Gene Carr Step-Brothers

WHEN WE BEGAN DRIVING LIKE MANIACS

Ah, 1913, the year Californians demonstrated how easy it was for untrained drivers to get behind the wheel, drive really fast and run people down.

On just one December day in San Francisco, a man named Caseilli was arrested for a hit and run of three children (“I didn’t think they were badly hurt and they were picked up, so I went on”). A man named Roy Burton was charged with hitting a pedestrian (at least he gave the victim a ride part of the way home, dropping him off within two blocks). Louis Kantor was arrested as the suspect of a joy ride that killed a bank teller and the driver of an “auto hearse” ran down a four year-old. The child was not seriously hurt but that fellow should be cheered for stopping at all, although it may have been to check whether he had a new customer to ride in the back.

Those numbers weren’t unusual; the Santa Rosa Republican offered an editorial that June, noting five were killed on a single day in Oakland. On the same day the Santa Rosa paper spotted a car racing down King street (“where police officers seldom come”) at unsafe speeds. “Wherever it is believed the police officers are not plentiful or are too busy to see everything, some auto drivers will take advantage of the situation,” the editor complained. “There seems no way to check the habit. The daily auto death toll grows larger.”

It was a serious issue not being treated very seriously by the state, which still regarded a car as horse-and-buggy version 2.0. At the time the entire section of California law related to automobiles was only 19 short paragraphs and could easily fit on a pocket-sized card. All auto accidents were classified misdemeanors and as for hitting someone, the law stated: “In case of accident or injury to person or property car must stop and if requested, give name of owner” (emphasis mine). There was no requirement to help the victim or mention of what was required if the person was unconscious – or dead.

At least the law did say the driver and/or owner of the car could be sued for injuries or property damage, but a couple of earlier high-profile local accidents demonstrated how well that worked out – or didn’t.

In late 1910 a Sebastopol farmer named Walter Elphick was driving a car at night on the road from Santa Rosa to Penngrove. (Before you ask, Elphick Road in Sebastopol is apparently named after his father Henry.) He hit the buggy of David Batchelor, who had a real estate and insurance office in Penngrove. Batchelor was thrown 25 feet from the buggy. His horse broke free as the car shoved the buggy 50 feet back. Elphick lied about his identity (he said his name was Jones and he was headed to Cloverdale) but Batchelor noted the license number on the car. Bachelor sued for $3,000 damages.

At the jury trial Bachelor testified that the car was on the wrong side of the road and going over 40 MPH (this was 1910 and country roads were not paved). Elphick said he tried to stop but his tires skidded. As for the fake name, he claimed he didn’t really remember that clearly, but he lied to “avoid publicity.” The jury awarded Bachelor $700, which was about what the average family earned for a year.

But the matter still wasn’t settled because: Lawyers.

Five months later, Elphick asked for a new trial. His lawyer was this journal’s anti-hero James Wyatt Oates who built (what would become known as) Comstock House. A young apple farmer wouldn’t normally be able to hire the top lawyer around, but Oates was a fanatical car nut who had just ended two terms as president of the Sonoma County Automobile Association, and likely took on the case gratis. Elphick now claimed “the accident was unavoidable and that Batchelor was not thrown from his buggy at the time of the impact, but was thrown later when his horse became unmanageable,” according to the Press Democrat. After seven hours of deliberation, the jury knocked the award down to $125.

The other notable accident happened in 1911 when Sloan Boyd, a young man who lived in Rincon Valley, was hit while riding his bicycle home from work at night. This time the victim’s injuries were quite serious; he was hospitalized for six weeks and “for several days he was delirious and it was not thought he would live,” reported the Republican. The PD showed great interest in the case and offered regular updates on Boyd’s improving condition but curiously, never mentioned who was responsible except for the initial story declaring it was “a San Francisco man.” But even that was wrong; he was Samuel Stitt, the manager of a significant Los Angeles bank and the car belonged to his fiancée Hazel Farmer, a member of Santa Rosa’s elite society.

The daughter of Dorothy Farmer (think Farmers Lane), Hazel and her mother were as crazy about cars as Wyatt Oates and both were part of the Oates’ small circle of friends. In 1909 Dorothy had purchased a Packard in Los Angeles and she and Hazel drove all the way back to Santa Rosa – no easy feat since those primitive automobiles broke down regularly and most roads between towns were horse trails. Both were often featured in the Press Democrat for their motoring adventures around the state.

The badly injured bicyclist sued for $21,720 – an amount so specific that it had to be itemized – and the suit was quickly settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Hazel married Stitt shortly thereafter and her name again regularly adorned the PD social pages. (As a little Believe-it-or-Not! aside, mother Dorothy lived to 100 and died in 1964, enjoying good health all of her life except for 1947, when she fell and broke her hip on the corner of Fifth and Humboldt streets – struck by a bicycle.)

Sloan Boyd was well compensated for having been hit by an heiress, while David Batchelor probably didn’t have enough left over after paying his attorney to buy a new buggy wheel. But the bigger picture is that both were totally on their own after being run over; there was no requirement for car insurance (the first ads for it didn’t appear in the Press Democrat until 1916) and no expectation the police would investigate whether or not the driver was driving dangerously.

Meanwhile, every year the new cars were bigger, heavier and faster – and there were lots more of them; by the spring of 1913, California had over 100,000 registered cars. That worked out to about one per every 25 residents, and you can bet more people than just car owners were driving them. Few had any kind of insurance and none were expected to pass even the most minimal driving test, as there was no license required to drive. What would you expect the outcome to be?

Always a good reflection of popular culture, nearly every Sunday the funnies found in city papers would have at least one cartoon showing some hapless soul losing control of a car and crashing. There was also “Motorcycle Mike,” a popular comic strip where the whole gag was a reckless guy riding around accidentally causing random destruction and sending people flying.

By 1913 there was also a new disturbing trend: Hit and run accidents.

“Hit and run” was not yet a common term in 1913, but Google offers an “Ngram Viewer” that scans all 30 million items in Google Books (which includes many magazines and journals) for words or phrases, and for the first two decades of the 20th century it shows a spike nationally around that year for accident-related terms such as, “hit by an automobile,” run over by an automobile” and yes, “hit and run.” From then onward, phrases like these climb sharply in use.

Locally there were at least three serious hit and run incidents in 1913. In Santa Rosa a man on a motorcycle was run down on Mendocino avenue near Cherry street and a bicyclist was knocked unconscious on Santa Rosa avenue. Those drivers apparently were not caught, but a Napa man named Oscar Godwin was arrested for rear-ending at high speed a buggy on the road to St. Helena, where two young women were thrown to the ground. Godwin’s excuse for not stopping was that his passengers forced him to keep going.

Clearly, something had to be done. Lacking a workable set of rules of the road from the state, local jurisdictions were stepping in to set their own basic laws, such as Santa Rosa requiring tail lights and drivers to keep to the right side of the street (see “DRIVING LIKE A SANTA ROSAN“). Finally, the legislature revamped the entire section of code with the Vehicle Act of 1913.

The new state code was comprehensive – far too comprehensive to the likes of many. Drivers had chafed even under the old laws and griped they were being picked upon; the great cartoonist Rube Goldberg earlier had produced a cartoon for the San Francisco Call satirizing a tortuous visit to police court for a speeding ticket (the harassed driver looks suspiciously like Rube himself, BTW).

Rube Goldberg/San Francisco Call, May 7, 1911

 

 

Little, if anything, in the 1913 law seems controversial today. No street racing was allowed without a permit, no drunk driving, joyriding was illegal without the owner’s permission and no one under the age of 16 could drive, for ex. Addressing hit and run, §367c of the new law finally required the driver to not only stop but provide help, while making it a felony to flee the scene.

