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IT WILL BE A RESPLENDENT CITY

If a time machine is ever invented, lord help Santa Rosa’s 1960s decision-makers; there will be mobs of howling Facebookers chasing them through the streets for what they did to this town.

Those who hang out in local history and nostalgia social media often write about downtown Santa Rosa in that era as if it were a crime scene; a vintage photo of a picturesque building now demolished, a scene of streets crowded with shoppers will draw tearful emojis and bitter comments. How did all this come to disappear? We know the answer: It was the outcome of the town’s gung-ho embrace of urban renewal schemes, which are the subject of this series, “Yesterday is Just Around the Corner.”

(This article covers only “Phase I” of Santa Rosa’s redevelopment in the 1960s, when the urban renewal area was limited to the 40 acres between Sonoma ave. and Third street, and from Santa Rosa/Mendocino avenues and E street. Events leading to construction of the Santa Rosa Mall were Phase II and III during the 1970s and will be covered later.)

Other cities and towns climbed aboard the redevelopment gravy train – it was free federal money after all, and the government wasn’t too picky about how it was spent. But few communities were willing to go as far as Santa Rosa and gut so much of their downtown core.

One reason this is so crazy-making for us today is because there was no compelling reason to declare most of the downtown “blighted,” which was their excuse for wiping out entire blocks and more than a hundred historic buildings. The movers ‘n’ shakers of Santa Rosa saw the opposite – downtown was economically blighted because their projections estimated the taxable value of the area after redevelopment would be at least three times greater.*

They were also true believers that anything new was better than old. In a 1961 editorial the Press Democrat dismissed all the old buildings as “substandard” and said tearing them down would “…serve the Santa Rosa of today and the future instead of continuing to be a deteriorating hodge-podge that ‘just growed’ over the past 75 years or so.”

Steering the redevelopment ship was the five-member Urban Renewal Agency (URA), which was created by the City Council in 1958. Its executive director and the appointed members wielded enormous power (including the ability to condemn land using eminent domain without a public hearing) yet faced little criticism except from one persistent fellow named Hugh Codding – more about him in a minute. What the public heard instead was enthusiastic approval from the Council and city staff and particularly the PD, which was the URA’s most ardent cheerleader. The paper leaned hard on the notion that the blighted area really was studded with eyesores, and good riddance; there was a photo they liked to use showing a ramshackle house badly in disrepair with a sagging porch – while neglecting to mention one of the first places to be demolished would be Luther Burbank’s house.

Redevelopment programs became infamous for graft and corruption but I don’t find a whiff of that happening here. While the URA was biased toward particular developers and clearly treated Codding unfairly, I fully believe everyone’s motives were well-intentioned – that they expected the result of their labors would truly create a city beautiful. Of course, very little worked out as well as they expected and they ended up creating a city regrettable. To paraphrase the great disclaimer at the start of the movie, Fargo:

This is a true story. The events described here took place in Santa Rosa, California. Out of respect for the survivors of those times and their families, keep in mind the decision-makers back then were not fools, dunderheads or venal crooks, though some of their choices seem glaringly stupid today. But hey, it was the 1960s, when everybody was a little nuts.

Santa Rosa’s Big Urban Renewal Adventure kicked off in 1960, when the city tapped some of the URA’s government money to hire New Jersey urban planning experts to come up with ideas on what they should do with the six blocks to be redeveloped. They developed a model that everyone here loved like a warm puppy – it was so popular they had to schedule showings of it in bank lobbies and store windows.

Santa Rosa redevelopment area model by Candeub, Fleissig and Associates of Newark, NJ. A detailed drawing can be seen below
Santa Rosa redevelopment area model by Candeub, Fleissig and Associates of Newark, NJ. A detailed drawing can be seen below

 

Their model shows a fully restored Santa Rosa Creek greenway with the city hall and state building on its southern bank (an earlier drawing shows the courthouse and jail there, before it was decided in mid-1960 to rebuild at the county administration center). There was plenty of parking spaces, a big department store and several mixed retail/office buildings.

