1958fairgrounds

FAIR QUESTIONS

Anyone downtown on March 15 may have noticed an unusual dark bus slowly rolling along; inside were representatives from Santa Rosa and the Chamber of Commerce who were guiding a tour for about 70 Bay Area developers. Our visitors were promised that we would loosen rules and regs, defer or waive significant fees, all to max out every inch of buildable space near downtown as fast as possible. It makes for an awkward coincidence this was the same date that the soothsayer in Shakespeare’s tragedy Julius Caesar croaked out “beware the Ides of March,” warning that bad things were about to happen.

(Note to readers: This is an opinion piece about current events in Santa Rosa.)

An executive with the Bay Area Council told a reporter that the incentives Santa Rosa is offering developers are “unprecedented” for the Bay Area. “Everyone I know in the San Francisco and other Bay Area markets has internalized the trauma of wrestling with city departments,” said a rep from an international investment firm. “I sort of feel like I’m in Disneyland when I’m in Santa Rosa.”

Coverage of that significant event came from the San Jose Mercury News and was reprinted by the Press Democrat (apparently the PD’s assignment editor thought their Pulitzer Prize-winning staff would be too busy preparing for the upcoming St. Paddy’s Day – those peppy “holiday tips” listicles don’t write themselves).

As the reporter wasn’t from here, she framed the story as if this was all being done because of the 2017 fires – but for the last five years, locals have heard about our “historic housing crisis” from every politician allowed near a microphone. It’s so bad, we’re told, that last year Santa Rosa and Sonoma County formed a “RED JPA” (that’s a Renewal Enterprise District created as a Joint Powers Authority, for those who like to know what things mean) to push through as much housing construction as quickly as possible. In Santa Rosa, that translates to adding 7,000 more housing units to the downtown area by the year 2040 – a total of 30k countywide.

“If the pace of housing production is not accelerated well beyond historic levels, the impacts on the economy, climate change, quality of life, and the health and well‐being of Sonoma residents could be dire,” warns the District’s problem statement.

Yow!

Did I hear Gentle Reader snorting in derision, skeptical that such a calamity is upon us? While county and city staff reports about planning goals are usually vague and cautious, that document reads like a political manifesto. (“Dire”? Seriously?) But hyperventilated or no, it seems to match the attitude of our RED officials – hence that welcome-to-Disneyland bus tour.

But let’s trust that the city and country are absolutely correct in their forecast and it’s really an unprecedented, five alarm, all hands on deck crisis – “dire,” even – and something must be done, and done swiftly. If that’s really so, here’s a modest proposal: Move the fairgrounds somewhere else and build thousands of new homes on the site.

The Sonoma County Fairgrounds is an island of county property within Santa Rosa city limits, and at 182 acres it’s more than twice the size of the former hospital campus on Chanate. It’s close to shopping, medical services, and because of easy access to Highway 12, a shuttle from the downtown SMART station can reach the neighborhood in a couple of minutes or so. In short, it’s an ideal location for infill development – except for it currently having a tenant, albeit one who uses the place only for a few weeks of the year and occasionally rents it out when friends drop by.

To many, I’m sure the notion of losing that location for the fairgrounds is unthinkable. But as I’ve just written in “THE LOST HISTORY OF THE SONOMA COUNTY FAIR,” the county fair flipped between being in Santa Rosa and Petaluma several times and was once held in Cotati. The only reason it ended up staying here was because the Press Democrat and Santa Rosa civic boosters wanted to use horse racing as a tourist draw during the Great Depression. For the first 12+ years there was no permanence to the fairgrounds; tents were rented for exhibits and livestock. The Hall of Flowers is a former B-29 airplane hanger the Fair bought cheaply in 1949.

Tents at the 1937 Sonoma County Fair (Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)
Tents at the 1937 Sonoma County Fair (Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Even if the Sonoma County Fairgrounds remained at this prime location, its footprint still could be reduced to add some housing. As the PD recently noted, interest in horse racing is fading quickly; should we really continue to set aside ~50 acres for it? And speaking of horse racing, can someone please tell me why the Jockey Club – a sports bar dedicated to off-track betting – is on the county’s fairgrounds property?

Shorn of the racetrack, horse stables, the OTB drinking hole plus some of the storage barns in back and the Sonoma County Fair becomes a size manageable to move. But where should the County Fair go?

The easiest option would be to let it revert to its origins at the Sonoma-Marin fairgrounds in Petaluma, either as part of their regular fair or as a separate August event. County Fair attendance is down 37 percent over the last six years, so the smaller Petaluma venue would not be a squeeze. But my preference (since no one asked) would be to have the fairgrounds swap places with the County Administration campus.

Just last month (July, 2019) the county agreed to pay a consultant up to $300,000 to ponder where to build a possible new joint city-county government center, with downtown Santa Rosa being a desirable option. The county says the Sheriff’s Office and the county jail are staying put; all those other offices could move to the fairgrounds location and there would still be enough room to build over a thousand single-family homes on the rest of the property.

A downsized County Fair, with its livestock, craft/floral exhibitions along with the usual Midway, would easily fit in the current Administration campus space. It particularly would be a better location for the Chris Beck Arena, which is increasingly used for monster truck rallies, destruction derbies and other loud motorsport events which blanket the downtown and beyond with the noise of roaring engines.

Nor would a fairgrounds/campus swap need to happen all at once. The redevelopment plan envisions stretching Santa Rosa’s population growth over the next 20 years, so any contracts and commitments regarding the existing fairgrounds have plenty of time to iron out. And construction of the new county office space could be incremental; while it’s ongoing, maybe the Supes could hold meetings in the auditorium of the Veterans Memorial Building, another underutilized public space.

None of this is under consideration, of course; as far as I can tell, no one has ever proposed redeveloping the fairgrounds before – but then again, we’ve also never had our city and county governments warning that we face a “dire” situation unless we add 7,000 places to live close to downtown.

Instead, Santa Rosa is pushing developers to build upwards, giving them generous incentives to construct 5, 7, and even 10 story buildings. All well and good, except for this: Seismologists tell us that Santa Rosa is a few decades overdue for The Big One – an earthquake of catastrophic proportion. I would not like to be inside, standing next to, or even driving past a ten story building when that hits.

The current odds are estimated at a 1-in-3 chance of our “Santa Rosa pull-apart basin” – and yes, it’s exactly as horrific as it sounds – rupturing before 2045, the highest risk in the Bay Area. Picture everything west of Brookwood Ave. suddenly shifting to the north while the east side heads south. In a quake of 7.0 magnitude or greater, that could mean a slippage of over six feet. It will be likely the worst disaster in Sonoma County history, and here’s the bonus good news: Memorial Hospital sits smack on Ground Zero.

You can read more about our earthquake fault in an earlier article (here’s also a geological study PDF), but the city should be handing a map such as the one below to every developer who comes here to look at “Disneyland.” Yes, it’s possible to build tall buildings that are seismically safe, but such engineering adds 20-25 percent to construction costs, and Santa Rosa is pitching the town as a place where they can build quickly, cheaply and hassle free.

Rodgers Creek Fault Zone in yellow (California Geological Survey)
Rodgers Creek Fault Zone in yellow (California Geological Survey)

So how will all this play out? Barring a major quake which turns all buildings into pancakes, I expect the city will have some success in attracting new development, although adding nowhere near 7,000 housing units in the downtown core. But the “Downtown Station Area Specific Plan” encompasses a far larger area (MAP); the concern is that the city will meet that quota by stuffing high density projects in the older neighborhoods. This has already happened, as the City Council approved the 185 unit DeTurk Winery complex in the West End, followed by the developer returning and asking to use a “density bonus” and bumping the number to 240 – and all this despite the location being within a historic preservation district.

Meanwhile, 182 acres sits fallow almost all of the year, a time capsule of pre-WWII Santa Rosa.

I suppose city and county staff will say fairgrounds redevelopment is off limits because it lies just outside the official Specific Plan boundary, or because of its special “Public Institutional” zoning. Well, working around such problems is the very point of having a county/city RED JPA – right?

This should also become an election year issue. Ask politicians to prioritize: Should we keep a gaming sports bar or build ten single family homes on the spot? Should we support a racetrack for a dying spectator sport or create a new infill subdivision? Do we need most to keep little-used fairgrounds or build a new community which would be half the entire size of Coffey Park? Since the City Council and Board of Supervisors tell us the situation is “dire,” these are fair questions. Very fair.

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redwoodhighway

YESTERDAY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER (PART I)

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past” is a flippant line tossed off in a novel by William Faulkner (don’t bother reading it; I did one college summer, when I thought Faulkner novels were something I just had to learn to appreciate, more the fool I) and that quote reflects the theme of the book, which is about the terrible prices we often pay for long-ago mistakes. In recent years it’s been misappropriated to mean history in general, particularly as an upbeat catchphrase for historic places. That meaning fits the town of Sonoma, with its adobes haunted by Vallejo’s ghosts, or Petaluma, with much of its downtown undisturbed since Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn. But Santa Rosa – not so much. Here the phrase has to be used in its original intent, to express the unhappy ways we are dogged by our past.

This is the 700th article to appear in this journal, which now clocks in at over 1.5 million words (I have statistically typed the letter “e” about 190,530 times but the letter “z” merely 1,110). Normally such a milestone is an occasion for a “best of” recap but I did that not so long ago back at #650 with “650 KISSES DEEP,” so instead I’d like to step back and reflect on some of the reasons Santa Rosa came to be the way it is today.

This is also timely because right now (summer 2019) the city is working on the Downtown Station Area Specific Plan which “seeks to guide new development with a view to creating a vibrant urban center with a distinct identity and character.” The plan calls for wedging up to 7,000 more housing units into the downtown area, which will be quite a trick.

There are limits to what developers can build, in part because this is a high-risk earthquake zone (a 1 in 3 chance we will have a catastrophe within the next 26 years), but a greater obstacle is that Santa Rosa is uniquely burdened by layers of bad decisions made over several decades.

THE ORIGINAL DOWNTOWN PLAN   Santa Rosa’s prime underlying problem is (literally) underlying. Scrape off the present downtown buildings and we have the same frontier village that was platted way back in 1853, when there was only one house (Julio Carrillo’s), a store, a tavern and stray pigs. It was small enough for anyone to walk across any direction in a couple of minutes or three – 70 total acres from the creek to Fifth street, from E to A street.

