Want to remember (or discover) what Sonoma County looked like in the 1960s? You’re in luck; there’s an online archive of documentaries and news footage shot in that decade.

Sadly, it’s hard to find unless you know where to look – since this material is not available on YouTube, Google does not list any of it in video search results, even if the exact title is entered. Overall there are thousands of hours in those archives and they are a treasure for anyone interested in what happened in Northern California in the latter part of the Twentieth Century. Here are discussed only those most relevant to Sonoma County, along with a bonus section looking at other obscure – and sometimes bizarre – historical videos per our corner of the woods.

The videos are part of the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive, which sweeps together decades of leavings from major Bay Area TV broadcasters. Maintained by San Francisco State University, the older stuff offers a glimpse of a time we’ll never see again – and by that I mean an era when local stations produced educational programs to show they were operating in the pubic’s interest, an FCC requirement for having a commercial license. These programs usually aired during the off-off-hours on Sundays and were produced on a zero budget except for film and a little staff/studio time. Quality varies greatly, as one might expect; the footage is sometimes puzzling or as awful as an unedited home movie, but there are also treasures such as the 1953 interview with Frank Lloyd Wright, where he talks for half an hour about architecture and his proposed design for the “Southern Crossing” (a companion to the Bay Bridge which was never built).

There are nine videos in the archive related to Sonoma County. Here are summaries and links to most of them:

PORTRAIT OF PLEASURE (1963) is a half-hour travelogue on Sonoma County. Like most of these amateurish documentaries, the script doesn’t add much and is sometimes misleading or outright wrong – apparently Burbank’s home and gardens are somewhere near Bodega. But, hey, we’re here for the pictures, right? Highlights are the aerial shots near the beginning, scenes of downtown Sebastopol and views of vintage (not then!) cars on Hwy. 101. It was county fair season so there’s a long segment which won’t be very interesting unless there’s someone you know slurping ice cream or watching the cattle judging. Unfortunately, that time wasted on boilerplate footage of carnival rides cuts into coverage of Santa Rosa, which is limited to a few downtown scenes. The streets are surprisingly empty; the only person clearly seen is on Fourth Street – and surprise, it’s a cop writing a parking ticket. Was ever thus.

LUTHER BURBANK: A GARDENER OF EDEN (1967) is mostly a generic Burbank bio but it contains some footage I have never seen elsewhere, including film taken during his funeral. Other highlights include a few views of a Rose Parade c. 1920 and a two minute interview with Judge Hilliard Comstock that begins at the 13:30 mark. Hilliard reminisces about working for him as a teenager and the time Burbank scolded him for eating on the job.

THE STORY OF THE GRAPE (1962) covers that year’s harvest and crush in the manner of an industrial video along with some sketchy history of the Buena Vista winery. The best parts are the many aerial views of Sonoma Valley and a full segment on the 16th Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival, including the children’s parade. There are some nice shots of the Sonoma Plaza and surrounding streets during the festival.

HIGHWAY THROUGH TIME (1965) A drive up Highway 1; the Sonoma County stretch begins at 19:55.

EARTHQUAKE IN SANTA ROSA (1969) A ten minute news segment from KPIX on the aftermath of the 1969 earthquake. Includes a short press conference by Police Chief Melvin (Dutch) Flohr, images of downtown and residential damage and the cleanup at the Fourth street Safeway.

Other material in the archive includes an interview with a PG&E spokesman on their intent to build a nuclear power plant at Bodega Head (1963) and a story on Bobby Kennedy visiting a school on the Kashia Reservation (1968). There is also a Jack London documentary which is too dim to watch and has a particularly weak script.

These videos either were made before 1960 or come from sources other than the Bay Area Television Archive. Some of these I have found over the years, lost, then found again, so it saves me grief to offer them all in one place.

THE INNOCENT FAIR is footage from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. The film has a mysterious past; it was discovered at a Marin junk shop in 1961 and aired with narration the following year on KPIX. There are several copies floating about the Internet, but this one is the best quality, even with the station logo in the corner. Skip to 13:30 for the shots of Burbank, Edison and Ford together.

A VISIT WITH LUTHER BURBANK, THE GREAT AMERICAN NATURALIST (1917) is a short produced for the Ford Educational Weekly, a newsreel series the Ford Motor Company distributed free to nickelodeons and movie houses. Seen by an estimated 4-5 million people every week, these productions made the auto company the world’s largest film distributor at the time. A much higher quality copy of this is available for purchase via shutterstock but lacks the title cards revealing its origin.

