goldengateFB

IF YOU BRIDGE IT THEY WILL COME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ladies and gents, meet Cap Ornbaun, fulltime crank.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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sources
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, March 17, 1926

 

BRIDGING THE GOLDEN GATE

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

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

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

Then watch us grow!

– Press Democrat, January 14, 1923

 

You Can’t Convince Him

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

– Press Democrat, August 1, 1925

 

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

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

Would Extend From Lime Point to Fort Point Bluffs

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

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

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

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

Pedestrian Promenade Across Strait
Novel Idea

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

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

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

Idea Was Old As as State’s Railroading

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

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

Cost Ranging From 25 to 75 Millions

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

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

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

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

Financing of Project a Community Investment

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

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

Greatest Of World’s Harbor Improvements

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

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

– Marin County Tocsin, September 2 1916

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SANTA ROSA’S INK-STAINED ODD COUPLE

December 14 should be a red-letter day at the Press Democrat; it was then in 1912 when Ernest Finley married Ruth Woolsey. Not only was this the founding of a little publishing dynasty which would endure until the PD was sold in 1985, but that date serves as a fair marker for the moment Santa Rosa became a one-newspaper town – five days earlier, editor Finley’s old rival at the Santa Rosa Republican, Allan Lemmon, sold his interests in that paper and retired.

(Detail of 1923 photo of Ernest Latimer Finley at his desk in the Press Democrat office. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Before diving into that history, a few comments about the modern Press Democrat, which just introduced a revamp of the paper. Few may notice the changes – local news on the front page, a weekly outdoors section and more food coverage, amid other tweaks. Publisher Catherine Barnett says over 1,500 commented about what they wanted to see in the PD and her take-away was the readership mainly wanted the paper to keep on doing a fantastic job. She couldn’t even go to a party or wine tasting “without someone wanting to go off in a corner and discuss what mattered most about our coverage.” Apparently the local know-it-alls have mastered the gentle art of flattering criticism to a degree of which I was unaware.

But the real issues are not trivial things such as page layouts or the balance between lifestyle coverage and opinion. That’s a false dichotomy – like asking Santa Rosans whether cinnamon or saffron is their all-time favorite spice. The main problem with today’s Press Democrat is there’s so little of it. The pages are slim and few, with the newspaper nearly disappearing entirely on Mondays and Tuesdays. For years the newsroom has been reduced to an overworked skeleton crew. With rare exceptions – such as the outstanding coverage of the Valley Fire – local news coverage is largely picking low-hanging fruit from press releases, squawks from the police scanner and appeals to readers for story content. Just a few years ago when the PD was flush with profits this would have been called lazy journalism; today you have to feel sorry for everyone involved. Unless Catherine Barnett is able to rebuild the newsroom and offer a more substantial newspaper, she’s only pushing around deck chairs on the Titanic.

Although Santa Rosa was ten times smaller a hundred years ago, the PD still managed to fill three or four pages every day with local news. Some of it appealed to a pretty narrow readership, but better to not risk the item appearing only in the competition. And that was the big difference between then and now: Santa Rosa was a two newspaper town, although that comes with a big asterisk.

Ernest Finley’s Press Democrat was a morning paper focused on Santa Rosa, particularly development and commercial interests. For many years Finley was president of the Chamber of Commerce so it’s no surprise the PD was their voice. Allen Lemmon’s Santa Rosa Republican was a smaller evening paper mostly directed at farmers; every week there was an item covering the doings in each of the small towns in the area.

Until Lemmon’s 1912 retirement, he and Finley were something of Santa Rosa’s editorial odd couple, and not just because of the different Democrat/Republican allegiances. They even looked the part; the two can be seen together in a 1909 Chamber of Commerce group photo with Lemmon looming over Finley’s right shoulder, looking for all the world like a rumpled Walter Matthau, with Finley resembling a tightly-wound Tony Randall.

They were men of different generations. Lemmon was born in 1847 and before coming to Santa Rosa had a career in Kansas, where he was a teacher and superintendent of schools while also editing a weekly paper. He was a progressive in the vein of Teddy Roosevelt and when he bought the Republican in 1887, was a good counterbalance to Thomas Thompson, the Sonoma Democrat editor still nursing a grudge over the South losing the Civil War.

