If you were invited to supper by your great-grandparents you might dislike their food – and probably wouldn’t recognize some of it.

We believe we know a little something about daily life in a small town such as Santa Rosa because of movies such as “The Music Man,” set in 1912. Overall it seems like a pretty nice place (and probably was, if you were white, middle-class and not too concerned about equality issues) so it’s not too hard to imagine living there. Oh, I could adjust to the uncomfortable clothes, we dream nostalgically, I could deal with a coal furnace, the lack of air conditioning and refrigeration, that both cars and phones needed to be cranked before use. But unless you’re a fan of the bland, mealtimes might be quite a struggle.

We’re fortunate to have two different sources of information about what we were eating in Santa Rosa during the early Twentieth Century. A local church cookbook showed what was actually on our plates and a 1913 week-long “cooking school” promoted by the Press Democrat took it a step further and demonstrated a few ways to prepare a meal other than boiling everything to death.

There are two versions of the cookbook: a 1900 pamphlet published by an insurance company and a lengthier 1908 hardbound booklet self-published by the Presbyterian church in Fulton. The later edition has about 25 percent more material (along with local ads, which are always fun) and is the version referred to here. Recipes were all from women of the Fulton/Mark West area whose names were familiar from the society columns in the Santa Rosa newspapers.

This was not a local cookbook like the midcentury versions found at yard sales today, which are heavy with special holiday recipes and every kind of cookie imaginable. The word “holiday” does not even appear in the old cookbook; neither does “thanksgiving” or “christmas” (although there are directions for stuffing a turkey). There are more doughnut recipes than ones for making cookies. Part of the reason it’s so hit-or-miss was because every home had an encyclopedic household management book, packed with all kinds of recipes for special occasions. If the pastor was coming over and you wanted to impress him with French veal in cream sauce and Italian sorbet for dessert, you found recipes there along with instructions on how to remove the stains from your finest tablecloth. So complete were those reference books that the one owned by Mattie Oates even had directions for embalming, which might come in handy if you forgot to ask the preacher if he had any allergies before serving that Waldorf salad with walnuts.

Another word you won’t find in the Fulton cookbook: “spicy.” The most common form of meat mentioned was boiled chicken, often diced or chopped. The recipes for chili sauce use bell peppers. Garlic is included only in five dishes, most of them labeled “Creole.” And speaking of ethnic dishes, the cookbook avoids mention of our major local minority groups. Seven times “Spanish” is in a name but never “Mexican” despite directions for making tamales; there are four “German” recipes but no “Italian,” despite two different recipes fot making ravioli and several using macaroni. There are also names which seem odd today; there are many recipes for fruitcakes which aren’t called fruitcakes and casseroles which are called meat scallops.

Here’s what you will find in that cookbook besides boiled chicken: Lots and lots of cakes but almost no pies. Butter and eggs are used nearly everywhere, including in dishes you might not expect. Nine recipes call for oysters which the author usually presumes will come from a jar. The cooks seemed obsessed with knowing the age of their poultry. “See that the chickens are not too young,” one recipe suggests. Another calls for a “chicken about a year old” and another, “young, a hen.” Directions read, “steam according to the age of the chicken.”

There are some things in that book I’d like to try. There are two recipes for grape pickles and something called oil pickles, which requires an inverse vinaigrette ratio. What I would not like to eat: Jugged pigeons and pot roast of liver. Fish chops. Pork cake.

While the cookbook represented our humdrum grub at suppertime, the Press Democrat’s “Big Free Cooking School” in 1913 aspired to help us bake, roast and sauce our way out of the doldrums.

The weeklong event was actually a touring lecture/demonstration series followed by a cooking competition. The PD loved using contests as circulation builders, which they always restricted to women only. The previous year it was selling subscriptions to vote for the “most popular baby in Santa Rosa and vicinity,” called the “Shower of Gold Contest” (oh, if only Trump were around then to watch them and pick a winner). And in 1911 the paper had a subscription drive to win a new car – a competition that turned so cut-throat it could have been the plot for a tragicomic Nathanael West novel (see “MR. CONTEST EDITOR IS DISAPPOINTED IN YOU“).

The cooking demos were made by Louise Eubank (more about her below) who was a representative of Globe Milling Company of Los Angeles, which was waging war against the “Flour Trust” of Midwestern grain mills.* She had been putting on similar demos around Northern California for at least two years, appearing earlier in Santa Rosa in 1911 and in 1912 Petaluma. But those demos were strictly baking lessons in order to sell more flour; this would be the only time she prepared entire meals.

The cooking school was on the second floor of the Doyle Building – still there at the corner of Fourth and D streets, and one of the prettiest places downtown. There was seating for 500 and according to the PD, it was standing room only some days. Besides the food there was also musical entertainment, with a piano and Victrola; on some days Miss Eubank’s sister warbled a tune. People also came to gawk at the latest technology. According to the PD: “The electric stoves used by Miss Eubank and furnished by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, aroused much interest Monday, as many saw these new cooking devices in operation for the first time.”

(For those interested in Comstock House history: Mattie and James Wyatt Oates had a small gas cooking stove similar to the style shown at right, which was in keeping with their aims to have the house fitted with the best and most up-to-date tech, such as the gas electroliers which could provide gas or electric light or a combination of both. We know the size and type of their stove because it left scorch marks on the wood floor showing its footprint, as well as an adjacent plugged hole for the gas pipe.)

Each day Press Democrat society columnist “Dorothy Ann” offered a summary of the previous day’s events along with recipes and cooking tips, which ranged from hygiene basics (“trade at meat market kept the cleanest”) to the odd and maybe superstitious (“stand in front of an open window while beating eggs”). The newspaper filled out the rest of the page with many ads from grocers and other food vendors who rarely advertised daily.

Rather than transcribe everything, links are provided here to the online version of each day’s doings and recipes. The only detail that needs explaining is the reference to paper bags; at the time there was quite a fad for baking meats and fish en papillote; for more background, read this booklet published back then on paper-bag cookery. Otherwise, here are the menus and a sampling of the tips:

SATURDAY Menu: steamed pudding with creamy sauce, broiled chicken and cheese croquettes. Tips:  Only two things are boiled vigorously—rice and macaroni [while] all other vegetables are boiled slowly; The great advantage of paper-bag cooking is that it takes but one-half the fuel.
(Recipes were torn out of the online copy, but can be read on Sonoma County Library microfilm.)

MONDAY Menu: Macaroni and beef tongue casserole and a white loaf cake with icing.

TUESDAY Menu: cheese straws, quick raisin bread, egg muffins and a simple pie crust.

WEDNESDAY Menu: Plain bread, California raisin bread, Dixie biscuit, roast lamb, currant mint sauce, green peas, creamed chicken, baked onions and potato doughnuts (potato pancakes). Tips: Sour pickle put in paper bag white cooking will kill taste of mutton; mutton soaked in weakened vinegar will taste like venison.

