occidemo

ROAD TO THE MALL: THAT WHICH WE LOST

During the first days of 1970, the Press Democrat asked several of Santa Rosa’s movers ‘n’ shakers what changes they thought would come about in the new decade. The city manager believed the population would grow by 40 percent (it actually increased by two-thirds). The assistant city manager imagined they probably would get a computer and use it for payroll and other accounting tasks. And the city planning director predicted by 1980 they were going to wipe away an older section of the downtown core.

Say what?!?

It had been barely three months since the Oct. 1969 quakes hit Santa Rosa, causing moderate damage. Building inspector Ray Baker had said about 17 commercial buildings and 28 homes around town were in such bad shape they needed to be demolished, but most property owners were scrambling to arrange repairs. The city had just started talks with federal officials about designating the area west of B Street an urban renewal zone to pay for improvements, but nothing had been said about plans to “wipe away” that part of downtown. (Those developments were covered in the previous chapter, “MONEY FIRST, PLANS LATER.”)

Planning Director Ken Blackman continued: “By 1980, redevelopment will be viewed as a continuing effort by all major cities to combat deterioration and blight.” Ah, the “B Word” – the incantation that turned historic homes, neighborhoods and districts into cash dispensers. To quote myself from an earlier article:

…[In the 1960s] the nation was gripped by a collective madness called “urban renewal”. Anything new would be better than anything old simply because. There was also free federal money available as long as the magic words were spoken: “urban blight.” So cities across America declared large swathes of their communities were indeed filled with areas injurious to public welfare because of being unfit, unsafe, obsolete, deteriorating, underdeveloped (read: undertaxed), subject to flooding or otherwise terribly blighted. File your blight report and don’t forget to include the address where Washington can send the money.

Santa Rosa had already received $8 million for redevelopment east and south of Courthouse Square – the bank buildings and government offices still in use today. Now that the city was asking for a new tranche of redevelopment money, the earlier project began to be called Phase I, with the west of B St. area dubbed Phase II. There was also mention made of potential Phase III, IV and V later.

These two images (and only these) were used repeatedly by the Urban Renewal Agency and the Press Democrat to show urban blight in the Phase II area west of B St. It was never identified where the photos were taken or when
These two images (and only these) were used repeatedly by the Urban Renewal Agency and the Press Democrat to show urban blight in the Phase II area west of B St. It was never identified where the photos were taken or when

Thus the day came to pass when Santa Rosa’s mall-destined future was cast in stone: March 10, 1970. That’s when the City Council unanimously passed ordinance 1439, which declared “…the area is a blighted area and that it is detrimental and a menace to the safety, health, and welfare of the inhabitants and users thereof…”

It allowed for the city agency to condemn buildings and force the owners to sell the property via eminent domain. It stated that a program would aid those living in the area move to somewhere else “not generally less desirable.” It promised “due consideration” would be given to providing new parks and recreational facilities “with special consideration for the health, safety, and welfare of children residing in the general vicinity.”

By the time the new ordinance passed, the city had raised the total of buildings needing demolition to “more than 75” of the 89 found in just the Phase II area – all but ensuring Blackman’s vow made at the start of the year to “wipe away” that part of downtown. Yet still there were no plans at all of what to build in its place, aside from vague notions of “a community center, hotel-motel complex, major retail store with allied retail, a restaurant and a service station.” (See the layout shown at the end of the previous article.)

Some downtown buildings outside of Phase II were also condemned. The earliest demolitions began right after the first of the year and were the Wards Department Store at 411 Mendocino Ave. (now the parking lot adjacent to the Press Democrat building) and a building at the SW corner of Third and Santa Rosa Ave. The Roxy Theater at the NE corner of Fifth and B was also red-tagged although the place only had cosmetic exterior damage, along with some ceiling plaster falling. Politics may have played a role in the decision; there had been no end to the fuss after the theater switched to an “adult art” format in the summer of 1969, and the PD regularly printed letters penned by furiously offended citizens. After the quakes someone wrote the building’s damage was clearly a sign of god’s wrath.

