You took a risk driving, riding a buggy, or even walking at night in Santa Rosa’s 1908 neighborhoods; streets were frequently dark because the electricity was off, and unwary travelers might crash into wet-cement barriers or hit the piles of building materials that were obstructing streets and sidewalks. So bad was the situation that the Press Democrat – loathe to expose any flaw in the town whatsoever – openly called for contractors to put out 19th century kerosene lanterns to alert the public to the dangers.

The PD was prodded to mention the issue after a woman was thrown from her buggy and seriously injured when the horse became spooked by an unexpected encounter with a pile of stuff blocking the street. The newspaper also complained that there was some sort of wire fence across the freshly-poured sidewalk at College and Mendocino Avenues “which could not be seen even with the light burning, [and] was a snare when the light was out.”

This item states that “the electric lights [are] going out nearly every night for a time,” and the previous article revealed there was a steam whistle for summoning a lineman to “answer lamp kicks at all hours of the night” (“kick” was common slang for “complaint” at that time, so I presume that meant customers were reporting electric outages and providing light bulbs was a service of the electric company).

Santa Rosans were understandably angry that the power company couldn’t keep the lights on, and a couple of weeks after these incidents, the Chamber of Commerce demanded answers from the superintendent of the Santa Rosa Lighting Company. Alas, he told them, he only did as he was so ordered by a PG&E engineer in another county: “I receive a message from Napa to cut out the street lights until further notice. Out they go.”


A number of building and sidewalk contractors are growing careless and indifferent regarding the matter of putting out lights at night where obstructions are left in the streets and sidewalks. The matter is one of importance as was shown last Saturday night when a runaway was caused which resulted in a lady receiving a compound fracture of her arm and a fine buggy was demolished.

With the electric lights going out nearly every night for a time, contractors should use lanterns. A wire fencing was left across some new walks on Mendocino street at College avenue Thursday night which could not be seen even with the light burning, was a snare when the light was out. A number of other obstructions were left unguarded in different parts of the city.

– Press Democrat, October 2, 1908

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A century before the Ridgway Historic District was recognized, there was a burst of construction between 1905-1908 that defined the neighborhood.

Mendocino Avenue was shaping up to be a boulevard of grand homes, even mansions, that could rival the best offerings on McDonald Ave. There were already two houses designed by Brainerd Jones: The Lumsden House (currently the Belvedere), and the spectacular, lost Paxton House. In 1905 another Jones design was added with the construction of Comstock House, and in 1908, the Saturday Afternoon Club, on the Josiah Davis street extension of Mendocino. The same year the James R. Edwards family, good friends of the Oates’, built the fine brown shingle Craftsman style house that still stands at 930 Mendocino. And although not new, across the street from the Edwards family was a stately three story Queen Anne that was a jewel in its own right.

(RIGHT: Frank Todd home at 1101 Mendocino Avenue, as seen in 1915. A few years later it was demolished to make way for the new high school. CLICK on images to enlarge. Photograph courtesy Sonoma County Library)

The real activity, however, was taking place in the streets west of Mendocino Ave. Bungalows and cottages were popping up on once-vacant lots, and older properties were being remodeled. Some of the new cottages were being built specifically for the tourist trade: “It is expected that there will be a good demand for first-class, modern-built homes…to accommodate the rush of California-bound Eastern tourists this Spring,” the Press Democrat reported.

Only a few houses built in this period survive, including the trio at 1217, 1219, and 1221 Glenn St. described in an article below. The builder was W. E. Nichols, a contractor whose name can still be found pressed into sidewalks throughout older parts of Santa Rosa. Nichols, who lived at 414 Carrillo Street, has appeared before in this journal, including a 1907 pitch to the City Council that they should strongarm homeowners into laying sidewalks (and presumably, hire him to do it). He also placed an unusual ad in the paper after the Great Earthquake, announcing that he was “open to any kind of legitimate business proposition.”

The oddball in this neighborhood is the circa-1880 Greek Revival two story house at 1290 Glenn St. The block between Benton and Berry Lane (now Ridgway) was once part of a small farm, and this was the farmhouse. Originally it faced the other direction, with an address on Healdsburg Ave. (which became Mendocino Ave. in 1906). At some point, probably around WWI, they moved it nearly a block west – typically with mules pulling a platform over rolling logs – while spinning it completely around. Quite a trick, that.

The James R. Edwards are now comfortably installed in their handsome new residence on Mendocino avenue. They have certainly good reason to be proud of their new home and the friends who have been privileged with an inspection of the interior furnishing and arrangement cannot say too much in compliment of the taste displayed.

– “Society Gossip”, Press Democrat, November 22, 1908

Many Changes Noted Which, When Completed, Will Add Much to the Looks of Things

Henry C. Colwell, of 1109 Morgan street, is dividing his property into lots for sale, and will move his residence forward, placing it on cement foundations and will make a number of other improvements.

Burton H. Gilkey, of 1009 Morgan street, is completely remodeling his home and making a modern cottage home with all the latest improvements for comfort and health.