Finley was 23 years younger and had lived in Santa Rosa since childhood. He had no newspaper experience at all when he and two friends began a small paper called the Evening Press in 1895 with him as the publisher and Grant Richards as editor. When the Democrat became available in 1897 the three formed a corporation with bankers Overton and Reynolds and bought it. Less than a year later, Finley became editor of the hybrid Press Democrat after Grant Richards had a nervous breakdown and killed himself with a shotgun.

At the turn of the century Finley was still a young man of 29 and a brash conservative, eager to pick a fight in his paper. The person he most often tried to beat up was poor old Allen Lemmon, while during election years he also defended the status quo and attacked the reformers who wanted to clean up Santa Rosa; for more on those dust-ups, read “THE MANY WARS OF ERNEST FINLEY.”

(Cartoon of Allan B. Lemmon from the San Francisco Call, 1896)

The last salvos in the Finley-Lemmon battle came in February 1911. Finley ‘dissed the Republican as the “Evening Blowhard” and Lemmon shot back by calling him “Egotist Latitude Finley, whose brightness is never seen in the columns of the paper over which he is called to preside.” A couple of weeks later they both went nuclear over Fred J. Wiseman’s airmail flight in an exchange where they forgot all about Wiseman and just lobbed insults at one another. No one would have been surprised to find either of them setting bear traps outside the other guy’s door.

But after that, peace. Both newspapers supported women’s suffrage in the historic vote later that year and they even made it through the big elections of 1912 without drawing knives. What happened?

Partial credit probably goes to Finley’s bride-to-be Ruth Woolsey – or at least, his desire to marry and settle down. In late 1911 he pushed a wheelbarrow with a bale of hops ten miles to settle a bet, accompanied by an entourage of twenty-somethings including Ruth, and with the money from the bet he treated them to a night out in San Francisco. Or maybe he decided at age 42 it was time to grow up.

Allan Lemmon likely also just lost the heart to fight. He was 65; even though his newspaper was apparently then entirely edited by partner J. Elmer Mobley, it too seemed old and tired.

As the newlywed Finleys left for their honeymoon, a new company took over the Republican. Among the owners were Rolfe L. Thompson, leader of the reformers in town, and head of the new company was none other than attorney James Wyatt Oates, himself a former editor and writer. For a time the Santa Rosa Republican was a lively read and the arguably the better paper in town, but Finley had the greater readership, and with it greater influence. As WWI approached the Republican settled into being more like the paper it was under Lemmon – the loyal opposition to the Press Democrat, which was to everyone’s loss.


How fortunate for us all that Santa Rosa has its EVENING BLOWHARD. If it were not for that enterprising sheet, we might all still be laboring under the mistaken apprehension that the big show was to be pulled off in Kamchatka or “some other foreign seaport.”

– Press Democrat editorial, February 1, 1911

 

LURID MELODRAMA AT THE COLUMBIA

“The Chinatown Trunk Mystery,” a wierd [sic] melodrama of the old Central Theatre type–and then some–held down the boards Wednesday evening at the Columbia. The performance was about what was to be expected, considering the lurid character of the paper displayed on the billboards about town. A local Chinaman accompanied by a police officer in plain clothes was on hand, ostensibly to represent the Chinese Vice Consul. The latter feature was only part of a somewhat, overdone advertising scheme, however, and fooled nobody except one bright young man connected with the afternoon paper.

– Press Democrat editorial, February 2, 1911

 

EGOTIST LATITUDE FINLEY SHOWS HIS “BRIGHTNESS”

Perhaps the best thing about the performance at the Columbia theater on Wednesday evening was the orchestrations between the acts. Leader Bud Parks and his musicians rendered some lively two steps which were decidedly pleasing. The performance was mediocre, but nevertheless attracted quite a large audience, when the threatening and inclement weather is taken into consideration.