THURSDAY  Menu: Planked Steak, Baked Bananas, Fruit Salad, Baking Powder Biscuits, Layer Cake. Tips: Scrape fiber from bananas before using; flour that makes perfect cake, perfect bread and perfect pastry is safe for family use, this the Globe “A 1” does; fat on steaks should be a yellowish color—not white; meat should hang 12 or 14 days after killing.

The last day was contest judging. All categories involved baking, as the whole event was really about selling flour – contestants had to “bring a Globe ‘A1’ sack, or the recipe for making plain bread that comes in the top of each sack of Globe ‘A1’ flour.” Grand prize was a Hoosier Cabinet (shown below) which really was something of great value; those things were like food prep workstations with all the specialized drawers, pullout breadboards and sturdy countertops for mounting meat grinders, apple peelers and such. Contest winners are listed below; note there was a doughnut category, even though they apparently were never mentioned in the class.

There was also a special division in the contest for young women from Santa Rosa High, and maybe some spent time with Louise Eubank and were inspired. She was a graduate of the University of Chicago’s Domestic Science Department, which is to say she was a protégée of Marion Talbot, a strong advocate for women having the same higher education opportunities as men. Along with teaching rigorous sanitation, a goal of her courses in household administration was to make kitchen work and other chores more efficient in order to give women more time for personal betterment (the classes were open to men, too).

Louise continued the flour demos at least through the end of 1913, and was next spotted among women doing a lecture series on home economics for the UC Extension Program. When the U.S. joined WWI she went to France to work for a YMCA program operating canteens. She apparently never married and spent most of her life as a teacher in the little farm town of Willows, close to her father and singing sister. She died in 1965 in Los Angeles at age 86 and is buried in Willows.

The “Press Democrat Cooking School” was held again in the following two years, although taught by another woman from the same flour maker. The dishes were much the same as those presented by Louise and sometimes identical; there were no introduction of new ingredients or flavors, but the PD write-ups heavily promoted the use of electric appliances, going so far in 1915 to even name the forty local homeowners who had an electric range.

The Sperry Flour Company – which established a distribution warehouse in Santa Rosa in 1912 and would later buy the local mill – offered its own cooking school one year which the PD gave little mention, but in 1916 the paper went all out for the weeklong “Pure Food and Household Exposition” held at the roller skating pavilion on A street. This was a paid admission traveling exhibit showcasing many vendors and included nightly dances to the music of its own orchestra. Featured also was “Princess Gowongo, the Food Astrologer.” (She was a carnival fortune teller who had appropriated the name of “Princess” Go-Won-Go Mohawk, a Native American woman who was famed in the 1880s and 1890s as an actress performing in Indian-themed melodramas in London, New York, and touring companies around the country.)

The Press Democrat elbowed its way into the exhibition by using it for the judging of its latest contest: The “World’s Better Baby Show.” Why the PD kept giving these infant competitions cryptic names is anyone’s guess, but thankfully this time their title didn’t seem to hint at a obscene joke.


* Organized by Charles Pillsbury and his pals, the Flour Trust manipulated the prices of most of the nation’s wheat crop and flour supply from the 1880s until the 1930s. Globe used West Coast wheat and built/bought its own mills in California and the Southwest, promoting its flour products strangely not by claiming they were the highest quality but by boasting they were made in the same region and then appealing to local pride – the equivalent today of saying Ghirardelli chocolate demonstrates support for Sonoma County. The Globe ‘A1’ flour brand was sold at least through the mid-1960s, never (as far as I can tell) boasting much about quality, except for it being “enriched.” In later years the bags included coupons for other products or discounts at amusement parks, and the occasional print ads sometimes still made the claim of being a strictly local product. It was usually the cheapest stuff on the supermarket shelf.
 Celebrated Culinary Expert Will Demonstrate Latest Methods and Ideas, Preparing a Full Meal Each Afternoon
Display of Modern Kitchen Paraphernalia lo Be Unique and Interesting Feature-See the Model Kitchen and Learn From What Part of the Beef the Various Cuts Come

Saturday afternoon at 2:30, The Press Democrat’s big Free Cooking School will open in the large double store room in the Doyle Building, opposite the Masonic Temple, on Fourth street. Everybody Is invited, and from the interest already manifested it is apparent that the undertaking will prove the biggest kind ot a success.

Every afternoon from 2:30 to 4:30 scientific demonstrations will be conducted by Miss L. B, Eubank, graduate of the University of Chicago, Domestic Science Department. Miss Eubank is recognized as one of the most expert women in her line in the United States. She is bright and entertaining. and knows how to make her lectures interesting from start to finish.

She prepares her dishes in full view of the audience, illustrating every detail of procedure. As the “proof of the pudding is in the eating,” she also distributes samples of each dish or article prepared among those present.

It is planned to make The Press Democrat’s big Free Cooking School a complete exposition of everything pertaining to the culinary art. In addition to Miss Eubank’s dally lectures and practical demonstration of the very latest and most scientific ideas in modern cookery, there will be displayed kitchen paraphernalia of all kinds, and a well-known butcher will explain the different cuts of meat, illustrating his remarks by a practical demonstration of cutting, which will be given in full view of the audience.

Model kitchens will be arranged, and displays showing all the newest ideas in gas and electric ranges, electric toasters, percolators, etc., will be shown. In her cooking demonstrations Miss Eubank will use both gas and electricity, and fireless cookers will also be employed. The entire idea is to show the very latest and most approved methods, regardless of anything but the results to be attained.

At the conclusion of the term, which is to last one week, a prize cooking contest will be held, and the cash and other prize* to be offered will cause people to sit up and take notice. The menu for each day will be published in advance, so that those interested will have notice of what is to come. Do not make any engagements for any afternoon next week, if you are interested In culinary matters. The big event is going to be The Press Democrat’s big Free Cooking School, and everybody will want to be there.

It will be a county affair, and every body in Sonoma County is invited to be present. It will be absolutely free, no charge of any kind being exacted. Don’t forget the date — The Press Democrat’s big Free Cooking School opens Saturday afternoon at 2:30, and will continue one week.

– Press Democrat, April 3 1913


Celebrated Culinary Expert Will Demonstrate Latest Methods and Ideas, Preparing a Full Meal Each Afternoon
Display of Modern Kitchen Paraphernalia lo Be Unique and Interesting Feature—See the Model Kitchen end Learn From What Part of the Beef the Various Cuts Come

This is the day! The Press Democrat’s big Free Cooking School opens this afternoon at 2:30 in the Doyle building, opposite the Masonic Temple. A huge sign, the work of Geo. W. Salisbury, stretched across the front of the building, marks the spot. You can’t miss the place, and you mustn’t forget the time, for The Press Democrat’s big Free Cooking School is going to be something well worth while.

