lostnewspaper

HOW TO LOSE A NEWSPAPER

It pains to write this, but the coronavirus probably will be an extinction level event for most print newspapers. This is not a shocking new development; the Nieman Journalism Lab started the death watch even before the National Emergency was declared. Go back to the 2008-2009 recession and find pundits were warning that print was unlikely to survive another economic downturn – newspapers were like a flotilla of Titanics all drifting towards the iceberg zones. And so here we are today; sans charitable bailouts from billionaires or megacorps, lots of ships are soon to sink together into the cold sea.

This is not the place to go into all the reasons why this is happening, but some are well hashed over: Printing presses can keep rolling only so long without advertisers to pay for the paper and ink. Too many newspapers were being run by the MBA-types who saw journalism as little different from selling soup – if the demand slacks off, keep the profits high via cutbacks. Many were even taken over by hedge funds and investors who saw them only as cash cows to be milked dry; a must-read is a 2018 article, “This Is How a Newspaper Dies” (the term “harvesting market position” will definitely be on the quiz).

The deeper problem for newspapers is that nobody’s reading them. U.S. circulation is the lowest it’s ever been since they began keeping records in 1940. Why is that? It’s not like we’ve become a sub-literate society; Americans are typically spending over six hours a day online and not all of it is looking at cat videos (I hope). And particularly now in the spring of 2020 we’re news-junkies, with 89% of U.S. adults following the latest about coronavirus closely – only not via newspapers. We’ve given up on newspapers, but as I’ve said for over 25 years: Readers did not give up on newspapers until newspapers abandoned their readers.

pdmay22The change is apparent simply in the paper’s heft; today’s offerings are scrawny things compared to what we used to read not all that long ago. To the right are the Press Democrat front pages from May 22, 1970 and 2020, both days being a Friday. The text content of the modern edition would have filled less than one-quarter of the earlier page (modern size not to scale – both were the same height). There’s now just not much there there. And keep in mind this is not to pick on the PD; you would see the same devolution in any mid-size U.S. daily.

It may seem surprising but once upon a time newspapers were a primary source of entertainment. Sure, some people cared most about box scores or what stores had on sale, but every edition was packed with lots of other items to amuse, astonish or inform. What’s changed today is summed up in that keyword, lots – if there was nothing to interest you on the current page, turn to the next one, or read the page after that. Today there is no “page after that” because most papers have become little more than broadsheets, and the stuff filling the pages is too often wire service synopsis. In that 1970 edition, Every. Single. News. Page. had one or more local items.

Newspapers also engaged readers with stories that carried on for more than a week. Some of my favorites are BONFIRE OF THE HOODOOS about a political stunt that got out of hand, MR. CONTEST EDITOR IS DISAPPOINTED IN YOU about a subscription drive that drove the town nuts, and THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOBOES, where the PD’s 19 year-old cub reporter wrote a memorable series on what it was like living as a tramp.

The main element missing isn’t QUANTITY of news, but the QUALITY. Whenever I search old newspapers for particular items about local history I also read (or skim) the rest of those editions as well and I do it for pleasure – a well-written story is always a joy, no matter where you find it.

Papers from the 1950s-1960s are particularly fun because that was the Golden Age of columnists. The San Francisco Chronicle had Stanton Delaplane and Herb Caen; the Argus-Courier offered “peopleologist” Bill Soberanes and Ed Mannion; the Press Democrat served up Gaye LeBaron and Bony Saludes. Those newspapers would do themselves a favor by reprinting selections from those columns. Here’s my personal favorite Gaye LeBaron item:

A small girl-child (eyes at desk-edge level) came into the Children’s Library yesterday and asked librarian Venus Gordon for “The Cat in the Hat, please.”

Receiving her copy she went to a small table, made her self comfortable in one of the short chairs, opened the book and smiled disarmingly up into Mrs. Gordon’s eyes.

“You know, of course,” she said, “I can’t read.” (Aug. 26, 1960)

bronsonBy reading the entire paper I also stumble across treasures. While researching the 1969 earthquake I found people were saddened because it struck just as a TV show called, “Then Came Bronson” was about to air. A guy later told LeBaron that some group should contact NBC for film of that episode and have a showing at a local theater to raise money for charity. (You can watch that episode, “A Famine Where Abundance Lies” online, but I sure don’t recommend it.)

It turned out the attraction was that the series was created by Denne Petitclerc, who started as a PD staff sports writer in 1950 and became one of the finest crime reporters and feature writers found anywhere – there’s no question in my mind he would have been awarded a Pulitzer if he hadn’t “gone Hollywood.”

Denne Bart Petitclerc wrote for the Press Democrat until 1956 when he left for the Miami Herald, and while here won several journalism awards. As a public speaker he was also in demand and seems to have been an overall popular fellow around Santa Rosa. No wonder that locals wanted to see the show he had developed.

Copyright restrictions block me from providing more than a sample of his works, but all can be read via Newspapers.Com, which is available on computers at the Sonoma County Library. There are dozens more Petitclerc articles like these.

The brown-haired man with the pleasant ruddy face wanders into a grocery store looking for all the world like a painter.

He smiles at the man behind the counter, selects a few items from the shelves, carefully including a box of pablum, “for my baby,” he explains.

He crumples a shopping list in his hand and puts it into the pocket of his paint – smeared overalls. “I guess I haven’t forgotten anything,” he says. “My wife gets plenty sore if I do.”

He chats casually with the grocer while the items are checked, telling, perhaps, of a little piece of property he’d like to buy up by the doctor’s place. “You know the spot.”

Then he calmly explains that he’s new to the community, doing painting for the doctor, “nice fella, Doc.”

He sure is, the grocer agrees, as he is handed a check signed by the doctor. “My pay,” smiles the man. “it sure don’t go far now days. No, sir.”

He endorses it, picks up the change, and the groceries, and walks out, leaving the grocer behind thinking, “there’s a nice young fella.”

And with a bad check.

That is the method of operation of 39-year-old Walter DeMeter, California’s most wanted criminal, who has passed more than $50,000 in forged checks in the state since 1947. And DeMeter may be in Sonoma County today… (Feb. 8, 1954)

 

They’ll talk about Big Jim Antone and the fight he had with the octopus for a long time.

Big Jim is a bulldozer operator in Santa Rosa for Tom McLain, and a lot of man at 265 pounds.

And his boss, Mr. McLain tells about the way he can stretch a chain around a truck-motor and lift it right off the frame, lifting with his two big arms.

So, Big Jim went abalone fishing yesterday morning at Fort Ross, and got out into the water just after daybreak. It was raining, and the sea was heavy, but that didn’t distrub Jim, who was raised at Jenner-by-the-Sea, and who’s as fine an abalone fisherman as there is anywhere.

He went out along the rocks until the water splashed above his chest – he says that the abalone are bigger out there – and was prying around with his hand for the rough shells attached to the rock.

Then suddenly something that felt like a muscled piece of wire wrapped around his left arm. He pulled back. Another tentacle attached itself to his body. And another. And another.

“I never saw so many arms,” he said later.

The tentacles were as thick as a main’s forearm, and held fast to his body by milky-white suction cups.

Big Jim found it was useless to try to tear them from his arms. There was only one thing to do… (April 6, 1954)

[He pulled the 40 lb. octopus from the rocks and walked to shore with it still wrapped around his body.]

 

Grady Hayes sat in the darkness in the back of the patrol car and talked in a high-pitched voice and winced when the car hit a bump because of the steel handcuffs that locked his two big arms behind his back.

“I could have chopped you down, easy,” he said, “but I didn’t have no intention of hurtin’ anybody.”

He had, a half hour before, been captured at the Jack Willen ranch, Hot Springs Rd., and now we were driving down the twisting ridge-line towards Highway 101, six miles away. Looking out through the windshield you could see the lights of Geyserville flickering in the distance in the darkness. Hayes was talking to Deputy Cole.

“I was in the brush last night when you came up to that culvert and shouted,” he said thickly, hardly audible, “and you was about four feet away.”

He was wearing a pink wool shirt and grey slacks that were dusty and ripped from the brush, and he had on a tan felt hat that looked as dapper as the day he left San Francisco and came to the remote cabin in the hills 15 miles west of Cloverdale and shot and wounded his estranged wife and two children… (June 2, 1955)

 

When sheriff’s deputies Fred Muenster and Joe Sweeney dragged the shivering, sad-eyed boy ashore at Bodega Bay last week, he looked for all the world a picture of youthful innocence, lost and confused.

Indeed he did. He said he was lost and hungry end had taken a skiff to a moored boat in the harbor and only taken “a little food” to sustain his life. Yes, indeed he had.

A boy to be pitied and helped. After all, weren’t we all lost boys once? Sure we were.

Out of their own pockets, the officers fed him. Nice boy. They brought him back to the County jail at Santa Rosa, and he warmed himself in an office. He had an uncle in Annapolis. He could go there. He was wandering from Tracy to see his uncle. He was only 18.

Poor chap. “You know,” he said, “my name is pronounced differently in England. Have you ever had anything to do with royalty? I’m it.” He confided with a bearing of dignity. “I’ve got a big inheritance in England. Someday, when I get a stake, I’m going there and claim it.”

Well, he, heh, boys, you know boys with imagination? Sure you do.

“Ever been arrested before?” he was asked.

“Oh, no, sir, never in my whole life. Honestly never…” (Oct. 20, 1955)

[The kid was burglarizing summer homes near Guerneville.]

Another serious author who worked at the Press Democrat 1949-1952 was Frank Herbert, who went on to write the DUNE sci-fi novels. He was a staff writer and photographer, so much of what he turned out was mundane (“Eagles Honor Mrs. Lingron, Mother of 8 Sons, Daughters”) but they sometimes gave him a featured column – complete with portrait! – which could be less predictable.

His strangest contribution to the PD was probably the column titled, “To One Part Verne, Add Galley of Zomb, Drop in Heathcliffe and expect Occidental,” again here excerpted for copyright:

It was a green morning and I woke up to find that my bed had three sides instead of two. The third side was a surrealist extension into the fourth dimension and the minute I stepped onto the floor over that ‘side I knew it would be one of “those” days.

In the first place, my wife found a note in the bottom of the kitchen garbage can which read:

“I can’t live without you.”

It was signed, “Verne.”

We don’t know any Verne. We puzzled over the darned thing for a while and finally decided it was a scrap from a short story one of us had written and thrown away, (with good reason.)…

[They decide to drive to Occidental before dinner.]

…At the west end of Coleman Valley the road began to climb in a series of steeply pitched switchbacks. Up, up, up, it climbed, into the mist. At the top there was wind-whipped fog, a low moaning of wind through brown grass and ghost figures of sheep only dimly seen at the limit of visibility. It looked like a cheap illustration for an Emile Bronte novel. We expected Kathy to come striding over the next rise, shrilling “Heathcliffe! Heathcliffe!”

Thus far, you will note, that since taking that inscrutable turn we had seen no human beings…

…Around us, weird rock shapes rose from the sere grass. The fog-rimmed scene became more and more Brontes-like. We expected to see a “thing” gibbering at us at any moment. And then the road started down. More switchbacks, the fog thinning. Another farmyard, dilapidated buildings and no people. (The last outpost.)

And at the bottom there was sunshine. We gloried in it. There was a car approaching us. We laughed. A human being must be driving it, we said. The car drew closer, slowed; we passed. The driver looked at us. His eyes were red-rimmed, hair straggled down over his forehead, there was a scar along his left cheek. He sped away behind us.

“In heaven’s name, who was that?” my wife asked.

