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/; 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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Courthouse Square is (finally) reunited, so we can (finally) say our downtown has sort-of a park, although there’s so much parking on the sides it is much smaller than need be. But the important thing is Santa Rosa (finally) has a central place where citizens can gather together – something the town has sought since its founding in 1854.

In the layout of the town 163 years ago it was called the Plaza, but I can’t recall seeing much evidence it was used for public gatherings except for a portion of the ceremonies for the 1876 Centennial. It was simply a small lot criss-crossed by footpaths and usually in pretty rough shape because no one took care of it. Its potential as a park was further limited when it was clearcut in 1884 to build a courthouse and after that one tumbled down in the Great Earthquake of 1906, the parcel was almost completely filled with the elephantine courthouse built to replace it.

But having a nice public park was a Very Big Deal for our ancestors, and not just for sports and recreation; parks were the heart of 19th century communities. Having a pretty park came with considerable bragging rights – it was the yin to promoting a town paired with the yang of boasting about the burg’s economic prowess and promising future. So if you want to grasp the history of Santa Rosa understand this: The city fathers yearned to be a great Bay Area metropolis, and at the tippy-top of their wishlist was having a terrific park.

At a minimum, Santa Rosa needed a place for political rallies, holiday celebrations, group picnics and the like. Except for the occasional circus or traveling theater group, these doings were about the only entertainment in a small town like this during the 19th century; if there was to be an Admission Day parade with marching band followed by a snoozefest speech about the Mexican War from Colonel I. Blather, Ret., you, sir or madam, would be in that audience along with hundreds of your neighbors – and glad for it.

For about a dozen years around the 1870s, the destination was Arcadia Park, also known as “Willows.”  (Its site was obliterated by Highway 101 but the current intersection of Morgan and Ninth street was near the southeast corner, with the northwest end being the corner of Davis and Tenth street on the west side of the freeway.) It was privately owned and available for rental, but apparently not open every day.

Public use faded in the 1880s after it was bought by the Metzger family, who built a home on the property followed by a winery. But it also had other drawbacks which made it less than optimal. It was about a half-hour walk from downtown with no public transport (meaning horse-drawn trolley) and was apparently little more than a vacant lot with no amenities – although some newspaper descriptions mention a saloon, dance floor and a ten-pin bowling alley, these structures must have been quite small or temporary. The whole place was only an acre, not much larger than the original plaza. That it was so well-used only shows how desperate Santa Rosa was.

On the east side of town was another private park over twice as big and with much more to offer. It was closer to downtown and on the trolley line, where Fourth st. meets McDonald and College avenues (today it’s the Creekside Park apartment complex at 1130 4th street). “City Gardens” backed on to Santa Rosa Creek and had a tiny lake/pond, a zoo of some sort and a velocipede track where bike enthusiasts could race around “at a 2-40 gait” (about 22 MPH), according to an 1869 item.

That place also had a special significance in Santa Rosa history, as it was around there where Julio Carrillo and his pals hosted a blowout Fourth of July picnic and ball in 1854 to convince county residents to vote for making Santa Rosa the county seat – although the town barely existed at the time. Spoiler alert: It worked. Never underestimate the power of free BBQ.

There’s quite a nice description of City Gardens from 1884, when the First Regiment of the National Guard held their annual encampment there and along McDonald ave. “[T]he camp was lighted up and the illumination furnished by from fifteen hundred to two thousand Japanese lanterns was magnificent in the extreme. It was superb beyond description, and presented an appearance much more easily imagined than described.” The article in the Sonoma Democrat continued poetically:

The usual dress parade and guardmounting [sic] was had on Tuesday, and we noticed a marked increase in the crowd of citizens in attendance. After its close the sunset gun was fired, and supper discussed, and the non-commissioned officers and privates began to prepare for their enjoyment. The tents were placed in order with alacrity, and when the shades of evening begin to lower, the campfires were lit, the lanterns to shed their dubious light, and the camp took on its usual gala appearance. The splendid band took its position in the pavilion at the City Gardens, and soon the floor was filled with dancers.

At the same time Arcadia Park was fast fading away as the Metzger winery expanded. About the only events advertised at the park now were picnics for the German Social Club (of which William Metzger was a leader) and the annual Italian picnic. And that was another reason park use dwindled: The area around it had grown into being the Italian community which was shunned by the racist, pro-Confederacy society which dominated Santa Rosa – and would continue to do so for decades.

City Gardens closed for a year and reopened under a new owner: Peter Henry Kroncke (that spelling is correct, but he was variously tagged in the newspapers as “Kronke,” “Kroncker,” and the grunty, “Kronk”).

