brokentombstone

WE’LL BURY YOU FOR A PENNY

Sonoma County Supervisors could not believe the offer: An undertaker submitted a bid to bury the indigent dead for just one cent each. Included in the price was a redwood coffin with lid, cloth lined and bottom padded. With pillow. They would even dig the grave and see that is was “properly filled in” (thank goodness) and paint a wooden marker. Our thrifty supervisors in 1912 did not hesitate to accept the bid.

(RIGHT: Broken grave marker in the Moke section of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, 2015)

The Press Democrat remarked one of the courthouse reporters had heard of a similar bargain burial rate in Denver, but that was apparently wrong – it was in Phoenix. A year before their board of supervisors opened bids to find one undertaker proposing to do the job for 14 cents and another bidding a penny – but even that was underbid by the Arizona Casket Company’s offer to bury the indigent dead for $.001 each. “The board generally likes to receive low bids for county work, but these, or the most of them, were too low and the bid of the Arizona Casket Company  was, beside, embarrassing,” remarked the Arizona Republic. “How to make payment might become confusing. If the bidder should bury less than ten subjects in a quarter there would be no coin denomination of money with which to make payment.”

The penny price was a canny bet by the Lafferty & Smith funeral home in Santa Rosa. First, it applied only to those who died at the county hospital; if the dead person was elsewhere in Santa Rosa township they could bill 75¢. Judging by their previous contracts with the county and their competitor’s bid, the break-even cost for providing such a service was around $3.00 per body. Aside from the coffin – and redwood was then the cheapest wood available – the only real expense was the grave digging, and in 1912 simple manual labor like that paid only about a dollar a day. Nor were there a lot of dying indigents; that year only thirty went to the county cemetery on Chanate Road and some of those undoubtedly came from outside Santa Rosa, which a competitor handled for a higher price. So Lafferty & Smith didn’t risk losing a pile of money on their lowball bid.

And if they could locate a relative, they just might find someone willing to pay full price for a proper funeral and reburial of poor ol’ Uncle Joe. “It is well known that if not infrequently happens that an indigent dies with some well to do relatives or friends who are willing to pay the expense of a more costly funeral,” the PD observed in the same article.

We can’t be sure how often that happened, but there was an example just a few months earlier when members of a “distinguished Southern family” had Lafferty & Smith exhume a murder victim and replant him in the Odd Fellows’ cemetery. They even reunited the man’s head with his body, the skull having been used as an exhibit at the trial. That was a nice touch.

Lafferty & Smith might not have tried the discount gambit if not for another reason: There was a formidable new competitor in town. The Welti brothers brought along two decades of experience with Halsted & Company, one of San Francisco’s top funeral homes. And not insignificantly, as the PD noted, they were “in touch with the latest and most approved methods known to the profession.” Those up-to-date methods probably included the recipe for Halsted’s embalming fluid (see sidebar).

THE EMBALMER’S SECRET SAUCE

Undertaking was nearly entirely unregulated at the turn of the century; only eight states can be found that even required someone to have a license. Over the next two decades cities and states gradually passed requirements for a diploma, passing an examination or having years of apprenticeship in order to be trusted with handling the dead, particularly when it came to the dark art of embalming.
Even less controlled were the chemicals pumped into the bodies, which regularly killed embalmers handling the dangerous fluids. Arsenic and mercury had been primary ingredients since the Civil War and most undertakers probably had their own “secret sauce” mixing those with other ingredients such as aluminum, copper and zinc. Formulas could be found in every pharmacist’s manual and even in cookbooks and household references.
By the early 1910s seven states prohibited arsenic-based embalming fluid (California required any formula be approved by the state board of health, but did not ban arsenic outright until 1939). Commercial products using formaldehyde, such as the one shown here in a 1912 ad, became available but many funeral homes and hospitals continued to whip up their own, presumably both for cost savings and preference. It’s easy to find newspaper stories through the end of the 1910s about undertakers caught using homebrew embalming fluid, sometimes discovered when suspected poison cases had to be dismissed because the exhumed corpus delecti was contaminated with so much arsenic as to be corpus arsenicum. One formula called for 12 pounds of arsenic per body.
It goes without saying that loading up a dead body with lots of heavy metals and then shoving it deep underground is not environmentally sound, and it was known shortly after the Civil War that cemeteries were public health hazards, often with tons of poisonous materials leaching out of the coffins and contaminating groundwater. (More information here, although some of the regulatory details are wrong.) But short of digging up all the historic cemeteries, there’s nothing to be done now.

