remained our city’s jewel, had anyone in the city cared.

 

All photos from the Paxton family albums, except as noted. Much thanks to David Sox for sharing the images and family stories

 

Detail of front view of Paxton House 1910

 

Rear view of Paxton House, 1910

 

Southern view of Paxton House, 1910

 

Blitz Paxton and Blitz Jr. 1902

 

Jane, Blitz Jr. and Marshall Paxton, 1904

 

Blitz Paxton and two unidentified women, 1910

Blitz W. Paxton has leased the residence of Mr. and Mrs. D. B. Hart on Mendocino street and will soon occupy the same. Mr. and Mrs. Hart expect to travel extensively during the present summer.

– Press Democrat, June 2 1900

 

Quiet Wedding Saturday

A wedding of considerable interest to Santa Rosans and to Sonoma county people occurred on Saturday in San Francisco at the bride’s residence on Washington street. The contracting parties were Mrs. Jennie Bates and Blitz W. Paxton, the well known president of the Santa Rosa Bank. The hour of the ceremony was half past 12 o’clock. Relatives and friends witnessed the ceremony, which was a pretty one. The Rev. William Martin, pastor of the First Presbyterian church of this city, was the officiating clergyman. An elaborate wedding breakfast was served. When Mr. and Mrs. Paxton return to this city they will reside for the present at the Hart residence on Mendocino street which Mr. Paxton has leased. Their wide circle of friends extend congratulations. Mrs. Paxton is a member of a prominent Sonoma county pioneer family and was formerly Miss Jennie Marshall of Petaluma. Mr. Paxton is the son of Mrs. Paxton of Healdsburg and for years has been prominently identified in banking and commercial circles in this state. Their friends here are glad that they have decided to make the City of Roses their future home and will accord them a welcome when they arrive.

– Press Democrat, June  6 1900

Blitz Paxton’s home in Santa Rosa will shortly be adorned with a magnificent
sideboard of carved Flemish oak. The sideboard is one of the handsomest that has ever been seen on this coast, and comes direct from Italy. It cost Paxton $750.

– San Francisco Call, November 5, 1900

 

To Build a Handsome Home

In the near future another handsome residence will adorn the pretty suburbs of Santa Rosa. President Blitz W. Paxton of the Santa Rosa Bank has purchased a large lot adjoining that occupied by the Walter E. Davis residence on Healdsburg avenue, located on the corner of the avenue and Carrillo street. Plans are being prepared for the residence by a San Francisco architect.

– Press Democrat, March 14 1901

W. H. Lumsden has purchased a lot from Frank P. Doyle on the southwest corner of Mendocino and Carrillo streets upon which he will shortly erect a neat residence. The sale was made through the real estate agency of Davis & Crane.

– Press Democrat, March 22 1901

The palatial residences being built on Healdsburg avenue and Carrillo streets by Blitz Paxton and William H. Lumsden are nearing completion. Both houses are fine ornaments to the residence portion of the City of Roses.

– Press Democrat, November 12 1901

The plasterers have very nearly completed their work upon the handsome new residence of W. H. Lumsden on Carrillo street. Bagley & Bagley were the sub-contractors for this part of the work

– Press Democrat, December 13 1901

Blitz W. Paxton has just finished his costly and elegant home on Healdsburg avenue with the help of Contractor Kuykendall. This is an elegant mansion and a big improvement to the city. Just across Carrillo street from the Paxton mansion is the large ten thousand dollar home of W. H. Lumsden. which with the Paxton home are the handsomest dwellings built in Sonoma county this year. Simpson & Roberts has the contract for Mr. Lumsden’s house.

– Press Democrat, February 2 1902

 

A BRILLIANT EVENT MANY GUESTS AT THE MAGNIFICENT PAXTON RESIDENCE WEDNESDAY NIGHT
Reception Held by Mrs. Paxton and Mrs. Marshall Waa Amid a Scene of Radiant Beauty

One of the most brilliant social functions ever given in the “City of Roses” was the reception at the Paxton mansion on Healdsburg avenue on Wednesday night for which several hundred invitations were sent out by Mrs. Blitz Wright Paxton and her mother. Mrs. Marshall.

The hours of the reception were from eight to eleven. During the hours there was a constant stream of guests passing through the handsomely decorated hails and reception rooms to greet the hostesses and to mingle socially. From the balcony on the broad staircase the strains of sweet music mingled with the sweetest perfume from the honeysuckle, the carnations and the roses, which burdened the air delightfully.
For the giving of a function like the one that charmed everybody on Wednesday night the magnificent home is ideal, as the spacious apartments and halls being well adapted for receiving so many guests. Then, again, the handsome and costly furnishings add much to the effect of everything.

During the reception the scene was one of much brilliancy. Many elaborate evening gowns were worn by the ladies. The light from a myriad of electric globes through silken shades shone softly on the gay throng. Exquisite taste was displayed in the adornment of the house from top to bottom. Pink and green were predominant colors. The always graceful bamboo radiated from the arches and nooks in halls and reception rooms, while here and there beautiful rose clusters and banks of pink honeysuckle were arranged in perfect keeping with the decoration scheme. The great showy blossoms displayed their magnificence of color to perfection. The festoons were entwined in soft greenery and the decorations were greatly admired.

The entertainment provided by the hostesses could not have been more lavish or more graciously extended. In fact nothing could possibly have added to the pleasure of the evening. In one room, transformed into a radiant bower, delicious punch’ was served by a bevy of charming girls.

Master Marshall Paxton, wearing a neat suit of white, received the cards of the guests on a silver tray. Mrs. Paxton and Mrs. Marshall were assisted in receiving by Mrs. James W. Oates, Mrs. Samuel K. Dougherty. Mrs. William Finlaw and Mrs. William Martin. The young ladies who assisted in serving were the Misses Martha Hahman, Bess Riley, Bess Goodwin, Marie Farmer, Jimmie Robertson, Mab McDonald, Jessie Robertson, Edith McDonald, Zana Taylor, Ella Holmes, Bessie Porter and Miss Edith Lewis of Petaluma.

The elaborate supper, in which the art of the competent chefs from the metropolis was exemplified, was served in the dining room. The room was adorned in pink and green. The dellicates were served at daintily arranged tables. Herbert Vanderhoof’s orchestra supplied the music during the reception. The guests were delighted with everything and the event will long remain memorable in Santa Rosa’s social world. In addition to the people present from this city a number of invitations were sent to other cities and the out of town guests were present.

– Press Democrat, June 11 1903

 

BRILLIANT AT HOME
Elaborate Social Function at the B. W. Paxton Residence
Mrs. Paxton and her Mother, Mrs. Mary E. Marshall, Held a Reception Wednesday Evening — Elegance Never Surpassed in this City.

Never was there a more brilliant social function given in this city than the reception at the handsome Blitz Wright Paxton home on Healdsburg avenue Wednesday evening. The hostesses were Mrs. Paxton and her mother, Mrs. Mary E. Marshall, and the hours for the reception were between 8 and 11 o’clock. The guests, several hundred in number, passed and repassed in a constant and brilliant stream through the spacious reception rooms during this period.

