There’s a tale Bill Soberanes loved to tell in his Argus-Courier columns that went something like this:
During Prohibition a lawyer was defending a man accused of bootlegging. When the prosecutor introduced a bottle of the moonshine as evidence the lawyer picked it up, put it to his lips and drank it dry. “That wasn’t whiskey,” he told the court. Case dismissed for lack of evidence.
Odds of that story being true are probably nil (or at least, I can’t find anything close to it in the newspapers of the day) but it’s the kind of thing people liked to say about Gil P. Hall. Most often he was called some riff on being “a colorful character” and people meant that in a nice way. During the 1910s and 1920s he was the top defense attorney in Sonoma county and rarely lost in court, particularly if it involved a jury trial. He was such a legal hotshot that courtrooms were packed when he defended a high-profile case. “There was only one Gil Hall, and I don’t think there will ever be another like him,” said the last surviving pre-Prohibition Petaluma bar owner in 1967. “Some of his cases would make Perry Mason look very tame.”
In the 1920s Hall defended so many liquor scofflaws that he had a reputation as being the bootlegger’s lawyer, but that’s not really fair – it seems he took on any and all. While he’s best known for high-profile cases his bread and butter was mundane legal work – representing people seeking a divorce, handling probate paperwork, and arguing a farmer had a right to dig a culvert under a county road.
He won an acquittal for Fannie Brown, who was charged with running a “house of ill-fame” at First and C streets in Petaluma. In the murder trial of two doctors charged with the death of a woman from an abortion (“the illegal operation”) the courtroom spectators burst into prolonged applause when the jury found them innocent. Even when he lost he usually managed to salvage some kind of victory. The owner of Speedway Hotel in Cotati was caught red-handed selling 72 proof jackass brandy (“with a trace of fuel oil”) and had to pay a fine, but Hall blocked the government from shutting down his business – which continued to be busted for selling hootch year after year.
A man who knew him, Petaluma Justice of the Peace Rolland Webb, said “he won most of his cases by outsmarting the young lawyers who came up against him,” so it’s a pity the newspapers didn’t write up some of his Perry Mason-y courtroom arguments. The one sample we have comes from an unusual case – the county election of 1926.
A recount was ordered because the votes for sheriff were almost tied. Hall and lawyers for the other candidate went over the ballots carefully, agreeing to toss three for being “scurrilous” – the voters had added an obscenity next to a candidate’s name. Then they found someone had written in the name of Andy Gump for Justice of the Peace. Andy Gump was an ultra-popular comic strip character who was a lovable idiot; in the 1920s the storyline had him running silly campaigns for the senate and the presidency. But the name was written on a ballot for Hall’s candidate, so he made a fine speech why it should be accepted:
…Andy Gump is one of the best loved characters in the United States. His name is a household word, and of loved memory. All of his actions have been those of a gentleman… Therefore, I cannot conclude with counsel that the writing of Andrew Gump created an atmosphere of scurrility about this ballot. Whether there is an Andrew Gump in Sonoma county I do not know. If there were more Andrew Gumps, in character and thought, Sonoma county would probably be a better county than it is…
His candidate lost the election by 16 votes, but the Andy Gump ballot was counted.
Gil Hall was in his heyday during the Roaring Twenties although he was past 60 years old (b. 1859 in Missouri). He was president of the County Bar Association 1924-5 and threw lavish, four-hour dinner parties for judges and fellow attorneys on his large houseboat named “Ark of Peace” (!) which was moored on the Petaluma River and was connected to permanent buildings on the wharf. When he would rehearse his courtroom arguments on the boat he was loud enough to frighten passing boaters, so reread the Andy Gump speech and imagine lots of shouting.
In his younger days it was expected he would someday be a Congressman; he was well-connected vis his father-in-law (Petaluma banker Dan Brown) and said to be politically ambitious, being appointed as Petaluma’s postmaster at age 27. But Gilbert P. Hall had a closet with skeletons ready to spill out during any campaign for public office; he was wise not to crack that door open.
This is the obl. Believe-it-or-Not! portion of the article, and not just because of some deed by Gil Hall; it’s also because this chapter of his life was so quickly and utterly forgotten and forgiven. Nothing about it was mentioned in any obituary or by 20th century Hall aficionados like Bill Soberanes – in fact, I don’t think this story’s ever been fully told before; I only stumbled across it while researching the previous article about the county treasurer who may have faked a robbery.
In 1890 Gil P. Hall was elected County Recorder/Auditor. The job was a perfect way for a novice politician to take off his training wheels – all it required was staying out of the way of the desk clerk and accepting payment of the recording fees. He was reelected in 1892 but lost the election of November, 1894. Take note that starting in January 1895 someone else would be running the office.
Every two years the county had used an outside auditor named Baldwin to examine the books of all offices, but in 1895 they hired someone else and he found something strange – there was a huge gap in Hall’s accounts. Except for a few entries made after he first took office, there were no fee payments listed until he lost reelection. Specifically, an entire ledger was missing: “Fee Book 13”.
The Grand Jury heard testimony that sometimes months went by without Hall making a deposit to the county treasury. Also, Baldwin looked at the books only during evenings when Hall was also there. Meanwhile, accounting experts were combing through all transactions during Hall’s four year tenure. Their audit showed that for his second term alone, $10,199.50 had been received but only $5,651.75 was deposited. That meant there was a missing $4613.38 (about $140k today).
County officers were held personally liable for any funds found missing during their term in office, and Hall had Petaluma businessmen who backed him with bonds for significant losses. The county sued them for about $1,200, which represented only the last few months of Hall’s first term – it was now March, 1896, and the clock was ticking down on the four-year statute of limitations for this type of suit.
A few months later the county filed a second lawsuit to recover the $4613.38. That was followed by a third lawsuit for $4.5k to pay for the cost of reconstructing Fee Book 13.
Gil P. Hall was now indicted on two counts of felony embezzlement and free on $1,500 bail bonds.
The story grabbed the laser-like focus of San Francisco’s yellow press, and the Examiner did a full page story on him with the subhed, “Rise and Fall of an Able Man.” According to their story, the formerly mild-mannered Hall had become “a high-riding swashbuckler, who cavaliered it through Petaluma to the astonishment of the wondering townspeople” and was known for throwing dinner parties that “endeared himself to a certain class.”
