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1968 CENTENNIAL: “THE HISTORY OF THE FUTURE”

After ignoring opportunities to celebrate Santa Rosa’s anniversaries that spanned 64 years, Tom Cox thought, “we should make something of it” in 1968. The real question, however, was whether they would be celebrating one of the events from the town’s early history – or the ongoing obliteration of its past.

(This is part two about Santa Rosa’s 2018 sesquicentennial. Part one covers the town’s 1854 founding and 1868 incorporation, followed by its general indifference to celebrate either event.)

Cox was the long-time head of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce and made that suggestion at a 1967 luncheon for the “Congress for Community Progress,” a coalition formed five years earlier by the Chamber, which claimed the Congress represented as many as 445 separate groups. Given that the town’s entire population was then only about 44,000, let us forgive any Gentle Readers who snort skeptically.

Much was made in the 1960s about the Congress, which held occasional all-day assemblies attended by hundreds of “delegates.” While it was touted as an independent citizen’s group, its sheer size made discussion unwieldy and its objectives almost always seemed to mirror Chamber of Commerce and developer’s interests. The 1968 Congress report said Santa Rosa’s highest priorities should be “Payroll and Industrial Needs” and “Downtown Futures and Potential” – way down in the basement was the preservation of parks and historical sites.

During the sixties Santa Rosa was wild about all things modern, and as with many communities, that meant enthusiastic approval of urban renewal projects. We were told it would mostly be paid for by Washington, our property values would skyrocket and we would end up with glorious cities of the future. In 1961 a scale model of a proposed Santa Rosa redesign circulated around several bank lobbies. The model (“as modern and carefully engineered as the latest model of a star-probing rocket” – PD) portrayed a downtown designed for pedestrians, with mini-parks, tree-lined boulevards and a greenway along both banks of a fully restored Santa Rosa Creek.

It was mostly bait and switch, of course. Prime locations owned by the city were sold to private developers; the Santa Rosa Urban Renewal Agency held sway over forty acres of supposed “civic blight” and much of it was scooped up by investors. Luther Burbank’s old house and gardens survived the bulldozer, but the home he custom-built in 1906 on Tupper street – the one seen in all the pictures of him with Edison, Ford, Helen Keller and other celebs – was deemed worthless, as it was argued that the town had no need for two Luther Burbank landmarks.

By the time Thomas Cox spoke at that 1967 Congress for Community Progress lunch, great swaths of downtown was already scraped down to the topsoil and most of the rest would follow soon. The great courthouse was gone; the Carnegie library already had been replaced by what we have now. The parks were forgotten and their earth was destined to sprout bank buildings and metered parking lots. The lovely, free-flowing creek was entombed in a box culvert. Community Progress!

Cox’s talk came a few days before the dedication of the “plaza on Old Courthouse Square.” The Courthouse Square site had been already split by the street connecting Mendocino Ave with Santa Rosa Ave; what they then called the “plaza” was just the western section between that new street and the Empire Building block. The east side was slated to be sold to private developers for commercial buildings.

Adding insult to injury, Mayor Hugh Codding said the tiny plaza would make citizens “more aware and more proud of this historic center of the city of Santa Rosa,” and a supervisor chimed in this “perhaps what was in the mind of Mr. [Julio] Carrillo” when he donated the land to the public. Uh, no, times two.

The sale of the east side of the plaza was successfully fought by a small band of preservationists – despite being told it must be sold in order to pay off the urban renewal bonds. Sadly, they lost another fight to stop the giveaway to developers of the sheriff’s office and city hall, now the location of the U.S. Bank building. They had hoped one (or both) of the post-1906 quake buildings could be saved to create a Santa Rosa museum.

And now we come to the March 16, 1968 centennial, when Santa Rosa celebrated pretty much everything except its origins.

About 1,000 attended the ceremony in that little plaza. The city councilmen dressed in vaguely 19th century costumes and Mayor Codding introduced a man 100 years old. Some rode old bicycles or drove around in old cars and a barbershop quartet warbled, all more appropriate to a party for 1908 than 1868. State appeals court judge Joseph Rattigan told the crowd they would “shape the history of the future,” and won the prize for awful speechifying that day by saying we should “live as Santa Rosans in every dimension of wisdom and skill.”

