tobeopened2019

1968 CENTENNIAL: “THE HISTORY OF THE FUTURE”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time capsules in Courthouse Square

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dawndeed

DAWN OF THE DEED

You lucky, lucky soul; you just won vacation property in Sonoma county! Tell your friends and family so they can rush to buy a lot close to yours!

That was the premise of a con game that swept the nation in the early 1910s. The land existed alright and you actually did own it, as long as you gave the promoters a few bucks for paperwork, sent the county a small recording fee and paid your county taxes. The gotcha was that the property was worthless because it was on a remote, steep hillside. The map showing a neat grid of streets and building lots was a fantasy, which led people in the know to call these “paper subdivisions.” Another name used was “wildcat subdivisions” – they were on land only wildcats roamed.

Sonoma county was dotted with these imaginary little towns, mainly around the Russian River and north of Santa Rosa (outside of Cloverdale there was supposedly Cloverdale Heights, Cloverdale Terrace and Orange City, for example). Very few owners built on their property and almost all stopped paying taxes, letting it default back to the county. But a few years ago a tweak to state law allowed developers to invoke those old deeds as a means to bypass all modern rules and regulations – a crazy story explored here earlier in “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED.” This is the prequel to those events, explaining how the scam began.

Newspapers in the 1910s were virtually homestudy courses in land fraud, with hucksters selling Florida swampland as lakefront property and Montana scrub desert as homesites with exceptionally swell drainage. Much in the news was a particular swindle where conmen made today’s equivalent of $2.25 million/year before they were busted in 1909, selling lots in Boise City, Oklahoma, “the garden spot of the southwest,” promising no home was more than four blocks from the courthouse. “King Corn and King Cotton grow side by side” they boasted in mailers with photos of happy farmers. In truth, the newspapers later said it was an arid “No Man’s Land” and the men didn’t even own the property outright. Over 250 victims came forward to testify against them before they were sentenced to a couple of years in federal prison for mail fraud. The moral of the story, as viewed by other crooked “land sharks:” Better not to document the scam in printed mailers and to rip-off the suckers in person.

Summerland was the most (in)famous and probably the first of the Sonoma County scams, located in the high hills above Guerneville off of Old Cazadero Road (see map). Its origins are murky and might originally have been intended as a legit summer resort, like Rio Nido, Camp Vacation and many others where you could rent a tent-cabin for a week or buy a small parcel and build a bungalow to stay the whole season. The Summerland lots were platted out in 1910 – the year the Russian River resort scene exploded in popularity – and small ads for Summerland appeared in the “Summer Resort” section of Bay Area newspapers over the next several years. No amenities were ever specified except for “sanitary conditions,” which presumably meant outhouses and maybe a well with a handpump.

There was actually more than one Summerland: Summerland Park, Summerland Villa, Summerland Addition #2 and maybe more. Before it was over there would be thousands of lots sold, which would have given the Cazadero area the largest population north of the San Francisco – had anyone lived there.

Behind the deals were three speculators (for reference, they were: the Enright Brothers, banker I. J. Truman and the Guerneville Land Company, all based in San Francisco). We don’t know if any of them were directing the scams, but a man who worked for some/all of them as the representative for Summerland certainly started the ball rolling.

Robert Romer, a former stockbroker who was kicked out of the San Francisco Stock Exchange in 1907, was contacted by the Healdsburg Enterprise about the unusual lottery being held at the M & M movie theater in town. Romer said each night there was a drawing for a “free” lot – although the lucky ticket holder still had to pay the $6.50 county recording fee of course. He explained the goal was word-of-mouth advertising; the winners would be so enthusiastic they would tell all their friends to buy lots nearby at the regular price of $25.00, and they would tell their friends, and so on.

The obvious problem with this scheme was that Healdsburg really ain’t that far from Cazadero – if the winner didn’t know their prize property was in the middle of nowhere, one of the friends they were supposed to sucker into buying a lot probably knew it. So a few days later, an account appears in the Press Democrat about county officials being contacted by lucky ticket holders in Sacramento, wondering about the Summerland property they had just won at the movies.

As the new year of 1912 dawned, the Summerland scam spread over the nation like a flu epidemic. “Letters from other counties, from British Columbia, from Nevada, from Arizona, from Oregon and Washington are pouring in to the Recorder, the Assessor, the Tax Collector and to other officials of Sonoma, pleading for information regarding these peculiar transactions,” wrote historian Tom Gregory at the time.