Frank and Charles Welti were not elbowing their way into Santa Rosa’s undertaking trade; they bought a well-established business from H. H. Moke, Longtime readers of this journal have bumped into Mr. Moke many times handling the funerals of some of those profiled here, as well as dealing with his own tragedy. On the morning of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake he lived with his family above the funeral parlor at 418 Fourth st, where his wife, 10 year-old daughter and sister-in-law were killed, presumably when the next door Haven Hardware store exploded, demolishing much of the block between B and A streets. He remarried a year later, his new bride  also an undertaker.

The funeral home was rebuilt at the same location, but not before the couple had one of the oddest experiences in Santa Rosa history. On July 4, 1908 Mr. and Mrs. Moke were apparently entertaining friends at their temporary location on Third street when an exhibition parachutist, jumping from a hot air balloon, drifted off course and  smashed into the skylight above them, raining broken glass on the frightened undertakers. “I’m not a dead one just yet,” quipped the jumper once he realized the nature of his landing spot.

With the sale of his business to the Welti brothers, Henry Herbert Moke apparently retired (the newspapers called him Herbert but he used his first name in the city directories, which is a bit unusual). Although he was only 41, he started learning the undertaking trade when he was thirteen and bought the business twenty years later. Besides money from selling the funeral parlor, Naomi Moke had recently won her lawsuit against an insurance company over the destruction of her late father’s drug store in the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake. The Mokes also had real estate; if you live on the  north side of Benton street between Glenn and Morgan, it was once his property. Henry stayed busy with his many club memberships and Naomi became president of the Woman’s Improvement Club, the most important civic organization in town.

Remaining behind to work with the Welti brothers was John P. Stanley, 76 years old when the business changed hands in 1911. Not much was known about him personally until a little 1913 article about his new house in Sebastopol appeared in the Santa Rosa Republican. It seems Mr. Stanley was an art and antique collector, designing his bungalow to best show off his stuff.

Moke and Stanley are storied names to anyone interested in the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery – which is probably damn near everyone who reads this blog. Stanley bought over five acres (the entire east side) from the Fulkerson family in 1884. Except for a teardrop-shaped section in the northeast which was occupied, he sold the rest in 1907 to his employer, Moke. (A map showing these sections is on the kiosks found at both entrances to the cemetery.) When Moke signed over the cemetery land to the Weltis most of it was still available, Moke having sold only about fifty lots. In 1944 Frank Welti sold those “three acres, more or less” to the county for the new Indigent Cemetery, even though it was  unimproved lowlands next to Poppy Creek and prone to flooding.

Rural Cemetery aficionados know its Twentieth Century history is mostly unhappy. The place was increasingly neglected as no one, including the city or county, took any responsibility for maintenance. By midcentury the place was so overgrown it was considered a serious fire hazard and the county did a 1951  controlled burn that turned out to be not-so controlled, destroying irreplaceable wooden markers.


(LEFT: The newly uncovered tombstone of William Fowzer)

Tombstones lost to fire, vandalism and accident are just part of the old cemetery’s woes. Moke and his predecessors didn’t keep track of who was buried where; historic maps used by the undertakers only marked which lots were available to sell. Since then there have been efforts to assemble a list of all burials with mixed results.

Last summer a group did a pilot survey using a small portion of a map drawn by a volunteer in the 1960s, presumably from his own observations and historical records research. Of the approx. 110 names shown on that section of the map, we could find no markers for 21 of them. That’s an unacceptable failure record of 23 percent.