But there were loud complaints that even those changes were overreach and an affront to liberty itself. A superior court judge in San Bernardino had declared all these rules were “discrimination” against drivers because similar restrictions weren’t placed on people using horses. Even providing your name at the scene of an accident was unconstitutional, that judge said, because it could be self-incriminating – and again, not at all required if you were behind a horse. Because of this absurdly strict interpretation, hit and run was knocked down from a felony back to being a misdemeanor.

The rollicking statewide fight over the California Vehicle Act of 1913 would be a fun article to write (my god, the passion!) but not for here. I’ll close by adding there was even a squabble over the new requirement for an “automobile warning signal.” Every vehicle had to have a signaling device “capable of emitting an abrupt sound, adequate in quality and volume to give warning of the approach of such vehicle.” Further, it was illegal to use the signals “for any purpose except as warnings of danger.” In other words: A horn.

 

 

SUES FOR INJURIES IN AUTO COLLISION
D. W. Batchelor Brings Action for $3,000 from W. R. Elphick Whom He Says Was Careless

For alleged carelessness and negligence on the part of W. R. Elphick, in driving his automobile into the vehicle in which D. W. Batchelor was riding on the night of December 11, 1910, Mr. Batchelor, through his attorney, Judge Samuel K. Dougherty, commenced a suit to recover $3,000 damages from Elphick in the Superior Court on Saturday. Mr. Batchelor cites in his complaint that he sustained painful injuries and that his vehicle was damaged. He was required to have medical attention and medicines and his business as a real estate man was interfered with. The collision occurred on the road from Santa Rosa to Penngrove.

– Press Democrat, January 1 1911

 

Will Contest the Case

Attorney J. W. Oates has been retained by W. R. Elphick to defend the action filed against him by D. W. Batchelor, to recover damages for injuries received in a collision on the county road on the night of December 11, when it is alleged Elphick ran into the buggy occupied by the plaintiff. Mr. Elphick denies any responsibility for the accident.

– Press Democrat, January 5 1911

 

DAMAGES ASKED IN AUTO SUIT
D. W. Batchelor Sues W. R. Elphick For Injuries Sustained in Automobile Collision

Before Superior Judge A. J. Buckles of Solano county, sitting in Judge Denny’s court, the trial was commenced of the suit for $3,000 damages brought by W. W. Batchelor against W. R. Elphick for injuries sustained and damage done near Penngrove, when Elphlck’s automobile crashed Into the buggy In which he was riding.

It was a Jury trial…

Surveyor Newton V. V. Smyth was called to explain a chart he had made of the scene of the accident. He also computed the speed at which the auto was going.

Batchelor testified that at the time of the crash he was hurled twenty-five feet and that the buggy was carried or dragged for fifty feet on the front of the automobile, the horse having broke loose.

Batchelor testified that at the time of the colllson he was on the right side of the road and the automobile driven by the defendant was on the wrong side of the road. He testified that the machine was being driven at a rate of not less than forty miles an hour. He testified that Elphick gave his name as “Jones,” and said he was going to Cloverdale. Batchelor said he took the number of the machine and by this means learned the identity of the owner of the automobile. He testified that he was injured on the arm and shoulder and also suffered from shock.

Mrs. Batchelor testified as to her husband’s injury and Dr. Bogle was called to the stand and said he found Mr. Batchelor suffering from a contused arm and complaining of pain in the region of the kidneys.

J. D. Cook and son testified as to the manner in which the buggy had been dragged by the automobile and the indentations it had made on the side of the road.

Chief Deputy Assessor J. C. Smith testified as to the assessed value of Mr. Elphlck’s property in this county.

H. A. Atkinson testified as to Batchelor’s having come to his office two weeks after the accident, nursing his arm and in a nervous condition. Geo. Vogt was another witness.

At a few minutes to five o’clock an adjournment was taken until nine o’clock Friday morning. Judge S, K. Dougherty, counsel for Mr. Batchelor, stated that he had one more witness he expected to call before resting the case. Colonel James W. Oates represents Mr. Elphick, and he will call some witnesses. The case will probably go to the jury today.

– Press Democrat, July 7 1911

 

VERDICT GIVES PLAINTIFF $700
D. W. Batchelor Wins His Suit Against W. R. Elphick in the Superior Court

D. W. Batchelor was yesterday afternoon awarded a verdict of $700 by a jury in Judge Denny’s department of the Superior Court, against W. R. Elphick. Judge A. J. Buckles presided at the trial.

Batchelor asked for $1,400 for injuries and damages sustained on account of a collision between Elphlck’s automobile and his horse and buggy. The alleged details of the case have already been stated.

Elphick, Tony Veir and D. H. McReynolds were the witnesses called for the defense yesterday. Mr. Elphick testified that he only saw Batchelor’s rig when he was only a short distance away, and that he did his best to swerve to his side of the road. He said he did not remember fully that he did at first give his name as “Jones.” He did so as to avoid the publicity. He testified that his machine skidded at the time of the collision, and he could not avoid the impact.

Judge Samuel K. Dougherty, who represented the plaintiff, made the opening argument to the jury. Colonel James W. Oates, who represented Mr. Elphick, followed, and Judge Dougherty closed. The jury returned its verdict after a short deliberation. Judge Buckles granted a stay of execution.

– Press Democrat, July 8 1911

 

NEW TRIAL IS GRANTED IN DAMAGE SUIT

In an opinion received yesterday from Judge A. J. Buckles of Solano county, a new trial is granted in the case of D. W. Bachelor against W. R. Elphlck. This sets aside a judgment for $700 granted the plaintiff in the first trial, which was heard by Judge Buckles, sitting in this county. The action was for $3,000 damages for a collision between Batchelor’s buggy and Elphick’s automobile. It was alleged in the complaint that Elphick’s automobile ran up behind the buggy and collided with it, injuring both the vehicle and the plaintiff. The plaintiff is represented by Attorney S. K. Dougherty, and the defendant by Attorney James W. Oates.

– Press Democrat, December 20 1911

 

ALL THE EVIDENCE IN ARGUMENTS TODAY

…Elphick took the stand in his own behalf at the trial on Wednesday and he alleged that the accident was unavoidable and that Batchelor was not thrown from his buggy at the time of the impact, but was thrown later when his horse became unmanageable. He went pretty thoroughly into his contention before he left the stand on direct and cross-examination.

– Press Democrat, March 14, 1912
JURY GIVES HIM $125

After being out for almost seven hours and casting many ballots, the jury in the suit of D. W. Batchelor against W. R. Elphlck brought a verdict into Judge Seawell’s department of the Superior Court on Thursday night shortly before ten o’clock awarding the plaintiff a judgement in the sum of $125. covering all phases of the damages he sustained. Batchelor sued for over $3,000 damages for for alleged personal injuries received and damage done his horse and buggy when Elphlck’s automobile collided with him as he was driving along the country road some distance from this city…

– Press Democrat, March 15, 1912
SLOAN BOYD IS SERIOUSLY HURT
Run Down by an Automobile on Saturday Night Out on the Sonoma Road Near Town

Sloan Boyd, a well known resident of Rincon Valley, while riding home on his blcycle from his employment at the National Ice Company’s establishment in this city on Saturday night, met with a serious accident. He came into a collision head-on with a touring car coming to Santa Rosa in the opposite direction. He was thrown with terrific force from his wheel and suffered serious cuts about the face and head and a bad contusion of the shoulder. A San Francisco man was at the wheel in the automobile.