Combined with the elegance and varied beauty of the costumes worn by the feminine portion of the company and the soft brilliancy of the electrical effects, was the beauty of the home furnishings, the whole enhanced by floral decorations, the most perfect that nature could produce and art devise. Pink and green were the dominant shades, both in the floral adornment and in the electrical tints. Fragrant azaleas and honeysuckle, carnation and roses entered into the decorations with exquisite effect and the graceful bamboo formed an artistic background, its drooping ends bending from doorway and arch. From fern and floral bower of marvelous beauty on the balcony above the reception hall, the softest music floated. Thus were all the senses charmed music, fragrance and artistic beauty being combined. The music was furnished by Vanderhoof’s orchestra.

The entertainment provided was most elaborate. In one room a company of daintily gowned young girls presided over the punch bowl. The supper room was magnificently appointed and the repast was a triumph of the caterer’s art. Chefs and caterers from the metropolis had the affair in charge and the refreshments were served at dainty tables.

Assisting Mrs. Paxton and Mrs. Marshall in the reception of the guests were Mrs. Samuel K. Dougherty, Mrs. James Wyatt Oates…

…Mrs. Paxton’s costume was of white brocade satin covered with an overdress of most exquisite hand lace. The corsage was low and to the skirt was attached a court train. Her hair was dressed becomingly high and adorned with an aigette [a feathered headdress]. Her ornaments were diamonds, many and brilliant. Mrs. Marshall was costumed in black satin, with an overdress of gauze. A train also finished her gown and her corsage was slightly low at the neck [and] like her daughter her ornaments were diamonds.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 11 1903

 

Real Estate Transfers

Blitz W Paxton to Jane M Paxton: Oct 4, ’01, Lots 4, 5, 6, S 30 ft Lot 3, Walter S Davis’ Add to Santa Rosa; $3500

– Press Democrat, December 31, 1904

 

THE PAXTON TEA A BRILLIANT AFFAIR
NEARLY THREE HUNDRED GUESTS CALL TO MEET MISS ANNA MAY BELL OF VISALIA
Elegant Paxton Home on Healdsburg Avenue Transformed Into a Veritable Bower of Beauty

The elegant Paxton home on Healdsburg Avenue was the scene of a brilliant reception Thursday afternoon in honor of Miss Anna May Bell of Visalia. Almost three hundred guests called between three and six o’clock to meet the popular girl in whose honor the affair was given.

Miss Bell is a relative of Col. and Mrs. James W. Oates of this city. She has spent much of the present summer here, where she has many friends. She is a charming girl with friendly, cordial manners that make her a great favorite wherever she goes and the reception of Thursday afternoon was one of the most successful of a large number of functions that have been planned in her honor this summer.

The house was a veritable bower of beauty. The decorations were entirely pink. The reception hall and parlors were decorated with La France and Duchesse roses and amaryllis blossoms. The dining room was fragrant with great clusters of beautiful pink carnations attractively arranged and placed where they showed to advantage. Master Marshall Paxton stood in the doorway and ushered the guests into the reception hall, where they were received by Mrs. Blitz Wright Paxton, the hostess, assisted by Mrs. J. W. Oates, Mrs. T. J. Geary, Mrs. M. H. Dignan, Mrs. Wm Martin, Mrs. Mark McDonald, Mrs. Frank Doyle, and Mrs. James Edwards. Mrs. Paxton looked charming in a handsome silk gown trimmed with heavy pearl lace. Miss Bess Riley, Miss Jessie Robertson, Miss Zana Taylor, and Miss Bessie Porter served ices and cakes in the beautifully decorated dining room. Music was furnished during the afternoon by C. Mortimer Chapin and Mrs. Berry.

– Press Democrat, September 15, 1905

 

 

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1908chinatown

WHEN THE POSSE RAIDED CHINATOWN

All was quiet that midsummer evening in 1912 Santa Rosa, except for two dozen guys trashing the Chinese neighborhood on Second street.

The men were not thugs from a San Francisco Chinese crime gang, although just a few months earlier the community here worried that a Tong war underway in the city would escalate and draw “highbinder” assassins to Santa Rosa. Nor was the havoc caused by a mob of local drunks looking for trouble. Descending on Second street that night was an official posse of lawmen and sworn citizens conducting the first opium raid in Santa Rosa.

(RIGHT: 1908 Sanborn map section showing Santa Rosa’s Chinatown highlighted in blue)

A lengthy account of the raid appeared in the Press Democrat (transcribed below) and offers a glimpse of the small Chinatown near the intersection of Second and D streets, rare because it was never mentioned in the local newspapers except for occasional calls for it to be torn down and replaced with a park, hospital or something Burbank-related.

The excuse for terrorizing the community and ransacking their homes was the new law outlawing opium use in California – apparently the first time personal possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia was criminalized in U. S. history. The law was passed in 1909 and appealed up to the state Supreme Court, where it was upheld in 1911. Shortly after that Chinatown raids began in larger cities across the state. The posse raid in Santa Rosa was coordinated to start jointly with raids in Sebastopol and Petaluma Chinatowns.

Even though opium possession was only a misdemeanor subject to a $100 fine the posse gave no quarter in their quest, frisking the residents and tearing into everything they found. From the Press Democrat account, “Some half dozen places were entered, doors were locked and the Chinese occupants quickly herded into one room, and then the search began. Boxes, drawers, sacks, tins, paper packages, clothing, beds, and in short everything was overhauled and a thorough search made. Doors that were locked and for which keys were not delivered up at once, were burst open. So were trunks and boxes…pretty much of a litter remained after the officers had done their work.”

The incident also revealed no improvement in anti-Chinese bigotry; the PD article ran through all its old racial epithets – “Celestials” being the kindest of them – but the most loathsome comment in the paper was this: “They all gave some kind of a name. There were Chows, Gows, Ons, Gees, Sams, Harrys and goodness knows what else. For all the officers knew some of those names may have been aliases, too. No one cared particularly anyway. The names all sounded alike.”

The reporter further added his/her pissy little judgements of their lifestyle: They “do not smoke very good tobacco,” smells in some bottles “were not over-appetizing” and “the lard in preparing the evening meal had not been of the freshest variety.” In fact, many in the posse may have been there just to snoop and later snark about the quality of Chinese lard or such; while the party included every active and retired cop in town, other members had no apparent reason to be involved, including State Senator Herb Slater, undertaker Frank Welti and 20 year-olds Arley Gard and Ernest Clay.

In truth, the purpose of the whole business – from the federal import ban also enacted in 1909 down to the raids after 1911 – was meant to harass the Chinese community. The import ban only affected the smoking form of opium favored by Chinese – the opium-based “nerve tonics” predominantly used by whites were still legal.

Smuggling the four-ounce cans over from China proved easy; in her oral history with Gaye LeBaron, Song Wong Bourbeau (born 1909 in Santa Rosa) recalled “they ship them over just like you would ship a dozen eggs.” All the ban accomplished was to quickly drive up the price tenfold; by 1912 a night’s smoke cost around seven dollars, roughly half a working man’s weekly wage and a couple of years later it would double again (MORE). To his credit, former U.S. Congressman from Santa Rosa Duncan McKinlay proposed to tax opium at $5 per pound, believing it was impossible to stop the smuggling trade.