Thee is little chance for acting in the piece, and those who presented it did not attempt the impossible. The protest sent by Consul General Li Young-Yew resulted in Chief of Police John M. Boyes sending an officer with a delegation of three prominent Chinese of the local colony to the theater to see that nothing immoral was permitted. Egotist Latitude Finley, whose brightness is never seen in the columns of the paper over which he is called to preside, by grace of its actual owner, attempted some funny stunts in his “dramatic criticism” of the play, and shows his asinine qualities more than previously.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 2, 1911

 

ERNEST FINLEY WILL MARRY
To Lead Miss Woolsey to Altar in Near Future

Some time before the holidays Editor Ernest L. Finley will wed Miss Ruth Woolsey. For some time past the friends of the couple have anticipated the announcement, and now that it is known, they are receiving the congratulations of their wide circle of friends.

Miss Woolsey is the daughter of Frank Woolsey of Woolsey station. She is a social favorite here and around the bay. She is a pretty girl with charming ways, which have made her popular with all who know her.

Mr. Finley is editor of the Press Democrat and needs no introduction to the people of Sonoma county, as he has taken a prominent part in the affairs of this section for some time. He is a member of the Elks and other fraternal organizations.

Owing to death recently in each of the families of the contracting parties, the wedding will be a quiet one.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 14, 1912

 

TO PURCHASE THE REPUBLICAN
Allen B. Lemmon to Dispose of His Interest

Articles of incorporation of the Santa Rosa Republican Company have been filed with County Clerk William W. Felt, Jr. The capital stock of the company is fixed at $24,000, and each member of the board of directors of the corporation has subscribed for two shares of the stock.

The board of directors consists of J. Elmer Mobley, James W. Oates, R. L. Thompson, Charles C. Belden and Mrs. Pearl J. Mobley.

It is the purpose of the new corporation to take over the Santa Rosa REPUBLICAN, which Messrs. Allen B. Lemmon and J. Elmer Mobley have conducted since the big fire of 1906 as a co-partnership. The formal transfer of the property will take place in a few days.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 27, 1912

 

EDITOR LEMMON SOON TO RETIRE
Stock Company Formed to Take Over His Interests in the Santa Rosa Republican–Articles Filed

Allen B. Lemmon, the well known editor of the Evening Republican, has announced his intended retirement from the newspaper field. On Wednesday articles of incorporation of the Santa Rosa Republican Company were filed with County Clerk. The object of the company is to take over Mr. Lemmon’s interest in the paper above named. The company is incorporated, for $24,000, and the directors named are Rolfe L. Thompson, J. E. Mobley, James W. Oates, C. C. Belden and Pearl Mobley. Each of the directors named has subscribed for two shares of stock. It is understood that formal transfer of the property will be made within a few days.

For more than twenty years-with the exception of a year or so previous to the fire, when the paper was leased to other parties–Mr. Lemmon has presided over the destinies of the Santa Rosa Republican. For some time he has been anxious to dispose of his interests and retire from active newspaper work. He retires with the best wishes of a large circle of friends and acquaintances, and the new owners are wished every success in their venture.

– Press Democrat, November 28, 1912

 

ANNOUNCEMENT

The formal transfer of the Santa Rosa REPUBLICAN newspaper and job printing business to the Santa Rosa Republican Company. a corporation, occurred Monday afternoon. With that date my connection with this paper and business terminated. My entire interest in the plant has been purchased and taken over by the corporation, which is composed of well known residents of Santa Rosa.

Since the big fire of April 18, 1906, the paper has been conducted as a partnership between  J. Elmer Mobley and myself. My retirement is due to a desire to be released from the constant strain of newspaper work.

For almost a quarter of a century I have published the REPUBLICAN as a daily and semi-weekly newspaper. The readers of the paper know whether or not the work has been done well.

In quitting the newspaper field, my thanks are extended to the many friends who have given the paper hearty support during the time it has been under my control. The mangement has my hearty good will, friendship and desire for the success that is sure to follow well directed efforts.

ALLEN B. LEMMON.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 10, 1912

 

Society Gossip by Dorothy Ann

IN THE soft light of many candles that flared and flickered and cast their shadows over the assemblage of immediate relatives, Miss Ruth Woolsey and Ernest L. Finley plighted their troth for better or for worse on Saturday at high noon at the home of the bride’s father, Mr. Frank Woolsey of Woolsey…

…Miss Woolsey was given into the keeping of her husband by her father, Mr. Woolsey. There were no attendants. Although simplicity marked every feature of the wedding, the bride wore the regulation white satin gown, made en train and draped with beaded chiffon…

…After congratulation had been extended the wedding party were served with an elaborate wedding breakfast in the dining room, where an artistic decoration of mistletoe and white satin streamers had been arranged. The center of the bridal table was a mass of pink carnations and ferns. A tempting menu was served.