THE LARGEST OMELET IN THE WORLD (1930) According to the Argus-Courier of May 3, 1930, “eleven Petaluma girls left here early Saturday morning for San Francisco to assist in the ceremonies of preparing the world’s largest omelet, which was cooked in a 16-foot frying pan…those who made the trip were Vivian Foster, Hazel White, Janet Perry, Hazel McDonald, Mildred Keller, Lola Hames, Jeane Sweeney, Helen Kenneally, Nettie Rorden, Marie Hames and Dorothy Swan” (spellings as printed).  Why they had to do calisthenics in the frying pan is anybody’s guess.

THE LIBRARY STORY (1964?) The old Carnegie library was condemned in 1960 and Santa Rosa was in no hurry to pay for a new one, so for years the town’s main library was on the second story above a saloon and a beauty shop on Exchange Avenue. This video, produced by the Friends of the Santa Rosa Public Library, was an effort to shame the town into building a replacement so the children didn’t have to hustle past the “Bambi Room” cocktail lounge to do their homework. It worked; voters approved a 1964 bond and the new main library building was opened in February, 1967. Thanks to architectural photographer Darren Bradley for an interesting blog post on this history and a fine profile of the current building.

JACK LONDON NEWSREEL (1915) Two minutes of Jack and Charmian supposedly filmed just three days before he died.

????? (early 1960s?) This was apparently raw footage for an industrial video or commercial promoting the Italian Swiss Colony winery, but it’s such a bizarre 55 minutes of random junk I would love to slip it to conspiracy theorists and watch them spin their wheels. Why all the ominous views of the deep shadows in the redwoods at Armstrong Grove? Why shots of highway 101 south of Petaluma followed by views of empty beaches? Why do the people in the tasting room scenes seemingly not know how to dress themselves – and why do they never swallow the wine they eagerly tipple? Why keep coming back to the ladies making straw chianti bottles? The film goes black for three minutes and when it returns…hand puppets!! There is a scene in a puppet store and another at the side of a puppet swimming pool. The puppets appear to be arguing. One sits in a puppet chair and dies, or at least collapses. The footage immediately cuts to a real swimming pool, as the camera pans over to show barrels of (poisonous!) chlorine stacked at poolside. This. Explains. Everything.

Read More


Indians suffered a perplexing form of racism in the old Santa Rosa newspapers. As with other minorities, the racism was mostly passive: They were simply ignored, except when a serious crime was committed or there was a demeaning incident that the editor viewed as entertaining (even better if it could be written up in comic dialect).

Yet at the same time, editors resisted dipping the pen into the inkwell of snark when it came to writing about Indians as a race, as shown in the sympathetic 1907 articles below on the desperate conditions of Native people in Northern California. This was also an expression of racism – a domestic version of “The White Man’s Burden,” suggesting that Indian welfare had to be managed by missionaries and federal agents. These presumptions go back to the origins of Frontier America, and were probably best summarized in the “Lo! the Poor Indian!” chapter from Horace Greeley’s 1860 book, “An Overland Journey:”

But the Indians are children…they are utterly incompetent to cope in any way with the European or Caucasian race. Any band of schoolboys, from ten to fifteen years of age, are quite as capable of ruling their appetites, devising and upholding a public policy, constituting and conducting a state or community, as an average Indian tribe. And, unless they shall be treated as a truly Christian community would treat a band of orphan children providentially thrown on its hands, the aborigines of this country will be practically extinct within the next fifty years.

These benevolent services could best be rendered, of course, if the Indians were restricted and isolated on distant reservations. If the Indians were viewed as “children” they were treated as unwanted ones, whom the Americans wanted to neither see nor hear.

A third kind of media racism can be found in articles that touched upon the “pioneer” years. Here the Indians were treated as a caveman-like race who lived here ‘way back in antiquity. Sometimes they weren’t mentioned at all, leaving the impression that the Anglo and Hispanic whites discovered an empty Eden. In another story below, Thomas Hopper recalls the days when he saw great herds of elk roamed “everywhere about this section.” Hopper – an illiterate man who became a successful banker because of his knack for numbers – first came to Sonoma county in 1849, when there was still an Indian presence in the area (the round up and death march to Round Valley started around 1857), and hunting wild elk would have been one of the few sources of meat still available to them.

Below are also a pair of 1907 reports describing workmen coming across an Indian grave in Sebastopol. In both local papers, it’s presented as a curiosity; “It is generally believed the spot was once a Indian burial ground,” the Republican noted. What both papers failed to reveal was that the remains were found on the perimeter of the Indian cemetery on the Walker ranch, which was still active at the time, with the last known burial in 1912. (MORE on the Indian community in Sebastopol.)