There were sightings during March reported in Oregon and Washington after police there became suspicious about the movie theater lottery where every attendee apparently “won.” One of the Portland papers looked into the Summerland offering and told readers it was “said to be a mile from Cazadero, Cal., a milk station back in the hills.”

Romer probably wasn’t one of the two men who claimed to be from the “Exposition Developing Company” jumping from town to town in the Northwest making lottery deals with local theater owners. Instead, he was busy in Sonoma county, trying to sell $50,000 in stock for the “Northwestern Hotel and Water Company,” which was going to build a hotel at Summerland with hundreds of rooms plus a complete utility infrastructure suitable for a town of 20,000 residents. According to the Petaluma Courier, Romer told the Board of Control they had already sold about 5,000 lots.

The Summerland movie lottery scam was made a misdemeanor in April 1913 thanks to a bill written by Santa Rosa’s Assemblyman Herbert Slater (it’s still on the books, but was generalized and renumbered to §532c in 1935). But that was only state law, and the scam was running at full steam everywhere except California.

When two Summerland agents were arrested in Kansas City at the end of 1913, they were charged with old-fashioned mail fraud. (Although the state law didn’t apply, the county recorder and surveyor still went to Kansas to testify against them.) A wire service story stated the men had claimed to represent the “Hot Springs Heights Realty Company” of Sonoma county and had been active across the Midwest and South. It was a lucrative swindle – in Muncie Indiana alone, they pulled in up to $1,500 (over $37k today).

The movie theater bunco game fizzled out in mid-1914 – or at least, the Press Democrat reported the poor recorder’s office was no longer flooded with deed filings. That year there was also a long list of these properties on the delinquent tax list, showing many owners had wised up to the property being worthless. Lots were still being sold, however – only now it was the suckers looking for someone to scam themselves. A 1916 for-sale ad ran for quite awhile in the PD offering a lot at Summerland with a 16 x 16 structure (“sold cheap if taken at once”). In Seattle, A. L. DeLong dumped his property on Effie M. Crowley.

The latter sale didn’t involve Summerland, however – it was another of the wildcat subdivisions, called Glen Artney, which began selling bogus lots about the same time that Summerland took off. It was the phony place nearest to Santa Rosa, in the hills south of Calistoga Road (see map) about four miles as the crow flies – but three times that far by road. And that was just to the edge of the property; a man seeking directions dropped by the Press Democrat offices and was “shattered when informed that he could not reach the lot on horseback, and would have a very hard time scrambling to it on foot.”

The Glen Artney hustle is interesting to compare with Summerland. Both used the movie lottery ticket come-on, but the Summerland agents apparently “gave away” lots of lots hoping to sell a few more for about $25, plus picking up a few bucks for providing the paperwork. The Glen Artney hucksters picked just two winners each day and advertised others lots were for sale at $50.00 per – or at least that’s what their ad in a 1912 Montana newspaper stated. That Glen Artney even had print adverts is another major difference from the Summerland guys, who slipped in and out of towns without publicity.

But don’t presume the Glen Artney promoters were any more honest or virtuous; that ad from the “Russian River Resorts Development Company” read, “Glen Artney is a beautiful sloping tract 60 miles from San Francisco, reached by the Southern Pacific railroad and interurban car line. School house on property…” The train and trolley car only went to Santa Rosa, of course, As for the schoolhouse, that was the Pine Mountain district school on St. Helena Road, which was actually suspended in 1911 for lack of any students. Modern maps reveal that “beautiful sloping tract” has an average 40 percent grade.

And while the moneymen behind Summerland were the stereotype big city tycoons and land speculators, Glen Artney seems to have been a strictly local affair. There are three names on the fraudulent map that was recorded; one was John O. McIntosh, up until about then the owner of the popular Grapevine saloon in downtown Santa Rosa. John was well known and well-liked, as was his older brother, Don, a deputy sheriff often mentioned in these pages nabbing wrongdoers.

Enlarge the map below to find the other names are Manville and Frank Doyle, the famous co-founder of the Exchange Bank and his son. Although the notarized statement refers to the “map of our lands,” we cannot say for sure this meant the bank was a partner in the deal – they might have been just the escrow agents. But since the Glen Artney property was so nearby, it’s very difficult to believe anyone really thought a town about half the size of Santa Rosa was going to spring up on the side of a mountain along the twisty county road to St. Helena.