Workmen were busy yesterday getting the place ready, and when Miss Eubank gives her opening demonstration this afternoon it will be in a model kitchen, equipped with electric and gas ranges, fireless cookers, electric percolators, toasters, broilers, etc., supplemented by the latest ideas in kitchen cabinets and other culinary paraphernalia.

Several hundred comfortable seats have been provided, a large stage erected, and music will be furnished before and after the lecture by a player piano and a fine victrola, provided by Manager Campbell Pomeroy of the Sonoma Valley Music Company. The various displays will be grouped around the sides of the hall.

The electric and gas ranges used in the demonstrations, as well as the heat and power required to operate the same, are being provided by the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, of which Maitland G. Hall is the popular local manager.

The Great Western Power Company, through District Manager William N. P. Hall, is also co-operating to make The Press Democrat’s big Free Cooking School a success.

The course will last one week, closing next Friday evening, when a grand prize cooking contest will be held. This feature will be under the auspices of the Irene Club. A partial list of the prizes to be offered appears on page one. There are a large number of other prizes, which will be announced later. The grand capital prize consists of a Hoozier [sic] Kitchen Cabinet, valued at $43, supplied by the Santa Rosa Furniture Company. This elegant piece of kitchen furniture will be exhibited on the stage during the entire week. It is something well worth working for, and the woman who gets it will be fortunate indeed. Cash prizes will be offered in addition to many useful and valuable household articles, only a few of which are mentioned in the list appearing this morning.

What housewife is not interested in the latest ideas in cookery? What woman has not some problem of the kitchen that she would not like to have solved for her by an expert such as Mlss Eubank. There is an abundance of literature published on the subject, but even if one knows where to find it the result would be far less satisfactory than seeing a practical demonstration. Miss Eubank is here to answer troublesome questions, and her helpful hints as the lessons proceed from day to day are bound to be productive of great good to the housewives of Santa Rosa and Sonoma county.

The fact that electricity as well as gas is to be in the demonstrations. has aroused much interest. Not many people know it, but a meal can be cooked entirely with electricity, and in as satisfactory a manner as by any other method. Many exports claim that in time no other fuel will be in use. The electric range used by Miss Eubank will prove a source of unfailing interest to all, because it will be something new to most of her hearers, few of whom have witnessed the process of cooking by electricity.

– Press Democrat, April 5 1913


Miss L. B. Eubank Prepares a Meal Before an Interested Throng at the Press Democrat’s Free Cooking School

by Dorothy Ann

Good cooks, poor cooks, young cooks, old cooks, women cooks, men cooks and aspiring cooks of all kinds listened with tense attention while savory dishes were prepared by Miss Louise Barton Eubank, graduate of the Domestic Science Department of the University of Chicago.

The general appearance of the platform from which Miss Eubank spoke was that of a well equipped kitchen. She worked facing an auditorium with a seating capacity of five hundred or more. The auditorium was crowded with eager and enthusiastic women. The sterner sex stood in the background, secretly hoping the goodies would not give out before they had a chance to taste them.

Gas and electric ranges had been installed on the platform, a kitchen table neatly covered with white linen had been conveniently placed, and a beautiful Hoosier cabinet (which, by the way. is one of the prizes), filled with necessary cooking condiments and utensils, was nearby. Pots, pans and kettles of all shapes and sizes were within handy reach, to systematize the work. Miss Eubank was attended by a competent assistant, and both ladies wore white.

  Miss Eubank’s Little Speech

“It is our plan,” said Miss Eubank, “to make these lessons as informal as possible. You will be privileged to ask as many questions as you desire. If any one desires me to make a special dish, ask me and I shall gladly comply with any reasonable request. Our idea is to put on few frills. We shall deal with the three-meals-a-day proposition, and prepare things most suited to every-day living in every-day life. The menu will be changed dally, and we shall make it as varied as possible. I believe there will always be something to interest you.

“The Irene Club, a charity organization, as you know, will have charge of the prize contest we will institute. We shall have these lessons every afternoon at 2:30 o’clock until Friday. That day we wish you to stay at home and cook. Friday, between the hours of 2 and 6, competitive cooked articles will be received here by the ladles. Friday evening at 7:30 competent judges will select the best and award the prize. At 6:30 the cooked articles will be auctioned and the proceeds given to the Irene Club for charitable work.”

Miss Eubank prepared steamed pudding with creamy sauce, broiled chicken and cheese croquettes. The recipes for these are as follows:

– Press Democrat, April 6 1913

…The only restriction for contest is that the contestant use Globe “A1” flour. When delivering into Miss Eubank’s hands the cooked article on Friday, between the hours of 4 and 6 o’clock, bring a Globe “A1” sack, or the recipe for making plain bread that comes in the top of each sack of Globe “A1” flour…

The electric stoves used by Miss Eubank and furnished by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, aroused much interest Monday, as many saw these new cooking devices in operation for the first time. The Copeland Automatic Cookstove and the General Electric Range were used with great success. “The Reliable Gas Stove” also furnished by the same firm, was used tor the baking of the white loaf cake.

– Press Democrat, April 8 1913


Miss Eubank Makes Her Work a Delight to All as She Demonstrates Many Dainty Dishes

Cooking became a glorified process under the skillful guidance of Miss Louise Barton Eubank Tuesday afternoon at the Press Democrat’s Free Cooking School. No sticky fingers, no mussed gown, no disagreeable odor that strikes terror to the heart because of a sure certainty that things are burned, no boiling over, and no unnecessary walking, because of adept arrangement of a model kitchen. All was easily, exactly and beautifully done. And how it was appreciated by the large audience that gathered to learn — not merely the embellishments of cookery — but the broader and deeper science of household economy!

That Miss Eubank has proved that she has more than ordinary knowledge of the art and science of cooking has been demonstrated again and again. Personally she has a sweet, attractive manner that makes friends with her audience immediately. And to demonstrate the power of mind over matter, I might add that the last two days Miss Eubank has been suffering excruciating pain with an ulcerated tooth. This did not deter her in the least from the demonstration, but did cause her yesterday to slightly change the menu.

Miss Eubank makes her cooking dainty and attractive. Those of us who occasionally dabble around in flour in the hopes of creating something, and come out looking as if we had fallen into the flour barrel, marvel at the ease and dispatch with which she works…

– Press Democrat, April 9 1913


Many Interesting Features Will Be Presented by Miss Louise B. Eubank Prior to Cooking Contest


– Press Democrat, April 10 1913


Cakes Winning Awards in The Press Democrat’s Cooking School Contest Will Be Auctioned off by the Irene Club for Charily

A large, eager crowd of townswomen gathered at the Doyle building Thursday afternoon at the Press Democrat’s Free Cooking School. The fact that it was the last lesson seemed to fill the women present with a determination to get all they could on this occasion. Miss Louise Barton Eubank graciously answered question after question, endeavoring in every way to assist those present to acquire the knowledge they so earnestly sought.