I will spare Gentle Reader details of the grinding legal gears during 1897-1899, which consumed a week of my precious life as I labored over a spreadsheet in a futile attempt to track all the doings. The Grand Jury found him guilty of embezzlement; the location of his trial was moved to Ukiah and there was a hung jury and a retrial; Hall insisted he didn’t remember anything (including the names of his clerks); his lead defense attorney, ex-Congressman Thomas J. Geary, embraced a strategy of continually barking “objection!” like a yappy dog. The big surprise came in November 1897, when Fee Book 13 was discovered and reportedly was in the Auditor’s office the whole time. This was, of course, conveniently after the facsimile had been reconstructed.
By the turn of the century there was remorse in some corners that the county had pursued restitution instead of just sending him to prison. It was now approaching the statute of limitations from the time of the indictments. Appeals were made to the state Supreme Court to extend the deadlines which the court first denied – then a few weeks later reversed itself and said the county could indeed reopen the case. Oh, law.
Over objections from the District Attorney, the Board of Supervisors finally threw in the towel in 1901, proclaiming there would be no more litigation because it was costing the county too much. That was followed by another Supreme Court ruling that the statute of limitations had indeed run out, and Hall and his bondsmen were not legally bound to pay back any money he allegedly stole.
As was permissible under the law. Hall then presented the county with a bill for his lawyer’s fees and court expenses. The Board agreed to pay him $850, which was the legal max.
Thus: Gil P. Hall not only got away with allegedly filching a small fortune from the public, but the county paid him for the pleasure of having done so. Believe it or Not!
An older – and presumably wiser – Gil Hall was behind the defense table again in 1927, this time accused of bribing witnesses.
The charge this time was that he had paid two 16 year-old boys $30 each to deny they had bought homemade wine from a Petaluma farmer. The Grand Jury handed down two indictments against him, although one was thrown out on a technicality.
On the witness stand the boys contradicted their earlier statements and each other. Hall had/had not given them money; Hall had promised one of the boys he “would take care of him” if he lost his job, or he hadn’t promised anything at all. And then, in true Perry Mason fashion, there was a shocking courtroom confession: One of the boys had a vendetta against Gil Hall because he had defended an auto driver accused of causing the death of his baby brother. “His admission that he had for years had a bitter feeling against the accused Petaluma attorney caused a profound stir,” reported the Argus-Courier.
The Grand Jury retired to the jury room and returned to court six minutes later with a verdict of innocent. It was the shortest jury deliberation anyone could recall.
Although Gil Hall’s professional life centered around the county courthouse in Santa Rosa, he grew up and lived most of his life in Petaluma. Besides Soberanes, fellow A-C columnist Ed Mannion sometimes tipped his hat to Gil for being among the most colorful residents in the city’s history. Mannion wrote, “he once entered the door of a Main Street pharmacy and was met by a fusillade of shots from the druggist’s’ pistol.”
Mannion told a couple of other stories that can be dated to 1913. The Maze Department Store on the corner of Washington and Main had an art department and was selling prints of “September Morn,” a wildly-popular painting of a nude woman standing in a lake – the sort of artwork someone buys while thinking, “this will really class up the joint.”
The store had a copy in their window display until “the good ladies trying to protect the town’s morals” (Mannion’s words) protested. Their taking offense apparently offended Hall, who talked the store into placing the picture with its back to the window – but in front of a mirror, so the image was plainly in view from the street. Selling at $1.75 each, the store had trouble keeping up with demand.
(RIGHT: Dressed statue of the goddess Hebe. Courtesy Sonoma County Library)
But Gil was not done with tweaking Petaluma’s blue noses. Outside the department store on the Washington street side was the WCTU water fountain, which had at its top a 5-foot bronze statue of the nude Greek goddess Hebe. With two co-conspirators Gil placed a Mother Hubbard dress over the statue. Wags promptly dubbed the censored statue “August Morn.”
That pre-Prohibition barkeep also said, “if I were a writer, I’d do Gil Hall’s life, and I’d have a best seller on my hands.” Well, get in line, bub – Soberanes and Mannion both wanted to write The Legend of the Fabulous Gil Hall and asked readers to send in Hall stories (apparently no one did). Justice of the Peace Webb had a number of stories so if any member of the Webb family recall an old manuscript up in the attic, contact me.
Imagine if the Golden Gate Bridge was never built – engineering issues couldn’t be solved, perhaps, or maybe there were insurmountable economic hurdles, or just not enough political will. What would Sonoma County be like today?
The only way to get here from San Francisco is by ferry, for starters, so Santa Rosa is a much smaller place. There was no population boom after World War Two; it’s a rural county seat somewhat like Ukiah, and the courthouse is still in Courthouse Square because they patched up the mostly cosmetic damage from the 1957 earthquake instead of tearing it down. Stony Point Road is the Highway 101 bypass, its two lanes swelling to three at the stoplights where there is cross traffic and turn lanes. Tourists clog the Redwood Highway on weekends because the winery events, resorts, spas and casinos in the countryside make this a popular getaway destination for the rest of the Bay Area, while the weekly Press Democrat is always pushing for year-round motocross and horse racing at the fairgrounds in order to draw visitors downtown. “Sonoma County? Sure, it’s a nice place to visit, but no, I…”
Building the bridge was never a sure thing, but it wasn’t because there was formidable opposition. Yes, there were efforts to slow or stop the project but it wasn’t ongoing, popping up only when the project neared a funding or construction milestone. None of those challenges posed serious threats, but were more like pesky nuisances.
Yet when the project launched in 1923 it seemed delusional to believe it would ever pass beyond the blueprint stage. Not only were there some engineers who thought it was folly to attempt constructing the longest bridge of its kind at that particular place, but its promoters had to run an incredibly complex political gauntlet, convincing Washington and Sacramento to back it enthusiastically – all before doing the basic studies which would prove the concept was viable. And even after construction began in January 1933, a retired geologist made a splash by predicting the south end could never be made stable, requiring months of further testing to prove him wrong.
All in all, it took almost 20 years to get to ribbon-cutting day. This is not the place to tell that whole story; the Golden Gate Bridge District has history pages for further details on the critical years of 1928 and 1930 (although some of the information on bridge opponents is wrong). A version of the original 1916 article proposing the idea is transcribed below.