Mr. and Mrs. Finley motored to one of the nearby stations, and there took the train for San Francisco. It is understood that Los Angeles and other Southern cities will be the objective point where the honeymoon will be spent.

[..]

– Press Democrat, December 15, 1912

 

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NARY A PARK TO PLAY IN

Wanna see a man throw a temper tantrum? Return to 1912 and ask Ernest Finley for directions to the park.

Oooooh, but Mr. Finley was steaming mad that spring, as Santa Rosa voters narrowly rejected a bond measure that would have purchased land for the city’s very first public park, just a few blocks east of downtown.

Finley, editor and publisher of the Press Democrat and Santa Rosa’s tireless Chamber of Commerce booster, wanted that park with a passion. It stuck in his craw that the town did not have a single one, while Sebastopol had a park, Petaluma had three and even tiny Graton had a park, complete with a dance floor and a funky little zoo that held monkeys and a bear.

“A public park is a great attraction,” he told readers in one of several editorials in the months ahead of the May, 1912 vote. “The opportunity is now presented whereby this city can secure one of the finest public parks in California. There is no good reason why there should be any opposition whatever to the plan as now proposed.” The PD also printed supportive letters to the editor, articles with testimonials of support from bankers, pastors and other movers ‘n’ shakers including Luther Burbank.

The property for sale is the current location of the Santa Rosa Middle School on the south side of College Avenue, between E street and Brookwood Ave. At the time it was only the overgrown lot that had been the Pacific Methodist College a couple of decades earlier. Finley’s father had been president of that school for many years; now he was on his deathbed – and was soon to pass away, about five weeks after the bond vote – so Ernest had a personal reason to see it preserved and beautified.

“Even in its wholly neglected state – as it has been for many years – the great trees growing untrained and wild, the place is attractive,” wrote “Santa Rosan” to the Press Democrat. “And situated in the center of the city that forest grove is a rare feature – the pride of the citizens and the wonder of strangers, who cannot understand how it happens that those woods, under private ownership, have been long conserved.”

Newton V. V. Smyth, the former City Engineer, wrote up a survey for the PD. He found there were large pines and cypress 35 years old or more with “a channel of an old creek gracefully winding its way through the tract.” He cataloged over 20 large oak trees – several being live oaks – and scores of ornamental trees. He explained, “Years ago, in the flourishing days of the Pacific Methodist College, there was a call for donation of trees. There was a liberal response and native trees of the state were sent in great variety.”

The property was then owned by Mrs. Ella Hershey of Woodland, whose late husband David had been a trustee of the Methodist College. (I find no other Sonoma County connection for them.) It’s unclear when the college building was demolished, but Hershey subdivided the land into 51 building lots in 1892. One of Finley’s editorials explained the town had first approached her about selling three years prior, and the price now on the table was $50,000.

Even though that was about the market rate should the property be developed, Finley rattled on for two months about what a swell deal it was. “It figures something like 57 cents on each thousand dollars” of a property’s assessment, he assured homeowners. “If the tract under consideration is not secured now, it will be cut up and sold off in lots, and then it will forever be too late,” he ominously warned.

Nor was Finley above twisting facts; he consistently claimed it was ten acres although it was actually under nine. He praised the heritage trees even as he proposed it become a recreational area that would necessitate chopping most of them down: “An old abandoned water-course winds its way through the grounds, and with little trouble or expense this might be converted into a beautiful lake for boating. Lawn tennis courts, ball grounds, swings, etc.”

In the Press Democrat never was heard a discouraging word; all that wonderfulness would cost only $50,000 over 25 years at five percent interest. It was left to the Santa Rosa Republican to print an open letter from Mayor John Mercier, who took no position on approval. His Honor pointed out it actually would be quite a bit more expensive and by the end of the bond Santa Rosa would have paid $32,500 in interest. Although Finley promised “the Woman’s Improvement Club has offered to take charge of the work of beautifying the place,” the mayor pointed out there would be a conservative estimate of $10,000 for buildings and other basic improvements. Add in at least $2,000 a year for utilities and general upkeep and the total cost of the park would be a minimum of $142,500 – well over $3 million today.