To be fair, we can only make benign assumptions as to why both papers omitted any link in those stories to Indian culture. Whether or not old Tom Hopper was one of the few living people who might have witnessed a Pomo or Coast Miwok elk hunt probably didn’t seem interesting. It’s doubtful the editors saw any hypocrisy in their respectful and lengthy obituaries of any old “pioneer” who died and their offhand description of ditch-diggers handling someone’s old bones. Intentional or no, the Indians disappeared a little bit more with each column-inch of print, and their legitimate right to be here a little further diminished.

Want Better Conditions for the Tribesman

Edward Posh and William Benson, two prominent Indians of this county and Mendocino county respectively, have returned from the conference recently held at Mount Hermon, where matters for the betterment of the Indians were discussed. There were nineteen Indians present at the conference and they petitioned the great white father at Washington to supply the needs. In the memorial sent to the nation’s capital, the first thing the Indians request is that lands and homes be provided for twelve thousand out of the seventeen thousand Indians in this state. Five thousand are provided for in the Round Valley reservation. Mr. Posh estimates that there are between three and four hundred Indians scattered through Sonoma county.

The second request is that the Indians be provided with common schools that they may learn to read and write and that industrial schools be established for the young people that they may learn some useful occupation. They also ask that the laws be enforced relative to the selling of liquor to Indians and suggest that the laws be amended so that no person with Indian blood in his veins shall be able to secure liquor. They ask that the party selling and the party purchasing liquor both be punished. Among the other suggestions made for the Indians is that they be provided with a field physician appointed by the government to attend sick tribesmen, and that they be provided with legal protection that they may secure justice in all the courts when involved in litigation.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 22, 1907
Efforts to Be Made to Secure Allotment of Lands for Redmen of This County

Twenty Indians – nineteen men and one woman, all members of the Sonoma county Indian tribes – returned on Sunday from Mount Hermon in Santa Cruz county, where the Northern California Indian Missionary Society has been meeting last week. One of the Indian leaders is Edward Posh, an intelligent man with some education, who told a reporter Monday that he and his people believe some good will result from the efforts of this society to better the condition of the native tribes of northern California, who have suffered much at the hands of the white men, and who are now for the most part destitute.

“My home, I have none,” he said when he was asked where his home was. “None of us have homes. That’s the trouble with us. That’s what the Indian Association is trying to get for us.”

“Five objects are sought by the Association,” said Edward Posh. The first of these is homes for the homeless Indians. The second is education – common school education for the Indian children and industrial education for those who are grown. The third thing sought is protection from the drink evil. It is well known that the use of liquor by Indians brings results much worse than the use of liquor by white men. The Indians themselves ask further protection from this evil by asking that the government impose heavier penalties upon those white men who supply intoxicants to members of the tribes; and they ask, also, that the law punish Indians who buy liquor as well as white men who sell to them.

“The fifth thing asked by the Association is that the government provide us with doctors. When an Indian gets sick, he generally suffers and dies or suffers and gets well with no medical attendance. Few of us have any money; none of us have much; and there are few doctors anywhere near us. And of those who are near, not many will attend us, for there is poor prospect for a fee.”

J. A. Gilchrist is the manager of the Indian missions. The Rev. J. A. Johnson of Berkeley, is one of those leading the movement for the betterment of the tribes. They say that the difficulty of the Indian problem is not due to any stubbornness of the Indians themselves, nor to any improvidence or to unfitness to be civilized. They declare that the government itself has repeatedly broken faith with the natives despoiled them of their lands on promise to give them others and neglected or refused to keep the promise. They term the last 100 years of United States history “A Century of Dishonor” in its reference to dealings with the aborigines, and they seek to make amends for it in all possible ways.

– Press Democrat, July 13, 1907
Well Known Pioneer Recalls Early Days When Antlered Herd Roamed at Will Here

“I saw elk in droves when I first came to this country, and shot quite a number of them. I remember not only seeing them wandering here and there on the site where Santa Rosa stands today, but everywhere about this section,” said Thomas Hopper, the well known pioneer and capitalist as he surveyed the big stuffed elk in the Press Democrat building on Thursday.

“I remember seeing one of the largest drove of elks I ever saw over near Bloomfield, and one time saw two fine ones down on the Cotati. I tell you they were big fellows.”

Mr. Hopper, despite his eighty-seven years, walked down town briskly on Thursday morning from his McDonald avenue residence. He has just returned from an outing on Wesley Hopper’s ranch near town, and while there took a little exercise at splitting stove wood with an axe. The exercise he says drove away the rheumatism from his shoulder.