Two time capsules were dedicated. (They were originally in front of the Empire building but now are facing the intersection of Third street and Santa Rosa ave). One was intended for 2068; the other was supposed to be opened on March 16, 2018. As our sesquicentennial event isn’t scheduled until about six months later, it only makes the choice of a September date seem stranger.

(RIGHT: Pepper Dardon sitting in front of the time capsules, 1974. Photo: Michael Sawyer/findagrave.com; original Santa Rosa News Herald image via Helen Rudee)

That was just the “Centennial Day;” the “Centennial Week” was the Rose Festival in May, and there wasn’t much of a nod to history there, either. There was a two-day “western extravaganza” at the racetrack with stunt riding and a race between a horse and a motorcycle, a tennis match and a little regatta on Lake Ralphine. A rock concert included local bands “Wonderful Mud” and “Bronze Hog.” During the Rose Parade, the Marine Corps Reserve presented a bizarre little scene in front of the reviewing stand where they enacted flushing a Vietcong soldier out of a rice paddy and shooting him dead, right there on Fourth street. As I always say, these kind of events are really for the children.

While 1968 may have been a bust as a centennial year, it was the definitely the year to celebrate Pepper, Santa Rosa’s lovable or maddening downtown character (depending upon whom you asked and when). When she wasn’t heckling hippies and jaywalkers, she was popping in the backseats of cars waiting for the stoplight to change and expecting the driver to take her somewhere – the Pepper stories are legion.

But Pepper also collected quite a bit of money when local groups were having charity drives, badgering each passerby for spare change. That March she was the guest of honor at a Rotary luncheon and in October she was feted by the Lions Club.

In a Gaye LeBaron column – yes, she was writing a gossip column fifty years ago – she quoted a letter from a reader: “I have a suggestion for the Grand Marshall of the 1968 Rose Parade: Pepper! No kidding—when you stop to think of all the hard work she’s done for almost everyone I think you’ll agree that she’s as deserving as any chosen. If we all get on Pepper’s Bandwagon she just might be selected. Riding in an open car down Fourth street would perhaps repay her in some small way for all the time she’s donated.”

She was not included in the parade (and someone griped about that in a letter to the PD) but she sat in the VIP bleachers alongside Mrs. Luther Burbank. She was also made honorary town marshal for the Centennial Year, a position she undoubtedly abused with relish.

The time capsules are Santa Rosa’s only real historic legacy from 1968 – and note that the one to be opened this year is mistakenly labeled “Bi-Centennial,” showing no one noticed or cared that wasn’t the right word for a fiftieth anniversary.

The March 17 edition of the Press Democrat offered a fat section of all things it deemed centennial-ish, and reflects the attitudes of the time quite well. The actual history section – meaning the 1906 quake and everything before – isn’t very long and just a superficial rehash from the county history books. However there’s some good wonky stuff about the development of city departments and such in the early 20th century, along with some photos I’ve not seen elsewhere.

But then it rockets to the present day, celebrating the wonders of redevelopment and what a bright future awaited Santa Rosa. There’s even a full-page article titled, “Foresight of Hugh Codding Helped Speed City’s Growth.” (Of course, not long afterwards, Mr. Foresight tied the city up in a decade-long lawsuit to forestall construction of the mall and other retail space, thus causing the downtown to further wither and die.)

So as it turns out, the judge who saw the centennial as “[shaping] the history of the future” probably did hit the right notes for 1968. And in kind of a Believe-it-on-Not! coincidence, we’re grappling with very similar issues today, trying to wrestle with how the town will be reshaped in years to come because of the fires.

There’s one more historic year to mention, for the sake of completeness: 2004, the real sesquicentennial of the year the town actually put down roots. A columnist for the PD complained “no one is celebrating,” and that a fund drive to support the reunification of Courthouse Square was going nowhere.