Nor did the Santa Rosa police care about opium smoking before the new law made arrests so lucrative – although they did intervene when white youth were found using the drug, as shown in an example here. And while Santa Rosa had raided Chinatown before, then it was for gambling; in 1910 a series of raids busted Chinese men for playing stud poker (a charge which must have caused guffaws at card tables in saloons and fraternal clubs around town). But those fines brought in less that $250, while in that single opium posse raid the city cleared over $1,000. So it’s no surprise that another posse hit the Santa Rosa opium dens in May 1913, this time making more arrests. Likewise in that search they gave “seven places on Second street…a most thorough overhauling.” Because breaking stuff up is just something a posse has to do, as everyone knows.

 HIGHBINDER SCARE IN SANTA ROSA CHINATOWN LAST NIGHT

Santa Rosa’s Chinatown on Second street between Main and D streets was pretty badly scared Wednesday night. Talk of “Highbinder” was in the air, following the receiving of a telephone message from “My flen in Napa” by Wong Mow, one of the local Chinese merchants.

The word was passed around like wildfire. Chinese pickets were stationed here and there on the lookout app along the block in front of the Mongolian quartets, and Chief of Police Boyes was notified. The Chief instructed the patrolmen on the meats to make frequent visits during the night to Chinatown.

The message received by Wong Mow about half past 7 o’clock word that a party of Chinese highbinders from the warring companies in San Francisco were headed for Santa Rosa and were of the number who shot and killed a man in Marysville. The news was sufficient to put Chinatown all on the lookout.

At one o’clock this morning a Press Democrat representative visited Chinatown. The “lookouts” were still on duty. They were crouching down in the darkness of the shadow of buildings ready to sound an alarm…

…There are many San Francisco Chinese taking refuge here at the present time. A dozen queueless ones arrived here Wednesday night. They have been drifting in for a week…

– Press Democrat, March 21, 1912
STILL IN FEAR OF HIGHBINDERS
Celestials in Local Chinatown Perturbed Over News of Tong Slayings in Other Places

The excitement in Santa Rosa’s Chinatown following the highbinder murders in other cities was increased when the news of the slaying was told there yesterday, and last night the “lookouts” were still on duty. The local Celestials fear that the bad men may visit here.

The casual passerby along the block on Second street occupied by the Chinese quarters last night would not have noticed anything out of the ordinary except for the lookouts crouching in the dark shadow of some building. But the advent of a reporter or policeman known to some of the Chinese merchants was sufficient to draw a crowd of Chinese eager to learn if any news of the approach of the highbinders was forthcoming…

– Press Democrat, March 23, 1912
QUONG SING PROUD MAN ON SATURDAY

Quong Sing, the local merchant, was a happy man on Saturday, when he paraded at the head of the New Cathay Boys’ Band from San Francisco. This band is composed of thirty-seven young Chinese who rendered some splendid selections during their march through the streets. These lads have only been playing five months, but they handle their instruments and their music like seasoned veterans. In the band are two lads of eight and nine years, who play the alto horns. Quong Sing is proud of the new China and the boys who were here on Saturday. He was instrumental in bringing the band to this city.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 4, 1912
POSSES RAID CHINATOWN AND SEVEN ARRESTS MADE
Raids Also Made in Petaluma and Sebastopol
More Arrests in Petaluma and Sebastopol–Opium and Yen She Found and a Number of Outfits on Wednesday Night

There was considerable excitement, quiet excitement at that, in Santa Rosa’s Chinatown Wednesday night. The same can be said of the Chinatown of Sebastopol and that at Petaluma, for in all three places raids were made for opium, yen she and smoking outfits. In all three places both drugs, a number of pipes, hoy toys and other contrabrand articles were unearthed. Five Chinamen, a Chinese woman, and a white man were arrested and landed in jail by the officers, and their cases will come up for hearing in Justice Atchinson’s court. One man was arrested in Sebastopol, and shortly before twelve o’clock he joined the motley crew behind the bars. Four arrests were made in Petaluma.

The raid in Santa Rosa’s Chinatown, located on Second street, between Main and D streets, was headed by Chief of Police John M. Boyes and the officers of the department and of the Justice court, and special deputies aided by Chief Inspector Fred A. Sutherland of the State Board of Pharmacy of California. Sheriff Jack Smith and his posse, had charge of Sebastopol, and Deputy Sheriff Rasmussen and Chief of Police Ed Husler in Petaluma. Deputy Inspector W. T. White of the State Board aided in Sebastopol and Deputy A. J. McDonald of the State Board aided in Petaluma.

For some time the officers and the chief inspectors of the State Board have been aware of presence of the drug and its use in the Chinese quarters in the places named. The inspectors have obtained evidence, and not long since Chief Inspector Sutherland bought a dollars’ worth at one of the places raided on Second street. Consequently the raid was planned for Wednesday night at half past nine o’clock in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and Petaluma.

On Second street in this city at the word of command given by sign by Chief Boyes, the posse that had previous divided up entered the Chinese quarters very quietly, no one knowing what was about to transpire. Some half dozen places were entered, doors were locked and the Chinese occupants quickly herded into one room, and then the search began. Boxes, drawers, sacks, tins, paper packages, clothing, beds, and in short everything was overhauled and a thorough search made. Doors that were locked and for which keys were not delivered up at once, were burst open. So were trunks and boxes. A number of packages of Yen She, some tins of opium, pipes and smoking outfits and other accessories in the smoking of the weed were discovered by the various posses and were carefully piled up, and later this evidence was taken to the police station.

Then the Chinamen were each given a “frisk,” or a search, and taken. At times, this was quite amusing, most of the Celestials taking the bantering in good part. Their language, too, had there been an interpreter present, might have savored of the profane. If it did not then, it will when they come to pack those boxes again and clean house, for pretty much of a litter remained after the officers had done their work. They all gave some kind of a name. There were Chows, Gows,Ons, Gees, Sams, Harrys and goodness knows what else. For all the officers knew some of those names may have been aliases, too. No one cared particularly anyway. The names all sounded alike.

Prior to entering the places the officers had provided themselves with search warrants, but none of the Chinese thought to ask for them, anyway. These warrants were procured so that everything might be legally done. It was after midnight before the raid ended here, the search occurring considerable time. Some of the scents discovered in the places during the overhauling of some of the ancient receptacles were not over-appetizing. More than one of the posse pressed into service can testify to that. Those “Chinks,” some of them at any rate, do not smoke very good tobacco, either; and the lard in preparing the evening meal had not been of the freshest variety.

Another thing revealed during the search of several of the Second street “joints,” was that the Chinese evidently do not put much faith in banks. A surprising lot of money was unearthed, and left of course. There were stacks of twenties, tens and fives in gold, as well as silver. The money will be put in another safe place by the Chinese today.

Attorney Rolfe L. Thompson will prosecute the offenders, representing the State Board. He was on hand at the raid Wednesday night, and at the police station when the prisoners were brought in.