As voting day approached, the PD regularly used the front page to print endorsements or to report supporting events. On May Day picnic the school district commandeered the grounds, with a thousand children putting on a show, singing and folk dancing along with a maypole, exhibition garland weaving and “Froebelian* nature games.”

The Rose Carnival was coming up and there was an elaborate rose and flower show presented under a tent on Exchange Avenue – the predecessor to our county fair Hall of Flowers. The paper featured a description of one exhibit which was a little park model, complete with a cage of canary “songbirds:”

It is replete with walks, and trees, a “zoo,” and the other alluring possibilities of a park. The idea is suggested by the fact that on next Tuesday Santa Rosa will vote whether she wishes to take a forward step in the march of progress and secure a public park or whether she is willing to miss one of the greatest public improvements any city of its size should acquire.

And then, voting day: With two-thirds needed to carry, it lost by 48 votes, 1243 to 689.

At first, Finley was gracious: “The Woman’s Improvement Club deserves much credit for the magnificent fight,” the PD reported. “Poll lists were checked up and a score of autos were kept running all over town to secure women or men voters, and get them to the polls.”

A couple of days later, Angry Ernest crawled out. He damned the wards south of the Creek (blue collar workers) and west of the train station (the Italian neighborhood) for the bond’s failure. They made a “grave mistake” in not voting for the bond, Finley barked, and he thought they selfishly opposed it because the park was too far away. “It is manifestly impossible to put the park in front of everybody’s property. Park sites have to be taken where we find them.” Finley did not even acknowledge these were the poorest parts of town and additional property taxes would be a disproportionately greater burden. Nor did he consider those residents might not feel welcome in the upper Fourth street/MacDonald Ave neighborhood where wealthy people like Ernest Finley lived. Italian kids often didn’t even venture downtown until they were eight or ten, Gaye LeBaron wrote in her history of 20th century Santa Rosa.

Finley rejected the outcome calling upon the mayor and city council to promptly hold another vote or otherwise “to see that some way is found, and speedily, to have the expressed wishes of the people complied with.” But nothing came of his hopes to subvert the democratic process and the park issue seemed dead, at least for the immediate future.

Then, Act II: Upstep the women.

Have you heard the latest? Four fine parks and a city playground, and a civic center on the banks of the creek! These are the things that are coming to Santa Rosa. The women are in the saddle, and their mandate has gone forth. Civic improvement is in the air, and the odor of the rose and the vine comes wafted in every wind. The music of merry childhood’s happy voices is borne on every breeze. The wand of progress is being waved over our city and soldiers of progress are on the march, and the silurians must join the army or be run over by the bandwagon.

That was the intro to a guest column in the Press Democrat authored by attorney Thomas J. Butts. Read his essay – transcribed below – and decide for yourself if it’s a witty W. C. Fields-like jape or the work of someone a little unhinged.

I can only guess what Butts meant by “Silurians” (which he mentions twice) except that was part of the Paleozoic Era, about 430 million years ago; maybe he was suggesting park opponents didn’t have the smarts of a trilobite. He certainly did suggest they would be better off dead: “…as time flows on, one by one of these gentlemen will fall away from the busy walks of life and be borne away to the Silent City to the cold and small room that is the last quiet resting place of each and all.”

With all his chatter about Silurians and the history of old bridges, Butts never got around to mentioning the actual subject of his essay – that the Woman’s Improvement Club was to hold a public meeting in a few days and announce a proposal for not one, but several parks.

Apparently the Club members kept mum about their plans; Butts’ column in the PD and two front page stories in the Republican suggest speculation was rife. And Santa Rosans had years’ worth of park ideas – the old college grounds proposal was only the most recent to fail. Rehashed were three general ideas:

* THE CIVIC CENTER   Santa Rosa also lacked a city hall, so why not combine a park with an administration building? That idea last came up when the Lebanon Hotel was for sale in 1909. The gardens surrounding the place were magnificent, but apparently the deal-killer was figuring out what to do with its 30-room mansion. No bond was ever proposed.

