Santa Rosa is going to pave your street soon but unfortunately you, dear homeowner, will be paying for it.
Those were the rules during the early 1910s in Santa Rosa, and doubtless elsewhere. The town owned the streets as well as the water/sewer lines beneath and maintained them, insofar as a water wagon roamed around during warm weather sprinkling down the dust. But if you wanted pavement – or to be clear, if a majority of neighbors on the street wanted it – please make your check payable to the city, cash also accepted (I’m sure).
Today it may seem bizarre to expect residents would pay for street paving, but it wasn’t so odd in the context of the times. Homeowners were also required to provide sidewalks, which meant losing several feet of your front yard to public access – and maybe the side yard as well, if the house was on a corner – and hiring a cement contractor, lest the town have someone do the work at your expense. (Gripes about the sidewalk issue were heard regularly by the city council, as described in an earlier article). Likewise paved streets were not desired by everyone; they were great if you had a car and didn’t want it to sink up to its axles in winter mud, but auto owners were still a minority in 1913. Pavement even could be a hazard for horses, as that spring Earl LeDue was on his colt riding home from the high school on Humboldt street when the horse slipped on the slick street and fell on him, badly breaking the boy’s leg.
Earl’s accident happened on Mendocino avenue near downtown, which we know because the pavement ended at the College ave. intersection. Beyond that, “at present the street north of College avenue is anything but inviting for driving, owing to its roughness in dry weather and muddy condition in wet seasons,” according to a Press Democrat article from the previous year.
Photos courtesy Sonoma County Library
Mendocino avenue was slated to be part of the state’s first highway system which was then in the planning stage – but conditions were “almost impassible,” according to the city attorney, who told the city council that something had to be done immediately. That lawyer happened to be James Wyatt Oates, past president of the Sonoma County Automobile Association, avid automobilist and owner of a home on that street (which would become known as Comstock House).
At Oates’ urging the council held a special meeting a few days later and agreed Santa Rosa couldn’t wait for the state to take over responsibility for the street a year or more in the future, even though paving this stretch of Mendocino Ave. would be far more expensive than the average residential street; at the time it varied between 63-65 feet wide. “Should there be an effective protest it will only delay the work six months,” the PD reported, “as under the charter the council the authority to force the work after six months elapses in case of protest.” In other words: Pay or move.
We don’t know how much property owners were charged for the paving, but in 1911 when Mendocino avenue was paved from Fifth street to College avenue, the presbyterian church decided to sell the building housing their charitable operation because of the “very heavy expense to be incurred for street paving,” according to the local church history.1
Their building was in the triangle formed by the Mendocino / College / Healdsburg avenues intersection, which today is noted for a piece of art. (A Google search for the artist along with the sculpture’s name – spelled both “WholeSome” and “Whole Some” by the city and its maker – returns about 41 unique hits, demonstrating the popular appeal of this “distinctive visual landmark for the entrance into the city center,” which will continue to inspire us all for many, many, many years as we wait for the light to change.)
There the church had a building known as the “Chinese Mission”, which served to educate – and presumably, Christianize – young Asian immigrants. According to the church history their missionary work started around 1876 “when the Chinese population was relatively large” and the church bought the building in 1883, apparently expecting to serve an ever-growing immigrant community. They couldn’t have been more wrong; the Chinese Exclusion Act passed by Congress the previous year effectively ended Chinese immigration to the U.S. In the years following, racist anti-Chinese fever raged hot it Santa Rosa, with a banner hung over the Mendocino/ Fourth Street intersection just a few blocks from the Mission reading “THE CHINESE MUST GO. WE MEAN STRICTLY BUSINESS.” (MORE). From a peak of forty students there were “about 12 Japanese and one Corean” [sic] twenty years later. At its 1912 closing the Press Democrat noted there were only about “three or four who use the Mission at all.”2
The new owner of the Mission property was Raford Peterson, perhaps the county’s largest hops grower. Just a few weeks before the Great Earthquake, Peterson bought several lots on the northwest corner of the intersection. Just a door down from the corner at #451 College he built a modest home which, believe-it-or-not, is still there, hiding. The front was modernized as an office building sometime in the late 60s or early 70s, but you can see the original bones of the place from the rear. It is currently the offices of Gehrke Realty.
So what did Raford (also spelled Rayford) Peterson (also spelled Petersen) and wife Cornelia (“Nellie”) want with an odd-shaped lot on another corner of the intersection? He already owned the house next door at 611 Mendocino ave, where his son, Wilson, lived with his family. Did he plan to merge the lots? Apparently not – it appears he just wanted the old Mission building.
As no photographs or descriptions of the building survive, all we know is gleaned from the fire maps – that it was a single story and rectangular. It was certainly old, since the church began using in 1883, but we don’t know how old. It must have been pretty nice, however, because Peterson had it moved next door to his own house, right on the corner, where he had recently torn down another house. He left the triangular original location undeveloped to serve as a little park, which made the park-crazy Press Democrat very happy.
When Raford died in 1914 widow Nellie moved into the former Mission, which now had the address of #701 Mendocino ave (the same address as the present Chevron gas station). She was there at least through 1930, when she can be spotted in the census living with her grandsons.