Tried a Getaway

The white man, captured on a charge of having sold morphine, lives in this city, and has been a frequent habitant of the Chinese quarters. A warrant was in the pocket of Chief Boyes for his arrest, when he suddenly stepped into the very place where the Chief was assisting in the search. Police Officer George Matthews grabbed and handcuffed him. Later he tried a getaway but was captured by Attorney Thompson and Elmer Mobley, and was taken to the jail and locked up by Matthews.

The Santa Rosa posse was composed of Chief of Police Boyes, [21 other men named].

The Sebastopol Raid

As stated Sheriff Smith headed the raid at Sebastopol, and it was conducted along similar lines to the other places. Some Yen She and an opium outfit was taken from the place of Gong Gee. There was no excitement, and but a few Chinese were found at home. The idea prevailed there as here that in some manner the Chinese had got a “tip” as to what was about to happen. In Sheriff Smith’s posse were [22 other men named].

Raid in Petaluma

Chief Hussler of Petaluma was assisted in the raid there by [5 other men named]. The net result of their work was the arrest of four Chinese and the capture of a considerable quantity of contraband materials and smoking outfits. Three of the Chinese were locked up and one released on $200 cash bail.

– Press Democrat, August 1, 1912
CHINESE PAY $450 FINES
Result of Rain on Opium Dens Wednesday

Ten Chinamen appeared before Justice Atchinson Thursday, charged with having illicit drugs in their possession. This is the catch of the raids in Petaluma, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, made on Wednesday night by the State Board of Health Inspectors.

The first to appear was Lou Yet of Sebastopol. He entered a plea of guilty and was promutly [sic] fined $100 by Justice Atchinson. The next were four Chinamen from Petaluma. They were considerably incensed over having to be tried here. They chattered and harangued for some time, but were unable to furnish the bail, and three of them were returned to jail to await developments. The other was dismissed. Attorney Gil P. Hall of Petaluma appeared for him on behalf of George P. McNear, explaining that he was only a cook and had just entered the place for a chat.

The five arrested here were promptly arraigned. They had little to say, but appeared to be very distressed. Sam Wo Lung was fined $200 on two charges. Wong Quong was fined $100 and Dock Yen $50 and fifty days in jail. Two others were dismissed for lack of evidence. One was a man and the other a woman. Harry Tong was returned to jail until such time as he could raise the money to pay his fine of $100.

Clint Rickliff, Ed Gautier and Earl Bumbaugh, the three white men captured in the raid on the Chinamen, are to be tried by Justice Atchinson also. These men are all known to be fiends and it is possible they will be sent to some asylum for treatment.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 1, 1912
THREE LONE CHINAMEN REMAIN NOW

There are three lone Chinamen in the county jail at the present time as the left-overs from the recent opium rains in the county. All the other defendants have had their cases disposed of and something over $1,000 has been paid in fines. One of the Chinamen will serve 200 days in jail and the two others are in for one hundred days each. They will have to go a long time without their smokes.

– Press Democrat, August 8, 1912
OPIUM SMOKER IS CAPTURED
Officers Gard and Ragain Arrest Sam Wo Lung While Engaged in Enjoyable Smoke

Officers Gard and Ragain made a very clever capture of an opium smoker and his entire outfit, including the yen shee, which he was heating on his needle preparatory to taking a smoke at 2 o’clock Thursday morning.

The victim of the raid was Sam Wo Lung, who was recently acquitted of having opium in his possession when captured in the last raid conducted under the direction of the State Board of Health. He is considered one of the leaders here and his capture with the goods on him is considered quite a victory for the officers.

When searched at the police station it was found that Sam Wo Lung was well provided with ready cash and he put up $100 cash bond with proper grace and returned to his place, 620 Second street, minus his pipe and outfit. A charge will be placed against him under the State law in Justice Atchinson’s court.

– Press Democrat, October 16, 1912
CHINESE GAMBLERS CAUGHT IN A RAID
Police Visit Doon Kee’s Place Thursday Morning and Capture Six Visitors Playing American Game With the Stakes

Police Officers N. G. Yeager, A. G. Miller and G. W. Matthews made a raid on Doon Kee’s place on Second street this morning about 2 o’clock and arrested nine Chinese found in the room. Six of the number were engaged in playing Studhorse porker [sic] and were greatly surprised at the interruption.

Officer Matthews was the first to reach the table and secured the cards and stakes, while Officer Miller secured the Chinese money being used for chips. All in the room were taken to police headquarters. Several denied they were playing, but none would say who the players were, so all were informed tht they would have to put up a cash deposit of $10 each to secure their liberty.

Doon Kee arrived on the scene, and after some parleying, secured the name of those who were not playing and they were immediately released while $10 cash bail was put up for each of the other six by Doon Kee.

The six charged with gambling were Ah Wong, Ah Ching, Ah Sing, Wong Kim, Sam Kee and Moon Kee.

– Press Democrat, December 1, 1910
ARREST CHINESE FOR GAMBLING
Officers Make Third Raid Early Tuesday Morning and Gather in Fifteen Orientals

In their third raid upon the Chinese gamblers the police shortly after 2 o’clock this morning arresting 14 inmates of Doon Kee’s gambling house. Last Thursday morning at about the same hour 12 Chinese were arrested and later six were fined $10 each for gambling.

Three of the same men were caught this morning and in their case $20 cash bail was demanded, while the other 11 were allowed their release upon $10 cash bail. A woman will also be charged with being in the place, making a total of $180 bail pending their hearing.

– Press Democrat, December 6, 1910
CHINESE CONTRIBUTE TO THE DISTRICT FAIR

Charlie Quong Sing, the pioneer Chinese merchant of Santa Rosa, whose smile and “Nice day, eh?” and “Anything new?” (the latter when he meets a newspaperman) have become regular salutations of everyday life in Santa Rosa, called at the Chamber of Commerce rooms on Wednesday and handed in a donation of two dollars and a half for the district fair.

He counseled Director Walter Price to tell Mr. Dunbar and the committee to call around at the place on Second street a day or two before the fair starts and he will go around with them among “the boys” and they will contribute more money to help the fair along.

– Press Democrat, August 7, 1913

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OUR LOVEABLE, AWFUL HISTORIAN

Good news: Tom Gregory has written the definitive history of Sonoma county. Bad news: Tom Gregory has written the definitive history of Sonoma county.

The 1911 publication of a new county history was a cause for celebration. Over twenty years had passed since the last one and books such as these were the lifeblood of a region – part almanac, part who’s who, part history. For boosters hoping to convince outsiders to live or do business here, it was something of a Bible.

It was a great advantage that the author was also local; Tom Gregory lived in Santa Rosa (his house is still there on the corner of Cherry and E). He was a former reporter and feature writer for the San Francisco newspapers as well as a pretty good poet and first rate humorist. He sometimes contributed to the Santa Rosa papers items both serious and goofy. Here’s a 1910 letter:

Gone. A Canadian 25ct piece which I received in change from somebody on the forenoon of August 16. That coin, minted with probably a million metal brothers, proved to be a mascot of limitless influence, a talisman of occult power, and I lost it by inadvertently passing it in trade on some person to me unknown. Anyone returning to me that magic piece of silver, which came from Canada, will receive the equivalent of its face value (in British territory) in the coin of U. Sam, and my glad hand forevermore.
Tearfully, Tom Gregory.