H. O. Malott, of Morgan and Tenth streets, has gravel on the ground will have cement walks laid on both streets along his property at once. Considerable new cement walk is being laid in that vicinity.

The concrete foundation has been laid for an eight-room, two-story home for Mrs. M. L. Waters-Thorne at Morgan and Berry lane. The concrete blocks for the basement will be laid next week.

Several of the old cottages on Davis street, near Ninth, are being remodeled, and made into attractive homes, while one new one [sic] has been built adjoining them. The improvements add to the appearance of the street greatly.

Cement walks are being laid on Carrillo, College and Tenth streets, where not already laid, from Healdsburg avenue to the railroad. Property-owners on cross streets are preparing to do likewise as soon as the work is completed. This will make that portion of the town very attractive for residence.

– Press Democrat, August 9, 1908


Glenn Street, between Carrillo and Howard streets, which has recently been put in order and macadamized, is to be built up and improved. W. E. Nichols has already erected three large and commodious cottages of six rooms each and basement story containing all modern and up-to-date improvements and accessories for comfort and convenience. He will continue to erect more houses on the adjoining property. The present cottages are good and strongly built in the Mission Renaissance style of architecture and consist of three distinct and separate styles. The inside finish will be of natural woods polished. H. O. Tiffany and Co., Santa Rosa painters, have the contract for this work and it will be finished first-class.

It is expected that there will be a good demand for first-class, modern-built homes of this description and Mr. Nichols is ready to fulfill the demand by erecting cottages to accommodate the rush of California-bound Eastern tourists this Spring.

– Press Democrat, December 20, 1908

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Emotions ran hot in 1907 Santa Rosa over three topics: Prostitution, the near-collapse of the entire economic system, and sidewalks.

The first issue is easy to understand; the City Council legalized prostitution that year without public discussion, and the churches were up in arms. People were also upset about the bank panic, of which much will be written about later. But…sidewalks?

Every month or so during this era, the newspapers reported that angry citizens, sometimes entire neighborhoods, were appearing at Council meetings to protest the laying of concrete sidewalks. One of the early entries on this blog was about the sidewalk-haters on Benton Street, who turned out in 1904 to speak out and also present petitions. But the articles never explained why seemingly everyone was so upset; all coverage just ended by noting that the issue was “referred to the street committee.” Arrggghhh!

Finally, a pair of little items printed in 1907 were the Rosetta Stones. As was already guessed, sidewalks were being added to Santa Rosa slowly, and on a street-by-street basis. This makes eminent sense; the entire city couldn’t be sidewalked all at the exact same time because there just weren’t enough cement contractors (and the workforce was one short that year, due to dope fiend Joseph N. Forgett being in the slammer). But the reason everyone was so mad was because the property owner was held responsible for doing the work. If the sidewalks weren’t in by deadline, the town could hire a contractor – who just might be a high-priced friend of a city official, perhaps? – and put a lien upon the property for the amount of the bill. Now the widespread public outrage is understandable; the sidewalk ordinance mandated both giving away a portion of your property in a kind-of eminent domain, and that you paid for the privilege. Or else.

Still, some people bucked the law. Later that year, a contractor appeared before the Council and asked for the city to crack down on his neighbors on Carrillo Street. “The poor had laid their walks and the rich had not,” he complained. Can’t we all just get paved?

The matter was referred to the street committee.


From many sections of Santa Rosa property owners are calling on the city council to order cement sidewalks constructed on the thoroughfares. At the present time cement is cheaper than it has been for many months past, and it has been suggested that now is the time for the property owners to make their contracts and save money. Many miles of these splendid sidewalks have already been laid in the City of Roses, but there are numerous streets that should be completed with these walks at once.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 17, 1907


Residents on Carrillo street between Ripley and Morgan streets are losing no time in getting cement walks laid after the adoption of the resolution of intention a week ago by the City Council. Most all the lots on both sides of Carrillo street in that block now have gravel on the ground for the walks. As yet there is no sign of action between Morgan and Glenn streets. Property owners all over the city where walks have been ordered laid will find it much cheaper to do the work by private contract than to allow the city advertise and let contracts and place a lien upon the property.

– Press Democrat, August 22, 1907


Property Owners Protest

A protest, numerously signed, was read from property owners of Morgan street against the laying of cement walks on that street between Ninth street and Berry Lane. At the last meeting a petition was presented asking the council to order the laying of the walks. Those protesting urged that there were sidewalks needed on other streets between Morgan street and the court house, which should be laid first. Referred to the street committee.


Nichols Makes a Speech

W. E. Nichols, the contractor, adressed the council. He said he wanted to see rich and poor join hands when it came to laying cement sidewalks. Up on Carrillo street on his block, he said, “the poor had laid their walks and the rich had not.” He asked the council to order the city attorney to proceed against those who had failed to do their portion of sidewalk construction. The matter went to the street committee. The street commissioner is preparing a list of property owners who have not complied with the council’s order regarding the laying of walks on a number of streets. When that is handed in there may something doing.

The matter of new walk laying City Attorney Geary stated that in view of the present stringency of the money market he would not advise the council to impose more taxes on the people than at present.

– Press Democrat, November 13, 1907

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