Another quake casualty in the downtown core was the building east of Mac’s Deli on Fourth street. Although it was supposedly so badly damaged as to be unsafe, the structure proved remarkably difficult to tear down in January 1970. “It’s coming down slow,” the contractor told the Press Democrat, “it’s a tough building.” Since the property owner couldn’t afford the cost of demolition the city hired the company and added $12,000 to the owner’s tax bill (about $88k today). The City Council soon discovered this was a really bad idea; besides losing rental income, some landlords claimed the tax surcharge would make them go broke. The rule was changed so the city would buy a property and pay to have it cleared, then resell the vacant lot to an investor.

toymodelFor over a decade that building had been home to the Toy & Model Shop, and after it was condemned the store reopened quickly at the corner of Third and B. Recall at that time the risk of demolition was considered a rare and worst-case option; the toy sellers couldn’t know that just a few months later Santa Rosa would declare a swath of the city “blighted,” including their new address. The shop remained there until moving to Coddingtown in 1971, and was the only business displaced twice by the disaster.

“Where do we go?” Was a pressing question for every business located in Phase II after the City Council passed the 1970 ordinance declaring the area blighted. Despite Phase I redevelopment filling up a section of downtown with banks and government buildings, there was space available east of B street; a PD article before the earthquakes compared downtown to “swiss cheese” because there were so many vacant storefronts, some of which had been empty for years.

The 1973 document on the renewal project estimated there were 169 businesses, offices and whatnot that had already moved out of Phase II or would need to do so. About a third closed instead of relocating, so the property buyout and dislocation payment “acted as a windfall profit” in the view of the report written for the city.*

Many of those lost businesses had been around for years – sometimes decades – at the same location so it was probably insulting to frame their forced closure as if it were like winning a lottery scratcher. The report also discounted the hundreds of people living in the Phase II area; losing an apartment building with twelve units counted as a single business in the city’s view. Ditto the hotels, which had 203 permanent residents after the quakes. No mention was made of the private homes that would soon disappear under the bulldozers.


WHAT USED TO BE THERE

Places in the Phase II area that moved elsewhere in Santa Rosa (M) or did not reopen after the building was demolished (X)

433 Club (X)
Alec’s Sewing Center (X)
The Alibi Tavern (X)
Alice-Marie Shop (X)
Alpha-Redwood Welding Supplies (X)
Art’s This and That Shop (M)
Audio Spectrums (M)
B Street Coffee Shop (X)
J. Berger Furs (X)
Berkey Photo (X)
Bill’s Thrift Shop (X)
Bishop-Hansel Ford (M)
Bonanza 88-Cent Store (M)
The Brake Shop (X)
Brown’s Motorcycle Repair (M)
Bruner’s Frame Store (M)
Cal Barber Shop (X)
California Club (X)
California Hearing Aid (M)
California Hotel (X)
California Theater (X)
J. C. Campbell Dental Office (M)
Carl’s Salads Sandwiches Soups (X)
Carousel Color Corp. (X)
Charles Shoe Repair (X)
R.J. Chase Printing (X)
Church of the Pattern (X)
The Cinnabar (X)
Cipriano Book Store (M)
Cole’s Silver Shop (X)
Countryside Pet Shop (X)
County Bugle (M)
David’s Piano (M)
Deardorff Office Supply (M)
Dhanken’s (M)
Elite Linen (X)
Empire Electric (M)
Evans Market (X)
Fourth Street Flower Shop (X)
Frenchy’s Phillips 66 (X)
Garden Apartments (X – 12 tenants)
Garden Cafe (X)
Gardner Printing (M)
Haircutter’s Unlimited (M)
Hardisty’s (M)
Herald Printing (X)
Hodges Tires (X)
Holt’s Used Clothing (X)
Humane Society Thrift Shop (X)
J&J Billiards & Lunch Counter (X)
Jerry’s Bazaar (X)
Jobbers Electric (X)
Kasbah Cocktail Lounge (X)
Kurlander Printing (M)
Kurlander Tobacco (M)
Langwell Ceramics (X)
The Laton Shop (X)
Levin Hardware (M)
Al Lewis Trucking (M)
Lou’s Sporting Goods (X)
Lucky’s Richfield Gas Station (X)
Lueger’s Clock Shop (M)
Mac Martin (X)
Majestic Hotel (X)
Mansion Apartments (X – 18 tenants)
Mazatlan Restaurant (X)
Merchandise Sales and Loan (M)
Mohawk Rubber Stamp Co. (M)
The Money Tree (M)
Motor Brake and Wheel (X)
My Kitchen (X)
N&J Tire Recapping (X)
Nagel’s Mailing Service (X)
Nelligan Brothers Feed & Seed (X)
Occidental Hotel (X)
O.K. Barber Shop (M)
Oliver Hotel (X)
Ostarello’s Harvey-Davidson (X)
Paul’s Restaurant (X)
Fred Plante Electronics (M)
Powell’s Furniture (X)
Qualitone Photo Processing (X)
Ray’s Cafe (X)
Ryan Outdoor Advertising (M)
Saare Body Shop (M)
Salvation Army Thrift Store (M)
Sam’s Barber Shop (X)
Santa Rosa Auto Parts (M)
Santa Rosa Bearing (X)
Santa Rosa Book & Bible Store (M)
Santa Rosa Hotel (X)
Santa Rosa School of Ballet (X)
Savoy Hotel (X)
Schank Brothers Garage (M)
Sears (M)
Selby Barber Shop (X)
Shorty’s Beer Parlor (X)
The Silver Dollar tavern (X)
The Snack Shop (X)
Sonoma County Senior Activities Center (X)
Southern Style Bar-B-Que (X)
Strebel’s Garage (X)
Sue’s Thrift Shop (X)
Sunrise Sound (M)
Surprise Body Shop (X)
Sutcliffe’s Sporting Goods (M)
Swift’s Garage (M)
The Toggery (X – menswear)
Tom’s Used Furniture (X)
Third Street Apartments (X – 12 tenants)
Tomasco Drugs (M)
Tony’s Liquors (X)
Toy & Model Shop (M)
Traverso’s (M)
Trembley Auto Parts (M)
Western Union (M)
Wig Discount Center (X)
Wink Processing Company (M)