Now eight score and five years since, our downtown core is virtually unchanged from that original street grid – minus the 40 acres lopped off for the highway and mall – so there ain’t much room on the dance floor for developers to make any sort of dramatic moves.

Not that people haven’t envisioned a better downtown. In 1945 architect “Cal” Caulkins created a plan which eliminated Courthouse Square and turned almost all of the space between First and Third streets into a Civic Center. No question: This was the best of all possible Santa Rosas, as I wrote in “THE SANTA ROSA THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN.” The plan had universal and enthusiastic support and only needed voter approval of a $100k bond to get started. It lost by 96 votes on a ballot crowded with other bond measures. Attempts by the Chamber of Commerce to revive a modified version of the design in 1953 went nowhere.

Another big attempt to fix Santa Rosa’s design problems came in 1960-1961, when the city’s new Redevelopment Agency hired urban design experts from New Jersey. Some of their ideas were pretty good; they envisioned a pedestrian-friendly city with mini-parks, tree-lined boulevards and a greenway along both banks of a fully restored Santa Rosa Creek. Their objective was for the public to drive to a parking garage/lot as easily as possible and walk.

Over the following years came a succession of consultants and developers with both detailed schemes and spitballing proposals, mainly focused on revitalizing Fourth street by making it more walkable. (Most innovative was an idea to rip out the roadway and replace it with an artificial creek criss-crossed by little footbridges.) In 1981 it was rechristened the “Fourth Street Mall” and closed to autos on Friday and Saturday nights to squash the local street cruising fad.

Tinkering does not a city remake, and downtown is still as it always was, an Old West village square. As I’ve joked before, the town motto should be changed from “The City Designed For Living” to “The City Designed For Living…During the Gold Rush.”

THE PRICE OF PARKING   Or maybe the motto should be, “The City Designed For Buggies.”

For a city with such a small downtown, Santa Rosa devotes a big hunk of that footprint to automobile parking, with nine lots and five garages. Yet should even half of the new residents in those 7,000 proposed apartments/condos have a car, every single parking spot will be taken – and then some.

Santa Rosa has always had a fraught relationship with autos, and it’s again because so much of the core area is unchanged from its buggywhip days. Once beyond the eight square blocks around Courthouse Square many of the old residential streets are so narrow that parking is not allowed on both sides and it’s still a squeeze when trucks or SUVs pass. Again, high-density development would be tough. (The exception is College ave. which is quite wide because they drove cattle down the street from the Southern Pacific depot on North street to the slaughterhouse near Cleveland ave.)

Complaints about downtown parking go back to 1910, when farmers coming to town in their wagons for Saturday shopping found fewer hitching posts available. In 1912 the city finally gave in and set up the vacant lot at Third and B streets as a kind of horse parking lot.

Fourth street between A and B streets c. 1922-1925. Postcard courtesy Larry Lapeere Collection
Fourth street between A and B streets c. 1922-1925. Postcard courtesy Larry Lapeere Collection

From the 1920s onward, photos of downtown show seemingly every parking spot taken. There was no shortage of articles in the Press Democrat detailing the latest plans to solve the parking problem – including 1937’s increased fines for every additional violation, which reveals a major drawback of living in a small town where the Meter Lady knows everybody.

The crisis came 1945-1946, when the city introduced parking meters along with Santa Rosa’s first sales tax, both to predictable taxpayer howls. The Press Democrat’s letter section saw writers interchangeably angry between the tax and the parking meters and although the tax was only one percent, there were calls for a complete boycott of the downtown as a kind of Boston Tea Party protest. On top of that, street parking was dreaded because the city insisted upon parallel parking only, even though merchants had been protesting it for many years. (Those pre-1950 land-yachts did not have power steering, so turning the wheels when the car was not in motion was a helluva workout.) For more on all this feuding see: “CITY OF ROSES AND PARKING METERS.”

2 tons of American steel
2 tons of American steel

Whilst the normally peaceable citizens of Santa Rosa were stabbing their City Councilman dolls with voodoo pins, a guy named Hugh Codding was building a new shopping center he called Montgomery Village. It opened in 1950 with an advertising blitz promoting no sales tax (because it was outside of city limits) and easy, meter-free parking. Shoppers flocked there. Thus closed the first chapter of a big book we might call, “A Series of City Hall’s Unfortunate Events.”

OUR WAY OR NO FREEWAY   City Hall alone was not to blame for all that era’s dreadful decisions; together with the Downtown Association and Chamber of Commerce they “sawed the town in half,” as a Press Democrat editor put it in the paper’s 1948 end of year wrapup.

As well known from old photos, the Redwood Highway – AKA Highway 101 – used to pass smack through downtown Santa Rosa, around Courthouse Square and up Mendocino ave. This traffic included not only your aunt Ginny running errands across town but big trucks passing through with redwood logs, cattle, farm equipment and such. It may have looked like the City of Roses, but it probably smelled like the City of Diesel.

prop2In 1938 there was a municipal bond measure to fund an alt truck route around downtown. It failed to pass but would have pushed all that heavy traffic over to Wilson street, which was the heart of our “Little Italy” community – although the ads for the bond pleaded it was urgently needed for the safety of our school children, that concern apparently didn’t extend to the Italian kids. Backers also warned this truck route was necessary because the State Highway Commission might otherwise build a bypass and turn Santa Rosa into a “ghost town.”

A couple of years passed. The city’s Grand Poobahs were still stuck on the idea of a truck route but now wanted it a block closer to downtown, on Davis st. (or rather, between Davis and Morgan streets). The state offered no firm counterproposal; maybe they would construct a bypass somewhere west of Santa Rosa or perhaps use the Davis st. route with a short five block overpass, similar to what they were currently building in San Rafael. Anyway, there was no urgency: The state estimated there were only 4,500 daily trips along this stretch of highway 101 (today there are about 100,000).

Come 1941, however, the Press Democrat front page screamed with 72-point headlines – not just about the war against Hitler, but the war against the Highway Commission.

“An insult to Santa Rosa!” raged a PD op/ed after the state announced it was going to build a 13 block overpass through the town, from Sebastopol road to Ninth st. The paper called this a “highway on stilts” and the Downtown Association lawyer said it would “create the impression that the city is nothing more or less than a ‘slough town.'”

Santa Rosa’s response came in another banner headline: “CITY TO BUILD ALTERNATE TRUCK HIGHWAY!” They quickly bought right-of-way from seven homeowners between South A and South Davis streets (moving one of the houses), paved the stub of a road, and because the Commission didn’t grunt in disapproval, the town declared victory. The next thing anyone knew was when a state engineer was found surveying for the overpass and told someone it was “absolutely necessary at this time.”

I will mercifully spare Gentle Reader the full drama of what happened between 1942 and 1948, except to say that the Press Democrat wore out its supply of lead type exclamation marks (“CITY TO FIGHT OVERHEAD HIGHWAY!”) as it breathlessly reported all the good news about how the damned “Stilt Road” was not just merely dead but really most sincerely dead. And then another surveyor showed up from Sacramento. Nope.

There were in toto six different routes under consideration by the Highway Commission; unfortunately, not all of them were detailed in any Sonoma county newspapers (as far as I can tell). There was always the threat of a complete western bypass, but it was never mentioned whether that route would have been Stony Point or Wright/Fulton, or both. Serious consideration was given an eastern route from Petaluma Hill road to North street, curving back to Redwood Highway/Mendocino ave. between Memorial Park and Lewis road – which would have brought the highway rumblings within earshot of the tony McDonald ave. neighborhood, of course.

The state finally relented and gave Santa Rosa what the Poobahs wanted – a ground-level freeway that mostly wiped out Davis street (it’s the same route of highway 101 today). There were eleven crossings on it between Sebastopol road and Steele lane so there were plenty of chances to turn off and do some shopping.

Building highway 101 in 1948. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library
Building highway 101 in 1948. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

Our ancestors fought so fiercely for this layout because they believed the downtown business district would wither if there was a bypass – that Santa Rosa couldn’t survive unless shoppers were only seconds away from their favorite stores. But I suspect another reason was because they didn’t actually grasp the concept of freeways. It was the mid-1940s, remember, and the very first one in America (Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles) had been constructed just a few years before. From some of the remarks in the PD it appears they thought of an elevated freeway like a bridge, where there was no getting on or off in midspan; when road options were presented at hearings in Petaluma, state officials had to explain that a freeway included a certain number of on and off ramps.

By contrast, when Petaluma’s highway improvements came years later that town had the opposite attitude – the state could not build their downtown bypass fast enough. “Loss of the tourist trade will be more than offset by an increase in local trade,” their City Manager said before work began. Petaluma’s greatest concern was the route be chosen with care to avoid the “poultry belt” because of “the harmful effects of irregular noises, headlights and police sirens on white leghorns,” as a freeway skeptic remarked.

The grand opening of the “Santa Rosa Freeway” was May 20, 1949. Less than two months passed before the first fatality: George Dow was killed in July when a car turning onto West College crossed his southbound lane. After that someone died every ten weeks on the average until the PD wrote a 1950 editorial which began, “A state highway ‘deathway’ runs through Santa Rosa. It is mistakenly called a ‘freeway.'”

Remember the joke that a camel was a horse designed by a committee? This was a freeway designed by shopkeepers. Of the eleven crossings only seven had stoplights. The only turn lanes were on the southbound side for turning east onto Third, Fourth and Fifth streets – to make it easier to get downtown, of course – otherwise drivers shot across oncoming traffic. Crossings at Steele Lane, Fifth St. and Barham Ave. proved the most deadly and the city asked for more traffic lights; the state replied they would study the safety issues concerning the road they told us they did not want to build. Meanwhile, the speed limit was cranked down from 55 to 45 to 35 as the death toll mounted and the city discovered there was more cross-traffic than there were cars using the highway.

Then there was the community impact. The PD sent out a reporter in 1950 to talk to people living on the west side. He was told the freeway made them feel stigmatized – they were on the “wrong side of tracks.” And so they were; there were no parks around there at the time except for a single weedy lot. Their 400+ kids had to walk across the freeway to go to school (mainly Burbank Elementary), so the city built a pedestrian underpass at Ellis Street. It flooded during heavy rains.

There was no whitewashing the fact that the freeway was a disaster in every way, and no doubt about who was to blame for it being like that. But curiously, the Press Democrat no longer mentioned the names of the guys it had long praised for standing up to those smarty-pants state engineers just a few years earlier.