Local folks probably know that the key part of the origin story concerns doings in Sonoma County by two men: Frank Doyle, president of the Exchange Bank as well as the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, and Press Democrat editor/publisher Ernest Finley. Although Doyle modestly said he was “just one of the hundreds who helped to put the bridge over,” he always will be remembered for kicking the project off by organizing the January 13, 1923 conference in Santa Rosa which brought together over 250 bankers, business leaders and politicians, which earned him his spot standing next to the governor and the mayor of San Francisco when the bridge was officially opened. Finley was the indefatigable champion for the cause, turning the Press Democrat into a soapbox for promoting funding and construction, cheering every nugget of good news and booing every bit of bad.
After Finley’s death in 1942, however, the story shifted; it was said the newspaper suffered by losing subscribers because of its bridge advocacy and Finley was a warrior editor battling powerful railroad, logging and farm special interests opposed to the bridge. This version has taken root over the years in the PD and elsewhere; here’s the version from the Media Museum of Northern California: “…In this particular crusade, which spanned at least two decades, Finley stood almost alone…he was opposed by nearly everyone. His business suffered as he lost advertising accounts and subscriptions. But he continued the campaign, insisting, ‘Damn the circulation! The bridge must be built!’” That’s now his legacy quote although it’s probably apocryphal.1
The problem with that narrative is it’s not really true.
The only special interest actually fighting bridge construction was (surprise!) the ferry companies, which were controlled by Southern Pacific – their astroturf citizen’s groups and 11th-hour courtroom posturings were widely viewed as transparent attempts to delay the inevitable clobbering of their businesses once cars and trucks could drive the bridge. More about that in a minute.
What irked Finley and the other boosters far more was the 1927-1928 pushback from a scattered group of Sonoma County property owners whose anger was whipped up by an anti-tax rabble-rouser.
Ladies and gents, meet Cap Ornbaun, fulltime crank.
Casper A. Ornbaun was always identified in the newspapers as a San Francisco lawyer and he indeed had an office in the landmark Spreckels Building on Market Street, although it seemed he didn’t use it much – on the rare occasions when his name appeared in the papers for doing something attorney-ish it was almost always about handling a routine probate estate, usually in the North Bay. While he lived in Oakland he told audiences he was fighting the bridge as a Sonoma County taxpayer; he owned the 18,000 acre Rockpile Ranch above Dry Creek valley which was used as a sheep ranch. (In a rare non-bridge court filing, he sued a neighboring rancher in 1937 for briefly dognapping four of his sheepdogs, demanding $6,000 for “tiring them and causing them to become footsore and unable to go through the regular shearing season.”)
Why Ornbaun so loathed the idea of a bridge across the Golden Gate is a mystery, but he turned the fight against it into a fulltime cause – maybe it was his midlife crisis, or something. Starting in 1926 it seems he was in the North Bay almost constantly, arranging small group meetings where he could bray and bark against the bridge project.
At least once Mark Lee of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce was invited to formally debate with Ornbaun, but otherwise his speaking engagements were rant-fests attacking anyone or anything connected to the project, including the Press Democrat. At one appearance in Sebastopol he came with dozens of copies of the PD which he handed out to prove the paper was “the bunk.”
The Santa Rosa papers mentioned him as little as possible (no need to give him free publicity) but his appearances in small communities like Cloverdale were newsworthy and the local weeklies often quoted or paraphrased what he had to say. Here are a few samples:
Only San Francisco weekenders would ever use the bridge
Strauss is a nobody; Strauss only knows how to build drawbridges; Strauss realizes it will be impossible to actually build it and is just looking to make a name for himself
It will cost over $125 million, or about 5x over estimates
Safeguarding against earthquakes will cost an additional $80-100 million
Maintenance costs would be $5,707,000 a year; it will cost $300,000/year to paint it
It will be impossible to get enough cars across the bridge to have it pay for itself
It would run a deficit of $4,416,230/year
It will take too long to cross it
Nobody knows if people would prefer driving across a bridge rather than crossing the bay by ferry
If it collapsed during construction we would be out our money with nothing to show for it
It would be a high profile target during a war and if it were bombed the Navy fleet would be bottled up in the Bay (that was actually a 1926 Navy objection)
The Board of Directors are not “angels”
His main accomplice in bridge bashing was James B. Pope, a civil engineer who once worked for the Southern Pacific railroad. Ornbaun praised him as “a consulting engineer of prominence” and “the boy who knows the bridge business” (Pope was 61 years old at the time) because he had once built a 310-foot wagon bridge in San Bernadino county. The wacky cost estimates above likely all came from Pope, who finally decided the bridge would cost exactly $154,697,372 based on his analysis of geodetic survey maps. Strauss had, by the way, offered to share with him the studies prepared by his engineers, but Pope declined to look at them because he “did not need it.”
Ornbaun, Pope and a couple of others had been busy fellows in 1926-1927 and collected about 2,300 signatures of property owners who wanted to opt-out from the proposed Bridge District.2 This meant court hearings in each of the counties with sizable opposition – a process which delayed the bridge project by a full year. But hey, the hearings gave Ornbaun a chance to strut his stuff in courtrooms and cross-examine Strauss, Doyle, Finley, and other project leaders, seemingly fishing for someone to admit the whole plan was a scam or at least that true cost would be closer to Pope’s absurd estimates.
What did come out in testimony was that the booster’s motives were far less altruistic than expressed at the 1923 conference, where it was said the high-minded mission was uniting the Bay Area into “one great thriving populous community,” and bridging the Golden Gate “cannot be measured in dollars and cents.” They were very much using dollars and cents as their measuring stick; Doyle and others who testified were clear their primary objective was jacking up Sonoma and Marin real estate, and they originally wanted Strauss to build something fast and cheap.
Although the 1927 PD headline below says property values might double, some of the actual testimony on that day predicted it would shoot up to 400 percent. And even if the bridge couldn’t built for some reason, they were already ahead – speculators had been buying and selling Marin and Sonoma land on the promise of the bridge almost immediately after the 1923 conference.
Sorry, Casper – despite all your efforts, the court threw out your case at the end of 1928. That meant the Bridge District could be formed and impose a small property tax to pay for tests and studies to see if the bridge could be built at all. Ornbaun continued to rattle around for a couple of more years making threats to sue, but no one paid much attention.