Not counted: 10 private homes on First, Second and A

HOW THIS LIST WAS MADE

This list attempts to name every business and residence in the Phase II urban renewal project area that existed in the years immediately prior to demolition. It includes everything which could be reasonably considered as being open to the public; omitted are warehouses, lodge halls and offices. Some businesses moved to another town or may have reopened in Santa Rosa under a different name. Primary sources were the Polk 1970 and 1972 street directories and issues of the Press Democrat from 1973-1974 that mentioned business relocations or SBA loan recipients. Any corrections or additions would be gratefully welcomed.

It’s also quite a slanted way of measuring the true impact. To get a better idea, I assembled a list of Phase II storefront businesses and living spaces that existed before the quakes and in the year following. My list and the official estimate nearly agree on permanent closures; the report said there were 69 and I found 75.

The big difference is the official count of 169 includes every warehouse, lodge hall and back office – but if you consider only places which were actually open to the public, the total was 118. This means the percentage of tax-paying businesses lost because of Phase II destruction was nearly twice as many than the city would admit (63% vs. 35%). And unmentioned in the report was that all those businesses had customers who would be seeking those goods and services elsewhere, maybe outside of Santa Rosa. So much for the hoopla of urban renewal being such a great boon to the local economy.

The Press Democrat was the loudest cheerleader for redevelopment so there was nary a discouraging word from businesses forced to move, aside from Elwin Hardisty’s remark that “it was a bitter pill to take” since they had remodeled their houseware store just a short time earlier. Fred Plante, who sold many local folks their first (reasonably decent) home stereo system, saw his business improve after moving to Mendocino Ave. He told the PD more women were coming in because he now had “a location that all my customers feel safe to visit.” Louis Traverso was reassured by his clientele “no matter where you decide to go, we’ll find you.”

The paper also glossed over the costs of setting up at a new location, which could be considerable. Passing mention was made of several stores applying for low-interest SBA (Small Business Administration) federal loans but only twice were figures mentioned: Plante went into debt for $83,000 to reopen and Hardisty’s loan was $189,000 – almost $1.3M today. Perhaps the reporter misunderstood and this was what Elwin actually meant by his “bitter pill” comment.

Phase II demolition began in early March, 1972. Slated for that first round were buildings on Fourth between A and B Streets, plus an apartment building and ten homes on First, Second and A St. Within days, a lawsuit was filed to stop the destruction.

The suit was filed on behalf of those living at the Occidental and Santa Rosa Hotels. An earlier survey had found there were 203 hotel residents with three out of four elderly or disabled, and that 1970 ordinance had assured them the city would find apartments comparable in quality and cost. A lawyer for the group told the PD those efforts were “completely inadequate” and resulted in tenants scrambling to find housing on their own. Rather than helping as promised, the city was instead trying to “temporarily” pack all of them into the Occidental because the Renewal Agency wanted to vacate the Santa Rosa Hotel. Not only that, the living situation was made worse because nearby restaurants, pharmacies, barber shops and other essential businesses were now boarded up and sidewalks were blocked off.