Santa Rosa’s City Manager Sam Hood spoke to the San Francisco Commonwealth Club in 1951 and said the “selfish interests” who were to blame for forcing through the ground-level roadway had come to find the freeway had no impact on their business at all. He added that if a vote were to be held that day – less than two years after the freeway opened – not one merchant would oppose a bypass.

The PD managed to both strongly condemn the freeway (“every intersection is a death-trap”) while making its original boosters – including the paper itself – even more anonymous in a 1956 editorial: “…well-intentioned Santa Rosans, laymen who thought they knew more than highly experienced and qualified engineers, who kicked, screamed and protested until they had their way – and saddled Santa Rosa with a classic example of what happens when local pressure-groups have their way.” So forgiving.

Santa Rosa finally yielded to the state and planning began for what we have today – an elevated highway 101 directly above the old ground level version. When work began the PD printed an Aug. 24, 1966 feature on the detour plans and expressed relief that the end was nigh for our “17-year-old mistake.” The new freeway opened October 1968 and cost $3.8M.

The old Santa Rosa Freeway may be no more but its terrible legacy remains, forever splitting the city between east and west. Whatever happens to this city – a population boom, catastrophic earthquake or fire, sweeping redevelopment or no development at all – that highway will endure and shape what we can do with our future. In Santa Rosa it will always be 1949.

NEXT: HOW WE LOST SANTA ROSA CREEK…
 

 

(Photo at top courtesy Larry Lapeere Collection)

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1906courthouse

THE BITTER VICTORY OF COURTHOUSE SQUARE

In the summer of 1883 most West Coast newspapers were complaining about the unusually hot weather; but here in Sonoma county, we were too busy complaining about each other. For months the air was heavy with angst and acrimony and there was no telling how long it would be before the winds changed.

The Board of Supervisors were determined to build a county courthouse in the middle of Santa Rosa’s plaza. Petaluma wanted the new courthouse in their town – which would make them the county seat. Factions from Petaluma were circulating a petition demanding a vote on the issue while also threatening to split off and form a new county. Meanwhile, the rest of the county was upset at both Santa Rosa and Petaluma for dragging them into their fuss. All of that melodrama was covered in part one, “HOW COURTHOUSE SQUARE TORE SONOMA COUNTY APART.”

Our story resumes in the third week of July 1883, when there was something of a lull in the fighting. There had been no mention of the Petaluma petition since early June, when it was said they were about ready to present it to the Board. Having already contracted with architects, the Supervisors now requested construction bids; it would be another ten weeks before they chose a contractor, and hopefully by then the petition matter would be settled.

Amid all that hostility and uncertainty, the Petaluma Courier published a terrific parody which describes a fanciful Supervisors meeting where Mark McDonald and (Santa Rosa Bank president) Elijah Farmer squabble over the Board choosing one of their properties for the courthouse instead of the plaza.

“…the stalwart form of McDonald appeared. He has done much to beautify and adorn the city, laying out an addition thereto and connecting it with Donahue’s road by a street railroad [horse-drawn trolley cars]…He demanded that the Court House should be on his addition and he swore by all the gods and goddesses of Olympus that he would ‘shoot down the man on the spot who should haul down’ one of the grand old trees on the plaza, and he strode up and down the hall like a viking.”

Farmer, “who owns a large part of Santa Rosa and has a mortgage on the balance,” then accused McDonald of being “…only governed by selfish motives to get the Court House on your addition and fleece the people by carrying them to and fro on your railroad…What do you care for the county,’ said Farmer, ‘so you fill your pockets.’ ‘Fill my pockets,’ sneered Mark; ‘much I’ve filled my pockets trying to help your d—d old town that is too niggardly to help itself…'”

At that point in the parody a letter from railroad baron Peter Donahue was read, offering land between the railroad depot and the creek “reserving a strip along the bank for the usual Gypsy camps.” The Supervisors unite in cursing the railroad; “During this storm the mingled expressions of awe, anger, fear and credulity upon the faces of the Supervisors was a study.”

There’s more, including District Attorney Thomas Geary “twirling his chair around and swinging it like a love-sick girl” as he shot down arguments from the quarrelsome lawyers. Read the whole thing below – it’s fun Victorian-era humor.

The Petaluma petition was finally delivered to the Board on July 23, where it was placed on the table while they adjourned for two weeks. “Would you could see the citizens as they passed in and out while it was thus ‘lying in state,'” wrote the Courier’s humorist.

When the Board members returned from break that troublesome petition was still sitting on their table like an unexploded bomb.

The Supervisor’s efforts at the next meeting to avoid dealing with the petition were almost comic. One of them suggested organizing a committee to transcribe the names alphabetically. George Allen, Petaluma’s Supervisor, argued they couldn’t do that because they had not yet accepted the petition to read it, so they didn’t officially know what was inside. (Never mind that everyone already knew its contents because the Democrat newspaper had picked it apart in great detail.) After some debate they voted to read the petition and consider the matter the next day, but not before Allen made an unusual speech in which he distanced himself from his constituents:

…Mr. Allen in reply stated that he was not personally interested in the petition, but he would represent the interests of his section. The petition would not interfere with the building of the Court House at all; he wanted to see the petition disposed of, and if it was consigned to the waste basket he would be glad, while he would not vote for it. It was troublesome and he would rejoice to see it disposed of. (Petaluma Courier)

After looking over the petition, the Board of Supervisors voted 5:1 to deny it (Allen voting to accept). Petaluma needed more than half the number of votes cast at the last general election, which was apparently around 5,100 (papers at the time printed only the number of votes per candidate, not overall totals). The petition had 2,591 signatures, which might have sneaked it past the goalpost – but then the Supervisors threw out 310 names for being unregistered voters, followed by 169 signatures of those who signed another petition asking their names to be removed.

Even worse, Petaluma screwed up bigly before submitting the petition. There were several copies circulating the county and someone helpfully pasted them all together to create one long document – after snipping off the header of some, because, hey, redundant. That legally invalidated the entire petition, even if every damned person in the county had signed it. As the Democrat helpfully pointed out, in 1874 the state Supreme Court had decided against petitioners in San Mateo for making the exact same mistake. Once a petition’s proposition is chopped off it’s impossible to claim what the voters had really signed.

Unwilling to accept the Board had acted fairly, Petaluma held a public meeting to discuss what should be done next. And unable to be a gracious winner, Santa Rosa’s Democrat called the decision a “cause of rejoicing” and charged that the petition was only a ruse to create a Petaluma real estate bubble. The Argus and Courier were outraged by the insinuation and repeated earlier accusations there was a “Court House Ring” suspiciously rushing the deal through. This editorial dueling went on for months; they all took to beginning columns by quoting some choice bit of idiocy from the paper on the other side which was a riposte to something they had written themselves, so the whole exchange reads like a tangled internet flame war. Around and around and around they went. Oh, if only they had Twitter back then, they would have been so happy.

To be sure, this was like no other building project anyone had ever seen; the same Board meeting where the Supervisors voted against the petition saw them debating whether it even would be legal to construct the courthouse on Santa Rosa plaza, much less how they could hire contractors without any money yet collected to pay for the work. (Those details are covered in part one.) But plunge ahead they did, and in early October gave a Sacramento firm, Carle & Crowley, a $80,000 contract to build the place. (For some reason the Democrat could never get the latter name right, calling him “Croly” and “Cooly”)

courthousefromathenaeum

 

Two days later, Petaluma obtained permission from the state Attorney General to file a lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors on behalf of the people of Sonoma county, requiring a vote on moving the county seat to Petaluma – to be held during the following year’s general election.

This was quite the large monkey wrench in the works. The Democrat bemoaned that fighting the lawsuit would be expensive and take years; “…suit will also be brought in the name of the people, by parties in Petaluma, to test the validity of the title to the Plaza, and it seems us though there will be an endless amount of litigation brought about by those who oppose the erection of a new Court House.”

The Argus reacted with all the glee of a French revolutionary waving a flag atop a Paris street barricade: “The will of the people may be thwarted for a time by chicanery and sharp practice, but in the end the people always triumph! The Court House Ring was afraid to trust the people to vote on the question of re-locating the county seat, and, whether they have prevented it or not, they must face the music on the same question…”

But the Attorney General also said Petaluma had a weak case – the Board absolutely had power to rule on whether petition signatures were valid or not. Meanwhile, the Supervisors had sold the property with the existing courthouse and the contractor had started grading the site and started work on the new courthouse foundation.

In other words, the Attorney General had given Petaluma a Pyrrhic victory. Sure, place the question on the 1884 ballot if you really want to – but there was no motion to enjoin the county and stop plaza construction or block the temporary 21 percent hike in property taxes that was going to pay for the courthouse.

By the time the next election day came around the courthouse would be almost finished, so voters would be deciding on…what? To abandon a year’s worth of construction work in Santa Rosa and start anew in Petaluma? To demand the state legislature split Sonoma county into two (or three) parts? None of the possible ballot items likely would have passed.

The fight was over except for a little wrap-up heckling and fibbing. The Democrat lied that the town founders in 1854 always intended to put a courthouse in the plaza (no). The Courier lied that the surviving town founders were planning to halt construction with a lawsuit (no).

Although Petaluma’s legal challenges were quashed, the courthouse project controversies were still not over. Santa Rosa had mixed feelings about the old plaza; the town didn’t take care of it except for the occasional spring cleanup. Still, it was the only park in Santa Rosa and the rare times when it wasn’t a disgrace the Democrat beamed with pride. (Visit Healdsburg to see how nice it could have looked – their plaza is almost exactly the same size and is quite nice.)

As construction began the Democrat cautioned, “…The utmost care should be taken of the trees in the Plaza, it not being at all necessary to disturb the two outside rows, and perhaps many others might be preserved.” A week later: “All the oaks on the plaza will have to be removed, and about sixteen of the other trees.” Soon after the Supervisors approved of removing all remaining trees except the palm. The rancor this stirred can be found in a letter from a former Santa Rosa resident who turned down an invitation to the big 1884 celebration for laying the cornerstone:

I received your complimentary card to be present at the laying of the corner stone of the Court-house, but it was too late for me to accept. It would have been a mixed pleasure had I been present, for I must have groaned when I witnessed the despoliation of the plaza and the destruction of the old trees, for the preservation of which we so long fought. A tree and a bit of grass is worth more than a Court-house. But I won’t indulge in any sentiment. I hope every ___ _____ who has a law suit in the new Court-house will lose it.

