1904comstockhouse-s

BRAINERD JONES’ PAINTING OF COMSTOCK HOUSE

With MUCH gratitude to Harrison Comstock, we can now share Brainerd Jones’ preliminary design for Comstock House, painted in 1904.

This watercolor shows several differences with his pen and ink architectural elevation (also shown below), which accurately represents the final design. Other historical images of the completed home can be found in the Comstock House photo gallery.

Two years before starting this project, Jones had completed the mansion-like Paxton House two doors down from close friends of Mattie and James Wyatt Oates, who now commissioned him to create their own home. As discussed in that article, the two buildings complimented each other. Both were in the cutting-edge Shingle Style with predominant roofs and asymmetric projections popping out everywhere.

One difference was that (the home that would become known as) Comstock House was smaller, with a footprint of roughly 60 x 40 feet. The watercolor shows the house was wider and deeper in Jones’ original design and almost square, adding considerable attic space and room for two more windows on the sides. The additional massing makes it less of a “little sister” to Paxton’s big place, but Jones achieved that by raising the roofline. This extended the upper slope of the gambrel roof much further than common on Dutch Colonial Revivals. making the house look a little squat. Worse, it undermined the genius engineering principles that distribute the gravity load in a traditional gambrel rafter-and-gusset frame – if built as shown, this house probably would not have survived the 1906 earthquake.

Also mirroring the Paxton House is the doorway closing off the south (shown left) side of the porch. The Paxtons had an enclosed porch room on their north side; this was likewise a semi-private space separate from the main porch.

A significant difference is that the street view first floor, the porch columns and chimney are clad in rusticated basalt, same as used with the fence surrounding the house. Stonework like this was a common element in Shingle Style. Also, the watercolor shows the house shingled in Eastern White Cedar, which turns silver-grey as it weathers. That kind of wood was specified in Jones’ notes to the contractor, although the more readily-available Western Brown Cedar was used instead.

There are other differences to spot. The front door is directly in line with the steps and not off-center; there is a window on the north end of the porch and not the traditional Dutch Colonial “coffin door,” which was probably needed to vent the smoke from Wyatt Oates’ cigars. The bank of Tutor-style casement windows seen to the rear left ended up on the other side in front. The carriageway is in front on Mendocino avenue and not on the Benton street side.

Sadly, there’s no floor plan to go along with this original design. But it’s pretty easy to tell that all the bedrooms and living rooms would have been a couple of feet larger on all sides. You can bet, however, the wretched servant would still have the smallest and coldest room in the house, no toilet except for the one off the back porch and a kitchen so miserable it could only have been designed by a man who never had to work in one.

Watercolor on paper, 16″ x 9¼”

 

Drawing published in the Santa Rosa Republican – see photo gallery

 

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jameswyattoates

THE DEATH OF JAMES WYATT OATES

R.I.P. James Wyatt Oates, wherever the hell you may be.

December 9, 2015 is the centenary of his death, so this is an appropriate time to write his final chapter. There’s still more to come about his life, however, particularly his difficult final three years, a mixture of melancholy and joy along with an outlash of violence that took Santa Rosa by surprise. More also has been unearthed about his life in the years around 1880, when he was a journalist and aspiring author in the mold of Bret Harte. Someday, too, I hope to be able to write the full story of the man he murdered.

(Late Portrait of James Wyatt Oates, courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Published elsewhere here is an overview of his life and his writings but for the purpose of this article, here is a thumbnail sketch of the story so far:

Called Wyatt by his family, he was born in 1850 and the brother of William C. Oates, a Confederate commander in the Civil War famous for losing the Battle of Little Round Top at Gettysburg. Wyatt adored his much older brother and followed him by becoming a lawyer in their Alabama hometown. Also like William, he was known both for his courtly Southern charm and his volatile temper as well as being famously quick to judge. Eventually Wyatt married and settled in Santa Rosa. He and wife Mattie had no children, but mentored a number of younger people who often lived with them for months at a time. The Oates’ were closest to Anna May Bell, whom they clearly regarded as a daughter, and Hilliard Comstock, who studied law under Wyatt and became his law partner. When Mattie died in 1914 Wyatt was despondent. He visited his old haunts in Alabama and bonded with his cousin’s families, returning to Santa Rosa with Pat Granberry, a 24 year-old grandniece who stayed with him for several months, sometimes joined by two of her sisters. Also living with Wyatt in his grand home on Mendocino avenue during those final months was Hilliard.

As the end of 1915 approached, Oates was finally emerging from his mourning. He spent Thanksgiving in Los Angeles with Anna May Bell – now Mrs. Samuel Carey Dunlap – and “when he returned home [he] was bubbling over with happiness over his visit,” according to the Santa Rosa Republican. On the train, however, he caught a cold he couldn’t seem to shake. A week later he called for a doctor. (For the record, it was Dr. Joseph H. Shaw, Luther Burbank’s personal physician and best friend.)

Pneumonia developed and the condition of the 65 year-old man continued growing worse. Anna rushed up from Los Angeles. She and Hilliard were there when he died in his home.

