goldengateFB

IF YOU BRIDGE IT THEY WILL COME

Imagine if the Golden Gate Bridge was never built – engineering issues couldn’t be solved, perhaps, or maybe there were insurmountable economic hurdles, or just not enough political will. What would Sonoma County be like today?

The only way to get here from San Francisco is by ferry, for starters, so Santa Rosa is a much smaller place. There was no population boom after World War Two; it’s a rural county seat somewhat like Ukiah, and the courthouse is still in Courthouse Square because they patched up the mostly cosmetic damage from the 1957 earthquake instead of tearing it down. Stony Point Road is the Highway 101 bypass, its two lanes swelling to three at the stoplights where there is cross traffic and turn lanes. Tourists clog the Redwood Highway on weekends because the winery events, resorts, spas and casinos in the countryside make this a popular getaway destination for the rest of the Bay Area, while the weekly Press Democrat is always pushing for year-round motocross and horse racing at the fairgrounds in order to draw visitors downtown. “Sonoma County? Sure, it’s a nice place to visit, but no, I…”

Building the bridge was never a sure thing, but it wasn’t because there was formidable opposition. Yes, there were efforts to slow or stop the project but it wasn’t ongoing, popping up only when the project neared a funding or construction milestone. None of those challenges posed serious threats, but were more like pesky nuisances.

Yet when the project launched in 1923 it seemed delusional to believe it would ever pass beyond the blueprint stage. Not only were there some engineers who thought it was folly to attempt constructing the longest bridge of its kind at that particular place, but its promoters had to run an incredibly complex political gauntlet, convincing Washington and Sacramento to back it enthusiastically – all before doing the basic studies which would prove the concept was viable. And even after construction began in January 1933, a retired geologist made a splash by predicting the south end could never be made stable, requiring months of further testing to prove him wrong.

All in all, it took almost 20 years to get to ribbon-cutting day. This is not the place to tell that whole story; the Golden Gate Bridge District has history pages for further details on the critical years of 1928 and 1930 (although some of the information on bridge opponents is wrong). A version of the original 1916 article proposing the idea is transcribed below.

The original 1922 design for the Golden Gate Bridge by architect Joseph B. Strauss, who said it could be built for $17,250,000 and opened by 1927. The final cost was almost exactly twice as much and took until 1937 to complete. Most of the credit for the appearance we know today goes to Charles Ellis, who was the prime designer of the bridge 1929-1931
The original 1922 design for the Golden Gate Bridge by architect Joseph B. Strauss, who said it could be built for $17,250,000 and opened by 1927. The final cost was almost exactly twice as much and took until 1937 to complete. Most of the credit for the appearance we know today goes to Charles Ellis, who was the prime designer of the bridge 1929-1931

Local folks probably know that the key part of the origin story concerns doings in Sonoma County by two men: Frank Doyle, president of the Exchange Bank as well as the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, and Press Democrat editor/publisher Ernest Finley. Although Doyle modestly said he was “just one of the hundreds who helped to put the bridge over,” he always will be remembered for kicking the project off by organizing the January 13, 1923 conference in Santa Rosa which brought together over 250 bankers, business leaders and politicians, which earned him his spot standing next to the governor and the mayor of San Francisco when the bridge was officially opened. Finley was the indefatigable champion for the cause, turning the Press Democrat into a soapbox for promoting funding and construction, cheering every nugget of good news and booing every bit of bad.

After Finley’s death in 1942, however, the story shifted; it was said the newspaper suffered by losing subscribers because of its bridge advocacy and Finley was a warrior editor battling powerful railroad, logging and farm special interests opposed to the bridge. This version has taken root over the years in the PD and elsewhere; here’s the version from the Media Museum of Northern California: “…In this particular crusade, which spanned at least two decades, Finley stood almost alone…he was opposed by nearly everyone. His business suffered as he lost advertising accounts and subscriptions. But he continued the campaign, insisting, ‘Damn the circulation! The bridge must be built!’” That’s now his legacy quote although it’s probably apocryphal.1

The problem with that narrative is it’s not really true.

The only special interest actually fighting bridge construction was (surprise!) the ferry companies, which were controlled by Southern Pacific – their astroturf citizen’s groups and 11th-hour courtroom posturings were widely viewed as transparent attempts to delay the inevitable clobbering of their businesses once cars and trucks could drive the bridge. More about that in a minute.

What irked Finley and the other boosters far more was the 1927-1928 pushback from a scattered group of Sonoma County property owners whose anger was whipped up by an anti-tax rabble-rouser.

Ladies and gents, meet Cap Ornbaun, fulltime crank.

Casper A. Ornbaun was always identified in the newspapers as a San Francisco lawyer and he indeed had an office in the landmark Spreckels Building on Market Street, although it seemed he didn’t use it much – on the rare occasions when his name appeared in the papers for doing something attorney-ish it was almost always about handling a routine probate estate, usually in the North Bay. While he lived in Oakland he told audiences he was fighting the bridge as a Sonoma County taxpayer; he owned the 18,000 acre Rockpile Ranch above Dry Creek valley which was used as a sheep ranch. (In a rare non-bridge court filing, he sued a neighboring rancher in 1937 for briefly dognapping four of his sheepdogs, demanding $6,000 for “tiring them and causing them to become footsore and unable to go through the regular shearing season.”)

Why Ornbaun so loathed the idea of a bridge across the Golden Gate is a mystery, but he turned the fight against it into a fulltime cause – maybe it was his midlife crisis, or something. Starting in 1926 it seems he was in the North Bay almost constantly, arranging small group meetings where he could bray and bark against the bridge project.

At least once Mark Lee of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce was invited to formally debate with Ornbaun, but otherwise his speaking engagements were rant-fests attacking anyone or anything connected to the project, including the Press Democrat. At one appearance in Sebastopol he came with dozens of copies of the PD which he handed out to prove the paper was “the bunk.”

The Santa Rosa papers mentioned him as little as possible (no need to give him free publicity) but his appearances in small communities like Cloverdale were newsworthy and the local weeklies often quoted or paraphrased what he had to say. Here are a few samples:

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Only San Francisco weekenders would ever use the bridge
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Strauss is a nobody; Strauss only knows how to build drawbridges; Strauss realizes it will be impossible to actually build it and is just looking to make a name for himself
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It will cost over $125 million, or about 5x over estimates
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Safeguarding against earthquakes will cost an additional $80-100 million
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Maintenance costs would be $5,707,000 a year; it will cost $300,000/year to paint it
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It will be impossible to get enough cars across the bridge to have it pay for itself
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It would run a deficit of $4,416,230/year
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It will take too long to cross it
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Nobody knows if people would prefer driving across a bridge rather than crossing the bay by ferry
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If it collapsed during construction we would be out our money with nothing to show for it
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It would be a high profile target during a war and if it were bombed the Navy fleet would be bottled up in the Bay (that was actually a 1926 Navy objection)
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The Board of Directors are not “angels”

His main accomplice in bridge bashing was James B. Pope, a civil engineer who once worked for the Southern Pacific railroad. Ornbaun praised him as “a consulting engineer of prominence” and “the boy who knows the bridge business” (Pope was 61 years old at the time) because he had once built a 310-foot wagon bridge in San Bernadino county. The wacky cost estimates above likely all came from Pope, who finally decided the bridge would cost exactly $154,697,372 based on his analysis of geodetic survey maps. Strauss had, by the way, offered to share with him the studies prepared by his engineers, but Pope declined to look at them because he “did not need it.”