The new courthouse was formally accepted March 6, 1885 and opened for business April 3. The final cost was almost $85k, most of the cost overruns because they added iron plates on the floor and ceiling of the jail.

ludwigad1Within weeks, however, problems began to appear.

The paint on the four statues of the Goddess of Justice outside was checking badly; the paneling inside was splitting because the wood was unseasoned. But the worst was that the stairway was unsafe because the floor joists were too small to support the weight. Poking fun at the woes of his rival contractor, T. J. Ludwig – who did not bid on the courthouse contract – placed a joke ad in the Democrat offering to sell bolts “good for holding up weak court houses.” Workmen made a fix by placing a pillar in the basement to prevent further bowing of the joists but this proved to be an ongoing problem, with more emergency repairs three years later.

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a travel piece on Santa Rosa in the summer of 1885 and praised the town’s prosperity, elegant homes, Athenaeum and the business district. The traveler had nothing good to say about the courthouse, however. “This extraordinary pile – sooner or later to be piled in a heap of its own tumble – is already showing signs of internal weakness and external shabbiness…The granite steps outside, front and rear, are narrow, steep and dangerous; the whole structure of Cheap John order. If it tumbles down in five years the county will not be much loser, in case there shall be no sacrifice of life.” The writer added the public is not to blame, because they were “hoodwinked into the adoption of the plan.”

Problems continued into the next year when the cesspool overflowed and flooded the equipment room. Santa Rosa didn’t then have a sewer system (as discussed here earlier) and when construction was underway the options were either digging a cesspool or building a private wooden sewer to Santa Rosa Creek. The Supervisors chose the cesspool because “sewers into the creek at this point were getting rather numerous,” by which they meant the part of the creek next to downtown – they were perfectly okay with dumping effluent into the waterway farther west past the railroad tracks, as they would start doing in 1886. That it overflowed was another example of bad engineering by the contractor, like the stairway.

Flawed though it may be, the courthouse was still the most picturesque thing to see in Santa Rosa – as shown by the number of photos and postcards which still survive – and it’s a shame that it was irreparably damaged in the 1906 earthquake. And here’s the Believe-it-or-not! twist: You can still visit it today if you pop in your car and drive for a couple of hours. A (nearly) identical twin can be found in Auburn. See more photos.

ABOVE: 1883 Sonoma county courthouse sketch by Bennett & Curtis BELOW: 1891 Placer county courthouse design by John M. Curtis
ABOVE: 1883 Sonoma county courthouse sketch by Bennett & Curtis
BELOW: 1891 Placer county courthouse design by John M. Curtis

Bennett & Curtis were the architects here, and this appears to be the only thing built under the firm’s name. Their next project was to be the Humboldt county courthouse but the partnership dissolved in 1885 after Curtis accused Bennett of cheating him out of his share of the contract. Now demolished, that courthouse in Eureka also strongly resembled the one in Santa Rosa although the dome there was much more imposing.

The senior partner was Albert Bennett, who had been the State Architect and superintendent for building part of the state capitol. John M. Curtis is mistakenly credited with several projects because there were a couple of other Bay Area architects named Curtis in that era, but this 1892 bio lists his work to that date including the Mutual Relief Building in Petaluma, still there at 27 Western Avenue. His Placer county clone of our courthouse was designed in 1891, but construction wasn’t completed until 1898.

Curtis has numerous other ties to Sonoma county. In 1898 he partnered with William H. Willcox who has been often mentioned here, primarily for his ambitious 1906 plans to build a convention center and water park in Santa Rosa which would have transformed the town. As a partner with an architect named Rowell in 1905 he offered plans for Santa Rosa’s Masonic hall and in 1906, Rowell, Curtis & Armitage presented a design for the courthouse to replace the one that fell down in the earthquake. Too bad he didn’t get that contract; it would have been a neat symmetry to have him design two Sonoma county courthouses, 23 years apart.

 

 

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS.

On Friday it was ordered that in the matter of advertising for proposals for the erection of a Court House at the County seat of Sonoma County, that the Clerk is hereby instructed to have the notice to contractors published in the Daily Examiner a news paper published at San Francisco, for the next three weeks…On motion of Mr. Allen it was ordered that the communication and protest of B. Hoen against building a Court House on the Plaza, and claiming an interest in said Plaza, was read, and laid on the table.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 21 1883

 

The Court House

EDITOR COURIER: The Board of Supervisors had another field day on the Court House question to-day – on the location of the Court House. All the attorneys of the county were invited to be present to enlighten the Board as to whether they could get title to the plaza. There were claimants to the title and doubt as to the county’s interest. Geary opened the fight against the plaza and was immediately attacked by all the plaza lawyers – each talking at once and each observing that his view was axiomatic and he was a simpleton who thought otherwise. But Geary, twirling his chair around and swinging it like a love-sick girl, kept, like Apollo of old, shooting his arrows at them. Just then the stalwart form of McDonald appeared. He has done much to beautify and adorn the city, laying out an addition thereto and connecting it with Donahue’s road by a street railroad. He also locate the line of railroad to Benicia, sold the bonds in Europe at a premium, and is about to commence the running of the road. He demanded that the Court House should be on his addition and he swore by all the gods and goddesses of Olympus that he would “shoot down the man on the spot who should haul down” one of the grand old trees on the plaza, and he strode up and down the hall like a viking. Then Farmer, who had been an eager listener to the matter, he of the Santa Rosa Bank, who owns a large part of Santa Rosa and has a mortgage on the balance, came to their aid. “Why take the plaza? He had a lot on which a Court House could be erected near to the center of the city which he would donate.” “Donate!” said Mark, with flashing eye and curled lip, “yes, you would donate a strip on three sides of a block so narrow that a Court House could only be built in the shape of a tape worm.” “And you,” cried Farmer, “are only governed by selfish motives to get the Court House on your addition and fleece the people by carrying them to and fro on your railroad.” (In the meantime Allen seized a volume of law, strode inside the bar, pulled off his coat, spit on his hands and declared he would make the matter so plain that a wayfaring man, though he was a —- District Attorney, need not err therein). “What do you care for the county,” said Farmer,” so you fill your pockets.” “Fill my pockets,” sneered Mark; “much I’ve filled my pockets trying to help your d—d old town that is to niggardly to help itself. If I had spent the same money in Petaluma I should have doubled it.” “You had better go down and help them now,” rejoined Farmer, (Here Judge Johnson, with the gravity of a Roman Senator, stepped inside the bar and desired to make a few remarks. He was proud to say that he had been appointed Judge in Indiana by that illustrious Democrat, Governor Hendricks, That the fruits and flowers of –) “I would” shouted McDonald, “if I could sell at fifty cents on the dollar of cost.”

Midst the confusion, Judge Lippitt, with that bland expression and silver voice with which he is accustomed to rouse the Irish of Bodega to the highest entusiasm, begged to present a communication to the Board which the Clerk read as follows:

“Office of the SF&NPRR Company, 30 Montgomery street, San Francisco.

“To the Honorable, the Board of Supervisors of Sonoma county: The San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad Company hereby tender to your honorable body, and through you to the county of Sonoma for the purposes of a Court House, the lot of ground lying between the railroad depot at Santa Rosa and the creek, containing about seven acres and in addition will haul brick, lumber and lime for building the same free of cost, and will lay out and plot the ground in a suitable manner, reserving a strip along the bank for the usual Gypsy camps.
PETER DONAHUE.”

A dogged silence ensued and then the pent up wrath of years of forbearance broke forth. It was a vile attack upon the county by a bloated monopoly. The road had already crushed the county, depreciated the value of property and set back the prosperity of the county fifty years. “Yes,” said Proctor, “Santa Rosa, like San Jose, if it had not been for the Railroad, would have been the seaport of the county.” McGee would throw the rails into the Laguna and Allen would tear down the bridges. (Behold McGee with a bundle of rails and Allen with a bridge, Sampson, like, trudging toward the Laguna.) By and by Donahue would want his offices in the Court House and fill all the county offices with his minions. Before the rising storm, Lippitt, the tool of the railroad, fled. Henley then suggested that they make up a case and enjoin Donahue from controlling the location of the Court House. During this storm the mingled expressions of awe, anger, fear and credulity upon the faces of the Supervisors was a study. Finally, Allen seized the road law, his Cyclopian spear, and with extended hand and bent form shook it at the District Attorney in a triumphant manner and then sat down, while his face was illuminated with a rosy light such as gilded the face of the old man at the top of the ladder while the old woman and the bear fought it out below.

At this awe-inspiring moment Lawyer Thompson, with the air of Minos, entered the arena and, in a voice termpling with emotion, begged to present to the Chairman the petition of a majority of the voters of the county to change the county seat and there, overcome at the remembrance of the honors conferred on him and other lawyers of the county by Santa Rosa, as in vision he saw the Court House rise on the plaza at Petaluma, he sat down crushed and wept. The Clerk blew his nose, wiped his eyes and prepared to read when I folded my tent and escaped as became an ARAB.
SANTA ROSA, July 23, 1883.

– Petaluma Courier, July 25, 1883

 

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS.
On Monday afternoon on motion of Mr. Allen, in the matter of the petition of the citizens of Petaluma, praying the Board to submit the question of the removal of the county seat to a vote of the citizens of Sonoma County, it is hereby the order of this Board that the petition be received and placed on file, and that a day be set for its hearing. Mr. Houser moved as an amendment to the above resolution, the following: In the matter of the petition presented by A. W. Thompson of Petaluma asking the question to be submitted to the people to change the location of the County Seat, it is now the or[der] of this Board that the petition be received and laid on the table for future consideration. The amendment was put to a vote and carried James H. McGee Esq., presented a protest signed by him, and certain papers sent to him protesting against the removal of the County Seat to Petaluma and on motion the Board received the papers and laid them on the table for consideration when the Petaluma petition is considered. The Board then adjourned until August 6th 1883.

– Daily Democrat, July 25, 1883

 

NOT TOO FAST.

Our neighbor of the Courier, is rather premature in “throwing in the sponge,” on the County Seat question. He says: “Our petition having been placed quietly to sleep on the Supervisor’s table, will know no waking.” As we understand the proposition, it was merely placed upon the table till the Supervisors could find time, or felt an inclination, to consider it…

– Petaluma Argus, July 28, 1883

 

The Court House.