Naturally, Santa Rosa threw it all away.

No, strike that – they kept the parking lot next to the library and the parking garage at Third and D.

Without a master plan the URA couldn’t provide a rudder for what should be built and where, aside from vague expectations there should be a new city hall, a major department store (or two) and a “shopping center.” Read that again, slowly: The only planning provided by the city was what to condemn and demolish, leaving it to the developers to shape how downtown would look and function. The Press Democrat had welcomed urban renewal as an opportunity to rid Santa Rosa of its “hodge-podge” appearance, but we were preparing to hodge-podge it up again, only now with plenty of very undistinguished office buildings.

Megapolitan(RIGHT: The 500,000 sq. ft. proposal for downtown Santa Rosa from Megapolitan Corp. The street glimpsed at the top is presumably Sonoma ave.)

In place of the master plan there were four proposals made to the URA in 1963. (A reminder again that this was for the six blocks directly south of Courthouse Square, not the current location of the mall.) Two developers pitched conventional shopping centers with no big anchor stores – one used the top floor for professional offices. An ambitious bid from the Megapolitan Corp. of Los Angeles called for a massive shopping center which was virtually an indoor, self-sufficient town, sans housing. The bizarre plan called for a “European opera house” with seating for 1,500 that “could accommodate full broadway, concert, opera, and ballet productions” a nightclub, two “theater bars,” dance and health studios, laundry and dry cleaning shops, a supermarket, drug store, billiard hall and a “host of specialty tenants.” (Whew!)

The winning proposal in 1964 came from the Santa Rosa Burbank Center Redevelopment Company (called here “SRBCRC” to avoid confusion with all other things Burbank). This was a financing consortium put together by Henry Trione and his friends, not planners or architects – they hired top-notch Bay Area designers to come up with actual plans. Their original presentation included two department stores plus a “Civic Tower” on Courthouse Square straddling a sunken roadway, as discussed in the article on the development of the city hall complex.

That the URA made a sweetheart deal with Trione’s group for ownership of the entire 40 acres irked Hugh Codding no end, mostly because the agreement was made with the price yet to be negotiated at some future date. Once he became a City Councilman, Codding would needle the URA directors by sarcastically asking if SRBCRC had made a downpayment yet.

But despite the URA’s founding promise that redevelopment would draw big-name stores to downtown Santa Rosa, it seemed no companies were willing to take a chance. It was rumored that Macy’s was interested; nope. J.C. Penny? Pass. Emporium? Sorry. SRBCRC hired another set of architects to draw up new layouts. “The success of any of the plans was highly speculative,” Trione wrote in his autobiography. “Potential buyers were very cautious.”

It wasn’t that those companies were cautious about building new stores – it was that they were leery about Santa Rosa’s downtown; their location scouts couldn’t help but notice parking was a headache (and not free). The uncertain status of the redevelopment area meant their future neighbors could range from an upscale jewelry store to a smelly fast food joint, and ongoing construction would keep the area dusty and noisy for years to come. No, a smarter bet would be to build a department store in a spanking new shopping mall with none of those drawbacks. Coddingtown, for example. And so they did.

Looking ahead, Trione and his company built offices, banks and government buildings (which, I imagine, few of us have ever had reason to visit). The only retail space was a new home for the White House department store. Phase I of the urban renewal project did not make Santa Rosa a more beautiful place, nor did it give shoppers more reasons to go downtown, nor did it add appreciably to the city’s tax base.

But in the autumn of 1965, the Press Democrat’s editor Art Volkerts imagined it was the start of a glorious transformation. In a puff-piece “URA Holds Promise in Heart of Santa Rosa” he wrote,

…What will this mean to Santa Rosa? Well, it will mean more tax revenues to help pay for the city’s expanding services. It will mean bright, new buildings rising in an area which was fast becoming a civic blight…it now seems certain that the URA project will indeed be a flower worthy of maturing next to Santa Rosa’s beloved Burbank Gardens.