Those 21 grave markers might have disappeared in the last half century but it’s more likely many were never there at all – it’s not terribly unusual for someone to purchase a cemetery plot and not use it. Or maybe some of the tombstones are still there but long buried themselves. Just last month (Sept. 2015) volunteers removing the ivy and weeds in the back corner found three long-forgotten gravesites from the Moke and Welti eras including the fallen tombstone of William Fowzer, a Civil War Union soldier who was at the battles of the Wilderness, Williamsburg, Antietam and Gettysburg. The old graveyard still has many secrets to yield.

The good news is that the Rural Cemetery is probably now in its best shape ever – thanks to Bill Montgomery and a crew of volunteers (whom you are WELCOME TO JOIN, on the third Saturday of every month at 9AM). And in 2017, a comprehensive directory will be published listing every known burial. Archivists Sandy Frary and Ray Owen currently have compiled over 5,200 names – including 178 who were previously unknown – using primary sources such as obituaries, Coroner’s Death Records and discovered tombstones viz. Pvt. Fowzer. About the same number have been removed because they were listed in error or the person found to be actually buried elsewhere. For many the listing will include details on how they lived and died, and the book will even include the 350 long-forgotten souls down in the floodplain. Once finished, it will be the most important reference book on Santa Rosa ever written. I cannot wait.

WILL BURY THE INDIGENT DEAD FOR ONE CENT EACH
Surprisingly Low Competitive Bid of Lafferty & Smith Is Accepted by the Board of Supervisors Here Monday

For one cent each Lafferty & Smith, the local undertakers, have contracted to bury the indigent dead who die at the county hospital and farm.

The bids for the burials were opened on Monday by the Board of Supervisors. When Clerk Felt broke the seal of the envelope and read the bid offering to provide the casket, etc., for one cent, there was a look of surprise. But Dan H. Lafferty of the firm offering to do this, was on hand, and there was no mistake.

For the one cent the firm agrees to provide a clear redwood coffin, planed on both sides; with lid; two coats of a dark color stain; interior of casket lined with mhite muslin, bottom padded and with pillow. They will also place a headboard painted and lettered over the grave. The grave in the county cemetery will also be dug, five feet deep, and properly filled in.

The city of Denver and the county of Sonoma are the only places in the United States where they have burials that cost one cent. In Denver the one cent bid came as the result of the liveliest competitive bidding. The undertaking firm, like Lafferty & Smith here, give a bond for the faithful carrying out of their contract.

For several years Lafferty & Smith have had the contract for indigent burials, the last bid being for $2.85 each. Yesterday they also put in a bid for the burial of the indigent dead outside of the county hospital and farm in Santa Rosa township for seventy-five cents each. This bid was also accepted.

The next lowest bidder, Welti Brothers, also of this city, offered to bury the indigent dead at the county hospital and Santa Rosa township for $3 each. Their bid for the burial of indigents in other parts of the county was $15. The firm of Lafferty & Smith did not bid on this business and Welti Brothers’ bid of $15 was accepted.

“The contract to bury the dead at one cent will be carried out to the letter, and each will be given a decent burial just as our bid reads. We bid knowing that we were bidding in competition, that is all,” said Dan H. Lafferty Monday evening.

It is well known that if not infrequently happens that an indigent dies with some well to do relatives or friends who are willing to pay the expense of a more costly funeral than the county allows. In consequence on such occasion the firm is able to make up for the small remuneration their usually low bid offers. It can readily be seen that the question of profit as represented by the figures of Lafferty & Smith’s bid has no mention.

The one cent bid give a surprise in Court House circles onn Monday. Among the most surprise were the newspaper men present, one of whom had heard of the one cent bid accepted in Denver. And with it all comes the assurance that there will be the same care and attention the firm has given the indigent burials of the past.