Ornbaun, Pope and a couple of others had been busy fellows in 1926-1927 and collected about 2,300 signatures of property owners who wanted to opt-out from the proposed Bridge District.2 This meant court hearings in each of the counties with sizable opposition – a process which delayed the bridge project by a full year. But hey, the hearings gave Ornbaun a chance to strut his stuff in courtrooms and cross-examine Strauss, Doyle, Finley, and other project leaders, seemingly fishing for someone to admit the whole plan was a scam or at least that true cost would be closer to Pope’s absurd estimates.

What did come out in testimony was that the booster’s motives were far less altruistic than expressed at the 1923 conference, where it was said the high-minded mission was uniting the Bay Area into “one great thriving populous community,” and bridging the Golden Gate “cannot be measured in dollars and cents.” They were very much using dollars and cents as their measuring stick; Doyle and others who testified were clear their primary objective was jacking up Sonoma and Marin real estate, and they originally wanted Strauss to build something fast and cheap.

Although the 1927 PD headline below says property values might double, some of the actual testimony on that day predicted it would shoot up to 400 percent. And even if the bridge couldn’t built for some reason, they were already ahead – speculators had been buying and selling Marin and Sonoma land on the promise of the bridge almost immediately after the 1923 conference.

1927realestateSorry, Casper – despite all your efforts, the court threw out your case at the end of 1928. That meant the Bridge District could be formed and impose a small property tax to pay for tests and studies to see if the bridge could be built at all. Ornbaun continued to rattle around for a couple of more years making threats to sue, but no one paid much attention.

Flip the calendar ahead and it’s 1930, time for the District’s six member counties (San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, Del Norte, parts of Napa and Mendocino) to vote on a $35 million bond measure to pay for construction. And suddenly there are new bridge opponents: The Pacific American Steamship Association and the Shipowners’ Association of the Pacific Coast. They’re saying the bridge might be too low for safe passage, and there should be first an independent investigation by the state – never mind that the War Department had already approved it as having enough clearance for any ship in existence or under construction.

The Press Democrat and ads by the Bridge District fired back that the “Ferry Trust” was using the associations as front groups to confuse voters, but never explained the connection. Perhaps they didn’t know at the time that the two associations were essentially the same company, in the same offices and the president of both was the same man: Captain Walter J. Petersen – a man who apparently had no familiarity with steamships except as a passenger. The “Captain” in his title referred to his Army service in WWI, or maybe because he was also a captain in the Oakland Police Department in the 1920s (he was Police Chief for awhile, and always referred to as “former Chief” in print except when the reference was to the associations).

Sorry, Captain/Chief – the bond passed with overwhelming support, and nothing more would be said about those serious threats to navigation which were keeping you awake nights. To celebrate, Santa Rosa threw a “Victory Jubilee” parade which included a huge bonfire in the middle of Fourth street, with an effigy labeled “Apathy” thrown into the flames.

The last challenge to the bridge happened in 1931-1932, just months before construction was to begin. This time it was a suit in federal court charging the Bridge District was a “pretended corporation” so the bond was null and void. This time the ferry companies convinced two businesses to act as fronts for them.3 This time the ferry companies used their customary law firm to represent their proxies in court. This time it was so transparent that the ferry companies were behind this crap the American Legion and other groups demanded a boycott of the ferries as well as the Southern Pacific railroad. This time the ferry companies gave up in August, 1932, rather than pursuing their nuisance suit all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

What’s truly amazing about all this was the contemptuousness of the ferry companies, no matter what. Sure, our lawyers are representing those companies in the anti-bond lawsuit, but so what? We’re not actually a party to the suit! No, the bridge is not necessary – our ferries are more than capable of handling the traffic demands across the Golden Gate! Never mind that there were routinely hours-long backups on the auto ferries during peak times. At the end of the 1926 Memorial Day weekend there were eight thousand cars in Sausalito queued up for a spot on a ferry. Many gave up and parked their autos as far away as San Rafael so they could get a seat on a ferryboat and make it in to work the next day. It took three days working around the clock just to clear the line of people who were still patiently waiting with their cars.

It was because of these crazy bottlenecks that everyone, everyone, hated the ferries so much that the North Bay was ready to consider a ferry boycott, even though it would have cut us off from nearly all connection to San Francisco – we might have been forced back to the pre-1870 heyday of Petaluma riverboats.

Without its monopoly, the ferry was doomed. Where they had earned a 25 percent profit a year (!!) in the mid-1920s, they lost $1,000,000 in 1937 after the Golden Gate Bridge opened. The company slashed fares. They tried to sell the franchise to the Toll Bridge Authority for $3.75M. Finally in July 1938 – 14 months after the first car drove across the bridge – Southern Pacific closed the ferries to the public.

But during the days of opening celebration, the ferries were never mentioned. On that 1937 Memorial Day weekend the public could not wait to be on their new bridge. During the preview “Pedestrian Day,” 202,000 came to walk the bridge, so many that the turnstiles couldn’t keep up; they opened the barriers and put out tin buckets for people to throw in the nickels. The Press Democrat reported bands played from the San Francisco shore as bombs burst in the clear, deep blue sky.

In Santa Rosa there was a breakfast held in honor of Frank Doyle – who insisted he was the “stepfather” of the bridge, not its father. Mark Lee – the former Chamber of Commerce guy who debated Ornbaun a decade earlier – reminded the audience that the prize was still boosting the town: “…you face great opportunity. The tourists’ dollars, as well as those of business investors and home seekers will find a place in your community, now made so accessible to the thousands who will come into northern California.” Ernest Finley spoke of the “untold advantages and development for Santa Rosa” brought by the bridge.

On the editorial page Finley also reminded that thousands of people would be driving through Santa Rosa enroute to the ceremonies, and the governor of Oregon and other officials were being given a reception in Juilliard Park that afternoon. “Never before has Santa Rosa, destined to be the focal point for population and industry after the mammoth span is opened,” he wrote, encouraging residents to greet the cavalcade by lining Mendocino and Santa Rosa Avenues, showing “a proper display of enthusiasm.” There was much to cheer with enthusiasm that day, particularly if you were a Sonoma County realtor.