The Republican newspaper eulogized in both his obituary and funeral notice. “Amid manifestations of sincere grief the mortal remains of the late Colonel James Wyatt Oates were borne to the tomb,” moaned the reporter, larding on the jeremiad. He was “a cheery, kindly and happy nature far in excess of that of the majority of men.” There was also this sideways compliment: “He was a man of strong convictions, and never hesitated to give his opinions on the questions of the day…Those who did not measure up to this standard of being ‘square’ were not admired by the deceased in even a slight degree.” In other words, he was an opinionated hothead you didn’t want to cross.

Many years later, Ernest Finley wrote vignettes about people in that era and Oates was the only person he called out as a jerk. After Wyatt was reported to have threatened to kill him, Finley allegedly remarked, “he will never cut anybody up, because he hasn’t got the guts.” Finley might not have been as blustery if knew Oates actually had killed someone, but apparently few, if any, people in Santa Rosa knew about his darker past.

As Finley was editor and publisher of the Press Democrat, you know his paper’s obituary was not a love letter to the “cheery, kindly and happy” side of the late Mr. Oates. In the days following the funeral, the PD could scarcely conceal its schadenfreude over hearsay that the last will and testament contained shocking details which might prove James Wyatt Oates was indeed an asshole. Never before or since have I read in those century-old newspapers gossipy speculation about the contents of someone’s will.

The first rumor to emerge was the estate was worth over $100,000 (the equivalent of about $2.5 million today) much of it in stocks and cash, quite a windfall for the lucky heirs. “It is also reported that Mr. Comstock is given the right to occupy the residence on Mendocino avenue until such time as it is sold,” the PD claimed. There was actually nothing in the will concerning this but it must have been an agreement with the executors so the house did not sit unoccupied. Hilliard’s mother, Nellie, and sister Catherine immediately moved into the house as unpaid caretakers until the Comstocks were able to buy it with a $10,000 closed bid from probate the following year.

The PD also speculated Anna May Dunlap was supposed to inherit much of the estate (quite predictable, actually) and the grandnieces might “come in for a large share of the property,” which possibly surprised some, given he met them for the first time only about a year earlier. Then there was this: “There has been a persistent rumor that some time prior to his death, Mr. Oates disinherited his nephew…if this proves true it will come as a surprise, as Will Oates is the Colonel’s nearest relative.”

William C. Oates Jr. – usually called “Willie” – was the 32 year-old son of Wyatt’s beloved brother. (William Sr. had another child with a house slave.) As such the Press Democrat was correct; Willie was indeed his closest blood relative, and eyebrows would have raised around town if Wyatt truly left him nothing.

And Wyatt truly left him nothing.

When the will was officially filed the PD produced a half-page story, reprinting the entire document – another unprecedented step for the paper – and the Republican published it in full as well. As it turned out, Wyatt had added a codicil making several changes.

(Press Democrat cartoon following James Wyatt Oates’ stepping down as president of the  Sonoma County Automobile Association in 1911. Note in particular his “elevator” shoes; from the 1892 voter registration records we learn his distinguishing features were a scar on the left side of his head and that he was exactly five feet, seven and five-eights inches tall – the only voter to specify his height with such exact precision.)

Wyatt’s will, created shortly after his wife died the previous year, reflected her own bequests almost exactly (should Wyatt have died first, of course). About $30,000 was given away to friends and relatives and to his nephew, Oates left the gold watch and chain which was given to him by Willie’s father when Oates turned 21 in 1871. The will left one-third of the entire estate before taxes and any other distribution to Willie and the remainder of the estate to Anna May Bell Dunlap.

The codicil was written about two months before Wyatt’s death and following a visit by his nephew.  Willie must have said something that really pissed off his temperamental uncle during that visit because he was cut off entirely – Willie didn’t even inherit the legacy watch. That third of the estate that was once promised to him went to May, Pat and Lois Grandberry, Wyatt’s grandnieces.1

The codicil also took away a $1,000 bequest to Mattie’s uncle and another thousand dollars going to the widow of his old law partner. No reasons were given. Added was a new part giving “all coal lands and coal interests” in Arizona and mining interests in Mexico – which were “very valuable if they can ever be properly gotten at” – to his three cousins including Pocahontas (“Pokie”) Granberry, the mother of the three young women.

“There is an unconfirmed rumor that Mr. Oates plans to contest the will,” the PD speculated hopefully, but with absolutely no basis. The will was not contested.

That was not completely the end of the story, however. A month later, the papers reported Dr. Bogle – one of the executors of Wyatt’s will – had fulfilled a very odd last request.

Although the obituary stated “…the mortal remains of the late Colonel James Wyatt Oates were borne to the tomb,” that wasn’t exactly true. His coffin had been stacked inside the holding vault at the Rural Cemetery, the same little stone shed which also still held the coffins for Mattie (d. 1914) and his mother-in-law (d. 1910). None of them had been buried. Supposedly Wyatt asked Dr. Bogle to have their bodies cremated together.