A survey made about thirty years ago suggested there were up to 424,000 lots in old paper subdivisions throughout the state (see the “Living Deed” article for more about this) with the largest percentage of them – about 75,000 – in Sonoma county. We were the highest because of the unusual number of high density fake town/resorts such as Glen Artney and Summerland, which begs the question: Why was our county Ground Zero for land fraud?

We know Summerland was backed by San Francisco money, but there was never any mention in the papers of who was behind these other scams. It came as a surprise to me that Glen Artney had a barkeep’s name on the map, but perhaps many/all of the other schemes were similarly locally grown; after all, 1911 Santa Rosa was a pretty small town and details of the Summerland fraud would’ve been well known, particularly after the out-of-towners who discovered they were cheated came staggering into Santa Rosa saloons to drown their disappointments.

It would be a fun question to dig into further: Between 1911-1914, did Sonoma county have a flourishing cottage industry in scamming outsiders who were foolish enough to buy property here sight unseen? Were our own esteemed neighbors – the bankers, Chamber of Commerce businessmen and real estate wheeler-dealers – quietly running a bunco syndicate?

“…[T]he main reason for stopping the practice was that the county was being given a black eye by reason of the misrepresentations of the lot sellers,” commented the Press Democrat in 1914, when the craze was over – not that it should have been stopped years earlier because it was, you know, unethical. But nobody was ever arrested, except for a few of the traveling movie lottery hucksters; after all, it’s not a crime to sell worthless land – even if it’s on a slope so steep a mountain goat would begin to wheeze before halfway up.

1911 Glen Artney subdivision map
To Market Guerneville Realty

The firm of Enright Brothers & Co., realty brokers of San Francisco, has bought 400 [sic – it was 40] acres of land in the vicinity of Guerneville, and will subdivide it into small holdings, and place it upon the market. There is much fine farming land in that neighborhood, and quite a demand for small farms has lately been manifest; so that Enright Bros, seem to have bought in the right place at the right time.

Press Democrat, February 2 1909

“Summerland” is the name of the newest recreation spot for Guerneville. Mesgsrs. Eright, [sic] the brothers who recently purchased the Sutherland place have surveyed it into lots and already made several sales to the tired folks about the bay who want a quiet, pretty place to spend their hard-earned vacations.

– Healdsburg Tribune, April 13 1910
SUMMERLAND LOTS AT THE M. AND M. THEATER GIVEN AWAY FREE EACH EVENING
The Most Liberal Proposition Yet Offered The Healdsburg People To Secure a Summer Outing Lot

Last Thursday night Mr. Robert Romer gave an interesting sketch on the old and new methods of land subdivision. He explained that his company had allotted Healdsburg a number of free lots in this tract by means of public drawings at the M & M Theater each evening until the allotment has been exhausted. The object in giving those lots in this manner is to create a nucleus tor attracting by means of the winners the vacation and summer home seekers from this district. These winners become agents and a live advertising medium as long as they are deed holders of record. These lots are given away free to winners but they must defray their own expenses in having the title transferred, which amounts to $6.50 which includes the search of title, attorney fees, notary fees, drawing up the deed, etc., the same as any person is forced to do when they inherit a piece of property. He went on to explain that this very feature made their proposition stronger as it eliminated those winners who would look upon the proposition as a Nickelodeon premium and who would have nothing to lose by being inactive. When they pay to have the transfer made, it makes them look into the proposition deeper and is the best sign of good faith that they will become active boosters and attract their friends as buyers and home builders. How can the owners afford to give these lots away, was answered by him in another way. The amount that is generally spent in advertising is turned over to the winners who in turn act as live unconscious agents without pay. The value of any property is determined by the actual amount of deed holders of record which is the only magnet which will draw.

By having the property made valuable by the winners, their friends are glad to pay $25.00 for which these lots are selling. And these buyers in turn attract other buyers which when once started forms an endless chain and they are the ones that actually pay for the lots that are given away. He also made another point to illustrate this which was keen as it is better understood. For instance in a suit club there are generally 25 members, one wins a suit the first month for $5.00 and the second one for $l0.00, but it is the other 23 in number that average up the difference. Some of the lucky winners this week were Mr. C. P. Miller, J. Silberstein, Mrs. H. Sacry, and Fred Boulden who is going to start to improve as soon as his deed is perfected.

