They just wanted life in Santa Rosa to get back to normal, or at least something close to it. It was January 1920, the start of the sixteenth month of the Spanish Flu in Sonoma County. As there was no vaccine – or even antibiotics to treat the deadly cases of pneumonia which often resulted – all our ancestors could do was quarantine the sick, plus declaring a community lockdown whenever there was a local outbreak, banning public gatherings of any kind and requiring facemasks.

Adding to the sour mood in Santa Rosa was the Rose Carnival was cancelled for 1920 – the third year in a row. Preparing for the Carnival was normally a major pastime in town that kept people busy for months, forming committees and subcommittees on everything from building floats to deciding what to feed members of the band afterwards.

So there was considerable excitement when it was announced there would be a “Burbank pageant” here and it would involve a small army of performers and workers, starting with original costumes for 250 dancers. Heck, this even could be a bigger shindig than the Carnivals!

There were a few teensy problems: There was very little time to prepare as it was scheduled for only five weeks away, not the Carnival’s usual five months. Rehearsals were impossible for most of January because Santa Rosa was under lockdown until the 26th. And also, no one knew what a “Burbank pageant” was.

The newspapers were able to report the pageant was going to be held on Luther Burbank’s March 7 birthday and called “The Sun Worshipers.“ The theme was supposedly inspired by a Burbank remark that all life on earth requires sunlight. That’s not completely true and it’s doubtful Luther ever said anything so banal, but let’s not quibble.

annexjuniorhighIt was very clear from the start this would be a high school production (this was when the high school was on Humboldt Street, and the year before the building burned down). The performance would be on the lawn of the next door Annex – which later became Santa Rosa Junior High – and have seating for up to 5,000.

Producing this spectacular were the heads of the English and Ag departments. Costumes were designed by the head of the Domestic Arts Dept. Freda Hodge, wife of the boys’ gym teacher, wrote the script; the girls’ gym teacher, Zilpha Dempsey, did the choreography. Should you be looking for a new password, something with “Zilpha” in it would be pretty secure.

Much was made of the announcement that Fred Carlyle of UC/Berkeley would direct the show. He was technically a dramatic coach but was admired as a jack-of-all-trades when it came to anything in the theater – dance instructor, chorus director, what have you.1

Another outsider to be involved was Madame Francisca Zarad, although she would only sing a bit before the real show began and then return at the end to lead the audience in the “Star Spangled Banner.” Zarad made a career 1917-1922 doing recitals in small American cities like Santa Rosa (Kent, PA, you should at least have a Wikipedia page!) where she was touted as “the famous Paris soprano” and/or a star of the Chicago or Vienna Grand Opera Houses, although there’s somehow no sign she ever sang at any of those places. And why such an acclaimed artiste was not asked to make a single recording will always be a mystery.

Then everything came to an unexpected halt when Santa Rosa went on lockdown again, this time for two weeks starting February 11. “The Sun Worshipers“ was rescheduled for May 1. Rehearsals continued when restrictions were lifted in Santa Rosa, amid news that several motion picture companies were planning to film the pageant for newsreels and possibly stock footage. Who knows? Perhaps in some silent movie there’s a shot of your winsome grandmother prancing about in an odd looking costume.

Which brings us to the storyline. The Press Democrat printed a synopsis before the performance and a review of the show afterward, but they don’t quite agree. From those articles and others (all transcribed below) and the photos, here’s my best guess of what the audience saw:

The stage set is large and dramatic, a fan portraying radiant sunbeams which seems to be built out of palm tree stalks. (Most of the known photos from the pageant follows this text.) Mme. Zarad comes onstage and sings two numbers plus an encore, all having some passing mention of the sun.2

Here comes Sol, the sun god! He takes his throne center stage wearing something on his head that looks like the Pope’s hat or a giant insect wing, but is probably supposed to be a beam of light. He is played by 16 year-old Joe Dearing, who would become a nationally known journalist and something of a Bay Area celebrity.3

On either side of Sol are bare-chested young men who appear to be wearing bronzer on their faces – it’s probably gold-colored, but the photos are black and white and their makeup isn’t mentioned in the newspaper descriptions. (I strongly doubt it’s supposed to be blackface but there’s so much in this show that makes no sense whatsoever I wouldn’t swear to it.) At either end of the stage are boys dressed as Roman soldiers with spears, although one is holding a pennant with a Christian cross because.

The show begins! We’ll see three cultures that worshiped the sun, sort of. The first are the ancient Egyptians.

pageantdrawing(RIGHT: Egyptian sun dancer as envisioned in the April 30, 1920 Press Democrat. The actual performers looked nothing like this.)

At the first of the two performances that day, the Press Democrat reported “some three thousand people sat in the warm sunshine and watched several hundred students gambol on the green lawn in flimsy clothing.” Not hardly. Except for bare arms, the Egyptian dancers are swaddled heavier than baby Moses in the bullrushes. They also have wide colorful sashes tied around their waists like 18th century pirates. Arrrgh!

This may be a good time to point out that the high school really did have a history department, and one of those teachers was involved with this thing. Her job was handling publicity.

Sol is worshiped by dancers “with typically Egyptian gestures, both angular and sinuous.” The highlight of this segment is the “Dance of the Rising Sun” by the Egyptian princess. It is performed by Lillian Rinner, who has been “taking special training for the part in Berkeley.” She is 44 years old, so the gamboling is being done by several hundred students but starring mom.

The sun god grows weary of this and waves the Egyptians off. Here come the Greeks!

“The maidens of ancient Greece worship him in the dance,” which is performed to “Dance of the Hours” from the Victorian opera, “La Gioconda.” Gentle Reader will surely recognize this as the same tune used in the immortal parody, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.” (Honestly, I am not making any of this up.)

pageantcloseup(RIGHT: Let’s mashup thousands of years of history: Closeup of the Grecian tableau, with “elves” wearing crinoline party dresses in front of a bearded Roman guard holding a medieval Christian pennant.)