 

* THE WATER PARK   It was often suggested to make a park on the banks of Santa Rosa Creek or dam the waterway; the most ambitious was the attempt to create Lake Santa Rosa in 1910. A property owner sued over the dam constructed by enthusiasts (lawyer Butts represented the lake builders) and it was dismantled after a couple of months.

 

* THE CLEANED-UP DISTRICT   Be it water park, civic center or plain ol’ playgrounds, a park was sometimes mentioned as an excuse to wipe out the red light district on First street and Santa Rosa’s tiny Chinatown on Second. During the 1908 mayoral election, the winning candidate unveiled an election eve surprise by announcing he had options to buy part of the tenderloin nearest the creek and would (somehow) turn it into a park. Nothing happened; the announcement was just a dirty political trick.

It’s surprising so much of the speculation in 1912 was centered on the tenderloin/Chinatown area – surprising, in part, because the red light district was supposedly abolished in 1909, and these mentions are the first real proof the ladies were indeed still around. And given some of those properties were owned by Santa Rosa’s wealthiest good ol’ boys (here’s looking at you, Con Shea) it’s also surprising to find voices calling for the town to just grab them if the owners were not willing to sell. From the Republican newspaper:

It is proposed to purchase the two blocks occupied by Chinatown and the property of the red light district, if this can be done at a reasonable figure. Failing in this, it is proposed to bring condemnation proceedings to secure the property…It is undeniable that Chinatown is an eyesore in its present location and if it could be removed it would be a splendid idea.

With all that buzz, the Woman’s Improvement Club meeting drew a large audience. Dozens spoke, but the main presentation was by Walter F. Price, a local realtor who was best known as an ineffectual and likely corrupt former state senator. According to the Republican, “Mr. Price stated that he had willingly assisted the ladies of the Improvement Club in obtaining a list of available properties for park purposes. This he did free of cost.” Methinks he too loudly proclaimed his charity, and there were certain to be dollars in his pocket should the deal actually go through.

Price’s grand solution included the old college grounds (natch) plus three other properties: One near the racetrack (meaning the fairgrounds), another apparently the current location of Olive Park, and one downwind to the slaughterhouse on West College. The three new offerings were simply large-ish vacant lots with no attractive features except for the future Olive Park, adjacent to Santa Rosa Creek – although in that era it was infamous for being the worst smelling part of the waterway because it was immediately downstream from the town’s worst polluters. It was a token nod to the neighborhoods which had voted against the bond a few months earlier. And the price tag for that terrrrrrific deal was $62,750.

The next morning the leaders of the Improvement Club held a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce, and you can bet Finley was at the table. After a “thorough talking over” it was decided to ask the City Council for a new bond election, this time requesting $75,000, apparently because they thought the voters who didn’t want to approve a $50K bond would jump at the chance to pay considerably more.

As Dear Reader can probably guess: Thus endeth another chapter in the Santa Rosa Park Saga.

Looking in about a year later, we find nothing had happened to the old college grounds since the vote, despite Finley’s dire warning it would be otherwise sold to developers. An article in the Republican noted the property was in “unkept, unkempt condition” and being used as a dumping ground. “The fine park is getting filled with rubbish; old cans by the cartload are being brought from a distance and dumped into the grounds; all of which is contrary to city ordinances, made and provided.”

In his later character sketches of Santa Rosans, Ernest Finley mentioned attorney Butts went on to create an ad hoc “South Side Park,” but further details are not known (although I’ll bet he had a “Silurians keep out” sign there somewhere). It wouldn’t be until 1922 that Santa Rosa officially created a public park, and it was only a picnic area in an unused part of the city’s reservoir site, just west of Spring Lake.

* Friedrich Fröbel (1782-1852) created the concept of kindergarten as part of his view that children learned best through play and interacting with their surroundings. It is similar in some ways to the later Montessori Method but less rigid, such as encouraging children to play games for physical exercise instead of performing gymnastics. Where a Montessori teacher might instruct a child “the sky is blue,” a Froebelian might ask a child to “find things the color of the sky.” A modern comparison of the methods can be found here and a 1912 analysis (when the Montessori Method was very new) is available here.
SANTA ROSA’S PUBLIC PARK

All sorts of absurd reports have been circulated regarding the terms of the agreement under which it is proposed for purchase the old College grounds for a public park, and for the benefit of its readers The Press Democrat publishes the text of the agreement in full…