Henry Kroncke was well-established in town as owner of the Santa Rosa Planing Mill and was often mentioned for his partnerships with others in the lumber and construction trades. There is no dispute that he built a beautiful park and it looked like Santa Rosa at last had found its heart – or at least, a nice place for anyone who could afford the 25¢ admission, the equivalent of about six bucks today.

“Kroncke’s Park” grand opening was on May Day, 1886, featuring a ball with a 17-piece orchestra and with the promise of a musical concert every Sunday. The following week a “mounted sword contest” was advertised, so after a relaxing picnic with your cherished family you could watch a couple of guys flail at each other in a medieval-ish way. (The Sonoma Democrat reported the other attraction was “Professor S. J. Reeves giving an exhibition of horsemanship on the back of a wild mustang, which seat he kept notwithstanding the saddle occupied the neck of the animal part of the time.”)

That second ad also stated this: “Grand excursion from San Francisco.” From Kroncke’s agent in the city anyone could buy a round-trip ticket to Santa Rosa at the subsidized price of $1.00 – not including the park admission price, of course. Enough daytripping San Franciscans to pack fourteen train cars came to watch the sword fight, and those attendance numbers continued all summer, with apparently 1,000-1,500 coming to Santa Rosa each Sunday.

Kroncke’s Park was clearly a smashing success for both itself and the town. There was one eensy little drawback: The big crowds attracted pickpockets. “That exception to the pleasures of the day is one that is attendant on all such occasions,” wrote the Sonoma Democrat. Uh, since these “occasions” were scheduled for every weekend, did that mean Santa Rosa should brace for a regular influx of wrong-doers? Why…yes.

Both Santa Rosa newspapers downplayed the problems at first. A month later the Petaluma Courier wrote their town would never welcome Sunday excursion visitors because of the “hoodlums and roughs” who were showing up in Santa Rosa. “While it is a fact that two or three pickpockets plied their trade successfully in the crowd that attended the sword contest here,” the Sonoma Democrat replied, “otherwise these excursions to this place have been very orderly and almost entirely free from the hoodlum element, considering the number of people present.”

As the summer wore on, the papers could no longer gloss over the mounting problems. In August, excursionists vandalized two commercial orchards, seriously damaging and even destroying trees. Then a few weeks later, a Democrat article began with this: “The excursion to this city and Kroncke’s Park Sunday, was made up chiefly of hoodlums…”

While still being an apologist and stating “it should not be inferred that all the excursions have been objectionable,” the paper reported police had to break up a free-for-all fight at the park and brawls continued throughout the afternoon. An officer clubbed a disorderly man unconscious on Fourth street. Worst of all, “when the train left for San Francisco in the evening about sixty ot the hoodlums got left, and put in the night parading the streets.” I’m sure that must have been a peaceful evening in old Santa Rosa.

The worst incident came the following year, as an excursion coincided with the last day of the county fair. The “sallow-faced individuals dressed in chinchilla coats” and “their vulgar female companions [were] an outrage on all sense of decency” as they bullied their way around downtown, pushing people off the sidewalks and stealing booze and cigars from saloons. One of the crowd entered a hotel and grabbed the heavy bell used to announce dinner service and hit the hotel owner in the head with it, knocking him cold. A Deputy Sheriff and two off-duty San Francisco policemen arrested the man on the returning train, but only after a confrontation with the guy’s pals who were trying to hide him from the cops.

Yet the newspapers – particularly the Republican – continued holding Kroncke’s Park and its excursion train promotion blameless. In a February 1888 puff-piece, the Republican paper gushed, “We have begun to look upon Kroncke’s Park as an almost necessity; in fact it would be difficult to tell what we would do without it”. Finally, in 1890 and after some 700-800 signed a petition demanding the City Council take action (the town population at the time was around 5,000), Kroncke’s liquor license was denied.

The end of booze apparently meant the end of the excursions, and likewise the end of the troublemakers. The park didn’t close, but it’s not clear whether it was still open every day. Like the old Arcadia Park, it’s mentioned in the papers as being used for political rallies and rented for group picnics.

Even sans alcohol it was a special place. As seen on the fire map below, there was an enclosed bowling alley (they played ten pin, same as today, except with a wooden ball), the large pavilion with a dance floor, and “swimming baths” back by the creek. An ancient oak was surrounded by a stairway and electric lights were strung overhead.

The park name reverted to City Gardens after it was sold, and it was sold again in 1897 to the Grace Brothers of local brewery fame. Now it became a beer garden with a concession stand that sold ice cream and a roller-skating rink was added. As “Grace Park” it came closest to being Santa Rosa’s own; Rose Carnival parades usually ended there, Burbank Day celebrations were held, and there were always big doings on Labor Day. There were concerts and children’s carnivals and in 1905 there was a contest where men tried to catch a greased pig.