EDITOR COURIER: This week has been a sad week indeed for our city. The Board adjourned but left the petition of Petaluma on the table. Would you could see the citizens as they passed in and out while it was thus “lying in state.” Some with baited breath and hesitating step and a charmed look, as if looking for what they did not want to find but expected to find it. Others with set teeth and clenched hands with a kind of kick-a-dead lion, fear of a-live-dog look. Others with white lips and a vacant stare. All the attorneys are busy preparing briefs on the case…ARAB. Santa Rosa, July 28, 1883.

– Petaluma Courier, August 1, 1883

 

THE PETALUMA PETITION.

The so-called petition, presented to the Board of Supervisors praying that an election be ordered for the removal of the county-seat, is radically defective in more than one particular. It is not such a petition at all as the law contemplates, and hence, for the purposes intended, is not worth the paper it is written upon. It is not a petition at all, but several pasted together. Different pieces of paper with printed or written petitions upon them, identical in language, were circulated and more or less signatures were attached to each. These separate pieces of paper were then taken by some unauthorized person, or persons, and pasted together, in some instances the headings being preserved, while in others they were cut off and only so much as contained the names were used. The roll of paper presented to the Board, therefore, shows upon its face that it was not a petition, but several pasted together, while many names have been added that were not put there by the signers to the identical petition to which they are now attached. This is not a compliance with the law, which reads as follows:

Whenever there shall be presented to the Board of Supervisors of any county a petition, signed by the qualified electors of such county, in number equal to a majority of the votes cast at the preceding general election, praying for the submission of the question of the removal of the county-seat of such county, it shall be the duty of the Board of Supervisors, by due proclamation, to submit the question of such removal of the county-seat at the next general election to the qualified electors of such county.

It will be observed that the a petition shall be signed by the qualified electors, etc. The document before the Board consists of different petitions attached together. It may be contended that, since they are all for identically the same purpose, the law has been substantially complied with. This is not true however, as will be shown presently; and it will further be shown that the attaching, by unauthorized persons, of names signed to one petition, to another, is fatal.

We have before us a decision of the Supreme Court in a case that arose in San Mateo county, that is directly to the point. It can be found in California Reports, No. 49.

On the 4th day of May, 1874, a petition was presented to the Board of Supervisors of San Mateo county, asking the Board to order an election to decide the question of the removal of the county-seat. Two petitions had been circulated and signed. They were identical in language and, although neither of them contained signatures enough to comply with the law, yet, by attaching them together, there were more than sufficient…

…It is clear from an examination of the so-called Petaluma petition that it is made up substantially as was the one passed upon by the Court, and that, therefore, it does not meet the requirements of the law. It is invalid for three reasons; first, because it is illegal for the reason given by the Court in the case cited; secondly, because it is not a petition, but two or more attached together, no one of which contains the requisite number of signatures; and thirdly, because it is not signed by the qualified electors of the county, in number equal to a majority of the votes cast at the last general election, many of those whose names are attached not being qualified electors.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 4 1883

 

PETALUMA’S PETITION.

[illegible microfilm – many names were not on the Great Register – Allen proposed to withdraw the petition to end the controversy] …the Board very properly refused to allow the petition to be withdrawn, as the end of the present controversy might be made thereby the beginning of another. If instead of attempting to get possession of the petition again, Mr. Allen had proposed to indefinitely postpone the consideration of it, he would have shown a disposition to end the controversy; but, had the Board allowed the petition to be withdrawn, it might have been presented again at any time. The proper way to end the controversy effectually is to consider the petition now, pass upon its validity, and dispose of it. There is no question of its invalidity for the reasons stated by us a few days ago, and none know this better than our Petaluma friends; and, if the truth were known, we have no doubt, many of them are very well satisfied with the result, particularly those who subscribed large sums without any expectation of being called upon for the money. Our neighbors have operated upon our fears and had their fun at our expense, and will no doubt admit now that this was all they intended from the beginning, or expected. We are sure that none of them ever seriously contemplated a division of the county, if they did bait their hook for Healdsburg with that idea, nor do we believe that the people of the latter place had any idea that the proposition would be favored by the people of the county.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 11 1883

 

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS.

…Mr. Proctor offered the following: In the matter of the petition of citizens of Petaluma and elsewhere for the removal of the county seat presented at the last meeting of the Board and by its order received to lie on the table for further consideration, it is now ordered that a committee of three be appointed to transcribe the names on said petition and arrange them lexicographically for the convenience of this Board…Mr. Allen opposed the motion on the ground that it was out of order as the petition was on the table, laid there without being accepted and read, and was there and must remain there until it was taken from the table by the Board. The Board does not know what there is in that petition; if the Board desires to act on the petition it must be taken from the table by a majority vote and after it is read, then it may be referred to a committee…

[after some debate, they voted to read the petition. Supervisor McConnell said “a number of those signing the petition were not qualified electors.” Allen stated it was not required that a voter’s name be listed on the Great Register.]

…Mr. Allen in reply stated that he was not personally interested in the petition, but he would represent the interests of his section. The petition would not interfere with the building of the Court House at all; he wanted to see the petition disposed of, and if it was consigned to the waste basket he would be glad, while he would not vote for it. It was troublesome and he would rejoice to see it disposed of.

– Petaluma Courier, August 15, 1883

 

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS.

On Tuesday, the Board passed all the forenoon and most of the afternoon in examining the Petaluma petition, 310 names were stricken off…

…The examination of the remonstrance was then taken up. It reads as follows: The undersigned were induced to sign a petition asking that a vote be taken upon the question of removing the county-seat to Petaluma, partly by representations that the new buildings would cost a large sum and add to our county debt; and inasmuch as your Honorable Body has declared by resolution that the outside cost of said building shall not exceed $80,000, and the citizens of Santa Rosa have offered a site for the new buildings without cost to the county, and are willing to guarantee $50,000 for the present county buildings, now therefore, we, in consideration of these facts, and the fact that the County Farm and Hospital are located at Santa Rosa, and the equities of those who have invested their money there, and that Santa Rosa is the geographical center of the county, hereby withdraw our names from said petition, and ask that we be not counted as subscribers thereto. The remonstrance contains 169 names…

…Supervisor Houser introduced the following: Whereas, a paper purporting to be a petition has been presented to this Board, praying for the submission of the question of the removal of the county-seat of this county to the qualified voters thereof at the next general election, and it appearing to this Board that the said petition does not comply with the provisions of law in such cases made and provided and does not contain the names of qualified electors equal in number to a majority of the votes cast in this county at the last general election and that said paper purporting to be a petition is in fact several separate petitions, separately signed and fastened together by some person or persons unknown, and whereas a very large number of the names appearing thereon are signed by the same person.it is therefore resolved by this Board that the prayer of said petition be, and the same is hereby denied and rejected. The ayes and noes were called and stood as follows: Ayes, Gannon, Houser, Pool, Proctor and Morse. No, Allen. The motion was declared carried…

…Judge Rutledge stated that he had had no doubts that the Board had the right to let the contract, and that the only thing that made him doubt it now was the fact that Mr. Geary and other attorneys doubted it. There is no doubt that the Board cannot create a debt for the payment of which they will have to draw on the revenues of any succeeding year, but if a contract was let, the contractor could mandamus the Board and compel them to make a levy to meet the indebtedness…

…The question as to the title of the Plaza was referred to again by Mr. Allen, and Mr. Geary stated that while he did not doubt that the title to the Plaza laid in the county, the county had no more right to put a building there than they had on the county road. Mr. Gannon’s motion was then put carried… Mr. Geary renewed his suggestion in relation to securing an opinion from Judge Rutledge in relation to the title to the Plaza, and it was discussed at length. The Clerk was instructed to furnish the Board at the next meeting all that there is on the minutes in relation to the Plaza…

… On motion of Supervisor Proctor, it is hereby ordered that this Board now proceed to count and ascertain the number of names on the petition for the removal of the county-seat of Sonoma county.

The names were then counted, and it was ascertained that there were 2,591 signatures attached. The Board then proceeded with their investigation, comparing the names signed with the Great Register in the Clerk’s office. Printed Registers being excluded.

…Mr. Houser stated that Judge Rutledge was present and he could throw some light on the question as to whether they had a right to build on the Plaza or not.

Mr. Allen stated that before the contract was let, there were two questions to be disposed of. The first was the right to the Plaza, and the second was as to the letting of the contract, as he understood that before the county could enter into an obligation they must provide means to meet those obligations, and as the specifications stated the work must be commenced some time in September, and if the contract was let, the specifications should be modified. There being a question raised as to the language of the specifications, a copy was sent for. While this was being done, Judge Rutledge stated that he had not examined the specifications, and was not prepared to give an opinion as to letting the contract. In the matter of the occupancy of the Plaza he had arrived at a conclusion that was satisfactory to him, and that was that the County had a right to the occupancy of the Plaza. He does not think that Santa Rosa, as a town, has acquired any right to the Plaza.

A lengthy discussion followed, in which several members of the Board, the District Attorney and Judge Rutledge participated, as to the question of letting the contract before the tax was levied. No decision was arrived at, the Judge stating that he had not studied the matter sufficiently to give a satisfactory opinion.

Mr. Allen considered the questions of location and of the power of the Board to enter into the contract should be settled before it was awarded.

Mr. Curtis asked that the Board pay them something, that they were out considerable money coming and going, and they wanted the use of it. Mr. Allen stated that if the building was constructed the architects were to receive 5 per cent., and if it is not built, 2½ per cent. And that must be paid when the work progresses, but now it was not possible for the Board to pay anything until the question is disposed of…

– Sonoma Democrat, August 18 1883

 

Petaluma In Mourning.

Editor Democrat: Woe hath come upon us, and all is sadness on “our city by Salt Creek.” How our hopes were centered on the time when Petaluma would be the county-seat of Petaluma county, and all to ourselves, we would be watching the Healdsburgers collecting taxes to build a court house for their end of the county and the innocent residents outside of the two towns paying double taxes for the fun of going it alone, and benefiting us and Healdsburg only. Now our fond anticipations are rudely blasted —- not a vestige is left.