Six weeks later the group dropped the suit after the city convinced them it would fast track two senior citizen housing projects. One was the Salvation Army Tower, AKA Silvercrest Housing, at 1050 Third St. which had been rejected not long before. The other was Lamplighter Senior Citizens Inn on Range Avenue near Coddingtown (since 2014 it’s been the Parc Station Apartments). Newly built Bethlehem Tower on Tupper Street also promised to take in dozens of relocated tenants.

(Unrelated but interesting sidenote: At that same time another redevelopment project was ruffling feathers all over town – The Press Democrat reported there were plans to raze the McDonald mansion and build a “townhouse development of some kind.” The PD commented demolition was inevitable because “it is a dinosaur, unadaptable to the twentieth century marketplace.” The paper further endeared itself to history buffs by claiming “Mapleton was built in 1869 or ’77 or ’78, depending on the source.” As Gentle Reader knows well, Mableton was built in 1879.)

As the seniors watched their world being dismantled from hotel windows, Santa Rosa continued to rake in federal money, including another $1.5M for land acquisition and relocation. By Labor Day 1973 there were still over a hundred living at the Occidental. Some had been placed in Bethlehem Tower, some had enough income to rent a modest apartment somewhere. Some had died. Two years after that there were still 35 tenants and most went to Silvercrest. All told, it had been three and a half years since the seniors agreed to drop their lawsuit after the city promised to make good on the fundamental condition that it would find them new places to live.

The demolitions dragged on until 1978. Eminent domain was used (at least) six times to force a sale, including an apartment building on Third Street. Except for that original City Council meeting ‘way back in 1970 there had been no public hearings, and the legally required Environmental Impact Report was not prepared until two-thirds of the buildings had been already demolished.

The Cal Theater was torn down on January 13, 1977 and more will be written about that later. The Occidental Hotel – the oldest building in the project area and the last to be destroyed – fell on December 14 of that same year.


* Environmental Impact Report, Santa Rosa Center Renewal Project; URS Research Company, December 1973; Volume 1, page IV-3
Phase II area as seen in 1971 before the start of demolitions. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library (enhanced)
Phase II area as seen in 1971 before the start of demolitions. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library (enhanced)

NEXT: THE CHOSEN ONE

Read More

fourth1960s

POSITIVELY PEDESTRIAN 4TH STREET

Santa Rosa is tinkering with Fourth street again, hoping to keep its moribund business district from completely withering away during the Age of Coronavirus. The latest effort is to close off traffic on the 500 and 700 blocks (but not the 600 block), allowing restaurants and bars to setup more outside tables. The city will keep the blocks closed at least until January 31, 2021 but according to the PD, over 70% of the businesses on those blocks want the street closure to be permanent.

Go back about four decades, however, and tell people that Santa Rosa was going to block cars from Fourth street in 2020 and expect surprised reactions – because they would have expected the city had already done that.

Our story begins almost exactly 45 years ago in 1975, as the City Council clears the last major obstacle to final planning for the Santa Rosa Plaza Mall. The city would allow the developer to sink Third street so part of the shopping center could be built above it while lower Fifth street and A street would be folded into the mall plans. The matter of a Fourth street passageway between B street and Railroad Square was still unsettled – that’s a major story by itself and will be handled in a future article.

As much of the money to pay for that would come from the federal government, the Housing and Urban Development Dept. (HUD) had to give its blessing to the project. Its report from earlier that same year declared the mall would be generally a good thing for Santa Rosa, but there was concern that having it downtown could suck the life out of the existing business district: “…the older area could lose business, tenants would move elsewhere and the decline of another area of Santa Rosa would begin, possibly recreating a situation similar to that which necessitated urban renewal in the first place.”

To mitigate those concerns, the city and the Downtown Development Association – DDA to its friends – hired a respected San Francisco urban planning company, EDAW Inc. Their mission was to create “a complete, cohesive physical design plan” to “provide the necessary linkage” between the mall and the downtown core. So once again it was time to play Let’s Redesign Downtown – that ever-popular game in the 1960s that had enriched many out-of-town consultants. (Those layouts were discussed here in the series, “YESTERDAY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.”)

Given what they had to work with, their redesign was innovative. Like earlier plans there was an emphasis on streetscaping with lots of trees (primarily plums and magnolias). There was far more parking than we have today and it envisioned a free “people mover” shuttle looping continually between the garages and the stores.