…The possibilities of the site from an artistic standpoint are immense. A great number of giant oaks, to say nothing of many large sycamore and other trees, planted there thirty-five or forty years ago, already give the grounds the appearance of a park. An old abandoned water-course winds its way through the grounds, and with little trouble or expense this might be converted into a beautiful lake for boating. Lawn tennis courts, ball grounds, swings, etc., etc., could all be provided and the place made a public playground for all the people. As the Woman’s Improvement Club has offered to take charge of the work of beautifying the place, the initial cost of purchase is all that would have to be met at this time.

The price put upon the property by the owners is entirely reasonable, in our opinion, if we take into consideration that it is to be devoted to park purposes. Viewed in this light the many beautiful trees, some of which have been growing for hundreds of years, all possess an actual and tangible value, as does even the old abandoned water-course. There are fifty-two building lots contained in the tract. The present owners purchased the property more than twenty years ago for $20,000. Allowing them five per cent interest on the investment and adding what they have paid out in taxes and for street work, etc., the property has cost them several thousand dollars more than they are now offering to sell it for.

…[History of contacts with the owner]…

…The bonds are to run twenty-five years, and the increase in the tax rate will be so slight that nobody will ever know there has been an increase. It figures something like 57 cents on each thousand dollars, taking the present assessment value of property within the city limits as a basis…

…Every town of any consequence has a public park. Santa Rosa has none. A public park is a great attraction. The opportunity is now presented whereby this city can secure one of the finest public parks in California. There is no good reason why there should be any opposition whatever to the plan as now proposed. If the tract under consideration is not secured now, it will be cut up and sold off in lots, and then it will forever be too late. The opportunity will have passed.

This is our chance to secure a public park and secure a good one. We must not let the opportunity go by.

Work for the public park!

– Press Democrat editorial, April 25, 1912
SANTA ROSA GIRLS DESIGN “PARK” FOR ROSE SHOW

The Misses Ruth and Gladys Hodgson have a striking and artistic exhibit in the Rose Show on Exchange avenue. It is replete with walks, and trees, a “zoo,” and the other alluring possibilities of a park. The idea is suggested by the fact that on next Tuesday Santa Rosa will vote whether she wishes to take a forward step in the march of progress and secure a public park or whether she is willing to miss one of the greatest public improvements any city of its size should acquire. The two charming girls who have worked out the scheme have done so faithfully with the use of trees, shrubs, mosses and other embellishments. It is certainly a delightful nook in the exhibit.

The Press Democrat mentioned most of the displays in the rose show on Thursday morning, but then only mentioned them. The display is a delight and all should see it. It is the most delightful ten cents worth you can find anywhere. Flowers and songbirds, the air burdened with the sweetest perfume, and the superb notes of the canaries, the waterfall and the fountain splashing in all the setting of the woodland. The choice gardens and conservatory blossoms blend in color and significant with the wild variety of the woodland…

– Press Democrat, May 3, 1912
SANTA ROSA’S PARKS
By T. J. Butts

Have you heard the latest? Four fine parks and a city playground, and a civic center on the banks of the creek! These are the things that are coming to Santa Rosa. The women are in the saddle, and their mandate has gone forth. Civic improvement is in the air, and the odor of the rose and the vine comes wafted in every wind. The music of merry childhood’s happy voices is borne on every breeze. The wand of progress is being waved over our city and soldiers of progress are on the march, and the silurians must join the army or be run over by the bandwagon.

Santa Rosa can no longer maintain her prestige as one of the most beautiful cities on the Coast unless we do something to justify that reputation. Nature has done much for this city, but the people have done little towards keeping the city beautiful. I came to this city forty-four years ago. At that time it had a most beautiful park in the center of the town. But the Silurians of that day, whose highest conception of the Garden of Eden was that of a “truck patch” and a place dedicated to the growing of beets and cabbage, gave it away to keep from taking care of it.