– Healdsburg Enterprise, December 2 1911

 

SONOMA COUNTY LOTS WITH PICTURES

A moving picture house in Sacramento is bidding for popularity with its patrons by holding out as an allurement to ticket purchasers an opportunity to secure a “Lot at Summerland, Sonoma county, near Russian River.” When the lucky ones present their tickets, they are told that they must put up six dollars for a deed to the lot. Some of them put up the coin. Others do not. Inquiries are being made of the Sonoma county legislators as to the location of the lots, and as to their worth. But prior to their coming to Sacramento the solons had not heard of the inducements offered.

– Press Democrat, December 6 1911

The Northwestern Hotel and Water Company announces that it will soon erect a hotel large enough to accommodate several hundred summer residents at Summerland near Guerneville, in the near future. The company will also establish a water system for Summerland.

– Healdsburg Tribune, March 14 1912
PHILANTHROPISTS’ SEEK NEW FIELDS
Persons Who Were “Given” Lots in “Summerland Park” Wonder If It’s a Bilk.

Offices of the “Exposition Developing Company” in the Ellers building are closed today. The two strangers, names unknown, who acted as the concern’s representatives, have flown, and a large number of plucked citizens here who paid $6.50 for a deed to a lot in “Summerland Park No. 2,” said to be a mile from Cazadero, Cal., a milk station in the hills of Sonoma county, are wondering whether they were swindled.

The company operated through several moving picture shows here. Theatre patrons were given coupons entitling them to a “free” chance on a lot. Apparently every one won in the weekly “drawing,” as scores of persons were visited by agents of the concern, during the two weeks it operated here…

…Among the motion picture show houses that innocently aided the company were the Rainbow and Cozy theatres on First street.

“The proposition the men made looked good to me,” said G. E. Chamberlain, one of the owners of the Cozy, today. “They told us that all we had to do was to give away the coupons and that our attendance would increase when people learned we were giving away free lots.

“They furnished us with slides showing pictures of the lands they said they owned, and explained that the scheme was to advertise the park so they could later sell lots. We began to get suspicious, however, when every one seemingly drew a lot and we were getting ready to stop giving coupons when the police told us to quit. The strangers got wind of this and left Portland soon afterward…”

– Oregon Daily Journal, March 26, 1912

 

BUNCO-LOWING FOLKS WITH SUMMER FAIRYLANDS

The following is a funny yet plaintive cry of the “bungalow lot victim”–it should be called “bunco-low,” but the humor of the statement must not hide the fact that in the name of Sonoma county this small, cheap bunco game is flourishing throughout our neighboring states. Those worthless patches of real estate are not marketed to the unwary in this county, nor now in this state. The scheme has become too well known except at a distance. And yet nothing can save the investors who are caught by the plausibility of the spielers’ landscape descriptions, and the little coin demanded for such a priceless bit of domain. All these resort lots are worthless as the investor speedily learns after his money has passed. This communication is one of the many such which almost daily adds to Mr. Nagle’s amusement and perplexity, as the writers tell him their troubles after they have been bunco-lowed.

Butte, Mont., Dec. 5, 1912
Mr. F. G. Nagle, County Recorder, Santa Rosa, California.

Dear Sir–We have your not of the second inst., returning the deed from Arthur Annis to E. S. Rodds, which we had sent you in our letter of November 29th for record, and wish to thank you for the information as to the worthlessness of the property.

We are, however, returning the deed with our draft for $1.00 to cover the recording fees, and would ask that you place the same on record.

Mr. Rodda had some information concerning the non-value of this property, before he asked us to send the deed. He is already stung a little, however, and thinks it is worth one dollar more, on the chance that some time petroleum or ginger ale or some other good chase may be discovered in commercial quantities on the land, or that some one might want it for a site for a factory for the manufacture of second-hand tooth brushes. He says he came west to take chances, and he is going through with this, even if it costs him another dollar.

Yours very truly, W. E. Collins,

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 18 1912

 

Fixing It So Can’t Even Give Realty Away in This Place
Bill to Beat Moving Picture Game in Sonoma County Goes Through Assembly.