Such a request was out of character, to say the least. Years before, Oates had purchased a large plot at the entranceway of the Rural Cemetery. Most likely he originally wanted all to be interred under a glorifying monolith, such as the obelisk with life-size statue that marked the Alabama grave of his Civil War brother, William. It is hard to reconcile the shift from owning the most prominent gravesite in town to wanting the most anonymous disposal of their remains.

And if that wasn’t strange enough, Wyatt also demanded the remains of Mattie’s two sisters and brother be disinterred along with his father-in-law, Perrin L. Solomon – a man who Oates could not possibly have known because he died in San Francisco when Oates was a 13 year-old boy in Alabama.2

Ordering your long-dead in-laws – people whom you never met – dug up for a mass family cremation is unfathomable, at least to me. Perhaps he developed the idea while wallowing in his deep depression following Mattie’s death; perhaps he wanted to make a dark nihilistic statement about her family; perhaps the request was a caustic joke which his friend tragically took seriously; perhaps he asked for it because he was barking mad. Whatever the reason, all of their bodies were indeed cremated together.

“The ashes will be thrown to the winds by Dr. Bogle, in conformity with another wish of Colonel Oates,” the Santa Rosa Republican reported. “The cremation of this number of bodies from the same family, all in one day, is a very unusual proceeding.”

1 The women were grandchildren of Wyatt’s aunt, which made them his first cousins once removed. Pat (also known as “Patti” or “Pattie”) was 25 at the time of Oates’ death and Lois (“Louise”) was twenty. May cannot be clearly identified through census and genealogical records among the three (possibly four) other daughters in the family but “Mae” appears in the 1920 census with the same age as Pat, so perhaps they were twins.

2 The Press Democrat article transcribed below implies the Solomons were buried in Santa Rosa, but that is very unlikely. Perrin L. Solomon died in 1863 and according to Mattie’s obituary, her siblings died as infants. Wyatt’s estate included a burial plot in the Laurel Hill Cemetery in San Francisco, which presumably was where they were buried.

 
COLONEL JAMES W. OATES DIES EARLY ON THURSDAY MORNING
Bright Light in History of Santa Rosa Since 1876 Succumbs To Fatal Attack of Double Pneumonia

James Wyatt Oates, one of Santa Rosa’s most loved and revered citizens, and a resident of this city since 1876, died about 2 o’clock Thursday morning after an illness of some weeks. Toward the last of his sickness developed into double pneumonia, and every effort was made by physicians and nurses to ward off the fatal attack, but in the end his age of 65 years counted against him and he passed away.

Mr. Oates was born in Alabama. When a young man he went to Arizona, and later came to California, settling in Santa Rosa, which has been his home ever since. Soon after coming to Santa Rosa he married Miss Mattie Solomon, daughter of Mrs. M. S. Solomon of San Francisco. After his marriage Mr. Oates, who was a brilliant attorney, formed a law partnership with Barclay Henley, afterward sent to Congress from this district, and E. L. Whipple. This firm of Henley, Whipple & Oates was recognized for many years as the leading attorneys of Santa Rosa.

Mr. Oates had always taken an active interest in the political and social life of the city, and was interested in state and national politics. He was a strong and self-reliant figure through many years of political battles and earned the respect and admiration of everyone in the city.

His wife died about a year ago, after he mother had passed away previously, and Mrs. Oates never quite recovered from the shock of her loss. He made a trip to his old home in the South and returned with two nieces, but it was seen that his health was failing. A short time ago he made a trip to southern California, and was forced to return because of a bad cold contracted while away. This cold grew worse and developed into this final illness which caused his death.

The sudden death of Colonel Oates has brought a poignant grief in many households in this city and county. Early Thursday morning telephone messages from Cloverdale and other sections of the county were received at this office inquiring as to his condition, and the announcement of his death was greeted with exclamations of surprise and genuine regret. Recently Colonel Oates had been feeling better than he had at any time since the death of his beloved wife, to whom he was devotedly attached. Her death left a void in his life that could not be filled. He planned a trip to Los Angeles to spend Thanksgiving with Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Carey Dunlap, who were probably his closest personal friends on the coast. Returning home he caught a severe cold in the sleeper coming north, and was unable to keep warm. He did not feel particularly bad, but the cold kept him confined to his residence for several days. Even then he resented any one’s believing he was ill, and thought that his robust constitution would be abundantly sufficient to overcome any slight indisposition which the cold might have occasioned.

It was only last Friday afternoon that Colonel Oates really complained of feeling badly, and Dr. Joseph H. Shaw and a nurse were summoned to attend him. His bronchial tubes were affected, and even then it was believed that his condition would readily yield to treatment. The condition proved far more obstinate than at first believed and pneumonic symptoms appeared on Sunday. Tuesday morning Colonel Oates was quite low physically and serum was administered to the patient. Wednesday a chill showed the reaction from the serum, and at noon of that day Colonel Oates rallied and declared that he felt fine.

Wednesday evening the patient collapsed, and from that time on his decline was rapid, and despite the efforts of skilled physicians and trained nurses, he passed to the Great Beyond. The dread pneumonia had secured such a hold on him that its ravages could not be stayed.