Any illusions that it was a de facto public park ended in 1921 when Frank Grace sold the property. Nor had they maintained it as a town rightly should; the only original structures left were the pavilion and tree staircase. Even as far back as 1908 the fire map had noted the buildings were “old and dilapidated.”

Our story of the place ends with new owners Dr. Joseph Shaw and wife Frances, who started building their extravagant Xanadu-like mansion to house their art treasures. Construction of “Villa Francesca” was abandoned after his death in a 1925 auto accident, but the Shaws and their architectural dreams deserve their own item here, someday, As Luther Burbank’s personal physician and closest friend, the couple’s cremains are buried alongside Burbank.

Santa Rosa’s continuing – and painful – search for a park continued. It wouldn’t be until 1931 that Santa Rosa had a true public-owned space with the donation of the nine acre Juilliard homestead (although the first official park was created in 1922 when they set aside an unused spot out at the city’s reservoir). Before and after the Great Earthquake there had been various proposals to create a water park on the banks of Santa Rosa Creek, or buy the current location of the Santa Rosa Middle School, or buy the grounds of an old mansion on Mendocino avenue, or buy any of several undistinguished lots to the west or south of city limits. But it always ended the same ways: The town was too cheap, voters weren’t interested or there was too much heavy lifting involved. For more on that history see: “NARY A PARK TO PLAY IN.”

Serious questions remain unanswered about the legacy of Kroncke’s Park: Was it his Sunday excursions which set Santa Rosa skidding towards the ditch? We know by 1905 this was a “wide-open town,” with thriving underground economy from illegal gambling and having the largest red light district between San Francisco and Reno.

It seems the park introduced habitual gambling to Santa Rosa. Gambling was always sanctioned at the County Fair racetrack with the newspapers even printing the odds, while the rest of the year saloon keepers could be found to serve as hometown bookies for customers wanting to bet on out-of-town horse races and other events (see “THE MAYOR OF MAIN STREET“). But it’s noteworthy that after Kroncke’s grand opening with the ball and picnic, almost all of his excursion ads promoted some sort of sporting event. Besides sword fighting there was wrestling and sparring, baseball and football games and all kinds of athletic tournaments – just the sort of competitions which attract gamblers.

I’ll also argue Kroncke’s excursions could have spurred prostitution here. The subsidized train tickets brought first-time visitors to Santa Rosa who learned it wasn’t a bad daytrip – the ferry/train ride was only about three hours. Still, that was far enough away for scant risk of bumping into the minister or other acquaintances from the Bay Area.

But what is certain is the weekly surge of a thousand or so tourists brought in a lot of money – and downtown interests would have been loathe to jeopardize that.

Taken together, it exactly fits the pattern of the corruption the muckrakers exposed here in 1905 – with the courts and police willing to look the other way (for the most part), government ignoring public outcry (it took 700-800 signatures, really?) and the newspapers spinning PR instead of calling for reforms.

Such has often been the story of Santa Rosa, even today; we too easily find ourselves waylaid along the road of good intentions and forget where we were headed.

Kroncke’s Park gave us a place which was nice enough that we wanted to ignore it also brought criminals to town. The reunited courthouse square gives us a place nice enough we can try to ignore its design and size makes it most look like a glorified helicopter landing pad. If you squint hard enough you can pretend to see anything you want to see, and Santa Rosa’s pretty good at doing that.

Portion of 1893 Sanborn fire map showing layout of Kroncke’s Park

What a pleasant day it was! Churches all full, and pleasure resorts ditto. City Gardens thronged with several hundred people—listening to the splendid music of the brass baud, (36 pieces,) wandering through the lovely walks and saying sweet nothings while resting on the rustic seats, boating on the miniature lake, looking at the birds and animals, or watching gay youngsters going around the velocipede track at a 2-40 gait. A great many persons also crossed the Bay on Sunday last, and enjoyed themselves finely.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 27 1869



The usual dress parade and guardmounting was had on Tuesday, and we noticed a marked increase in the crowd of citizens in attendance. After its close the sunset gun was fired, and supper discussed, and the non-commissioned officers and privates began to prepare for their enjoyment. The tents were placed in order with alacrity, and when the shades of evening begin to lower, the campfires were lit, the lanterns to shed their dubious light, and the camp took on its usual gala appearance. The splendid band took its position in the pavilion at the City Gardens, and soon the floor was filled with dancers. Drum Major Mayberry acted as master of ceremonies with ease, grace and dignity. All went off splendidly with the exception that the quarters were entirely inadequate to accomodate the crowd which thronged to participate.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 13 1884


A Public Park.