It happened thus: The Committee sent their petition with signers amounting to more than the required number. It was held back, and numerous feints at presenting it were made just to make yon Santa Rosa people feel good and to keep up the boom for Petaluma at the expense of the rest of the county, for we knew that property in many parts could not be sold if there was a prospect of heavy taxation to divide the county, keep up two sets of officers, transcribe the records, etc., but it helped this end of the county. Well, the petition was sent up and we thought the Board would receive it and place it on file and then they would have the Board solid for they would have virtually acknowledged by this that the petition was a legal one. But they didn’t. This was a stunner. Wiswell, Gwinn and Ellsworth were running the business, and they were flabbergasted. “They ain’t as green as they said they was,” said one. “Not much they ain’t” was the chorused reply. Then deep and earnest were the consultations. “If they investigate that petition they’ll find all them Marin county names,” said another. “Oh, we must get Allen to bluff them,” said a third, “He will tell them that everybody has a right to sign a petition,” and on this hope they rested. It didn’t work. Gloom and chagrin was depicted on the faces of the Committee, and of those capitalists and real estate agents that had not unloaded their lots.

There was mourning on Main street when Pearce and Tuttle came back on Wednesday, their banners trailing in the dust. Ellsworth elevated his voice and wept; Gwinn groaned; Lippitt lamented; Scudder shrieked; Hill howled and the mournful procession stood on the steps of the Bank, while Meacham mourned and Wiswell wept. They were grieved when they heard how Petaluma’s pet Lamb Geary successfully stood up for Pearce on the Constitution, and backed McConnell in his Legislative definition. Early in the day it had been determined to withdraw the petition. You have seen in the Courier that John Van Doren has a duplicate of 150 names that he forgot to attach. Well if they could have gotten hold of the original petition, and padded it out, the thing could have gone back with 3,000 names, and the fight maintained still longer, but even that hope flickered and died. “Never could get a lot of these fellows to sign another petition,” said one, and all hands agreed. Do yon wonder that they are blue?

Now obstruction is the order of the day, Allen will insist on every name being examined closely and if the remonstrances are brought in he will insist on every man whose name is attached thereto being summoned to show why he signed both documents. Time must be gained at all hazards. The Board must be worried and worn out. More than this, when the question of bids comes up, the same policy will prevail and if possible letting of the contract will be prevented. Every reason under the sun, moon and seven stars will be argued. You will see this sooner than I will. This controversy that can amount to nothing if it is brought to a vote, of the people, will be maintaintained as long as possible. I can see how the land lays if I am a

Bedouin. Petaluma, August 9th, 1883.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 18 1883

 

CAUSE OF REJOICING.

The final collapse of the movement for the removal of the county-seat must be very gratifying to the people of Sonoma county. That Santa Rosa was deeply interested we do not deny, but it was a matter that concerned every portion of the county. The mere opening of the question of removal and division had its effect upon the prosperity of the county, unsettling values and creating uneasiness. Many strangers who were pleased with the climate, soil and productions, and would have preferred to make their homes among us, were deterred from purchasing property, by the fear that taxes would be high. We hear this report from different sections, and of its truth there can be no doubt. The only spot that has been benefited is Petaluma. Upon the strength of the petition they were circulating and the rose-colored statements made concerning the prospect of removing the county-seat, a boom was engineered that caused many pieces of property to change hands at good round figures. The sellers have been enriched thereby, and the purchasers impoverished in the same ratio. We do not say that the movement had this end in view at the beginning, or that any of Petaluma’s long-headed capitalists saw a chance to make something out of it. We do not say that any of them availed themselves of the opportunity to unload. We simply state what has happened. The collapse of the removal scheme pricks the bubble and values will drop back to a solid basis again. We will take occasion here, while on this subject, to say that we cherish no animosity against our sister city, but come out of this contest without the slightest degree of ill-will. We wish her unbounded prosperity. We know she will prosper, for she is in the midst of a magnificent country, is full of enterprising and intelligent people and possesses advantages, the utilization of which will enrich her. But it cannot be denied that in stirring up the removal question she was controlled solely by selfish considerations and that, while she profited by the useless agitation, other portions of the county have suffered. The collapse of the scheme and the end of the controversy is, therefore, a source of rejoicing to the people of the county. It is dead forever, and out of the way. The county-seat will remain where it is and Sonoma county will never be divided. We shall have here a great a prosperous county, of which all its citizens will be proud. Taxation will be low, and many strangers will be drawn hither by the attractions which the advantages of good soil, varied productions, a fine and healthful climate, good schools, churches, etc., afford, to make their homes among us.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 18 1883

 

Misrepresentation.

[section of above article suggesting the petition created a Petaluma real estate bubble]

The above is simply not true. If a single piece of property has been sold here upon the strength of a possibility of the county seat coming to Petaluma, we have not heard of it. There is and has been a boom in real estate, but it is a healthy boom, founded upon a good, solid basis. A genial and healthy climate, rich, productive soil, good and abundant water, the best of school facilities, a country market that cannot be beaten in this or any other State, cheap fares and freights, pleasant surroundings and a community of God-fearing, liberty-loving, generous-hearted people, were the inducements for strangers seeking homes to settle among us. The county seat question cut no figure in the matter at all. In fact, many of our citizens would not give six and a quarter cents for the whole business – the shaky old Court House and all.

– Petaluma Courier, August 15, 1883

 

Petaluma’s Petition

The Board of Supervisors, by a vote of 5 to 1, having rejected the petition for an election for the removal of the County Seat to this place, at their last meeting, and our citizens feeling that the petition had not been justly and fairly dealt with, a meeting was held last Friday evening in Derby’s Hall, to consider the matter and determine whether the citizens had any redress in the matter, or any rights that the Board were bound to respect…Considerable discussion was indulged in, which resulted in the general belief that a sufficient number of qualified electors had signed the petition to call an election, and that the Board had acted in an unfair and partisan manner in dealing with same. It was finally resolved that a committee of three lawyers be appointed to investigate the matter and report their conclusions at a called meeting of citizens…

– Petaluma Argus, August 25, 1883

 

PETALUMA COMPLAINS.

A complaint comes from Petaluma that the petition for the removal of the county-seat, was not justly and fairly dealt with by the Board of Supervisors. We do not know of any proper grounds upon which to base such a complaint. It was found, upon examination, that there was not a number of names of qualified electors on the petition equal to a majority of the votes cast at the last general election. One of the qualifications of an elector, as defined by statute, is that he shall be registered on the Great Register of the county…The Board found that the petition did not comply with the terms of the law and so declared very properly. But there were other irregularities that ought to have been fatal to the petition. It was not a petition as required by the law and determined by the Supreme Court, but two or more petitions attached together by some unauthorized person or persons, and many of the signatures were written by the same hand and are not the signatures of the persons whose names they represent, nor is there any evidence that the person signing them was authorized to do so by the persons whose names they attached. The right of petition is one of the fundamental principles of our government, as the Argus declares, but when the manner of petitioning is prescribed by law, the conditions imposed must be complied with.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 1 1883

 

The Board of Supervisors, on Saturday, let the contract for building the new Court House at Santa Rosa, to Carle & Cooly of Sacramento, whose bid was $80,000 — the building to be erected in the plaza. They also accepted the bid of $26,000 offered by Wm. Hill and Matt Doyle of Petaluma, for the old buildings and grounds. The special tax levy for Court House purposes will aggregate between $50,000 and $60,000.

The Court House matter is again assuming a serious aspect. On Monday the Attorney-General granted to A. W. Thompson, attorney for citizens of Sonoma county, to bring suit in the name of the people to compel the Board of Supervisors to submit the question of the removal of the county seat to the people at the next general election.

– Russian River Flag, October 11 1883

 

The Leading Topic.

District Attorney Geary informs us that the petitioners were represented by A. W. Thompson of Petaluma, before E. C. Marshall, Attorney General, on Monday, while Judge Rutledge and himself represented the Board of Supervisors. The suit will be brought here, and a writ of review will be the first step taken. The entire ground was gone over in the argument before the Attorney General. On the question as to the construction placed upon the law by the Board of Supervisors relative to a qualified elector, Mr. Marshall held that that the Board were right, that the Legislature has as good a right to qualify petitioners as they have to qualify electors, and informed Mr. Thompson that it that was the point on which their action was based, it was not a very strong one. A qualified elector was undoubtedly one whose name appeared upon the great register, and such only could petition for an election for the removal of the county-seat.

From a general conversation among a group of Attorneys, it seemed to be the opinion generally that our Superior Judges would be disqualified to try the case, as they as well as most of the residents of the county, are interested in keeping the rate of taxation low, and this suit, if carried out, will put the county to a great deal of expense, and as it will undoubtedly go to the Supreme Court, it will be several years before it is decided. Suit will also be brought in the name of the people, by parties in Petaluma, to test the validity of the title to the Plaza, and it seems us though there will be an endless amount of litigation brought about by those who oppose the erection of a new Court House.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 13 1883

 

Suit to be Brought.

The following dispatch, received just before we go to press, is self explanatory: San Francisco, Oct. 8, 1883, Democrat, Santa Rosa:—Attorney General permitted suit to be brought in the name of the People.

T. J. Geary, T. J. Rutledge

– Sonoma Democrat, October 13 1883

 

COUNTY SEAT.
PETALUMA’S PETITION POTENT.
The Attorney-General Rebukes the Supervisors and Decides that the Petitioners Must Have an Honest Hearing.
Supervisors May Possible Defeat a Vote on the Petition
But There is a Vote of the People Behind That Which They Cannot Prevent or Influence!
The People are Indignant Over the Action of the Supervisors in Levying a Tax of 25c on the $100 to Build a Court House when They were Offered a Better One for Nothing.
Our Correspondent, “Lex,” Foreshadows the True Business! – What the Santa Rosa Papers Say on the Situation.

On Monday last, T. J. Geary and Judge Rutledge, on the part of the Supervisors, and A. W. Thompson, on the part of the petitioners for the removal of the county seat, appeared before the Attorney-General and presented arguments on the preliminary steps in the suit to be brought against the Supervisors to compel them to submit the question to the people. The motion by Mr. Thompson, which was opposed by Messrs. Geary and Rutledge, was for the privilege of using the name of the people of the State and its Attorney-General in legal proceedings against the Board of Supervisors. After a patient hearing of the able arguments of counsel the Attorney-General decided in favor of petitioners. We give below the opinions of the Santa Rosa papers on this point.

“THE LEADING TOPIC.”