1 The “Damn the circulation” story first appeared as an afterword to “Santa Rosans I Have Known,” a collection of Finley’s thumbnail descriptions published in 1942 after his death. There Press Democrat Publisher Carl R. Lehman wrote that Circulation Manager McBride Smith approached Finley at his desk and told him the paper was sometimes losing 50-100 subscribers per day. “We can’t keep going at this rate. Our circulation will be ruined if this keeps up.” Lehman continued, “without looking up from his desk, Finley replied in his quiet but determined voice: ‘Damn the circulation. The bridge must be built.'” Smith recounted the story himself in a 1949 PD tribute to Finley but added, “he pounded the desk with his fist” as he said it. While the quote certainly matches Finley’s sentiments, it seems like an odd thing to blurt out to an office employee.

2 The anti-Bridge District count was 823 property owners in Napa and 902 in Mendocino. There were originally 574 signatures from Sonoma County, knocked down to 555 by the time the hearings began in November, 1927. That’s likely close to the number of Press Democrat subscribers who cancelled.

3 The two companies in the 1932 federal suit were the Del Norte Company, Ltd. (identified in the press only as “a large Del Norte property owner” and a “lumber firm”) and the Garland Company, Ltd. real estate firm of San Francisco led by Robert E. Strahorn, one of 92 property owners who had joined a taxpayer’s anti-bridge group as part of the 1930 opposition to the bond. The president of Southern Pacific-Golden Gate Ferries, Ltd. S.P. Eastman admitted in court he had sent a letter to Del Norte Company asking them to file the suit and promising to pay all legal fees (wire service story in Press Democrat and elsewhere, Feb. 20, 1932). Their involvement, combined with a September 3, 1925 editorial in the San Francisco Examiner, “Bridge No Foe to Lumbermen”, has led modern writers to claim there was substantial bridge opposition from logging interests, but I don’t find that mentioned in any of the voluminous coverage of all things related to the bridge in the Press Democrat, Ukiah papers, or elsewhere.

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sources
 

‘It’s the Bunk,’ Ornbaun Says In Discussing S.F. Bay Span

…Ornbaun was armed with many generalities, few if any figures, and an armful of Press Democrats. He spent most of his time asserting that the Press Democrat was the bunk and seeking to explain how the newspaper had sold itself to the bridge project. Incidentally, he asserted also that the bridge project was “the bunk.”

“The bridge can’t be built. I know it can’t be built. It is impossible to build it. And after it is built it will cost $300,000 a year to paint it. Such, in effect, was his reference to the proposed span from San Francisco to Marin county.

“I am interested in this fight only because I am a Sonoma county taxpayer,” he asserted. He referred to the fact that he represents 20,000 acres of Mendocino and Sonoma county land, but did not mention that it was sheep land.

“I have not been promised money by the railroads or timber interests, he continued. “When the bridge is built it will take too long to cross it.”

The speaker took occasion to flay Joseph B. Strauss of Chicago, one of the country’s foremost bridge engineers, by saying Strauss is “guessing” in his Golden Gate bridge design. He praised one Pope, who in a Humboldt county meeting admitted he was not a bridge engineer, as “the boy who knows the bridge business.”

“I hope to address more people next time I speak,” concluded Ornbaun, speaking to a crowd which had dwindled to about 50, about half of whom were from Healdsburg and points other than Sebastopol…

– Press Democrat, March 17, 1926

 

BRIDGING THE GOLDEN GATE

THERE IS AN OLD SAYING to the effect that the luxuries of today are the necessities of tomorrow. We also have the necessities of today that must be met without wailing for the tomorrows. With these must now be classed the bridge across the Golden Gate, once regarded merely as an idle dream.

San Francisco, cooped up as she is with a land outlet in only one direction, has come to realize that a bridge across the Golden Gate is necessary to her further growth and development. We of the North Bay counties know only too, well that this section of California can’ never come fully into its own until we have been brought into direct connection with the metropolis.

Engineers agree that the bridge can be built. Financiers assure us that the necessary funds will be forthcoming. Under the circumstances, no time should be lost in putting the project under way. With such a spirit back of the movement as was manifested here Saturday, there seems to be no good reason why actual construction should not begin at a very early date.

Then watch us grow!

– Press Democrat, January 14, 1923

 

You Can’t Convince Him

Arguments heard from time to time against the feasibility of the Golden Gate bridge project represent for che most part a set mental attitude of those who do not want to be convinced. You cannot discuss projects of this character with men who begin by sweeping aside with one breath all the arguments in its support, and attempt to start from there-There is the man, for instance, who sets his judgment against that of the worlds foremost engineers and says the bridge cannot be built at all. We also have the man who has heard somebody opine that the cost will not be twenty-five millions as has already been carefully computed by experts, but sixty or eighty millions, and who knows it will really cost a lot more. We have also the individual so constituted that upon his mind facts already established and details actually accomplished make no impression. He does not want to take them into consideration and so ignores them or else calmly denies their existence There is also the man who is devoid of imagination. He cannot possibly see how connecting this part of the state with the rest of California and cutting out the troublesome ferries, could improve conditions, add anything to our population or increase property values The bridge cannot be built, because nobody has ever built one like it up to the present time; if possible to construct such a bridge, its cost would be many times that estimated by people engaged in the business, and therefore prohibitive; the cost would not be met by the collection of tolls, as planned by its projectors, but from the pockets of the taxpayers; it is a county matter rather than a district undertaking, as set forth in the law, and consequently if the bridge should be constructed and finally prove unsuccessful final responsibility would rest with the counties making up the district and perhaps with some one county alone, with the result that that county would be wiped off the map; there is no way one can prove that people would cross on a bridge in preference to crossing the bay by ferry, or that more people would travel up this way if they could do so more conveniently than they can at present, because that fact has not yet been demonstrated; if the bridge should be built and something should happen to it later on, or if it should collapse during time of construction, the bonding companies might net pay and we would be out our money and have nothing to show for it these are some of the arguments of the man who is against the project for reasons of his own, but does not care to come out and say so. Talking with him is a waste of time.

– Press Democrat, August 1, 1925

 

Great Engineering Feat Proposed to Connect Marin-San Francisco Counties by Bridging the Golden Gate

Mr. James H. Wilkins, one of the eldest residents of San Rafael and a man who has the best interests of the county at heart has interested himself in the great scheme of connecting Marin County with San Francisco county by the construction of a massive bridge across the Golden Gate.

Would Extend From Lime Point to Fort Point Bluffs

A lengthy article accompanied by a map was presented in last Saturday’s Bulletin. It is not a new scheme but has been talked of for a great many years. Nothing, however, as definite as the plan therein presented by Mr. Wilkins has been advocated. This great project should appeal not only to the residents of Marin County but the residents of the entire northern part of the State.