“Heathcliffe,” I said. We drove back to the world of the living . . . and dinner. (Aug. 26, 1950)

In a Sept. 29, 1950 column on L. Ron Hubbard’s book Dianetics (which Herbert thought should be required reading) he compared it to medieval jousting: “…we are still bogged down in the fifth or sixth century A. D. Meanwhile the mind in its perception of its environment plods gaily on, lance in hand, armor buckled, helmet on, visor down. We are the only creatures in the universe with helmets containing visors with built-in mirrors. Pull down the visor and Zoot! You are staring yourself in the eyes.” No, I don’t know what it means, either.

He may have gotten away with some of these things because he wrote a series on nuclear war which the PD sold separately as a popular pamphlet, “Survival and the Atom,” which the paper promised had “all of the facts ‘Mr. Average Civilian’ needs to know to survive in an atomic attack.”

After Herbert left Santa Rosa he later wrote “The Santaroga Barrier,” a novel which takes place in a small California town where residents “appear maddeningly self-satisfied with their quaint, local lifestyle” – although the town as described was actually Ukiah, where he had profiled the newly-opened Masonite plant. (It’s really a terrible book; don’t let your curiosity get the better of you.)

Herbert was never as good a writer as Petitclerc, and it’s doubtful few flipped through the paper looking for what Frank Herbert had to say. But you didn’t open the Press Democrat in the morning just in hopes of reading Petitclerc’s gems; the paper always entertained readers with well-written news stories by its stable of staff writers.

Want to know what’s missing from most papers today? It’s the staff; newsrooms are like the sad last day of the going-out-of-business sale, where only a skeleton crew is sticking around to sell the display cases and that neon “open” sign in the window. According to Pew, newsroom staffing has fallen by half since 2008. That’s why all too often your local newspaper feels like it was produced by office workers filling in a template. Here’s a rewrite of local press releases or what was on the police scanner. Here are enough summaries of national/world news to fill section one. A column by a retired sports writer. Two (three?) big color photos for the front page. Support Local Journalism.

Forget missing out on having a stellar talent such as the likes of Petitclerc; today there’s no reporter here who could match Bony Saludes’ coverage of the 1961 murder spree by a 33 year-old “self-styled hypnotist,” and who along with Dick Torkelson, kept us titillated about the sinful ruttings of Lou Gottlieb and the Morning Star Ranch.

Pete Golis is still on hand as a columnist emeritus, but he was a young go-getter on the Healdsburg beat when he told us in 1966 about three members of a family claiming they had a close encounter with a spaceship. (Too bad Frank Herbert still wasn’t around.) Otto Becker of Alexander Valley said his son and daughter-in-law also saw the 6-story tall “saucer-like” ship which had red and yellow rays pouring off the edges of the saucer “like water.” It made a rhythmic “sput… sput… sput” noise, he said, so he thought at first it might be the old pump on the property. “I’m 73 years old and I’ve seen fireballs back east, but this had motors…it was controlled by some kind of human beings.” Golis told the story as matter-of-fact as if it concerned a herd of stray cows – and you can bet it was the topic everyone talked about later that day around the water cooler.

All that is what we’re set to lose (or in many cases, have already lost). It’s not the physical bundle of newsprint that will be missed; it’s that it represented the best work of a team of crack professionals to create and organize the story of our common selves. Snapping off the rubber band and opening the paper was always the first best part of your morning, even more so because you could always rely on it being there again tomorrow.

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generalhospital

GOODBYE, GENERAL

Another landmark of old Santa Rosa is slated for demolition, so anyone wanting to say farewell shouldn’t dawdle. Newcomers to town during, say, the last forty years, probably don’t know about it; native Santa Rosans who are Baby Boomers (or older) were probably born in it. That place is the old General Hospital at the corner of A and 7th streets, and it still looks almost exactly as it did about a century ago, when it was built in 1922.

It was just the sort of hospital you’d expect to find here during the town’s Shadow of a Doubt years, before and after WWII. The general practitioner doctors patched up farmers gored by bulls and reckless drivers who wrecked their autos on the Redwood Highway. They removed oodles of appendixes and tons of tonsils. So many casts were made for broken arms and legs they probably used enough plaster of paris to plaster every ceiling in Paris.

The tale of Santa Rosa General Hospital neatly breaks down into three acts but before raising that curtain, a few words about why it’s being demolished: That entire block – Morgan to A street, 6th to 7th street – is to be torn down in stages in order to build the Caritas Village Project. The hospital is scheduled to be razed in early 2022 and replaced by one of two large affordable housing apartment buildings and a third large building on the block will be a family and homeless support center. The three buildings have a unified design and are quite attractive; they will surely be an asset to Santa Rosa for decades to come. But there are two really important reasons why the city should not allow them to be built at that location.

Thirty years ago in 1990, Santa Rosa (finally) recognized that much of its unique character had been heedlessly demolished. To save what little was left of its heritage, a few of the old neighborhoods were designated as Preservation Districts, with “St. Rose” being one of the first. New construction has to conform to stylistic guidelines in order to fit in with the overall look. To now exempt an entire block from both letter and spirit of the law is a dangerous precedent which could be used by developers to build anything, anywhere. And since the Caritas Village plans were developed long after this Preservation District was formed, the project backers began with the assumption that they could get away with violating city law.

The other worrisome aspect is the three-story, 42k square-foot building intended to provide one-stop services to the county’s homeless. It’s a noble idea except the location is three blocks from Courthouse Square, which only ensures that our grown grandchildren will still be avoiding downtown because of its vagrant problems. Look, Santa Rosa has a history of making foolish and short-sighted planning decisions – I’m in the middle of writing a ten-part series just about the 1960s screwups leading up to the mega-mistake of approving the shopping mall – but surely city planners recognize it’s not wise to build a magnet for the homeless so close to the city core. Final approval decisions on Caritas Village will be made in coming months (planning reviews start February 27, 2020) so let the City Council know what you think about the project.

In the spotlight for General Hospital’s Act I was Henry S. Gutermute (1865-1958), a man who had his fingers in many pies. We first met him in 1905 when he had the Maze Department Store in Petaluma, on the corner where the Bank of America now stands. Fast forward to 1915 and he’s now president of the Burke Corporation, the new owner of the Burke Sanitarium, which five years earlier had been the scene of Sonoma County’s crime of the century. To scrape away the scandal and relaunch the sanitarium they threw a luxe dinner and dance for 400 movers and shakers. What the store and the sanitarium have in common is that Gutermute liked to heavily advertise – a practice he would continue with General Hospital, although it was unusual to find newspaper ads for actual hospitals.

generaldevoto(RIGHT: The Devoto home at 804 Fourth st. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Meanwhile, in 1914 a large family home at 804 Fourth street, then two doors east of the county library, had been converted into a new hospital. (Compare that lost majestic home to the squat little bank bunker there now and reflect upon why it was necessary to establish the Preservation Districts.) Called the Lindsay-Thompson Hospital/Sanitarium it was similar to the Mary Jesse/Eliza Tanner Hospital, another residence turned small hospital that was a block away. Both included an operating room.

That incarnation lasted just a year before it was taken over by the Burke Corporation, meaning Gutermute and his partners. They incorporated the General Hospital Association and renamed the place “General Hospital.” Presumably their business plan was to offer a package deal with surgery in Santa Rosa and recuperation at their health resort, as many newspaper items reported patients shuffling back and forth.

For the next four years little General Hospital hummed along, with nearly daily ads in the newspapers offering “MEDICAL SURGICAL OBSTETRICAL” services. (Fun fact: In 1916, the McDonald’s and other local nabobs marched their kids over there to have their tonsils removed en masse as a preventative measure before the start of the school year.) Then came the eviction notice – the Devoto family wanted their home back in thirty days. Santa Rosa had a 1919 housing crunch because of all the soldiers returning from WWI.

Instead of renting another large house, Gutermute scrambled to construct a temporary hospital from scratch. A special session of the City Council was called to grant him permissions to build something on the corner of Seventh and A streets – and just six weeks later (!!) the new General Hospital was open for business in January, 1920.

The new hospital was composed of six “bungalow cottages.” Cecil Etheredge, the Press Democrat’s City Editor was an early patient and described the setting. (Etheredge was being hospitalized for serious injuries in the county’s first passenger airplane crash.) “The General Hospital, seen outwardly, is built of bungalows and courts, in units, connected by runways. Every part of the hospital can be connected with any other, or be entirely segregated,” he wrote. Elsewhere the “runways” were described as “covered hallways.”

Because of this design, he noted that a ward for influenza patients could be isolated from the rest of the hospital – the Spanish Flu was still on everyone’s mind, having run its course only a year earlier after killing 67 in Santa Rosa alone. “H. S. Gutermute, when he planned his new hospital, figured the only way was to build it big or capable of being made big enough for emergencies,” Etheredge wrote.

The buildings were designed by William Herbert, a Santa Rosa architect mentioned here several times earlier. (There’s no truth in the story that these were “WWI barracks” moved from somewhere else.) Four of the six cottages were patient wards; there was a separate cottage for surgery and another for the administrators and the kitchen.

Gutermute pulled out all stops for advertising his new hospital in early 1920, with a series of numbered ads in both Santa Rosa papers. The large display ads promised to give invalids better care than could be offered at home and invited the public to come down for an inspection of their new 40 bed hospital with “Automobile Ambulance at your Service.” Each ad ended with the new motto: “The hospital of the open court and spreading oaks.”

1937 ad for Santa Rosa General Hospital
1937 ad for Santa Rosa General Hospital

Work on the buildings continued for the next two years. The covered walkways between buildings were enclosed to become real hallways and make the separate cottages into a unified structure; a new wing was added which included a maternity ward and the exterior was given the stucco walls that are still seen today. It’s unknown if Bill Herbert was involved in these modifications and additions, but I doubt it – when Gutermute hired him in 1919 he was just starting his career and probably worked on the cheap. By 1922 he was a well-established architect in Santa Rosa; I suspect the design was done by C. A. McClure, who was (literally) the new kid on the block. More about him below.

While Gutermute continued to own the hospital until 1945, he was rarely mentioned in association with it anymore. In 1923 he opened Central Garage on Fifth street, which was a used car dealership as well as the main general auto repair shop downtown. He apparently retired after he sold the garage in 1931, listing himself in the 1940 census as “owner General Hospital.”

Also in 1923 the first baby was born in the new maternity ward; a new era began.

Act II showcases the days of Gladys Kay, the long-time manager of General Hospital. What set her apart was being one of the nicest people you could hope to meet – and that the General Hospital staff shared that spirit. Gaye LeBaron once quoted Dr. Frank Norman, who was sort of Santa Rosa’s medical historian: “Tender, loving care. That was General’s secret.”

All together now: So how nice was Gladys Kay? Before she left on a month-long vacation, the nurses threw a we’ll-miss-you party. Whenever the PD ran a letter from someone thanking General Hospital for caregiving of a loved one, Gladys Kay was singled out for kindness – today who can even imagine knowing an administrator, much less expressing personal gratitude to same?

She was promoted to the job in late 1945. Earlier that year Gutermute had sold the hospital for about $50k to MacMillan Properties, a Los Angeles corporation held by five brothers – four of them physicians and surgeons. Shortly after taking ownership they installed a new manager; the nurse who had steered the hospital since 1920, Bertha Levy, said she was tired and wanted to retire (she did, and died just a year later). They replaced her with Maxine Smith, an experienced hospital administrator who had managed two Los Angeles hospitals. She quit six months later and sued the owners, claiming they had broken their promise to give her 2½ of the gross receipts in addition to her salary, room and board.