Besides his considerable writing chops, he was a popular, maybe even beloved, fellow around town – see the full profile of Tom Gregory appearing here earlier – but he wasn’t a scholar or historian as much as he was a storyteller. And that is why his Sonoma county history is so godawful.

Before diving into that issue, it must be said the rest of the book – the 558 biographies of local notables – is reliable (or at least, accurately states what the person paying for the profiles wanted known). That is a goldmine of information for genealogists and is primarily why the Gregory book is cited far more often than any other local history, including the modern one by Gaye LeBaron, et. al., “Santa Rosa, A Nineteenth Century Town.” Tom Gregory might have edited and punched up some of those biographies, but it’s doubtful he wrote any of them; typically that was grunt work done by a freelancer hired by the publisher.

But he bears full blame for the problems that discredit probably every page of the history section. Some of the misteaks could be mopped up with an errata, particularly wrong dates and places or hazy facts. He claimed, for example, the first Mexican settlers hoping to establish a colony in Sonoma were the last passengers aboard “the historic Natalia, the little brig in which Napoleon escaped from Elba” and which sunk in Monterey Bay in 1834. That ship’s Napoleonic heritage was an often-repeated 19th century story, but as H. H. Bancroft wrote there was no proof of that (we now know with certainty it wasn’t the same boat). Errors like this could have been easily avoided if Tom had fact-checked his book against Bancroft’s famed history series – and the Santa Rosa Library, two blocks from his house, certainly had a copy of the complete set.

Unfortunately, there are other places where Gregory wanders too deep into the weeds to rescue. One of these passages was mentioned in the profile, where he made the ridiculous claim the term “gringo” was coined by Mexicans sick of hearing Americans endlessly singing “Green Grow the Rushes.” At times like those his book resembles nothing more than the TV series “Drunk History,” where someone is liquored-up and asked to tell the story of some great moment in history which they only half remember from school days.

Gregory’s old newspaper, the San Francisco Call, produced a 3,000-word Sunday feature on his Sonoma county history (transcribed below) and it presents a good sampling of the book’s accuracy problems, trivial and not-so:

*   FORT ROSS   Gregory started on a bad note by naming this book chapter “El Fuerte de los Rusos,” a literal translation never used by anyone else; the Spanish and Mexicans called it “Presidio de Ross” (MORE). “Fort Ross” was an invention by the Americans. 

Twice Gregory referred to the Greek Catholic chapel there, although every school kid who has taken the field trip knows they were Russian Orthodox. Gregory was presumably confused because both use the orthodox cross. This was no trivial error; the Greek Catholic church was banned in Russia until 1905, which falsely implies the Russian colonists were religious dissidents.

At their settlement the Russians made the first ships out of redwood, Gregory wrote, including a large brig that cost $60,000. It truthfully cost 60,000 rubles, not dollars, as noted by Bancroft, who also explained none of the boats were made out of redwood. The Russian shipbuilder used unseasoned local oak which quickly rotted, with none of the ships still seaworthy after a few years.

*   THE PAUL REVERE OF CALIFORNIA   An American fighter in the Mexican War rode in 1858 from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just four days to deliver a message, according to Gregory, even though the 600 mile trail was “a mere bridle path over high mountains, through deep ravines, round precipitous cliffs, across wide chaparral covered mesas, along the sea beach.” John Brown AKA “Juan Flaco” was pursued by Mexican soldiers and had a horse “shot from under him, forcing him to go 30 miles afoot” to find another steed. Gosh, what a ripping adventure.

The most obvious flub is the date; by 1858 the war had been over for a dozen years – the ride of Juan Flaco took place in 1846. The rest of Gregory’s account is lifted from James M. Guinn, another history book historian who specialized in Los Angeles and Southern California. Guinn wrote about the ride of Juan Flaco several times, later versions omitting some of the more questionable details such as his horse jumping a 13-foot ravine after being shot and then our hero walking 27 miles (not 30, as Gregory claimed), which makes the four-day timeline pretty implausible. Later retellings also acknowledged the well-known route was actually 460 miles, but Guinn hedged, “counting the detours…he doubtless rode 600 miles.” Worse, in none of the versions – including those appearing in academic journals – did Guinn disclose much about his sources.

Had Tom Gregory looked up Bancroft’s account – which was published years before any of Guinn’s – he would have found a much less heroic tale along with sources listed. The remarkable ravine-jumping dying horse and 27 mile march came directly from John Brown/Juan Flaco (here’s another article with his version), but his Los Angeles commander later said Brown’s horse broke its leg after falling into a ravine and he only had to walk four miles to find a replacement. The trip actually took six days and the urgent message wasn’t delivered until the following day, after Brown was “picked up drunk and carried to the flagship.” By that time, the Americans in Los Angeles had surrendered.

*   HOW SONOMA GOT ITS NAME   In Gregory’s telling, “Sonoma” was an Indian name meaning “valley of the moon,” which was inspired by the eastern hills of the Sonoma Valley forming something like a lunar crescent. The priest who founded the local mission also gave the name “Sonoma” to the local Indian tribe. But it would have been more honest if Gregory had simply written, “no one knows.”

Part of his information came from an 1850 speech by M. G. Vallejo, where the general linked Sonoma to the Valley of the Moon, which was the first time the latter name appeared anywhere. References to a “Sonoma” tribe can be found back to 1815 missionary records, eight years before the priest supposedly gave them that name. The silly crescent valley explanation (did Gregory even look at a map?) seems to be something he just made up.

Bancroft would have been no help to Gregory in this case, but he’s still not exonerated; had Tom asked anyone in the UC/Berkeley anthropology department about local Indian geography they would have directed him to this paper published three years earlier. There it’s suggested “Sonoma” might have been named after the “chief” of the local tribal group, à la “Chief Marin” lending his name to his Americanized homeland. Or it could be no coincidence that some Wappo people a little farther to the east used -tsonoma as a place name suffix, much like today we use -town and -ville and similar. At any rate, we still don’t know where it really comes from. (This later article is also interesting reading.)

*   NO HISTORY IS COMPLETE WITHOUT ETHNIC SLURS   Aside from his compulsion to tell everyone about the made-up origin of “gringo,” Gregory felt the need to inform us where “greaser” comes from. Most of us today think of the 1950s rock ‘n’ roll hoodlums homogenized by the movie Grease, but in Gregory’s day and earlier it was an American slur against Hispanics. 

According to Gregory, “The greaser title was first given by the Americans to the Indians. The old time wooden axle of the immigrant wagons needed greasing frequently – an attention and task not nice or agreeable – and the digger’s [a racist epithet against the Indians] willingness to assume this and other humble labors around the camp of the good natured white man earned for him his name as well as occasional rations of beef.”

“Greaser” was indeed an ethnic slam, but not the kind Gregory believed – it was originally an Indian put-down of the American settlers.