Flip the calendar ahead and it’s 1930, time for the District’s six member counties (San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, Del Norte, parts of Napa and Mendocino) to vote on a $35 million bond measure to pay for construction. And suddenly there are new bridge opponents: The Pacific American Steamship Association and the Shipowners’ Association of the Pacific Coast. They’re saying the bridge might be too low for safe passage, and there should be first an independent investigation by the state – never mind that the War Department had already approved it as having enough clearance for any ship in existence or under construction.
The Press Democrat and ads by the Bridge District fired back that the “Ferry Trust” was using the associations as front groups to confuse voters, but never explained the connection. Perhaps they didn’t know at the time that the two associations were essentially the same company, in the same offices and the president of both was the same man: Captain Walter J. Petersen – a man who apparently had no familiarity with steamships except as a passenger. The “Captain” in his title referred to his Army service in WWI, or maybe because he was also a captain in the Oakland Police Department in the 1920s (he was Police Chief for awhile, and always referred to as “former Chief” in print except when the reference was to the associations).
Sorry, Captain/Chief – the bond passed with overwhelming support, and nothing more would be said about those serious threats to navigation which were keeping you awake nights. To celebrate, Santa Rosa threw a “Victory Jubilee” parade which included a huge bonfire in the middle of Fourth street, with an effigy labeled “Apathy” thrown into the flames.
The last challenge to the bridge happened in 1931-1932, just months before construction was to begin. This time it was a suit in federal court charging the Bridge District was a “pretended corporation” so the bond was null and void. This time the ferry companies convinced two businesses to act as fronts for them.3 This time the ferry companies used their customary law firm to represent their proxies in court. This time it was so transparent that the ferry companies were behind this crap the American Legion and other groups demanded a boycott of the ferries as well as the Southern Pacific railroad. This time the ferry companies gave up in August, 1932, rather than pursuing their nuisance suit all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
What’s truly amazing about all this was the contemptuousness of the ferry companies, no matter what. Sure, our lawyers are representing those companies in the anti-bond lawsuit, but so what? We’re not actually a party to the suit! No, the bridge is not necessary – our ferries are more than capable of handling the traffic demands across the Golden Gate! Never mind that there were routinely hours-long backups on the auto ferries during peak times. At the end of the 1926 Memorial Day weekend there were eight thousand cars in Sausalito queued up for a spot on a ferry. Many gave up and parked their autos as far away as San Rafael so they could get a seat on a ferryboat and make it in to work the next day. It took three days working around the clock just to clear the line of people who were still patiently waiting with their cars.
It was because of these crazy bottlenecks that everyone, everyone, hated the ferries so much that the North Bay was ready to consider a ferry boycott, even though it would have cut us off from nearly all connection to San Francisco – we might have been forced back to the pre-1870 heyday of Petaluma riverboats.
Without its monopoly, the ferry was doomed. Where they had earned a 25 percent profit a year (!!) in the mid-1920s, they lost $1,000,000 in 1937 after the Golden Gate Bridge opened. The company slashed fares. They tried to sell the franchise to the Toll Bridge Authority for $3.75M. Finally in July 1938 – 14 months after the first car drove across the bridge – Southern Pacific closed the ferries to the public.
But during the days of opening celebration, the ferries were never mentioned. On that 1937 Memorial Day weekend the public could not wait to be on their new bridge. During the preview “Pedestrian Day,” 202,000 came to walk the bridge, so many that the turnstiles couldn’t keep up; they opened the barriers and put out tin buckets for people to throw in the nickels. The Press Democrat reported bands played from the San Francisco shore as bombs burst in the clear, deep blue sky.
In Santa Rosa there was a breakfast held in honor of Frank Doyle – who insisted he was the “stepfather” of the bridge, not its father. Mark Lee – the former Chamber of Commerce guy who debated Ornbaun a decade earlier – reminded the audience that the prize was still boosting the town: “…you face great opportunity. The tourists’ dollars, as well as those of business investors and home seekers will find a place in your community, now made so accessible to the thousands who will come into northern California.” Ernest Finley spoke of the “untold advantages and development for Santa Rosa” brought by the bridge.
On the editorial page Finley also reminded that thousands of people would be driving through Santa Rosa enroute to the ceremonies, and the governor of Oregon and other officials were being given a reception in Juilliard Park that afternoon. “Never before has Santa Rosa, destined to be the focal point for population and industry after the mammoth span is opened,” he wrote, encouraging residents to greet the cavalcade by lining Mendocino and Santa Rosa Avenues, showing “a proper display of enthusiasm.” There was much to cheer with enthusiasm that day, particularly if you were a Sonoma County realtor.
1 The “Damn the circulation” story first appeared as an afterword to “Santa Rosans I Have Known,” a collection of Finley’s thumbnail descriptions published in 1942 after his death. There Press Democrat Publisher Carl R. Lehman wrote that Circulation Manager McBride Smith approached Finley at his desk and told him the paper was sometimes losing 50-100 subscribers per day. “We can’t keep going at this rate. Our circulation will be ruined if this keeps up.” Lehman continued, “without looking up from his desk, Finley replied in his quiet but determined voice: ‘Damn the circulation. The bridge must be built.'” Smith recounted the story himself in a 1949 PD tribute to Finley but added, “he pounded the desk with his fist” as he said it. While the quote certainly matches Finley’s sentiments, it seems like an odd thing to blurt out to an office employee.
2 The anti-Bridge District count was 823 property owners in Napa and 902 in Mendocino. There were originally 574 signatures from Sonoma County, knocked down to 555 by the time the hearings began in November, 1927. That’s likely close to the number of Press Democrat subscribers who cancelled.
3 The two companies in the 1932 federal suit were the Del Norte Company, Ltd. (identified in the press only as “a large Del Norte property owner” and a “lumber firm”) and the Garland Company, Ltd. real estate firm of San Francisco led by Robert E. Strahorn, one of 92 property owners who had joined a taxpayer’s anti-bridge group as part of the 1930 opposition to the bond. The president of Southern Pacific-Golden Gate Ferries, Ltd. S.P. Eastman admitted in court he had sent a letter to Del Norte Company asking them to file the suit and promising to pay all legal fees (wire service story in Press Democrat and elsewhere, Feb. 20, 1932). Their involvement, combined with a September 3, 1925 editorial in the San Francisco Examiner, “Bridge No Foe to Lumbermen”, has led modern writers to claim there was substantial bridge opposition from logging interests, but I don’t find that mentioned in any of the voluminous coverage of all things related to the bridge in the Press Democrat, Ukiah papers, or elsewhere.