– Press Democrat, July 9, 1912
BODY OF CHISHOLM’S VICTIM TAKEN FROM POTTER’S FIELD

From an unhonored grave in the Potter’s field the remains of Van Lear Kirkman Droulliard, the man of distinguished Southern family who was cruelly murdered by L. C. Chisolm in a lonely tent on the ocean front near Fort Ross, have been exhumed and are now resting in a tomb in Odd Fellows’ cemetery. The last resting is also marked with a monument.

Prior to their reinterment, the remains to which was added the skull of the dead man exhibited as mute evidence at the trial of his slayer in the Superior Court of this county, were enclosed in an expensive casket.

The devotion of the heartbroken widow provided the means whereby the body was taken from the county cemetery and given decent burial. Mrs. Droulliard at first contemplated coming to Santa Rosa to look after the disposition of her husband’s body. She was prevented from doing so, and intrusted [sic] the mission to Lafferty & Smith, the local undertakers. They carried out all her wishes in the matter. The body was exhumed several days ago, and reinterred as stated in Odd Fellows’ cemetery.

[..]

– Press Democrat, October 15, 1911
MOKE & WARD HAVE DISSOLVED
Business Will be Continued by Mr. Moke in Future

H. H. Moke and W. B. Ward, who have been conducting the well known undertaking establishment on Fourth street under the firm name of Moke & Ward, have dissolved partnership, and in the future Mr. Moke will be the sole proprietor. Mr. Ward has not yet decided just what he wil do, but will still continue to make his home here.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 20, 1910
HERBERT MOKE SELLS BUSINESS
Frank and Charles Welti Succeed to Same

H. Herbert Moke, who has been in business here for many years, disposed of his business on Wednesday to Messrs. Frank Welti and Charles Welti. The gentlemen will take charge of the business on Thursday and will become permanent residents of the City of Roses. For some time past the Messrs. Welti have been desirous of coming to Santa Rosa, believing it to be the best city on the entire coast, and they wished to secure a location where they could have the advantages of good climate and be prepared to enjoy life.

Both of the gentlemen who have succeeded to Mr. Moke’s business are experienced undertakers, and they will conduct the business along the modern and approved lines which Mr. Moke has maintained. Mr. Frank Welti will remain here in active charge of the business, and his brother, Charles Welti, will remain for a brief time in Napa. Frank Welti has been with the Halsted Undertaking parlors in San Francisco for a number of years, and has been engaged in the undertaking business for the past twenty years. He is an expert in his line, and his association with the Halsteds, the leading parlors of San Francisco, has kept him in touch with the latest and most approved methods known to the profession. The wife of Frank Welti will be the lady attendant at the parlors. Charles Welti will be here from Napa on Thursday for a brief visit, and he and his wife will become permanent residents of this city just as soon as they can dispose of business and personal interests in Napa city and county.

Both of the gentlemen come highly recommended and are of the genial disposition that makes hosts of friends. J. P. Stanley, who has been with the Moke undertaking establishment for many years past, will continue with the new firm as will also Carroll W. Baker, who has been here for a number of years with Mr. Moke. With these two gentlemen remaining, the new firm has a strong team.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 1, 1911
WILL OCCUPY NEW BUNGALOW
Mr. Stanley Moves into Cozy Sebastopol Home

Friday J. P. Stanley moved to his new bungalow at Sebastopol. For some time past it has been under construction, and was completed several months ago, but he did not want to move during the rainy season. Now that it is real summer he will make his home there, going back and forth every day to be at his work with Welti Brothers.

It is a cozy home, planned by himself, and his ideas were carried out in every respect. There is one large living room, arranged specially for his art treasures, and those who know him are aware he has a collection well worth seeing.  They have all been collected since the fire. At that time he had many treasures, but lost all. Together with his paintings, he has numerous pieces of antique furniture and bric-a-brac, which will be displayed to advantage.

Mr. Stanley wishes it announced that he has not in any way severed his connection with Welti Bros. but will be found there as usual.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 27, 1913

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OUR ARTIST NO LONGER IN RESIDENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ELEGANT THREE-COLOR WORK BY REPUBLICAN
Daken’s Art Portfolios Ready for Public Distribution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 19, 1912
AUCTION SALE OF PAINTINGS ODD FELLOWS HALL TONIGHT

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

[..]