Well, Courthouse Square is now glued back together. That columnist was Chris Coursey, now Santa Rosa’s mayor. And like his predecessors, I’m sure he’ll steer the sesquicentennial to be more of a rosy view of our future than a contemplation on our rougher past. The date will still be wrong on the time capsule, of course, but Chris could fix that – I’d even provide a little bit of duct tape and a magic marker to change the inscription to read September 9.

Time capsules in Courthouse Square

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ALL OUR LOST CENTENNIALS PAST

Can someone please explain why we will be celebrating Santa Rosa’s sesquicentennial on September 9, 2018? Because on that day 150 years ago, absolutely nothing happened here.

I suppose that date was selected because Sept. 9 is also Admission Day and a legal state holiday, like César Chávez Day (as Chávez was a great champion of education, it drives me nuts that we celebrate his birthday by closing libraries as well as state offices). While our 1850 statehood certainly was a noteworthy event, I seriously doubt the city was otherwise planning to throw a 178-year anniversary party.

But my gripe isn’t really with that chosen day and not particularly with the month – we could celebrate the sesquicentennial year anytime between January and December. No, it’s the year that rankles, because if you drill down to the core, we’re actually commemorating a 1968 PR event which cheered that much of historic Santa Rosa was being destroyed in the name of progress.

Before we get to 1968, some historic background is in order:

It all really started in 1854, as explained earlier in “CITY OF ROSES AND SQUATTERS.” Santa Rosa didn’t really exist as the year began; it had only two houses and five little businesses including a tavern. Yet despite its drawback of being almost non-existent, a group of men were about to make it the county seat.

After the state legislature gave approval for a vote on moving it away from Sonoma,  Julio Carrillo and the other Santa Rosa promoters invited the entire county to an epic Fourth of July party that went on all night. The election was held September 6 and Santa Rosa won. When the voting results were announced there was another BBQ feast even more riotous than the July shindig, this event supposedly lasting two days.

Afterwards the Board of Supervisors met with “the proprietors of the town of Santa Rosa” (Carrillo, Hartman, Hahman and Hoen) who promised to build a courthouse and provide spaces for county officers within two months, with everybody crowding into Carrillo’s place until then. The vote was certified by the Supervisors and the county records were moved to Santa Rosa.

There are three points to remember for the test: Nothing happened on September 9 of that year, either. Although Santa Rosa was now the county seat, it was still just the self-declared name of a crossroad settlement and not an officially recognized town. And not the least of it, there was lots’o partying by our ancestors in 1854 because they clearly believed all this was a significant event.

The other historic date was March 16, 1868, when the state approved Santa Rosa as an officially incorporated town. Here’s how Santa Rosa’s newspaper covered this milestone:

 

Sonoma Democrat notice of incorporation

 

 

That’s it – three itty-bitty lines (1½ actually) in the column of local news briefs. An item lower down the column which praised a new saloon in town, “The Snug,” was five times longer. Needless to say, there was no blowout incorporation BBQ.

Let’s zoom forward to the first big anniversary: Fifty years after Santa Rosa became the county seat.

“This is Santa Rosa’s Golden Jubilee Year – Should Have a Big Celebration,” read a Press Democrat headline in March 1904.

A fifty year anniversary is also called a “semicentennial,” and for reasons unknown there was no celebration at all; it could be because 1904 was a major election year both locally and nationally, with emotions running high. In Santa Rosa the “Old South” conservatives lost their grip on the town to Teddy Roosevelt progressives after months of shrill newspaper editorials on both sides; it seemed half the town wasn’t speaking to the other half. What we did get on the Sept. 21 anniversary was a very reliable history of the 1854 events in the PD, including a first-hand account from Jim Williamson on how the county records were moved, as explored here in “THE FABLE OF THE STOLEN COURTHOUSE.”

In March 1918 came the 50th anniversary of incorporation. No ceremony that year either, nor a single mention of it in the newspapers, as far as I can tell. They had a great excuse, however; the U.S. had entered WWI less than a year before and Santa Rosa – like every other place in the country – was preoccupied with war rallies, bond drives and all other things patriotic.