Gladys was an unlikely pick to follow a woman with such a professional résumé. She had no management training but once was apparently a nurse, although it seems she never worked as one in Santa Rosa. Her experience here seemed limited to running a downtown children’s clothing store and teaching kids to ice skate (after her death, husband Harry said she was a “Pacific Coast figure skating champ in the old days”).

generalswitchboard(RIGHT: Telephone switchboard at General Hospital in 1962. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

When the MacMillans took over she was already working at the hospital, but we don’t know when she began; the first mention in the paper comes from 1944, when she was the night telephone operator. That job was quite a big responsibility – their switchboard was the county Doctor’s Exchange answering service, which was the equivalent of 911 medical emergency today.

Her watchful eyes behind those wingtip glasses saw General Hospital expand to 75 rooms, with two operating and two delivery rooms. The latter was particularly important because the Baby Boomer era was booming; in August, 1948, General set a monthly record of 67 deliveries, the most to date in Santa Rosa history.

Gladys had a knack for promotion. Movie theaters sometimes ran contests or giveaways tied to what was playing, and in 1949 Santa Rosa’s Tower Theater had an unusual stunt for “Welcome Stranger” (according to reviews, a particularly hackneyed Bing Crosby RomCom). Although the plot had nothing to do with childbirth or babies, the theater got local merchants to donate a free set of baby clothes, shoes, portrait, etc. to the first child born on the day the movie began playing here. General Hospital not only made the biggest splash, but it tied in Gladys herself: “IF the first baby born Sunday arrives at the GENERAL Hospital, Mother and Baby will receive FREE “ROOM and BOARD” during their stay at the GENERAL through the courtesy of Mrs Gladys Kay manager of the hospital.” (Alas, baby Gail Elaine Franks was born at the County Hospital instead.)

Her greatest challenge was also PR related: How could General coexist with Memorial Hospital once the 800 lb. gorilla entered the playing field? Memorial was to open on New Year’s Day 1950, and a year before that she began running large newspaper ads (with her name and phone number at the bottom, natch) promoting General as additionally being a long-term care facility for the chronically ill and elderly. Then she announced their eight bed maternity ward would soon be closing because they expected most women would give birth at Memorial once it opened, and sent a letter to all 78 local practicing physicians asking if they had “further need” of General. Intended or not, this was a master stroke. From the Press Democrat:


Earlier reports to the contrary, the surgical and maternity services will be continued “if business continues on like this,” Mrs. Gladys Kay, hospital manager, said. She said the public “phoned and phoned” in answer to a disclosure by her earlier this month that insufficient hospital business in these two services might lead to their discontinuance. She said local doctors also have responded to the dilemma and that things are “picking up.”

Gladys had won the battle; not only did the MacMillans keep it open but added a new surgery and an additional 25 bed, $150k wing designed by Santa Rosa’s leading architect, Cal Caulkins.

Alas, the momentum only lasted so long; the trend in modern medicine was swinging away from General’s casual, homey approach to Memorial’s network of efficient clinicians and specialists (County Hospital, too, had become a major competitor). General Hospital really did close its maternity ward in 1957 when they were down to 20 births a month. Although Gladys didn’t retire until 1963, the hospital’s best days were in the rearview mirror.

General Hospital’s final act began about forty years ago and is still not quite over.

In 1966 the MacMillans sunk $50,000 expanding the hospital staff and adding new equipment; in 1969 the plan was to promote the place as cardiac specialists, with state-of-the-art gear such as an “external pace-maker” and a “mobile coronary rescue ambulance.” (Later they would boast of a “computerized E.C.G. machine, from which heart tracings are transferred by telephone and readings teletyped back within two minutes.”) Come 1971 and the big deal was their new 24-hour emergency room, complete with an emergency phone number (still no 911 services). Finally the MacMillans gave up and sold the whole works to Memorial Hospital in 1979.

generalor(RIGHT: General Hospital operating rooms in 1962. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Gone were the big ads with photos of smiling doctors, laughing nurses and even their orderlies and “Green Lady” volunteers; there were no more promises that the hospital was “purposely overstaffed” (“it is the hospital’s aim to make its patients feel at home during their stay”). All that the new administrator, who was brought in from Memorial, advertised was their new St. Rose Alcoholism Recovery Center with its 3-week program and AA meetings, foreshadowing what was to come.

The staff expected Memorial would eventually close the place; they watched as all their expensive medical equipment was wending its way across town, even if Memorial Hospital didn’t need it – Gaye LeBaron had an item about a resuscitator device for newborns being turned into a tropical fish tank. But it still came as a shock to the 134 employees to discover on May 31, 1984, that Santa Rosa General would be closing in 60 days – and they learned about it from reading the newspaper.

“Honk If You Will Miss Us,” read a heartbreaking banner outside the entrance as the last days ticked by and staff members struggled to find new jobs, a problem made worse because Memorial also canned 40 of its own employees at about the same time. Memorial claimed the closure and layoffs were due to anticipated lower Medicare reimbursements, but Memorial Hospital was also in negotiations with the nurse’s union over hours and an increase in pay, with the administrators being quite clear there would be major cutbacks before they made any bargaining concessions.

For about a year the St. Rose Recovery Center was the only occupant of the old hospital, but even that program was moved in April, 1985 to another building nearby which was also owned by Memorial: 600 Morgan street. For the first time in its 65 year history, General Hospital was now empty and quiet. Memorial considered putting it up for sale with an asking price of $2M; the city floated the idea of leveling the buildings for a 300-space parking lot. Can’t have enough parking meters!

The modern homeless-centric era began in 1987, when the Salvation Army wanted to use the hospital building as an emergency 250-bed winter shelter. When the charity, neighbors and members from the Sonoma County Task Force on the Homeless toured the facility, they found squatters living there. One of them, Jerry Rioux, a former carny, gave them an impromptu tour. “I am here to set your mind at ease. This is a great place.” Rioux even offered his services to repair the damage he had caused while breaking in to the building.

Although the Board of Supervisors called the county’s homeless problem “staggering,” they balked at the $20,000 startup cost at first, which caused the shelter to delay opening until February, 1988. Even with that money, the Salvation Army lost $30,000 running the shelter for four months and couldn’t afford to offer it again next winter.

And so we arrive at Santa Rosa General Hospital’s last occupant: Catholic Charities. On Christmas, 1989 they opened their year-round shelter, the Family Support Center, which is still there as of this writing.

In the thirty years since, both the city and Catholic Charities have become more invested in concentrating the homeless in that particular block. In 1992, Santa Rosa used $102k in redevelopment funds to remodel 600 Morgan street as Catholic Charities’ homeless service center. That former home and the hospital were still owned by Memorial and used by Catholic Charities rent-free until they were finally sold to CC in 2015. After the last family moved away last year, Catholic Charities now owns the whole block.

According to current plans the first notable building to be torn down will be “Casa del Sol,” the four-unit apartment building at 608 Morgan Street. Although it was built in 1922, the same year General Hospital was finished, it was never associated with the hospital, as the classified sections in the old newspapers frequently advertise the apartments for rent. The architect was C. A. McClure, who was selling blueprints of this same design to others around Santa Rosa. Also in 1922 a developer used the plans to build the two apartment buildings at 422-426 Humboldt street which are still there – in the center of that courtyard the owner had a canary aviary, since the entire nation was inexplicably going canary crazy at the time.

Should the schedule hold, General Hospital will be demolished on February 1, 2022 because as Catholic Charities’ consultant wrote in the DEIR, the place has absolutely no importance: “[It] is not associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of local, regional, or national history…[it] does not meet the criteria for individual significance and is therefore recommended not eligible for listing on national, state, or local historic registers nor as a contributor to the historic district.”

To that consultant all I can say is this: Do better research. Reading the old newspapers I am stunned at the affection our community expressed for that hospital over its 60+ years. If that engagement with the hospital doesn’t show “a significant contribution” to local history, I think you’ve got your criterion screwed on backwards.

But come 2022 and we find bulldozers awaiting, let’s form a caravan of vehicles down A street that morning and give that old dear a last resounding honk. Yes, General Hospital, we will miss you, deeply. Or should.

1941 view of Santa Rosa General Hospital. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library
1941 view of Santa Rosa General Hospital. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

 

2020 view of former Santa Rosa General Hospital
2020 view of former Santa Rosa General Hospital

 

sources
DEVOTO HOME BEING MADE INTO HOSPITAL

The remodeling of the former David Devoto home on Fourth street, to be used as a sanitarium, is in progress. The work is to he completed about the first of October, when Mrs. Margaret Lindsey Thompson, formerly associated with a prominent San Francisco hospital, will conduct a modern sanitarium. The Devotos are at present residing on McDonald avenue.

– Press Democrat, September 15 1914

 

NEW HOSPITAL IS NOW OPEN
The Lindsay-Thompson Sanitarium, Located on Fourth Street, Admirably Arranged

The Lindsay-Thompson hospital, which occupied the former Devoto residence near the corner of E street on Fourth, has been opened, with Mrs. Margaret Lindsay-Thompson as manager. The big place has been ideally fitted up for a hospital and the large, dry and well ventilated rooms have been comfortably furnished according o the most approved methods for hospitals.

The hospital has all the latest appointments required by medical science and this is particularly noticeable in the operating room, which is equipped with automatic sterilizer and everything calculated to be of service and benefit to the sick and injured…

– Press Democrat, September 29 1914

 

ARTICLES OF GENERAL HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION FILED HERE ON MONDAY

In the office of County Clerk W. W. Felt on Monday articles of incorporation of the General Hospital Association were filed. The incorporators are H. S. Gutermute, A. G. Burns and J. C. Hardin. The two former, Messrs. Gutermute and Burns, are at the head of Burke’s Sanitarium here, Mr. Burns being the manager.

As the name of the concern indicates it is for the management of hospitals, etc. Recently it was mentioned that the Lindsay-Thompson Hospital, in this city, had been taken over by the Burke Sanitarium and in this connection the articles of incorporation were probably filed on Monday. The capital stock of the association is $25,000.

– Press Democrat, October 19 1915

 

BUNGALOWS FOR NEW HOSPITAL
Construction Work on Cottages for the General Hospital Will Be Commenced Today on Minnehan Property.

The General Hospital, conducted for several years past by H. S. Gutermute in the Devoto Home on Fourth street, will be quartered in cottages to be erected on the Minnehan tract within another month, if the plans now under way are successfully carried out.

Mr. Devoto, having decided to take possession of his property, has served Mr. Gutermute with notice to vacate within thirty days, hence the hurried decision to prepare a new home.

William Herbert, the architect, has prepared plans for a series of five bungalow cottages, and W. L. Proctor has been given the contract to erect them on the property at the southwest corner of Seventh and A streets.

The plans were approved Monday afternoon by the city council at a special session, and work on construction will be commenced at once. It is expected lumber will begin to arrive on the lots this morning and a large force of men will be put to work, so construction may be rushed to an early completion.

The plans provide for a series of six bungalow cottages of frame type. There will be an administration building in the center facing Seventh street, with a large court in front. This will give office quarters, matron’s room, reception hall and room with dining-room and kitchen.

Leading from this will be covered hallways connecting four other bungalows which will be used as hospital wards, and one which will be devoted to operation and anesthetic rooms, drug quarters and store-rooms. These will be on either side of the administration quarters and constructed in this manner all will get the sun all day and be extremely well lighted.

– Press Democrat, October 28 1919

 

General Hospital Moves To New Location in A St

The work of moving the General Hospital from its location in Fourth street to the new headquarters in A street started Thursday. It will be the middle of next week before the institution is installed in the new cottages, that have been built at A and Seventh streets.

The Devoto home, where the hospital has been established, will be remodeled and the family will occupy it after the first of the year.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 12 1919

 

WHERE THE SICK ARE CARED FOR
By C. W. ETHEREDGE

Some weeks ago Ad-Man Banker strolled over to my desk, struggled simultaneously with his moustache and tongue, and finally asked me if ever I did any special stuff, which may mean anything in a newspaper office.