Colonel Oates had thoroughly enjoyed his stay in Los Angeles with his friends, the Dunlaps, and when he returned home was bubbling over with happiness over his visit. He was never more pleased than when with the Dunlaps, and always enjoyed their company. Mrs. Dunlap was with Colonel Oates when he passed away and had done much to soothe his last moments on earth. Another happiness which had come to Colonel Oates since the death of his wife and his return from a visit to his old home in the South, was the visit of the Misses Pat and Lois Granberry and Attorney William C. Oates of Montgomery, Ala. The latter has been notified of the death of the eminent Santa Rosan, and is en route here. He will arrive Monday evening if all goes well.

Funeral Tuesday

The funeral of Colonel Oates has been set for Tuesday afternoon, and Rev. Willis G. White will be the officiating minister. The services will be conducted at the Oates residence on Mendocino avenue. The deceased was a member of Santa Rosa Lodge, No. 57, F. & A. M., and of the Santa Rosa Lodge, No. 646, B. P. O. E.

In the death of Colonel Oates Santa Rosa has lost one of her foremost citizens, a man who was alway valorously fighting for the right in civic affairs, and who always championed the cause of the oppressed and the downtrodden. He was a man of strong convictions, and never hesitated to give his opinions on the questions of the day, even though in doing so he might have disagreed with his friends. He was a man who had the courage of his convictions, and who had the temerity to follow the dictates of his own conscience. The world is better than he should have been permitted to live, and the example of his life will be a guide for many young men of this community who knew him intimately and who will revere his memory. The world can ill afford to lose such men as James Wyatt Oates, for he was one of its staunchest men, a man who measured everybody by the standard of being “square.” Those who did not measure up to this standard of being “square” were not admired by the deceased in even a slight degree.

To many in this city the death of Colonel Oates will come as a personal grief. He was a sincere friend to those who knew him well and his counsel was eagerly sought by these friends. He was a man well versed in the law, and for many years past had made a specialty of corporate law. He was looked upon as an authority in his line, and a man of superior talents. He was a brother of the late Governor Oates of Alabama, and a member of a prominent family in that favored land.

The active pallbearers will include…

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 9, 1915

 

COURT ADJOURNS OUT OF RESPECT TO THE LATE COLONEL J. W. OATES

When the Superior Court assembled Monday morning, Judges Seawell and Denny sat en banc for the purpose of receiving official intimation of the death of the late Colonel Hames W. Oates.

[..]

W. C. OATES ARRIVES FROM ALABAMA FOR FUNERAL

Will C. Oates arrived here Monday afternoon from Alabama for the funeral of the late Colonel Oates, his uncle, which takes place this afternoon. Mr. Oates’ father was Governor of Alabama. He came west immediately upon receiving the news of his uncle’s death.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 14, 1915

 

OATES FUNERAL HELD TUESDAY
Last Tribute Paid to Beloved Santa Rosa Citizen

Amid  manifestations of sincere grief the mortal remains of the late Colonel James Wyatt Oates were borne to the tomb Tuesday afternoon. Will C. Oates of Montgomery, Alabama, who had been a guest at the Oates home here during the recent fall, came hurriedly from his southern home and attended the funeral of his uncle. Mr. Oates came from Montgomery immediately on receipt of the news of his uncle’s death.

Beautiful flowers, the loving remembrances of friends, were brought in profusion to adorn the casket of the deceased, and to mark his last resting place. These flowers ran the gamut of the blossoms of the season and were in various designs, from the modest shower bouquet to the massive designs. They spoke eloquently of the love of the living for the deceased. Among the designs were those forwarded by the fraternal societies to which the deceased was attached and which he greatly loved.

Of a cheery, kindly and happy nature far in excess of that of the majority of men, accompanied by a sense of absolute honor and fairness, which makes for perpetuation of the individual in memory of his fellow men. James Wyatt Oates will be remembered for many years to come, and until long after a new generation has come to take the places of those now active in the affairs of this section. He was a man who was quick to see and appreciate the virtues and possibilites of his fellow men, and he interested himself in them in such a manner that made life-long friendships.

Throughout this section and wherever he was known, Colonel Oates was held in high esteem, and deep sorrow at his untimely demise has been expressed by these friends. He had a conspicuous and honorable career of usefulness as a good citizen and was a striking figure of the Sonoma county bar. For many years his kindly face and familiar figure were so well known in the community in which he had spent practically the best part of his life, and for such a considerable period were his wise counsels sought by his neighbors that many of his old-time friends can scarcely realize that he has gone from them forever. It was a privilege to have known Colonel Oates intimately, and many residents of this city and county rejoiced in that privilege.

The funeral services were conducted by Rev. Willis G. White, pastor of the Presbyterian church, who paid a splendid eulogy to the deceased and his many admirable traits of character.