Several girls pile on stage and sit in front of the sun god. Three are wearing classical Greek women’s clothing; the rest are dressed in contemporary ruffled and tiered dresses, many with bows in their hair, as if they were waylaid en route to a birthday party.

The storyline is that we’re looking at Terra, the goddess of the earth (that was the name of the Roman goddess, not Greek) and Ceres, the goddess of agriculture (again, the Roman name) and the girls are elves (it’s well known that the Greeks were actually Irish). The goddess of rain, Flo (huh?), shows up and the dancers run away. I very much doubt anyone in the audience understood what the hell was supposed to be going on – or cared.

Now comes the Native American segment. The tribe is hungry because the harvest was poor. The chief offers his daughter in sacrifice as she performs the “Knife Dance” before the sun god. The synopsis continues:

But lo! Sol awakens! He has heard the wailing cry! He sees the girl about to plunge the knife in her breast at his feet – he rises to appeal! He smiles. The daughter is saved and there will now be plenty in the fields and the entire tribe rejoice in dance.

That was just profoundly awful.

Thus far the pageant consisted of fuzzy G-rated allegories about ancient cultures. To jump from that to a melodramatic tableau about human sacrifice – complete with a “Knife Dance” – was a jolt; to make it about an oppressed people was beyond the pale, feeding the worst racist tropes of Indians as savages.

Why didn’t Fred Carlyle or someone from the high school insist this part be revised or yanked entirely? Likely because they ignorantly assumed Indians and their culture no longer existed except (maybe) on remote reservations. This blind spot can still be seen today on social media – periodically someone in the Facebook groups will ask when the Indians around here were “wiped out”.

Making this all the more galling is that the Pomos of Sonoma County have always been renowned for their dancing. Had the pageant invited them to take part, it surely would have transformed that otherwise silly and forgettable show into something noteworthy.

The final segment is called, “The Endowment,” and features a boy supposed to be young Luther Burbank. The sun god has hidden his face and the boy’s plants aren’t growing, although the goddesses and their elves try to help. The “Spirit of Agricultural Science” appears and performs “The Dance of Human Aspiration.” The dancer is 37 year-old Agatha Leifrinck and the photo shows a scruffy-looking man standing to the side of the stage watching her. He is not mentioned in any description of the show.

pageanthobo(RIGHT: Did this guy just wander in from the street?)

Sol wakes up and smiles, handing Science his Wand of Knowledge. She passes the wand to the boy, who waves it over his plants, which perk right up and perform the Flower Dance. Everybody on stage plus “a big chorus of picked voices from the town” join in singing a hymn to the sun god.

The big finale involved dozens of boys and girls in flower and vegetable costumes; there were twenty kids just playing the wilted plants. There were fifteen poppies, eight corn, plus tomatoes, lilies and daisies. Clarence Felciano, who would become Santa Rosa’s top mid-century architect, portrayed a spud.

They didn’t know it at the time, of course, but the flu pandemic was over. On Friday nights the high school annex building became the “community social center” again, with free movies, refreshments and dance music. Schools reopened in August (they had started a month earlier in rural districts since those schools closed during fruit picking season). There was a county fair that set attendance records. Life resumed, but the facemasks weren’t likely thrown out, instead tucked away in the back of a drawer because you can never tell.


Madame Francisca Zarad singing at the May 1, 1920 pageant, "Sun Worshipers.” The man is probably there not only to turn pages, but ensure the piano on the grass does not topple over
Madame Francisca Zarad singing at the May 1, 1920 pageant, “Sun Worshipers.” The man is probably there not only to turn pages, but ensure the piano on the grass does not topple over
"Egyptian" segment of the "Sun Worshipers” pageant
“Egyptian” segment of the “Sun Worshipers” pageant
"Egyptian" dancers and partial view of audience at the "Sun Worshipers” pageant
“Egyptian” dancers and partial view of audience at the “Sun Worshipers” pageant
Sol, the sun god, hides his face while surrounded by "Greek" goddesses and elves
Sol, the sun god, hides his face while surrounded by “Greek” goddesses and elves
"Indian" dance in the "Sun Worshipers” pageant
“Indian” dance in the “Sun Worshipers” pageant
Agatha Leifrinck performs "The Dance of Human Aspiration”
Agatha Leifrinck performs “The Dance of Human Aspiration”

Flower Dance finale at the "Sun Worshipers” pageant
Flower Dance finale at the “Sun Worshipers” pageant

1 Between 1920-1940, Fred Carlyle was frequently involved in high school and community theater productions throughout the Bay Area. The 1920 show in Santa Rosa appears to be his first.
2 The first of Mme. Zarad’s numbers was identified as “An Involution to the Sun God.” According to an item in a 1913 New York paper, that was another name for “Far Off I Hear a Lover’s Flute,” a 1909 setting of a Zuni tribal melody. Part of the lyrics (which were written by a non-Indian) was, “I see the shrunken Mother Moon/Go forth to meet the Day.” Her encore was the maudlin ballad “The Little Grey Home in the West,” which was inexplicably popular for decades.
3 Joseph A. Dearing became an acclaimed photojournalist before and during WWII, best known for the famous portrait of General MacArthur after the Battle of Bataan. After the war he became a popular figure in the Bay Area known as “Uncle Joe,” the rod & gun columnist for the San Francisco Call-Bulletin. He was married to Margaret Hahmann of Santa Rosa in 1936 (she’s buried in the Rural Cemetery) and when he died in 1995, “Uncle Joe” was carved on his tombstone in Winters.


All photos courtesy Sonoma County Library



Dancing Classes

Fred Carlyle dramatic coach from the University of California will give a course of aesthetic, barefoot, Russian ballet and fancy dancing in Santa Rosa and classes are under formation at the present time. Mr. Carlyle will assist with the Burbank Pageant at the high school.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 10 1920



Fred Carlyle Secured as Coach for Production of “The Sun Worshipers” by Schools of City to Honor Scientist.