Up in Santa Rosa moving picture theater owners some time ago conceived the idea of boosting their business by advertising they would give away lots to patrons of their nickelodeons who happened to hold a winning number. This was an alluring bit of advertising, and business trebled within a short time. It was apparent from the start that the theaters were doing it up proper, for many there were who drew a winning number. The lucky person had only to deposit a filing fee to get a deed.

Many deeds were filed. In fact, so many were filed that, the Sonoma county recorder’s office was swamped. Assemblyman Slater was appealed to. He was told the lots were absolutely worthless, and that the moving picture men were getting a corner on all the money in the county. Accordingly he introduced a bill in the lower house the first part of the session making it a misdemeanor for any person to give away worthless lots and collect a fee for transferring or conveying them to the owners of persons drawing lucky numbers.

The assembly heard Slater’s explanation of conditions yesterday, and railroaded the bill through without delay. Tired clerks in the Sonoma county recorder’s office and amusement hall proprietors will probably await with interest the action of the upper house on the measure.

– Sacramento Union, March 14 1913
HERE’S THE END OF ONE SWINDLE
Assemblyman Slater’s Bill to Prevent Frauds Being Perpetrated Is Signed by Governor

The practice of giving away “free” tickets, entitling holders to lots of land, by moving picture shows and other places of entertainment, was checked Thursday when Gov. Johnson signed Assemblyman Slater’s bill, which has added a new section to the penal code. After receiving their “free” tickets, holders have found themselves compelled to pay $6.50 for deeds in addition to paying a fee for recording. Gross fraud has been perpetrated in hundreds of cases, where lots have been said to be located in some sylvan dell and in reality have been perched on some bald rock or inaccessible jungle.

Thousands of deeds have been filed in a number of counties, and, after visiting their land, the deed holders have never returned for their deeds. The measure Introduced by Slater has been indorsed all over the State and was one of his “pet” measures.

The bill is as follows:

Section 1. The penal code is hereby amended by adding a new section thereto to be numbered 532a, to read as follows; 532a. Any person who knowingly and designedly offers or gives with winning numbers at any drawing of numbers or with tickets of admission to places of public assemblage or otherwise, any lot or parcel of real property for the purpose of charging or collecting fees for transferring or conveying the same, or who, under pretense of charging or collecting fees for such conveyance, receives money, labor or property for executing such conveyance, knowing such lots or parcels of real property to be inaccessible, unavailable for the use represented for it, worthless, or without market value equal to such fees, or charges, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

– Press Democrat, April 27 1913

 

Western Lots Are Put on Market at Wholesale

Lot selling was done in a wholesale manner in room 19 of the Metropolital hotel yesterday. The lots were located in Summerland Villa, Guerneville, Sonoma county, Cal…Women folk, lean folk, fat folk of a good natured kind, sleepy folk, and a few other kind, all seemed to be in a hurry to get a piece of California real estate…

…when callers, of which there were many, presented their cards they were informed by a portly appearing gentleman in that in order to get deeds it would be necessary to pay a fee for surveying the lot, and a few minor expenses, and that $8 good cash, earned by the sweat of the face under the beneficent sky of Missouri, would be necessary to have a look-in on the California real estate.

And some paid the $8.00, and some didn’t. Some looked at $8.00 with a longing look, and after much consideration, came to the conclusion that $8.00 in the hand was worth more than a sand lot 2,000 miles away.

– Springfield MO Republican, June 27 1913

 

Alleged Land Shark Arrested.

C. E. Ditto, a reputed land shark, was placed under arrest Saturday afternoon on a charge of beating his board bill…The police, while the man is being held, are making an investigation of a certain land scheme which has been worked in Bloomington of late. The scheme is a new one, but it is thought that some real money was secured in some of the transactions.

The play has been put on at moving picture theaters, a ticket being given to each one who pays to see the show and the one at the close of the day who held the lucky number drew a card entitling him to property. The card states that they “are entitled to a lot in Summerland Villa, Guerneville, Sonoma county, Cal.” The Northwestern Dev. Co., is signed to this card. It is said that several have presented these cards to the agent and are then told that to pay for the deed and abstract, that the sum of $9.60 is necessary. It is claimed that a few, thinking that they will get rich, have paid the sum asked and then gone on their way thinking of the riches which are to come.