But the highlight was turning Fourth street into a “meandering semi-mall” closed to traffic except for the people mover. Riley street would also become pedestrian only.

1977 Santa Rosa redesign by Charles A. Rapp/EDAW Inc. Fourth street "semi-mall" shown in green
1977 Santa Rosa redesign by Charles A. Rapp/EDAW Inc. Fourth street “semi-mall” shown in green

Another unique feature was the absence of traffic lights, which were only found where Mendocino ave. and D street crossed Fourth. There was also a pedestrian bridge across B street, linking the presumed entrance to the mall with Fourth street. Otherwise, traffic flow was completely controlled by roundabouts. The plan further placed an emphasis on preserving and restoring heritage buildings.

The cost for all this would have been $2.7M and during the 1977 presentation, raising that financing didn’t seem to be a worry. Thus: In sum it was a practical and affordable design which would have greatly perked up the old downtown without much disruption (no major realignments of streets or utilities) and might have helped keep the business district competitive, no matter what temptations the future mall might fling at shoppers. The downtown property owners particularly loved the semi-mall and most signed a petition to tax themselves via a special assessment district to help pay for it (the major holdout was the telephone company).

Spoiler alert: Absolutely none of that happened.

While the semi-mall and the rest of the plan remained popular with enthusiastic backing from DDA members, its chances of being built began to slip away with the 1978 passage of Proposition 13, which shut off city funding – it would have died right there, if not for a ray of hope thanks to Santa Rosa getting a windfall $40M due to Pacific Telephone’s expansion. By 1979 the inflation cost was now $3.3M and some merchants had turned into naysayers, griping that closing Fourth street would eliminate about eighty parking spaces in front of their stores. The death sentence came in 1980, when semi-mall came to just mean there would be wider sidewalks because the street was being narrowed to two lanes. Fourth could sometimes be closed for street sales or other special events. And that’s what we still have today.

The Santa Rosa Plaza opened in 1982, and it didn’t take long for downtown merchants to realize they would not be riding its coat tails to prosperity. The city had given the developer everything he demanded and the downtown ended up with less than nothing, given that Railroad Square was now isolated on the wrong side of the Great Wall of B Street.

In 1988 the City Council hired consultants and formed committees “to figure out something to make the downtown a busy, happy place” and the Press Democrat invited five architects to come up with ideas. Some of the plans weren’t very functional (yes, we really needed an underground art gallery) but Joel DeSilva came up with an innovative design that embraced and enhanced Rapp’s meandering Fourth street. As described in the PD, he thought “parks are the way to invite people into the downtown:”


…He starts with a miniature, tree-lined lake at the entrance of the mall on B Street. The lake feeds a creek that meanders the length of Fourth Street (which he closes to traffic) as far as the library on E Street. There are benches and little restaurants with outdoor eating space along the creek. “There has to be something to draw people out of the plaza and down to the rest of downtown. Something impulsive. You see something there and it looks interesting,” DeSilva said.

DeSilva also followed Rapp in placing a walkway over B Street from the Plaza, as well as a covered skywalk overlooking Courthouse Square.

Joel DeSilva's 1988 design for downtown Fourth street, with footbridges over an artificial creek
Joel DeSilva’s 1988 design for downtown Fourth street, with footbridges over an artificial creek

No mention of Fourth street in the 1970s is complete without talking about cruising, which was either innocent fun or a sure sign that Santa Rosa had gone to wrack and ruin. (I polled a few friends who were here back in the day and FWIW all remembered it as the former, and were shocked when I read some of the details reported in the Press Democrat.) But cruising was intertwined with the semi-mall story, and likely was a big part of the reason the design was abandoned.

Cruising began here c. 1963, with the first letter-to-the-ed in the Press Democrat complaining about youths “tooling Fourth street” in 1965. By the end of the decade it was both Friday and Saturday nights, drawing 200-500 kids each evening. The street was so jammed that sometimes only two cars were able to crawl through a green light.