At last the dream of a Burbank pageant is to come true. The question has often been asked here “why don’t Santa Rosa [sic], the home of Luther Burbank, arrange some fitting pageant representative of his great work?” “The Sun Worshipers,“ with its elaborate combination of rich setting, graceful costumed dancing, and fine symbolism, is the answer to the question.

Very practical evidence that the pageant is to prove more than a dream is to be found in the work of Richard Warner Borst, director of production. Through his efforts the various parts of the pageant are being rapidly assembled, solo dancers have been secured for the leading parts and Fred Carlyle of Berkeley has been induced to assist with the chorus dancing. The symbolic dance of the sun worshipers, in particular, is rapidly evolving into a performance of great beauty and variety.

The following staff is working on the pageant…

– Press Democrat, January 23 1920



The Walrus Said

March 6th. [ed. note: the date was wrong]

That’s a date for Santa Rosans to remember. Know why?

It’s Burbank Day, and on that day there will be a pageant at the High School in honor of the “man who made Santa Rosa famous.”

This pageant is called The Sun Worshippers, and is based on a saying of Mr. Burbank’s that the sun is the source of all life. The pageant will be a pretentious affair, with 250 dancers giving Greek, Egyptian and Indian national dances, which will be coached by Fred Carlyle of the University of California, Miss Zilpha Dempsey, Miss Mildred Turner, and Victor Hodge of the high school faculty. R. W. Borst of the English department of the high school and Charles L. Hampton of the Agricultural department will have general charge of the production.

Plans have been made to seat 5,000 people on the high school lawn to witness the production.

Of the pageant itself, I’ll have more to tell you later, but in the meantime don’t forget that date — it’s important — March 6th.

– Press Democrat, January 29 1920



Nearly 150 Dancers to Be Seen in Burbank Honor Event Here on March 6.

Dances for the Burbank Pageant to be held on the grounds of the high school March 6, are fast being put in shape under the direction of Fred Carlyle. of the University of California, Miss Zilpha Dempsey, Miss Mildred Turner and Victor Hodge of the high school faculty.

There will be three dances, each containing about 48 dancers. These are the Indian dance, which begins with the braves in deep dejection owing to the lack of attention paid their country by the Sun God, and changing to a big pow-wow when he smiles on them.

The Greek dance will be a regular Greek aesthetic dance, done to the Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda. It will contain the same number of dancers.

The third of the big dances is the Egyptian dance, with typically Egyptian gestures, both angular and sinuous.

The King’s favorite in the Egyptian dance will be Miss Lillian Rinner, who is taking special training for the part in Berkeley.

There will also be a Sunbeam dance with 25 dancers. Each of these will be dressed in a different shade of yellow, ranging from the daintiest of creamy yellow to the deepest orange.

Mrs. J. Leifrinck will dance for the Spirit of Science, a dance that she has originated, portraying the religious evolution of the mind of man from earliest times to the present. Miss Lolis May Alden will accompany Mrs. Leifrinck.

The part of the chief’s daughter in the Indian dance will be taken by Miss Virginia Pomeroy.

The finale will contain a big chorus of picked voices from the town to be trained by Miss Lydia Walker.

– Press Democrat, February 6 1920



Much Interest is Being Taken in the Coming May Day Fiesta in Santa Rosa, Which Will Compliment Luther Burbank and Will Be in Every Detail a Spectacular and a Pleasing Production – Frank Carlyle, U. C. Dramatic Coach, to Direct the Presentation

Widespread interest is bring aroused in the Burbank Pageant. “Sun Worshippers,” which is to be staged in Santa Rosa, the home of the famous horticultural scientist, on May Day.

No less than five different moving picture concerns have stated that they will send artists and big cameras to take pictures of the various scenes depicted in the Pageant, which will be sent broadcast throughout the land and shown to hundreds of thousands of people in many moving picture houses. One of the big concerns having its movies here will be the International News Service.

Charles L. Hampton, director of vocational agricultural course in the Santa Rosa High School, and manager of the Burbank Pageant, stated Wednesday that the interest taken in the coming Pageant in the Bay Cities is keen. From him the news of the coming of the movie men was ascertained. The entire direction of the Pageant has been entrusted to Fred Carlyle, the well known dramatic coach of the University of California. Mention of Mr. Carlyle’s name and his recognized talent counts for success in every detail.

Mr. Hampton is sending out to the press of the state the following preliminary announcement concerning the coming Pageant which will be read with interest:

Santa Rosa is planning to honor her most prominent citizen – Luther Burbank — with a great celebration May 1, 2:30 p. m., Saturday. An elaborate open air pageant entitled “The Sunworshippers” will be produced under the direction of Fred Carlyle, dramatic coach for the University of California. Over 250 group and solo dancers will undertake an allegorical dramatization of the four great historical epochs of the worshipers of the Sun. The last act will portray Burbank’s creative endowment through the aid of the sun, which is so often quoted by this great plant specialist as the source of all plant and animal life. The coming event is being given wide publicity. Elaborate preparations are being made to welcome the thousands of people who will journey from different parts of the state to visit the home of Luther Burbank.

– Press Democrat, February 26 1920



Mme. Francisca Zarad Is Coming March 10

The recital for the benefit of the Luther Burbank Pageant being prepared by the high school students to be given in this city May Day, which had to be postponed when the ban was placed on public gatherings in Santa Rosa last month, will be held at the high school annex March 10.

Mme. Francisca Zarad, the famous Paris soprano, will be here on that occasion to render numerous selections and is sure to prove a delight to the music lovers as well as the general public, os she is in a class all of her own as a vocalist of international reputation.

– Press Democrat, March 2 1920



Frank Carlyle Resumes Instruction of Young People Who Will Be Featured in the “Sun Worshipers.”