‘It’s the Bunk,’ Ornbaun Says In Discussing S.F. Bay Span
…Ornbaun was armed with many generalities, few if any figures, and an armful of Press Democrats. He spent most of his time asserting that the Press Democrat was the bunk and seeking to explain how the newspaper had sold itself to the bridge project. Incidentally, he asserted also that the bridge project was “the bunk.”
“The bridge can’t be built. I know it can’t be built. It is impossible to build it. And after it is built it will cost $300,000 a year to paint it. Such, in effect, was his reference to the proposed span from San Francisco to Marin county.
“I am interested in this fight only because I am a Sonoma county taxpayer,” he asserted. He referred to the fact that he represents 20,000 acres of Mendocino and Sonoma county land, but did not mention that it was sheep land.
“I have not been promised money by the railroads or timber interests, he continued. “When the bridge is built it will take too long to cross it.”
The speaker took occasion to flay Joseph B. Strauss of Chicago, one of the country’s foremost bridge engineers, by saying Strauss is “guessing” in his Golden Gate bridge design. He praised one Pope, who in a Humboldt county meeting admitted he was not a bridge engineer, as “the boy who knows the bridge business.”
“I hope to address more people next time I speak,” concluded Ornbaun, speaking to a crowd which had dwindled to about 50, about half of whom were from Healdsburg and points other than Sebastopol…
– Press Democrat, March 17, 1926
BRIDGING THE GOLDEN GATE
THERE IS AN OLD SAYING to the effect that the luxuries of today are the necessities of tomorrow. We also have the necessities of today that must be met without wailing for the tomorrows. With these must now be classed the bridge across the Golden Gate, once regarded merely as an idle dream.
San Francisco, cooped up as she is with a land outlet in only one direction, has come to realize that a bridge across the Golden Gate is necessary to her further growth and development. We of the North Bay counties know only too, well that this section of California can’ never come fully into its own until we have been brought into direct connection with the metropolis.
Engineers agree that the bridge can be built. Financiers assure us that the necessary funds will be forthcoming. Under the circumstances, no time should be lost in putting the project under way. With such a spirit back of the movement as was manifested here Saturday, there seems to be no good reason why actual construction should not begin at a very early date.
Then watch us grow!
– Press Democrat, January 14, 1923
You Can’t Convince Him
Arguments heard from time to time against the feasibility of the Golden Gate bridge project represent for che most part a set mental attitude of those who do not want to be convinced. You cannot discuss projects of this character with men who begin by sweeping aside with one breath all the arguments in its support, and attempt to start from there-There is the man, for instance, who sets his judgment against that of the worlds foremost engineers and says the bridge cannot be built at all. We also have the man who has heard somebody opine that the cost will not be twenty-five millions as has already been carefully computed by experts, but sixty or eighty millions, and who knows it will really cost a lot more. We have also the individual so constituted that upon his mind facts already established and details actually accomplished make no impression. He does not want to take them into consideration and so ignores them or else calmly denies their existence There is also the man who is devoid of imagination. He cannot possibly see how connecting this part of the state with the rest of California and cutting out the troublesome ferries, could improve conditions, add anything to our population or increase property values The bridge cannot be built, because nobody has ever built one like it up to the present time; if possible to construct such a bridge, its cost would be many times that estimated by people engaged in the business, and therefore prohibitive; the cost would not be met by the collection of tolls, as planned by its projectors, but from the pockets of the taxpayers; it is a county matter rather than a district undertaking, as set forth in the law, and consequently if the bridge should be constructed and finally prove unsuccessful final responsibility would rest with the counties making up the district and perhaps with some one county alone, with the result that that county would be wiped off the map; there is no way one can prove that people would cross on a bridge in preference to crossing the bay by ferry, or that more people would travel up this way if they could do so more conveniently than they can at present, because that fact has not yet been demonstrated; if the bridge should be built and something should happen to it later on, or if it should collapse during time of construction, the bonding companies might net pay and we would be out our money and have nothing to show for it these are some of the arguments of the man who is against the project for reasons of his own, but does not care to come out and say so. Talking with him is a waste of time.
– Press Democrat, August 1, 1925
Great Engineering Feat Proposed to Connect Marin-San Francisco Counties by Bridging the Golden Gate
Mr. James H. Wilkins, one of the eldest residents of San Rafael and a man who has the best interests of the county at heart has interested himself in the great scheme of connecting Marin County with San Francisco county by the construction of a massive bridge across the Golden Gate.
Would Extend From Lime Point to Fort Point Bluffs
A lengthy article accompanied by a map was presented in last Saturday’s Bulletin. It is not a new scheme but has been talked of for a great many years. Nothing, however, as definite as the plan therein presented by Mr. Wilkins has been advocated. This great project should appeal not only to the residents of Marin County but the residents of the entire northern part of the State.
Quoting from Mr. Wilkins communication the following plan is outlined:
From Lime Point To Fort Point Bluffs
“To give a general descriptive outline, the abutments and backstays would be located, respectively, on the rocky blue of Lime Point and on the high ground above Fort Point. The breadth of the “Gate” here is 3800 feet. The towers over which the cable pass, would be so located as to give a central span of 3000 feet, and side spans of approximately 1000 feet. The catenary, or curved line formed by the suspended cable, would have a central dip of approximately 65 feet. Therefore, the elevation of the towers must be 215 feet to secure the clearance required.
“From the southern abutment the railroad line would descend by a threequarters of 1 per cent grade, bringing it precisely to the elevation of the intersection of Chestnut and Divisadero streets, a block away from the site of the Tower of Jewels, that marked the main entrance to the never-to-be-forgotten Exposition. Just a few blocks farther is the belt railroad that traverses the entire waterfront, the business heart of the city, ready to be a link of the great commercial carrier of the western world.