On Friday, P. H. Kronke purchased from Manville Doyle the eastern portion of the old Hewitt homestead on Fourth street, commencing at the old barn opposite the southern terminus of McDonald avenue, and will commence operations at once to lay it out for a public park. The tract fronts 130 feet on Fourth street, and is 700 feet in depth, so it covers an area of 91,000 square feet. He will erect an octagonal dancing platform sixty feet in diameter, remove the old barn and place a neat fence about it; and in every way beautify and adorn it. As it is near the intersection of Fourth street and College and McDonald avenues, its convenience will render it a very attractive place.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 26 1885

H. Kronke is fitting his park up at the intersection of Fourth street and McDonald avenue, in a very tasty manner. He has just employed an English gardener, who will commence at once to lay the grounds out. There will be a large lawn, interspersed with flower beds here and there, and it will also have a fountain of running water in the center. Mr. Kronke expects to have the park opened to the public next season at which time he will give picnics and open-air concerts at short intervals during the summer season.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 10 1885


The Sword Contest.

The sword contest between Duncan O. Ross and Sergeant Charles Walsh, at Kroncke’s Gardens Sunday afternoon, attracted a large crowd of people from the surrounding country as well as from San Francisco, which place contributed fourteen coaches full of pleasure seekers. Tbe excursion train from San Rafael arrived about 2 p. m., and found street cars, ’buses and vehicles of all descriptions awaiting to convey the people to the grounds. The contest was one of the most exciting witnessed on this coast. Ross won the match by a score of fifteen to thirteen. At the close of the eighteenth attack the contestants availed themselves of an intermission, which interval was filled by Professor S. J. Reeves giving an exhibition of horsemanship on the back of a wild mustang, which seat he kept notwithstanding the saddle occupied the neck of the animal part of the time. With but few exceptions a good time was enjoyed by all. The exceptions were the loss of money through the agency of pickpockets, but that exception to the pleasures of the day is one that is attendant on all such occasions. Credit is due the enterprising traveling agent of the Donahue road, Mr. T. C. Wills, for his successful efforts in behalf of our little city.

-Sonoma Democrat, May 15 1886


Sunday Excursions.

It is evident the editor of the Petaluma Courier does not entertain a very exalted opinion of Sunday excursions, as he comes out with the following rather flat-footed remarks:

We understand that Mr. Wills, agent for the S. F. and N. P. R. R., has been in our city trying to make arrangements for Sunday excursions to agricultural Park. Now, we are willing to do any thing in the world we can to help build up our town and attract visitors, but it we are to be cursed with such crowds of roughs as some Sundays visit Sonoma valley, and that recently visited Santa Rosa, we trust the directors will refuse to allow the Park to be used for any such purpose. Just let a crowd of such hoodlums and roughs as we have mentioned have the free run of the Park for a few Sundays, and we will find hell located only half a mile from the center of our city.

We think the Courier has a mistaken idea about the matter, so far as Santa Rosa is concerned, if by its allusion in the above, it has reference to any of the excursions from San Francisco that have visited Kroncke’s Park in this city. While it is a fact that two or three pickpockets plied their trade successfully in the crowd that attended the sword contest here, otherwise these excursions to this place have been very orderly and almost entirely free from the hoodlum element, considering the number of people present.

-Sonoma Democrat, June 12 1886


Hoodlum Vandalism

Heretofore the class of excursionists that have visited our city and Kroncke’s Park have proven, with but one or two exceptions, to be as quiet and orderly while in our midst as could be desired. The excursion party Sunday, however, must have been made up of a different element. The depredations committed by some of the crowd have incensed our people, and they cry out against such excursion parties coming here, or if they are to come, to be kept from repeating their actions of last Sunday. A party of them, it is not known how many, broke into the Hungarian prune orchard of thirteen acres at the head of Third street, owned by H. and W, Pierce, and destroyed one or two trees and broke off at least fifty limbs, some large and some small, besides strewing the ground with several bushels of the half ripe fruit. Judge Hoag, in whose charge the orchard is entrusted, was away, and did not hear of the injury perpetrated by these hoodlums until Monday morning. It is also understood that a plum orchard suffered similarly, and, if anything, worse, for they did not leave a single plum on the trees.

-Sonoma Democrat, August 14 1886


Another Crowd of Hoodlums.