I was in Santa Rosa when the first iron bridge in the state was built over the creek on Main Street. It had been the custom up to that time for farmers to drive down the bank and ford the creek when coming to town instead of crossing the old wooden bridge. When the matter of building the new bridge came up before the Board of Supervisors, one old gentleman, who was a well-known man in this town and was a trustee of one of the colleges here went before the Board to protest against the bridge, and in his speech he said:

“We don’t need no bridge and if you put that bridge thar, whar are ye goin’ to set yer tire, and whar are you goin’ to water yer critter?”

We find the same class among us today, and when the park question comes up they will say: “We don’t need no park, there is room enough for us on the benches in front of the Court House.”

But these gentlemen will not be compelled to wear out their seats of their trousers on those old benches much longer.

The Woman’s Improvement Club is going to provide parks for this city, where these same gentlemen may rest under the shade of the trees, drink in the fragrance of a million flowers while they figure their interest and knock all civic improvements.

And just here recurs the thought that as time flows on, one by one of these gentlemen will fall away from the busy walks of life and be borne away to the Silent City to the cold and small room that is the last quiet resting place of each and all. Their graves may not be marked by monument or stone, but posterity will not be deprived of the satisfaction of knowing that they are dead.

It was an old saying that “If the mountain will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the mountain.” And now the mandate has gone forth that if the parks will not come to Santa Rosa, the women of Santa Rosa will go after the parks. They have started already. They are now on the way with a whoop. So, Mr. Reader, just keep your eye on the women, and you will see them bring home the bacon.

– Press Democrat, September 22, 1912
MASS MEETING UNANIMOUSLY FAVORED PUBLIC PARKS
Great Enthusiasm Shown At The Meeting Thursday Night

Not a voice was raised against public parks at the large mass meeting held in Judge Emmet Seawell’s court room Thursday evening, inder the auspices of the Woman’s Improvement Club…

…Four pieces of property that could be secured as park sites were suggested by Walter F. Price. These would cost the city $62,750. Mr. Price stated that he had willingly assisted the ladies of the Improvement Club in obtaining a list of available properties for park purposes. This he did free of cost.

The list he mention consisted of the old Pacific Methodist College grounds at College avenue, North, Fifth and King streets, price $50,000; a block of land bounded by Piner [sic – it was Pine street], Brown and Oak streets, price $4750; land at Orange and Railroad streets on the south bank of Santa Rosa creek, price $2000; and a block on College avenue, between Cleveland and Ripley streets, price $10,000, or portions of this lot could be had at $5000 or $6000 respectfully.

A. H. Donovan stated that M. Menihan of Cloverdale had written to him regarding the Menihan property bounded by A, Seventh and Washington streets, which at one time was greatly urged for a park site. This letter came from the owner unsolicited and stated that the price on the property had been reduced from its former price of $20,000 to $18,000 now, the owners being desirous to sell.

A. R. Buckner and others of the vicinity southeast from the court house presented a plan that they are working on that they believe will prove feasible for a public park proposition in that vicinity.

Mrs. Metzger spoke, setting the price on her property at Washington and Morgan streets at $12,000. She had been requested to set a price on that piece of property. Mrs. Metzger was in favor of the city owning several parks in different parts of the city.

Park Along Creek

In response to a call from the chair Attorney Frances McG Martin spoke eloquently of the possibilities of a park on the banks of Santa Rosa creek. She thought that by cleaning up the property adjoining the creek and clearing away the houses up to second street in and near to the Burbank property, would be an ideal park site and would clean out Chinatown. Mrs. Martin also favored parks in other parts of the city.

– Santa Rosa Republican,  September 27, 1912
LET THE CITY CARE FOR THE COLLEGE PARK

The Presbyterian Missionary Society held its annual meeting and dinner Tuesday under the pine trees in the old College park. This wooded block in the heart of the city, even in its unkept, unkempt condition, is an ideal place for any kind of an outing, be it baseball game, Maypole dance, or doll party. The Baptist congregation this summer during the repairing of their church building have held Sunday services under those noble trees. Country visitors in the city frequently lunch and rest in that shade.

In view of this convenience, would it not be a fair return for the city to have some care over this big vacant lot? The fine park is getting filled with rubbish; old cans by the cartload are being brought from a distance and dumped into the grounds; all of which is contrary to city ordinances, made and provided. The health officer might there find some problems for solution. By all means, if the city cannot buy the park, let it care for that splendid place.

– Santa Rosa Republican,  August 13, 1913

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