An interesting feature of the afternoon was the demonstration of meat cutting by Emil Miland of King’s Grocery and Market. A large chopping block of regulation design was brought in for his accommodation, and this was piled high with choice meats which he used to illustrate his remarks.

There will be no cooking school today, In order to give all contestants an opportunity to stay at home and cook. All entries are to he brought to the hall between the hours of 2 and 6 p. m. Miss Eubank will be there, and, assisted by her sister, Mrs, John Edwards, will receive the entries. The menu of Thursday was particularly attractive and it will be with sincere regret that the women of Santa Rosa see the Press Democrat Free Cooking School close…

Meat Cutting Demonstrated

Emil Miland of King’s grocery, explained the different cuts of meat from the fore quarters and the hind quarters of a beef and half of a lamb. Porterhouse, sirloin and round steaks were shown, as were rib roasts, short ribs of beef and breast meat for soups. Mr. Miland introduced a new name for steak to Santa Rosa women when he advised them to secure “chuck steaks” if they felt they could not always afford sirloin or porterhouse. The relative meat values were all explained at length.

 Mrs. John Edwards Sings

Mrs. John Eubank Edwards of Willows, a sister of Miss Eubank, rendered two vocal numbers during the afternoon to the delight of all. She will sing again tonight at the concert and should be greeted by a large audience.

 – Press Democrat, April 11 1913

If anyone thinks domesticity has gone with the granting of suffrage to women, let him forget it — and quickly. The splendid display of cakes, pies, bread, doughnuts and other good things shown at the Press Democrat’s big Free Cooking School last night, all prepared by the women and girls of Santa Rosa, shows conclusively that the home is still the focus-point of feminine interest, as it always has been and always will be.

For the past week the Press Democrat’s big Free Cooking School has attracted the attention and interest of every homeseeker in town, and of many residing in different parts of Sonoma county. Each afternoon several hundred women have gathered to witness the scientific demonstrations of modern cookery, given by Miss Louise Barton Eubank. Yesterday everybody stayed at home and prepared their entries for the big prize contest, which marked the grand wind-up of the week’s session.

When the crowd gathered last night they found the stage beautifully decorated with flowers, the hall brilliantly lighted, all the various displays of kitchen furniture, electric appliances, etc., in apple-pie order, and — as the center of attraction, of course — long tables laden with delicious-looking cakes of every description, beautiful brown loaves of the finest looking bread you ever laid eyes on, huge piles of rich doughnuts, lucious looking pies of all kinds, besides other things too numerous to mention…


1st. Mrs. C. D. Johnson – Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet, value $43 – grand prize – supplied by the Santa Rosa Furniture Co.
2d. Mrs. E. P. Gorsline – El Eggo – electric egg broiler – value $9. Supplied by Great Western Power Co.
3d. Mrs. J. Pursell Cabinet of Folger’s spices, extracts, teas and coffees.
4th. Mrs. W. A. Wallace  –  Glove order.
5th. Mrs. H. G. Hewitt – Sack Globe “A1” flour.
1st. Mrs. A. B. Lemmon – Fireless Cooker, value $18 – supplied by J. C. Mailer Hardware Co.
2d. Mrs. F. M. Havener – General Electric Toaster, value $4 – supplied by the Great Western Power Co.
3d. Mrs. F. G. Kellogg – Aluminum Ware.
4th. Mrs. J. W. Pemberton – Glove order.
5th. Mrs. C. D. Johnson Sack of Globe “A1” flour.
1st. Mrs. R. Y. Bearing Ruud Water Heater, No. 20, value $15  – supplied by Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
2d. Mrs. John Schroder – $5 cash.
3d. Mrs. F. C. Pearson – Cabinet of Folger’s spices, extracts, teas and coffees.
4th. Mrs. Jennie Reed  – Electric Iron – value $3.50 – furnished by H. W. Jacobs.
5th Mrs. John Ahl – Sack of Globe “Al” Flour.
1st. Mrs. G. H. Wymore – Cut Glass Celery Dishes – value $6.50, furnished by C A, Wright & Company.
2d. Mrs. Gus Walker, Casserole.
3d. Miss Ethel Wooley – Sack of Globe “A1” flour.
Ist. Mrs. H. S. Hick – General Electric Toaster, value $4 – furnished by the Great Western Power Co.
2d. Mrs. R. Y. Bearing ~ six months’ subscription to the Press Democrat, value $2.50.
3d. Mrs. G. H. Wymore – Sack of Globe “A1” flour.
1st. Mrs. J. L. Gagne – Ivory-handled Carving set – Keen Kutter – value $6.50, furnished by Dixon & Elliott.
1st. Miss Edith Balsley – Cut Glass Powder Box – Furnished by St. Rose Drug Store.
2d. Miss Ruth Overton – Parisian Ivory Manicure Set – furnished by G. M. Luttrell.
3d. Miss Vivienne Collister – Sack of Globe “A1” flour.

– Press Democrat, April 12, 1913


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Give Santa Rosa credit: When it decided to destroy the downtown area, it did so thoroughly. In the late 1960s the town demolished all of its legacy public buildings including the Carnegie library (which was replaced only after considerable arm-twisting) and the county courthouse. Supposedly they were completely unsafe and ready to tumble down at the first quiver of a quake although there were little or no concerns before. County archivist Katherine Rinehart just came across blueprints from 1945 showing the county was even considering a third story addition to the courthouse.

Less mentioned is that the city hall building next to Courthouse Square was also torn down after Santa Rosa built the sprawling city complex on Santa Rosa Avenue in 1969. The new complex obliterated the site of Kabetciuwa, the most significant Pomo community in this area, so thus the town managed to score a two-fer in legacy destruction.

The old city hall represented the conclusion of post-1906 earthquake reconstruction. The original idea was for something much grander; in 1908 the city commissioned architect John Galen Howard to design a combined firehouse and city hall. His plans were in the Beaux Arts style much like the Empire Building, which he also created. For reasons never explained the project was abandoned; the firehouse remained at its previous location on Fifth street and the new city hall would be built at 210 Hinton (today part of the large bank building at 50 Old Courthouse Square).

Built in 1913, the place housed the city council chamber, police station, courtroom, jail, offices for the mayor, city clerk, tax collector, recorder, city attorney and street commissioner plus staff for all – it makes one wonder if they were sometimes sitting on each other’s laps. The issue of crowding came up even before construction started, as some of the most prominent men in town met with City Council in a special session. There were more suitable vacant lots around downtown, they insisted, some almost twice as wide as the 40-foot city-owned lot where the building was planned. Sorry, said the mayor; we’ve already explored those options.

At least the lot was deep, and the Santa Rosa Republican provided a detailed description of the interior, transcribed below; a highlight is mention that the jail included “a ‘hobo’ room, furnished principally with cool walls and floor and opportunity for reflection.”