Okay, so Santa Rosa (mostly) ignored both golden jubilees in the early 20th century; I don’t think we should make too much of that, given the distractions mentioned here, plus that our society generally doesn’t put on the party hats for 50 year anniversaries. But centennials are usually a big deal, right? Right?

Thus in 1954 it was exactly one hundred years after Santa Rosa came into existence – plus hosting two legendary bacchanals, drawing its first map of the place and settling into its role as the hub of Sonoma county. All of that was memorable, and the Press Democrat offered several articles on the centennial…of the Mare Island shipyard. Not one word about their hometown’s 100 years.

Our consistent indifference to the past changed on Sept. 19, 1967, when Thomas Cox suggested, “we should make something of it” at a Flamingo Hotel luncheon. “It” would be the 1968 centennial of incorporation.

 

THIS IS SANTA ROSA’S GOLDEN JUBILEE YEAR
SHOULD HAVE A BIG CELEBRATION
ON SEPTEMBER 18, 1854, SUPERVISORS OF COUNTY DECLARED THIS THE COUNTY SEAT
Historical Year in Santa Rosa and a Brief Glimpse of the History Connected with the Change

This is a year of historic importance in Santa Rosa, it is her golden jubilee year.

Santa Rosa should in some appropriate manner celebrate September 18, 1904, that date being the golden jubilee of the city’s existence as a county seat. On September 18, 1854, fifty years ago. the Supervisors of Sonoma county met in the City of Sonoma and having canvassed the votes polled at the election held to determine the matter, officially declared that Santa Rosa was legally the county seat of Sonoma county and after this formal action the county archives were brought to Santa Rosa in a four-horse wagon, and with them came the now venerable ex-Supreme Judge McKinstry, then district judge of Sonoma.

The final event of any importance in the county of Sonoma in the year 1854 was the passage of Bennet’s bill authorizing the taking of a vote on the question of transferring the county seat from Sonoma to Santa Rosa. As the summer of that year half a century ago advanced, the fight between the partisans of the contending cities became very keen and finally the citizens of Santa Rosa made big arrangements for holding a barbecue on the Fourth of July. In speaking of the occasion the late Robert A. Thompson said;

“It was a master stroke of policy — the people came and saw, and were conquered by the beauty of the place and the hospitality of the people, who, on that occasion, killed the fatted calf and invited to the feast the rich and poor, the lame and halt and the blind — in fact everybody who had, or who could influence or control, a vote. The smoke of the sacrifice of whole sheep and huge quarters of beef ascended to heaven freighted with the prayers of the Santa Rosans to dispose the hearts and ballots of the people in their favor, and, like the pious Greeks of old on similar occasions, when the smoke had ceased to ascend and the offering was cooked to a turn, they partook of the sacrificial meat — the incense of which had tickled the nostrils, whetting at the same time their appetites and their devotion.”

At this Fourth of July barbecue some 500 people were present from all over the county and great enthusiasm prevailed. The oration was delivered by the Rev. A. A. Guernsey. The Declaration of Independence was read by James Prewett and the speakers were Joe Neville, John Robinson and Sylvester Ballou. The feast was held in an oak grove on Commodore Elliott’s place.

The Santa Rosa of half a century ago receiving the distinction of becoming the seat of government of the imperial county of the state was a far different place from what it is today. Then there was a Masonic hall, a store and two or three other buildings. Nevertheless there was great rejoicing, when on that fair eighteenth day of September the county fathers in meeting at Sonoma formally declared that Santa Rosa was to henceforth be the county seat.

At the golden jubilee celebration this year there will be a number of men gathered here who saw the transference of the county seat to Santa Rosa. It should be made a memorable occasion.

Just what form the jubilee celebration shall take will be a matter to be determined. Several prominent citizens who were seen Thursday were enthusiastically in favor of having an appropriate celebration of the day in Santa Rosa. September 18, 1854 was Santa Rosa’s and Sonoma county’s “Admission Day” into the after progress and prosperity which is hers today and which will continue. Much could be made of such a celebration and its importance would be felt as a great, attraction towards advertising the products of Sononia county.

– Press Democrat, March 25 1904

 

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