In 1970 the PD ran a titillating series, “Santa Rosa After Dark” (topless go-go girls at the Stone House, “the home of dirty ankle sex in Santa Rosa”!) that described a scene very much like the movie American Graffiti – which would be partially filmed in Petaluma two years later. It was mainly bored kids who said they were there only because there was nothing else to do in Santa Rosa, so why not watch the street-rod parade while hanging out with the gang and guzzling beer. Written by Dick Torkelson, the colorful prose in the series is best read while imagining the voice of Dragnet’s Joe Friday:


…It’s the scene for the raked rears, the big meats, the high springs, the throaty burble of the glass-pack mufflers. It’s where the Chrysler hemis sometimes vie with the Goats as they call the GTO’s. It’s where the Mustang 390’s and the 428’s snort to a lead foot…Occasionally two cars will pull to a stop, the drivers glance across, size each other up and down like two roosters in a pit. The sign changes and one will hit it in low, lay just a blip of rubber, then ease off. Then the other will nip it, down hard, then up. Just a hint of what there is…

Every year the situation grew more concerning. In April 1977 – just three months after Charlie Rapp made the semi-mall presentation to the DDA – the police barricaded downtown Fourth street for the first time. They soon found out that was a mistake: The action just moved to more residential streets, particularly Summerfield Road with the kids hanging out in the Howarth Park parking lot.

That summer there were about 1,800 arrests and citations, most related to alcohol and particularly underage drinking. Also on the police blotter were cruising while drunk, urinating in public, fighting, noise (cruising involved lots’a honking at friends), hurling bottles, graffiti, smashing store windows, possession of illegal weapons (including sawed-off shotguns) and 18 cases of stolen cars. Driving a stolen car in a parade being heavily monitored by cops deserves its own category in the Darwin Awards.

Costs for policing all this were adding up. By the time the police tried closing the street the city was paying an extra $3,000 every weekend (nearly $13k today), mainly in police overtime. The City Council approved hiring three more officers and purchasing a new patrol car. By Thanksgiving of 1977 there were 21 officers on patrol during Friday and Saturday nights to book up to 50 arrests and write 100 citations.

The crackdown also included new city ordinances. A ban on left u-turns on Fourth during cruise nights proved to be a really dumb idea because the cruisers just used residential cross streets to turn around instead. The City Council added a prohibition on “pandemoniac vehicles” (squealing tires, an ordinance still on the books – sideshow haters, take note). At first the Council balked at restricting Friday and Saturday street parking on the downtown blocks of Fourth, but finally enacted a ban on what Police Chief Sal Rosano quipped were “portable beer dispensing machines.”

But nothing seemed to discourage the partying, which used to wind down around midnight but now went on until 2:30. Prevailing wisdom seemed to be that Fourth street cruising would go on forever and probably get worse.

All that was in the air in 1980, when it came time to decide the fate of the semi-mall. Considering a permanent closure of those blocks to traffic must have now seemed like folly – they had seen how that only moved cruising into the neighborhoods. Keeping the street open but squeezing it into two lanes was a classic technique of “traffic calming” which might (hopefully) discourage cruising through downtown. At least, I presume that was their thinking; nothing about the decision-making was reported at the time. Or who knows? Perhaps the hope was that a narrower Fourth street would give downtown more of its pre-1906 earthquake look, matching the ersatz cobblestones that used to rattle your teeth while driving through Courthouse Square.

Downtown Fourth was closed for six months as the work was done, and sure enough, the police fielded more calls about raucous street parties in residential areas. The PD had a later story that some local cruisers went down to Petaluma to check out the parade on Petaluma Boulevard, but the scene felt too alien. “They were all wearing cowboy hats,” a cruiser said.

When Fourth reopened in November, 1981 there were still police barricades on Friday and Saturday nights, but to the surprise of everyone, very few cruisers showed up – cruising “disappeared just entirely when Fourth Street closed for the mall [construction],” Police Captain Sanderson told the PD in March 1982.

What killed off cruising? More than anything else it was video games.

Video arcades and home game consoles were becoming the rage in later 1981 and exploded in popularity in 1982. Seemingly overnight arcades were everywhere; Aladdin’s Castle in the Plaza was the largest with sixty games, but a machine or three could be found in barbershops, hardware stores and coffee shops. Restaurants cleared out mop closets to make room for Frogger and Donkey Kong. The Safeway on Mendocino Ave. not only had a row of arcade games by the bathrooms but shoppers could pick up an Atari and a few game cartridges as well.

Santa Rosa’s history in the 20th century was marked by a long series of unfortunate planning decisions, and abandoning the “meandering semi-mall” is high among them. Yet it makes for an unusual Believe-it-or-Not! question to ponder: Would it have been built if only the final decision was made a year later, or Pac Man came around a year earlier?

Read More