The machine stopped and Mr. Boyd was hurried to the Mary Jesse Hospital in this city where his injuries were attended to by Dr. Jesse. It Is feared that he may be internally hurt also. He was detained at the hospital. Mrs. Boyd was also brought to the hospital to see her husband as soon as possible after the accident in the automobile which ran him down. The accident happened on a dangerous turn out on the Sonoma road not far from the city limits.

– Press Democrat, October 15 1911
AUTOIST RAN INTO FRANK KURLANDER

Frank Kurlander, a son of Mrs. Maurice Kurlander, was run down by an automobile driver Saturday evening on Mendocino avenue, near Cherry street. The Kurlander boy was riding a motorcycle at the time. Fortunately he was injured but slightly, but his motorcycle was badly damaged. The automobile driver put himself in a serious position by running off without stopping to ascertain what damage he had done and for not rendering assistance. The law is very severe on the auto driver who runs off in hope of not being recognized after he has run into a person. The authorities have the number of the machine which struck young Kurlander, and it will be an easy matter for them to locate the machine.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 1, 1912
AUTO HITS MAN AND LEAVES HIM UNCONSCIOUS IN ROAD
Dashes Away Into the Darkness After the Collision

While riding a bicycle on Santa Rosa avenue Saturday night about half past seven o’clock, Fred Kruse, who lives at Fifth and Riley streets, was run down by an automobile and badly hurt.

The auto did not stop after striking Kruse, but the driver threw on more power and sped away into the darkness. The machine was running at a high rate of speed and had only the small lights burning and did not light up the roadway at all.

Kruse had been working on a ranch belonging to his sister, in Bennett Valley. He was returning to this city and his uncle, mother and brother were following in a buggy. When they turned from Bennett avenue to Santa Rosa avenue they came upon the unconscious form of their relative lying in the road. They picked him up and hurried him to the family home, where Dr. S. I. Wyland was hastily summoned.

The young man was found to have suffered a severe wrenching of the back and his right side and shoulder were badly bruised. There may be internal injuries, though this cannot be determined as yet.

When found Kruse was lying at one side of the road about ten feet ahead of his wheel, which was badly smashed. He was unconscious but was talking incoherently and kept asking why the auto did not stop. When he regained consciousness he could throw but little light on the accident. He said that he thought he had been struck by the fender of the machine. He heard the auto coming Just before it hit him and looked back over his shoulder. He says he instantly realized that he was about to be hit and swerved sharply to one side in an attempt to get out of the way The machine struck him and he called to the occupants of the car as he was hurled to the ground. He says there can be no doubt but that they knew they had hit him. He can give no description of the car. There is not the slightest clew to the Identity of the perpetrators of the outrage. It is about time such business as this was stopped.

– Press Democrat, March 2 1913
NEW AUTOMOBILE LAW SIGNED BY GOVERNOR
Owners and Drivers Will Be Affected by Its Terms
Stringent Regulations Provided for Auto and Motorcycles and New Rate of Licenses Is Provided While County Gets Half the Money Collected

Sacramento, June 14.—Among the bills signed by Governor Johnson today was Assembly bill No. 2095, the automobile registration bill, which transfers the department from the office of the Secretary of Stale and places it in the hands of the State Engineer and the State Treasurer, and provides a new schedule of automobile licenses.

This measure sets forth rules of the road; makes joy-riding, where the consent of the owner has not been obtained, a felony; provides that minors under 16 years shall not be licensed; fixes the speed limit at thirty-five miles an hour; prohibits intoxicated persons from driving an automobile or a motorcycle, and provides that “muffler cutouts” shall not be used within any incorporated city or city and county.

No races or contests for speed shall be permitted without first securing a permit from the proper authorities of the city or county. Motor vehicles must always be driven on the right-hand side of the highway and be under control of the driver, and in case of collision in which a person is hurt ths driver must stop and lend assistance and upon request of the person injured or whose property has been damaged the driver shall give his name and address and the number of his auto license.

Here is the schedule of licenses to bp charged: Motorcycle. $2 a year: automobile, less than 20 horsepower, $5; 20 and less than 30, $10; 30 and less than 40. $16; 40 and less than 50, $20; 50 and less than 60, $25; 60 and above, $30; dealers, for five or less autos. $50, $10, for every automobile In excess of five; dealers in motorcycles, $5 for five seals; every original chauffeur’s license, $2; renewal, $2, and additional seal of registration or license, 50 cents.

All fees or other moneys collected by the State Treasurer shall be placed in a fund known as “the “motor vehicle fund,” and one-half of the receipts shall be returned to the Counties from which they were received, and these funds shall be paid into the road funds of the counties receiving them. San Francisco shall, under the provisions of the act, be deemed a county.

Fines collected in the counties shall be paid into the county treasury, and placed in the “county good roads fund.” Applications for licenses shall be made to the State Engineer, and the licenses shall be issued by him, the money for the same to be paid to the State Treasurer, thus providing a double check on the business.

– Press Democrat, June 15, 1913
HURRY AWAY IN THE DARK
Auto Joyriders Leave Their Victims in the Road

Oscar Godwin, an auto proprietor and driver of Napa, is alleged to have collided with another vehicle near St. Helena last week–also with the new law which makes a crime of the neglect to stop and render assistance in the case of an automobile accident.

Godwin late Tuesday night at a high speed ran his automobile into the rear of a buggy driven by William Bradley. The buggy was wrecked and Misses Beth and Grace Nottage of Oakland were thrown out and severely injured. Godwin hurried on without stopping, though he heard the screams of the frightened and injured girls. In his car were E. Bailey of Napa and two women. The two men have been arrested. Godwin makes the lame excuse that his passengers forced him to drive on, and so to escape bodily injury he left his injured victims lying in the road. The offense is a serious one, as the maximum penalty is five years in the penitentiary, or a fine of $5000, or both. Both men have been released on bail of $1000.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 16, 1913

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dawndeed

DAWN OF THE DEED

You lucky, lucky soul; you just won vacation property in Sonoma county! Tell your friends and family so they can rush to buy a lot close to yours!

That was the premise of a con game that swept the nation in the early 1910s. The land existed alright and you actually did own it, as long as you gave the promoters a few bucks for paperwork, sent the county a small recording fee and paid your county taxes. The gotcha was that the property was worthless because it was on a remote, steep hillside. The map showing a neat grid of streets and building lots was a fantasy, which led people in the know to call these “paper subdivisions.” Another name used was “wildcat subdivisions” – they were on land only wildcats roamed.

Sonoma county was dotted with these imaginary little towns, mainly around the Russian River and north of Santa Rosa (outside of Cloverdale there was supposedly Cloverdale Heights, Cloverdale Terrace and Orange City, for example). Very few owners built on their property and almost all stopped paying taxes, letting it default back to the county. But a few years ago a tweak to state law allowed developers to invoke those old deeds as a means to bypass all modern rules and regulations – a crazy story explored here earlier in “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED.” This is the prequel to those events, explaining how the scam began.

Newspapers in the 1910s were virtually homestudy courses in land fraud, with hucksters selling Florida swampland as lakefront property and Montana scrub desert as homesites with exceptionally swell drainage. Much in the news was a particular swindle where conmen made today’s equivalent of $2.25 million/year before they were busted in 1909, selling lots in Boise City, Oklahoma, “the garden spot of the southwest,” promising no home was more than four blocks from the courthouse. “King Corn and King Cotton grow side by side” they boasted in mailers with photos of happy farmers. In truth, the newspapers later said it was an arid “No Man’s Land” and the men didn’t even own the property outright. Over 250 victims came forward to testify against them before they were sentenced to a couple of years in federal prison for mail fraud. The moral of the story, as viewed by other crooked “land sharks:” Better not to document the scam in printed mailers and to rip-off the suckers in person.