William C. Oates, Dr. S. S. Bogle, Hilliard Comstock, Charles H. Rule, Samuel Carey Dunlap and Dr. D. C. Farnham were the active pallbearers. The honorary pallbearers included the following:

Admiral J. B. Milton, San Francisco, Blitz W. Paxton, W. E. McConnell, Charles A. Wright, Judge Emmet Seawell, Judge Thomas C. Denny, Charles C. Belden, Mark L. McDonald, Jr., A. C. McMeans, Walter W. Monroe, Herbert Whitton, Elwyn D. Seaton, Charles A. Hoffer, John Tyler Campbell, L. D. Jacks, Paul T. Hahmann, Glenn E. Murdock, Wm. E. Woolsey, J. L. Mercier, Edward M. Norton, J. Elmer Mobley, W. Fraser, Herbert Slater, Arthur K. Lee and Rev. C. C. Cragin.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 14, 1915

 

JAMES W. OATES WILL IS READ
Following Southern Custom, Document Is Opened After Funeral, But Contents Will Not Be Known Until Filed for Probate

The will of the late J. W. Oates, as is customary in the south, was opened and read yesterday afternoon following the funeral. While it has been agreed among those interested that no details relative to its contents shall be made known prior to the filing of the will for probate. It is known that Dr. S. S. Bogle and Charles H. Rule, two of the most intimate friends of the deceased, are named as executors of the instrument.

The will was opened in the office of Attorney Hilliard Comstock in the presence of Dr. Bogle, Charles Rule, Samuel C. Dunlap, Will C. Oates, and Attorney Comstock, who was associated with the deceased in the practice of law. It is expected the document will be filed for probate within a day or two by the gentlemen nominated therein as executors.

– Press Democrat, December 15, 1915

 

WOMEN RELATIVES GIVEN BULK OF OATES ESTATE
William C. Oates, Nephew of the Deceased, Reported to Have Been Disinherited–Deceased Lawyer Left Property Valued at Over One Hundred Thousand Dollars

The late James Wyatt Oates left a valuable estate. It is said that in realty and personally it will aggregate over $100,000.

In addition to the beautiful home on Mendocino avenue, Mr. Oates owned a prune orchard on Sonoma avenue and other real estate, and also considerable bank stock and other securities.

While the will of the deceased lawyer has not as yet been filed for probate, it is understood that a cousin of the late Mrs. Oates, Mrs. Samuel Carey Dunlap, formerly Miss Anna May Bell, comes in for the largest share of the estate.

Mrs. Dunlap was a great favorite of both the deceased and his wife and both prior to her marriage to Mr. Dunlap and since has visited at the Oates house here.

It is also understood that the Misses Pat and Lois Granberry, granddaughters of Mr. Oates, also come in for a large share of the property.

It will be remembered that the Misses Granberry spent a considerable portion of the summer in Santa Rosa at the Oates home.

There has been a persistent rumor that some time prior to his death, Mr. Oates disinherited his nephew, William C. Oates, who came here from his old home in Alabama to attend the funeral and will return today, and cut him off from any share in the property. If this proves true it will come as a surprise, as Will Oates is the Colonel’s nearest relative. He is a son of the late William C. Oates, former Governor and United States Senator of Alabama.

In addition to the share of the estate, which it is understod goes to Mrs. Dunlap and the Misses Granberry, Mr. Oates is understood to have made other personal bequests, among which is his law library and practice to Attorney Hilliard Comstock, who was his law partner and who, since the death of Mrs. Oates, was his constant companion. Attorney Comstock will probate the estate.

As has been stated previously, Dr. S. S. Bogle and Charles H. Rule are named in the will as executors. It is likely that the will may be filed today.

– Press Democrat, December 18, 1915

 

OATES’ LIBRARY MAY BE GIVEN TO THE PUBLIC
Deceased Lawyer Intimated to Friends Some Time Since That He Thought of Making City a Bequest of His Books

It is not unlikely that when the will of the late James W. Oates is filed for probate a provision will be found whereby the fine collection of books in his private library will be conveyed to the Free Public Library as a gift. Mr. Oates is known to have had this idea in mind for some time previous to his death, and is said to have told at least two of his friends that he had embodied such a provision in his last will and testament.

As already stated in thes columns, Mr. Oates bequeathed his law library to his partner, Hilliard Comstock, along with his legal practice. It is also reported that Mr. Comstock is given the right to occupy the residence on Mendocino avenue until such time as it is sold and the proceeds turned into the estate. For some months prior to Mr. Oates’ death, Comstock has been making his home there with him.

– Press Democrat, December 19, 1915

 

WILL OF JAMES W. OATES IS FILED FOR PROBATE
As Stated in the Press Democrat, Will C. Oates Is Cut Off From Sharing in the Estate, the Bulk of Which Goes to Mrs. S. C. Dunlap and the Misses Granberry–Santa Rosa Gets Private Library–Will and Codicil

THE WILL of the late James Wyatt Oates has been filed for probate in the Superior Court of this county, and as stated several days ago in the Press Democrat, the deceased cut off his nephew, Will C. Oates without anything, leaving the bulk of his estate to Mrs. Samuel Carey Dunlap of Los Angeles (formerly Miss Anna May Bell) and to the Misses May, Lois and Pat Granberry of Alabama, his grand-nieces.

CITY GETS LIBRARY

As was also stated in the Press Democrat on Sunday morning, Mr. Oates left his private library to the Santa Rosa Public Library, and his valuable law library and office furniture and practice to Captain Hilliard Comstock, for years his close friend companion [sic] and law partner. And, as was also stated, the deceased made a number of bequests to other relatives and intimate friends. The estate is valued at about $100,000.