Quoting from Mr. Wilkins communication the following plan is outlined:
From Lime Point To Fort Point Bluffs

“To give a general descriptive outline, the abutments and backstays would be located, respectively, on the rocky blue of Lime Point and on the high ground above Fort Point. The breadth of the “Gate” here is 3800 feet. The towers over which the cable pass, would be so located as to give a central span of 3000 feet, and side spans of approximately 1000 feet. The catenary, or curved line formed by the suspended cable, would have a central dip of approximately 65 feet. Therefore, the elevation of the towers must be 215 feet to secure the clearance required.

“From the southern abutment the railroad line would descend by a threequarters of 1 per cent grade, bringing it precisely to the elevation of the intersection of Chestnut and Divisadero streets, a block away from the site of the Tower of Jewels, that marked the main entrance to the never-to-be-forgotten Exposition. Just a few blocks farther is the belt railroad that traverses the entire waterfront, the business heart of the city, ready to be a link of the great commercial carrier of the western world.

Pedestrian Promenade Across Strait
Novel Idea

From this plan might be omitted the upper or promenade deck, with material reduction of cost, leaving only rail and automobile roadways. The promenade is, indeed, more or less of a matter of sentiment. Crossing the Golden Gate in midair would present, perhaps, the most impressive, emotional prospect in the world. Why should not those enjoy it who are, by unkindly circumstance, still constrain travel on their own legs? Moreover, it would be best observed leisurely, not from a flying train or automobile.

“After the shock of the bare statement, the first and preliminary inquiry arises, Is the project practicable—and practical?

“Beyond cavil or question, yes—far more so than the proposed five and a half mile bridge between Oakland and San Francisco. This is not a guess. I do most things in life indifferently, I am a graduate civil engineer, know a thing or two about applied mathematics and am familiar with construction work from building pigsties to building railroads—I have built both. The proposed suspension bridge—the central span—would be longer than any other structure of its kind in the world. But that only means stronger material, extra factors of safety. And nowhere in the world has nature presented such an admirable site. Bluff shore lines and easy gradients on either side —no costly approaches and still more costly right of way.

Idea Was Old As as State’s Railroading

The idea is almost as old as railroading in our State. When the Central Pacific made its entry into California, the original route via Stockton, Livermore Pass, Niles canyon, with its long detour and heavy grades was found to be impracticable. The company, therefore surveyed a more direct low-level line, departing from the present route east of the Suisan marshes, passing through the counties of Solano, Napa, Sonoma and Marin. In 1862 I was present at a session of the Marin Supervisors when Charles Crocker explained his plans, among which was a suspension bridge across the Golden Gate. Detail plans and estimates for such a bridge were actually made by Central Pacific engineers. But, along came a man with a newer idea—the transfer of trains across Carquinez straits by steamer and the extension of the Oakland mole to tide water. And so the suspension bridge project died.

“The length of the proposed bridge from Oakland to San Francisco is approximately 27,000 feet, as against approximately 5000 feet from abutment to abutment of the suspension bridge. The former, if constructed on arches, could not fail to interfere seriously with navigation of the upper bay. One serious objection seems to be that the projectors do not know where to land it on our side of the bay. One engineer gives it a terminal on the summit of Telegraph Hill!

Cost Ranging From 25 to 75 Millions

“The estimates of the cost of the San Francisco-Oakland bridge range from 25 to 75 million dollars.

From such data as I have, and by comparison with the cost of similar structures, a suspension bridge across the Golden Gate could be built for less than ten million dollars. This is an extreme estimate, accepted by several engineers to whom this article was referred.

“But as a final and fatal stumbling block, the foolish jealousy between the rival towns will never permit them to join in a great constructive enterprise till human nature has materially changed. That will not be in my time or yours.

“Of course, it will be objected to at once that both terminals of the suspension bridge would necessarily be located on military reserves of the government. But such an objection could hardly stand. Indeed, it ought to be an immense strategic advantage to have the two great defensive points of the harbor connected up. Doubtless the government would gladly grant the easement. It is in inconceivable that any government would arbitrarily block one of the greatest and most significant undertakings ever attempted by civilized men. Certainly no hostile attitude was assumed at Washington when the plan was materially considered over forty years ago.

Financing of Project a Community Investment

“Still as the intimate concern of San Francisco and the North Coast counties, the undertaking should be properly financed by these communities, as a public utility concern. Having only a sincere desire to be closely united, this ought to be simplicity itself, for the extremely simple reason that a bond issue of $10,000,000 would take care of itself and speedily retire itself. The Northwestern Pacific Railroad alone spends half a million dollars a year to maintain a line of steamboats between San Francisco and Marin county points, which is extremely wicked interest on the total cost. Very small charges for its use would soon pay interest, principal and all.

And if, from a financial standpoint, it were a total loss, still San Francisco would be far ahead. The city could well afford to pay $10,000,000 or more for the greatest advertisement in the world—for a work never before surpassed by the imagination and handiwork of man. Whether viewed from its lofty deck, commanding the contrasting prospect—to the west, the grand old tumultuous ocean; to the east, the placid bay; or from incoming ships; or from the landward hills: it would bid fair to remain forever the most stupendous, awe-inspiring monument of our modern civilization. And it could have no rival, for there is only one Golden Gate in the world.

Greatest Of World’s Harbor Improvements

“Even in remote times, long preceding the Christian era, the ancients understood the value of dignifying their harbors with impressive works. The Colossus of Rhodes and the Pharos of Alexandria were counted among the seven wonders of the world. The same tendency appears in our own times, witness the cyclopean Statue of Liberty at the entrance of New York harbor. But the bridge across the Golden Gate would dwarf and overshadow all.”

This proposition has created more enthusiasm in San Rafael than any other for some time. Mayor Herzog and the City Council have all endorsed it enthusiastically. The Central Marin Chamber of Commerce is expected to act at their next meeting and the County Supervisors will also probably act at their meeting next week. While the cost of such a bridge would be enormous it is not insurmountable as pointed out in Mr. Wilkins’ article. Such a proposition if constructed would undoubtedly double the value of real estate in Marin county in a short time and no doubt in a few years the population of Marin county would increase five-fold. This proposition is not a wild-cat dream and deserves a lot of consideration.

– Marin County Tocsin, September 2 1916

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SANTA ROSA’S PALM TREE FRENZY

Here’s how the Chamber of Commerce wanted to beautify Santa Rosa in 1912. Step #1: Get rid of those big trees lining Mendocino Ave. Step #2: Replace with palms, all the same size and the same distance apart.

(RIGHT: The present corner of Mendocino Avenue and 7th Street looking in the direction of College Avenue, c. 1905. The large house nearest the camera would be the current location of the Trek Bicycle Store. Photo courtesy Larry Lepeere collection)

Santa Rosa has always shown a willingness – nay, eagerness – to trash its own heritage when it stands in the way of progress. Sometimes “progress” is the justification for following a popular trend and as palm trees were quite the rage at the time, the Chamber of Commerce promoted a plan to fill the entire length of Mendocino Avenue with them.

