Several times in 1905 the Press Democrat teased that an upcoming edition would feature a special section on the “Homes of Santa Rosa” to showcase the town – but as far as can be determined, the insert was never produced; the article below was the last mention of it that can be found in the paper. A great loss; pictures are few of Santa Rosa’s Victorian-era splendor, now almost all gone.
It’s quite likely that this photograph of Comstock House was taken for the abandoned feature. As explained in the caption, it is the oldest known picture of the home, predating the 1908 or 1909 postcard. There’s also a “halo” around the house burned into the photo, and the Press Democrat followed the popular newspaper layout style of the day of showcasing related images as a collage of oval or circular portraits – see page 23 of the PD’s Sonoma County promotional insert published later that year for an example. Another nugget of evidence is the quote from our own James W. Oates, specifically demanding a “good, clear picture” of his new, fancy digs; editor Ernest L. Finley probably wouldn’t have included such a specific quote unless a photograph was already taken or planned.
Aside from Oates’ narcissistic gratification, however, others spoke of “Homes of Santa Rosa” as a needed tool for promoting the region to outsiders. This article came at the end of summer and as Finley admitted that Sonoma County had completely squandered the opportunity to promote the area at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland that summer, which had turned out to be a boon to other communities in California, particular in the southern part of the state. A lack of cooperation between powers-that-be within the county was apparently the reason why we were a no-show at the Exposition, and not transcribed here are still more quotes from eight other businessmen praising the idea of a “Homes of Santa Rosa” brochure, with several chiding local factions for not compromising for the common good. “If we of Santa Rosa ever expect to gain anything or anybody of importance it must be by united effort. Selfishness is mighty poor capital,” merchant J. H. Einhorn told the PD.
But the main purpose of this lengthy, two-column article may have been to shore up the Press Democrat’s standing in the community. A month earlier, the new editors at the rival Santa Rosa Republican had exposed widespread illegal gambling which town officials and the PD had ignored for a decade or more. And just days before this promise of a deluxe spread on the “Homes of Santa Rosa” appeared, it was announced that
movers-and-shakers reformers in town had formed a “Good Government League” to support a crackdown on the gaming. Finley must have known at this point that his paper was on the wrong side of the war, and risked losing its status as a respectable journal.
(UPDATE: Most, if not all, of these house photographs were apparently printed in the “Illustrated Portfolio of Santa Rosa and Vicinity,” a 1909 book put together by the Chamber of Commerce and the Press Democrat.)
ALL SEE FORCE OF HOME ARGUMENTSANTA ROSANS ENTHUSIASTIC OVER THAT SECTION OF PRESS DEMOCRAT’S EDITION
What Some of Them Said Yesterday When Seen Regarding the Matter — Know it Will Bring a Good Class
In its forthcoming special edition the Press Democrat will spare no effort to properly set forth the advantages of Sonoma county as a place of residence, and its “Homes of Santa Rosa” will be made a strong feature. This section of the edition will be printed on the finest quality of half-tone paper, and the engravings will be of the very best, the idea being to show homeseekers how comfortable and home-like the majority of Santa Rosa homes really are.
Ex-Mayor J. S. Sweet said yesterday: “If the thing is done right, it will result in untold good, by inducing the most desirable class of familes to locate here. Southern [California] real estate men understand this, and act accordingly. They also pull together, while here the reverse is too often true. Seventy-five percent of my advertising is done by pictures, and it pays.”
Attorney James W. Oates said: “I can best tell you how I feel about it by telling you to send your photographer to my home. Count me in, but be sure and give me a good, clear picture.”
Frank A. Brush, cashier of the National Bank, said “There is no question but that this method is the best. Nearly every visitor in this locality is in very moderate circumstances. We have a great town. Deposits at all local banks have been increasing constantly rapidly. Practically no money has been spent along this line before, but it is not too late. Am sorry to say we have been a slow set of people. Santa Rosa should today be a town of 20,000. We have always been willing to take what good things were forced upon us, but we don’t like to get out in the middle of the road and help push. There have been ten fine homes built right in San Jose during the past twelve months to our one here, still we have advantages that the former town dare not claim.”
[..]– Press Democrat, September 19, 1905