Frank Carlyle, dramatic coach of the University of California. who is to direct the pageant “Sun Worshippers,” which is intended particularly to honor the creative genius of Luther Burbank, is this week actively resuming rehearsals of the dances and other artistic work in connection with the coming May Day presentation in Santa Rosa. Carlyle can be relied upon to present a finished production and one that will add fame to the many gorgeous fiestas that have been given in the City of Roses.

But for the ban which was placed by the health department on all gatherings during the late prevailing sickness, the pageant would have taken place next Saturday, Mr. Burbank’s birthday following on the next day. But rehearsing had to be put off and then it was determined to hold the pageant on May Day. And now rehearsals will be once more in full swing and will continue until the day of triumph.

– Press Democrat, March 4 1920




Not only is the coming May Day pageant “Sun Worshipers” attracting much interest here but assurance is given that hundreds of visitors will come to Santa Rosa to view the gorgeous spectacle and to enjoy the compliment it bestows upon Santa Rosa’s most distinguished citizen, Luther Burbank.

Manager Charles Hampton yesterday that the daily rehearsals being held have developed so much enthusiasm and interest among the performers that the presentation will doubtless be unique, highly pleasing and successful.

The special features, which will include the singing of Madame Zarad, the notable dancing of Mrs. Agatha Liefrinck and Miss Virginia Pomeroy, will be especially notworthy, [sic] standing out prominently from the otherwise elaborate program of song, dance and action. The staging and costuming will be dazzling and great throngs of people will be given a rare treat.

Here is a synopsis of the action marking the pageant “Sun Worshipers.”

I. Opening Song—Mme. Francesca Zarad.

II. Sol, the Sun God, takes his throne in state.

III. The maidens of ancient Egypt worship him in the dance.

IV. The Sun God’s favorite dances before him on the “Dance of the Rising Sun.”

V. The maidens of ancient Greece worship him in the dance.

VI. Ceres, goddess of the harvest and Terra, goddess of the earth, approach the sun god and kneels at his feet. Enter Fro (god of rain).

VII. The women of American Indian Tribes enter and worship the sun-god in a dance.

VIII. Hungry Indian children appeal to Sol that he shine upon tho faded earth.

IX. Indian braves, led by their chief, appeal to the sun-god to shine upon the earth.

X. The chief’s daughter, in the “Knife Dance” dances before the sun-god. She offers herself as a sacrifice to him for her people’s sake. But he saves her life through shining forth.

XI. Sol has again hidden his face. The farmer, tolling amidst his faded plants and flowers, despairs because of Sol’s unfriendliness.

XII. The Spirit of Agricultural Science worships Sol in “The Dance of Human Aspiration.” Sol awakes. He presents Science with the Wand of Knowledge. Science endows Farmer with the Wand of Knowledge.

XIII. He waves the wand above his faded crops and all growing things are revived. Other lovely flowers and plants now appear (Burbank Creations)

XIV. The Flower Dance.

XV. Plants and flowers now joyous in sunlight sing, praises to their Lord the Sun.


– Press Democrat, April 24 1920


Net Proceeds From Brilliant May Day Spectacle to Be Used as Nucleus for Fund to Build Burbank Memorial Building.

Interest in the coming Burbank pageant to be staged here next Saturday on the grounds of the High School, increases daily.

On Saturday two important announcements were made hy manager Chas. Hampton. They follow:

First, in addition to the afternoon performance on May Day there will also be a night production of the pageant which will begin at 8 o’clock. The hour of the afternoon performance will be 2:30 o’clock.

Second, it is intended that whatever remains of the proceeds after the actual expenses of production have heen paid, shall form the nucleus of a fund to provide for the erection here of a Luther Burbank Memorial Agricultural Building.

Both these announcements will doubtless call forth hearty approval. Many people, who have learned of the merits of the pageant and who found is possible [sic] to be present in the afternoon had expressed regret that a second production could not be given at night. Hence on Saturday Manager Hampton, after conferring with a number of people, decided to repeat the effort on Saturday night, the stage and settings being illuminated properly for the performance.

Unanimous approbation is given the suggestion that the erection of a Burbank Memorial Agricultural Building would be a fitting tribute and form a most acceptable unit for Santa Rosa’s educational department.

Next Tuesday evening in the music room of the Annex under the direction of Miss Lydia Walker there will he a rehearsal of the final chorus “Hymn to the Sun,” and everybody who can assist by singing is asked to attend Tuesday night and help swell the volume of sound in Troyer’s hum of praise [sic].

Those who respond to the call are asked to be on hand at half past seven o’clock.

A full rehearsal of the “Sun Worshipers” was held Saturday under the direction of Director Carlyle, and it was pronounced a success. Those who have witnessed the rehearsal of the pageant declare that it will be worth going many miles to see.

– Press Democrat, April 25 1920




Luther Burbank. Santa Rosa’s world famed plant breeder and horticulturist, was paid due honor by the students of the Santa Rosa schools Saturday — May Day – when they presented the beautiful and dramatic pageant “The Sun Worshipers” on the lawn in front of the Annex at the high school grounds.

The setting was one long to be remembered and one which many of the easterners who recall weather conditions in their home states marveled over as some three thousand people sat in the warm sunshine and watched several hundred students gambol on the green lawn in flimsy clothing.

In addition to the marvelous display of the pageant itself, was the presence of Madam Francisca Zarad, the famous Parisian soprano, who delighted all with her charming personality and gracious manners. She sang for the pure joy of honoring Luther Burbank and aiding the students in giving their honors to the great man who sat smiling in the audience before them, enjoying it as much as anyone present.

“The great dynamo, the Sun, is the source of all life, motion, warmth: iho producer of all food and clothing. No wonder the ancients were inspired to worship the sun.” declared Mr. Burbank in an address recently. The statement was used as the basis for the pageant plot worked out by Mrs. V. N. Hodge, wife of Victor Hodge of the high school faculty, which resulted in the delightful program Saturday afternoon and evening.

The performance was to have been given March 7 in honor of the birthday anniversary of the noted Santa Rosan, hut had to be postponed owing to the influenza ban at that time.