Under this head the Democrat bewails the situation, and thinks the county will be put to great expense, “as it will undoubtedly go to the Supreme Court.” It has nothing, however, to say against levying a useless tax of 25 cents on each $100, for years to come, before it is ascertained whether the people want it or not – especially when a Court House is offered free. The following is its article in full:

[see previous transcript above]

“THE PETALUMA PETITION”

Under this head the Republican has a good-tempered article. It knows too much about the case to say that the county will be put to expense if the suit is prosecuted, and says as follows:

“…when a party believes he has a right to a hearing in Court, it is not the province, fairly, of the law officer of the state to restrain him from, or deny him, that right…Petaluma has really no case, no leg, figuratively, to stand upon. This is the opinion which the Attorney-General Marshall himself unhesitatingly expressed, after he had announced his decision, in private conversation upon the subject…”

THE PUBLIC PULSE

There is a deep feeling of indignation among the petitioners for a vote on the question of removal against the Supervisors. They went to considerable trouble and expense to secure a majority of the voters, and when their petition was presented in due form and in good faith it was treated with the utmost contempt. The Supervisors may possibly stave off a vote of the people on the naked question of the removal of the county seat at the next election – which the petitioners clearly had a right to ask for – but they cannot possibly prevent an expression of the people on the subject of the division of the county. That will be the absorbing question, and it will not down at the bidding of the Supervisors or the Court House Ring. The will of the people may be thwarted for a time by chicanery and sharp practice, but in the end the people always triumph! The Court House Ring was afraid to trust the people to vote on the question of re-locating the county seat, and, whether they have prevented it or not, they must face the music on the same question, though presented in another form. The representatives to the Legislature will be elected on the square and simple issue of a division of the county. The people surely feel sufficient interest in this question to vote upon it, and if division carries the day the question of locating the county seats will become a matter of easy and quick solution…

THE COUNTY SEAT MATTER.

…[The Supervisors] did all in their power to induce the Attorney-General to refuse us the use of his name and that of the State, without which we were powerless to act; employed leading counsel to make that opposition, who certainly made the best possible showing and argument to deprive us of the right of being heard in the Court at all. The reason of this course and of the entire conduct of the Board is patent. The majority of it is devoted to the interests of Santa Rosa, and it is that town which is making the fight, using the Board as its weapon.

The major proposition involved the division of the county; the minor, the change of County Seat. Unavoidably this minor proposition had to be advanced first and our opponents naturally seek to wear us out fighting that; hence they contest every inch, using the Board as their tools…

…Counties are divided and new ones formed only by the Legislature, no direct vote of the people as to that is enjoined by law, but the Legislature should be advised of the fact that the majority of the people desire the change before it would make it. How should we show that fact? Manifestly by expression of the popular will in some way the best of which seems to be to form, as to the next legislative ticket alone, a party to be called “The County Division party” or some such…
LEX.

– Petaluma Argus, October 13, 1883

 

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS.

[..]

At 2:10, the Chairman stated that the time had come for the awarding of the contract for the erection of a new Court House. S. Carle, of the firm of Carle & Croly, being present, stated that he was ready to enter into a contract for the erection of a Court House in accordance with his bid now on file. From some little talk that was indulged in by the members of the Board, it seems that Mr. Babcock, the lowest bidder, had made an additional bid in connection with his bid which brought it to a figure higher than Messrs. Carle & Croly’s bid, and they were the lowest bidders, their offer being for just $80,000. A discussion took place on the feasibility of changing the wooden girders proposed in the original plan to iron. On motion of Mr. Ellis the change was made. The original bid of the firm was $78,853, abd this change being made increases this $1,117, making the total cost of the new Court House $80,000. After the specifications were changed, Mr. Proctor moved that the contract be awarded to Messrs. Carle A Croly for the erection of a Court House in the central portion of the Plaza, in the city of Santa Rosa, for the sum of $80,000. Carried unanimously.

The New Court House.

The terms of the contract signed on Saturday, require Messrs. Carle & Croly to commence work on the new Court House November 1st, but Mr. Carle expressed a willingness to commence at once, so it is likely that the stone for the foundation will be got out immediately. This building is to be 110 feet two inches in length and 104 feet six inches in width, and will be built on the Plaza facing Third and Fourth streets. There will be a passage way running through it on the ground floor. The Plaza is 300 feet long by 280 feet wide, so that there will be a space of ninety-two feet on either end, and of ninety-seven feet on either side. The utmost care should be taken of the trees in the Plaza, it not being at all necessary to disturb the two outside rows, and perhaps many others might be preserved. It is expected that the building will be ready for occupation by November 1,1884…

Who They Are. — The firm of Carle & Croly, to whom the contract for the erection of a new Court House was let on Saturday, are located in Sacramento, at 1111 Second street. They built the County Hospital for that county four years ago, and two years since, built the new Hall of Records. They are now building a Masonic Hall in Stockton, which will cost $60,000, and are putting an $180,000 addition to the Insane Asylum at the same place. They have also in the course of construction at Sacramento, a Granger’s Hall, to cost $16,500, and a brick building for Waterhouse & Lester to cost $20,000.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 13 1883

 

THE ARGUS AND ITS CORRESPONDENT.

A very one-sided and unfair article on the County seat question appears in the Argus this week: also a communication from a correspondent that is no better. Concerning “Petaluma’s petition” the Argus proclaims in glaring head lines that “The Attorney-General rebukes the Supervisors and decides that the petitioners must have an honest hearing.” The simple facts in the case are that the Attorney-General decided to allow the Petaluma people to use the name of the State in bringing suit. He did not pass upon the merits of the question involved in his official capacity, but after hearing Petaluma’s statement of its case, and listening to the arguments of its attorney, he did, as an individual, say that in his opinion they had no case…Petaluma knows that it has no case, and does not dare to test it. It would rather hold this matter in abeyance and, while claiming that the petitioners were not fairly treated by the Board of Supervisors, talk up a division of the county. Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. Petaluma will find, if it heed the advice of the Argus and its correspondent, that it has made a fatal mistake. Santa Rosa is not afraid to go to the people on the question of division. They will never consent to the division of Sonoma, and if there are any political aspirants who think they can get office by stirring up a contest over the proposition, we advise our Petaluma friends to turn their backs upon them.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 20 1883

 

LOCAL NOTES.
All the oaks on the plaza will have to be removed, and about sixteen of the other trees.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 20 1883

 

In 1854, it was the intention of the Board of Supervisors to build a Court House on the plaza, just where the foundation of the new one is now being arranged, but they thought that, as the building they would erect would be a temporary structure, they would purchase the lots on which the old Court House stands, so that in the future the more pretentious structure would grace the Plaza. Their design is now being carried out.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 20 1883

 

THEY ARE AFRAID OF THE COURTS.

Commence your action at once, and win if you can. The Board of Supervisors, we dare say, are more than willing to meet you, and have the matter passed upon and settled. The people of Santa Rosa invite you to a judicial investigation. -Democrat.

Why this haste, gentle neighbor? The questions of re-location and division can not reach the people for a year yet, and we will be ready long before that time. You seem to be as anxious to get into the courts now as we were a short time since to have the Supervisors submit the question to the people. It may be now that we can get along without the aid of the Courts or Supervisors—and if so we will not give them any unnecessary trouble.— Argus.

The impression prevails that the threatened suit is only for effect and that there is no intention on the part of those concerned, to go any further with it than they have gone already. Being lawyers they know they have no case. They knew it, no doubt, before the Attorney-General kindly told them so. They propose to keep the matter in suspense, and make all the capital out of the fact that they were granted permission to bring suit in the name of the State, while they continue to tell a pitiful story of their wrongs and work up a feeling against Santa Rosa and for a division of the county. The game is too transparent and too well understood to succed. They have threatened to appeal to the courts for redress of pretended grievances, and Santa Rosa and the Board of Supervisors accept the challenge. If there is anything wrong, let it be shown. A failure to do so now, will be accepted by every unprejudiced person as a confession of weakness. People will say that Petaluma is afraid to appeal to the courts because she knows that the charges made by her against the Board Supervisors are without foundation.

We don’t intend to allow signatures to be obtained to a petition to the Legislature for a division of the county, or for a few men hungry for offices to get them, by playing Petaluma in the role of a martyr. We understand the game thoroughly and intend that the people shall, if they do not already, and when we say “the people,” we mean the people of Petaluma as well as other portions of the county. Many of the good citizens of that place understand the motives which prompt this last movement and have no sympathy with it. They don’t propose to be made cats’ paws of to draw the chestnuts from the fire for a few office seekers.

We repeat that Santa Rosa is not afraid to go to the people on the question of division. In the recent contest over the petition for removal, Santa Rosa did no more than correct the misrepresentations which were made to the people for the purpose of obtaining their signatures, and give those who had signed under false impressions an opportunity to withdraw. This was done not because she was afraid of the people when properly informed, but because of the misrepresentations with which they were assailed, Petaluma failed to present such a petition as is required by law and is now trying to make capital but of the fact that the prayer of that petition was not granted. When we say Petaluma we refer of course only to those who have put themselves forward as her representatives. It is a clear case now that they are doubly afraid – first of an investigation in court and secondly of a popular verdict — and hence they have changed their tactics and propose to go to the Legislature and ask it to divide the county.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 27 1883

 

[quote of paragraph 4 above: “We don’t intend to allow signatures to be obtained to a petition…”]

Now, neighbor, it would be really unkind in you not to allow signatures to be obtained to a petition if the people wanted to sign one – but they don’t. We will divide the county just as soon as the interests of the inhabitants require it, and we will not trouble you with any more petitions. You will be kind enough to allow the people to vote for or against candidates who are favorable or unfavorable to a division, when the time comes, won’t you? …

– Petaluma Argus, October 27, 1883

 

The tax rate in Sonoma county is $1.45 on each $100, but 25 cents of this is a special and extraordinary tax, levied to psy for the new Court House. Deduct this and the tax rate is but $1.20 on the $100.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 3 1883

 

We find the following in the Sacramento Record-Union of Tuesday: Silas Carle returned from Santa Rosa yesterday, where he is engaged in the construction of a new Court House. He says never in the history of the State was there as much or extensive building improvements going on as at present. The past year seems to have been one of unparalleled prosperity, and nothing gives better proof of this state of affairs than the permanent improvements everywhere being made.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 1 1883

 

Courierlets

It is rumored here that further work on the new Court House now building at Santa Rosa has been enjoined by the heirs of the Harmon [sic] estate. These heirs with Barney Hoen and Julio Carrillo claim title to, or some interest in the plaza upon which the new Court House is being erected.