Summerland was the most (in)famous and probably the first of the Sonoma County scams, located in the high hills above Guerneville off of Old Cazadero Road (see map). Its origins are murky and might originally have been intended as a legit summer resort, like Rio Nido, Camp Vacation and many others where you could rent a tent-cabin for a week or buy a small parcel and build a bungalow to stay the whole season. The Summerland lots were platted out in 1910 – the year the Russian River resort scene exploded in popularity – and small ads for Summerland appeared in the “Summer Resort” section of Bay Area newspapers over the next several years. No amenities were ever specified except for “sanitary conditions,” which presumably meant outhouses and maybe a well with a handpump.

There was actually more than one Summerland: Summerland Park, Summerland Villa, Summerland Addition #2 and maybe more. Before it was over there would be thousands of lots sold, which would have given the Cazadero area the largest population north of the San Francisco – had anyone lived there.

Behind the deals were three speculators (for reference, they were: the Enright Brothers, banker I. J. Truman and the Guerneville Land Company, all based in San Francisco). We don’t know if any of them were directing the scams, but a man who worked for some/all of them as the representative for Summerland certainly started the ball rolling.

Robert Romer, a former stockbroker who was kicked out of the San Francisco Stock Exchange in 1907, was contacted by the Healdsburg Enterprise about the unusual lottery being held at the M & M movie theater in town. Romer said each night there was a drawing for a “free” lot – although the lucky ticket holder still had to pay the $6.50 county recording fee of course. He explained the goal was word-of-mouth advertising; the winners would be so enthusiastic they would tell all their friends to buy lots nearby at the regular price of $25.00, and they would tell their friends, and so on.

The obvious problem with this scheme was that Healdsburg really ain’t that far from Cazadero – if the winner didn’t know their prize property was in the middle of nowhere, one of the friends they were supposed to sucker into buying a lot probably knew it. So a few days later, an account appears in the Press Democrat about county officials being contacted by lucky ticket holders in Sacramento, wondering about the Summerland property they had just won at the movies.

As the new year of 1912 dawned, the Summerland scam spread over the nation like a flu epidemic. “Letters from other counties, from British Columbia, from Nevada, from Arizona, from Oregon and Washington are pouring in to the Recorder, the Assessor, the Tax Collector and to other officials of Sonoma, pleading for information regarding these peculiar transactions,” wrote historian Tom Gregory at the time.

There were sightings during March reported in Oregon and Washington after police there became suspicious about the movie theater lottery where every attendee apparently “won.” One of the Portland papers looked into the Summerland offering and told readers it was “said to be a mile from Cazadero, Cal., a milk station back in the hills.”

Romer probably wasn’t one of the two men who claimed to be from the “Exposition Developing Company” jumping from town to town in the Northwest making lottery deals with local theater owners. Instead, he was busy in Sonoma county, trying to sell $50,000 in stock for the “Northwestern Hotel and Water Company,” which was going to build a hotel at Summerland with hundreds of rooms plus a complete utility infrastructure suitable for a town of 20,000 residents. According to the Petaluma Courier, Romer told the Board of Control they had already sold about 5,000 lots.

The Summerland movie lottery scam was made a misdemeanor in April 1913 thanks to a bill written by Santa Rosa’s Assemblyman Herbert Slater (it’s still on the books, but was generalized and renumbered to §532c in 1935). But that was only state law, and the scam was running at full steam everywhere except California.

When two Summerland agents were arrested in Kansas City at the end of 1913, they were charged with old-fashioned mail fraud. (Although the state law didn’t apply, the county recorder and surveyor still went to Kansas to testify against them.) A wire service story stated the men had claimed to represent the “Hot Springs Heights Realty Company” of Sonoma county and had been active across the Midwest and South. It was a lucrative swindle – in Muncie Indiana alone, they pulled in up to $1,500 (over $37k today).

The movie theater bunco game fizzled out in mid-1914 – or at least, the Press Democrat reported the poor recorder’s office was no longer flooded with deed filings. That year there was also a long list of these properties on the delinquent tax list, showing many owners had wised up to the property being worthless. Lots were still being sold, however – only now it was the suckers looking for someone to scam themselves. A 1916 for-sale ad ran for quite awhile in the PD offering a lot at Summerland with a 16 x 16 structure (“sold cheap if taken at once”). In Seattle, A. L. DeLong dumped his property on Effie M. Crowley.

The latter sale didn’t involve Summerland, however – it was another of the wildcat subdivisions, called Glen Artney, which began selling bogus lots about the same time that Summerland took off. It was the phony place nearest to Santa Rosa, in the hills south of Calistoga Road (see map) about four miles as the crow flies – but three times that far by road. And that was just to the edge of the property; a man seeking directions dropped by the Press Democrat offices and was “shattered when informed that he could not reach the lot on horseback, and would have a very hard time scrambling to it on foot.”

The Glen Artney hustle is interesting to compare with Summerland. Both used the movie lottery ticket come-on, but the Summerland agents apparently “gave away” lots of lots hoping to sell a few more for about $25, plus picking up a few bucks for providing the paperwork. The Glen Artney hucksters picked just two winners each day and advertised others lots were for sale at $50.00 per – or at least that’s what their ad in a 1912 Montana newspaper stated. That Glen Artney even had print adverts is another major difference from the Summerland guys, who slipped in and out of towns without publicity.

But don’t presume the Glen Artney promoters were any more honest or virtuous; that ad from the “Russian River Resorts Development Company” read, “Glen Artney is a beautiful sloping tract 60 miles from San Francisco, reached by the Southern Pacific railroad and interurban car line. School house on property…” The train and trolley car only went to Santa Rosa, of course, As for the schoolhouse, that was the Pine Mountain district school on St. Helena Road, which was actually suspended in 1911 for lack of any students. Modern maps reveal that “beautiful sloping tract” has an average 40 percent grade.

And while the moneymen behind Summerland were the stereotype big city tycoons and land speculators, Glen Artney seems to have been a strictly local affair. There are three names on the fraudulent map that was recorded; one was John O. McIntosh, up until about then the owner of the popular Grapevine saloon in downtown Santa Rosa. John was well known and well-liked, as was his older brother, Don, a deputy sheriff often mentioned in these pages nabbing wrongdoers.

Enlarge the map below to find the other names are Manville and Frank Doyle, the famous co-founder of the Exchange Bank and his son. Although the notarized statement refers to the “map of our lands,” we cannot say for sure this meant the bank was a partner in the deal – they might have been just the escrow agents. But since the Glen Artney property was so nearby, it’s very difficult to believe anyone really thought a town about half the size of Santa Rosa was going to spring up on the side of a mountain along the twisty county road to St. Helena.

A survey made about thirty years ago suggested there were up to 424,000 lots in old paper subdivisions throughout the state (see the “Living Deed” article for more about this) with the largest percentage of them – about 75,000 – in Sonoma county. We were the highest because of the unusual number of high density fake town/resorts such as Glen Artney and Summerland, which begs the question: Why was our county Ground Zero for land fraud?

We know Summerland was backed by San Francisco money, but there was never any mention in the papers of who was behind these other scams. It came as a surprise to me that Glen Artney had a barkeep’s name on the map, but perhaps many/all of the other schemes were similarly locally grown; after all, 1911 Santa Rosa was a pretty small town and details of the Summerland fraud would’ve been well known, particularly after the out-of-towners who discovered they were cheated came staggering into Santa Rosa saloons to drown their disappointments.

It would be a fun question to dig into further: Between 1911-1914, did Sonoma county have a flourishing cottage industry in scamming outsiders who were foolish enough to buy property here sight unseen? Were our own esteemed neighbors – the bankers, Chamber of Commerce businessmen and real estate wheeler-dealers – quietly running a bunco syndicate?

