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ALL OUR FUTURES PAST

Santa Rosa is an optimistic town, and has been since the first trains chugged into Railroad Square in the 1870s. But it’s not truly a virtue; that optimism is rooted in our bigshots having relentless ambitions to make us into an economic powerhouse which would make them rich. Someday, in their fever dreams, Santa Rosa will be a great metropolis anchoring the northern end of the Bay Area. True, such growth or clout might not happen tomorrow, but it’s surely just over the horizon – or so the town’s nabobs have told us, our parents, our grandparents and even our great-grandparents.

That may be why the Press Democrat had a fondness for stories predicting Santa Rosa’s bonny future. Other newspapers also printed those sorts of articles, usually on special anniversaries such as a town’s centennial. But the PD needed no excuse to gaze into a crystal ball and their forecasts would pop up at any time.

I’ve collected a dozen from the first half of the 20th century (likely there are many more to find) and I love these things; usually they’re a mix of whiz-bang gadgets that are nearly magical, loopy ideas culled from science fiction and wild predictions which sometimes actually did come true. Common threads include flying cars, that television will make us smarter and better people and nobody will really have to work hard. Women’s fashions are always going to be very, very strange.

vogueman(RIGHT: “Man of the Future” by Gilbert Rohde had an antenna hat for “snatching radio and Omega waves from the ether” and wore a telephone on his chest. The “solo-suit” is considered the first example of wearable tech. Rohde was best known as a modernist furniture designer. Vogue, Feb. 1939)

The wildest prediction appeared here earlier in its own article, “SANTA ROSA IN THE YEAR 3000.” Author John Tyler Campbell, an attorney who penned the city’s first charter and later became a politician and diplomat, predicted in 1913 that a “great upheaval” in the Pacific Ocean would close the Golden Gate Strait. Fortunately, “around the year 1925 Sonoma county built a canal connecting the Russian river to the Petaluma river, through the Laguna, Mark West and Santa Rosa creeks. It was big enough to handle the largest ocean steamships…” Santa Rosa thus became the major seaport on the coast, and in the year 2905 the nation’s capitol was moved from Washington D.C. and “built on Taylor mountain after it was graded down to an elevated plateau.” Give it a read – it’s pretty wacky stuff.

Here’s a sample of some of the other futuristic visions that appeared in the Press Democrat:

1928 → 1953   Lee W. Nelson was a Press Democrat city reporter in the late 1920s-early 1930s before becoming an editor at the Healdsburg Tribune. His October 28, 1928 semi-humor essay is on par with what many others believed about radio evolving into an internet-like media appliance.

“A telephontophone service” is now available to PD subscribers. “Users of this service will now receive their papers the instant they are off the press, as the telephotophone transmits the copies directly to home radio sets equipped with the special attachment…where they are recorded on photostatic plates. After the paper has been read the plates are cleaned by a special chemical preparation and replaced in the receiver to be used again.”

This week the California Theater will be broadcasting “Primitive Passion” on its private wave length. Anyone with a season key can watch it at home, but “One-week keys, which will bring the theater programs for seven days into the home by attaching the key to the radio, are on sale at the box office.”

He wrote the fictional Mrs. Carrie Waite Leightly was divorcing her husband for lying about “going on a fishing trip to Michigan for the day. But Mrs. Leightly, while sitting in her parlor, casually looking over the world with her radio television, discovered him at the Folies Bergère in Paris with a bold blonde.”

The city and county have enacted new air and motor reform laws, “making it a misdemeanor for private or taxi planes to use Fourth street or Mendocino avenue for landing or taking off between 6AM and 6PM on weekdays.” It is also illegal to operate commercial landing fields on buildings less than 25 stories in height, so apparently we have skyscrapers in 1953.

“Construction of a helicopter-rocket catapult at the Santa Rosa airport was completed today…” This means we have direct flights “to the nearest planets” (Mars and Saturn are mentioned) and no longer need making the “long trip to San Francisco” which takes twelve minutes.

Reporter Nelson seems to have believed Prohibition would never end and finished his satire with a very Roaring Twenties view of the future: “SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 13, 1953 – Mortimer C. de Kay, noted sociologist visiting here today, declared the younger generation is ‘going to the dogs.’ ‘Fast roadster planes, one-armed piloting, petting parties on the planets, jazz music and liquor are doing the evil,’ he asserted.”

1935 → 1985/2010   Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley penned many editorials in the 1930s promising TV was right around the corner, but in this July 17, 1935 op/ed he predicted what life would be like 50-75 years from then. Some of it misses the target (doors will open and close “automatically by invisible rays”) but mostly it’s the usual stuff with everyone flying everywhere and living lives of leisure:

Air-conditioning in summer and automatic heating in winter will be provided everywhere. Our power will probably be drawn from the sun. The automobile of that day, swift, light and sure, will be propelled at small cost with little or no inconvenience. Television will be part of the radio or telephone, in every home.