The police will continue to make their investigation and Ditto will be held on the other charge until the matter is cleared up. Police officers the confident that Ditto is a swindler [sic]

Bloomington IL Pantagraph, November 17 1913
UNCLE SAM TAKES HAND IN “MOVIES” LAND LOT FRAUD
The Guerneville Lots Figure in Kansas City Arrests

The last session of the Legislature passed the Slater bill which was signed by the Governor and is now the law, which put a stop to moving picture houses and other concerns giving “lucky” tickets to lots of land in Sonoma county and elsewhere In the State, It had become such a nuisance and such a fraud in Sonoma county that the introduction of the measure was framed to check it, particularly as the lots were worthless and located in out of the way places and inaccessible places and-—well, the story has been oft told.

This is by way of introduction. Uncle Sam has come to the assistance of the State of California and has swooped down upon men in Kansas City and their prosecution will doubtless check the operation in “lucky” tickets for Sonoma county lots in other States of the Union, for today County Recorder Nagle is receiving deeds for filing and countless inquiries concerning the lots in question. A dispatcn from Kansas City says:

“Kansas City. Dec. 4.—An alleged land fraud which, according to postoffice inspectors, was conducted in several States through the medium of moving picture shows and the United States mails, led to the arrest here today of W. B. Emrich and N. H. Spitzer of Louisville, Ky. The two were arraigned before a United States commissioner on a charge of misuse of the malls.

“According to the federal charge, tickets were distributed among the spectators at picture shows and the announcement made that the holders of ‘lucky’ numbers would be given a deed to a camper’s lot near Guerneville, Sonoma county, California, It is alleged that the lucky ones’ were then required to pay more for the ‘filing of papers’ than the lots were worth.

– Press Democrat, December 5 1913
CASTLE IN AIR IS CERTAINLY HIS
Man Comes Here With the Idea of Locating on His Moving Picture Ticket Lot

Joe Blakskowski of San Francisco spent $12.50 for abstract deed and filing fees for lot 16, block 17 In “Glen Ertney,” when he drew a free lot is connection with his moving picture show ticket two years ago. The land is a portion of Sec. 23, tp 8 n, r. 7 w., and is located on the mountain side about 14 miles northeast of Santa Rosa off the road to Callstoga.

Mr. Blakskowskl came here this week with the view of settling on his lot and purchasing more for relatives and friends as agents for the tract had interested them with his glowing description. When he arrived here and asked for directions to reach “Glen Ertney,” his castles in the air were shattered when informed that he could not reach the lot on horseback, and would have a very hard time scrambling to it on foot.

Despite his ill treatment in this regard, Mr. Blaks, as he is commonly known, is planning to purchase property here for himself and relatives, and move here to make his home as he has been greatly impressed with the city and its surroundings.

Under the law no more tickets to lots can be given away is this State.

– Press Democrat, January 10 1914
SCORES OF ‘MOVIE’ LOTS NOW ON DELINQUENT TAX ROLL

The evil some time since of the giving away of tickets at moving picture shows to lots in Sonoma county, so much complained of in the past, is again to the fore in the announcement of the delinquent tax list of Sonoma county, prepared by County Tax Collector Frank M. Collins.

There is column after column of delinquents on lots that were purchased by the holders of tickets won at moving picture shows in different parts of the State and in other States. Many of the lot holders, after filing their deeds, placing the property on the assessment roll, have never taken any notice of their duties as landowners in the county, hence they have gone delinquent in payment of taxes, disgusted with their purchase.

At the last session of the Legislature, in 1913, the practice of giving away these lot tickets and the fraud connected therewith was stopped by the Slater bill, which was signed by the Governor, and heartily endorsed by the State Realty boards and other organizations. Hundreds of the lots had been disposed of prior to that time and the result is now shown on the delinquent tax list. This explains the length of the delinquent tax roil in large measure.

– Press Democrat, June 5 1914
LAW HAS PROVED OF MUCH GOOD
Recording of Documents Is Up to Date in the Office of the County Recorder

The copying of instruments in the office of County Recorder Fred G. Nagle has been brought up to dale and the well known county official is pleased to have it thus. Everything has been fine for some time.

It will be remembered that prior to the last session of the Legislature the County Recorder’s office here and in other counties of the state were deluged with the recording of deeds to lots of land as the result of the giving away of tickets with moving picture shows in this state and outside. At the session of the Legislature, Assemblyman Herbert W. Slater of this county, introducing a bill which passed both houses and was signed by the governor which made the giving away of such tickets unlawful. The new law attracted much attention and was complimented in the official papers of the State Realty Board and in other papers as being one of the most useful pieces of legislation. Its effect was soon noticeable in a diminishing of the number of deeds.