“…[T]he main reason for stopping the practice was that the county was being given a black eye by reason of the misrepresentations of the lot sellers,” commented the Press Democrat in 1914, when the craze was over – not that it should have been stopped years earlier because it was, you know, unethical. But nobody was ever arrested, except for a few of the traveling movie lottery hucksters; after all, it’s not a crime to sell worthless land – even if it’s on a slope so steep a mountain goat would begin to wheeze before halfway up.

1911 Glen Artney subdivision map
To Market Guerneville Realty

The firm of Enright Brothers & Co., realty brokers of San Francisco, has bought 400 [sic – it was 40] acres of land in the vicinity of Guerneville, and will subdivide it into small holdings, and place it upon the market. There is much fine farming land in that neighborhood, and quite a demand for small farms has lately been manifest; so that Enright Bros, seem to have bought in the right place at the right time.

Press Democrat, February 2 1909

“Summerland” is the name of the newest recreation spot for Guerneville. Mesgsrs. Eright, [sic] the brothers who recently purchased the Sutherland place have surveyed it into lots and already made several sales to the tired folks about the bay who want a quiet, pretty place to spend their hard-earned vacations.

– Healdsburg Tribune, April 13 1910
SUMMERLAND LOTS AT THE M. AND M. THEATER GIVEN AWAY FREE EACH EVENING
The Most Liberal Proposition Yet Offered The Healdsburg People To Secure a Summer Outing Lot

Last Thursday night Mr. Robert Romer gave an interesting sketch on the old and new methods of land subdivision. He explained that his company had allotted Healdsburg a number of free lots in this tract by means of public drawings at the M & M Theater each evening until the allotment has been exhausted. The object in giving those lots in this manner is to create a nucleus tor attracting by means of the winners the vacation and summer home seekers from this district. These winners become agents and a live advertising medium as long as they are deed holders of record. These lots are given away free to winners but they must defray their own expenses in having the title transferred, which amounts to $6.50 which includes the search of title, attorney fees, notary fees, drawing up the deed, etc., the same as any person is forced to do when they inherit a piece of property. He went on to explain that this very feature made their proposition stronger as it eliminated those winners who would look upon the proposition as a Nickelodeon premium and who would have nothing to lose by being inactive. When they pay to have the transfer made, it makes them look into the proposition deeper and is the best sign of good faith that they will become active boosters and attract their friends as buyers and home builders. How can the owners afford to give these lots away, was answered by him in another way. The amount that is generally spent in advertising is turned over to the winners who in turn act as live unconscious agents without pay. The value of any property is determined by the actual amount of deed holders of record which is the only magnet which will draw.

By having the property made valuable by the winners, their friends are glad to pay $25.00 for which these lots are selling. And these buyers in turn attract other buyers which when once started forms an endless chain and they are the ones that actually pay for the lots that are given away. He also made another point to illustrate this which was keen as it is better understood. For instance in a suit club there are generally 25 members, one wins a suit the first month for $5.00 and the second one for $l0.00, but it is the other 23 in number that average up the difference. Some of the lucky winners this week were Mr. C. P. Miller, J. Silberstein, Mrs. H. Sacry, and Fred Boulden who is going to start to improve as soon as his deed is perfected.

– Healdsburg Enterprise, December 2 1911

 

SONOMA COUNTY LOTS WITH PICTURES

A moving picture house in Sacramento is bidding for popularity with its patrons by holding out as an allurement to ticket purchasers an opportunity to secure a “Lot at Summerland, Sonoma county, near Russian River.” When the lucky ones present their tickets, they are told that they must put up six dollars for a deed to the lot. Some of them put up the coin. Others do not. Inquiries are being made of the Sonoma county legislators as to the location of the lots, and as to their worth. But prior to their coming to Sacramento the solons had not heard of the inducements offered.

– Press Democrat, December 6 1911

The Northwestern Hotel and Water Company announces that it will soon erect a hotel large enough to accommodate several hundred summer residents at Summerland near Guerneville, in the near future. The company will also establish a water system for Summerland.

– Healdsburg Tribune, March 14 1912
PHILANTHROPISTS’ SEEK NEW FIELDS
Persons Who Were “Given” Lots in “Summerland Park” Wonder If It’s a Bilk.

Offices of the “Exposition Developing Company” in the Ellers building are closed today. The two strangers, names unknown, who acted as the concern’s representatives, have flown, and a large number of plucked citizens here who paid $6.50 for a deed to a lot in “Summerland Park No. 2,” said to be a mile from Cazadero, Cal., a milk station in the hills of Sonoma county, are wondering whether they were swindled.

The company operated through several moving picture shows here. Theatre patrons were given coupons entitling them to a “free” chance on a lot. Apparently every one won in the weekly “drawing,” as scores of persons were visited by agents of the concern, during the two weeks it operated here…

…Among the motion picture show houses that innocently aided the company were the Rainbow and Cozy theatres on First street.

“The proposition the men made looked good to me,” said G. E. Chamberlain, one of the owners of the Cozy, today. “They told us that all we had to do was to give away the coupons and that our attendance would increase when people learned we were giving away free lots.

“They furnished us with slides showing pictures of the lands they said they owned, and explained that the scheme was to advertise the park so they could later sell lots. We began to get suspicious, however, when every one seemingly drew a lot and we were getting ready to stop giving coupons when the police told us to quit. The strangers got wind of this and left Portland soon afterward…”

– Oregon Daily Journal, March 26, 1912

 

BUNCO-LOWING FOLKS WITH SUMMER FAIRYLANDS

The following is a funny yet plaintive cry of the “bungalow lot victim”–it should be called “bunco-low,” but the humor of the statement must not hide the fact that in the name of Sonoma county this small, cheap bunco game is flourishing throughout our neighboring states. Those worthless patches of real estate are not marketed to the unwary in this county, nor now in this state. The scheme has become too well known except at a distance. And yet nothing can save the investors who are caught by the plausibility of the spielers’ landscape descriptions, and the little coin demanded for such a priceless bit of domain. All these resort lots are worthless as the investor speedily learns after his money has passed. This communication is one of the many such which almost daily adds to Mr. Nagle’s amusement and perplexity, as the writers tell him their troubles after they have been bunco-lowed.

Butte, Mont., Dec. 5, 1912
Mr. F. G. Nagle, County Recorder, Santa Rosa, California.

Dear Sir–We have your not of the second inst., returning the deed from Arthur Annis to E. S. Rodds, which we had sent you in our letter of November 29th for record, and wish to thank you for the information as to the worthlessness of the property.

We are, however, returning the deed with our draft for $1.00 to cover the recording fees, and would ask that you place the same on record.

Mr. Rodda had some information concerning the non-value of this property, before he asked us to send the deed. He is already stung a little, however, and thinks it is worth one dollar more, on the chance that some time petroleum or ginger ale or some other good chase may be discovered in commercial quantities on the land, or that some one might want it for a site for a factory for the manufacture of second-hand tooth brushes. He says he came west to take chances, and he is going through with this, even if it costs him another dollar.

Yours very truly, W. E. Collins,

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 18 1912

 

Fixing It So Can’t Even Give Realty Away in This Place
Bill to Beat Moving Picture Game in Sonoma County Goes Through Assembly.

Up in Santa Rosa moving picture theater owners some time ago conceived the idea of boosting their business by advertising they would give away lots to patrons of their nickelodeons who happened to hold a winning number. This was an alluring bit of advertising, and business trebled within a short time. It was apparent from the start that the theaters were doing it up proper, for many there were who drew a winning number. The lucky person had only to deposit a filing fee to get a deed.