Madame Zarad was heartily applauded for her songs. She was in magnificent voice and delighted all with her work. She first rendered “An Involution to the Sun God,” followed by “Sunrise, Sunset” and replied to an encore with “The Little Grey Home in the West.” At the close of the program she sang “America” and led the vast audience in the “Star Spangled Banner.” At its conclusion she called for a rising tribute to Mr. Burbank who had been taken to her side on the platform before the final song. This was given with hearty good will by all.

A synopsis of the plot follows:

SOL. the God of Sun, mounts his throne in state to review the separate, distinctive historical worshipers who have courted him in dance supplication and song.

THE EGYPTIANS were the first to recognize the power of SOL so their fairest maidens dance to him. To gain favor in the God’s eyes, the Egyptian King sends his favorite dancer to woo Sol – but the God soon tires of her and her chorus.

THE GRECIANS then flit before him and they place the Godess “Terra” with her little elves of the Earth (Calcium, Potasium, Sulphur, Magnesium, Iron), together with “Ceres,” Godess of Agriculture, and her helping elves near the Sun’s power for the Grecians recognize their importance. But “Flo,” the wild God of Rain, dispels the maidens with his storm as he bounds into his place in the worship.

THE INDIANS are mourning! Their harvest are too light. [sic] The Chief is in despair when his wailing children ask for foods, [sic] so he offers his own daughter in sacrifice to bring help to his people. But lo! Sol awakens! He has heard the wailing cry! He sees the girl about to plunge the knife in her breast at his feet – he rises to appeal! He smiles. The daughter is saved and there will now be plenty in the fields and the entire tribe rejoice in dance.

THE ENDOWMENT A farmer boy, impersonating Luther Burbank, is toiling with his withering plants. He despairs for their life. Mother Terra in pity for him sends out her little elves to sprinkle the salts of the earth at their feet. No avail. Mother Ceres, too, commands her little helpers lo brace and help the plants. No results. Then Flo scatters his rain drops, they drink deeply but again they droop! Ah! The Spirit of Science shows the farmer the light, the need to recognize the power of the Sun, Sol. He hopes, he prays, he perceives. Sol smiles, the plants revive. Science leads him to the throne, he adores and for his devotion Science awards him with the Wand of Knowledge which he now wields and with which he concieves and improves the wonderful Creations of Plant Life (Burbank Creations.) In praise the Flower Dance is given, then lift up their voices in the homage hymn to their Lord the Sun.

The cast follows:


– Press Democrat, May 2 1920


Erstwhile “Sun God” Now Tiller of Soil

Joe Dearing, who impersonated the Sun God in the Burbank pageant Saturday, took again to the practical side of life Monday, when he continued his agricultural work on his seven acres of land near here. Director Chas. Hampton accompanied him Monday afternoon to the place where he is to plant tomatoes and pumpkins. He has already planted his corn.

– Press Democrat, May 4 1920

Read More


Normally I don’t update an item with an entire new article, but more has come to light about the 1921 Santa Rosa High School fire than can squeeze into a footnote. Plus, there’s a really good story here that deserves to be widely shared.

In writing “THE FALL AND RISE OF SANTA ROSA HIGH, PT. 1,” I overlooked a lengthy sidebar about the fire in the November 16, 1921 Press Democrat which contained several important details, such as: “The bursting of a water pipe in the upper part of the building sent a geyser of water into the air. This continued to shoot upward, entirely surrounded by flames.” What a sight that must have been!

Also, the PD reported “several work benches and chairs and a static machine used in the physics laboratory were saved by those who reached the scene during the early stages of the blaze.” That electrostatic generator was probably the most expensive piece of equipment in the school, and the “work benches” were likely experiments setup on the tabletops – but then again, it’s mystifying that they saved chairs, so maybe the kids did lug heavy furniture out of the burning building.

Most intriguing was a mention that “people are finding it more than a coincidence that there have been several school fires in this county in the past year. Roseland, Cotati and Petaluma have been visited by blazes which destroyed schools.” Although it may seem like the PD was hinting there were suspicions of a serial arsonist, one of the other incidents was a grass fire at a Petaluma country school, and the almost-new Cotati grammar school (designed by Brainerd Jones) burned during the middle of a schoolday in a furnace mishap. I found nothing on a Roseland incident.

After the fire was discovered by the boys and girls, critical time was lost because they did not know how to turn in a fire alarm. The next day, a letter to the Press Democrat said we shouldn’t be too hard on the kids – 2 in 5 people questioned on the street didn’t know how to do it either. It was a three-step process: Break the glass, turn the key to open the little door inside and then pull down the lever within.

The earlier article repeated an twice-told tale about the fire possibly being started by teens sneaking a smoke during the halftime of a basketball game that evening. Further research shows there were no high school sporting events after school that Tuesday except for the football team holding evening practice games that week at the “Recreation Field” to prep for an upcoming weekend game against Eureka. And that afternoon the high school “120 pound” basketball team held its first practice before its opening game of Dec. 2, presumably in the annex gym.

There is another unlikely sports-related theory which is well worth reading despite its shaky legs. It comes from a letter by Raymond Clar (SRHS class of 1922) shared by Mike Daniels, historian for the SRHS Foundation.

Clar – who also penned the yearbook poem and sketch of the school ruins seen in the original article – was quite a gifted writer. His letters read like the best of Mark Twain; he takes awhile to get around to his point, but the scenery is so nice along the way you don’t mind the detours at all. I took to reading the letters aloud to my long-suffering wife in my best Sam Clemens imitation (which is to say, imitating Hal Holbrook imitating Clemens). This story related to the fire – and the distress of his poor, poor friend, John Parmeter – is among his best:

…To the best of my knowledge, no authority has ever set forth even a good guess as to why that fire occurred. What I write here is very probably the first time a very likely cause has ever been set down in writing.