PROPERTY OF ESTATE

Dr. S. S. Bogle and Charles H. Rule, the executors named in the will, filed their petition for letters testamentary in the Superior Court yesterday through Attorney Hilliard Comstock. Among the property left by Mr. Oates is the family home and grounds on Mendocino avenue; two lots on Spencer avenue and adjoining streets; a prune orchard on Sonoma avenue; a lot on Fourth street, occupied by Brown’s poultry store; $20,000 worth of mortgages and notes; much bank stock and other securities; and, as stated in the will, valuable interests in coal mines in Arizona and in gold mines in Mexico. The latter, however, are of uncertain value owing to the conditions there.

WILL AND CODICIL

In his will Mr. Oates had previously bequeathed his nephew a third of the estate, but in a codicil, olographic in nature, executed only last October, he cut him off entirely.

Mrs. May Whipple, life-long friend of the family, and widow of Mr. Oates’ former law partner, the late E. L. Whipple, is also cut off in the codicil although she was a beneficiary to the amount of $1,000 under the terms of the will as originally written.

The will and codicil, as filed in court yesterday, are as follows:

[..]

– Press Democrat, December 22, 1915

 

NEPHEW CUT OFF IN THE WILL OF THE LATE COLONEL OATES
Olographic Codicil of October, 1915, Makes Several Changes in Distribution of $100,000 Estate of Santa Rosan

The will of the late Colonel James W. Oates was filed for probate in the Superior Court Tuesday afternoon by Attorney Hilliard Comstock, former law partner of the late Colonel Oates. The estate is valued at about $100,000 and many bequests are made.

Personal articles are given to intimate friends, sums of money to other friends, and Mrs. Samuel Cary Dunlap, formerly Miss Anna May Bell, is left the bulk of the estate with his grandnieces, the Misses May, Lois and Pat Granberry.

William C. Oates, a nephew of the deceased, is completely cut off by a codicil, which was executed in October last. There is an unconfirmed rumor that Mr. Oates plans to contest the will. Thus far no authority for this state can be secured.

There is a letter referred to in the will, and this letter makes a number of personal bequests, among them being a walnut table and other pieces of furniture to Charles Rule; Miss Grace Dougherty is given Mrs. Oates gold watch; the Saturday Afternoon Club gets a large and handsome mirror for the club house, which was intended for such gifts by Mrs. Oates. The gifts practically dispose of the house furnishing, paintings, etc., following out suggestions made by Mrs. Oates as well as the deceased. The intimate friends who are remembered with keepsakes, etc., included those just mentioned, and Dr. Bogle, Mrs. Frank Doyle, Mrs. Woodward, Miss Bess Woodward, Mrs. C. H. Dwinelle, Miss Sadie Morrill, Mr. and Mrs. B. W. Paxton, Mrs. Margaret Farnham, Miss Harrell and others, and the relatives in the South and East.

The will and codicil in full are as follows:

[..]

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 22, 1915

 

BODIES OF OATES-SOLOMON FAMILIES ARE CREMATED
Dr. S. S. Bogle True to His Trust in Fulfilling the Promise Given Late James Wyatt Oates on His Dying Bed–Seven Bodies Taken from Here to Oakland

Some time prior to the death of the late James Wyatt Oates, he asked Dr. S. S. Bogle, his personal friend and one of the executors of his will, to promise him that he would see that his body and the bodies of the late Mrs. Oates, General and Mrs. Solomon, her parents, and of her brothers and sisters, were all removed from the Santa Rosa cemetery and cremated.

On Wednesday, Dr. Bogle fulfilled his trust and all seven bodies were cremated in the Oakland crematorium in a short time, als in carrying out another wish of the late Mr. Oates, the ashes will be scattered to the winds.

Undertaker Frank Welti of this city removed the caskets of Mr. and Mrs. Oates and the late Mrs. M. S. Solomon from their temporary vault and the bodies of the late General Solomon and his other children, Perrin L. Solomon, Maria S. Solomon and Ann Solomon, making seven bodies in all and took them to Oakland. Prior to the creation of the same Dr. Bogle, who was present, inspected all of them, and they were consigned to the furnace and reduced to ashes.

The creation of the mortal remains of seven members of the same family on the same day and in the same crematorium is rather unusual. Some of the bodies thus disposed of had been buried for many years, and when taken up were found to be still in a good state of preservation.

– Press Democrat, January 23, 1916

 

 
WILL C. OATES IS NOT TO CONTEST
Petition Filed in the Superior Court on Wednesday Recites That Year Has Lapsed–The Messrs. Granberry Ask for Distribution

William C. Oates, nephew of the late James W. Oates of this city, apparently has given up his intention of contesting his uncle’s will, as the year has passed by without his having done so. The law provides that a contest must be brought with a year after the issuing of the letters testamentary.