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 20, 1912

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RIOT AT THE DIME STORE

“Black Friday” sales after Thanksgiving are not just about the bargains; we’ve come to expect videos of crowds waiting for hours outside the store, then rushing through the doors in a frenzy. This provides an opportunity for the rest of us to cluck our tongues and moralize. “Oh, look at those uncivilized people pushing and shoving,” we sigh, “people didn’t use to act like that!” Don’t bet on it – great-grandma was willing to trample you to get her hands on a discount teapot.

(RIGHT: F. W. Woolworth ad in the Press Democrat, 1912. CLICK or TAP to enlarge)

One of the big events in 1912 Santa Rosa was the opening of the Woolworth 5-10-15¢ store. There were already several homegrown department stores downtown, as well as places where you could buy small hardware items, candy, and whatnot. That Woolworth’s wasn’t locally owned was part of its appeal; it was novel in being the first nationwide chain to set up shop in town. And also nice: Really, really cheap stuff.

The store offered a preview (with live orchestra!) the day before opening, along with a big advertisement announcing the hourly specials. The next morning, a crowd started gathering 90 minutes before the store opened. “When the doors were finally unlocked and the jam was so great that one woman narrowly escaped having her arm broken when she fell before the on rush,” reported the Press Democrat.

“The store filled until those inside could not move about,” the PD added, “while the pressure from without continued.” Surely we can all imagine a store with women packed shoulder to shoulder – but remember this was also 1912, when women’s hats were enormous. There must have been many millinery collisions, and from above it must have looked like a single undulating blanket of ribbons and bows and fake blooming flowers.

Pity, too, the employees trying to serve such a mob. “The women clerks could not wait on the crowd fast enough to satisfy all,” the paper reported, suggesting some customers had ruffled feathers (see again: weird hats) and were snarling at the poor saleswomen. In that era before paper bags, clerks were expected to wrap up the items, but they were too harried to even offer that service. “Many took their articles to nearby stores and secured papers with which to wrap them up. Others carried their purchases home without any wrapping.” What a sight the town must have been that day, with a stream of women, hats askew, trickling away from downtown with their alarm clocks, cake plates and Turkish towels tucked under their arms.

Santa Rosa old timers are probably now waxing nostalgic about the jaw-breakers and comic books they bought at Woolworth’s, just slightly east from Mendocino avenue on Fourth street in the Rosenberg building. But in 1912 the store was elsewhere, directly west of Exchange Bank. And that place is still there – or at least, most of it.

Compare the two photos below. The one taken in 1918 shows five corbels at the top and four fenestrations. The modern building has four corbels and three windows. At some point the building was made slimmer by about fifteen feet. But which side – and why?

The first clue is that the old Woolworth address, 541 Fourth street, no longer exists. The westmost storefront is number 535, which was the late, lamented Caffe Portofino. Offices upstairs are 537 and the beauty shop next to the bank is number 539, which suggests the east side was shaved. Next, the fire maps show the building was built around 1910 and made with reinforced concrete and steel beams. The eastern wall is now brick, which is more evidence that it’s not original. (As an aside, the masonry work looks pretty funky and the inside wall is heavily reinforced with wood trusses.)

So why was the right side of the building chopped off? The answer would certainly be found in a thorough title search, which Gentle Reader is welcome to pursue – far be it for me to deny G. R. a few hours of microfilm fun down at the recorder’s office. Most likely Exchange Bank discovered those few feet of the building were over the property line. Why the owner at the time chose to slice off a section of the building – no mean trick without causing serious damage to the rest of the structure – instead of demolishing the whole thing or paying Exchange for a lot line adjustment is anyone’s guess.