Pedestrian Promenade Across Strait
From this plan might be omitted the upper or promenade deck, with material reduction of cost, leaving only rail and automobile roadways. The promenade is, indeed, more or less of a matter of sentiment. Crossing the Golden Gate in midair would present, perhaps, the most impressive, emotional prospect in the world. Why should not those enjoy it who are, by unkindly circumstance, still constrain travel on their own legs? Moreover, it would be best observed leisurely, not from a flying train or automobile.
“After the shock of the bare statement, the first and preliminary inquiry arises, Is the project practicable—and practical?
“Beyond cavil or question, yes—far more so than the proposed five and a half mile bridge between Oakland and San Francisco. This is not a guess. I do most things in life indifferently, I am a graduate civil engineer, know a thing or two about applied mathematics and am familiar with construction work from building pigsties to building railroads—I have built both. The proposed suspension bridge—the central span—would be longer than any other structure of its kind in the world. But that only means stronger material, extra factors of safety. And nowhere in the world has nature presented such an admirable site. Bluff shore lines and easy gradients on either side —no costly approaches and still more costly right of way.
Idea Was Old As as State’s Railroading
The idea is almost as old as railroading in our State. When the Central Pacific made its entry into California, the original route via Stockton, Livermore Pass, Niles canyon, with its long detour and heavy grades was found to be impracticable. The company, therefore surveyed a more direct low-level line, departing from the present route east of the Suisan marshes, passing through the counties of Solano, Napa, Sonoma and Marin. In 1862 I was present at a session of the Marin Supervisors when Charles Crocker explained his plans, among which was a suspension bridge across the Golden Gate. Detail plans and estimates for such a bridge were actually made by Central Pacific engineers. But, along came a man with a newer idea—the transfer of trains across Carquinez straits by steamer and the extension of the Oakland mole to tide water. And so the suspension bridge project died.
“The length of the proposed bridge from Oakland to San Francisco is approximately 27,000 feet, as against approximately 5000 feet from abutment to abutment of the suspension bridge. The former, if constructed on arches, could not fail to interfere seriously with navigation of the upper bay. One serious objection seems to be that the projectors do not know where to land it on our side of the bay. One engineer gives it a terminal on the summit of Telegraph Hill!
Cost Ranging From 25 to 75 Millions
“The estimates of the cost of the San Francisco-Oakland bridge range from 25 to 75 million dollars.
From such data as I have, and by comparison with the cost of similar structures, a suspension bridge across the Golden Gate could be built for less than ten million dollars. This is an extreme estimate, accepted by several engineers to whom this article was referred.
“But as a final and fatal stumbling block, the foolish jealousy between the rival towns will never permit them to join in a great constructive enterprise till human nature has materially changed. That will not be in my time or yours.
“Of course, it will be objected to at once that both terminals of the suspension bridge would necessarily be located on military reserves of the government. But such an objection could hardly stand. Indeed, it ought to be an immense strategic advantage to have the two great defensive points of the harbor connected up. Doubtless the government would gladly grant the easement. It is in inconceivable that any government would arbitrarily block one of the greatest and most significant undertakings ever attempted by civilized men. Certainly no hostile attitude was assumed at Washington when the plan was materially considered over forty years ago.
Financing of Project a Community Investment
“Still as the intimate concern of San Francisco and the North Coast counties, the undertaking should be properly financed by these communities, as a public utility concern. Having only a sincere desire to be closely united, this ought to be simplicity itself, for the extremely simple reason that a bond issue of $10,000,000 would take care of itself and speedily retire itself. The Northwestern Pacific Railroad alone spends half a million dollars a year to maintain a line of steamboats between San Francisco and Marin county points, which is extremely wicked interest on the total cost. Very small charges for its use would soon pay interest, principal and all.
And if, from a financial standpoint, it were a total loss, still San Francisco would be far ahead. The city could well afford to pay $10,000,000 or more for the greatest advertisement in the world—for a work never before surpassed by the imagination and handiwork of man. Whether viewed from its lofty deck, commanding the contrasting prospect—to the west, the grand old tumultuous ocean; to the east, the placid bay; or from incoming ships; or from the landward hills: it would bid fair to remain forever the most stupendous, awe-inspiring monument of our modern civilization. And it could have no rival, for there is only one Golden Gate in the world.
Greatest Of World’s Harbor Improvements
“Even in remote times, long preceding the Christian era, the ancients understood the value of dignifying their harbors with impressive works. The Colossus of Rhodes and the Pharos of Alexandria were counted among the seven wonders of the world. The same tendency appears in our own times, witness the cyclopean Statue of Liberty at the entrance of New York harbor. But the bridge across the Golden Gate would dwarf and overshadow all.”
This proposition has created more enthusiasm in San Rafael than any other for some time. Mayor Herzog and the City Council have all endorsed it enthusiastically. The Central Marin Chamber of Commerce is expected to act at their next meeting and the County Supervisors will also probably act at their meeting next week. While the cost of such a bridge would be enormous it is not insurmountable as pointed out in Mr. Wilkins’ article. Such a proposition if constructed would undoubtedly double the value of real estate in Marin county in a short time and no doubt in a few years the population of Marin county would increase five-fold. This proposition is not a wild-cat dream and deserves a lot of consideration.
What’s the origin of the name, “Kawana Springs?” It’s far easier to say where it didn’t come from than to pinpoint its source or meaning. For example, if you think “Kawana” is an Indian word, you may be right – except the Indians who coined it were 3,000 miles away.
Let’s start with the simple part: “Springs” is part of the name because it once was a mineral spring resort, with a hotel and bathhouse. A 49er named John S. Taylor had poor luck gold hunting but found his fortune here, homesteading 1,400 acres at the base of that mountain which came to have his name. John was quite the entrepreneur; he planted a large vineyard, raised livestock, and mined a small vein of coal that was discovered on his land. He saw the opportunity to cash in on the harness racing craze and built “Taylor’s Driving Park” at his place, where the 1861 Sonoma County fair was also held. He owned most of the downtown block between Fourth and Fifth streets directly across from Courthouse Square. John Taylor was a rich and interesting guy about whom more should be written.
Taylor also saw $$$ in the stinky creek on his property. Mineral spas and resorts were a big deal on the East Coast and in Europe; people believed the water relieved arthritis and aches if you bathed in the stuff, and even that it could cure kidney disease and other ailments if you drank lots of it. He built a small hotel for guests and when that one burned in 1870, Taylor built a grander, two-story place with hot and cold running boy-does-that-smell-awful.