“Mendocino avenue is the main thoroughfare north and south through the city and has on it some of the handsomest homes in the city, so it is only natural that is should be made one of the best so that strangers passing through town will take away a fine impression of the city,” the Press Democrat cheered. Apparently PD editor Ernest Finley feared motorists would go home and tell their friends, “Santa Rosa’s an alright place, I guess, except there’s not enough contrived landscaping to my taste.”

This wasn’t the first local case of palm tree fever. The year before, the Board of Supervisors endorsed a scheme to plant date palms all along the highway that was then in the planning stage. As Mendocino Avenue would be a portion of this new highway, it makes a certain bit of sense that it should match. But unlike portions of the road that would pass through farmlands, the plan here was to tear out mature trees. Click or tap on the photo to the right to enlarge and some of the trees in the distance must be 30+ years old – and the picture probably was taken years before the palm frenzy peaked.

That image also shows, however, why it could be argued the plan was somewhat forgivable; people were planting palm trees anyway and doing a bum job of it. Three, maybe four varieties are seen in the photo ranging in style from squat to spindly, which together makes it look like a patch of tall weeds (no argument from me there). And this sort of willy-nilly palm planting was underway all over Santa Rosa during the early years of the century; there’s hardly a street scene snapshot to be found from this period where there is not some forlorn palm or three to be spotted by the curbside (here’s another example from about a block away).

One of the articles transcribed below mentions the work should be done soon in order for the town to look its best for the upcoming Panama-Pacific Exposition (PPIE) in San Francisco. This is the first mention of Santa Rosa specifically planning for the 1915 mega-event, and “the attraction Santa Rosa will be for the great crowds of visitors during the exposition year.” What “attraction” the Chamber of Commerce hoped would draw hordes of tourists here was not spelled out, but it’s a safe bet they were thinking of Luther Burbank. If so, they were about to be disappointed; Burbank’s company was planning on advertising “Luther Burbank’s Exhibition Garden” near Hayward specifically to lure fans away from trekking to Santa Rosa and bothering the famous man. (UPDATE: A 1913 PD article confirms that yes, the Chamber was expecting Burbank to be the town’s star attraction, with tourists also drawn “on account of the fame the city has gained as the scene of many rose carnival triumphs in the past.”)

While here, though, out-of-towners could admire our new palm trees, all exactly alike. Visitors could scratch their heads and wonder why a town like this was trying so hard to look like it was next door to San Diego or somewhere else with a semi-tropical clime.

TREES GIVE WAY TO SHOWY PALMS
Improvements Being Carried Out on Mendocino Avenue North of College Avenue

Property owners on Mendocino avenue from College avenue to the city limits are planning to improve that street this summer. Already those on the west side of the block from College to Carrillo have removed most of the large elm trees and planted out palms which will make the thoroughfare a palm avenue if the work is continued.

Now the property owners, R. W. Peterson, H. H. Elliott, D. J. Paddock and W. H. Lumsden have begun the work of laying a concrete curb and gutter. This part of the work will be extended rapidly on both sides of the street as the city is assisting in the work by furnishing the gravel required and hauling away the dirt which it is necessary to remove. Other property owners have already signified their intention of continuing the work as soon as the first block is completed.

Mendocino avenue is the main thoroughfare north and south through the city and has on it some of the handsomest homes in the city, so it is only natural that is should be made one of the best so that strangers passing through town will take away a fine impression of the city. With the bitumen from the courthouse to College avenue extended to the city limits the street will be one of the most desirable residence sections of the city and make it a popular drive. At present the street north of College avenue is anything but inviting for driving, owing to its roughness in dry weather and muddy condition in wet seasons.

– Press Democrat, March 21, 1912
PALM PLANTING ENDORSED BY THE IMPROVEMENT CLUB

The further beautifying of Santa Rosa by the planting of palms along the streets, at uniform distance, and of uniform variety, met with very hearty endorsement at the meeting of the Woman’s Improvement Club, of which Mrs. Herbert H. Moke is president, held in this city on Monday afternoon.

Dr. P. A. Meneray and Max Rosenberg addressed the Club on the subject of palm planting and pointed out the charms of parking in the beautifying of any city. At the last meeting of the Chamber of Commerce the plan was endorsed.

Mrs. Moke and Mrs. John Rinner were named a special committee to call upon Luther Burbank and ask for his opinion regarding the best variety of palm to plant. The Club will also district of the city [sic] and have committees call upon property owners and solicit their co-operation in the campaign for palm planting. They will ascertain the names of those who will be willing to pay for the planting and purchase of the showy foliage. The plan is to plant one palm every fifty feet so that it can be readily seen that the cost will be very little.

With the approach of the Panama-Pacific Exposition and the attraction Santa Rosa will be for the great crowds of visitors during the exposition year, it is conceded that the making of the city as attractive as possible by that time should commence as soon as possible, and the planting of palms is a good start. With the backing of the energetic women forming the Improvement Club the scheme is sure to be successful.

– Press Democrat, December 10, 1912

WILL PLANT PALMS FOR THE BEAUTIFYING OF THE CITY

A great plan of beautifying the city by the systematic planting of palms along the sidewalks, producing a park effect that will at once be a delight and an inspiration, is to be impressed upon the people of Santa Rosa through the co-operation of the Woman’s Improvement Club and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. The idea is to have Santa Rosa look as attractive as possible by the time of the holding of the 1915 Exposition when many hundreds of strangers will come within our gates, lured here by the fact that Santa Rosa is the home and work place of the greatest of scientific horticulturists, Luther Burbank, and also on account of the fame the city has gained as the scene of many rose carnival triumphs in the past.

The suggestion for palm planting in Santa Rosa has been urged for a long time but recently was given fresh impetus…the committee decided to recommend the Dracena, commonly known as the “Dragon palm” as the best for sidewalk planting. Another suggestion is that the Canary palm or orange or lemon trees are suitable for the yards so as to produce a tropical and delightful effect.

The joint committee hopes that people all over Santa Rosa will co-operate in this plan for the adornment of the city. They hope, too, that orders for the palms and trees will be left with the Chamber of Commerce. The palms can be obtained at a considerable reduction of cost if purchased to large quantities by the Chamber of Commerce for the purposes named.

Not only is Santa Rosa preparing to beautify for the world’s fair crowds but all over the State the same idea prevails and in many other places just such spirit prevails.

– Press Democrat, February 15, 1913

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THE FALL AND RISE OF SANTA ROSA’S TOXIC TANNERY

It was the worst fire since the 1906 earthquake, but that’s not what made the Levin Tannery’s destruction a disaster.

Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

The ferocity of the blaze that afternoon in the early summer of 1910 was astonishing. “Great masses of heavy, black smoke rolled high into the heavens, solid walls of red and angry flame leaped in every direction,” according to the Press Democrat, “explosion followed explosion as oil tanks and acid receptacles were reached, and the hissing of escaping steam from the great boilers added to the unearthly din.”

The fire, at the modern location of 101 Brookwood Avenue, immediately spread from the tannery to the adjacent shoe factory and a couple of houses. And then it was remembered that gasoline was being stored at the building next door. “It was said there was enough gasoline in the place had it exploded, to have wrecked every building within a considerable distance, to say nothing of the probable loss of life,” the PD reported.

Afterwards, there wasn’t much left at all, which in a way was great news; the tannery had a history of being a terrible citizen, stinking up the town and repeatedly poisoning Santa Rosa Creek with illegal discharges. The Levin brothers promised in 1906 and 1909 to clean up their business but never did, as discussed at length in the earlier article, Tannery Town. Good thing: Tannery gone. Bad thing: There were about 140 men working there at the time of the fire, which meant about three percent of the local workforce was now unemployed.*

Soon afterwards the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce held the first of three public meetings on the future of the tannery and shoe factory, the events chaired by Press Democrat publisher Ernest Finley wearing his hat as the Chamber’s president. Curiously, no members of the Levin family or representatives from the owners attended. Some prominent businessmen said they had discussed matters with the Levin brothers, and while hastening to add they were not speaking on the Levin’s behalf, were in fact clearly doing so.

At the first meeting, one of the non-spokesman spokesmen for the Levins stated “plans are already well under way for the immediate re-establishment of the Tannery, but had intimated that if any suitable arrangement should be proposed they might be willing to move to some other part of town, as they were tired of having to fight with their neighbors and carry on business at the same time.” Dr. Bogle suggested the tannery could be rebuilt near the train depot, which sounds similar to the 1908 proposal that Santa Rosa move all the bordellos to the West End Italian neighborhood.

Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

At the next meeting three days later, Finley presented a proposal from the Levins. It was a complicated deal. The shoe factory would be spun off into a separate business after $75,000 was raised by selling shares in the new corporation. Half of the investment would come from the Levins, with local capitalists chipping in the rest. The factory would stay at the same location, with the rest of the land to be sold to the new company for $10,000. The tannery would move – once Santa Rosa found a new suitable location for them. It was never explained whether the city or the Levins would own the property at the new spot.

It was quite the sweetheart deal for the Levins, who apparently had enough insurance coverage to rebuild both businesses anyway. They would net the equivalent of about $5 million today while hanging on to half ownership in the factory. And presumably, the new location for the tannery would come with a city guarantee there would be no further complaints made against them.

The third meeting recapped the proposals and State Senator Walter F. Price reported that investors were really getting excited; they had raised about 20 percent of the funds in just the past 72 hours. Oh, and it had been privately decided it was important for the city to buy the former tannery land for a public park. And thus two weeks later, everything was riding on the City Council approving $5,000 (the investor’s half of the property deal with the Levins paying themselves the other half).

And the Council said no. “The City has no money for such purposes,” a councilman told the Press Democrat.

Newspaper editor Ernest Finley was apparently irate the Council had put the kibosh on the deal negotiated by Chamber of Commerce president Ernest Finley:


At a special meeting of the City Council called for last evening to consider the park proposition upon which also hinged the re-establishment of the shoe factory, the removal of the Levin Tanning Company’s plant from the residence district, its early re-establishment here in another part of town, and the ending of the long and bitter wrangle that has resulted from the maintainence of the tannery at its present location, the entire project was turned down, and with scant ceremony.

In addition to that remarkable sentence which dribbles on for nearly seven dozen words, the PD article closed by naming all members of the Council who were at that meeting. At least he didn’t publish their home addresses and announce the hardware store was having a sale on rope.

That was the end of the tannery removal saga. The Levins began to rebuild the shoe factory and tannery in the exact same locations. Five weeks after the Council refused to appropriate funds, two people sued the Levins, claiming the tannery conditions were damaging their health.

There are two takeaways to the story.

First, it’s highly unlikely the tannery actually could have been relocated elsewhere in Santa Rosa. Tanneries use lots of water and thus need to be near a plentiful supply, such as Santa Rosa Creek, and it’s doubtful there was another creekside location available in city limits – Santa Rosa was so small at the time you could probably bicycle from any end of town to the other within ten minutes. If they left their old location it would make more sense for the Levins to leave Santa Rosa altogether and rebuild somewhere like Petaluma, which already had a large tannery on the river.

Rebuilt tannery in 1944. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

The story also shows Santa Rosa’s leaders once again managing to find a way to fail in a win-win situation. This was a pattern during the first decade of the Twentieth Century, as has been discussed here several times. Grand proposals were made for the betterment of the town, only to collapse because there was no political will to follow through, no courage to take risks no matter how good the cause and how eagerly sought the outcome. The Levin Tannery was long recognized as a blight on the town, its bad practices destroying the creek and causing endless complaints about the smell. It does not take a genius to see that its presence seriously hampered the town’s growth. Yet at the second public meeting, the PD reported, “From the first, [Ernest Finley] said, the only object had been to prevent anything being done that might run the tannery out of town and lose its payroll to the city.” More than anyone else, über-booster Finley should have championed letting the tannery leave for the sake of Santa Rosa’s future, even if it meant the loss of a few jobs.

It has to be understood, too, that the tannery drama was playing out at the exact same time as the courtroom case over the downtown lake. As described in the previous item, a group of citizens banded together and created a little lake by damming Santa Rosa Creek. Admired by all for creating a much sought-after park, it was doomed first by the toxic discharges into the creek during the tannery fire, then threatened by a lawsuit from a man who claimed his property line extended into the middle of the creek.

But like the tannery situation, there were no better angels in Santa Rosa to step up and do what was best. Even though the District Attorney was part of the grassroots effort, the city averted its gaze and allowed the dam to be demolished. For reasons unrelated to the ersatz lake, Santa Rosa had reasons to challenge such a claim – it was important to settle legally whether half of the creek was private property or not.

The lake story and the tannery relocation tale ended up being twin failures for the town, the two episodes joined together like the front and back sides of the same plugged nickel. Which was about all Santa Rosa’s leadership was worth.


*The population of the greater Santa Rosa area in 1910 was around 11,000 (see discussion) which would make 4,000 a reasonable guess as to the number of total able-bodied men in the workforce.