Others more clear-eyed saw it meant 37 businesses had been displaced and 44 families plus 43 single individuals had lost their homes. For the next few years there would be forty acres of vacant lots scraped down to the dirt waiting for all that greatness which would not come.

NEXT: THE TWO COURTHOUSE SQUARES

* “In its present run-down condition, the Santa Rosa urban renewal area is assessed at $859,000. The least favorable of the several forms which redevelopment could take will result in real and personal values assessed at $2,413,700.” Press Democrat editorial, July 17, 1961. By 1965, the PD was claiming the current value was about $3 million and should be worth over $12M.
1965 model of the urban renewal area looking SW from the corner of Third and E streets prepared by Welton Becket and Associates for SRBCRC
1965 drawing of the urban renewal area looking SW from the corner of Third and E streets prepared by Welton Becket and Associates for SRBCRC

 

 

Drawing of Santa Rosa redevelopment area by Candeub, Fleissig and Associates
Drawing of Santa Rosa redevelopment area by Candeub, Fleissig and Associates

 

 

Undated cartoon of Santa Rosa redevelopment area used in 1974 pamphlet on the Urban Renewal Agency
Undated cartoon of Santa Rosa redevelopment area used in 1974 pamphlet on the Urban Renewal Agency

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tobeopened2019

1968 CENTENNIAL: “THE HISTORY OF THE FUTURE”

After ignoring opportunities to celebrate Santa Rosa’s anniversaries that spanned 64 years, Tom Cox thought, “we should make something of it” in 1968. The real question, however, was whether they would be celebrating one of the events from the town’s early history – or the ongoing obliteration of its past.

(This is part two about Santa Rosa’s 2018 sesquicentennial. Part one covers the town’s 1854 founding and 1868 incorporation, followed by its general indifference to celebrate either event.)

Cox was the long-time head of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce and made that suggestion at a 1967 luncheon for the “Congress for Community Progress,” a coalition formed five years earlier by the Chamber, which claimed the Congress represented as many as 445 separate groups. Given that the town’s entire population was then only about 44,000, let us forgive any Gentle Readers who snort skeptically.

Much was made in the 1960s about the Congress, which held occasional all-day assemblies attended by hundreds of “delegates.” While it was touted as an independent citizen’s group, its sheer size made discussion unwieldy and its objectives almost always seemed to mirror Chamber of Commerce and developer’s interests. The 1968 Congress report said Santa Rosa’s highest priorities should be “Payroll and Industrial Needs” and “Downtown Futures and Potential” – way down in the basement was the preservation of parks and historical sites.

During the sixties Santa Rosa was wild about all things modern, and as with many communities, that meant enthusiastic approval of urban renewal projects. We were told it would mostly be paid for by Washington, our property values would skyrocket and we would end up with glorious cities of the future. In 1961 a scale model of a proposed Santa Rosa redesign circulated around several bank lobbies. The model (“as modern and carefully engineered as the latest model of a star-probing rocket” – PD) portrayed a downtown designed for pedestrians, with mini-parks, tree-lined boulevards and a greenway along both banks of a fully restored Santa Rosa Creek.

It was mostly bait and switch, of course. Prime locations owned by the city were sold to private developers; the Santa Rosa Urban Renewal Agency held sway over forty acres of supposed “civic blight” and much of it was scooped up by investors. Luther Burbank’s old house and gardens survived the bulldozer, but the home he custom-built in 1906 on Tupper street – the one seen in all the pictures of him with Edison, Ford, Helen Keller and other celebs – was deemed worthless, as it was argued that the town had no need for two Luther Burbank landmarks.

By the time Thomas Cox spoke at that 1967 Congress for Community Progress lunch, great swaths of downtown was already scraped down to the topsoil and most of the rest would follow soon. The great courthouse was gone; the Carnegie library already had been replaced by what we have now. The parks were forgotten and their earth was destined to sprout bank buildings and metered parking lots. The lovely, free-flowing creek was entombed in a box culvert. Community Progress!