When he said he wanted me to go down and look at the General Hospital and tell Press Democrat readers what I found there. I assured him he was fishing in the wrong creek, but I’d lend him The Walrus to look things over.

In the course of some days she produced (The Walrus is a she) an article and story which was as good as anyone could do on that kind of an inspection – but now I have been here two weeks in person, and I’m glad to tell Santa Rosa people some of the nice healthy and handy things they have lying around loose, unknown or unappreciated except by those who have been in hospital.

H. S. Gutermute, when he planned his new hospital, figured the only way was to build it big or capable of being made big enough for emergencies. That day has nearly arrived, and a chain of sickness and accidents resulted in nearly every room and ward filled. One thing was certain, there were no spare nurses anywhere, and I felt pretty lucky with my chances in getting a private nurse for a couple of weeks.

The General Hospital, seen outwardly, is built of bungalows and courts, in units, connected by runways. Every part of the hospital can be connected with any other, or be entirely segregated. A “flu” ward can be (doesn’t happen to be, though) located across a court and yardway, and I wouldn’t have as much chance of getting the flu as if I were running around loose.

It is this convenience of operation. connection or segregation, which today makes life cast in happier lines, provided you have to be sick, than before Mr. Gutermute carried his plans to completion.

– Press Democrat, February 22 1920

 

MODERN APARTMENT HOUSE COMPLETED

Santa Rosa’s newest apartment house built by C. A. McClure at 608 Washington street, is completed. and waa thrown open to inspection for the first time Sunday.

The building follows the mission style of architecture, with stucco finish, and is one of the most pleasing in the city. Each apartment has four rooms, and is equipped with all modem conveniences. Hot water is furnished day and night from an electrically heated boiler, which serves all apartments.

– Press Democrat, July 25 1922

 

Building Moved Next To General Hospital

H. S. Gutermute, who recently purchased the one-story building opposite the Press Democrat office, has moved the building to his property next to the General Hospital on A street, and will transform it into a stuccoed – finish store building for rental purposes, he said Tuesday.

The fact that an attractive store building next to the hospital will hide from the view of hospital patients the sheet metal warehouses on A street caused him to place tiie building in its present location, Gutermute said. Land between the store and the hospital will lie planted with greenery.

Gutermute purchased the building from Thomas Sullivan, mover. He intends to place a new wall on the north side of the building and to renovate and plaster the interior.

– Press Democrat, November 22 1922

 

General Hospital Is Improved To Meet Increasing Demands

Santa Rosa now has a bungalow type hospital with more than 17,000 square feet of floor space, with 75 rooms and 50 beds for patients, which has been thoroughly equipped with all modern facilities and conveniences. With its medical, surgical and obstetrical wards it can care for all cases from the city and surrounding country for some time to come.

The hospital is owned and operated by H. S. Gutermute, who built up the Burke Sanitarium into a strong establishment in five years and then came into Santa Rosa, where he established the General Hospital in the old Devoto home in Fourth street. Two years later he was forced out when the war-time demand for houses made it necessary for Mr. Devoto to return to the house to reside.

At that time Mr. Gutermute erected the first unit of the bungalow type of hospital to house the General Hospital. This he has improved and added a second unit and completed the exterior with a stucco finish. The new unit in the form of a wing gives 25 additional rooms and has been set apart to include the maternity ward.

FORM OF CAPITAL LETTER

The hospital, which is in the form of a large letter “E” facing the East, is located on the old Menihan property at the southwest corner of A and Seventh streets. The lot is 300 by 125 feet, and the building is 220 feet long, with the three wings 104 feet each. The lot is large enough to allow a fourth wing to be added at any time in the future there is a demand for additional rooms. The building is nestled beneath the large live oak trees, giving it a very pleasant and inviting appearance.

The main entrance, lobby, reception room and office is between the north and middle wings. In addition there are four surgical, three X-ray, two delivery, three utility and seven staff rooms, besides the dining room, kitchen and store rooms. There are two large utility and numerous private bath rooms throughout the building.

The floors of the maternity wing are double and covered with brown battleship linoleum, while the corridor floors are carpeted with sound-proof rubber. The corridors are heated with gas radiators, and there ate electric heaters in each room. All rooms have running hot and cold water.

The furnishings are all of the best quality. The beds are of the latest adjustable type such as are used in some of the largest and most important eastern hospitals, including that provided by Henry Ford for his hospital at his factory.

The maternity wing has been added at the special solicitation of many physicians, who saw the needs of the city in that direction and the requirements of the future. It is expected the ward will be used more and more now that it is available at really less expense than cases ran be cared for at home.

Mr. Gutermute, in speaking of the hospital and its recent enlargement, said he hoped no one would misunderstand and think he was making a mint of money from the Institution, as, in fact, he said, he had been compelled frequently to take money from other enterprises he is engaged in, to meet hospital bills, as the expenses of upkeep and maintenance steadily grow regardless of the amount of business handled. With the enlarged capacity and facilities it is expected the income will increase accordingly as it becomes more widely used.

The Institution is open to all physicians, and already more than a dozen in this city, Sebastopol and other nearby points are using it in serious cases. The management assures all of the best possible care and treatment.

The new hospital will be thrown open for public inspection Thursday afternoon and evening, when all physicians and the public generally are cordially invited to call and inspect the place.

Mr. Gutermute has gathered a very efficient staff of trained workers about him for handling the work of the hospital. Several have been in his employ for five years or more, while all are loyal, experienced workers.

Miss Bertha Levy, the matron in charge, is a graduate of Lane hospital, San Francisco, and has had years of practical experience in such work. She was one of the first nurses Mr. Gutermute secured and she is considered the best in her work to be found. She is always pleasant and agreeable to all with whom she comes in contact and has proved herself an admirable executive.

Miss Elizabeth Tanner is in charge of the maternity ward. She too is a graduate of Lane’s and has proved her worth by faithful continued service in the institution.

Miss Myrna Ewing, who is head of the surgical yvard, is a graduate of the Mt. Zion hospital, San Francisco, and is faithful and efficient in her work.

Miss Mario Behrns, a graduate of the Alameda county hospital, and Miss Marie Darcy, graduate of the Idaho state hospital, have been with the hospital for several years. Mrs. Swisier is the night nurse while the Misses Naoma Pitkins and May Mendoca are two undergraduate nurses doing faithful work under instruction.

In addition the staff has a cook who has been there for several years, a maid, porter and yard man to keep the place up in proper condition.

It has been well said that a building does not make a hospital any more than a house makes a home. It is the care and treatment afforded by the staff, the kindly and courteous little attentions given patients which goes to make up the hospital as it does the home. All of these are afforded nf the General Hospital.

– Press Democrat, December 10 1922

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THE SECESSIONS OF PETALUMA

Here’s the ultimate Trivial Pursuit question, Sonoma county edition: How many times has it been proposed for Petaluma to seize the county seat from Santa Rosa and/or split off to become the seat of a new county?

Recently I conducted a scientific survey of expert historians (I asked guests at a Christmas party, a few friends, some followers on Facebook and that know-it-all cashier at Trader Joe’s) and the consensus was that it’s happened two or three times. The correct answer?

Nine…probably; I hedge because there could be yet another skirmish or three that could crawl out of the late 19th century woodwork.

A couple were like war campaigns and lasted more than a year; others apparently went little further than a committee being formed or the passing around of petitions. Some efforts are difficult to evaluate because few newspapers from that particular time still exist.

While all of the schemes end up with Petaluma becoming a county seat, they are remarkably different otherwise. Sometimes a new county is formed, borrowing a bit of northern Marin (or not). Sometimes Sonoma county is broken up into three counties – four, in one proposal – and sometimes Petaluma is annexed to be part of Marin. A common thread is that Petaluma has more in common with Marin and points south than everything north of them in Sonoma county, which is hard to dispute; until the train arrived in 1871, it was easier for the Petalumi to get to San Francisco than Santa Rosa, particularly in winter.

Here’s a summary of the various proposals:

1860 Marin annexes everything south of Cotati
1861 Move Sonoma county seat to Petaluma
1865 Marin annexes everything south of Santa Rosa
1870 Create a new county from southern Sonoma county
1872 Divide Sonoma into four with south, north, central, and river counties
1883 Move Sonoma county seat to Petaluma
1906 Create a new county from N Marin + S Sonoma + coast down to Tomales
1920 Create a new county (discussed below)
1950 Create a new county from N Marin + S Sonoma + coast down to Stinson Beach

The 1883 plan was hashed out in the preceding articles and was the most rancorous, as Petaluma and Santa Rosa had agents fanned out all over the county urging – and maybe, paying – residents to sign petitions or counter-petitions. This attempt also highlighted how difficult it was to make such a sweeping change; this petition wanted the Board of Supervisors to allow voters to weigh in on the issue, but (as I understand it) the decision still would be ultimately left to the legislature. These rules would later become increasingly byzantine.

Although the Petaluma/Santa Rosa rivalry puts a unique spin on the matters here, there was an outsized prestige in being the county seat a hundred years ago and more; other communities had no choice but revolve around it as planets circle a star. Besides a courthouse it meant having all the county offices and the best professional services – lawyers of all types, major bankers, specialist doctors, etc. It also meant busy stores, hotels, restaurants and saloons along with the higher rents paid to downtown landlords who really owned the whole place. Those are reasons why Petaluma was willing to donate $100,000 in 1883 to move the courthouse there – and hey, maybe the local nabobs would achieve a bit of immortality by slapping their names on a prestigious building or something. After all, there’s also more than a dab of vanity motivating some of these plans.

Another main incentive that year was for Petaluma to dodge paying for a new courthouse in Santa Rosa. That was also the major objective of the 1872 petition, which asked the legislature to create Russian River county as well as new northern and southern counties as afterthoughts. This petition apparently collected a number of signatures in West County but was never mentioned by the other local papers so it obviously went nowhere. It’s fun to read, tho, because the author seemed to think he was appealing to Parliament – I can only wonder if he wore a powdered wig while writing this: “…respectfully petition your Honorable Bodies to consider and pass to enactment the bill offered herewith…” At the same time, he thought it appropriate to include petty gripes: “…the County Buildings at Santa Rosa are inconvenient and insufficient (with one exception, and that accommodates but one County officer).”

It’s doubtful the 1870 separation even made it to the petition stage but it’s uncertain because its advocate was the Petaluma Crescent, a short-lived pro-Democrat paper. No copies survive so we only know about it from comments that appeared in the semi-allied Santa Rosa Democrat. This effort was oddly specific that Petaluma needed to have its own County Hospital because the county wouldn’t pay for emergency medical care away from the hospital when “a man is shot or stabbed in an affray and unable to settle his doctor’s bill”. There’s quite a story behind that, I’ll bet.

Likewise we have an incomplete picture of the 1865 Marin annexation because no Petaluma newspapers from that year are (currently) available on microfilm or digitally. That’s particularly sad because this was the most interesting effort of all: Petaluma was circulating a petition that would take away everything south of Santa Rosa Creek – essentially, half of Sonoma county. It seems clear this was intended to be a kind of war reparation; as explored here, the Civil War ended earlier that year with Sonoma county more divided than ever, with Petaluma cheering the Union victory and Santa Rosa still rabidly pro-Confederacy. Noting the overall county voted against Lincoln in 1864, the Sonoma Democrat muttered bitterly, “If the Abolition [Republican] ticket had been successful in this county, last September, nothing would have been said, at this time, about division.”

There’s little to write about the 1860 and 1861 proposals, except the latter was cut short at the start of the Civil War – there’s some discussion of both in “PETALUMA VS SANTA ROSA: ROUND ONE.” Nor is there much about the 1906 attempt, except it was the first launched under the auspices of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce. The most memorable thing about it was the San Rafael Independent’s great pun in calling it a “hen coup.”