FIERCE FIRE DESTROYS LEVIN TANNERY AND THE SANTA ROSA SHOE FACTORY
Great Excitement Prevailed Tuesday Afternoon while the Flames Held Angry Revel and Threatened Further Destruction
MUCH DAMAGE DONE
Tannery and Factory Practically Covered by Insurance–Two Cottages Burned–Loss Keenly Felt by the Large Number of Employees–Cause of Fire Unknown

Fire dealt Santa Rosa another hard blow yesterday afternoon, leaving in its wake a mass of smouldering ruins to mark the spot on upper Second street where the big plant of the Levin Tanning Company and the Santa Rosa Shoe Manufacturing plant had stood. Within an hour from the time the alarm was turned in, so fiercely did the fire rage, that damage amounting to more than $150,000 had been wrought, and two of the city’s largest and most important institutions wiped out.

About ten minutes past five o’clock the alarm sounded, and it took but a glance in the direction indicated by the box number to show that a fire of startling proportions had broken out. Before the fire department could reach the scene, the highly inflammable nature of the main tannery building and its contents, accelerated by a stiff breeze blowing from the southwest, had given the flames such a mastery of the situation that it was apparent the big building as well as the one beside it, was doomed.

A Spectacular Conflagration

It was one of the most spectacular fires ever seen here. Great masses of heavy, black smoke rolled high into the heavens, solid walls of red and angry flame leaped in every direction, explosion followed explosion as oil tanks and acid receptacles were reached, and the hissing of escaping steam from the great boilers added to the unearthly din.

The fire started in the main tannery building, which was located right on the creek bank, and at the worst possible point, as far as controlling the flames was concerned. The wind drove the flames directly on and into the big structure, leaping higher and higher in their angry revel, crackling and roaring their defiance. Leaping across the narrow passageway between the main tannery building and the four-story finishing house, they rushed on toward the street and the office building and dwellings standing opposite.

The Shoe Factory Goes

From the first it was seen that the big shoe factory to the east was doomed, and when the long arms of flame reached out and took it in, a fresh touch of the spectacular was lent to the scene already boarding on the tragic. In and out of the many windows the angry flames played and when the wind drove them clear across the street. Just when it seemed that the warehouse and office building must likewise become their prey, the wind again veered and drove the flames back over the already half-demolished factory building.

With the tannery building, finishing house and shoe factory, much valuable machinery and large number of tools, as well as immense quantities of leather and shoe stock, were consumed.

Two Cottages Burned

The cottage occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Day and owned by Mrs. Anne E. Straub, was completely gutted. The Days succeeded in removing considerable of the furniture, but as they held no insurance the loss is quite heavy. This cottage adjoined the tannery on the west. On the east side of the shoe factory the residence owned by John Brennard and occupied by the Misses Anna and Maria Brennard, was also burned. The occupants saved some of their belongings.

Excitement in Neighborhood

The magnitude of the fire occasioned much excitement in the neighborhood and people on both sides of the street in proximity to the burning buildings carried out most of their furniture. Many roofs were wetted down and a number of smaller blazes started by the flying embers were extinguished without much damage resulting.

The residence of Milton Wasserman on upper Third street caught on fire several times, but the flames were fortunately extinguished without any serious damage being done. A grass fire was also started near the residence of John Rinner, but was speedily stamped out when discovered.

Gasoline Warehouse Menaced

The greatest excitement prevailed when it was known that almost in the path of the flames was an old planing mill, in which was stored a large quantity of gasoline belonging to the company represented here by A. D. Sund as local agent. It was said there was enough gasoline in the place had it exploded, to have wrecked every building within a considerable distance, to say nothing of the probable loss of life. Very fortunately the fire did not take the building.

Ben Noonan’s Loyal service

Ben Noonan, in his big Stoddard-Dayton touring car, did valiant and effective service during the fire. When the blaze was assuming dangerous proportions, he raced to the fire station on Fifth street, hitched the auxiliary steamer on to his machine and in on time had it at the scene of action. Again he raced back for a load of fire hose, and again he went back for a fresh supply of coal for both steamers. At one o’clock this morning he drove past the Press Democrat office, pulling the auxiliary engine back to the engine house, for it was not until that hour that the engines were removed. Hosemen were on duty all night, guarding against any possibility of further outbreak of fire.

Fire Origin Not Known

The origin on the fire is not known. It broke out soon after the men had quit work for the night, and before they had all left the premises. Two men still working in the finishing house were compelled to flee in their working clothes.

Carried Good Insurance

Fortunately the plants were well insured, and it is likely the insurance will practically cover the loss. Both institutions were doing a great business at the time, and the fire necessarily hinders that, and at the same time throws many people out of employment. About 140 men were employed at the time of the fire.

[..]

– Press Democrat, June 1, 1910

LOCAL BUSINESS MEN SAY FACTORY SHOULD REBUILD
New Site for Tannery and Other Matters Discussed
Chamber of Commerce Committee Named to Investigate Situation Fully and Report Back Monday Evening–Tannery to Resume Operations at an Early Date
At last night’s meeting of the Chamber of Commerce, which took the form of a mass meeting at which tannery matters had been made the special order of business, the matter of rebuilding the Levin Tannery and Shoe Factor was discussed at length, as was that of assisting the institutions in finding a new location in another part of town. The proprietors were not present, but it was stated that plans for the immediate reestablishment of the the Tannery here are already well under way, while the Shoe Factory may also be rebuilt providing some assistance is forthcoming from the community. The Chair was finally authorized to appoint a committee of five to investigate the situation fully and ascertain just what can be done…

Last night’s meeting of the Chamber of Commerce was largely attended, the big rest room adjoining the regular headquarters being used as a meeting place and being crowded to its utmost capacity. President Ernest L. Finley occupied the chair, while Secretary Edward H. Brown was at the desk…

…Under the head of new business, Chairman Finley stated that the special order of business for the evening was the consideration of tannery matters, briefly outlining the situation resulting from the recent destruction of the Levin company’s big plants, and stating that a free and full discussion of the matter was desired.

J. H. Einhorn started the ball rolling by stating that everybody wanted to see the Tannery and Shoe Factory reestablished, because they had been a good thing for the town. The business community could not fail to notice the loss of the company’s big payroll, he said.

M. Rosenberg stated that he had had a talk with Nate and Pincus Levin, in which they both had told him that plans are already well under way for the immediate re-establishment of the Tannery, but had intimated that if any suitable arrangement should be proposed they might be willing to move to some other part of town, as they were tired of having to fight with their neighbors and carry on business at the same time. He said the Levins had further told him that while the Shoe Factory was on a paying basis at the time of the fire, they had not yet made up their minds whether to rebuild it or not. If the community would assist them, however, they would rebuild, and furnish half the capital required. The amount necessary to properly build and equip the Shoe Factory was estimated at between $60,000 and $75,000.

Charles E. Lee said he thought the community could well afford to assist in the establishment of such institutions, and favored as many citizens taking stock as possible.