Cox’s talk came a few days before the dedication of the “plaza on Old Courthouse Square.” The Courthouse Square site had been already split by the street connecting Mendocino Ave with Santa Rosa Ave; what they then called the “plaza” was just the western section between that new street and the Empire Building block. The east side was slated to be sold to private developers for commercial buildings.

Adding insult to injury, Mayor Hugh Codding said the tiny plaza would make citizens “more aware and more proud of this historic center of the city of Santa Rosa,” and a supervisor chimed in this “perhaps what was in the mind of Mr. [Julio] Carrillo” when he donated the land to the public. Uh, no, times two.

The sale of the east side of the plaza was successfully fought by a small band of preservationists – despite being told it must be sold in order to pay off the urban renewal bonds. Sadly, they lost another fight to stop the giveaway to developers of the sheriff’s office and city hall, now the location of the U.S. Bank building. They had hoped one (or both) of the post-1906 quake buildings could be saved to create a Santa Rosa museum.

And now we come to the March 16, 1968 centennial, when Santa Rosa celebrated pretty much everything except its origins.

About 1,000 attended the ceremony in that little plaza. The city councilmen dressed in vaguely 19th century costumes and Mayor Codding introduced a man 100 years old. Some rode old bicycles or drove around in old cars and a barbershop quartet warbled, all more appropriate to a party for 1908 than 1868. State appeals court judge Joseph Rattigan told the crowd they would “shape the history of the future,” and won the prize for awful speechifying that day by saying we should “live as Santa Rosans in every dimension of wisdom and skill.”

Two time capsules were dedicated. (They were originally in front of the Empire building but now are facing the intersection of Third street and Santa Rosa ave). One was intended for 2068; the other was supposed to be opened on March 16, 2018. As our sesquicentennial event isn’t scheduled until about six months later, it only makes the choice of a September date seem stranger.

(RIGHT: Pepper Dardon sitting in front of the time capsules, 1974. Photo: Michael Sawyer/findagrave.com; original Santa Rosa News Herald image via Helen Rudee)

That was just the “Centennial Day;” the “Centennial Week” was the Rose Festival in May, and there wasn’t much of a nod to history there, either. There was a two-day “western extravaganza” at the racetrack with stunt riding and a race between a horse and a motorcycle, a tennis match and a little regatta on Lake Ralphine. A rock concert included local bands “Wonderful Mud” and “Bronze Hog.” During the Rose Parade, the Marine Corps Reserve presented a bizarre little scene in front of the reviewing stand where they enacted flushing a Vietcong soldier out of a rice paddy and shooting him dead, right there on Fourth street. As I always say, these kind of events are really for the children.

While 1968 may have been a bust as a centennial year, it was the definitely the year to celebrate Pepper, Santa Rosa’s lovable or maddening downtown character (depending upon whom you asked and when). When she wasn’t heckling hippies and jaywalkers, she was popping in the backseats of cars waiting for the stoplight to change and expecting the driver to take her somewhere – the Pepper stories are legion.

But Pepper also collected quite a bit of money when local groups were having charity drives, badgering each passerby for spare change. That March she was the guest of honor at a Rotary luncheon and in October she was feted by the Lions Club.

In a Gaye LeBaron column – yes, she was writing a gossip column fifty years ago – she quoted a letter from a reader: “I have a suggestion for the Grand Marshall of the 1968 Rose Parade: Pepper! No kidding—when you stop to think of all the hard work she’s done for almost everyone I think you’ll agree that she’s as deserving as any chosen. If we all get on Pepper’s Bandwagon she just might be selected. Riding in an open car down Fourth street would perhaps repay her in some small way for all the time she’s donated.”

She was not included in the parade (and someone griped about that in a letter to the PD) but she sat in the VIP bleachers alongside Mrs. Luther Burbank. She was also made honorary town marshal for the Centennial Year, a position she undoubtedly abused with relish.