 According to Bancroft, the “Caynomeros” – meaning the Southern Pomo of Sebastopol and Santa Rosa – watched wagons rolling into their homeland, “from which came forth human beings with dirty faces and greasy hands, the drivers pulling out greasy mattresses and with greasy hands spreading them on the ground…they called them mantecosos, greasy ones; and at the last it turned out that whenever a Caynamero spoke of any one who had come over the plains, he called him a mantecoso.”

That happened in 1844-5, but the “Saxons” (as Gregory called the Americans) caught on and soon flipped it around with a vengeance. California passed a “Greaser Act” in 1855 allowing authorities to arrest anyone of “Spanish and Indian blood” on charges of being a vagabond and place them in forced labor after confiscating their property.

We could continue mining that book review for errors – for example, Sequoyah wasn’t “chieftain of the Cherokees” and his name had no connection with the Sequoia genus name for the redwood tree – or we could invite Gentle Reader to jump into the book and dig up other problems. Tom Gregory’s History of Sonoma county is available here for download, reading online or searching. Perhaps an enterprising college or high school history teacher would like to assign each student a random page to determine how much is factual, howling wrong or fantasy.

But now, more than a century later, Tom’s version of history has wormed its way into countless books and articles. Because the latter part of the book with the biographies is an often-cited and accurate resource, authors have made the mistake of presuming the rest of the volume is trustworthy as well. Whenever researching 19th century items for this blog it’s not uncommon for me to stumble across a story that seems too mythic or too silly to be completely true; often I can trace it back to Gregory, who probably made it up or was dressing up an old barroom tale as fact. Perhaps the job of writing the county history should have gone to a writer with a bit less twinkle in his eye and much less fondness for spinning yarns.

Sonoma County, Champion History Maker of California

by Frank L. Mulgrew

Again the boats of Sir Francis Drake are beached on the shores of Sonoma county, to allow the daring sailor to scrape the barnacles from their bottoms; the Franciscan padre is accompanied on his weary pilgrimage, which ended in Sonoma: the last mission is built in Sonoma; El Camino Real is lost in Sonoma’s foothills; the Russians sail from their northern possessions in Alaska to Sonoma; the republic of California, with its bear flag emblem, is born In Sonoma; Fremont’s troops halt In Sonoma after their transcontinental march; the best wines outside of Europe are pressed from Sonoma grapes; the fastest horses are bred in Sonoma; Luther Burbank is a resident — in fact, that an astonishing number of the important factors in California history either started or ended in Sonoma county is most interestingly told in a history of that section written by Tom Gregory, a native Sonoman, and published by the Historic Record company of Los Angeles.

Gregory in his introduction confesses surprise that in the collecting of material for his history he found the historic trails of Sonoma interwoven with those of the state and often with the broader road to empires and monarchies. The reader will share this surprise and thank the writer for the delightful guidance over those picturesque and romantic highways and byways.

“Sonoma – Valley of the moon.” We first learn that this soft Spanish word is in reality not Spanish at all, but the Indian name, older than history, for the most eastern vale of this many valleyed county. Writes the historian: “The red Chocuyen looked over that graceful line of level land sweeping from the farthest horn of its crescent in the Napa hills around by the circling rampart of northern peak to its western point where a spur of the great Coast range dips under the tides of the San Pablo. To his nature trained mind was that perfect lunar shape – its arc to the north, and to the south its chord – a wide frontage on the big inland water. And he called it Sonoma.” Padre Jose Altimira, who came to this “most gifted land under the sun,” called the Indian tribe he found in the valley by the name, which was pleasant to his musical Spanish ear. Later the pueblo which grew about his mission received the name, and finally it was given to the “noble territory bordering the wide waterways of the state and fronting 20 league on the Pacific” – Sonoma county.

Gregory’s research has been thorough, his study comprehensive. He quotes tribute for Sonoma from noted authorities, from Padre Altimira to Fra Elbertus and records the acquisition of history makers from the landing of Sir Francis Drake, “that jolly pirate,” to Luther Burbank. “the wizard.” He tells of the geologic origin of the country, of the mountains and geysers and peaks and plains, but in no coldly scientific description. It is rather with the poet’s appreciation of nature’s wonders that he approaches his subject, and romance and rare humor, and the historian’s gift of perspective and true proportion are evidenced throughout in this true story of a wonderful county.

“Sonoma,” writes the historian, “found for herself a place within natural barriers of hill and bay, stream and sea, during those distant days when mighty terrestrial forces were heaving hemispheres into form. And this amphitheater of virile vale and mesa awaited through the unwritten savage years for the coming of the day when these acres would yield their wealth to the home building Saxon.”

However, In this God made valley, which we are assured has “never felt a drought,” there were stirring times between the Indian occupancy and the coming of the Saxon; and if the latter was the first fully to develop its agricultural and other resources, there were many others who appreciated the land and to reach it cut these trails, which often led from European thrones and the stirring events of old world history.

Long before Luther Burbank settled in Sonoma and sent the fame of his magic throughout the scientific world wo find the threads of interest connected. Great names appear – Napoleon, through the famous “gun of Austerlitz” which was part of the Russian fort at Ross and later saw active service in the fighting history of the state; also through the brig “Natalie,” in which the Corslcan made his escape from Elba. The Natalie was wrecked on her way to Sonoma from Monterey, where she had landed the first batch of colonists from Spain. Then we find complications between the thrones of Russia and Spain over the settlement at Fort Ross, in which a famous czar and king might have clashed forces but for the beneficent entanglements of red tape. Again, in 1579, Queen Elizabeth was presented with the land that was to be Sonoma, by Sir Francis Drake, flrst circumnavigator of the globe.

“Drake,” writes the author, “came hurrying along this shore with two millions of Spanish gold and several millions of leaking holes in his weather beaten and battle worn little ship, the Golden Hind, and while the carpenter on the beach was pumping the Pacific ocean out of the craft he made out the title deeds and calmly presented the whole coast to Queen Elizabeth. Nothing small about Francis!”

But “he of England – traveler in every land and sailor on the seven seas…a man who has made more ocean history than any other individual in his day” – mended hie ship and after but a 26 days’ stay ran the gauntlet with his cargo of Spanish gold and, rounding the coast of Africa, arrived home and was knighted by the queen in return for the dollars and dominions he presented her. Although he had set up a pre-emption notice and cairn, no one ever came from England to “prove up” on the claim of New Albion, as Drake called it.

Captain George Vancouver, another wandering Englishman, came sailing down the coast, and but for the martial entanglements of his nation at home, there might have been another English claim. None of the Saxons was destined to reap the harvests of the fertile Sonoma, but the hardy Americans who came later from the inland.

The Russians founded a settlement and fort on the coast, which from “El Fuerte de los Rusos” became Fort Ross. Padre Altlmira founded the Mission Solano, “the last bead of the rosary of missions.” The Greek and the Roman cross were raised together in Sonoma, and, although the czar and the king of Spain were, figuratively speaking, at swords’ points, and the commandante at San Francisco had orders to “drive the Rusos into the sea,” the cross and not the sword prevailed, and when Padre Altlmira officiated at the first service at the new church at San Francisco de Solano, the edifice contained many articles of decoration donated by the Russians at Fort Ross.