– Petaluma Courier, January 2 1884

 

The Court House. — We caught sight of Supervisor Proctor inspecting the foundation of the new Court House on Friday morning and at once joined him. A report that nearly all the ornamental trees in the Plaza will be removed was denied. Four trees at the south entrance, and one at the north are all that will be taken out, and these are in the way of the steps. The foundation for the steps will extend to within ten feet of the north and south entrances, and perhaps three more will have to be added to those provided for in the plans. Mr. Proctor has devoted considerable time to the study of the details of the building. The chain gang is now engaged in placing the earth against the foundation and fixing the grade. This will cause it to be thoroughly packed and beaten down by the workmen engaged in building, so that when the Court House is completed, walks can be laid without any delay.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 8 1884

 

Amid a discussion relative to the new Court House and grounds, it transpired that a majority of the Board are in favor of removing all the trees in the Plaza except the palm. Supervisor Proctor objected, declaring that they were ornamental. Supervisor Pool also demurred. Supervisor Allen said that they would conceal the new building, and low ornamental shrubbery would cause the new Court House yard to present a much neater appearance.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 8 1884

 

The New Court House.

In January, 1883, Mr. T. J. Proctor, Supervisor for Santa Rosa township, took his seat in the Board, and immediately commenced a movement for the construction of a new Court-house… At the March meeting, the Mayor of Santa Rosa appeared before the Board, and offered to surrender any title the city mignt have to the Plaza, to the county, for the purpose of building a Court-house there, or to give any other location the Board might determine upon. A time was then set for hearing the numerous parties making propositions at the following meeting in April. The hearing of the Petaluma proposition having been fixed for the fifth of April, and that time having arrived, and they having failed to appear, on motion of Supervisor Allen the further consideration of that proposition was indefinitely postponed. Supervisor Proctor then offered a resolution that, whereas it appeared to be the general wish of the citizens of Santa Rosa and the people of Sonoma county that the new Court-house be erected on the Plaza in the city of Santa Rosa, therefore resolved that the location of said new Court-house shall be on the Plaza of Santa Rosa, the city having dedicated the same for Court-house purposes…

…in the constructon of this Edifice, it will require eight hundred thousand bricks (800,000) two hundred and forty ton (240) of dressed granite; one hundred and thirty-seven (137) tons of wrought iron, thirty (30) tons of cast iron, three thousand, nine hundred and twenty-two (3,922) feet of corrugated iron, — besides lumber and other materials. The foundation alone will require eight hundred and fifty (850) perch of basalt rock. The building when completed will be second to none in the State.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 29 1884

 

The following letter was received from an ex-attorney of Santa Rosa…

Sacramento, May 8, 1884

I received your complimentary card to be present at the laying of the corner stone of the Court-house, but it was too late for me to accept. It would have been a mixed pleasure had I been present, for I must have groaned when I witnessed the despoliation of the plaza and the destruction of the old trees, for the preservation of which we so long fought. A tree and a bit of grass is worth more than a Court-house.” But I won’t indulge in any sentiment. I hope every ___ _____ who has a law suit in the new Court-house will lose it.

Central Sonoma by Robert Allan Thompson

 

DENUDED OF TREES.- The Court House square at Santa Rosa has been denuded of all its trees which will be replaced by ornate shrubs.

– Petaluma Argus, February 28, 1885

 

The floor of the main corridor in the new Court House has settled somewhat in consequence of the floor joists not being heavy enough to support the weight of the stairs when filled with people. A pillar will be placed in the lower corridor to prevent the joists from springing at all.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 23 1885

 

The figures of Justice on the Court House are checking badly.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 13, 1885

 

SANTA ROSA.
Progress During the Past Year.
FINE BUILDINGS ERECTED.
Handsome Residences – A Complete Theater – The New Courthouse.

Santa Rosa is prospering and improving beyond the measure of any year in the past and her increase of population consequent upon the constant growth and prosperity of the county justifies this improvement in every form. It is not at all in the nature of a “boom.” It is warranted by every reasonable calculation of the future, based upon the soundness of present condition, and is substantial. During the year a total of over half a million dollars has been expended in buildings in the city, elegant residences, comfortable homes and stores and business structures, and nearly as much more will be similarly appropriated the coming year. The number of buildings completed is close to 100 and those in progress or under contract will swell the total to fully 140. This in a city of 5000 inhabitants can be accounted remarkable. Most of these improvements have been made by long-time residents, who have here accumulated wealth and have greater confidence than ever in the future of the city and the county, but with these must be reckoned a number of late-comers, who were attracted hither and made this place their home after having visited other portions of the state.

ELEGANT HOMES.

Among the dwellings are several which would be an ornament even to San Francisco in respect to architecture and elegance of finish and adornment inside and out. There are the stately mansions of A. W. Riley, one of the cattle kings of California, formerly a very successful merchant here, and the beautiful cottage homes of Messrs. Carothers, [sic] Ludwig, Byington, Grosse, Allen and Brooks, and the neat, less pretentious dwellings of other well-known citizens. In the business portions of the city the improvement is more significant of the increasing prosperity. On the site of the old Courthouse Judge Overton and M. Doyle are putting up a block of brick, for stores, with iron pillars, and the facings, front and side, of fine San Jose pressed brick. Down Fourth street – the principal business street – between B and the railroad depot, are the stores of Charles G. Ames and J. H. Glenn and others, and Captain H. W. Byington is building a capacious brick market and stores upon the site of his large stable, which was lately burned down. Those adjoin the Ames block, and the Glenn block is opposite, below the Occidental Hotel. On the corner of Main and Third streets, across from the plaza and the Grand Hotel, another brick, owned by Mr. Brown, a pioneer settler, and intended for stores, is going up, and on Mendocino street three handsome brick stores have been lately completed. Every one of these stores, finished or under way, is already occupied or rented.

A HANDSOME THEATER.

Further up Fourth street is the grand edifice of the city, the largest and finest of its order in the State outside of San Francisco – the Athenaeum. It is of brick, with a frontage of eighty feet and 190 feet depth, three stories high. The lower floor will be occupied by stores. Above is the theater, with a large concert or meeting hall in front, eighty by forty feet, and upon the third floor a banqueting hall of the same dimensions. The theater is very handsomely fitted up. The auditorium is commodious, and arranged after the most approved model, with capacious lobbies. The seating capacity is 1500, but 2000 can be placed without discomfort, and all assured a good view of the stage. Below are the dress circle, the parquet and orchestra seats, and the stage boxes. Above is the family circle, and at the stage end, on either side, are roomy boxes, to accommodate parties of from twenty to thirty, as circumstances require. The stage is broad and deep, with ample drawing-rooms at the sides for stars, and underneath are large similar rooms for the performers, ladies and gentlemen on opposite sides, with other rooms for the supernumeraries. The lighting and ventilation are of the best approved order, and the ornamentation and appointments up to the latest styles. The building will be in readiness for the theater opening on the Fourth of July, when it will be used for the literary exercises of the celebration and ready for theatrical performances. The architect and builder, T. J. Ludwig, is determined that there shall be no disappointment on this score. Ample care has been observed in the matter of speedy egress from the building in case of fire or panic. The front entrance is by broad vestibule, and an easy stairway of fourteen feet width on Fourth street, and rear stairways on each side of the stage, on Fifth street, so that the densest crowd that can cram into the building can escape in less than two minutes. The want of a building such as the Athenaeum has been a drawback to Santa Rosa in past years, and now that the city has the largest, best adapted and most suitable edifice of the kind in the State, except in San Francisco, the improvement will be appreciated at home and by the theatrical profession generally. The company who have had the public spirit to erect the building have performed their share of the enterprise in most commendable manner, and they deserve commensurate reward, as well as general praise, for what they have done.

THE NEW COURTHOUSE

It is unfortunate that the same praise cannot be given to the Supervisors who are responsible for the building of the new courthouse. This extraordinary pile – sooner or later to be piled in a heap of its own tumble – is already showing signs of internal weakness and external shabbiness. Not yet occupied six months, the main stairway inside is going away in places where it cannot be soundly repaired, and the panneling [sic] in the upper story is splitting, owing to the green and unseasoned wood. The granite steps outside, front and rear, are narrow, steep and dangerous; the whole structure of Cheap John order. If it tumbles down in five years the county will not be much loser, in case there shall be no sacrifice of life. It is possible that in some remote county of the State there is a courthouse as shameful and as shabby, but the proof is lacking. Of mean design, unhandsome architecture, indifferent construction and botched in essentials, the whole pile, from foundation to dome-top, is an unhappy compound of odious taste and wretched proportions. But the contractors have got their money, and the county must pay the bills for repairs. Sonoma is a rich county, however, and can stand the expense. A fine plaza was spoiled to make room for the offensive fabric. In a few years the people of the county will be ashamed of it, and it will in good time be replaced by a courthouse of befitting appearance and duration. It is just to state that although Santa Rosa bears the odium of possessing this deformity, because this is the county seat, her citizens should not be held responsible for the misshappen [sic] and offensive structure. In twas put upon her by those in authority at the time, who were hoodwinked into the adoption of the plan. As an awful example only is it a success.

– San Francisco Chronicle, June 23 1885

 

THE COURT HOUSE.

The San Francisco Chronicle of the 23d instant had a letter from Santa Rosa which contained certain statements concerning the new Court House that are disgraceful to the writer because they have scarcely an atom of truth to stand upon. If he is to be believed the building was miserably constructed and is liable to tumble down at any time. The truth is that the building is an excellent one in every essential particular and, although not perfect as a specimen of architecture, presents an imposing appearance and is an ornament to the town. The materials of which it is composed are first-class, and the work upon it exceptionally good. There was a slight defect in the stairway referred to by the Chronicle’s veracious correspondent, but it was easily and effectually remedied and at a very slight cost. The walls are intact, without the slightest imperfection, and, while it is possible that there may be a crack found in the panneling owing to an imperfectly seasoned piece of wood, or a strain of some kind, the correspondent has intentionally exaggerated the matter. These statements of ours will be sustained by every disinterested citizen, and now the question presents itself: What could have been the motive of the person who furnished the otrociously incorrect statement to the Chronicle? Who could have been interested in sending it abroad, and what could have been his object? Whatever the motive may have been, it was certainly discreditable and unworthy of any one having regard for the truth, or with a decent sense of self respect or of the respect of others; for there stands the Court House, a standing proof of the falsity of the correspondent’s statement.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 27, 1885

 

The drainage of the Court House is reported by the Superintendent to be in a very bad condition. The cesspool is full, and during rainy weather the surplus of drainage is backed up and overflows into the engine room.

– Sonoma Democrat, 9 January 1886

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