It’s unclear what ambitions John Taylor held for his mineral water resort. He rarely advertised in the Northern California newspapers (at least, judging from the healthy sample of 19th century papers available online through the Library of Congress) and was leasing the operation out as early as the 1880s. Unlike owners of some other local hot spring retreats he didn’t bottle his “curative” waters for sale. Then there was the potential problem with name confusion: Taylor called his place “White Sulphur Springs,” and when he started there were already “White Sulphur Springs” in Solano (Vallejo) and Napa (St. Helena).
Why was everyone naming their place “White Sulphur Springs?” Because the original W.S.S. in West Virginia was recognized as the standard of excellence for resorts in the latter 19th century. It was the playground for the Washington D.C. elite; presidents took the waters there and Euro royalty, too. “White” apparently was intended to indicate the sulphurous water was clear and not sickly yellow, and it provided an opportunity for other West Virginia hot springs to exploit the name with sound-similars; there were nearby Blue Sulphur Springs, Green Sulphur Springs, Red Sulphur Spring and Salt Sulphur Springs. The water was apparently identical, or nearly so. (A 1870s analysis of Taylor’s water found it contained bicarbonate, iron, magnesia, and, of course, sulphur.)
By the turn of the century, whatever days of sun Taylor’s hotel enjoyed were certainly past. No ads can be found beyond 1899, although we know it remained open because it was still mentioned in the schedules for stage stops. When the 1906 earthquake hit, Taylor’s White Sulphur Springs hadn’t yet opened for the summer season. The hotel and bathhouse apparently escaped without serious damage, but not so the creek – the mineral water stopped flowing after the earth shifted. The place opened again for the 1906-1907 winter season, but that was it.
Come 1910 and the Press Democrat announced a pair of local men were going to reopen the resort, but not as White Sulphur Springs:
It was deemed advisable to change the name of the resort from White Sulphur Springs on account of the fact that there are already two resorts of that name in the state. Luther Burbank was appealed to in the matter of the selection of a name. He chose “Kawana,” and his choice was accepted. The management would have liked to have named the place “Burbank Springs,” but Mr. Burbank preferred not inasmuch as he had declined many offers for the use of his name for other places.
Thus it came to be dubbed “Kawana Sulphur Springs,” the ads shamelessly touting it was “Named by Luther Burbank.” More on Burbank and the Kawana angle in a minute.
The article and ads pointed to a new direction for the spa. It was promoted as the “Headquarters for automobilists and traveling men,” and a clubhouse building was added. The ads also promised “Its waters are unsurpassed,” but without the natural mineral spring working they had to be trucking the water in, or dousing the plain well water with chemicals. Two years later, ads announced “Kawana” (no Sulphur, no Springs mentioned) was under new management.
Kawana-anything disappears from the newspapers until 1927, when a Santa Rosa paper reported the “old Kawana Hotel, at White Sulphur Springs…has been untenanted for several years” as part of a news story about its very interesting recent tenants. It seems a professional bootlegging outfit had gutted the inside of the old hotel and constructed a three-story, 1,400 gallon still for making hootch. Police found the operation only after it was ready to move on, with a hapless steamfitter on the premises to dismantle the enormous rig. Officers were quoted as saying it was the largest bootlegging plant ever found in Northern California.
Old John Taylor was 99 years-old by that time, and the news about his old place must have been quite a shock. He died less than three weeks later and according to Gaye LeBaron’s columns, his daughter, Zana, had the hollowed-out building demolished rather than attempt to repair the heart-breaking damage. In 1931 the ranch became a game reserve stocked with quail, deer and pheasant under a deal with the Sonoma County Sportsmen’s Club. Zana fixed up the old bathhouse and lived there until her death in 1970. The year before, however, she discovered that the 1969 earthquake had jogged loose the creek’s plug, and up to 1,000 gallons/day of mineral water was again filling the creek. An AP wire service story about this appeared in newspapers nationwide. Alas, the water soon again stopped.
Back to Burbank and “Kawana:” Note that the article stated Burbank “chose” the Kawana name “selection,” which strongly implies someone else – the new tenants or John Taylor, probably – gave him a list of possibles after they couldn’t get rights to use “Burbank Springs.” But where did Kawana come from? First, Kawana is a family name in Japan, Hawaii, and elsewhere in the Pacific, and the Taylors had a Hawaiian connection because John Jr. was living there at the time. Maybe John Sr. heard the name and liked it.
Could Kawana be Native American? Some writers have claimed so, explaining it meant “healing waters” or similar. An anthropologist thought it possible it had Native roots, but “it sounded more like a fake Indian word that a PR person would invent.”
If it were an Indian word, it doesn’t come from the Southern Pomo dialect, where kawana means “turtle” (Barrett, 1908) and there are no turtles to be found in that section. And besides, Pomo locations weren’t even named like that; a place would be called something like kawanakawi (turtle-water-place). Further, the “healing waters” nonsense is put to rest by the Taylor Mountain Park master plan, which determined “no sacred sites are known to be located on the property.”
A final option will seem like a stretch, but hear me out. Recall John Taylor named his place White Sulphur Springs after the classy resort in West Virginia. The route taken to reach that famous place in the 19th century was the road known as the Kanawha Turnpike, which followed old Indian trails from Richmond to the Kanawha River Valley. (Believe it or not! Kanawha was considered in 1861 for the name of the new state that would be West Virginia.) Note that Kawana and Kanawha have only the second and third syllables flipped. How likely was it that Taylor would want another name very closely linked to the original resort? And would Taylor have even known about the White Sulphur Springs-Kanawha connection? Of the latter we can be certain: He was born in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, which is at its farthest fifty miles from the old Kanawha Turnpike. He must have traveled it at least once during his boyhood, and certainly knew well the Kanawha name.
So there you have it: “Kawana” was a clever variation – or perhaps, the slight misremembering of an 82 year-old man – of a name created by the Piscataway, Delaware, or Shawnee tribes of modern-day West Virginia. Or it’s Hawaiian. Or maybe it was mashed-up mumble of vowel sounds created by a marketing whiz who also dreamed up the phony “healing waters” legend. But this much is certain: You can search every inch around Kawana Springs and not find a single kawana.