The latter was brought to mind in the Superior Court on Wednesday when a petition was filed by the Misses Pat, Lois and May Granberry asking the court to partially distribute the estate to them. The petition sets forth that each of the Misses Granberry is entitled to over $15,000, and they ask that $10,500 be distributed to them for their respective shares. Mention is also made that a year has massed since the letters testamentary were issued in the estate. Donald Geary is the attorney for the Misses Granberry. Captain Hilliard Comstock represents the estate.

– Press Democrat, February 22, 1917

 

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THE 1911 COMSTOCK HOUSE FIRE

It was great good luck the house escaped damage that August morning; had the fire been discovered just a few minutes later the big roof could have been engulfed and quickly after that, the entirety of the landmark home which would later become known as Comstock House.

The item appearing in the Santa Rosa Republican was maddeningly brief and vague. Apparently someone spotted flames coming from the chimney during the night and sounded a fire alarm, also waking Mattie and James Wyatt Oates. Firemen arrived and put out the blaze with a handheld fire extinguisher combined with another one provided by Oates. The incident seems to have left the Oates’ shaken, as discussed in the following post.

Chimney fires were a serious concern in that era, when almost all buildings in residential areas had wood shake or shingle roofs. Not only could a structure burn quickly, but flying embers could set afire nearby buildings, destroying neighborhoods and even entire cities; the 1923 Berkeley fire saw nearly 600 homes burn in a few hours as wind-whipped flames raced over rooftops. Towns like Santa Rosa were particularly vulnerable because at the time of the Oates fire, Santa Rosa firefighters were no better equipped than they were during the 1906 earthquake, still using the same old horse-drawn wagons. When there was a real conflagration – such as the 1910 Levin Tannery fire – the Santa Rosa Fire Department had to rely upon citizens to volunteer their automobiles and swiftly ferry gear and crew between the station house and scene of the blaze.

(RIGHT: Santa Rosa Fire Department seen in their Pope-Hartford fire truck, 1915. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

All that was about to change later in 1911, thankfully. The city fathers, who shamefully went on the cheap in building the post-earthquake firehouse, were now willing to put a few bucks towards modern firefighting tools, including a gasoline engine fire truck.

The Knox truck dealership was vying for the sale and brought their latest model up from San Francisco. While demonstrating the machine’s bells and whistles, a real fire alarm sounded in the Cherry street neighborhood. Firemen with the horse-drawn steam fire engine were quickly on their way. Not one to miss a great sales opportunity, the company rep invited the city councilmen and SRFD chief Frank Muther to jump aboard and head for the action.

Despite the driver not knowing Santa Rosa streets and taking a much longer route, the truck still reached the fire ahead of the horses. “The conflagration was a small one, but was quickly put out by the Knox chemical,” reported the Santa Rosa Republican. “After the fire the members of the city council were taken for a ride about town.” Deal closed, eh?

It was certainly a boffo demo, but a few months later the town chose instead to buy a Pope-Hartford model fire engine, which was a better known make. Like the Knox, it was technically a “Combination Chemical and Hose Wagon,” which meant that it had tanks that could mix on the fly “carbonic acid gas” (AKA carbon dioxide) to smother flames. The Press Democrat article transcribed below gives a pretty good description of the truck’s features, but additional details and a side photo can be found here.

Their Pope-Hartford fire truck was delivered in mid-December, driving up from the Petaluma wharf in less than an hour, thanks to its powerful 50 horsepower motor. Apparently the frenzy over its arrival was so great that a car hit their mascot Buster in front of the firehouse. “He was run over and killed by a careless auto driver who had the entire street, and yet would not get by without killing Buster,” lamented the Press Democrat, noting the pooch was “a favorite with all who have occasion to visit the house or pass it regularly.” As the Fifth St. PD offices were directly across the street, the writer undoubtedly had first-hand knowledge of the deceased.

The new fire engine finally brought the Santa Rosa Fire Department into the Twentieth Century and just a few months later, there was another page turned when SRFD chief Frank Muther retired.

Frank Muther was universally respected as fire chief and his tireless leadership on the morning of the 1906 earthquake likely saved the town from widespread destruction. Even Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley, who viewed Republicans with suspicion in that era, wrote admiringly of Muther in his collection of character sketches, “Santa Rosans I Have Known:”

Frank Muther, pioneer cigar manufacturer and dealer, for years was chief of the fire department, and no matter what the hour he was always on hand when the bell rang. He was a picturesque character and in politics an ardent Republican, but with him friendship came first, even when everybody was supposed to take sides and when opposing tickets had to be place in the field as far down the line as dog catcher. Rough and often boisterous of manner, he was a real sport and an all-round good fellow. Muther was a man typical of the times. In later life he quieted down, as most men do, but he never lost his force and mental vigor.

(RIGHT: Frank Muther, 1849-1927. Photo from “Illustrated Portfolio of Santa Rosa and Vicinity,” 1909)

Yet despite his historical bonafides, Frank Muther is about as forgotten as anyone can be forgotten. There isn’t even a headstone on his grave (he’s buried in the old Odd Fellows’ Cemetery lot 21, just on the other side of the fence from the Fulkerson crypt in the Rural Cemetery). Possibly there was a wooden marker originally; in the 1950s the city made an ill-conceived effort to clean up weedy undergrowth at Rural with a controlled burn which ended up torching trees, roses and many, many wooden markers. As Muther’s family plot and several others in that row are likewise bare, it’s easy to presume the fire must have crossed the fence.