The financial and political backers of these propositions were never identified until the Chamber appeared, but there were sometimes hints. In 1920 the Press Democrat wrote the new proposed county might be called “McNear county” with George F. McNear’s approval, although it’s possible that was intended as a joke.

Of all the various proposals, the one in 1920 first looked like a sure thing. Not only was the Petaluma Chamber behind it, but this time there was financial backing (McNear, I presume?) for a legal team and Sacramento lobbyist.

The PD claimed “certain prominent residents of Petaluma who desire to see Petaluma made a county seat and a new county” convinced State Senator Lewis L. Dennett of Modesto to introduce SB 648, which would make it much simpler for a county to divide. (In fairness, there were then up to ten other communities in California where a county split was desired, the only other in the Bay Area being recently founded Richmond, which was the anchor for the booming western end of sprawling Contra Costa county.)

Directing the 1920 campaign was Homer W. Wood, editor of the Petaluma Morning Courier, and a “Committee of Fifteen.” Since this scheme involved land in Sonoma and Marin counties, their game plan was to present to the Board of Supervisors in both counties with petitions calling for a popular vote. The Supervisors were expected to refuse to call for the elections since the laws by then made it nearly impossible for such a ballot measure to win, requiring election results to meet certain approval ratios among “new-county” and “old-county” votes, acreage and population minimums kept for the “old-county,” and so on. Once they were turned down by the Boards, the plan was to ask the state Supreme Court to throw out the complex formulas and turn the clock back to 1907, when only approval from two-thirds of the voters in the new county territory was required. Easy peasy!

First, however, they had to come up with a name and boundaries for the new county. Many names were suggested, including Marisoma, Marinoma, Novato, Tomales, Bay Coast, Northbay, American Fertile (!), Chanticleer, San Pablo, Petaluma and San Antonio. They picked San Antonio because “San Antonio is a historic name, a Spanish name, a northern Marin name, and the name of the creek…” That lasted for two months before they settled on the name Petaluma county. See above, re: vanity.

The continually shifting boundary lines were clues that their plan might not be ready for prime time. During the two month lifespan of the San Antonio version the southern border originally ended just before Olompali State Park, then was snapped back to the existing Sonoma/Marin border. In the east it first did not include Sonoma Valley, but then went all the way to the Napa county line. Later the town of Sonoma opted out, so the border didn’t include the Valley of the Moon again.

Composite map of the proposed "San Antonio county" boundaries, Jan.-Mar. 1920
Composite map of the proposed “San Antonio county” boundaries, Jan.-Mar. 1920

 

They dropped the northern Marin component because the central tenet of the deal was that tax rates would be lower in San Antonio county, but when the Committee actually crunched the numbers they discovered the former Marinite’s taxes would actually go up. That was such a fundamental mistake it probably should have killed the project.

But an even greater snafu happened in August when the northern border was shifted to Monte Rio (the borderline now dropping south just east of Occidental), absorbing most of West County – no matter that the new county seat of Petaluma would be considerably farther away than Santa Rosa. Making such a substantive change at such a late date shows more poor planning, particularly since it meant that petitions signed up to that date were now invalid – backers had to scrap five months of work gathering signatures and start all over again.

The year ended, more months passed, and the petition was presented to the Supervisors who predictably rejected it. The Committee filed the planned writ of mandate with the Supreme Court and waited some more.

Finally in November 1921 – nearly two years after the new county was proposed – the court rendered its opinion: No, the Board of Supervisors wasn’t required to put the issue on the ballot. It was the narrowest decision possible, ignoring the question of whether the laws needed to be overturned or not. “As matters now stand, we are just where we were before we inaugurated the New County movement,” moaned the Petaluma Argus.

Courier editor Wood vowed to fight on, suggesting another writ might “force the hands of the supreme court” but that was that.

The last attempt to make Petaluma a county seat was in 1950, and came as a surprise to residents of the city of eggs. A small group of disgruntled Marin ranchers, a retired sea captain, and a “frequent critic of the Board of Supervisors” descended on the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce to make their case for a N. Marin-S. Sonoma county. Their gripe was that their area hadn’t “received enough consideration from ‘resort-minded’ Southern Marin county officials,” according to a story in the Mill Valley paper.

The new county would reach down to Stinson Beach and would be named “Drake,” “Tomales” or “Petaluma.” The group was in the process of forming committees.

Petaluma chamber president Ed Fratini told the paper the group was received with “open mouths and considerable amazement, but we listened with a great deal of interest and have invited them to return at any time.” They didn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

ANNEXATION. – We are told on what we believe to be reliable authority, that a very large majority of the present residents of Marin county have avowed it to be their earnest desire that at the next session of the Legislature the county line of Marin should be extended eastward so as to include all that portion of Sonoma county lying between the present county line of Marin and Sonoma and the Napa line, and as far North as may be necessary to embrace Two Rock Valley, Big Valley, &c., thence on to the mouth of the Estero Americano, and that Petaluma shall become the county seat of Marin. That such an arrangement would be greatly to the advantage and accommodation of a majority of the residents of Marin, no one at all conversant with the county will doubt. A large majority of the residents of that county, either reside along and in the immediate vicinity of the present line between Marin and Sonoma, or in the northern and western portion of the county. To these people Petaluma is of easy and speedy access, and much nearer than San Rafael. Further it is the point where they transact all their ordinary business affairs of trade. That they should, under these circumstances desire the change, no sound unbiased mind can marvel. To the inhabitants of that portion of Sonoma thus proposed to be annexed to Marin, we believe from all that we have been able to learn, that the change would be agreeable and profitable, and from a similar cause. Petaluma is likewise their point of trade, (with the exception of those of the Sonoma Valley,) and to make it the county seat of Marin county would as a sequence greatly accommodate and benefit them. From present indications this matter will be laid before the Legislature at its next sitting, and it is quite possible it may even be before the people as one of the local questions to be provided for during the approaching political canvass. It may be well therefore, for such as have not already done so, to look this matter squarely in the face, and calmly, cooly, and dispassionately, discuss its features.

– Sonoma County Journal, August 3, 1860

 

The Reorganization.

We have patiently waited to see what arguments the Argus of Petaluma or Standard of Healdsburg would offer the people in favor of a change of boundary between Sonoma and Marin counties. Our contemporaries both favor the idea of ceding to Marin the major part of the wealth, territory and population of Sonoma, and as neither of them have adduced a single reasonable argument in support of the position assumed by them, we are forced to conclude they are actuated solely by selfish motives, that they desire only to establish in their respective towns a county seat, and in order to gain this distinction they would sacrifice the best interests of tbe people at large. But one difference seems, to exist between them on the subject, and that is as to the division line, the Argus proposing to cede four-fifths of the county to Marin, while the Standard would be content with donating a little more than half.

Outside of Petaluma but little has been done or said about the matter yet. A meeting of the citizens of that city was held on Saturday last. We learn from one who was present that the attendance was very small. The following are the proceedings of the meeting; it will be observed that McNabb of the Argus was bell-wether of the flock:

Hon. J. H. McNabb called the meeting to order, and after stating the object of the meeting, O. Swetland, Esq. was elected President, and Thos. L. Carothers, Secretary of the meeting.

G. W. Reed, being called for, addressed the meeting. Hon. J. H. McNabb introduced the following resolution which was unanimously adopted:

Resolved, That the citizens of Petaluma and vicinity are in favor of changing the boundary of Marin county, so as to include all that part of county lying south and east of Santa Rosa creek, so that the northern boundary of Marin county shall be as follows: Commencing at the mouth of Russian River, and running up said river to the mouth of Santa Rosa creek, thence up said creek to its source, thence south easterly to the Napa county line.

On motion of G. W. Reed,, a committee of three consisting of H. L. Weston, A. McCune and H. Meacham was appointed to report a committee of nine to the meeting, to take the necessary steps to secure the passage of an Act by the Legislature, changing the line of Marin county as in dictated by the resolution…

– Sonoma Democrat, December 16 1865

 

THE BENEFITS OF DIVISION. — To divide the County as proposed by the Argus, running the line at Santa Rosa Creek, will leave Sonoma county with a voting population of 1,500, while it will give to Marin 3,000 voters in addition to her present population. This would entitle the county of Marin to one Senator and three Assemblymen, while Sonoma would be represented by one Assemblyman. Again, the State and county taxes of Sonoma this year amount to $2.50 on the hundred. These added to the enormous Federal taxes paid by our citizens are no inconsiderable sum. Divide the county and incur an additional expense of transcribing records, removing county seats, the construction of new buildings, etc., and we will be called upon to pay at least one dollar per hundred in addition to what we are paying now And all for what? Simply to gratify the whims and caprices of a few disappointed politicians ot the McNabb, Cassiday stripe. Tax payers will do well to consider the responsibilities they are about to assume in petitioning for this change. If it is absolutely necessary that Petaluma should be made a seat of Government it would be better to change the present county seat than to ruin the county by dividing it up…

…If the Abolition ticket had been successful in this county, last September, nothing would have been said, at this time, about division. McNabb and Cassidy may attempt to ignore politics in the matter, but they belie their consciences whenever they assert that they are not actuated by personal political considerations in advocating this measure, and the people know it.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 16 1865

 

Unwise Agitation.

Contests concerning the local interests of different parts of a county are always of a bitter and unpleasant character, and therefore should never be undertaken without the strongest and best of reasons. This is particularly true of contests relative to the division of a county and the removal of the county seat. Nothing but the most absolute and imperative necessity, looking solely to the material benefit and accommodation ot the larger portion of the people, can excuse the agitation of such a question. In the case of Sonoma county this necessity does not exist; and yet we find a correspondent of the Petaluma Crescent in its issue ot Tuesday last, stirring up this strife in a boastful, unreasonable and intemperate communication. Without advancing a tangible reason to support his position, he demands that the county shall be divided and Petaluma made a county seat. This, we are told, must be done, and that hereafter the people of our neighboring city will support no man for office who is not in favor of making Petaluma “the county seat of a new county, to be comprised of territory surrounding her.” This idea is worthy the brain of a reckless radical politician, who knows that his party, being largely in the minority, has nothing to lose by breaking down party lines; but we are astonished to see it pass unrebuked through the columns of our Democratic contemporary. However, such a threat can alarm nobody, and we do not believe that our fellow citizens of Petaluma will give it their sanction.

Chief among the reasons (?) assigned by this enlightened correspondent for dividing the county and locating the county seat at Petaluma, are that sick persons cannot be immediately taken to the County Hospital, and the Supervisors allow no pay for “outside attendance” that when a man is shot or stabbed in an affray, and unable to settle his doctor’s bill, (it strikes us there is a good deal of physic in the communication) the unfortunate medico gets nothing, but it the party is arraigned before the Court, on a criminal charge, and cannot himself employ counsel, our legislators have provided a fund to pay an attorney to defend him. It is scarcely necessary to say this is stupid nonsense, and without any bearing upon the question. Petaluma is now within thirty minutes of the county seat; every tax-payer knows it would bankrupt the county for the Supervisors to allow bills for “outside attendance” on the sick; and finally, there is no provision whatever for the payment of attorneys appointed by the Court to defend impecunious parties.

No good can result from the agitation of the question of a division of the county and relocation of the county seat. It will embitter the minds of the people; array section against section; involve the expenditure of large sums of money, and prove a positive injury to all concerned. Petaluma tried it before, under more favorable circumstances, and signally failed…

– Sonoma Democrat, December 3 1870

 

The following petition far the creation of a new county is being circulated for signatures in the northern part of this county, and is being very generally signed.