Many deeds were filed. In fact, so many were filed that, the Sonoma county recorder’s office was swamped. Assemblyman Slater was appealed to. He was told the lots were absolutely worthless, and that the moving picture men were getting a corner on all the money in the county. Accordingly he introduced a bill in the lower house the first part of the session making it a misdemeanor for any person to give away worthless lots and collect a fee for transferring or conveying them to the owners of persons drawing lucky numbers.

The assembly heard Slater’s explanation of conditions yesterday, and railroaded the bill through without delay. Tired clerks in the Sonoma county recorder’s office and amusement hall proprietors will probably await with interest the action of the upper house on the measure.

– Sacramento Union, March 14 1913
HERE’S THE END OF ONE SWINDLE
Assemblyman Slater’s Bill to Prevent Frauds Being Perpetrated Is Signed by Governor

The practice of giving away “free” tickets, entitling holders to lots of land, by moving picture shows and other places of entertainment, was checked Thursday when Gov. Johnson signed Assemblyman Slater’s bill, which has added a new section to the penal code. After receiving their “free” tickets, holders have found themselves compelled to pay $6.50 for deeds in addition to paying a fee for recording. Gross fraud has been perpetrated in hundreds of cases, where lots have been said to be located in some sylvan dell and in reality have been perched on some bald rock or inaccessible jungle.

Thousands of deeds have been filed in a number of counties, and, after visiting their land, the deed holders have never returned for their deeds. The measure Introduced by Slater has been indorsed all over the State and was one of his “pet” measures.

The bill is as follows:

Section 1. The penal code is hereby amended by adding a new section thereto to be numbered 532a, to read as follows; 532a. Any person who knowingly and designedly offers or gives with winning numbers at any drawing of numbers or with tickets of admission to places of public assemblage or otherwise, any lot or parcel of real property for the purpose of charging or collecting fees for transferring or conveying the same, or who, under pretense of charging or collecting fees for such conveyance, receives money, labor or property for executing such conveyance, knowing such lots or parcels of real property to be inaccessible, unavailable for the use represented for it, worthless, or without market value equal to such fees, or charges, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

– Press Democrat, April 27 1913

 

Western Lots Are Put on Market at Wholesale

Lot selling was done in a wholesale manner in room 19 of the Metropolital hotel yesterday. The lots were located in Summerland Villa, Guerneville, Sonoma county, Cal…Women folk, lean folk, fat folk of a good natured kind, sleepy folk, and a few other kind, all seemed to be in a hurry to get a piece of California real estate…

…when callers, of which there were many, presented their cards they were informed by a portly appearing gentleman in that in order to get deeds it would be necessary to pay a fee for surveying the lot, and a few minor expenses, and that $8 good cash, earned by the sweat of the face under the beneficent sky of Missouri, would be necessary to have a look-in on the California real estate.

And some paid the $8.00, and some didn’t. Some looked at $8.00 with a longing look, and after much consideration, came to the conclusion that $8.00 in the hand was worth more than a sand lot 2,000 miles away.

– Springfield MO Republican, June 27 1913

 

Alleged Land Shark Arrested.

C. E. Ditto, a reputed land shark, was placed under arrest Saturday afternoon on a charge of beating his board bill…The police, while the man is being held, are making an investigation of a certain land scheme which has been worked in Bloomington of late. The scheme is a new one, but it is thought that some real money was secured in some of the transactions.

The play has been put on at moving picture theaters, a ticket being given to each one who pays to see the show and the one at the close of the day who held the lucky number drew a card entitling him to property. The card states that they “are entitled to a lot in Summerland Villa, Guerneville, Sonoma county, Cal.” The Northwestern Dev. Co., is signed to this card. It is said that several have presented these cards to the agent and are then told that to pay for the deed and abstract, that the sum of $9.60 is necessary. It is claimed that a few, thinking that they will get rich, have paid the sum asked and then gone on their way thinking of the riches which are to come.

The police will continue to make their investigation and Ditto will be held on the other charge until the matter is cleared up. Police officers the confident that Ditto is a swindler [sic]

Bloomington IL Pantagraph, November 17 1913
UNCLE SAM TAKES HAND IN “MOVIES” LAND LOT FRAUD
The Guerneville Lots Figure in Kansas City Arrests

The last session of the Legislature passed the Slater bill which was signed by the Governor and is now the law, which put a stop to moving picture houses and other concerns giving “lucky” tickets to lots of land in Sonoma county and elsewhere In the State, It had become such a nuisance and such a fraud in Sonoma county that the introduction of the measure was framed to check it, particularly as the lots were worthless and located in out of the way places and inaccessible places and-—well, the story has been oft told.

This is by way of introduction. Uncle Sam has come to the assistance of the State of California and has swooped down upon men in Kansas City and their prosecution will doubtless check the operation in “lucky” tickets for Sonoma county lots in other States of the Union, for today County Recorder Nagle is receiving deeds for filing and countless inquiries concerning the lots in question. A dispatcn from Kansas City says:

“Kansas City. Dec. 4.—An alleged land fraud which, according to postoffice inspectors, was conducted in several States through the medium of moving picture shows and the United States mails, led to the arrest here today of W. B. Emrich and N. H. Spitzer of Louisville, Ky. The two were arraigned before a United States commissioner on a charge of misuse of the malls.

“According to the federal charge, tickets were distributed among the spectators at picture shows and the announcement made that the holders of ‘lucky’ numbers would be given a deed to a camper’s lot near Guerneville, Sonoma county, California, It is alleged that the lucky ones’ were then required to pay more for the ‘filing of papers’ than the lots were worth.

– Press Democrat, December 5 1913
CASTLE IN AIR IS CERTAINLY HIS
Man Comes Here With the Idea of Locating on His Moving Picture Ticket Lot

Joe Blakskowski of San Francisco spent $12.50 for abstract deed and filing fees for lot 16, block 17 In “Glen Ertney,” when he drew a free lot is connection with his moving picture show ticket two years ago. The land is a portion of Sec. 23, tp 8 n, r. 7 w., and is located on the mountain side about 14 miles northeast of Santa Rosa off the road to Callstoga.

Mr. Blakskowskl came here this week with the view of settling on his lot and purchasing more for relatives and friends as agents for the tract had interested them with his glowing description. When he arrived here and asked for directions to reach “Glen Ertney,” his castles in the air were shattered when informed that he could not reach the lot on horseback, and would have a very hard time scrambling to it on foot.

Despite his ill treatment in this regard, Mr. Blaks, as he is commonly known, is planning to purchase property here for himself and relatives, and move here to make his home as he has been greatly impressed with the city and its surroundings.

Under the law no more tickets to lots can be given away is this State.

– Press Democrat, January 10 1914
SCORES OF ‘MOVIE’ LOTS NOW ON DELINQUENT TAX ROLL

The evil some time since of the giving away of tickets at moving picture shows to lots in Sonoma county, so much complained of in the past, is again to the fore in the announcement of the delinquent tax list of Sonoma county, prepared by County Tax Collector Frank M. Collins.

There is column after column of delinquents on lots that were purchased by the holders of tickets won at moving picture shows in different parts of the State and in other States. Many of the lot holders, after filing their deeds, placing the property on the assessment roll, have never taken any notice of their duties as landowners in the county, hence they have gone delinquent in payment of taxes, disgusted with their purchase.

At the last session of the Legislature, in 1913, the practice of giving away these lot tickets and the fraud connected therewith was stopped by the Slater bill, which was signed by the Governor, and heartily endorsed by the State Realty boards and other organizations. Hundreds of the lots had been disposed of prior to that time and the result is now shown on the delinquent tax list. This explains the length of the delinquent tax roil in large measure.