All said, the old Mission had a unique place in Santa Rosa’s history; not only was it something of a sanctuary for immigrants at a time when they were widely hated outside its doors, it was likely the only building that occupied two corners of the same intersection. Such a pity that no picture exists.
Next in the 1912 neighborhood series: The Children of Jeremiah Ridgway.
|1 Sweet, Julia Goodyear; Seventy-five years of presbyterianism: compiled for the Diamond Jubilee Celebration of Presbyterian Work in Santa Rosa, California; Press Democrat, 1930.|
|2 A Press Democrat article below states the property was “bequeathed to the Presbyterian Church in the ’70’s from the Rev. F. M. Dimmick, pastor at that time of the church,” but is incorrect. The church history details that most of the $1,000 to purchase it came from East Coast donations.|
WILL BUILD A NICE RESIDENCE
Raford Peterson, the well known hop man, has purchased the splendid lot at the northwest corner of Healdsburg avenue and College avenue. The former residence that adorned the lot is being moved around to make room for a handsome residence the hop man will erect there for himself and family. He is one of Sonoma County’s most enterprising men, and many friends will be glad to know that shortly he will be a resident of Santa Rosa as well as being a business man here,
Mr. Peterson stated today that he did not know just when he would begin building, but he may undertake the matter in the near future. When he does build, the public may expect to see one of the handsomest residences in the City of Roses on the site he has purchased.– Santa Rosa Republican, March 30, 1906
OLD LANDMARK TO DISAPPEARChinese Mission Property on Mendocino Avenue Has Been Sold to Raford Peterson
The old Chinese Mission property at the intersection of Mendocino and Healdsburg avenues and Lincoln street owned by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, has been sold and will be improved.
The purchaser is Raford W. Peterson, who owns the adjoining property occupied by Wilson Peterson. He will remove the building, which as been used as a Mission, enlarge his present lot and improve the remainder and allow it to be used as a public square.
The property was bequeathed to the Presbyterian Church in the ’70’s from the Rev. F. M. Dimmick, pastor at that time of the church. Mrs. E. P. Wilson has been superintendent of the Chinese mission work in Santa Rosa since 1876, and at times there have been very large numbers of Orientals under instruction, but of late years the number dwindled down until at present there are but three or four who use the Mission at all.– Press Democrat, January 14, 1912
AN OLD CHINESE MISSION HOUSE TORN DOWN
The old Chinese Presbyterian Mission, which has occupied the lot at Mendocino avenue and Joe Davis street at the intersection of Lincoln for 25 years or more, is being dismantled and is to be moved to the vacant lot on College avenue adjoining R. W. Petersen’s residence. The lot, it is understood, is to be fixed up as a pretty little park site. This will add materially to the appearance of the corner and make it one of the most attractive in the city.MARBLE STEPS FOR RESIDENCE
Campbell & Coffey, the marble men of this city have completed the work of placing marble steps at the entrance to the handsome cottage of Dr. S. M. Rohr, at College and Mendocino avenues. The steps are ten feet and six inches wide and five steps high. It makes a near and attractive finish to the front of the structure.– Santa Rosa Republican, March 19, 1912
PARK IMPROVEMENT ON MENDOCINO
Raford W. Peterson, who purchased the old Chinese Mission at the corner of Mendocino and Healdsburg avenues at Lincoln street, has removed the old structure to the lot adjoining his home on College avenue and the lot has been cleared and leveled ready to be beautified. The change is a marked improvement in the locality which will be increased when the site is prettily parked.– Press Democrat, April 9, 1912
City Attorney J. W. Oates called attention to the almost impasible condition of Mendocino avenue on behalf of property owners on that thoroughfare and asked that some steps be taken to put the street in better condition until it is known how the State highway is to be constructed and then the property owners desire to continue the same character of pavement from the city limits to College Avenue.– Press Democrat item on City Council summary, February 19, 1913
WILL EXTEND PAVEMENT ON MENDOCINO AVENUE
The immediate permanent improvement of Mendocino avenue from College avenue to the city limits was informally agreed upon by the city council at the special meeting held on Thursday evening. The plan is to grade the street, lay concrete curbs and gutters and a substantial pavement upon a heavy concret foundation.
The movement has the approval of a large number of property owners on the thoroughfare and will be very heartily welcomed by all who have occasion to use the street for a long time. Many of those who previously opposed improving the street are now warm advocates of the work.
Attorney J. W. Oates, who at a recent meeting of the council asked that temporary repairs be made and permanent work be held up until the State highway is completed, has now taken a stand for immediate improvement and will lend his encouragement in getting others who were standing out to join in the crusade for a good street.
A petition will be circulated at once for signatures by the property owners, and it will be presented to the council at the earliest possible date. Should there be an effective protest it will only delay the work six months, as under the charter the council the authority to force the work after six months elapses in case of protest, and it was agreed that such action should be taken in the case of Mendocino avenue if objection is urged. It is confidently believed that there will be no opposition at this time.– Press Democrat, February 28, 1913