To the Honorable Senate and Assembly of the State of California:

Whereas, It is not only the privilege, but the duty of a constituency to petition the law-making power to remedy any defect or make any change where it will be for the best interests of the community, we, the undersigned citizens of Sonoma county, therefore, respectfully petition your Honorable Bodies to consider and pass to enactment the bill offered herewith, entitled, “AN ACT TO CREATE THE COUNTY OF RUSSIAN RIVER AND DEFINE THE BOUNDARIES THEREOF,” for the reasons that follow, to-wit:

1. That the great extent of the present County of Sonoma renders it exceedingly inconvenient and expensive for citizens of remote parts of the County to visit the County Seat when required to do so by business or imperative legal summons.

2. That the great distance to be traveled in reaching the different parts of the County of Sonoma, with its present boundaries, greatly increases the cost of service of all processes of law over what the cost of such processes would be in the said proposed new Counties.

3. That the towns of Healdsburg and Petaluma are geographically, as well as by established lines of travel, the centers of the proposed new Counties, and easy of access from all parts thereof.

4. That the County Buildings at Santa Rosa are inconvenient and insufficient (with one exception, and that accommodates but one County officer), and in a short time must be replaced by new buildings at large expense to the County, whereas the expense of County Buildings for the proposed new Counties would be borne in great part by the voluntary contributions of tha citizens of Healdsburg and Petaluma.

5. That, after the proposed division shall be made, the smaller of the two Counties will be more extensive in area, greater in natural resources, and richer in assessable property than any one of many other Counties of California; and in population will be greater than any of thirty-four other Counties of the State.

6. That the vast extent of the County of Sonoma, as now existing (equal to that of the State of Rhode island), the expense and inconvenience of necessary journeys to the present County Seat, and the rapid growth of the County in wealth and population, have caused the almost unanimous opinion among its citizens that sooner or later a division of the county will be an imperative necessity; and it is therefore for the best interest of the whole people of the County that the division be made before new County Buildings shall be erected at the present County Seat at a great expenditure of money.

[Note. — Many of the undersigned, through misconception of the facts, were induced to sign a “Remonstrance” against the proposed creation of a new County, long before the circulation of this or any similar Petition.]

– Russian River Flag, February 1, 1872

 

NEW COUNTY MEETING HELD

Pursuant to a call issued by J. L. Camm of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce, upon request of a number of prominent Petalumans, a meeting of local citizens was held at the city hall there Friday evening for the purpose of discussing the advisability of inaugurating a “New County” movement. The Council chambers were well filled and the meeting was called to order by Mr. Camm. who stated the object and outlined the proposed new county plan. The project, as stated, was to form a new county, with Petaluma as the county seat, by taking that portion of Sonoma county south from a point north of Sonoma, including Penngrove, Bloomfield, Valley Ford and Bodega, and by taking that portion of Marin county lying north of a straight line running westerly from San Antonio creek to the ocean including the town of Tomales…

– Petaluma Argus, June 30, 1906

 

NEW COUNTY DIVISION PLAN
PETALUMA IS TO ATTACK LEGALITY OF PRESENT LAW

Petaluma is again planning to divide the county. The scheme has been quietly working for some time, and at a meeting to be held there on Wednesday evening of next week the plans of its promoters will be formally announced.

The present plan differs from the last one in that “full publicity” is to be the watchword.

During the closing days of the last session of the state legislature. attention was directed to a mysterious bill introduced by a representative from Los Angeles county simplifying the method by which counties might be divided. Upon investigation, the real sponsors of the measure were found to be certain prominent residents of Petaluma who desire to see Petaluma made a county seat and a new county formed out of the southern part of Sonoma county and the northern part of Marin.

The strong light of publicity directed toward the measure resulted in its defeat, and it was generally believed that nothing more would be heard of county division, at least for some time to come.

But it now appears that following the defeat of the measure here referred to, advocates of the plan to divide the county soon got to work in an effort to see what else could be done.

They consulted an attorney, who is said to have advised them that, in his opinion, the present law governing the division of counties in this state is unconstitutional in that it carries no enacting clause.

The present plan, therefore, is to attack the constitutionality of the present law and if the attack results successfully the old law will prevail.

The difference is that under the old law, only those desiring to form a new county have the right to vote on the proposition, while under the law as it now stands residents of the entire territory affected are allowed a vote.

In other words, if the present law is set aside only those living in the southern portion of Sonoma county and in the northern part of Marin, will have a right to vote on the question of dividing these counties and establishing a new one. And on the other hand, if the present law be upheld all the residents of Sonoma and Marin counties will have the right to vote on the proposition.

Present plans have not yet developed to a point where a name for the proposed new county has been agreed upon. It is understood, however, that “Petaluma county” is quite generally favored.

When the matter was under discussion before, George F. McNear, at one of the meetings, is said to have asked. ”What are you going to call this county?”

“We will call it McNear county, if you say so,” some one replied. “I have lived in Sonoma county a long time,” Mr. McNear is said to have remarked, “and am not sure that I would care to live in a county known by any other name.”

Advocates of the proposed new county will base their appeal upon the argument that better and more economical government can be obtained in a small county than in a large one. They will also contend that the population of Sonoma and Marin counties is increasing rapidly, and that the establishment of a new county government will not materially increase the rate of taxation in the territory affected. They contend that a good portion of northern Marin county already does business in Petaluma and that residents of that territory find it inconvenient to transact their private business in one place and their public business somewhere else.

There seems to be no question but that a determined effort is to be made to secure a division of the county along the lines above indicated, and that the constitutionality of the present law governing county division in this state will play an important part in determining the outcome. If the entire territory affected either one way or the other is permitted to vote on the question, there is little likelihood that the proposed new county will be established. If the people of Petaluma, southern Sonoma and northern Marin counties are given the entire say, however, the result may be different.

– Press Democrat, January 17 1920

 

CITIZENS MOVE TO FORM NEW COUNTY

Is the present county division of this state unconstitutional? Will the Supreme Court so declare?

Upon the answer to the foregoing questions hangs the fate of the proposition of creating a new county by taking certain territory from Sonoma and Marin counties. If the Supreme Court shall, when the time comes, declare the county division law unconstitutional, then an election will be held to ascertain the will of the people residing in the new-county territory. If the Supreme Court decides the law IS constitutional, then some other method of acquiring a new county will have to be adopted.

The present law requires a sixty-five per cent vote in new-county territory and, in addition, a fifty percent vote in old-county territory not included in the new county. Under such a law, division of counties is ninety-nine and nine-tenths per cent impossible. Should this law be declared unconstitutional, the law of 1907 would be restored. Under that law, a sixty-five per cent vote in new-county territory would be sufficient without a vote in old-county territory.

Three local attorneys and some of the best constitutional lawyers in the state have submitted opinions to the local new-county committee, which has been in existence for over one year, that the present county division law will be held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court if the matter is presented in good faith by the people desiring to create a new county.

At a meeting of citizens interested in the formation of a new county, with Petaluma as the county seat, held at the Fraternal Brotherhood hall on Wednesday evening, the foregoing situation was fully set forth by various speakers, after which, by unanimous vote, it was decided to proceed with the new-county plans so as to present the matter, in good faith, to the Supreme Court. In order to accomplish this result, petitions for the formation of the new county, signed by fifty per cent of the voters residing in the new-county, will be presented to the boards of supervisors of Sonoma and Marin counties. The boards of supervisors cannot do otherwise than refuse to call the elections prayed for in these petitions. The petitioners will then go to the Supreme Court on mandamus proceedings to compel the boards of supervisors to call the elections under the law of 1907, which provides that if the people of any given section of the state, with certain restrictions as to population, desire to form a new county they can do so, provided sixty-five per cent of the electors vote for the formation of such new county. The matter of preparing and circulating the petitions and the general conduct of the new-county campaign was placed in the hands of a Committee of Fifteen to be named by the chair.

…Homer W. Wood, originator of the new-county movement, presided. He explained in great detail the various steps needful for the formation of new counties and what has been done in the past by the new-county committee. He also set forth the various points of law upon which the attorneys base their contention that the present county division law is unconstitutional. These points will be covered in a separate article either in this or future issues of the Argus.

Editor Wood also explained that the effort to have the present county division law declared unconstitutional, thereby restoring “self-determination of peoples” in this regard, is statewide and that a number of cities over the state have shown a willingness to lend whatever assistance is needed, both in coin and legal talent, to help the people of southern Sonoma and northern Marin counties win back their “birthright.”

The purpose of last night’s meeting was to reach a final decision as to the advisability of launching the new-county movement and taking such steps as are needful to get a decision from the Supreme Court. This matter having been disposed of favorably and unanimously, and by the unanimous adoption of the address to the voters published elsewhere in this issue of the Argus, many matters relative to the proposed new county were discussed.

Many names were suggested, among them being Petaluma, Marisoma, Marinoma, Novato, Tomales, etc. The matter of a name, which must be inserted in the petition, was left to the Committee of Fifteen.

The boundaries of the new county, which must also be set forth in the petition, were tentatively outlined as follows:

Starting at the mouth of Salmon Creek, draw a straight line one mile north of Cotati to the crest of Sonoma mountain; thence in a general southeasterly direction, following the trend of the mountain range to Sears Point and San Pablo Bay; thence follow the trend of the San Pablo Bay coastline to a point one-half mile south of Novato; thence slightly southwest via Nicasio, between Olema and Point Reyes Station to the head of Tomales Bay; thence follow the eastern shore of Tomales Bay and the coast line of the Pacific Ocean to the point of beginning.

There will be some variations of these boundaries in order to follow township, school district or election precinct lines, the final decision for the purposes of the petition being left to the Committee of Fifteen.

The estimated area is 600 square miles and the population 20,000.

The matter of taxation was discussed at great length. Editor Wood and others, who have been studying the question for over a year, were very positive in their assertions that there would be a decrease in taxation in the new county, so far as the Sonoma county portion thereof is concerned, and no increase in the annexed portion of Marin county. This is a matter that will be discussed at length in future issues of the Argus. The Committee of Fifteen will also promulgate much information along these lines.

As to the necessity of acquiring a new court house, the opinion was expressed at the meeting that the immediate needs of the new county would be provided for by the enterprising citizens of Petaluma without cost to those living outside the city.

As to the amount of the bonded indebtedness to be inherited by the new county from the old, it was explained that none of this indebtedness to be inherited by the new county from the old. It was explained that none of this indebtedness would fall upon the people of northern Marin county; that the people of southern Sonoma county would assume responsibility for that portion of the county road bond issue actually expended within the new county; that probably the Sonoma portion of the new county would not continue to pay court house bands. This matter would be adjusted by three commissioners, one to be appointed by each of the old counties and a third by the state.

Many columns of space would be required to impart to the readers of the Argus the mass of information resulting from the discussion at Wednesday night’s meeting. As the campaign for signatures to the new-county petition progresses, our readers will be fully and impartially enlightened upon all the phases of the project.

– Petaluma Argus, January 22 1920

 

TO THE VOTERS OF SOUTHERN SONOMA AND NORTHERN MARIN COUNTIES

A movement having for its purpose the formation of a new county, Petaluma as the county seat, has been under way for some time. The movement has now reached a stage where its success is reasonably assured. Therefore, we, the undersigned, respectfully urged all voters to sign, when it is presented to them, a petition for the formation of the proposed new county, said petition being the first necessary legal step in that direction. In support of this request, we respectfully represent:

1. That the proposed new county will afford its residents and taxpayers better government, better roads, and a larger measure of participation in the management and control of their affairs as a smaller cost than under present conditions.

2. That the territory proposed to be embraced in the proposed new county is now so detached from the seats of government at Santa Rosa and San Rafael that the people residing therein have not, and cannot have, that degree of intimate relationship with the conduct of their affairs so essential for true progress and proper development.