The architect was Luther M. Turton, winning the contract over county courthouse designer J. W. Dolliver. I’ve long planned a thorough writeup of Turton as “Santa Rosa’s other Luther;” he was a prolific architect all over the North Bay and particularly in Napa, where he was based (short bio here). Besides city hall, he also designed several Santa Rosa homes, schools and office buildings. For a number of years he had an office here in (what would become known as) the Empire Building.

Like his contemporary Brainerd Jones, his work was eclectic and personalized for each client – for our city hall, he even provided the office furniture. Fortunately, the Napa County Historical Society has hundreds of Turton architectural drawings including his blueprints for Santa Rosa city hall.


Santa Rosa City Hall in 1967, Photo by Don Meacham and courtesy Sonoma County Library.



One of the best designed, constructed and fitted building in Sonoma county is Santa Rosa’s city hall, now nearing completion. It only remains to complete a small amount of finishing, install the lighting fixtures and put in place the furnishings.

The front facade presents a pleasing appearance, but the idea of utility at moderate cost is the object achieved. Abundance of light, superior ventilation, modern plumbing and heating have been provided and the arrangement of the interior is most excellent in all particulars.

The front rooms on the ground floor will be the office of the chief of police, provided with counter and steel lined vault, the public entrance being from the north corridor which runs the length of the building to the police cell room. A handsome private office is provided for the chief.

In the rear of this is the locker and rest room for the police force, containing seven conveniently appointed coat rooms for members of the patrol, and ample comforts for rest when off duty or on office detail.

Connecting with this room, next east is the City Recorder’s court room, light, ample in size, provided with finely appointed lavatory, hot and cold water, porcelain washbasin. The court room will be handsomely furnished. Direct entrance to the open court at the south is provided as well as entrance from the closed corridor at the north end of room.

In the rear of the court room is a supply land storage room of large capacity.

The entire east end of ground floor is devoted to the cell room; abundantly lighted thoroughly ventilated and containing shower bath and every convenience permissible in a detention room. There are five cells each containing two steel framed cots affixed to the walls, which may be folded against the wall if desired. Each cell contains sanitary plumbing and every provision possible for making confinement less irksome; thoroughly conforming to the most modern prison standard.

Between this room and the storage room are a woman’s cell, furnished as above and a “hobo” room, furnished principally with cool walls and floor and opportunity for reflection.

Throughout the building are convenient clothes closets provided with every convenience and sanitary luxury, all up-to-the-hour is character and style.

The floors throughout are of fibrestone, noiseless to the tread; the baseboards are all “coved” so that no lurking place for dirt or dust is found. The janitor’s duties are lightened and the most sanitary result possible in office flooring is obtained.

The finish is mainly in oak and mahogany, some native woods in finish harmonizing with the remainder. The is [sic] rich and solid in appearance, classic in design and devoid of “gingerbread” ornaments; sensible and durable.

The north corridor and staircase are of oak, the wainscoting being of fibrestone. All walls of the main floor offices are tinted in a manner to soften and tone the light with most pleasing effect.

The main front room on the second floor is for the use of the city clerk and provided with steel lined vault, and all conveniences for both public and the official. A mail chute to the chief’s office below permits the saving of many extra journeys up and down the stairs. An adjoining room for stenographers’ use, etc., and convenient closets are provided.

The rooms at front end of corridor make a private office with ante room for the Mayor.

In rear of clerk’s office are rooms for city attorney and street commissioner.

East of these office rooms is the council chamber, finely designed, handsomely fitted in oak and mahogany, light, airy, and with ample accommodation for the public as well as the city officials. The ceiling is ornamental in design and when the electric lights are turned on at sessions will present an artistic appearance.

On a dais in the southwest corner of the room “his honor” will be enthroned at a handsome mahogany desk, overlooking the scene from an eminence, as it were. Directly in front the city clerk’s desk will be in direct connection with the mayor’s–or within easy reach for the passing of documents. The councilmen will be seated at desks ranging in a quarter circle, the whole space being enclosed by a substantial parapet instead of openwork railing.

Wall seats line both north and east walls, giving ample and comfortable seating for more than fifty people. Flanking the clerk’s desk there are desks for the press representatives.

The acoustic properties are good and it will be easy to hear the ordinary tones of conversation any place within the room. When the handsome furniture is in place it will be a “gem” in its way.

The east rooms are for the city engineer and city assessor, commodious, light, with large storage closets and all conveniences.

The whole building will be heated by the hot water system, the radiators being already in place and the plant ready for operation,

The most modern sanitary plumbing fixtures have been used throughout and there is no concealed work, all being exposed, easy of access for repairs, ornate to look upon and the best that can be found anywhere. Hot and cold water are supplied to all basins and there is no place for germs or filth to accumulate in any part of the building.

The upper corridor is abundantly lighted by three large skylights and vault light frames in the floor admit plenty of light to the lower corridor.

The best of materials and workmanship have been employed throughout and Architect Turton is more than pleased with the manner in which the contractors, Gallagher & Wygant, have carried out their agreement.

The city now possesses a commodious and handsomely equipped building and–it will be paid for in full when the contractors turn it over in a few days.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 13, 1913
Citizens Confer With Council at the Special Meeting on Monday Evening

There was a special session of the City Council Monday night to meet Architect L. M. Turton, whose plans for a new City Hall have been accepted, to go over the working details and specifications of the structure.

Mayor J. L. Mercier and Counclmen Pressley, Skaggs, Spooncer and Wolfe were present, when the meeting was called to order and Councilman Hail came In later.

President John Rinner and a number of the Directors and members of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce called on the Council. The object of the visit of the delegation was to present a protest against the building of a City Hall on the forty-foot lot on Exchange avenue [sic], if any other plan could be devised.

A number of the visitors spoke on the subject, Including President Rinner. Director Rosenberg and Messrs. J. P. Overton, E. L. Finley and C. H. Bane: and the Mayor and Councilmen Joined in the general discussion which followed.

The visitors voiced the opinion that the Hinton avenue lot was too small and confining for a suitable site for a public building; that the structure there would be lowered by the larger and more costly County Court House; that the same building erected in a lot giving ample room for a grass plot would make a far better showing; that an open lot for the building would give air and light, and at the same time remove danger of fire damage; that it might be possible to sell the present lot and purchase another better located and still have sufficient money from the sale to pay the additional expense on the building necessitated by having to furnish all four walls.

It was suggested that the Farmer property on Fourth street, adjoining the Library, 73 by 135 feet, be secured for the building with the possibility of purchase or condemnation of several adjoining lots through to Third street to give a pretty park which would end for the present the talk of bonding the city for park purposes and yet give a breathing place for the general public right In the heart of town.

Mayor Mercier explained that many months had been spent by the Council in studying the situation. An effort was made, he said, to secure a conference with the Board of Supervisors looking towards a trade of the city property for the county lot on the corner of Third street, but the Supervisors even refused to meet in conference to discuss the subject. Other sites had been discussed, but after all the matter came back to the old lot. An effort to get the Farmer property had even failed owing to the refusal of San Francisco heirs to agree to trade even for the present site.