– Press Democrat, June 5 1914
LAW HAS PROVED OF MUCH GOOD
Recording of Documents Is Up to Date in the Office of the County Recorder

The copying of instruments in the office of County Recorder Fred G. Nagle has been brought up to dale and the well known county official is pleased to have it thus. Everything has been fine for some time.

It will be remembered that prior to the last session of the Legislature the County Recorder’s office here and in other counties of the state were deluged with the recording of deeds to lots of land as the result of the giving away of tickets with moving picture shows in this state and outside. At the session of the Legislature, Assemblyman Herbert W. Slater of this county, introducing a bill which passed both houses and was signed by the governor which made the giving away of such tickets unlawful. The new law attracted much attention and was complimented in the official papers of the State Realty Board and in other papers as being one of the most useful pieces of legislation. Its effect was soon noticeable in a diminishing of the number of deeds.

Copies of the law were also forwarded by the author of the federal authorities asking for their co-operatlon and this has also proved beneficial in the punishment of persons who used the mails to make false representations concerning prarlically worthless lots in this county.

It was learned Thursday that the deeds for the lots obtained in the manner complained of, are very rare now at the county recorder’s office, there only having been one or two in the past few months, and otherwise the practice has been stopped entirely. This is why the county recorder is breathing easier and why the copying has been brought up to dale to the gratification of those who were unavoidably hindred from recording their documents on time as a result of the deluge.

With hundreds of deeds to the moving picture lots coming in weekly it was impossible to cope with the work of copying them and finally special books had to be provided for their speedy recording. But the main reason for stopping the practice was that the county was being given a black eye by reason of the misrepresentations of the lot sellers and Ihe protest was general.

– Press Democrat, September 18 1914

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LET’S GO DOWNTOWN AND SEE SOMETHING WEIRD

On any given Saturday around 1914, chances were you could pay a dime and watch performers do things on stage which demonstrated more self-delusion than discernible talent. To locals, Santa Rosa was a quiet little farmtown; to some vaudeville players it was another step towards a fantasy of theatrical glory.

That was the peak year for vaudeville in Santa Rosa with two stages downtown: The 700-seat Columbia at Third and B streets and the much smaller Rose Theater. With their big electrical marquees (lightbulbs, not neon) they were the brightest spots downtown after dark and the Rose drew particular attention with its animated lights, something never seen in town before.

Both presented shows with three or four vaudeville acts capped off with about a half hour of movies, such as a Bronco Billy western or a chapter from that wildly-popular new series with cliffhanger endings, “The Perils of Pauline.” Their playbills were also generally the same; someone sang popular songs, an acrobat or animal act performed stunts and a comedian barked out corny (and not infrequently, racist or ethnic) jokes. But there the similarity ended.

Whenever possible, the Columbia’s newspaper ad touted a performer’s popularity or that (s)he had just appeared at a San Francisco theater. All well and good until one looked closely; the acts who headlined here were usually near the bottom of a long bill when they played in the City, and “popular” was a tipoff that the act might be a Golden Oldie such as Harry Green, “the old man singer with the boy’s voice,” who had been trodding the boards for about forty years.

When they had no particular act to promote the Columbia ad would sometimes sniff, “No Amateurs Every Artist a Professional” which was a not-so-subtle dig at the Rose Theater, where nearly every evening was like an episode from The Gong Show. Mostly these were likely young people who were big hits at hometown parties where their friends told them, “oh, you should be on stage.” Well, sir, this was their shot at stardom.

One such act is seen at right: Alice Berry and Harry Wilhelm, “the doll comedienne and the Protean artist.” What the act consisted of is unclear; Alice was either a child or a little person, standing four feet tall. She sang while the tailcoatted Harry did…something. Every Friday the Press Democrat offered a little blurb about similar performers appearing at the theaters that week, and one can imagine the poor staff writer straining a muscle trying to say something nice about acts such as these:

*
Gilbert Girard, “The World’s Greatest Animal and Instrumental Mimic”, will be heard in fifteen minutes of barnyard humor.
*
The “Three Cycling Newmans”, featuring a boxing match on unicycles, will head the show.
*
Biele & Girad, “The Englishman and the Swede,” have a great comedy act. There is nothing more comical than an ignorant Swede, and when they are ignorant, like the one in this case, it causes many comical situations, making the most solemn laugh.
*
Madelyn Faye, violiniste, charmed everyone with her playing, which was much better than ordinary.
*
This afternoon at one o’clock Dixon & Elliott’s hardware store on Fourth street will become the center of attraction when a subject will be hypnotized and started out riding a bicycle. He will continue riding until eight o’clock this evening, at which time he will be removed to the stage of the Columbia Theater, after having pedaled over five hundred miles.
*
The Zimmerman Brothers, novelty whistlers, have an act that gives good variety to the bill and one that pleases the most critical.

The list of peculiarities goes on: Birdcallers, “rubber girl” contortionists, midget boxers and blackface “shouters,” plus a couple of acts which were apparently just young women doing calisthenics. A female comedy/musical sketch act called “the Seven Whitesides” made the front page of the Press Democrat not for its quality of entertainment but for the women soundly beating up their manager. Some performers had actual talent but were too unconventional for mainstream vaudeville; John C. Payne, “the double voiced man” was an African-American performing in an evening gown (“Mr. Payne’s natural voice is baritone, but he sings a beautiful soprano also and is considered a wonderful singer”).

Mainstays at the Rose were the animal acts. The theater hosted Miss Livingstone’s skating bear, Captain Webb’s seals, a steady procession of dog and bird acts plus two “goat circuses” – Ogle’s Goat Circus in January, 1913 and Sander’s Goat Circus at the end of the same year. Now, Gentle Reader is probably pondering deep questions such as, “how many damn goat circuses were there?” And, “who would pay to see a goat circus?” And, “what did the little theater smell like afterward?” Notable in the publicity photo for Ogle’s is that the name “Prof. Kershner” was inartfully scratched out – thus Ogle bought a used goat act (and of course, that’s probably not Mr. Ogle in the picture). My guess is that Sanders in turn purchased the act after Ogle had enough of traveling with a herd of stinky goats. As for why audiences would attend, the PD noted, “Before the matinee this afternoon, it is announced, Mr. Sanders will throw away ten dollars to the children in front of the theatre.” Sad!

And then there was Roy Crone and his grizzly bear. Roy is high on the list of people from those days I would have liked to meet (he was introduced here earlier) because he went to Hollywood and eventually worked with Fred Astaire and Orson Welles on their most classic films. Back in 1913, however, he was manager of the Columbia Theater and taking a few weeks off to roam the low-rent vaudeville circuit with his 780-pound pet. Trouble was, he and his bear kept getting arrested.

Crone drove between gigs with the uncaged bear sitting in the backseat of his (presumably, large and sturdy) car. At least twice he was pulled over by cops for speeding and totally not because he was driving around with a seven-foot bear. Stopped outside of Merced, Deputy Sheriff Nicewonger was walking around to the passenger side of the car to write the ticket when the bear reached out and whacked him with a paw, knocking the officer down. “Rising to his feet. Nicewonger was about to commit bloody murder when Crone quieted the angry beast and pulled the deputy out of the danger zone,” reported The Stockton Mall. “The bear actually stood on his hind feet a few moments later and roared at the deputy sheriff.” A few weeks later the pair were in trouble again, this time in Chico both for speeding and “occupying an automobile in a street exhibition,” which probably meant the sight of a bear sitting in a car was stopping traffic.

The vaudeville scene in Santa Rosa slowly faded away after 1914. The Columbia mostly dropped it the following year and by 1916 the Rose was offering vaudeville only every other week. What happened to the performers?