Cupid also defied Mars in these early days of Spanish and Russian occupancy. A beautiful but sad story, one of the real romances splendidly told by Gregory, is of Concepcion and her Russian lover. Count Nicholi Petrovich Razanoff [sp – Nikolai Petrovich Rozanoff], the governor of Alaska, who, in 1806, sailed Into San Francisco bay, “his ship filled with articles for the trade and his crew filled with scurvy,” was the hero of this romance.

“His first reception was neither cordial nor commercial,” writes Gregory, “the peculiar trade restrictions of the Spaniards prohibiting intercourse with foreigners, although the people and padres needed the goods. Razanoff could not have bought for cash, as the Spanish port regulations did not taboo Russian gold, but unfortunately he waa without the coin of any realm. But Love, whose laugh at locksmiths has long been a proverb, unlocked the port of San Francisco. The count, while dancing attendance on Commandante Jose Arguello, trying to work that official into a more commercial attitude, met Donna Concepcion Arguello, and the old, old drama of the heart was played. The beautiful California girl took up the work that diplomacy had dropped. She consented to marry her noble Russian lover and the stern old Don was not proof against the coaxing of his daughter. Neither was Governor Arrillaga at Monterey, for it seemed that this fascinating Espanol-Americana had her own way in both the capital and the chief port of the territory.

“When Razanoff sailed with his new cargo for Alaska he parted from Concepcion forever, as on his way across Siberia to St. Petersburg, where he was to get the permission of the czar to wed the Spanish girl, he was thrown from his horse. Before fully recovering from his injuries he attempted to complete the journey, and from the relapse died on the road. It was years before Concepcion. awaiting at San Francisco, learned of his death. She then joined the order of the Sisters of Visitacion, and after a long life devoted to noble work died at Benicia. Bret Harte, the California poet, has placed In tender verse this historical tale of a woman’s waiting years when

Lone beside the deep embrasures, where the brazen cannon are
Did she wait her promised bridegroom and the answer of the czar;
Watched the harbor head with longing, half in faith and half in doubt,
Every day some hope was kindled, flickered, faded and went out.

“The Russian settlement at Fort Ross was a two acre inclosure, the ingenious construction of the walls of which showed the frontier skill of this sturdy, self-sustaining people. The stockade was of thick planks, the lower ends mortised and the heavy timbers placed under the ground, and the upper ends, 12 feet above, were again mortised, every mortise beingr keyed with a wooden peg. Inside, at one of the angles, was the Greek Catholic chapel, two of the walls being a part of the inclosure walls. They were strongly constructed and were portholed for cannon, as was the entire stockade. Two small domes surmounted this church, one circular and the other pentagonal. A chime of bells called the farmers from the field and the hunters from the sea at matin and vesper time.

“The location, from a military point of view, was an admirable selection, as the 10, and afterward 20, guns of the fort commanded not only the land approaches to the town, but protected the shipping in the little harbor, which was itself a cozy cove, lying under a high northern shore, a defense against the fierce storms sweeping down the coast. The founding of this settlement in 1812 was celebrated with gun salutes, mass and feasting.

“In the cove below the fort the pioneer fleet of the Pacific coast was born. These ships were constructed of Sonoma lumber. Among these vessels were the Boldakof, a 200 ton brig, constructed at a cost of $60,000; the Volga, 160 tons, and the Kiakhta. 200 tons. Besides these several boats and launches were constructed for the Spanish at San Francisco. The first of the vessels were built of oak, but the Russians, becoming better acquainted with the pine and redwood around them as lumber material, used that timber in their yard. These were the first ships made of redwood.

“But in time the Russians found the fur fishing growing harder, the seal herds becoming thinner each season, and though industrious and frugal, they were mere novices in farming and wore destined to move out of the land. The prior claimants to this part of Sonoma were wasting their time and claim, and “meantime the permanent possessor of the land and sea was working his ox team across the plains. The Saxon was coming.”

Gregory deals interestingly with the life and customs of all the early settlers of Sonoma, the Digger Indian, the early Spanish at the missions, the inhabitants of the pueblos after the secularization of this missions, the Russians at Ross and the Americans – “the gringos.” He explains the curious origin of this term and that of “greaser” as applied by the Americans to the so called native Callfornians.

“The word gringo has a peculiar origin,” he writes. “The song, ‘Green Grow. the Rushes O,” was popular at the time, and the Mexicans, hearing the American frequently singing it, caught the words “green grow” and applied them to the Yankees, hence ‘gringo.’ The greaser title was first given by the Americans to the Indians. The old time wooden axle of the immigrant wagons needed greasing frequently – an attention and task not nice or agreeable – and the digger’s willingness to assume this and other humble labors around the camp of the good natured white man earned for him his name as well as occasional rations of beef.”

The author deals with his chapters by topics, and every chapter is teeming with interest. His passages are sometimes lively and humorous, and he has rare descriptive powers that take the reader to the picture. It is the interesting story of California and Sonoma from the viewpoint of an interesting person. Some stirring incidents that have been overlooked by historians have been noted in this book, and many of the descriptions of the life of the picturesque and pleasure loving Spanish should inspire fictionists to deal with this period of western history. Here is an incident from the chapter on “A Free and Easy People”:

“One of the most wonderful rides in history – though it has not been told In verse nor set to music – was made between September 24 and 28, 1858, from Los Angeles to Yerba Buena by an American named John Brown. He was known among the Californians as ‘Juan Flaco’ (Lean John) and was sent by Lieutenant Gillespie, U. S. A., who was hard pressed by the hostile California forces, to Commodore Stockton for reinforcements. Brown made Monterey, 460 miles, in 52 hours, without sleep. He expected to find there the fleet, but Stockton had sailed, and after sleeping three hours the sturdy rider completed the remaining 140 miles of his great Marathon in the same speed and delivered his call for help. It was not a broad highway like Sheridan’s, nor was the road as smooth as that of the ride of Paul Revere, but was a mere bridle path over high mountains, through deep ravines, round precipitous cliffs, across wide chaparral covered mesas, along the sea beach. He was always dodging the enemy, harassed and pursued. Riding shoulder to shoulder with death night and day, losing several horses — one shot from under him, forcing him to go 30 miles afoot, carrying his spurs and riata until he could commandeer another mount — Juan Flaco rode on and on, showing that a California man on a California mustang has outridden the storied riders of the world.”

Gregory gives the full story of the Spanish and Mexican troubles over California and of the coming of the Americans, paying honor where honor is due always and giving glowing tribute to General Vallejo, whom he calls “the premier Californian” and to whom he devotes an entire chapter of the history.

“His splendid personality is stamped on every league of these vegas and mesas,” writes the author of Vallejo, and goes on to tell of his splendid work among the Indians, his fine hospitality and keen foresight and judgment. He tells how this great man, after the secularization of the missions, kept the neophytes from returning to a state of nomadic savagery, as they did in other parts of California; how he took care of their property, cattle and land and preserved the good that had been brought to the country by the missions.