The excursion to this city and Kroncke’s Park Sunday, was made up chiefly of hoodlums, although there were many respectable people; and it is due them to say they took no part with the other and rougher portion of the crowd. It is well that the excursion Sunday is to be the last of the season, for our citizens have got enough of such visitors as have come here on one or two occasions of similar character this summer, and are about ready to organize a remonstrance committee. It should not be inferred that all the excursions have been objectionable; many of them have been composed of laboring men and their families, who came here to spend a quiet Sunday away from the noise and bustle of the great city. But the majority of the excursionists last Sunday were of a class contaminating in their mere presence. Their conduct while here was such as to keep our officers busy all the time preserving the peace. The women were equally as bad as the men, and incited their escorts to ribald actions. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon a general fight ensued at tbe gardens, and it was with much difficulty that the officers finally restored peace. One of the roughs was taken in custody and brought before Justice Brown, who fined him $7, and let him go. The Marshal arrested another “tough” on Fourth street soon after the arrival of the train, and experienced much trouble in getting him to jail. At the corner, by the Hall of Records, he showed fight, and had to be knocked senseless with a club before the balance of the distance was completed. Several personal fights ensued at the park during the afternoon, but no further arrests were made. When the train left for San Francisco in the evening about sixty of the hoodlums got left, and put in the night parading the streets.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 4 1886


In the Police Court.

His Honor, Justice Brown, was seated on his bench bright and early Monday morning, in anticipation of a flourishing business after the excursion of Sunday. Jeremiah was also on hand, and after sweeping out the halls ot justice and tidying things up a bit, seated himself by the door to await the coming of the soreheads. The first one of the latter mentioned articles that Jeremiah had the pleasure of introducing to his Honor was one R. Taylor. His appearance was not in perfect keeping with his name; he looked as if he had not seen a tailor for some time. He informed his Honor that he had come up from San Francisco with the excursionists Sunday, and mistaking our City Marshal for an old friend trier to embrace him and was knocked down for so doing. The Judge thought that a man should pay for such a sentimental display, and charged him $10. He paid it, and Jeremiah bowed him out. The next was Thomas Jackson, who informed his Honor that he had merely engaged in a friendly tussle with an acquaintance at the Park Sunday, for $5 a side, and added that he thought he had been sufficiently punished in the whipping he accepted from his friendly antagonist. His Honor differed with him on that point, and, greatly to Jeremiah’s satisfaction, made the thing square for $6. The only occupant yet remaining in the prisoners’ dock was old Michael Fiahare, who was vigorously endeavoring to scrape a friendship with Jeremiah, greatly to that functionary’s disgust. At last his turn came, and after he once got started with his story of how he tried to bum a drink and was bounced by the barkeeper, there was no hope ot getting in a word edgeways. After a few ineffectual attempts at stopping the voluminous old bum, his honor gave it up and settled back in his easy chair. It was some time before the old man finished, and with tears in his eyes asked the Judge what he thought ought to be done to a barkeeper who treated his customers as he had been treated. His Honor was not much affected with the old man’s grief at the hard heartedness of the bar-tender, and in default of $30, Jeremiah was instructed to take Michael over to the County Jail for a period of thirty days.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 4 1886

M. Byrne, proprietor of Byrne’s Hotel, opposite the depot, was assaulted by an unknown party Sunday evening in the reading and bar-room of his hotel. Samuel Stoner, an eye-witness to the assault, related the following particulars to a Republican reporter who arrived on the spot shortly after the deed was done: “The assailant stepped behind the bar-counter, picked up the dinner bell and commenced to ring it. Mr. Byrne asked him to quit ringing the bell. The man still presisted in his annoyance when Mr. Byrne started toward him uttering an unpleasant epithet. The assaulting party then struck Mr. Byrne on the head with the bell and ran out saying he did not allow any one to abuse him. As soon as stuck Mr. Byrne fell senseless to the floor and those present ran to his rescue. The fleeing man made good his escape.” It is thought he was an excursionist and left on the train which pulled out for San Francisco soon after the affair took place. The police officer searched the train in company with a witness to the scene but did not succeed in identifying the man. Deputy Sheriff L. Brietenbach and a witness boarded the 5 o’clock excursion train for the city with the hope of apprehending the assailant. Chief of Police Crowly, of San Francisco, was telephoned a description of the man. The offender is a young man with auburn hair and at the time deed was committed was in his shirt sleeves. A woman was instrumental in hiding him away. It is supposed he was intoxicated. Drs. Davis and Shearer were summoned immediately after the occurence and administered to the sufferer. Mr. Byrne, although unconscious for some time, is not necessarily injured fatally. He was struck in the back of the head.


– Santa Rosa Daily Republican, August 22, 1887


Depredations Committed by the Tough Element While in this City.

Excursions like the one from San Francisco Sunday are unequivocally the reverse of desirable. There may be some cities in the State desirous of supplying their stock of Sunday amusements with importations of San Francisco hoodlum and tough, but Santa Rosa is willing to relinquish all claims to such pre-eminence.