The time capsules are Santa Rosa’s only real historic legacy from 1968 – and note that the one to be opened this year is mistakenly labeled “Bi-Centennial,” showing no one noticed or cared that wasn’t the right word for a fiftieth anniversary.

The March 17 edition of the Press Democrat offered a fat section of all things it deemed centennial-ish, and reflects the attitudes of the time quite well. The actual history section – meaning the 1906 quake and everything before – isn’t very long and just a superficial rehash from the county history books. However there’s some good wonky stuff about the development of city departments and such in the early 20th century, along with some photos I’ve not seen elsewhere.

But then it rockets to the present day, celebrating the wonders of redevelopment and what a bright future awaited Santa Rosa. There’s even a full-page article titled, “Foresight of Hugh Codding Helped Speed City’s Growth.” (Of course, not long afterwards, Mr. Foresight tied the city up in a decade-long lawsuit to forestall construction of the mall and other retail space, thus causing the downtown to further wither and die.)

So as it turns out, the judge who saw the centennial as “[shaping] the history of the future” probably did hit the right notes for 1968. And in kind of a Believe-it-on-Not! coincidence, we’re grappling with very similar issues today, trying to wrestle with how the town will be reshaped in years to come because of the fires.

There’s one more historic year to mention, for the sake of completeness: 2004, the real sesquicentennial of the year the town actually put down roots. A columnist for the PD complained “no one is celebrating,” and that a fund drive to support the reunification of Courthouse Square was going nowhere.

Well, Courthouse Square is now glued back together. That columnist was Chris Coursey, now Santa Rosa’s mayor. And like his predecessors, I’m sure he’ll steer the sesquicentennial to be more of a rosy view of our future than a contemplation on our rougher past. The date will still be wrong on the time capsule, of course, but Chris could fix that – I’d even provide a little bit of duct tape and a magic marker to change the inscription to read September 9.

Time capsules in Courthouse Square

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ed1958

ED MANNION HAS SOMETHING TO TELL YOU

It seems everyone who knew Ed Mannion has a story about him – which is perfectly fine, as he had lots of stories of his own to tell. About a century’s worth, in fact.

Until he died in 1991, Mannion was Petaluma’s unofficial historian and best known for his weekly “Rear-View Mirror” column in the Argus-Courier, although it ran less than four years and didn’t even appear all weeks. He filed his last column the day President Kennedy was killed; why he stopped wasn’t explained.

But Ed Mannion left behind more of a footprint than just “Mirror” (as he called it). He was writing about local history years before the column and years after; he assembled an enormous collection of rare documents and photographs which became the foundation of the library’s Petaluma History Room. And if Ed the Historian isn’t enough to impress, take note he was also a key participant in the uphill fight against PG&E’s scheme to build a nuclear reactor at Bodega Head.

In the golden age of newspapering in the 1950s and 60s, his was likely a household name all over Sonoma county. In the golden age of the Internet today, his name is unknown. Google currently returns a measly 300-odd hits on him – mostly credits given in books for use of photos now in the library collection. Ed’s own voice is nowhere to be found online without access to a paid newspaper archive service (note: available on Sonoma county library computers). I never met Ed, sorry to say; even more, I regret never reading any of his stuff before this summer. To me, his name was just a nod in one of those footnotes.

What follows isn’t a biography of Ed or a critical review of his legacy – it’s  just an appreciation and an introduction for 21st century readers. I’m only covering “Mirror” up through the end of 1961, which was the halfway point of its run. There is plenty left over for another article or three, including the story of how Ed and his co-conspirators were dumpster-diving (literally!) to rescue original historic photos which were then deemed worthless.

So for just a moment, pretend it’s 1954 and you’ve just strolled in to “Nick’s Chat & Chew” for lunch (the building’s even still there, at 600 Petaluma Blvd S.) and at the end of the counter is this funny-looking goofball telling stories. He’s snaggletoothed, his hair appears to have a mind of its own and his oversized black-rim glasses look like a failed effort to pull off a Clark Kent impersonation. But everybody around him is laughing – so let’s eavesdrop for a bit.