Obl. Comstock House connection: Daughter Zana Taylor, who returned to the ranch and remodeled the old bathhouse, was a close friend of Anna May Bell, the young woman who was something of a godchild to Mattie and James Wyatt Oates. The Taylors threw more than one party in Bell’s honor at their home at 512 Mendocino Ave (currently the Trek Bicycle Store). Zana’s many doings at the Oates house can be found in our archives.
Detail of White Sulphur Springs postcard, c.1896. Courtesy Sonoma County Library
UPDATE: There isn’t much left of the old White Sulphur Springs/Kawana resort, so it’s no great loss at the present time (2013) there is no public access to it without special permission. No sign of the hotel remains at all except for a few low stone retaining walls which terraced the grounds, as seen in the1896 postcard above.
The original gazebo, shown at right, still has the cradle-sized fountain basin from which the mineral water bubbled to the surface. The decorative icicles and fish scale shingles are typical of the Carpenter Gothic style popular in the 1880s. Note the railing is low enough to serve as a seat; those who believed drinking the warm mineral water was healthful would sip as much of it as they could bear over the course of a day.
The bathhouse shown below is believed to have been built in 1876 and is surprisingly small, about 1200 ft. in a “T” floor plan. In front is a raised concrete fountain that probably offered another chance to drink the foul-smelling water before it was piped inside. Not shown to the left of the bathhouse is a stone-lined catchment with a rough pile of cemented stones in the center. The size and shape suggest a hot tub although its original use is unknown. Near the bathhouse is a dilapidated structure that may have been an automobile barn built around the 1930s which will not be preserved.
The county’s plan for the area includes plans to convert the bathhouse into a small visitor center and possibly build a facsimile of the hotel as a bed and breakfast inn/hotel. Plans for the surrounding Taylor Mountain Park include an outdoor classroom/amphitheater, large picnic areas, camping grounds, a dog park, Frisbee golf park, and more.
TO REOPEN SPRINGS NEAR SANTA ROSA
Under Name of “Kawana Springs” the Old White Sulphur Springs Resort to Be Made Popular Place
Under Name of “Kawana Springs,” the well known summer resort known for years as “White Sulphur Springs,” owned by John S. Taylor, and which has been closed for a long time, is to be reopened and an endeavor made to regain the old time popularity the place once had and to add to its attractiveness.
The springs property, with the addition of twenty acres of fine timbered woodland, making the grounds forty acres, instead of twenty, has been taken over by “The Kawana Springs, Incorporated,” headed by M. N. Winans and Thornton P. Preston. Mr. Winans is a well known insurance manager, who has made his home in Santa Rosa for some time, and enjoys an extensive acquaintance throughout the state, and Mr. Preston needs no introduction, as the former proprietor of the Hotels Lebanon and Overton in Santa Rosa, with a legion of friends among the traveling public.
Messrs. Winans and Preston have been negotiating for the acquisition of the Springs property for several weeks and have finally arranged the details. The big hotel building will be refurnished throughout and the grounds will be made most attractive. Another building in close proximity to the hotel will be fitted up as a clubhouse, and the bathhouses will all be remodeled and improved. In fact the gentlemen mean to have everything as neat and comfortable as possible for the accommodation of the large number of patrons they expect to entertain their this summer [sic]. Already they have a good-sized list of applications for accommodations and they expect to be ready to open the Kawana Springs resort on May 2.
Nature has been lavish and the place affords so many possibilities for the spending of a delightful vacation outing there, as well as its offering in the way of medicinal springs whose waters have been found to contain excellent curing qualities for various ailments. The analysis made by Dr. Winslow Anderson shows the Springs to be very valuable in the treatment of kidney diseases.
In addition [illegible microfilm] will also cater to the people of Santa Rosa and their friends by providing an excellent cuisine and other attractions. The Springs are located about two miles from the Court House and are of easy access over a well kept road, just a nice spin in an automobile or drive by carriage.
It was deemed advisable to change the name of the resort from White Sulphur Springs on account of the fact that there are already two resorts of that name in the state. Luther Burbank was appealed to in the matter of the selection of a name. He chose “Kawana,” and his choice was accepted. The management would have liked to have named the place “Burbank Springs,” but Mr. Burbank preferred not inasmuch as he had declined many offers for the use of his name for other places. It is needless to say that everybody wishes Messrs. Winans and Preston the greatest possible success in their big undertaking, and they mean to leave nothing undone to achieve success and make their place deservedly popular. The resort will be open winter and summer.
– Press Democrat, April 13, 1910
KAWANA HOTEL RAIDED: GIVES UP BIG STILL
A plant for the manufacture of illicit liquor, declared to be the largest ever uncovered in the north Bay region, was seized in a raid conducted by County Detective Pemberton and members of the sheriff’s office late Tuesday, when the old Kawana Hotel, at White Sulphur Springs on Taylor mountain, was raided.
A still with 1400-gallon capacity was discovered in the place, along with 50 gallons of “jack,” and boilers, mash tanks, cooling coils and other equipment. Two smaller stills were also taken in the same raid–one with a 250-gallon capacity and the other with a 150-gallon capacity.
George Darnell, 50, the only man at the place, was seized as operator. Darnell claimed that he was a steamfitter from San Francisco, and had been hired to clean up the works and dismantle the place. The mash tanks bore out his testimony, as they were clean and the still was not in operation.
Threaten Tear Bomb
Darnell at first barricaded himself in the attic and was only forced to come down when the officers threatened to throw tear bombs into his hiding place. Although they had no bombs with them, the ruse worked.
The main still was three stories high, and the seven 200-mash tanks were so connected up that the fermented mash could be pumped directly into the still. The plant was estimated to be worth $10,000.
In the opinion of the officers, the place belonged to a group of wholesale San Francisco bootleggers, who made the pure alcohol in the plant and turned it into gin for the San Francisco trade.
Short Time Only
Officers also believed that the plant was set up for only a short time in each place, a quantity of alcohol made and the plant dismantled and moved to another place before officers found it.
Pemberton has had the place under surveillance for some time, spending several nights in the vicinity in order to make sure of the activities before he staged the raid.
Kawana Springs was a well-known resort in the old days, but has been untenanted for several years, except for two or three short openings by minor companies, who could not make the place pay.