After an informal agreement to sell the property, signed by E. C. Farmer, had been presented and filed with the Council, the subject was taken under advisement and the visitors departed.

The Council spent some time with Architect Tarton going over the proposed plans and specifications. These will shortly be In shape to submit to bidders, but meanwhile the Council will consider the matter presented by the protestants and decide upon some line of action.

– Press Democrat, November 26, 1912

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“We never did learn whose hand applied the torch,” Charmian London wrote in her biography of husband Jack London. She thought of the unknown arsonist as an “assassin” because “The razing of the house killed something in Jack…something in his heart burned out that night and was destroyed forever.”1

“The house” was Jack’s baronial arts & crafts castle called “Wolf House,” which was in the last stage of completion when it burned down in August, 1913. At the time no one doubted an arsonist had set the fire. “Many people were accused of the firing, a good part of them in anonymous letters sent to Jack,” Irving Stone noted in his acclaimed biography, “Sailor on Horseback.” Among the suspects “…A workman whom Jack had thrown off the ranch for beating his wife was seen in the vicinity; he was accused. An ill-tempered foreman was accused.  [Chief contractor Natale] Forni was accused, jealous socialists were accused, disgruntled tramps were accused.”2

There was even gossip Jack or Charmian set the fire. Long before construction was underway Jack had written ominously in a 1906 essay, “it will be a happy house – or else I’ll burn it down” and in the months before the fire the pair were anything but happy. His health was failing and she had a miscarriage after three days of labor; freakish weather destroyed most of his crops and someone shot one of his most valuable horses; he was nearly out of money and had mortgaged everything he could. In the Forni family a story was handed down that the couple was overheard fighting with Charmian saying, “You’ll never live in this house.”3 Irving Stone also supposedly was told by a workman that he saw Charmian walking away from the house swinging an empty gasoline can and saying, “It’s going to be a hot night tonight.”4

Years later, Natale Forni told Stone he wondered if the cause might have been spontaneous combustion, as earlier that day workmen had been rubbing down the interior woodwork and there was “turpentine-saturated waste.” Since a solvent like turpentine is used on finished wood only in combination with other things such as linseed oil, it’s presumed he meant there were oily rags lying around. And when a 1995 team of forensic experts looked at the Wolf House fire they concluded that yep, it was spontaneous combustion, all right.

Not everyone agrees with that. Jonah Raskin (local author of “The Radical Jack London” and other books) was told by an SSU anthropologist it’s an example of “hollywooding” – neatly wrapping up the mystery by making scapegoats of the nameless workers and letting everyone else off the hook.5 And as I explained in “TIME TO REOPEN THE JACK LONDON FIRE INVESTIGATION,” data in the 1995 study supporting that spontaneous combustion theory is clearly wrong, making the matter far from settled. To be fair, it has to be acknowledged the fire could have been caused by burning rags – only not in the very specific way claimed in that investigation.

But if the cause wasn’t spontaneous combustion we are probably looking at arson. It was easy to rule out financial gain as motive; the place was famously underinsured because Jack presumed a stone and concrete building like that couldn’t burn. There was a single $6,000 policy – less than one-tenth of the building’s estimated value – and that payment apparently went to the bank holding the most recent mortgage. And despite what anonymous letter-writers were telling Jack, odds for the fire being started by jealous socialists or disgruntled tramps were pretty low (the guy who was fired for wife-beating might have been worth a second look, though). But in his listing of suspects under consideration, Irving Stone dropped in this little nugget: “Shepard, whom Eliza was divorcing, had quarreled with Jack that very day.”

“Eliza’s husband shoots up the ranch,” was the May 3, 1913 entry in Charmian London’s diary. That was about fourteen weeks before the fire.6

“Eliza” was Eliza Shepard, one of Jack London’s stepsisters. She was his business manager, the superintendent of his ranch and construction boss of the Wolf House project. Jack depended upon her utterly – as he had for much of his life.

She and her 13 year-old son lived near Jack’s cottage in a little house he built for them (and likewise mortgaged shortly before the fire). They had arrived on the ranch in 1910 after she separated from her husband, Captain James H. Shepard.

What happend that day in May, 1913, is unclear. Both the Press Democrat and Argus-Courier stated James lived on the ranch, but it is more likely he was there to visit his son who was seriously injured in an electrical accident a few weeks earlier. Also involved in the incident was Eliza’s sister, Ida and her husband Jack Byrne, who lived in Glen Ellen.

From accounts in the PD (transcribed below) it seems Capt. Shepard pulled his pistol on Jack Byrne. Eliza grappled with him for the gun and it fired twice, injuring no one. Apparently Jack London heard the shots and ran next door, jerking the gun out of Shepard’s hand. The next day Shepard went to Santa Rosa and filed assault complaints against both Jacks, claiming Byrne held him defenseless while London choked him. They were arrested and released on $50 bail. Charges were quickly dismissed at a hearing the following week. In her biography, Charmian wrote this:

An old man ran amuck one night and ‘shot up the ranch.’ Jack landing upon the scene, in the space of three seconds had disarmed the lunatic, who, in retaliation, haled [sic] him into court for ‘choking an old man into insensibility.’ “Me, choking an old man into insensibility!” Jack fumed. “Can’t you see me?”

Self-serving, yes, but what’s striking about her telling is that she went considerably out of the way to avoid identifying the “old man” as Jack’s brother-in-law (none of the newspapers mentioned the family connection either). Charmian was emotionally close to Eliza and dependent upon her her managerial skills as much as Jack was, so she was presumably shielding Eliza and her son, Irving.

But within the family, an entirely different story was told. In his oral history the grandson of Eliza and James Shepard said he was told grandpa hated Jack London so much he was there with a gun in 1913 because he intended to murder the author. “He came to the Ranch, and he was going to kill him because he claimed Jack London stole his wife…He blamed Jack for the breakup.”7

Eliza London was roughly eight years older than Jack and from his earliest days was a combination playmate and surrogate mother. When she was sixteen she married a man who was lodging with their family and moved away. Her husband was 41 and brought with him a family of three, the youngest still an infant.

His name was James H. Shepard. Little is known about his personal life except he was born in Bergen, New Jersey in 1843. The name of his first wife is a mystery, as is what became of her. A profile of him appeared in an 1895 San Francisco Call which shows he was a Captain during the Civil War, posted at the San Francisco Presidio and Fort Yuma, where he was nearly fatally wounded in the southwest Indian wars. After that he spent nearly twenty years at the surgeon-general’s office in Washington, D.C. He returned to California in 1884 and almost immediately met and married Eliza. Besides having three kids and a teenage wife he also had lots of bills, and legal notices appeared in the papers stating he was insolvent.

Shepard became a veteran’s pension attorney, which is to say he helped old soldiers or their widows obtain the federal pensions for military service which was their due. It was also considered the most sleazy aspect of the legal profession.