While there was undoubtedly a large number of respectable people among the excursionists, the major part was composed of the usual gang of San Francisco toughs, accompanied by their customary companions–first-class candidates for the Magdalen Asylum. The arrival of the train in this city was the signal for an unrestrained outbreak of that spirit which the tough is prevented from indulging freely at home on account of the vigilance of the metropolitan police force. This element, during their passage from the depot to the Park, took occasion to render themselves obnoxious to the respectable people with whom they came in contact. Ladies were insulted and a number of our citizens were crowded off the sidewalks. The conversation with which the sallow-faced individuals. dressed in chinchilla coats, entertained their vulgar female companions was an outrage on all sense of decency. During their stay it required the utmost vigilance of the officers to keep them within bounds.

One of the toughs, who was arrested under the name of Tim Hallihan, entered Byrne’s Hotel, Sunday afternoon, shortly before the departure of the train, and perpetrated an outrage which is likely to be revenged with the full penalty of the law. The tough walked behind the bar, announcing his attention of taking the establishment and commenced ringing the dinner bell violently, as if to demonstrate his ability and willingness to verify his words. Mr. Byrne’s requested him to desist. His words had no other effect than to increase the volume of sound. He started towards the obstreperous individual as if to take the bell from his hands, whereupon he was felled to the floor unconscious, by a heavy blow under the left ear from the bell. The large crowd which had gathered immediately rushed to Mr. Byrne’s assistance, which gave his assailant an opportunity to escape. He was not backward in improving it, and disappeared among the crowd which was just then swarming around the cars. A gentleman who had witnessed the occurence pointed the man out to Deputy Sheriff Breitenbach, who followed him on to the train. In the bustle and confusion the escaping tough concealed his identity and was not captured until the train was nearing Miller’s Station. Trouble with the friends of the prisoner was anticipated, and the conductor of the train, Frank Grace, and two San Francisco policemen who were on the train came to the arresting officer’s assistance. True to their loyalty, the toughs arose from their seats as if by one impulse and made a dash for the prisoner’s liberation. No blows were exchanged. The toughs depended on their numerical strength, but were unsuccessful. The prisoner was brought to this city on the evening train and changes filed against him for assault with a deadly weapon. Justice Brown, before whom he was taken Monday morning, held him to bail at $500. It is understood that several of the saloons in this city were robbed in a bold manner. It is stated that while the train was at the depot in Petaluma a number of the excursionists weht into a saloon close at hand and robbed the proprietor of several bottles of liquor and boxes of cigars in a high-handed manner.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 27 1887


Kroncke’s Park.

From Mr. Henry Kroncke a Republican reporter learned that he was making extensive improvements in the park, preparatory for the coming season. This delightful place of resort became quiet famous last season, and as a result Mr. Kroncke states that every Sunday in April, May and June have already been engaged, and  Mr. Kroncke’s agent in San Francisco informs him that there will be no difficulty in securing picnics during the season up to August 1st. The park has been rented only to social clubs and societies, and  Mr. Kroncke has exercised the greatest care in making contracts, as he can assure us that only the most respectable societies will be permitted to hold picnics at the park. The bowling alley will be fixed up again with several improvements. An outside bar will also be arranged for picnics. The swimming baths, will be in operation and conducted upon the same thorough and strict system as last year. These baths are one of the most attractive features of the park and arranged probably better than any of a similar character in the State. They are something that Santa Rosa has been in need of for some time, and the liberal patronage justifies Mr. Kroncke in continuing them. The work of improving the grounds has already commenced and the green grass, shady trees and blooming flowers will be a great attraction for Santa Rosans during the warm days and evening of summer. We have begun to look upon Kroncke’s Park as an almost necessity; in fact it would be difficult to tell what we would do without it. The construction of the park and its success, has been one cause of Mr. Kroncke being placed in the lead of enterprising citizens of Santa Rosa.

– Santa Rosa Daily Republican, February 11 1888


 The Kroncke’s Park Liquor License Denied

…[I]t is the duty of this committee to ascertain the effect of establishing such a business in the locality described in the petition and ascertain whether or not it would be to the detriment of any other individual. We find no evidence that it would not, while we do find that within the last twelve months a protest of some seven or eight hundred names was filed with your clerk protesting against the licensing of a bar or drinking saloon in the premises described in the petition. Our own Superior Court has interpreted the spirit of article 2 of the ordinance to be the confinement of the liquor traffic to the central or business portion of the city, as a police regulation. If so, we should not ourselves break the law.

The committee recommended that the petition be denied…The report was adopted by a unanimous vote of the council.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 5 1890


City Garden Sold.