Another part of the column, however, leaves us wondering what the hell was going on in the Finley household: “The people of that day will look back upon what we are doing now and laugh at our crudeness and simplicity…They will joke about the way grandpa and grandma had to get along with only one bathroom downstairs, and two, perhaps, on the upper floor.”

Finley ends on a weird utopian/apocalyptic note – which is quite a bit of acrobatics: “California will be a veritable empire of itself, unique, offering climatic and cultural advantages to be found no other place on the continent. Or there may be no California. Who can tell?” (July 17, 1935)

1956 → 2056   The houses of tomorrow are all gonna be like double-wides – albeit nice ones.

“Cal” Caulkins was Santa Rosa’s top architect c. 1935-1960 and when he came back from WWII he had a vision to redesign almost all of Santa Rosa’s downtown core from the ground up. His plan was the city’s last hope to remake itself into a model civic center; what happened to that design was told here in “THE SANTA ROSA THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN.”

Caulkins thought in the mid-21st century “houses will be built of a wide variety of standard aluminum, insulated sections, colored as desired.” These pre-fabricated parts are completely finished at the factories and the interlocking sections can be easily assembled at the building site without the need of skilled labor.

Because of the many sections and colors the design possibilities will be almost unlimited. Natural climate will have practically no affect on comfort in the future home. The house will be completely sealed. All air will be automatically conditioned, that is washed, adjusted humidity, medically treated, filtered, heated or cooled to any desired temperature and without delay.

Land is still expensive, tho, so these houses are “very compact.” But no need to feel claustrophobic – the whole house is able to rotate, so the view can shift as desired. (Pity the poor mail carriers and delivery people hunting for the front door, sometimes having to thrash through shrubbery – or does the landscaping rotate too?)

Only bedrooms and bathrooms have fixed partitions; the rest of the interior is separated by movable screens. “Much of the furniture including beds and chairs and tables will be out of sight, and will appear at the wave of the hand in a particular area.” There are no lamps or other light fixtures; the whole ceiling glows, its brightness set with dimmers.

In Caulkins’ future there are no utility bills except for water. All power is supplied by a small nuclear plant that came with the house. There’s no sewer because wastewater is “flushed into a container filled with chemicals.” Next time you visit a Porta Potty, think of it as offering a whiff of the future.

Cal Caulkins "House of Tomorrow." Press Democrat, Oct. 21, 1956
Cal Caulkins “House of Tomorrow.” Press Democrat, Oct. 21, 1956

1956 → 2056   Like the Caulkins prediction, this opinion on future fashion comes from the Oct. 21, 1956 centennial edition of the Press Democrat. (The PD was founded in 1897. Why they claimed – and continue to claim – their roots go back to the disreputable, bigoted Sonoma Democrat is beyond me.)

Elizabeth Case, a top-shelf Hollywood fashion designer who resettled here a couple of years earlier, thought the women of 2056 would be “taller and more slender than today” thanks to exercise and improved processed foods. “People will know how to live longer so that the mature body of a sixty-year-old woman will be active, firm and far more beautiful than at the formative age of 16.”

casefashionIt is an “era of comfort and good taste” without corsets (“waistlines will be diminutive naturally”) and the “freedom costume of tomorrow” might be knee breeches with a lingerie blouse – although sans that tacky “TV cleavage display” – or the woman of tomorrow might “go completely feminine in short, full skirts.”

The “ruffled petticoats so popular today should be even more so 100 years hence” and historical styles could also be revived; “hoop skirts may make a simulated comeback, but not of whalebone and crinoline. They will be purely inflationary push button style.” Ladies, guard that remote control from falling into a prankster’s hand.

“The combination of chemistry and agricultural waste will establish a wondrous foundation for a whole new series of ‘Phenomenal Phabrics,'” particularly in swimwear. “Woven of exquisite leaf pattern, the swimsuit is actually made partly of waste wood pulp and sheds water like a duck. It is also sensitive to ultraviolet rays so the wearer receives an even suntan.”

Miss Redwood Empire also has a Phenomenal Phabric flying suit:

The new model is a marvel of light, seamless construction from an indestructible, protective fabric with a system of fins and gliders under push button control at finger tips. The peak of the helmet provides an ideal spot for directional antenna. Clear vision is supplied for the eyes, and the face covering gives the effect of a seductive veil. The boots lock together at the ankles so that the wearer is actually poised on her own private landing gear…
…She need not wait for helicopter taxi at the airport because she is wearing her own short haul transportation. Naturally, she will have to learn to fly just like learning to dance ballet, to ski, to swim and to dive. What a new sport to sail through the air on her own little nuclear power! What a thrill to be tuned in on her destination beam a few hundred feet above ground, over the tree and roof tops. Imagine flying through rain or snow!
So goodbye to topcoat, umbrella and galoshes for the flying suit makes a perfect traveling costume. From luncheon in Paris to shopping in New York, it can be quickly checked in restaurant or department store dressing rooms…under it she wears a new type of garment combining trousers, hosiery and shoes which allows absolute freedom of motion in this nuclear way of living.