John Parmeter didn’t do it. He probably never heard the little story I have to tell. But his very painful experience one day in the Fall of 1921 helps set the stage for the Fire Cause Theory.

I “went out” only one season for football and I roomed in Santa Rosa to do that. The fact that my lack of ability did no good for the undermanned team is of no consequence. John Parmeter was undoubtedly a much better athlete, and that is not important either. Our being with the team allows me to now be the scribe and John the victim, and it primarily points to “The Cause.”

As I remember, the basement of the Old School on Humboldt Street was at ground level. Its principal use was for lockers and dressing rooms for athletic teams and gym classes. On rainy noon hours it was a madhouse of male students staying out of the rain. Oh yes, there, too, were toilets. Now I remember that a line of toilets and urinals was flushed at regular intervals by a tipping bucket system. Running water from a faucet overhead filled up a scoop-shovel-shaped galvanized iron tank. When the water load reached some 50 gallons the pivoted tank slopped over and delivered a cascade of water all along the line. And that had nothing to do with The Fire and relatively little to do with John Parmeter.

The important point is that when a team had suited up and was ready to go out to a game on practice, someone, probably the coach or team manager, lit a substantial gas water heater in the locker room to assure water for showers later. It should be remembered that we then had to travel from Humboldt Street to the site of the present high school for football events. And the field was hard, bare ground with numerous surface pebbles. In fact, on days preceding a Saturday or regular season game some gym classes of boys were transported there to pick up pebbles. (And I personally still bear a scar where my chin was split open when the chubby Elsworth Barnett fell on my head in scrimmage one day.)

In my several diversions herein let us not forget the unwatched gas water heater in the locker room back in the basement. So, one day the boys returned from the practice field–dirty, sweaty and bruised. But several lads still possessed enough energy to engage in a towel slapping fray. Here were there or four naked youths snapping at each other with bath towels used as bullwhips. I remember the event very vividly but I suspect that I considered that I lacked the social status, even as a senior, to become involved in such horseplay. I was still an outlander in this essentially closed society of Santa Rosa students.

Anyway, John was maneuvered close to a burning water heater when he entangled his gangly legs one with another and a snapping towel. John fell backward into the very hot cylindrical, iron heater. What a yelping and howling with pain! The horseplay ended and John was on the floor. Some of us rolled him over and viewed, I solemnly swear, the letters DETROIT MICH –in reverse — branded on John’s posterior.

But, as I herein above declare, John Parmeter did not cause the old high school to burn. What I have done thus far, I do hope, is establish beyond question the matter of the gas fueled water heaters.

Somewhere, a dozen or so years later I was talking with a relatively young man. I do not remember his name, or why, or where. I do remember that he told me that he had been a member of some team from San Rafael Military Academy. (I feel that was the school). That team had “borrowed” the SRHS locker room, apparently aside from any contest with Santa Rosa, as I remember. Then, very snidely, he told me, “We were the team that forgot to turn off the gas water heaters on the day Santa Rosa High School burned.”

Read More



After its old high school burned down, Santa Rosa had the will to quickly rebuild a fine modern school and soon was ready to break ground. Then suddenly the project was stopped indefinitely, thanks to a rich old crackpot with a lawyer, a famous name and a big chip on his shoulder.

This is the second part of the story of Santa Rosa High School’s rebirth; see part one for details about the terrible 1921 fire and the threat it posed to the town. But this is also the tale of Sampson B. Wright, who filed a series of lawsuits to block the new school. The stalemate led to community leaders calling an unprecedented town meeting to fight back.

Despite the loss of their school, it seems that a spirit of optimism energized Santa Rosa teenagers in the months right after the November 15, 1921 fire. Yeah, classes were scattered in halls and churches all over town, but it was only temporary and heck, was probably kind of an adventure to many.

But after a winter of dashing through the rain, Roy Heyward, the 1922 student body president, wrote in the yearbook that kids were becoming demoralized: “The classes are so broken up that there is no unity. Some students do not see their friends for days at a time and under these conditions they are bound to lose interests in school activities.”

Now flash forward to the next winter as the children were still making their 20 minute dashes to classes. In January, 1923 – the height of a bad flu season – the Press Democrat reported, “The exposure and trying conditions to which the teachers of the Santa Rosa high school are being subjected is proving a heavy tax to their health and strength.” The PD continued:

The study hall and five recitation rooms are located in the Congregational church with poor light, ventilation and accommodations for drying out wet clothing. Two other classes are located in the Methodist Episcopal church where the conditions are not much better. Four classes are housed in the old Mailer hall on Fourth street and five in the old Mailer warehouse at Fifth and Mendocino avenue. This is made of corrugated iron and is not warm or comfortable in such weather as is prevailing at present.

And if that wasn’t depressing enough, everyone knew that during the following 1923-1924 winter the faculty and students would either still be slogging through downtown puddles or shivering in temporary canvas tents. It was as if they had been woefully transported into the bleak world of Scrooge’s Christmas Yet to Come.

How had this happened? The path forward had seemed so certain, so safe; the day right after the fire, members of the board of education and chamber of commerce began to negotiate with Rush and Bertha Todd, who owned a large spread on the north end of town. They had recently sold part of it to be the future home of the Junior College. Except for keeping a few acres around the baronial “old Ridgway mansion” on the corner, they agreed to sell the town all the land it wanted for the future high school. An option deal – no money involved – was announced two weeks later (for more, see “RIDGWAY’S CHILDREN“).

The stars were also aligned to make the new high school the crown of our public education system. Just that summer, the state legislature finally recognized that an education beyond grade school was essential and a local high school had to be part of the school system. Grammar school districts now could be annexed under a local high school district, and that’s what also happened here immediately after the fire; a meeting brought together supervisors of the 25 rural school districts around Santa Rosa and along the Russian River. It was agreed their kids would come to Santa Rosa for high school and the little districts would have a voice on the new school board – as well as contributing some of the district tax money to pay for the education and upkeep of the buildings. So far, so good.