3. That experience teaches that whenever and wherever large counties have been divided and new counties created the resultant development has been many fold greater than could have occurred without such division, with no increase in taxation.

Petaluma is today the social and business center of this area proposed for a new county and should be the governmental center. There is no just reason why the people of this section should not govern themselves in a new county rather than to be a minority of two counties. Likewise, there is no just reason why this movement should be opposed by anyone.

For the foregoing and other substantial reasons which will be submitted to the voters of southern Sonoma and northern Marin counties in due season, we have hereunto attached our signatures this 21st day of January, 1920.

[56 names]

– Petaluma Argus, January 22 1920

 

SOTOYOME COUNTY WITH HEALDSBURG THE SEAT OF GOVERNMENT. WHAT!

A number of Healdsburgers are watching with interest the attempt of Petaluma to have a new county out of the southern end of Sonoma county and the northern portion of Marin county. Petaluma will attack the constitutionality of the new law which says that the whole county should vote on it instead of only the within the proposed county. Should Petaluma be successful in her contention, there is every probability that a similar movement will be inaugurated in Northern Sonoma looking toward the formation of a new county in this portion of California with Healdsburg as the county seat.

Such a plan has been under consideration for a number of years by some of the large thinking people of the community who have wearied of being the tail-piece of Santa Rosa’s kite and seeing that town hog every thing In sight. The plan to be followed here will be similar to that inaugurated in Petaluma, that of getting a petition signed by at least fifty per cent of the voters in the interested districts, which petition will be presented in proper form.

The principal part of the tax monies raised go toward the building of roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, a jail, if one is needed, and in the formation of a new county, road taxes are expended only on roads within the new boundaries. In other words the taxes we would pay would be utilized in our own district. At present large sums of money go into the pockets of Santa Rosa merchants for county supplies that come out of the pockets of taxpayers in and around Healdsburg. For instance a lot of taxpayers’ money is going into the well-lined pockets of the Santa Rosa printers which facts can be easily verified and mighty little of it gets into any Healdsburg print shops, as well as other business houses here.

The Petalumans held an enthusiastic meeting Wednesday night and the legal preliminaries are being carefully arranged. The list of signers to the petitions so far shows the leading citizens of southern Sonoma are taking hold with a rush. Santa Rosa is genuinely worried over the outlook and one newspaper in particular is devoting much valuable space to ridiculing the idea and hurling diatribes and anathemas in large chunks.

The boundaries of the new county in Northern Sonoma would be along a line drawn east and west through or near Windsor and would include a large and valuable territory, the tax money from which would carry the new county along in fine shape, whereas now it is scattered over a lot of poor territory in other sections. The plans are being held in abeyance until the Petaluma people are to determine their legal status.

– Healdsburg Enterprise, January 24 1920

 

COMMITTEE OF FIFTEEN MEETS

The Committee of Fifteen for the formation of a new county, met at the offices of Attorney F. A Meyer Saturday evening for the purpose of making plans for the circulation of the petition to call an election of the voters, the petition to be used for the purpose of testing the constitutionality of the present law providing for the division of counties.

Reorganization resulted in the election of the old officers, as follows: Chairman. Homer W. Wood, Secretary, F. J. Burke, Treasurer, E. E. Drees.

After an outline by the chairman of the course to he pursued, the first order of business was the choosing of a name for the new county. Many names were considered, among them being Bay Coast, Northbay, American Fertile, Chanticleer, San Pablo, Petaluma and San Antonio.

The first vote was taken on San Pablo, the committee being almost evenly divided on this name. A second vote was taken and the result was 5 to 4 against it. The next name considered was San Antonio. This name received seven votes for and three against. So without further voting this name was adopted.

San Antonio is a historic name, a Spanish name, a northern Marin name, and the name of the creek that will flow almost thru the center of the proposed new county. so it is particularly appropriate….

– Petaluma Argus, January 26 1920

 

Now Santa Rosa IS In Bad
Healdsburg Wants a County
Joins Division Agitators

Oh. gosh! Now we are in bad!

Petaluma doesn’t like us, and neither does Healdsburg.

Both of ’em have announced campaigns for new counties.

And it looks like Sonoma and Cloverdale and Sebastopol may get the same idea, and then look what we would be up against.

We’d have to take our pretty court house and our nice Ionic county jail out in our own back yard and play all by ourselves.

It would be a pretty bad situation all right, alright. If it were not for the fact that we can still retaliate. After all the rest of them get through trying to divorce themselves from us we can still do as well as they did, and try and divorce ourselves from ourselves.

This talk of county division Is all damphoolishness, anyway. According to the law it can’t he done, because Sonoma county has to be left with 1200 square miles and 25,000 population, and you simply cannot figure any combination like that without Santa Rosa in it unless you draw a nice puzzle picture line all around Santa Rosa, carefully connecting all the other towns of the county by a corridor of land. And then you’d have to steal half of Napa and Mendocino counties to get away with, and it seems like the people of those counties don’t much like the idea of breaking up their happy families.

The fact of the matter seems to be that some other parts of Sonoma county are jealous of Santa Rosa, just like Chicago is jealous of New York and Los Angeles is jealous of San Francisco. They can’t understand how Santa Rosa stays the biggest town in the county, when all we have is “boobs,” and they have all the smart and clever people residing within their borders.

Petaluma is adopting a real dignified stand in her divorce trial from Santa Rosa and Sonoma county, and it’s just as well. Santa Rosa has no particular quarrel with Petaluma people. and probably wouldn’t mind letting them go and play with their new county, if it were not for the fact that it can’t be done legally, and it seems so foolish for anyone to say that two families, or two counties, can live as cheaply as one. It ought to be made a crime to hand out “pap” like that to the voters.

But a couple of Healdsburg editors – and Gee! but it’s hard to believe they’re serious are openly advocating county division so that Santa can’t “hog everything,” and directly accusing county seat newspapers of grabbing all the county printing business (just as if we still wouldn’t have the county business if they were successful in taking their own county home to play with) and of course, (this is a secret) they never tell the world that the reason the county seat papers get certain county business. is because the county seat papers have the only equipment for the work.

And. as far as the whole of county division goes, seems like there never was a small town anywhere on the face of the globe but that thought its bigger neighbor was trying to “hog” everything in sight. Why. even right here in Santa Rosa, some of the most widely known people in town go to San Francisco to buy their shoes, stockings, furniture. etc. so why blame Healdsburg and Petaluma people if they come to Santa Rosa to buy.

– Press Democrat, January 27 1920

 

M’NEAR COUNTY BEING OPPOSED
Southern Marin County Bitterly Opposed to County Division for Giving New County to Petaluma.

SAN RAFAEL, Jan 28.- McNear county, the new county which Petaluma is proposing to slice out of Marin and Sonoma counties, will meet with bitter opposition from the entire southern section of Marin county. The opposition has been taking form of late and will cumulate in a meeting which is to be held In San Rafael within the next few days to formulate plans for an organized fight against the division of Marin county.

The plan will be to fight the declaring of the present law unconstitutional, which if accomplished, would mean that a majority vote of those within the proposed new county would he all that is necessary to make the change.

Under the law as it stands now a 65 per cent vote of those within the district of the proposed new county together with a 50 per cent vote of all electors in both counties would be necessary. San Rafael is preparing to wage its fight against a declaration that the present law is unconstitutional.

– Press Democrat, January 29 1920

 

NOW CLOVERDALE AFTER COUNTY SEAT
CITIZENS NOT WILLING TO BE TAIL TO HEALDSBURG KITE THEY SAY

The Cloverdale Reveille, in commenting on proposal of the county of Sotoyome with Healdsburg as the county seat, has this to say:

“With Petaluma working on plans to secede from Sonoma county and establishing a little county that will be very much her own comes the announcement that Healdsburgers also have ambitious plans in a similar direction. Those at the head of the Sotoyome metropolis would slash a slice off old Sonoma at Windsor and create another county out of what is now northern Sonoma. These plans, of course, are contingent upon the Petalumans succeeding in having the present law creating new counties declared unconstitutional. If our southern neighbors are successful, then the Healdsburgers declare they will go to bat.

“In sounding out some of Cloverdale’s prominent citizens, they declare themselves as not altogether satisfied with Healdsburg’s program. They decline to be the tail to Healdsburg’s kite. If old Sonoma — the best county in the golden state —- is going to be mutilated by our good friends of Petaluma and Healdsburg, they say they are not going to sit idly by and watch the surgical operation without having a say where the cuts shall be made.

“They have no objection to Petaluma being made the county seat of San Antonio but the don’t like the idea of Healdsburg being the county seat of Sotoyome. Cloverdale is going to be just as generous with Mendocino’s landscape as Petaluma is with Marin. Why not cop off a few hundred square miles from southern Mendocino’s fertile acres, taking in Hopland and Booneville? Southern Mendocino’s natural trading place is Cloverdale. It would be a distinct advantage to them to come in. This would give sufficient territory to form a county that would have ample resources to give it high standing among the counties of the state.

“And the location of the county seat? Well, Cloverdale is the logical place.”

– Healdsburg Tribune, January 30 1920

 

DIVISIONISTS CHANGE PLANS

SAN RAFAEL, Feb. 23 —County officials received word today from the committee of fifteen in charge of the Petaluma movement for a new county, that the plan of including a portion of northern Marin in the proposed district has been abandoned. The reason given is that it will be impossible to establish a tax rate as low as Marin county’s outside rate, which is $1.88. The minimum for the new county, it was stated, will be 10 cents higher than this amount…

– Press Democrat, February 24 1920

 

‘PETALUMA’ NAME OF NEW COUNTY

PETALUMA. March 6. – The “Committee of Fifteen” at a meeting held in this city Saturday evening, decided definltely that the name of the new county which they propose to slice from Sonoma county will be named “Petaluma County.”

The committee decided to drop the plan to take any portion of Marin county for the present, because of the fact that the new county cannot hope to have a tax rate as low as Marin county has, although the rate figured now will be about 80 cents on the hundred dollars below the present Sonoma county rate.

According to the present plans of the committee the line on the north will be drawn almost due east and west from a point about a mile north of Cotati, running east to the Napa line and south to the southern boundary of Sonoma county. The line will cross the Sonoma valley near the Eldrldge home and will not include Kenwood or Glen Ellen. The committee expects to start a campaign of education in the near future in the Sonoma valley and also in the Valley of the Moon.

– Press Democrat, March 9 1920

 

NEW COUNTY PLAN FOUGHT BY WOMEN

That Petaluma is going to meet with some opposition to its plan of dividing Sonoma county and especially to the plan of including Sonoma valley within its boundaries is evidenced by a resolution recently passed by the Women’s Club of Sonoma, the county’s historical city. The resolution has been forwarded to the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce and is as follows:

Whereas, there is a movement under way to divide Sonoma county, whereby Petaluma and contiguous territory is to be the nucleus of a new county,to he known as San Antonio county: and whereas, Sonoma Valley has been invited to join in said movement and to become a part of the new county of San Antonio; and

Whereas, Petaluma has expressed a desire to know something of the sentiment of Sonoma Valley toward the plan to include Sonoma Valley; now, I therefore,

Be It Resolved, that the Sonoma Valley Women’s Club, representing over 125 members in every section of the Sonoma Valley, deplores the division of Sonoma county, one of the old and majestic counties of our Golden State, and expressed most decided opposition to; any effort on the part of Petaluma to include in their plans Sonoma Valley, whose history is so interwoven with the county which bears its name that it can never he disassociated with it…

(Signed) AMELIA BATES, Chairman of Committee on Resolutions.

– Press Democrat, March 16 1920

 

SONOMA PEOPLE ESCAPE CLUTCH OF NEW COUNTY
Committee of Fifteen Abandons Designs on Resort Section; Hostile Sentiment Given as Reason for Changing Plan.