Drawing of Shepard from the July 21, 1895 San Francisco Call

The government paid $25 to a pension attorney for every awarded claim – and in an era when a skilled workman was lucky to get 25¢ an hour, that was sweet money. The Commissioner of Pensions estimated there were 50,000 pension attorneys beating bushes nationwide looking for potential applicants. In 1887 a widow in Texas who had never applied for a pension was awarded one for a husband who supposedly fought in the Revolutionary War (take a moment to ponder the number of generation gaps in that relationship). Commissioner Evans asked Congress to abolish the pension attorney system because the pension rolls were filled with fraudulent claims. “The ordinary pension attorney is worse than the most pestiferous varmint that ever invaded a hen roost,” he said. The San Francisco Call felt compelled to explain “varmint” was not libelous because Evans came from Tennessee, where a jury would not consider it derogatory to the reputation of the person accused.

By all accounts Captain Shepard was the rare good guy, advertising in the newspapers as “J. H. Shepard & Co. The Old Reliable Attorneys.” He was a high-ranking officer in the regional G. A. R. (Grand Army of the Republic – the organization of Civil War and Mexican War veterans) and was apparently the whistleblower exposing graft and fraud at the veteran’s home in Yountville, then operated by a private association. He lobbied the state legislature to eliminate a fee on claim forms (and won) and testified in one court case where he had worked for nine years to have a Civil War claim approved. Eliza joined the office as a notary public and herself became a lifelong advocate for veterans, national president of the American Legion Auxiliary 1925-1926.

Jack remained close with Eliza and in the sphere of the Shepard clan. James’ son Hubert, three years older than Jack, got him a laundry job in 1897. That summer Jack decided to join the Klondike Gold Rush and the Shepard home in Oakland was mortgaged to finance his grubstake, with one condition: James insisted he tag along. James was then 54 and not in the best health.

James reportedly had a mild heart attack just before their ship left for its eight-day voyage to Alaska, making the older man more of a burden than equitable partner. Onboard they formed a party with three other prospectors to share equipment.

Once ashore they joined the parade of miners headed for the Chilkoot Pass, the impossibly steep trail to the goldfields. James gave up after two eleven days, claiming his rheumatism wouldn’t allow him to go further. He went home to Oakland as Jack and the others split up his supplies and pushed on. (The very next day Jack met Martin Tarwater of Santa Rosa, who became a memorable character in one of the Klondike stories. Despite the awful conditions, Tarwater kept such a cheery disposition he appeared to be nuts. A correspondent to the Press Democrat wrote of coming across “Mart” alone in the wilderness that winter merrily bellowing out an old music hall tune.)

Once home, James faded. The only notable event in his life during the following dozen years was the 1899 birth of Irving (Washington Irving Shepard, actually) his only child with Eliza. The pension attorney advertisements stopped in 1901. He was mentioned briefly in 1904 for having his son-in-law arrested for abandoning his wife. In 1909 he offered himself as a longshot candidate to lead the national G. A. R. Meanwhile, Eliza’s star was in ascendance. She often appeared in the legal notices for buying and selling property around Oakland as well as her many activities as a leader of the local Women’s Relief Corps, which was the G. A. R. auxiliary. When she took Irving and moved to Glen Ellen in 1910 she wasn’t just turning away from a failed marriage – she was leaving a social network which meant everything to her.

To Geoffrey Dunn, Captain James Shepard remains the prime arson suspect: “By lighting a fire to Wolf House, Shepard would have been exacting revenge on the two targets of his burning rage – London and Eliza.” Dunn, a Santa Cruz historian and investigative journalist whose deep dive into the political background of Sarah Palin was a longtime Amazon bestseller, adds that Shepard uniquely had “motive, opportunity and the capability to commit the crime.”

Start with motive: Shepard blamed Jack for his wife leaving him, according to their grandson. But he was also sour on Eliza – in 1915 he sued for divorce charging she had deserted him. According to the FBI profile of “personal retaliation” arsonists (see part one), fire locations are meaningful, specifically chosen to show it was an act of vengeance. Jack and his sister had everything invested, both financially and emotionally, in the completion of Wolf House.

Opportunity: Shepard was at the ranch that very day and arguing with Jack, according to author Irving Stone. The FBI says this type of arsonist is opportunistic – he walks to the fire scene, rarely breaks in, and starts the blaze using materials already there. Wolf House was then completely open (even the windows were not installed), unguarded and Natale Forni was probably right that workmen had stuff lying around.

Capability: Shepard’s grandson said he wanted to kill London in that gun-waving incident a few months earlier and Dunn points to another incident in his past: At an 1896 G. A. R. convention, Shepard angrily said to an opponent, “if you say anything about my character that you cannot prove I’ll make you bite the dust.” That may read like corny cowboy dialogue today, but in context of the era it was very clear he was making a death threat. But these were examples of dramatic emotional behavior, not violence – he didn’t draw a gun on the guy in 1896 and if he was determined to shoot Jack he could have attempted that; instead, the gun fired only while Eliza was trying to wrestle it away. These episodes demonstrate, however, that he wanted to make a show of pushing back hard when he felt his honor had been wronged – and that’s significant.

There’s no question that Shepard had been on a downward spiral for some time. Contributing factors could have been drugs or drink or simply his age – he was 70 the year Wolf House burned down. He was living in Knights Ferry, a Gold Rush ghost town which was enjoying a second life as a tourist stop thanks to the new fad of automobile excursions. There he worked at a jewelry shop where his son was allowed to visit in the summers.8

Capt. Shepard’s last hurrah came in 1916 when he revived his pension advertisement (for a single day!) in the Oakland Tribune. He had been divorced from Eliza for a year with her retaining all the property; he now sued claiming some of it had been bought with his money. As ownership was settled in the divorce, the case was thrown out. He died in 1917 a fairly poor man, with a little over $2,000 and no possessions to speak of.

There is no proof James Shepard set the Wolf House fire, but there is no better suspect; if it was arson it was almost certainly by his hand. What I think happened is this: Late that night he walked into the building, still stewing over the earlier argument with Jack London. I doubt he had pre-meditated plans. Perhaps he saw a bucket with sawdust, wood scraps or even oily rags; perhaps he dropped in a cigarette; perhaps he thought he’d be getting even with his unloving wife and her unsympathetic brother by causing them headaches with a little fire. It would cause some damage, sure, scorch the woodwork, stink up the place, and maybe set back the completion date, but it certainly wouldn’t take down the whole building. Not a big magnificent house like that.

1 London, Charmian; The Book of Jack London, Volume 2; 1921, pg. 263

2 Stone, Irving; “Sailor on Horseback,” 1938, pg. 300

3 Raskin, Jonah; “Burning Down the House.” The story was told to Gaye LeBaron by William Forni, whose father heard the argument while playing in the house the month of the fire.