All that remained was to raise enough money to build the school. For reasons never explained, Santa Rosa first asked voters to approve bonds for two new elementary schools – as noted in part one, the Lincoln and Fremont schools were considered firetraps. Early in April 1922, Santa Rosa voted in favor of those bonds by an astonishing majority of 27 to 1. Again, good news – it showed the pubic enthusiastically supported new schools.

Now came the high school vote a few weeks later, in mid-May. On top of the $241,000 just approved for the grade schools, voters of the City of Santa Rosa high school district were being asked to approve another $375,000 to pay for the property and new building. Taken together, the bonds were worth about $9 million in today’s money – a steep commitment, given that the population of 1922 Santa Rosa was as small as modern Cloverdale.

Even though it looked like the bond would easily pass, the town campaigned hard. There was a big Chamber of Commerce dinner and gushy articles can be found in almost every edition of the Press Democrat. “High School Is To Have Museum Worth Thousands,” read one PD headline, promising that Jesse Peter, a respected amateur archeologist, would donate his collection of artifacts to the school for a “museum of anthropology devoted to the Sonoma county Indians.” (The collection went to the Junior College instead.)

There was a big parade with floats and over 2,000 students from fourth grade through junior college marching downtown on the eve of the vote. From the descriptions in the paper, it was one of those heart-tugging moments worthy of a visit the next time you take the time machine out for a spin.

The various clubs and classes were represented; as reported by the PD, “The cooking classes of the high school with their aprons and working utensils added an interesting touch to the parade and showed that the growing generation was assured of some good cooks, to say the least.” They were followed by the ag students, some carrying a fruit tree while others wore “spraying outfits” to fend off their classmates “dressed to represent large destructive insects hovering about.” The event ended in front of the courthouse, where everyone watched girls from the elementary schools dance around three May poles.

The next day, the bonds passed 16 to 1.

A week later, Sam Wright announced his first lawsuit.

The nicest thing anyone can say about Sampson B. Wright is that he was a fool. You can bet residents of Santa Rosa called him worse things between 1922-1923. Far, far worse.

Besides approving the bonds, the same ballot asked voters to pick a location for the future high school and the Todd property was the overwhelming favorite, 20 to 1. The other option was the Leddy tract, about 2½ west of Santa Rosa, close to Highway 12 and just east of Fulton/South Wright Road (there’s still a Leddy avenue there). There originally was a third choice offered by the Wright family on the west side of Fulton/South Wright Road – probably the current location of the Wright Charter School – but it was withdrawn from the running by Sampson before the election, with no reason given.*

In his lawsuit to block the high school’s construction, Wright’s attorneys crafted a legal roadblock made from top quality bullshit. It was argued that the new state law allowing elementary school districts to be annexed by a high school district was unconstitutional. Why? Because it ceded some decision-making powers to a county’s superintendent of schools rather than its board of supervisors. At its core, this was a classic nuisance suit, coyly intended to harass the school district and/or bollix everything up for months, years, maybe decades, as appeal followed appeal in the court system’s higher echelons.

The crazy thing about his Quixotic war was that Wright didn’t seem to care about that trivial constitutional issue; nor did he have objections to kids receiving high school educations (all his children did) and he wasn’t opposed to selling bonds to build the school. The thing that really, really ticked him off was that it was to be on the Todd property.

The first we heard on the issue from Sampson B. Wright came just before the bond election, when a lengthy letter rant appeared in the Press Democrat. Alas, he was responding to something from Hilliard Comstock, president of the board of education, which appeared in the Santa Rosa Republican and that edition of the newspaper has not survived.

Wright insisted that the Leddy property was the only good option, waving off the many obstacles to the project because it was out in the unincorporated countryside. No matter that kids would have to take the electric train to school (“railroad officials well know how to transport children”) or that there was no city water or sewer hookups (“an abundance of water can be had on the Leddy tract by pumping”). All that mattered to him was that (A) the land was cheaper and (B) it wasn’t in Santa Rosa.

His particular obsession about the Santa Rosa location concerned the Noonan stockyard and slaughterhouse four blocks to the west (about where highway 101 crosses West College). The smell from there would be so awful, he wrote, that the city would have to condemn the property and reimburse Noonan $250,000, paid for by a huge tax increase. At the same time, he argued – with remarkable mental agility – that runoff from the school would damage the meat packing plant. Wright was “reliably informed that Mr. Noonan is not going to tamely submit to present drainage conditions,” he stated.

The next day, a letter from the Noonan Meat Company appeared in the PD denying all of Wright’s claims. If there was to be any runoff from the Todd property they would welcome it: “we could use the water on our pasture.” Neighbors closer to the slaughterhouse than the proposed school had never complained about odors, and they closed with an endorsement for the bond and the Mendocino ave location.

Even after his lawsuit stopped construction plans, Sampson B. Wright would not shut up about the awful, terrible, no-good high school plan approved by the voters. He handed out a printed circular filled with his nutso ideas, because that’s what unhinged people did before Twitter was invented.

Printed in full by the Press Democrat on May 27, the transcript appeared after the graduating class of 1922 was reduced to holding ceremonies at the blocked off Humboldt street between Benton and College. Wright’s handout still charged there was a plot afoot to funnel public money to the Noonans: “As soon as the high school is located on the Todd site there will, I expect, be complaint against a certain property and then we shall be asked to contribute $250,000 on that score.”

His screed filled a full column in the Press Democrat, printed in the smallest type. It was crammed with numbers – distances, valuations, projected expenses down to the penny. It was a spittle-flecked manifesto dripping with his rage to prevent the “saddling upon us of a young university under the disguise of a high school.”

The only reason Wright had any credibility was because the Wright name was still widely known and respected in the early 20th century. His father, Winfield had been one of the richest men in the county, owning great swaths of land between the coast and Santa Rosa; Winfield’s 1892 obituary says he had about 4,500 acres but in the preceding years he was spotted regularly selling hundreds of acres to his only son, Sampson. It would be a safe guesstimate to say the Wrights owned 6,000 acres of prime Sonoma county farmland. Everywhere you find the Wright name on some place today is because of Winfield, and until it was torn down in 1923, the enormous Wright dairy barn at the corner of Stony Point and Sebastopol Road was a county landmark known to everyone.