Copies of the law were also forwarded by the author of the federal authorities asking for their co-operatlon and this has also proved beneficial in the punishment of persons who used the mails to make false representations concerning prarlically worthless lots in this county.

It was learned Thursday that the deeds for the lots obtained in the manner complained of, are very rare now at the county recorder’s office, there only having been one or two in the past few months, and otherwise the practice has been stopped entirely. This is why the county recorder is breathing easier and why the copying has been brought up to dale to the gratification of those who were unavoidably hindred from recording their documents on time as a result of the deluge.

With hundreds of deeds to the moving picture lots coming in weekly it was impossible to cope with the work of copying them and finally special books had to be provided for their speedy recording. But the main reason for stopping the practice was that the county was being given a black eye by reason of the misrepresentations of the lot sellers and Ihe protest was general.

– Press Democrat, September 18 1914

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1898wsdavishouse

DAVIS HOUSE: NOW WE ARE SIX

Take a look at the map below; it’s a section of the 1876 bird’s eye view of Santa Rosa. The arrow points to the house at 759 Mendocino avenue. It still exists, but not a single other building in the picture. In fact, there are only five places left in town that are this old, including Luther Burbank’s house. Others include two of the Metzger houses on B street (1868 and 1869), the Church of One Tree (1873), and possibly the Church of the Incarnation (1873?).

A developer has plans for a high-density project on the site which includes moving the house from its historic location, shifting it forward to within fifteen feet of the sidewalk and pushing it as far to the north side as legally possible. Whether or not that’s a big deal depends on whom you’re asking – and when. Our ancestors moved houses around as if they were toys in a sandbox, but this is in one of Santa Rosa’s few Preservation Districts, which seeks to protect “the historic character of the structure and the neighborhood.” Complicating matters further is that the proposed move would block the public’s view of Comstock House, which is listed on National Register of Historic Places. We’ll see how this works out; the first meeting on the project is tonight (Feb. 1, 2017) at City Hall and another on February 8. Updates will appear on my OldSantaRosa Facebook page.

The home was built ca. 1872 by Josias Davis, a real estate developer who subdivided sixteen acres on both sides of College avenue as an addition to the city (PDF). For years the wedge of two short blocks between Adel’s restaurant and 10th street was called Joe Davis’ street in his honor, even though residents repeatedly begged city council to change it. If they played Trivial Pursuit back then, “Where is Joe Davis?” would have stumped nearly everybody.

(RIGHT: Walter S. Davis in Masonic regalia)

Josias suffered chronic health problems and was cared for by his only child since the boy was in his teens. After his parents died Walter continued to live at that house until his own death in 1916.

Between 1880 and 1915 probably everyone in town knew Walter S. Davis. He was an independent insurance agent but often mentioned in the papers for a wide range of other activities. He was a volunteer fireman, an elected city official (City Treasurer twice), a hop grower, speculator in Arizona and Southern California oil wells (his “Senta Oil Company” had a downtown office where he would sell you a share for a quarter), mortgage broker and real estate investor. He was a Mason and a leader of Santa Rosa Elks’ lodge which was no small thing after the Great Earthquake of 1906, as the Elks’ did more to organize relief efforts than anyone.

Davis had a lighter side and sometimes silly items about himself would popup in the Press Democrat, such as the time he was praised as a great fisherman for landing a prize catch at the grocery on his way home. He had a peach tree which produced fruit from May until October and twice the Press Democrat marveled at its bounty, even though the newspaper was trying to appear more cosmopolitan and rarely mentioning freakish fruits and vegetables.

The oddest item about him appeared on the Fourth of July, 1905. It was all nonsense, but apparently he got drunk with his new neighbor, James Wyatt Oates, who had recently moved into (the home which would become known as) Comstock House. Together they prepared a balloon containing a message for President Teddy Roosevelt, launching their airship by smashing a bottle across the prow. And it was a bottle of good stuff, too — that beer newly imported to the West Coast called Budweiser (see “THE VOYAGE OF THE ‘AER FERVENS‘”).