A search of the old newspapers finds that most of the amateur wanna-be’s who played the Rose only lasted that season. Some of the has-been professionals who were at the Columbia continued drifting around small Bay Area theaters for awhile and a few can be spotted trying to reinvent themselves far away in the frontiers of Australia or British Columbia. Otherwise, if you weren’t good enough to be booked on a traveling circuit, what probably awaited you beyond Santa Rosa was Old West music halls in backwater towns, mining and logging camps without electricity and saloons with a small raised stage. Resorts like Fetter’s Hot Springs sometimes advertised they had vaudeville without naming any acts.

What killed vaudeville was the explosive growth of celebrity motion pictures. Now all that was needed to pack a theater was showing the latest movie by Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Ethel Barrymore and other stars; miss seeing the picture and miss out on part of the shared social experience – and not only with family and friends here, but with people you knew in distant towns.

As awful as it sometimes was, vaudeville was still live theater and it’s a shame it’s completely gone; lost was the tolerance for everyday people to entertain each other for an evening without expecting perfection. After all, if the novelty whistlers weren’t to your taste all you had to do and wait a few minutes until their act was over, and then out would come the violinist whose playing was much better than ordinary. Maybe you’d like that better.

Ogle’s Goat Circus

The Seven Whitesides present an office scene play, which leads into some good singing and dancing. All of the 875 people who attended last night’s entertainment were well pleased with the high class show.

– Press Democrat, November 22 1912
CHORUS GIRLS DO UP THE MANAGER
Lively Fracas When Soubrettes Think Their Cash is Likely to Go Aglooming

The fair members of a theatrical troupe, appearing In “vodvlll” in a local theatre Saturday night, were fearful, so they said, that their manager, a man, was not going to make a cash settlement with them and suspicious that possibly he might take an earlier train from town than they, made up their minds that they would have nothing of it. In consequence they demanded their pay. When their requests were met with refusal they started to take the law into their own hands, and goodness knows what they would have done to that manager had not the commotion in a down town apartment house, and a hasty call for a policeman, sent Police Officer I. N. Lindley hurrying to the scene. And “Ike” made some dash, too. At the time the officer came upon the scene, one of the girls was making a punching bag out of the manager, where another girl had left off. The girls of the troupe took all the money he had, fourteen dollars. He should have had much more, as the girls say they had a salary roll of eighteen dollars apiece coming to them. The manager was allowed to retire to his room for the night, and at an early hour Sunday morning the chorus girls were wondering how to divide up the fourteen dollars.

– Press Democrat, November 24 1912

 

SKATING BEAR IN ROSE VAUDEVILLE TONIGHT

Miss Livingstone and her trained bear will appear in tonight’s vaudeville at the Rose. This animal act, as previous ones, will win the favor of the Santa Rosa public. This performing bear waltzed, when seen by the management, which brought many rounds of applause.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 3, 1913

 

STRONG VAUDEVILLE BILL AT THE ROSE THEATER TONIGHT

A strong vaudeville bill of high class acts will be presented to the public at the Rose theater tonight, headed by Ogle’s Goat Circus. These goats are very highly valued, partly because there are very few performing goats in the state and through the long time patient training which has made them the greatest of all goat acts. The management announces this one of the highest salaried acts that they have ever secured. The children will be invited on the stage after the matinee tomorrow, to learn something of the training of goats and have a chance to pet their favorites.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 24, 1913
SANTA ROSAN IS ON VAUDEVILLE
Ray Crone Making Tour of Circuit With Tame Bear Act Which Has Taken Well

Ray Crone, the well known manager of the Columbia Amusement Co.’s local interests, is taking a few weeks off duty and touring the vaudeville circuit with an animal act of his own. Reports from points he has visited speak of the success of his work.

Mr. Crone is one of the best known young men of Santa Rosa owing to his work in connection with the Nickelodeon moving picture show house first, and afterwards with the Columbia theater and Theaterette, which were added one after the other to the activities of the firm, of which he is a part.

The success of the young man will be pleasing to his many friends here and in the bay cities. He has a trained bear, known as “John L. Sullivan,” which does a number of remarkable feature tricks which Mr. Crone has trained him to do. Animal feature in vaudeville always proves attractive to young and old and are in great demand by the booking agents. Frank Weston is here from San Francisco looking after the Amusement Company’s interest in the absence of Mr. Crone.

– Press Democrat, April 27 1913
CRONE AND BEAR CAUSE TROUBLE
Well Known Santa Rosan and His Trained Animal Arouse Much Interest at Stockton

Roy Crone, the well known Santa Rosan who Is making a tour of the vaudeville circuit with a large trained bear, is receiving some very flattering press notices. The Stockton Mail In speaking of his first performance In that city, says:

Bear Is Almost Human

Five bright new acts greeted the large Sunday crowds at the Garrick yesterday, and the show from start to finish was excellent in every respect. A remarkable exhibition of animal intelligence was displayed by John L. Sullivan, the world-famous educated bear. This is the largest bear ever seen on the stage and one of the largest in captivity. It stands over seven feet tall and weighs 780 pounds. The bear is well trained, and his trainer has complete control over him at all times. He performs a number of clever and amusing antics, the climax coming when some small boys attempt to ride him. One little chap succeeded in riding him, but the others were politely unseated by Mr. Bruin.

In an issue several days before he opened in Stockton the papers published a good story relative to Crone and his bear. The story in the Mall was as follows:

Bear Defends Master

To be knocked down by a blow from the paw of a big black bear which was sitting in the rear seat of an automobile, is the curious accident which happened to Deputy Sheriff Nicewonger yesterday afternoon. And, as a result of the collision with the hoof of Bruin, Deputy Nicewonger narrowly escaped serious injury. The blow, which was a glancing one, caught him on the right side of the neck, and was delivered with so much force that it unceremoniously floored the county official.

J. R. Crone, who is the owner of the bear, was en route from Merced with his hairy passenger in an automobile. Crone left Merced yesterday morning. As he was speeding along the highway between Rippon and Calla, Deputy Nicewonger happened to discover that Crone was exceeding the speed limit. He immediately hailed the man and his curious cargo. Crone stopped at once. Deputy Nicewonger read the ruling of the county ordinance and informed Crone that he was under arrest. Crone was about to give his name and address when Nicewonger, in order to secure the data, chased around to the right side of the machine. Just as the county highway guard was passing the rear seat the bear, with one vicious swoop, let fly with his paw. Deputy Nicewonger heeled over instantly. Rising to his feet. Nicewonger was about to commit bloody murder when Crone quieted the angry beast and pulled the deputy out of the danger zone. The bear actually stood on his hind feet a few moments later and roared at the deputy sheriff. This morning the deputy appeared before Justice Parker and secured a warrant for the arrest of Crone for encroaching upon the speed ordinance of the county. The bear, says Crone, is tame.

– Press Democrat, May 16 1913

 

CRONE AND HIS BEAR ARRESTED ONCE MORE

Friends of Ray Crone, former manager of the Columbia Theater will read the following with much amusement. Although the dispatch does not give Crone’s name he is known to be on the circuit through Chico and his bear was dubbed “John L.” The dispatch follows:

CHICO, July 13.–John L. Sullivan, a big grizzly bear used in a local theatre, was arrested last night by Policeman Field and booked with its owner on a charge of violating the city’s traffic ordinance. In police court the owner put up $20 bail to appear with the bear tomorrow. They were occupying an automobile in a street exhibition and the machine went too fast to suit the police. When the arrest was made the grizzly tried to escape, but was induced by the owner to go along to the police judge’s court.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 15, 1913

 

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