– Press Democrat, October 12, 1907

Workmen for the Petaluma and Santa Rosa electric railroad in digging a trench at Sebastopol recently, came across many human bones in the earth they threw from the trench. The bones were examined to ascertain if they were really from human beings. In the same spot the workmen discovered some flint arrow heads and some beads, indicating that the bones were those of Indians. Whether the men had been killed or died a peaceful death will never be known. It is generally believed the spot was once a Indian burial ground.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 19, 1907

While engaged in widening the electric company’s roadbed on Petaluma avenue this week workmen uncovered a skeleton surrounded by a stone mortar and pestle and numerous flint arrow heads. It is believed to be the remains of an Indian buried in the years long past. The bones were almost dust and many of them crumbled when handled. An old Indian burying ground is supposed to have been opened and if the excavations are carried on other finds may be reported.

– Press Democrat, July 19, 1907

Read More


Despite Santa Rosa’s dreams of a post-1906 earthquake renaissance, it remained a modest farm town until after WWII. While the first 25 years of the century saw booming growth in other towns such as San Jose, Vallejo and Oakland, the official population numbers for Santa Rosa stayed stubbornly under ten thousand.

Even though Santa Rosa was a Bay Area backwater, it had two daily newspapers with pages to fill, and the little squibs that padded the space between serious news and the ads still provide much of the fun in reading those old pages. Here were described the local ripples from the life mundane, usually squibs about the doings of the neighbors you sort-of knew who lived in a little house halfway up on the next block.

Among the samples below, it’s described that someone (“the buggy man of Healdsburg”) grew a large turnip, a kid had a pet possum and squirrels – which were sent all the way from Texas, no less – and a family had a clock that only needed winding once a year. Also, there were new water troughs for horses downtown, which became the (un)inspiration for what surely has to be among the most boring sentences ever composed: “[The] horses were, it is said, some small and some large, some short and some tall, and those who witnessed the test say that they all drank and that the trough was not too high.”

Hundreds of vignettes like these, sometimes bizarre, sometimes quaint, appeared every year, and most probably inspired idle talk at the barbershop, were mentioned over supper, or chatted about during a hand of cards. As entertaining as they may be, the items are also a galling reminder that there was meaty news that the papers could have written about but chose to ignore, such as the long-running illegal gambling scene in the downtown saloons during horse racing season. Safer and easier, though, to write about that monster of a turnip that a guy lugged down to the newspaper office.

A Big Turnip

Contractor Frank Sullivan brought to this office on Monday morning an immense turnip presented to him by his friend, James Brown, the buggy man of Healdsburg. The turnip is on exhibition.

– Press Democrat, September 17, 1907


Master Thomas B. Miller has a possum at his home on Tenth street, which was sent him from Morgan, Texas, by L. M. Smith, who formerly resided here. The possum and three Texas squirrels made the trip to this city nicely, and are being cared for at the Miller home. Master Miller is proud of his new possessions.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 30, 1908

Yesterday some twenty horses drank at the new water trough outside of the Mission on Mendocino avenue by the Woman’s Improvement Club. The trough is one of a number in different parts of town. In the score of horses were, it is said, some small and some large, some short and some tall, and those who witnessed the test say that they all drank and that the trough was not too high. Among those seeing the horses quench their thirst were Mayor James H. Hray and Mrs. L. W. Burris, President of the Woman’s Improvement Club.


The idea of having the troughs so high has been carried out in a number of places, including San Francisco, where the troughs were put up by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The troughs in San Francisco are not as deep as the ones in this city. Here, it was stated Wednesday, the ground about the troughs will be raised a little with a layer of crushed rock. There has been considerable comment that the watering troughs are too high.

– Press Democrat, May 21, 1908
Time Piece in the Coulter Family which is One of Six

“There’s a clock that will run a whole year without winding.”

Don’t believe it.

So they went into Glickman’s store to have the question settled. The clock is one that belongs to the Coulter family. It had been sent to Glickman’s for cleaning, and its distinction became known.

“That’s not quite right,” said the watchmaker. “That clock, or any other clock has to be wound but it will run a year with only one winding. That’s where it differs from most time pieces.”

“Well, that’s what I meant,” said the man who had called attention to the clock. During the life of the late Squire Coulter, the annual winding of the clock was a part of the Christmas observances, and it is most probable that the custom will be perpetuated although the Squire is among the departed. There are, it is said, only six clocks in the world like this one.

– Press Democrat, August 2, 1907

Read More