Gag photo of the Argus-Courier back room staff shooting craps in 1955, with Ed Mannion drinking from a bottle. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

 

 

“Yoiks! Another Columnist Enters the Ring” read the headline introducing Ed Mannion to Argus-Courier subscribers on Saturday, Feb. 6, 1954.

“News pickings sometimes tend to be a little slim for the week’s caboose edition, and the city editor has declared it Amateur Day instead of wasting good boiler plate. Or maybe, because I’m a linotype operation, he figures on saving copy paper by having this composed at the machine.”

Ed was indeed a linotype operator for the paper and would remain so for another thirty years, as well as a proud member of the Typographical Union. For those unfamiliar, these were the machines used to setup “hot lead” type via use of a bizarre keyboard. Anyone who was around such a shop (as I was as a child) will tell you the linotype operators were usually some of the most well-informed and erudite people you would ever meet – after all, they had to carefully read every line of the newspaper every day.

The Argus-Courier was a perfect home for Ed; it was a lively small town paper with a stable of must-read columnists including Lura Frati, Bob Wells and Bill Soberanes. By contrast, the Press Democrat at the time was a slog to get through, with pretensions that it was a major metropolitan daily and crammed to the margins with indifferent wire service items (least compelling headline ever: “Senate Debates Wool Bill”).

That incarnation of Ed’s column only lasted for a few issues but he remained familiar to readers through guest columns and mentions by the other writers. One story concerned the birthday of a friend who was an avid fisherman. Ed gave him a large rock with a note attached: “It is plain to see that you have been using the wrong fishing technique.” Also included was a clip from an 1879 paper, where it was reported that steelhead were so plentiful in Petaluma Creek that people were catching them by dropping rocks in the water.

Ed also contributed feature stories on the last ferry between Oakland and San Francisco (service resumed only after the 1989 quake) and the last ferry between San Rafael and Richmond. At home he had a small handpress he used to print up Christmas cards and the like, so for the final trip from San Rafael he handed out cards to fellow passengers: “This is to certify that the bearer is a member of the Anti-Bridge and Prevention of Cruelty fo Ferry Boats Society.” On the back was a vow “…to continue the fight against progress wherever it rears its ugly head.”

His fondness for gags like the rock and the cards (and a few more described below) can make it hard to take him seriously as a historian. Or was he just a “history buff”/collector? Did he want to educate readers by explaining how the pieces of history’s puzzle came together to form a picture – or was he just a guy who liked telling some really good stories?

Mannion called himself “a tramp printer who likes to read old newspapers,” which earns him my respect, revealing he tapped primary sources for information rather than repeating hand-me-down stories. He wrote so much there are probably mistakes which I don’t know enough to spot, but so far I’ve only found one glaring error – and to his credit, he found it himself some years later and corrected it.

It’s true he rarely tried to synthesize what he knew in the way “big H” historians do, but there’s not much room for that sort of thing in newspaper columns of only 600-1,200 words. His only real shot at long-form writing came with the historical portion of the 1955 centennial edition of Argus-Courier, which was edited and mostly written by him and his wife, Chris.

That section of the A-C is over 75 pages long (ignoring the full page ads) and is quite a remarkable work. Ed makes it clear at the beginning that they wanted to make something of interest to the casual reader but also good enough for serious historical research. “The fact remains that the usual way for newspapers to put out an anniversary issue is to use what passes for historical material as window dressing while the main emphasis is on jazzy promotion.” Amen to that, and let’s hope the Press Democrat resists the temptation to turn its sesquicentennial edition over to the Chamber of Commerce and Tourist Bureau.

In short, the August 17, 1955 edition of the Argus-Courier is permanently bookmarked in my browser; I’m certain I’ll keep returning to it as long as I’m writing about local history, as it covers the entire southern portion of Sonoma county. But Ed was still Ed, and there’s a bit of good natured humor in his intro to the section, which is framed as a “letter to mom.” They didn’t have room for everything, he explained, but they always tried to get area names right – even Valley Vista grammar school, which he thought “sounds like a title coined by a housing tract sub-divider’s wife who writes poetry.” Putting it all together was rugged, he wrote, but “I’ll come right out with the puppy-dog hope that a couple of readers will write in to say they liked our efforts.”