With the 110th earthquake anniversary coming up next year, some sort of tribute to that man is really overdue.

FIRE SCARE SUNDAY AT COLONEL OATES’ HOME

The residents of Mendocino avenue were alarmed early Sunday morning by an alarm of fire which summoned the department to the residence of Colonel and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates, at the corner of that thoroughfare and Benton street. A blazing chimney was the cause of the alarm, and an extinguisher that was on hand at the Oates home and one from the fire department extinguished the blaze. There was no damage from the fire.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 28, 1911
AUTOMOBILE FIRE ENGINE WHICH MADE RECORD BREAKING RUN TO CHASE FIRE ON SUNDAY

C. S. Richardson, manager of the Reliance Automobile Company of San Francisco and his chauffeur came up to this city Sunday morning, bringing with him a Knox automobile combination chemical fire extinguisher and hose wagon. He brought it here to demonstrate it to the city council in answer to the advertisement made by the city dads for bids for one of these machines to be addd to our fire fighting apparatus.

A fire in the residence owned by Mrs. Frank Graves and occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Guy Chase a few months before 2 o’clock gave the Knox automobile combination machine a chance to demonstrate its efficiency. Although starting from the engine house after the hook and ladder had left. It reached the fire first, going the long way to the fire, as the chauffeur did not know the direct route. The conflagration was a small one, but was quickly put out by the Knox chemical. Mr. and Mrs. Chase were over in Sebastopol at the time the fire started. They were preparing to move from the house, and the fire caught in some goods that were packed. The damage done was nominal. After the fire the members of the city council were taken for a ride about town by Mr. Richardson in the Knox. Mr. Richardson will be here until after the council meeting Tuesday evening.

The run to the fire was made under adverse circumstances, which taken in account, makes the Knox’s performance remarkable. At the time that fire alarm 16 was rung in, no one was in the machine. It waited for Fire Chief Muther and several of the councilmen and others before starting and traveled a greater distance, turning three corners to one for the hook and ladder in reaching the conflagration. The working of the twin chemical tanks proved interesting to the people of the fire department. Both tanks have an outlet into one hose that can be run into the burning building. They are so arranged that while the chemicals are being used in one tank, the other can be filled, and then the chemicals drawn from the refilled tank without any loss of time. Chief Muther and the members of the city council who saw the demonstration at the fire and who went on the ride about town on the Knox, were greatly pleased at the high grade quality of the materials and mechanical construction, and its complete equipment.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 1, 1911
CITY’S NEW AUTO CHEMICAL FIRE ENGINE HAS ARRIVED

Santa Rosa’s new auto chemical fire engine, manufactured by the Pope-Hartford Automobile Company of Hartford, Conn., arrived last night, and is now at the Grand Garage on Main street. It is a handsome and substantially built machine, complete in every detail, and will be a valuable addition to the city fire-fighting equipment. It will be placed in commission at once.

The machine was brought up to Petaluma last night by boat, and from there proceeded under its own power, the run from Petaluma being made in less than an hour. S. W. Jewell of the Consolidated Motor Car Company of San Francisco and Charles O. Buckner of the Santa Rosa Fire Department were in charge. Buckner has been in San Francisco for several days, ever since the car arrived from the factory taking instructions as to its use and handling.

The machine is something like thirty feet long and the tires are 40xC. Two thirty-five gallon chemical tanks and two three-gallon hand tanks are carried, a thirty-foot extension and several smaller ladders and hose for the chemical tanks. Besides this a large space is provided for water hose. There is a full compliment of power for lights, including a huge searchlight, all by acetylene with electrical control. The finish is in dark maroon, with brass trimmings and the machine is appropriately lettered. The accompanying illustration gives a good idea of the appearance of the new machine. [Low quality photo on scratched microfilm not shown here – je]

–  Press Democrat, December 16, 1911
BUSTER, THE FIREDOG, IS NO MORE

Buster is dead. He was run over and killed by a careless auto driver who had the entire street, and yet would not get by without killing Buster.

Buster was the mascot at the fire engine house, a favorite with all who have occasion to visit the house or pass it regularly. The fire laddies amused themselves many an hour playing with the dog as he greatly enjoyed running after a stick, package or stone and returning it to the thrower with a wagging of his tail and a joyous bark.

–  Press Democrat, December 17, 1911
HAS TENDERED RESIGNATION
Frank Muther Relinquishes Position

Frank Muther, Sr., who has been chief of the Santa Rosa fire department for several years past, has tendered his resignation of that position. Few men have ever served the City of Roses who have been better qualified in their respective departments than Mr. Muther, as chief of the fire department. He has been engaged in that work for many years, and has the matter of quenching conflagrations down to a science. The people of Santa Rosa have learned to regard Frank Muther as one of the most efficient chiefs on the Pacific coast, and he was always on hand where duty called, and in the thickest of the fray. At the time of the big fire here in April, 1906, he made a record for himself in the handling of the department.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 4, 1912

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