The Woolworth articles transcribed below shows this was once the “Livernash building,” which would mean it was owned by Jessie Livernash, the sister of J. P. and T. T. Overton, two of the wealthiest men in Santa Rosa and landlords for a large chunk of downtown. Jessie died in 1913, and the obituaries reveal she also owned the property directly to the north of the bank; the “Livernash block” mentioned in her obit was apparently that whole end of the block, with a carveout on the corner for Exchange Bank. All of these details would be a yawner if not for the fact she was the ex-wife of Edward J. Livernash, who just may have been the most outrageous character ever associated with Santa Rosa (and that really says something). His tale will appear here in a few weeks.

Bonus item: Below is also a small notice about work starting on the Doyle Building on the corner of Fourth and D streets. This lovely Beaux Arts office and retail building was at the location of the old Athenaeum theater, destroyed in the 1906 quake. It is amazing that this lot remained vacant for over five years, given all the construction downtown at the time.

Historic photos courtesy the Larry Lapeere Collection

BIG OPENING ON SATURDAY
Woolworth Place of Business Ready for Inspection

The store established in this city by the F. W. Woolworth Company, in the Livernash building on Fourth street, near Mendocino, will be open for inspection by the public on Friday afternoon from 2:30 until 5:30 o’clock. On Saturday morning the establishment will be opened for business at 9 o’clock and thereafter at 8 o’clock each morning. A glance at the show windows gives the people an idea of what to expect to find on the inside of the mammoth store, but the interior presents even greater surprises.

The establishment of the store in this city demonstrates the remarkable growth of the F. W. Woolworth Company from a small store with a capital of $300, into one of the largest corporations known, having a capitalization of $65,000,000. The company operates 650 stores in the United States and CAnada and each is known officially through a numeral. Santa Rosa is Store No. 614.

It will be the aim of the company to carry in its local store the merchandise which the people of Santa Rosa want…

…With such painstaking efforts to please it is hoped the people of Santa Rosa will appreciate the efforts to serve them well. The mammoth store occupies the lower and upper floors of the Livernash building, giving one of the largest floor spaces devoted to a single business in the City of Santa Rosa. From the appearance of the store it looks as if everything under the sun is carried and nothing in the stock will be over 15 cents in price.

W. E. Ward is the local manager of the business, and he is an experienced man in that capacity, and one who always strives to please. He has until recently been assistant manager of the store at San Diego, and is delighted to have been permitted to make his home in Santa Rosa.

 – Santa Rosa Republican, August 21, 1912
A GREAT RUSH AT THE WOOLWORTH STORE

The opening of the new 5, 10 and 15 cent store under the management of the F. W. Woolworth Co., Saturday morning proved quite exciting. The crowd was immense.

Women commenced congregating as early as 7:30 and 9 o’clock when the store opened the sidewalk was blocked and the crowd extended far out into the street. When the doors were finally unlocked and the jam was so great that one woman narrowly escaped having her arm broken when she fell before the on rush.

The store filled until those inside could not move about, while the pressure from without continued. Many wanted special articles which they could not reach. The women clerks could not wait on the crowd fast enough to satisfy all.

Many took their articles to nearby stores and secured papers with which to wrap them up. Others carried their purchases home without any wrapping. All day long the crowds filled the store and at night the counters and shelves showed the result of the day’s business. The firm has a large reserve stock, and by Monday the store will be replenished, ready for all who want to take advantage of the bargains to be found on the counters. And there are some real bargains in the way of prices to be had in the various lines offered.

– Press Democrat, August 25, 1912
NEW BUILDING FOR CORNER

M. Doyle, who owns the property formerly occupied by the Athenaeum on the corner of Fourth and D streets, is preparing to erect a two story building. It will be a concrete reinforced structure, and the upper floor will be occupied by a hall and offices, while the lower floor will be devoted to stores.

Company E has talked some of making an armory there, but as yet the matter has not been decided.

The contract has been let out for the iron and work will begin immediately on the building. This will be a welcome addition to the city and will complete the corner that has been vacant ever since the fire.

The building will be first class in every respect and Mr. Doyle will give the work his personal attention. Only the best of materials will be used in the construction.

 – Santa Rosa Republican, April 7, 1911

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