Walter’s wife, Evelyn, died after a long illness in 1902, when their daughter Alys Marie was only five. He remarried a couple of years later and the renewed Davis’ family was close, with Walter, wife Ann and his daughter often mentioned in the society columns for outings and visits to the City. He seemed particularly devoted to Alys, taking her along on business trips. When she was three Walter and his first wife threw a birthday party for her that was so swell there was a writeup in the PD.

After Walter died his wife and daughter rented out the house for about 25 years. The next owner was the sister of Helen Comstock, who lived next door. During the WWII housing shortage Frances Finley Nielsen and her husband Anders converted the home into four apartments and built four garages. Pretty much everything we see today is the same as it was soon after the war.

Two surveys have looked at the place and noted it was a “potentially historic property,” but it’s never been awarded landmark status because the house is plain (although Burbank’s home is likewise a simple farmhouse) and Josias and Walter just weren’t important enough to care about. Too bad they weren’t interviewing people after the 1906 quake; apparently none of his insurance customers had claims denied or were forced to settle for less. Considering some in Santa Rosa ended up fighting their insurance carriers in court for up to five years, Walter must have been viewed as something of a miracle worker.

(A version of this article first appeared on Facebook and in the Ridgway Historical District newsletter)
W.S. Davis House, c. 1901

 

FORTY YEARS AGO W. S. DAVIS CAME HERE

Walter S. Davis, the well known insurance man of this city, came to Santa Rosa forty years ago this month. Of course he was a very young man then, and people can hardly realize that he has attained the age he has on account of his youthful appearance. Mr. Davis is widely known throughout this section of the state, and is one of the best known insurance men in northern California.

– Press Democrat, September 4 1910
THREE YEARS OLD
Birthday Party In Honor of Miss Alys Marie Davis

A delightful juvenile event and one which will long be remembered by the little guests was the birthday party given at the pretty home of Mr. and Mrs. Walter S. Davis on Healdsburg avenue on Saturday afternoon. The occasion was in honor of the third birthday of their winsome little daughter, Alys Marie.

During the afternoon the guests played all manner of games, enjoying every minute of the time thus spent. Of course the birthday feast was a great feature for them. The tables with their floral decorations were laden with innumerable dainties, not to forget the center of attraction — the magnificent birthday cake. In the entertainment of the guests, the mother of the petite hostess, Mrs. Davis, and Miss Nan M. Orr, and the Misses Alma and Clara Elnhorn assisted. Those present were the little Misses…

– Press Democrat, August 29 1900

 

Another Gusher

The McKittrlck now enjoys the reptation of having the two largest oil wells in California, namely, the McPherson and the Dabney. From the Bakersfield Morning Echo of the 11th inst, it is learned that the Dabney Oil Co., operating on lands leased from the El Dorado people, has Just completed its well No. 5, and at noon on Wednesday, as soon as work was finished, the well commenced to flow at the rate of 2000 barrels a day and is still gushing.

This well is within less than three miles of the Seanta company’s holding. The directors and friends of the Seanta Oil company are jubilant over this new strike. Stock in the Seanta is still selling at 25 cents a share.

Those wishing to purchase may call on any authorized agent or at the company’s office, 445 Fourth street, W. S. Davis, secretary.

– Press Democrat, October 17 1900

 

COLONEL W. S. DAVIS NAMES NEW PEACH THE “HALLOWE’EN PEACH”

Colonel Walter S. Davis, the wellknown insurance man. has a fine garden at his Healdsburg avenue residence, in which he takes considerable pride. The Colonel has a remarkable peach tree on his place. Eighteen years ago he bought the peach tree in question from John Louis Childs, the noted seedsman of Philadelphia, and it has been bearing fine fruit for many years. The peaches ripen among the earliest in May.

A couple of years or so ago, some distance up the trunk of the tree, a branch grew out and now, near the latter part of October, It is bearing a fine cluster of ripe peaches. A Press Democrat representative on Saturday secured a branch on which hung fine, highly colored peaches and in the office during the day the branch and its fruit attracted considerable attention. it is certainly something of a novelty to have a peach tree, a part of which bears the earliest variety of peach, and the other part the latest.

– Press Democrat, October 24 1915

 

Very Fine Peach

W. S. Davis brought to this office on Monday a peach from a tree in his yard on Mendocino avenue. The peach has something of the nectarine appearance, and is said to be the earliest variety known. The flavor is most pleasing as the writer can testify from a personal knowledge.

– Press Democrat, June 21 1910

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