PETALUMA, May 4.—At a meeting of the Committee of Fifteen in charge of the proposed new county at the law office of F. A. Meyer on Saturday evening, a change was made in the boundary lines for the division of Sonoma county, whereby it was decided to eliminate the City of Sonoma and the resort section of Sonoma valley.

The northern line of the proposed county will go from the Pacific ocean east to the Sonoma creek in the Sonoma valley, thence southerly following the meanderings of Sonoma Creek to Napa street, thence easterly to the corporate line of the City of Sonoma, thence southerly along the city line to the south corner of the City of Sonoma, thence easterly near the boundary line of the City of Sonoma to the Napa line, thence following the Napa, Solano and Marin county lines to the point of beginning.

The change in the boundary line was made owing to the fact that the people in the City of Sonoma are desirous of remaining with the old county. The proposed county according to revised plans, will include El Verano, San Luis, Vineburg, Schellville, Wingo, Fairview, Sears Point. The boundary lines as laid out by the committee will take in practically all the ranches in Sonoma valley.

– Press Democrat, May 5 1920

 

SONOMA PEOPLE MAY FLIRT WITH COUNTY OF NAPA
Valley Residents Say They’d Rather Join Napa Than Petaluma’s Proposed County, and Good Roads Cited as Reason

VINEBURG. May 14.— At a meeting held here last night Secretary Kerrigan of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce and H. H. Wood of the Petaluma Courier were the speakers to arouse interest in the proposed county division. They told their audiences of some forty persons that the new county could take in any part or the whole of Sonoma Valley even though the valley returned 100 per cent vote against it, provided 65 per cent of the people in the proposed new county voted in favor. In such case the only way Sonoma Valley could stay out would be by securing 50 per cent of the voters of the opposing district to sign a remonstrance against being taken into the new county.

There was a strong sentiment in favor of this valley uniting with Napa county, if division is to come, on account of good highway, the nearness to a good city with all county buildings already erected and with a tax rate lower that the proposed new county advocates are offering.

Three signatures, it is understood were secured to the petition for division.

– Press Democrat, May 15 1920

 

NEW COUNTY DIVISION PLANS MADE

WILL BRING BODEGA IN NEW COUNTY LINES, START NEW PETITIONS

The Committee of Fifteen, which has charge of the work of getting up the petitions to be submitted to supervisors seeking the division of Sonoma county and the formation of the County of Petaluma from the southern portion, decided at a meeting Saturday to recast the boundary lines and commence all over again the work of securing signatures for the petition.

It was announced after the meeting Saturday that the action was taken at the earnest request of half a dozen representative citizens of Bodega township who had meet with the committee and urged, that all of Bodega township and a small fraction of Redwood township be included in the territory to become a part of the new county of Petaluma. They promised their own support to the movement and the support of others whom they had conferred with.

The men who attended the meeting of the Committee of Fifteen and presented the matter were F. A. Cunninghame, H. C. McCaughey, Attorney Walter McCaughey, A. L. Tomasi, R. P. Baker, of Bodega; C. A. LeBaron of Valley Ford, A. H. Meeker of Camp Meeker. They declared that the sentiment in Bodega township was strongly in favor or uniting with the proposed new county and that it should be included at this time for the good of all concerned.

CHANGES IN BOUNDARY

The delegation submitted a written proposal to so change the boundary line of the proposed new county as to include the towns of Bodega, Occidental, Camp Meeker and Monte Rio. The proposed new boundary which will be drawn and again submitted for signatures will commence at a point in the Pacific Ocean three miles off the mouth of Russian River and follow that stream to a point a short distance east of Monte Rio and then south or slightly southeasterly to a point about ten miles east of Bodega and then due east to the Napa county line.

This would mean that the line which runs just north of Cotati directly westward to the Pacific Ocean will be changed about six miles west of that place and turn northward to the Russian River.

TO START WORK ALL OVER

It was said at Petaluma Saturday that the original boundary petition only lacked one or two hundred names to be ready for presentation to the board of supervisors, but that with the promises made by residents of Bodega it was considered far better to drop the petition entirely and prepare a new one to take in all the new territory proposed, as if would make a larger and better county in all respects.

It is admitted in Petaluma that the proposed new county is still far in the distance, as it is known that even after the petition is submitted to the board it will be rejected and then will come a hard and bitterly contented legal battle in an effort to have declared unconstitutional the present statute on county division as well as constitutional restrictions before it can be submitted to a vote of the people.

– Press Democrat, August 1 1920

 

BLOOMFIELD OPPOSED TO SEPARATION

[…]

– Press Democrat, August 21 1920

 

PETITION FOR NEW COUNTY “OVER THE TOP”

On Monday morning the New County petition went “over the top.” The 3,000 signatures needed to make the petition valid for presentation to the Board of Supervisors had been secured at that time….

…When the petition is filed with the Board of Supervisors it will be rejected by the board as not being in compliance with the present law governing the division of counties. An appeal will then be taken to the supreme court on a writ of mandate, in an endeavor to have the present law declared unconstitutional and to have the law of 1909 restored…

– Petaluma Argus, January 3 1921

 

COMPLETING PLANS FOR NEW COUNTY PETITION

…It is not generally known that a new county division act, was introduced in the legislature prior to its recess, by Senator Dennett of Modesto, and will come up for passage at the final half of the session next month. This act will provide for the formation of new counties when the decision so to do is confirmed by the vote of the people of the territory affected…

– Petaluma Argus, February 4 1921

 

NEW COUNTY PLEA LOSES FIRST ROUND

The petition to the board of supervisors for an election to submit the question of the formation of the proposed new Petaluma County was denied by the board yesterday morning, on the grounds that the petition had not been signed by 65 per cent of the qualified electors of the county at large, also it appears upon its face to reduce the area of Sonoma county to less than 1200 square miles, and does not comply with the statutes of the state relative to the organization and classification of new counties…

…The Senate County Government committee at Sacramento has amended the new county division bill pending before it so as to make it a measure to strengthen the present laws and cure any defects it may have, according to word received in this county, and it is expected that the measure will he passed by the legislature before the supreme court can pass upon the writ of mandate from the petitioners, in which case they will not gain anything by their efforts up to this period.

– Press Democrat, April 16 1921

 

Did the New County Committee of Fifteen make a fatal mistake when it outlined the New County area by making it so large as to reduce the area remaining in Sonoma county under 1200 square miles? … The matter of area remaining in the old county is the only instance in which the New County Committee did not comply with the law of 1907 which must be restored if we are ever to get a new county. This being true, it is feared in some quarters that both laws of 1907 and 1909, will be declared unconstitutional in which event the only way in which counties could be divided would be by act of the legislature.

– Petaluma Argus, August 21 1921

 

COUNTY DIVISION GIVEN SETBACK IN SUPREME COURT DECISION

[article only says analysis to come]

– Petaluma Argus, November 12 1921

 

The decision of the supreme court in the New County case decided nothing except that the board of supervisors will not be required to call the election petition[ed] for. The legal points raised in the case are untouched by the court…As matters now stand, we are just where we were before we inaugurated the New County movement. There are still good and sufficient reasons upon which to base a new petition for a new county…the New County movement is just getting a good start. We have “all the time there is” to finish it.

– Petaluma Argus, November 16 1921

 

PETALUMA DIVISIONISTS WILL CONTINUE FIGHT TO SEPARATE SONOMA COUNTY

While checked in plans for the division of Sonoma county by reason of the decision of the supreme court announced Saturday, the Petaluma county divisionists have not given up, and will keep on fighting, it was announced yesterday.

The opinion rendered by the court has been received and is not regarded as satisfactory by Petalumans because its practical effect is to decide nothing except the bare question of denying the writ sought to compel the supervisors to call a county division election. Attorney E. J. Dole, representing the divisionists, received a copy of the opinion yesterday.

In referring to the case, the Petaluma Courier of this morning will say as follows:

“From the standpoint of the petitioner. the opinion is extreme!’ unsatisfactory, as its practical effect is to decide nothing except the bare question of denying the writ.

“The court expressly reserves all questions of the constitutionality of the various acts that were raised In the argument.

“The court merely holds that If the acts are unconstitutional that there is no law by which a new county can be created, and if not unconstitutional, then petitioners have not compiled with the law.

“The proponents of the new county and the lawyers who handled the case have been expecting a decision one way or the other as to whether the county division laws were partly or entirely unconstitutional. If entirely unconstitutional, then the legislature would be compelled to pass a good law, rather than one that would prevent county division as in the past.

While it is claimed that the supreme court studiously avoided saying whether the laws were unconstitutional or not, those who understand the matter believe that either both laws are unconstitutional or that the supreme court justices are divided in their opinion as to whether the part of the law of 1907 and all of the amendments of 1909 are unconstitutional as contended by the lawyers of Petaluma in the case.

“Why the supreme court should leave the matter in such a period of uncertainty is a mystery, unless it is that the justices were divided, which is often the case. The opinion has been expressed by different ones that the supreme court justices were divided from the fact that the dismissal of the writ of mandate was so late in forthcoming.

“The case was finally argued and submitted on the 15th day of August. Usually there is a quick decision in such proceedings, but nothing was heard from this case for three months lacking three days, and then comes what is almost no decision at all.

WILL KEEP ON FIGHTING

“While the proponents of the new county have had no conference as to what will be the next procedure, it is expected that the fight will be kept up. Perhaps another court procedure will be determined upon to force the hands of the supreme court for a decision as to whether the entire law is unconstitutional or not. It the 1909 and 1907 laws are both unconstitutional, then the legislature will be compelled to pass a good law under which we can operate and carry the formation of a new county on to a successful conclusion.

About fifteen other towns are as strongly interested in the matter as is Petaluma, and it is not thought that the fight will ever be dropped until the legal tangle is unravelled and this state has on the statute books a proper county division law, the same as is in existence in eastern states.

– Press Democrat, November 16 1921

 

North Marin Seeks to Form New County

Irked at being ignored by county officials in San Rafael, a group of dissident Northern Marin farmers and dairymen yesterday declared that they would pursue their proposal to secede from Marin and form a new county with southern Sonoma county and have Petaluma as the county seat.

“We’ll be back,” spokesmen said yesterday in referring to the invitation of the startled Petaluma chamber of commerce for them to meet with it again. A small but determined group of ranchers laid the new county proposal before the Petaluma chamber Monday.

David Rogers, publisher of the Haywood Press at Pt. Reyes and frequent critic of the board of supervisors, was one of the delegation, Also included were Capt. A. S. Oko of Inverness, a retried merchant marine skipper who carried refugees to Israel, and two others.

The new county would be named “Drake,” or possibly “Tomales” or “Petaluma.” It would include all of Northern Marin except the Novato area and would extend down the seacoast as far as Stinson Beach. Oko said that the group would continue with their plans and form committees to gather support and sound out public opinion.

As for Petaluma – the plan was received with “open mouths and considerable amazement,” according to Ed Fratini, president of the Petaluma chamber.

“But we listened with a great deal of interest and have invited them to return at any time,” he said.

Courthouse officials in San Rafael yesterday predicted that the move would be short-lived and pointed out that a similar suggestion was made about 27 years ago. Both geographically and economically, southern Sonoma and northwestern Marin areas are closer than Northern and Southern Marin. Essentially dairying, agricultural, and poultry farms, the area has long felt that it has not received enough consideration from “resort-minded” Southern Marin county officials.

Sentiment In Northern Marin in recent months has been against the acquisition of Angel Island and the construction of the Marin district hospital at Greenbrae. Chambers of commerce of southern and central Marin cities have likewise been demanding a master county highway plan because of a feeling that too much county money is being spent on little-traveled Northern Marin roads.

– Mill Valley Record, April 14 1950

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