J. H. Brush said the business community fully appreciated the work that had been done by the two institutions, and wanted to know whether in the event of being asked to take stock it would be in a joint tannery and shoe factory, or merely in a shoe factory operated as a separate concern. Mr. Rosenberg said that as he understood it, the Shoe Factory and Tannery were separate and distinct institutions.

C. D. Barnett said that he had had a talk with the Levins, and while he had no authority to make any statement in their behalf, he understood that they felt that would have their hands full for a while with the Tannery alone, and that if they started the Shoe Factory they would want to put all the details of supervision and management in the hands of a competent manager. On some such basis they would be willing to furnish half the capital required.

Superintendent Gilman of the Shoe Factory was called on, and said that at the time of the fire fifty hands were employed in his department, with a payroll of about $625 per week. The Tannery payroll was much larger, he said, he did not now know just how much so. Orders for about 13,000 pairs of shoes have come in since the fire…

…Dr. S. S. Bogle told of the plan undertaken last year to secure a tract of land near the depot for factory sites, and hoped something could still be done along that line. “Now is the time to settle this matter of location,” he said. He said he would be willing to give $100 toward procuring a new site, and thought the people living in the neighborhood of the old plant would all assist to the best of their ability.

John Rinner said that if the people would help who are continually putting their money into wildcat schemes and senting it away to pay for lots in some new “metropolis” that is going to be built about the bay, they would not only be doing themselves but their town some good…

– Press Democrat, June 18, 1910

MASS MEETING DISCUSSES PLANS FOR SHOE FACTORY
New Site for Tannery Favored by the Committee
Citizens Gather and Hear Plan Outlined by Chamber of Commerce Representatives for Re-establishment of Institution Recently Destroyed by Fire

At the mass meeting held under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce Monday evening at the Columbia theatre, the committee named at Friday night’s meeting to formulate a plan of action in the Shoe Factory and Tannery matter submitted its report. The report was adopted, and the committee authorized to proceed and try and work the plan out to a successful conclusion, additional members being added to assist in handing the details.

Briefly stated, the plan proposed is to have a corporation capitalized at $75,000, of which amount the citizens will be asked to subscribe half and the Levin Tanning Company the remainder, said corporation to take over the business of the Santa Rosa Shoe Manufacturing Company and begin operations at as early a date as possible. The Levin Tanning Company agrees to sell to the Shoe Company all [illegible microfilm] at the head of Second street and move its tanning plant to another part of the city for $10,000.

Under this agreement, the Levin people would be paying half of the $10,000 above mentioned, for they would first have subscribed for half of the capital stock of the Shoe Company…

Monday night’s mass meeting under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce was called to order by President Ernest L. Finley, who acted as chairman. Secretary Edward Brown kept the minutes. The meeting was held in the Columbia theatre, the use of which had been tendered by Manager Ray Crone of the Columbia Amusement Company.

In stating the objects of the meeting, Chairman Finley took occasion to refer to criticisms that had been heard when the Chamber of Commerce took up the tannery matter, stating he believed it was the result of a misunderstanding as to the aims and purpose of the organization. From the first, he said, the only object had been to prevent anything being done that might run the tannery out of town and lose its payroll to the city.

[…]

– Press Democrat, June 21, 1910

SHOE FACTORY PLANS WILL BE RUSHED FROM NOW ON
The City Authorities to be Asked to Buy Old Site
Chamber of Commerce Committees Submit Reports at Public Mass Meeting Held at Columbia Theatre Last Night

At the public meeting held last night…President Finley outlined the plan that had been agreed on by the general committee, and told something of the work that had been done to date. Briefly stated, it had been decided to try and form a new corporation to reestablish the shoe factory, said corporation to be capitalized for $75,000, the Levin Tanning Company to subscribe half and local investors the other half. The Levin people had agreed to sell their real estate holdings at the head of Second street to the new shoe company, and move their tannery to another part of town for $10,000…

…W. F. Price reported for the committee named to look out for stock subscriptions, stating that the outlook was encouraging, and that a number of subscriptions had already been received. At the conclusion of his remarks he gave any of those present and desiring to subscribe for stock an opportunity to do so, and about $2,500 was pledged. Up to the present time something like $7,500 has been promised…

…John Rinner called attention to the fact that if the tannery is re-established on its old site, the city will be compelled to expend five or six thousand dollars on a new sewer to accommodate the street sewage, while if the tannery is moved the present sewer will do. This he mentioned as an additional argument in favor of having the city co-operate in the plan now under way to bring about the tannery’s removal.

[…]

– Press Democrat, June 25, 1910

CITY COUNCIL TURNS DOWN THE PARK-TANNERY PROJECT
Had Endorsement of Chamber of Commerce, Women’s Improvement Club, Park Commissioners, Mass Meeting and Citizen’s Committee

At a special meeting of the City Council called for last evening to consider the park proposition upon which also hinged the re-establishment of the shoe factory, the removal of the Levin Tanning Company’s plant from the residence district, its early re-establishment here in another part of town, and the ending of the long and bitter wrangle that has resulted from the maintenance of the tannery at its present location, the entire project was turned down, and with scant ceremony.

“We declined to endorse the plan — the City has no money for such purposes,” said a member of the Council to a Press Democrat representative after the meeting was over.

The plan as outlined was presented by the Chamber of Commerce, which organization had previously given the project much careful consideration and its unqualified support…The Women’s Improvement Club had promised to donate the sum of $2,500 toward the plan and also to assist the project in other ways. The residents living in the immediate vicinity of the Levin plant had promised $5,000 to help carry the plan to a successful conclusion.

The City was asked to assist to the extend of $5,000, said sum to be paid at any time it might prove convenient, half out of one year’s levy and half out of the next year’s if desired. In return, it had been arranged to have the Levin Tanning Company deed all its holdings at the head of Second street to the City for park purposes.

Present at last night’s meeting were Mayor James R. Edwards, Councilmen C. Fred Forgett, H. L Johstone, Fred C. Steiner, Eugene Bronson and Frank L. Blanchard.

– Press Democrat, July 8, 1910
AN INJUNCTION SUIT AGAINST TANNERY
Mrs. Catherine Bower Plaintiff in an Action Commenced in the Superior Court Here Wednesday

Alleging that she has been damaged in the sum of $2,500 by reason of conditions existing at the tannery that have depreciated the value of her property, and been a menace to her health, Mrs. Catherine Bower has instituted a suit for the recovery of damages and for an injunction against the Levin Tanning Company.

In her prayer the plaintiff asks for a judgment of this court that defendant be forever restrained and enjoined from maintaining, conducting, operating or carrying on a tannery upon the site mentioned, the manufacturing of leather from hides, the handling of hides, the allowing of deleterious matter to enter Santa Rosa Creek and many other things constituting as alleged by Mrs. Bower in her complaint a nuisance.

The injunction asked for is a permanent one. For some time the injunction proceedings have been threatened.

[..]

– Press Democrat, August 18, 1910

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