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SANTA ROSA’S PALM TREE FRENZY

Here’s how the Chamber of Commerce wanted to beautify Santa Rosa in 1912. Step #1: Get rid of those big trees lining Mendocino Ave. Step #2: Replace with palms, all the same size and the same distance apart.

(RIGHT: The present corner of Mendocino Avenue and 7th Street looking in the direction of College Avenue, c. 1905. The large house nearest the camera would be the current location of the Trek Bicycle Store. Photo courtesy Larry Lepeere collection)

Santa Rosa has always shown a willingness – nay, eagerness – to trash its own heritage when it stands in the way of progress. Sometimes “progress” is the justification for following a popular trend and as palm trees were quite the rage at the time, the Chamber of Commerce promoted a plan to fill the entire length of Mendocino Avenue with them.

“Mendocino avenue is the main thoroughfare north and south through the city and has on it some of the handsomest homes in the city, so it is only natural that is should be made one of the best so that strangers passing through town will take away a fine impression of the city,” the Press Democrat cheered. Apparently PD editor Ernest Finley feared motorists would go home and tell their friends, “Santa Rosa’s an alright place, I guess, except there’s not enough contrived landscaping to my taste.”

This wasn’t the first local case of palm tree fever. The year before, the Board of Supervisors endorsed a scheme to plant date palms all along the highway that was then in the planning stage. As Mendocino Avenue would be a portion of this new highway, it makes a certain bit of sense that it should match. But unlike portions of the road that would pass through farmlands, the plan here was to tear out mature trees. Click or tap on the photo to the right to enlarge and some of the trees in the distance must be 30+ years old – and the picture probably was taken years before the palm frenzy peaked.

That image also shows, however, why it could be argued the plan was somewhat forgivable; people were planting palm trees anyway and doing a bum job of it. Three, maybe four varieties are seen in the photo ranging in style from squat to spindly, which together makes it look like a patch of tall weeds (no argument from me there). And this sort of willy-nilly palm planting was underway all over Santa Rosa during the early years of the century; there’s hardly a street scene snapshot to be found from this period where there is not some forlorn palm or three to be spotted by the curbside (here’s another example from about a block away).

One of the articles transcribed below mentions the work should be done soon in order for the town to look its best for the upcoming Panama-Pacific Exposition (PPIE) in San Francisco. This is the first mention of Santa Rosa specifically planning for the 1915 mega-event, and “the attraction Santa Rosa will be for the great crowds of visitors during the exposition year.” What “attraction” the Chamber of Commerce hoped would draw hordes of tourists here was not spelled out, but it’s a safe bet they were thinking of Luther Burbank. If so, they were about to be disappointed; Burbank’s company was planning on advertising “Luther Burbank’s Exhibition Garden” near Hayward specifically to lure fans away from trekking to Santa Rosa and bothering the famous man. (UPDATE: A 1913 PD article confirms that yes, the Chamber was expecting Burbank to be the town’s star attraction, with tourists also drawn “on account of the fame the city has gained as the scene of many rose carnival triumphs in the past.”)

While here, though, out-of-towners could admire our new palm trees, all exactly alike. Visitors could scratch their heads and wonder why a town like this was trying so hard to look like it was next door to San Diego or somewhere else with a semi-tropical clime.

TREES GIVE WAY TO SHOWY PALMS
Improvements Being Carried Out on Mendocino Avenue North of College Avenue

Property owners on Mendocino avenue from College avenue to the city limits are planning to improve that street this summer. Already those on the west side of the block from College to Carrillo have removed most of the large elm trees and planted out palms which will make the thoroughfare a palm avenue if the work is continued.

Now the property owners, R. W. Peterson, H. H. Elliott, D. J. Paddock and W. H. Lumsden have begun the work of laying a concrete curb and gutter. This part of the work will be extended rapidly on both sides of the street as the city is assisting in the work by furnishing the gravel required and hauling away the dirt which it is necessary to remove. Other property owners have already signified their intention of continuing the work as soon as the first block is completed.

Mendocino avenue is the main thoroughfare north and south through the city and has on it some of the handsomest homes in the city, so it is only natural that is should be made one of the best so that strangers passing through town will take away a fine impression of the city. With the bitumen from the courthouse to College avenue extended to the city limits the street will be one of the most desirable residence sections of the city and make it a popular drive. 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.

– Press Democrat, March 21, 1912
PALM PLANTING ENDORSED BY THE IMPROVEMENT CLUB

The further beautifying of Santa Rosa by the planting of palms along the streets, at uniform distance, and of uniform variety, met with very hearty endorsement at the meeting of the Woman’s Improvement Club, of which Mrs. Herbert H. Moke is president, held in this city on Monday afternoon.

Dr. P. A. Meneray and Max Rosenberg addressed the Club on the subject of palm planting and pointed out the charms of parking in the beautifying of any city. At the last meeting of the Chamber of Commerce the plan was endorsed.

Mrs. Moke and Mrs. John Rinner were named a special committee to call upon Luther Burbank and ask for his opinion regarding the best variety of palm to plant. The Club will also district of the city [sic] and have committees call upon property owners and solicit their co-operation in the campaign for palm planting. They will ascertain the names of those who will be willing to pay for the planting and purchase of the showy foliage. The plan is to plant one palm every fifty feet so that it can be readily seen that the cost will be very little.

With the approach of the Panama-Pacific Exposition and the attraction Santa Rosa will be for the great crowds of visitors during the exposition year, it is conceded that the making of the city as attractive as possible by that time should commence as soon as possible, and the planting of palms is a good start. With the backing of the energetic women forming the Improvement Club the scheme is sure to be successful.

– Press Democrat, December 10, 1912

WILL PLANT PALMS FOR THE BEAUTIFYING OF THE CITY

A great plan of beautifying the city by the systematic planting of palms along the sidewalks, producing a park effect that will at once be a delight and an inspiration, is to be impressed upon the people of Santa Rosa through the co-operation of the Woman’s Improvement Club and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. The idea is to have Santa Rosa look as attractive as possible by the time of the holding of the 1915 Exposition when many hundreds of strangers will come within our gates, lured here by the fact that Santa Rosa is the home and work place of the greatest of scientific horticulturists, Luther Burbank, and also on account of the fame the city has gained as the scene of many rose carnival triumphs in the past.

The suggestion for palm planting in Santa Rosa has been urged for a long time but recently was given fresh impetus…the committee decided to recommend the Dracena, commonly known as the “Dragon palm” as the best for sidewalk planting. Another suggestion is that the Canary palm or orange or lemon trees are suitable for the yards so as to produce a tropical and delightful effect.

The joint committee hopes that people all over Santa Rosa will co-operate in this plan for the adornment of the city. They hope, too, that orders for the palms and trees will be left with the Chamber of Commerce. The palms can be obtained at a considerable reduction of cost if purchased to large quantities by the Chamber of Commerce for the purposes named.

Not only is Santa Rosa preparing to beautify for the world’s fair crowds but all over the State the same idea prevails and in many other places just such spirit prevails.

– Press Democrat, February 15, 1913

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