The author tells of the secularization showing how this was always contemplated by the Spanish government – before the missionaries, with their retinues, were sent out into the wilderness. Here is an order issued in the year 1773 by Viceroy Bucarili [sp – Bucareli] to the commandante at San Diego and Monterey: “When it shall happen that a mission is to be formed into a pueblo or village the commandante shall proceed to the civil and economical government which, according to the laws, is observed by other villages of this kingdom, secular clergy shall attend to the spiritual wants of these newly formed curacies; the missionary monks relieved from the converted settlements, shall proceed to the conversion of other heathen.”

There are many amusing incidents in the history, and the reading of the book, voluminous and complete though it is, will never be found tedious. The author tells of compulsory church attendance with the punishment of “the stocks,” and of some humorous decisions of the local judges In dealing with the primitive people.

Gregory tells of the deeds and describes with delightful intimacy the personality of the history makers of California – Fremont. Sloat, Sutter, Vallejo and the early Americans and Spanish-American families, as well as the modern great Sonomans, among whom he numbers Burbank. His chapter on Burbank is a classic, and won the approval of the wizard himself, who said it was the best story of his career that has been written. The author’s researches have at times inspired him to poetry and there are many noble verses in the volume. The best of these is dedicated to Gifford Pinchot It begins, “Sequoyah, cultured Chieftain of the Cherokees.”

Tom Gregory, trained newspaper man, approached his subject with the zeal of the native Californian, naturally appreciative of romance, and has accomplished not only a history of his own native land, but a volume of California literature that will live because of intrinsic interest, its captivating style, its authenticity. The history wil find a permanent place in the archives and will carry permanent honor to many notable figures of the west, who with their exploits, might otherwise have gone into oblivion. The volume is illustrated with portraits of prominent Sonomans, steei engravings and full page photographs of scenes and picturesque bits of the country.

– San Francisco Call, August 4, 1912
GRE-GORY MADE MEMBER VIVID IMAGINATION CLUB

The comet [Halley’s Comet – ed.] is now appearing in the western sky, minus its candal appendage. We are assured of this by Professor Thomasini Gre-gory, comotoligist of the Tar Flat observatory, who has been keeping the public posted from time to time regarding the movements of the comet. The professor opines that the shedding of its tail by the comet is due to natural causes, the separation being due to friction when the earth passed through the tail.

The comet is now having fashioned a tail of latest mode, according to Mr. Gre-Gory, intended exclusively for evening wear. It will have three rows of tucks on the end nearest the earth, edged with a filmy lace of the milky way pattern, while up the center will run a single row of star applique. The tail will be looped up on either side by a rosette of young moons.

The old tail, the professor claims, after being separated from the comet, settled over about Occidental. This caused a golden glow over in the western sky several evenings ago, which astronomers of lesser note mistook for a display of the aurora borealis.

Mr. Gre-Gory will head an expedition for the recovery of this tale, which he hopes to place on exhibition in the public library in the rear future, for the benefit of the school children. He will also make a chemical analysis of the tail.

The Vivid Imagination Club has elected Professor Gre-Gory to an honorary life membership.

The progress of Professor Gre-Gory’s investigations is being watched with considerable interest.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 23, 1910

HISTORIAN GREGORY TO WRITE MORE HISTORY

Tom Gregory, humorist, essayist, scientist, politician, poet and all-around writer of remarkable things, having finished the history of this county, will board the Southern Pacific passenger train this morning bound for Suisun. There he will remain for a few weeks gathering material for a history of Solano and Yolo counties. Mr. Gregory is employed by the Historic Record Company of Los Angeles. The matter for the Sonoma work is in the hands of the publication house in Chicago and will be issued soon.

– Press Democrat, July 27, 1911

COUNTY HISTORY HANDSOME BOOK
Fine Publication Compiled by Tom Gregory and Issued by History Record Company of Los Angeles

The “History of Sonoma County,” a handsome volume of more than 1,100 pages, published by the History Record Company of Los Angeles, has made its appearance, the first shipment having arrived yesterday from Chicago, where the books was printed and bound.

Outside of the biographical sketches, which are accompanied by many handsome steel and halftone engravings, the above history was compiled by Tom Gregory, the well-known Santa Rosa writer and newspaper man. More than 250 pages are devoted to this historical portion of the work, which is of a high order throughout and carefully prepared from the most authentic data as well as from personal investigation and research. A feature of the work is the wit and humor flashing out here and there, which relieves it of the tediousness sometimes noted in historical writings. The tracing of Sonoma county’s history begins with the earliest recorded happenings, and is carried down to the present time. A fine steel engraving of Mr. Gregory occupies the first place in the book, and in his preface the author says:

“When I sought to collect material for a story of Sonoma, I soon found myself reaching out into the history proper of California. Every trail leading to this county runs back into the earlier times of the state. The Spanish-American settlement of Sonoma was planned in the City of Mexico…The legislative events occurring in Monterey were soon manifest in Sonoma…The various governments sitting at various capitals marked Sonoma a key position on the line of the northern frontier…When Fremont, advised by Benton at Washington, collected the American settlers for the first strike, they struck at Sonoma…At an earlier day that jolly pirate, Sir Francis Drake, came hurrying along the shore…and made out the title deed and calmly presented the whole coast to Queen Elizabeth…For thirty years the double-headed eagle of the Czar from the palisades of Fort Ross Screamed defiance out of his two throats at his brother bird of Mexico…Then in the rare Indian Valley of the Moon the Padre Pathfinder planted the cross and called to prayer…If this indifferent story of Sonoma were worthy it would be dedicated to the greatest historical character him who sleeps at Lachryma Montis.” The closing reference is of course to the late General Vallejo.

Persons unfamiliar with such work have no conception of the immense amount of labor and research required in the preparation of such a volume. A force of men under the able direction of A. H. Preston, manager of the Historical Record Company, has been actively engaged for something like two years in collecting and preparing the material required while the work of printing and binding alone has occupied several months. A fine history of the Bennett Valley Grange, prepared by the late G. N. Whittaker, is a feature of the work. In addition to the large number of men and women prominently identified with the growth and development of the county, some fine views illustrating the important industries and the general character of the country are shown. The work is a highly credible one in every way, and a valuable addition to the state’s historic records.

– Press Democrat, December 13, 1911

“SONOMA COUNTY, THE GREAT HISTORY MAKER”

In the San Francisco Call on Sunday appeared an exciting half-page review or write-up of Tom Gregory’s “History of Sonoma County,” recently issued by a Los Angeles publishing firm. The article was written by Frank Mulgrew, one of the Call’s reportorial staff, and being himself a Sonoman, the merits of this imperial county are not lost.

The subject of the write-up is significant, as it is, “Sonoma County, Champion History Maker of California.” Both the historian and his reviewer hold that this county contains more real history than any other county in the state. However, Mr. Gregory has written, in his well known comprehensive and readable style, much interesting history into the county and into the book. The well known classic Gregorian face accompanies the review. Hundreds of persons have secured a volume of the history and are decidedly pleased with it. Mr. Gregory was the identical man to write the history of Sonoma county, and the company made no mistake in securing his valuable services for that purpose.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 5, 1912

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