Enough credit cannot be given to Chris Mannion for her involvement with that task as well Ed’s other history projects. Besides having six pre-teen children (eventually, seven), she was sometimes his library researcher, cataloger of his archives and bric-a-brac, phone secretary and often accompanied him on interviews (while Ed was starstruck meeting Ida Lupino, she was somewhat less speechless in chatting up husband Howard Duff, showing off pictures of their kids). She was a part-time photographer for the paper and had a side business selling its photo reprints. In 1960 it was her, not Ed, who led the fight to save downtown Hill Plaza Park from being bulldozed for parking spaces. She died in 1971 at age 47.

After the paper’s centennial came Petaluma’s civic 100th birthday in 1958, and that was absolutely the best year for Ed Mannion’s adventures, which were tied in with E Clampus Vitus and fellow buff of history, Ed Fratini. This other Ed was the grounded yin to Mannion’s wilder yang. While Ed F. was diplomatically inviting San Francisco’s mayor to attend the Petaluma festivities, Ed M. was advertising in a San Francisco newspaper for a live, fighting grizzly bear.

Ed Mannion in costume at the 1958 Petaluma centennial celebration. The woman with her face turned away is probably Chris Mannion. Photo: Sonoma County Library

 

 

“Grizzly Bear wanted for bull and bear fight Main Street Petaluma, reply to the judge. McNeil Drive, Petaluma”, read the ad in a San Francisco paper a month before Petaluma centennial celebration in April, 1958.

“The judge” was Ed Mannion’s costumed Clamper persona; members of “The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus” dress up to celebrate historic events. They also mount commemorative plaques and drink. They drink a lot.

As mentioned earlier, 1958 was also the 99th birthday for the Washoe House and the Clampers mounted a plaque at the famous roadhouse. That night they were up to their usual hijinks, including trying to push an old fire engine into the lobby of the Hotel Petaluma (it got wedged in the doorway and remained there for days). The events ended with a group dinner at the hotel – “a whole chicken for each man, and served on pitchforks,” as was promised.

Ed Mannion vowed to recreate an arena fight between a bull and grizzly bear that actually happened in 1861 at Haystack Landing. According to the Argus, the bear tried to escape and charged the ladies’ section of the bleachers. (“Ah, the good, pure days of yore,” Ed commented in a later “Mirror” column.)

The wire services picked up a photo of Ed wearing a sandwich sign promoting the “Bull and Bear Fight” on the back (the front showed a chicken pecking at a dancing Clamper) and interests were aroused. It made the front page of the paper in Virginia City and was widely blurbed in Bay Area papers. An incensed  animal lover from Redwood City threatened to organize a statewide boycott of Petaluma. Ed finally wrote a disclaimer revealing it would really be just a couple of guys in costumes – but it’s not clear if the Clamper from Rough and Ready knew it would be a mock battle when he promised his pet badger, Solomon, would take on the winner.

Thus with costumes custom-made for the occasion, Smokey the Bear fought Ferdinand the Bull at Walnut Park in front of an appreciative crowd. In the third round the bull charged and the costume’s head fell off, after which the bear was declared the winner on account of decapitation.

The year 1958 was also when the Petaluma Fire Department sold its old ambulance. The two Eds came up with the $100 (or so) to buy it, with the view that a 1935 antique would be a “fine thing for parades and so on.” Its first outing was to a Clamper dinner at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, where they arrived with wailing siren and flashing lights. Enroute they were pulled over only once, which is somewhat surprising because they were dressed in their pioneer getups and a cop doesn’t see an ambulance driven by ersatz 49ers every day.

Afterwards, one of the Clampers asked them for a lift into Marysville. Ed and Ed obliged, but when they arrived their passenger refused to leave unless they carried him into his favorite tavern on a stretcher.