4 Shepard, Milo oral history: “The Jack London story and the Beauty Ranch” 2001, pg. 17

5 Raskin, Jonah; “Burning Down the House,” Valley of the Moon Magazine January, 2016, pg. 47

6 Stasz, Clarice; “Jack London’s Women,” 2003; pg. 172

7 Shepard, Milo, op. cit. pg. 8

8 Shepard, Milo, ibid

ABOVE: Detail of 1984 drawing of Wolf House by artist William Johnston; image courtesy Sonoma County Library
BELOW: Ruins of Wolf House viewed from the other side, probably 1914-1917, when the surrounding redwood trees were cut down. Photo: California Parks Dept.


Tenant on Novelist’s Glen Ellen Place Charges Writer with Assault and Battery

Jack London, the famous novelist, and John J. Burns of San Francisco, a bookkeeper for the Southern Pacific Company, were arrested Monday morning on warrants issued by Justice of the Peace Atchison, charging them with assault and battery. The complaint was sworn io by J. H. Shepard, who lives on the London place at Glen Ellen. A cash bail of $5O was deposited in each case and the matter set for trial next Monday morning.

Mr. Shepard states that there was trouble between his wife and her sister in which the sister upbraided the wife. He claims that Burns was present and did not take Mrs. Shepard’s part. Burns was invited to the Shepard home, but Shepard decided that he could not be admitted.

When Burns came to the house Shepard, who had a pistol in his side pocket, went to the door and ordered him away. Mrs. Shepard came out during the trouble and found that her husband was abusing Burns. Fearing that he would draw his gun she took it out of his pocket. Her husband then attempted to get it away from her and Burns interfered. In the tussle that ensued the weapon was discharged twice.

Mrs. Shepard retained the gun after the trouble between Burns and Shepard; she then appealed to London, whose home is not far away. When London came he sided with Burns and this so angered Shepard that he again tried to wrest the gun from his wife. Both Burns and London then interfered and Shepard claims that Burns grasped him by the wrists and held him while London choked him.

– Press Democrat, May 6, 1913


Took Gun from J. W. Shepard When Latter Was Striking Wife and After Threats Had Been Made Against Burns

At the conclusion ot the cross examination of the third witness in the case against Jack London and John Burns in Judge Atchison’s court Monday afternoon District Attorney Clarence Lea moved to dismiss the charge as the evidence did not warrant a conviction in his opinion.

The charge was assault and battery and was preferred by J. W. Shepard after a quarrel in which London and Burns were called upon to interfere. The evidence showed that Shepard was armed and had made threats against Burns and that in grappling with his wife the weapon was discharged twice the trigger being pulled by Shepard.

Mrs. Shepard stated that her husband was striking her with one hand while grasping the weapon with the other and that she called upon Burns to help her which he did. London had been summoned and he jerked the gun out ot Shepard’s hand.

– Press Democrat, May 13, 1913



The interior of Jack London’s nearly completed new home on his ranch near Glen Ellen, was gutted by a fire that started shortly before midnight and which was still burning at 1 o’clock this morning. At that hour the fire was reported to have spread to the wooded hillside and the canyon beyond the new home.

A man employed on the London ranch told a Press Democrat representative over the long-distance telephone this morning that the origin of the fire was unknown. At the time he was ’phoning from the old house at present occupied by Mr. and Mrs. London, he said the novelist and his wife were at the scene of the fire.

The magnificent stone castle on the hillside which Jack London has been building for a long time was nearing completion and the damage done by the fire, of course, was necessarily confined to the expensive woodwork and finish that has been installed, not damaging the walls. The house was to have been ready for occupancy in the fall and a large force of men have been employed on the place.

A telephone message to The Press Democrat from Sonoma this morning also confirmed the news that it was the new London home which the fire destroyed. A fire would do considerable damage to the scenery and wooded hillsides and canyons if it spread to any extent.

At 2:30 this morning, Q. R. Wickham. of the Sonoma State Home, telephoned that he had just returned from the scene of the fire and that the entire building had been gutted, leaving nothing but the masonry standing. The fire did not spread to the timber owing to the prompt action of guards on the place when the fire was discovered.

Mr. Wickham said he talked with Mr. and Mrs, Jack London, who had been on the place up to 6 o’clock, and the foreman, who left at 8 o’clock, and none of them had the least idea how the fire originated. The loss will be very heavy.

– Press Democrat, August 23, 1913


Damage by Fire Is Estimated Between 30,000 and 40,000

The spirit of Jack London is not depressed by a fire, even if the flames do devastate the interior of a majestic castle he has been building for a couple of years on the hillside on his big ranch near Glen Ellen, occupying the most romantic spot in all the country round. The author of “The Sea Wolf” and other thrilling stories, decreed Saturday that the work of reconstruction of the castle shall commence immediately after the Insurance adjuster has inspected the premises. Be it known that Mr. London had $10,000 insurance on the castle, In three companies represented by Luther W. Burris of this city. His loss however, will be between $35,000 and $40,000, according to the estimate furnished on Saturday.

As stated Saturday morning in The Press Democrat’s account of the fire, the walls of the castle are still standing, but the interior of the building is gutted. The roof of red tile, which had just been completed, cost $6,000. The marble work, hewn and carved by the experts in that line, until its finish excelled anything like it in this state. This is where the great loss comes in, in addition to the magnificent oak and walnut and the other wood furnishings. As to the origin of the fire, it may have been the work of a discharged employee and it may not. Anyhow, it is still a mystery and when the red glow leaped from the turrets of the castle on Friday night shortly before midnight, it surprised everybody who saw it, and particularly surprised Mr. and Mrs. London, who were aroused from their slumbers in their old home some distance away with the news that the castle was burning. It was hard for people here and elsewhere to realize how a fire could do so much damage in a massive stone building and to glance up now it seems harder to imagine with the stout walls and the turreted sides still standing.

– Press Democrat, August 24, 1913

There are many people taking a peep at the standing walls of Jack London’s castle near Glen Ellen, the scene of the Friday night fire. A large number of people took a drive down to Glen Ellen for the purpose and not a few city residents motored up from the different resorts to take a look at the ravages wrought by the flames upon the interior of what was rapidly assuming shape as one of the finest country homes in the State or in the West. The insurance adjusters went out to the place on Monday to inspect the premises. London will get ail of the $10,000 called for in the policy as the loss is complete and only the walls of the building remain.

– Press Democrat, August 26, 1913

L. W. Burris, fire insurance agent of this city and H. M. Farrar, loss adjuster, visited the scene of the Jack London fire Tuesday. It was only a formal viewing of the remains as the flames of early Saturday morning left nothing except bare walls to view. There is a strong belief that the disaster was not accidental, but no clew has been extracted from the mystery. Mr. London will begin rebuilding at once. He was working on his last story, a sea yarn, the color of which he gathered in his recent voyage around Cape Horn, and he finished the last chapters two days after his rare house burned down.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 26, 1913


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