The property former known as Kroncke’s Park, now the City Gardens, was sold on Saturday to Grace Brothers, who will fit up the residence and the garden as a pleasure resort and park. The grounds are attractive and the location central. The property has been owned for some time by Joseph Kohnenberger, and the sale was consummated through the real estate agency of Davis & Farnham. It is expected that very extensive improvements will be made by the new owners.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 29 1897

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Give Santa Rosa credit: When it decided to destroy the downtown area, it did so thoroughly. In the late 1960s the town demolished all of its legacy public buildings including the Carnegie library (which was replaced only after considerable arm-twisting) and the county courthouse. Supposedly they were completely unsafe and ready to tumble down at the first quiver of a quake although there were little or no concerns before. County archivist Katherine Rinehart just came across blueprints from 1945 showing the county was even considering a third story addition to the courthouse.

Less mentioned is that the city hall building next to Courthouse Square was also torn down after Santa Rosa built the sprawling city complex on Santa Rosa Avenue in 1969. The new complex obliterated the site of Kabetciuwa, the most significant Pomo community in this area, so thus the town managed to score a two-fer in legacy destruction.

The old city hall represented the conclusion of post-1906 earthquake reconstruction. The original idea was for something much grander; in 1908 the city commissioned architect John Galen Howard to design a combined firehouse and city hall. His plans were in the Beaux Arts style much like the Empire Building, which he also created. For reasons never explained the project was abandoned; the firehouse remained at its previous location on Fifth street and the new city hall would be built at 210 Hinton (today part of the large bank building at 50 Old Courthouse Square).

Built in 1913, the place housed the city council chamber, police station, courtroom, jail, offices for the mayor, city clerk, tax collector, recorder, city attorney and street commissioner plus staff for all – it makes one wonder if they were sometimes sitting on each other’s laps. The issue of crowding came up even before construction started, as some of the most prominent men in town met with City Council in a special session. There were more suitable vacant lots around downtown, they insisted, some almost twice as wide as the 40-foot city-owned lot where the building was planned. Sorry, said the mayor; we’ve already explored those options.

At least the lot was deep, and the Santa Rosa Republican provided a detailed description of the interior, transcribed below; a highlight is mention that the jail included “a ‘hobo’ room, furnished principally with cool walls and floor and opportunity for reflection.”

The architect was Luther M. Turton, winning the contract over county courthouse designer J. W. Dolliver. I’ve long planned a thorough writeup of Turton as “Santa Rosa’s other Luther;” he was a prolific architect all over the North Bay and particularly in Napa, where he was based (short bio here). Besides city hall, he also designed several Santa Rosa homes, schools and office buildings. For a number of years he had an office here in (what would become known as) the Empire Building.

Like his contemporary Brainerd Jones, his work was eclectic and personalized for each client – for our city hall, he even provided the office furniture. Fortunately, the Napa County Historical Society has hundreds of Turton architectural drawings including his blueprints for Santa Rosa city hall.


Santa Rosa City Hall in 1967, Photo by Don Meacham and courtesy Sonoma County Library.



One of the best designed, constructed and fitted building in Sonoma county is Santa Rosa’s city hall, now nearing completion. It only remains to complete a small amount of finishing, install the lighting fixtures and put in place the furnishings.

The front facade presents a pleasing appearance, but the idea of utility at moderate cost is the object achieved. Abundance of light, superior ventilation, modern plumbing and heating have been provided and the arrangement of the interior is most excellent in all particulars.

The front rooms on the ground floor will be the office of the chief of police, provided with counter and steel lined vault, the public entrance being from the north corridor which runs the length of the building to the police cell room. A handsome private office is provided for the chief.

In the rear of this is the locker and rest room for the police force, containing seven conveniently appointed coat rooms for members of the patrol, and ample comforts for rest when off duty or on office detail.

Connecting with this room, next east is the City Recorder’s court room, light, ample in size, provided with finely appointed lavatory, hot and cold water, porcelain washbasin. The court room will be handsomely furnished. Direct entrance to the open court at the south is provided as well as entrance from the closed corridor at the north end of room.

In the rear of the court room is a supply land storage room of large capacity.

The entire east end of ground floor is devoted to the cell room; abundantly lighted thoroughly ventilated and containing shower bath and every convenience permissible in a detention room. There are five cells each containing two steel framed cots affixed to the walls, which may be folded against the wall if desired. Each cell contains sanitary plumbing and every provision possible for making confinement less irksome; thoroughly conforming to the most modern prison standard.

Between this room and the storage room are a woman’s cell, furnished as above and a “hobo” room, furnished principally with cool walls and floor and opportunity for reflection.

Throughout the building are convenient clothes closets provided with every convenience and sanitary luxury, all up-to-the-hour is character and style.

The floors throughout are of fibrestone, noiseless to the tread; the baseboards are all “coved” so that no lurking place for dirt or dust is found. The janitor’s duties are lightened and the most sanitary result possible in office flooring is obtained.

The finish is mainly in oak and mahogany, some native woods in finish harmonizing with the remainder. The is [sic] rich and solid in appearance, classic in design and devoid of “gingerbread” ornaments; sensible and durable.