“This was done,” wrote Bob Wells, “and it developed that the rider had many friends in the bar. All these had to be formally introduced.”

Finally on their way back to Petaluma through Napa county, the headlights  began to fail. Mannion discovered he could jiggle wires under the dashboard to temporarily get them to flicker back on, but when they flickered off again he had a flashlight at the ready to shine through the windshield and keep Fratini from running them into a ditch.

And so we come to the debut of Rear-View Mirror on March 12, 1960.

While Ed Mannion could write in a concise news style as the subject demanded, most of his offerings are a happy and entertaining tour of whatever had his attention at the moment. Some columns read like a modern blog, as Ed digs through his cluttered desk in the den at their home at 1 Keller street, crowded with the seven kids, two cats and a dog named Scooter.

Reading “Mirror” is like touring Burbank’s garden – there’s lots to see and absorb. With hopes that Gentle Reader is not too weary of reading about all things Ed, here’s a bouquet of items from the first two years that are little-known (at least, to me) and quite interesting:

 

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During the Civil War, Schluckebier’s store listed prices in both Union and Confederate money
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A letter about Petaluma schools in the 1870s recalled Professor Crowell’s tenure ended when he was gassed out by a prankster putting red pepper on a hot stove. Another teacher was attacked with a heavy inkwell (“thrown at his head by a degenerate son of an honorable townsman”) and still another was stabbed in the arm. The school on the corner of Fifth and D was the only place where “white and colored pupils were received and treated as equals.” [A history of the Petaluma schools found in the centennial edition of the A-C states it was originally all African-American and integrated later in the decade]
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Ed complained often Vallejo’s Old Adobe was never a fort or ever called Casa Grande – until he discovered a man named Bliss bought the place in 1859 and indeed renamed it “Casa Grande.” Oooops!
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“Petaluma looks toward the future, not to the past, and forthwith carted off a great deal of valuable local memorabilia to the city dumps,” Ed griped about the Chamber of Commerce. Several times he complained the city itself had carted away a 5-foot bronze statue of a nude Greek goddess which once was perched atop the fountain at the corner of Washington and Main
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Petaluma made Santa Rosa furious by setting steamboat schedules so “up-country” travelers had to stay overnight at a local hotel
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Someone gave Ed the last surviving copies of very short-lived newspaper called “The Weekly Amateur,” put out by Petaluma youths around 1887. While it mostly reflected their interests in baseball, doings of the volunteer fire department and entertainment, there was also this vignette: “Some Petaluma youths do not seem to appreciate our gas lamps by the way they are perforating them with sling shot missiles. Any way, what a great satisfaction it is to a boy to see a light of glass crackle to pieces by his proud marksmanship. If the proprietor or cop gives chase, he is all the more delighted”
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Petaluma inventor Jacob Price Jr. might have been considered the Edison of farm equipment c. 1860-1880, designing steam tractors, seed sowing machines and the famous “Petaluma Press,” which could bale 3,600 pounds of hay an hour
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His mention of Luther Burbank brought a response from Edgar Waite, the reporter whose controversial interview in 1926 revealed that the much-respected Burbank considered himself an “infidel” and that Christianity had “garbled” Jesus’s teachings. An uproar followed, but it’s never been clear if this caused him stress that led to his heart attack a couple of months later, followed by his death at 77 years. Waite – who personally knew Burbank from his time as a Press Democrat reporter – wrote to Mannion, “I went up to see my friend again, and to make sure that he felt no regrets. He didn’t. On the contrary, he expressed himself as happy that his views had been spread on the record, and bemoaned only the mountain of correspondence that had descended upon him”

 

 

Chris and Ed Mannion, undated photo. Courtesy Petaluma Museum

 

 

May 13, 1961 Argus-Courier caption “…Ed’s arm is around Ida Lupino. He says he’ll never wash it again. She suggested both face the camera but he replied, “I’m looking in the right direction!” Photo: Sonoma County Library

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