But why would she limit her luncheons and shopping to boring old Earth? “When a passenger on a giant ‘Nuclearnautica’ linking the planets, she can relax in her own pressurized atmosphere and arrive in a new world completely refreshed.”

1968 → 2068   In less than fifty years from now, Santa Rosa will disappear.

So sayeth Ken Blackman, who was city manager for three decades starting in 1970. Before that he was city planning director and between the two positions, he deserves a big share of the thanks (or voodoo doll pins) for how downtown Santa Rosa looks today. This makes him a particularly interesting person to predict our future.

Blackman thought the entire West Coast, from San Diego to Canada, would be a single, unbroken megalopolis – although there will be some “small pockets of resistance that will remain remote,” he told the PD. Gentle Reader may wish to take a moment to ponder that a man in his position viewed critics of unfettered development as the “resistance.”

“I think Santa Rosa’s population by 2068 will be in the area of 300,000 to 500,000 depending on the density of development allowed. The predominate method of living will be apartments with most in excess of five stories.” (The 2021 population of Santa Rosa is about 175 thousand.) Packing the place formerly known as Santa Rosa with so many people will lead to big-city problems, Blackman told the paper, which he expected will create demands for some type of sound regional government. He did not address how those pesky pockets of resistance might fit into his utopia.

“Agricultural areas will be clearly defined and off-limits to subdivision development. Separations between cities may well be by agricultural means such as farming and timber.” National forests and reserves are still preserved, and most open space is “government controlled as other areas are utilized for urban purposes.”

Autos are banned because of dwindling petroleum and air pollution, with most streets turned over to foot traffic. “There will have to be some form of above ground travel at low cost and high speed” but it won’t be today’s forms of rapid transit, which are considered as much an antique as the steam engine. There are no major airports because of nearby “sub-airports” large enough to handle vertical takeoff aircraft. Most of our leisure time is spent visiting other places, and “travel time to San Francisco from Santa Rosa will be four or five minutes.”

All utilities are underground because buildings keep getting higher and higher. Following that comment the 1968 article noted, “a step toward this is the State Public Utilities Commission ruling that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. must start converting to underground this year.” Was that memo lost in the mail?

Our water comes from desalination plants and our sewage is probably handled by incineration. As for garbage, “all resources in 100 years will have realized importance and we won’t be throwing them away as we are today. We can’t find places today to get rid of garbage. In 100 years, we’ll be reusing it.” (March 17, 1968)

The Press Democrat didn’t just tap local soothsayers – they ran seemingly every future prediction item that came across the wire. Other papers reprinted some of those stories too, of course, but the PD had an insatiable appetite for them, particularly under the editorship of the town’s über-booster Finley.

Those broader predictions likewise had a mixed record of accuracy. In 1923 E. Fatterini, an “able Italian engineer,” said “the problem of power for flying machines would be solved by wireless transmission of power.” A Dr. Panunzio at UCLA looked at the census data in 1940 and predicted we would be drinking less milk and more whisky, beauty parlors would multiply and people would flee the cities for the country life. Someone could fill a book with all those predictions. Probably several books.

Many were just silly because the “expert” didn’t know what (s)he was talking about, but not all were fools or cranks. One very peculiar example was British “Professor” A. M. Low, whose views of things to come were the subject of a July 21, 1925 wire service article in the PD:

Taking a peep at the average man on an average day in the near future. Low sees him rising at 9:30 o’clock at the call of a radio alarm clock. He will then have to exercise care not to put on his wife’s clothing by mistake, the scientist remarks. During his quickly dispatched breakfast taken while dressing the pleasant-toned loud speaker will keep him informed on the days happenings, while a television machine will give him a glimpse thereof. Food will either come from a communal kitchen by the tube or delivered hot daily from the big store.

Low was undeniably a genius who did pioneering work in many scientific fields and can be called the inventor of the drone airplane. Trouble was, he couldn’t keep his focus on anything long enough to finish it. As his Wikipedia entry states, “if it wasn’t for this inability to see things to a conclusion, Low could well have been remembered as one of the great men of science.”

The article about Low that appeared in the PD was to promote his new work, “The Future.” In the next thousand years, he declared in the book, education of children will begin before birth, men will become bald and our legs will gradually be atrophied from non-use. “Telepathy will be more employed” and war will be conducted by “flying submarines.” Those details weren’t in the Press Democrat version of the article, however; only rosy futures – and preferably those describing great sprawling cities – were welcome here, thanks.

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