The north corridor and staircase are of oak, the wainscoting being of fibrestone. All walls of the main floor offices are tinted in a manner to soften and tone the light with most pleasing effect.

The main front room on the second floor is for the use of the city clerk and provided with steel lined vault, and all conveniences for both public and the official. A mail chute to the chief’s office below permits the saving of many extra journeys up and down the stairs. An adjoining room for stenographers’ use, etc., and convenient closets are provided.

The rooms at front end of corridor make a private office with ante room for the Mayor.

In rear of clerk’s office are rooms for city attorney and street commissioner.

East of these office rooms is the council chamber, finely designed, handsomely fitted in oak and mahogany, light, airy, and with ample accommodation for the public as well as the city officials. The ceiling is ornamental in design and when the electric lights are turned on at sessions will present an artistic appearance.

On a dais in the southwest corner of the room “his honor” will be enthroned at a handsome mahogany desk, overlooking the scene from an eminence, as it were. Directly in front the city clerk’s desk will be in direct connection with the mayor’s–or within easy reach for the passing of documents. The councilmen will be seated at desks ranging in a quarter circle, the whole space being enclosed by a substantial parapet instead of openwork railing.

Wall seats line both north and east walls, giving ample and comfortable seating for more than fifty people. Flanking the clerk’s desk there are desks for the press representatives.

The acoustic properties are good and it will be easy to hear the ordinary tones of conversation any place within the room. When the handsome furniture is in place it will be a “gem” in its way.

The east rooms are for the city engineer and city assessor, commodious, light, with large storage closets and all conveniences.

The whole building will be heated by the hot water system, the radiators being already in place and the plant ready for operation,

The most modern sanitary plumbing fixtures have been used throughout and there is no concealed work, all being exposed, easy of access for repairs, ornate to look upon and the best that can be found anywhere. Hot and cold water are supplied to all basins and there is no place for germs or filth to accumulate in any part of the building.

The upper corridor is abundantly lighted by three large skylights and vault light frames in the floor admit plenty of light to the lower corridor.

The best of materials and workmanship have been employed throughout and Architect Turton is more than pleased with the manner in which the contractors, Gallagher & Wygant, have carried out their agreement.

The city now possesses a commodious and handsomely equipped building and–it will be paid for in full when the contractors turn it over in a few days.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 13, 1913
Citizens Confer With Council at the Special Meeting on Monday Evening

There was a special session of the City Council Monday night to meet Architect L. M. Turton, whose plans for a new City Hall have been accepted, to go over the working details and specifications of the structure.

Mayor J. L. Mercier and Counclmen Pressley, Skaggs, Spooncer and Wolfe were present, when the meeting was called to order and Councilman Hail came In later.

President John Rinner and a number of the Directors and members of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce called on the Council. The object of the visit of the delegation was to present a protest against the building of a City Hall on the forty-foot lot on Exchange avenue [sic], if any other plan could be devised.

A number of the visitors spoke on the subject, Including President Rinner. Director Rosenberg and Messrs. J. P. Overton, E. L. Finley and C. H. Bane: and the Mayor and Councilmen Joined in the general discussion which followed.

The visitors voiced the opinion that the Hinton avenue lot was too small and confining for a suitable site for a public building; that the structure there would be lowered by the larger and more costly County Court House; that the same building erected in a lot giving ample room for a grass plot would make a far better showing; that an open lot for the building would give air and light, and at the same time remove danger of fire damage; that it might be possible to sell the present lot and purchase another better located and still have sufficient money from the sale to pay the additional expense on the building necessitated by having to furnish all four walls.

It was suggested that the Farmer property on Fourth street, adjoining the Library, 73 by 135 feet, be secured for the building with the possibility of purchase or condemnation of several adjoining lots through to Third street to give a pretty park which would end for the present the talk of bonding the city for park purposes and yet give a breathing place for the general public right In the heart of town.

Mayor Mercier explained that many months had been spent by the Council in studying the situation. An effort was made, he said, to secure a conference with the Board of Supervisors looking towards a trade of the city property for the county lot on the corner of Third street, but the Supervisors even refused to meet in conference to discuss the subject. Other sites had been discussed, but after all the matter came back to the old lot. An effort to get the Farmer property had even failed owing to the refusal of San Francisco heirs to agree to trade even for the present site.

After an informal agreement to sell the property, signed by E. C. Farmer, had been presented and filed with the Council, the subject was taken under advisement and the visitors departed.

The Council spent some time with Architect Tarton going over the proposed plans and specifications. These will shortly be In shape to submit to bidders, but meanwhile the Council will consider the matter presented by the protestants and decide upon some line of action.

– Press Democrat, November 26, 1912

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