The Wrights were an intriguing family; Winfield’s first wife, Sarah, was the granddaughter of mythic American hero Daniel Boone. Anyone who has toured the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery has probably noticed the unusual tombstone for Davis Wright, a “Colored Boy” – although the child was probably never a slave, he was a member of Winfield’s father household. That man (also named Sampson) was a slave owner in Missouri just prior to joining his son in California, when Davis would have been about a year old. Indefatigable researcher Ray Owen has more background on that story.

Our antihero, Sampson Boone Wright, was born in Santa Rosa in 1854, a silver spoon tucked into his little baby mouth. According to his profile in the Honoria Tuomey county history, he was in his early twenties when he “conceived the notion that it would be profitable to drive a flock of sheep through to the grazing lands of Texas,” which is such a ridiculous idea it suggests he was dropped on his head during infancy. “This he did amid difficulties that may better be imagined than described.” I’ll bet.

If you asked Sampson who he was, he would have told you he was a dairy rancher and a stockman, a respected breeder of prize hogs and a horseman with a stable of race-winning trotters. All true – but from 1876 until his death, it appears he was always party to some lawsuit or another. Most were apparently run-of-the-mill disputes related to the vast amount of property he inherited, but some reveal him as a quarrelsome man who was quick to file lawsuits out of spite.  Here are just a few of the lowlights:

1903: After the county drilled a well on the side of a road to supply water to sprinkler trucks, Wright presented the road commissioner with a demand to be paid $50/day – over $1,500 today – because they were using “his” groundwater. The suit went to the state supreme court twice before the county won six years later.
1908: Four years after a court settlement allowed the electric railroad line a right-of-way across Wright family land near their famous dairy barn on Stony Point, the railroad sued because workers for the Wrights were throwing manure from the barn over their fence. The Wrights contended the tracks were in the wrong place all along.
1909: Wright sued to stop the phone company from erecting telephone poles along the road next to his property.
1916: Years earlier, Wright’s stepmother hired a girl to live with her as a helper. Jarena Wright came to regard the young woman as if she were her own daughter and gifted her 140 acres. Immediately after his stepmother died – even before the funeral – Wright sued to recover title to the land.
1926: Wright sued to stop the dredging of the sandspit at the mouth of Russian River, claiming that the river bar was needed for him to drive cattle back and forth across the river. He did not own any land on the north bank and had no right to move his cows there. Bonus: He also sued to block the highway 1 bridge across the Russian River.

Starting around 1919, however, Sampson B. Wright began devoting his energies to a new project: Being the angry taxpayer fighting the Board of Supervisors. He formed first the “Tax Payers Protective Association” and then the “Sonoma County Economy League.” In truth, he was the president of the League of Grumpy Old Men.

In a memorable 1923 showdown, Wright and his anti-tax buddies stormed the Supervisors meeting to insist the county shut down its auto garage and fire all the mechanics. “When asked to name a way in which the county cars can be cared for they had nothing to offer.”

Just like his verbose rant against the high school location, he wrote many other lengthy letters to the local papers demanding decisive action on whatever injustice happened to offend him at the moment. One of the Healdsburg newspapers commented,

It would be comical, were it not somewhat pathetic, the way newspaper offices are besieged every day by their friends, urging them to “roast” this and that: to see to it that and that is done in the city or county: to start this and that kind of movement to correct evils in the state government. These friends actually believe that it is the newspaper’s business to handle all these affairs.

A final Wright lawsuit worthy to note: In 1924, his second wife filed for divorce on grounds of extreme cruelty – particularly because he refused to allow electricity in their house.

By that year electricity was no longer a luxury; besides lighting, electric kitchen appliances, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, space heaters and radios were common. Nor was power unavailable because the Wrights were far out in the country; they were then living in a cottage on Garden street off of West Third.

Add that to his opposition of the county owning cars and trucks, telephone poles along “his” road and a bridge over the Russian River; a picture emerges of a man who is not merely a skinflint, but someone held in the grips of fogeyism – disliking anything that didn’t exist in his Victorian-era youth.

An early 1920s “school auto-bus” (image courtesy Sonoma County Library)


His fight against the high school shows this anti-modernism clearly. Key to shuttling kids from the rural districts to the centralized Santa Rosa high school were these new things called a “school auto-bus.” That circular Wright was handing out fixated almost entirely upon the transportation costs of operating a schoolbus fleet. His solution was to first build a high school on the Leddy tract, which Santa Rosa kids could reach by the electric trolley line. For the others, his plan was outlined in the circular’s title: “Build High Schools in Rural Districts.” Wright wanted to construct “three or more schools in the outlying districts,” which children could reach by foot, bicycle or horse. Building more local high schools would be much cheaper in his mind simply because it eliminated all transport costs. Never did he consider that more teachers would be needed in that scheme – or maybe he did, because, you know, teachers work for free. (Snark aside, teachers did almost work for free at the time, earning an average of $2.50/day.)

Press Democrat cartoon, March 20, 1923


We pick up again the Battle of Santa Rosa High in February 1923, about nine months after Wright filed suit and threw everything in limbo – the bond offering was suspended, talks with architects were canceled and even contingency plans to cobble together some temporary buildings were stalled. As expected, Wright lost in court here and everyone was awaiting a decision from the state supreme court.

Wright stayed uncharacteristically mum until the Supervisors decided to put the bonds up for sale anyway. As he was at that meeting (naturally) the cranky bear awoke and began defending his cause. They couldn’t sell the bonds until the supreme court weighed in, he protested, so their vote that afternoon was illegal, the bond election was fraudulent, and so the purchase of the Todd property was also a crime.

With that outburst, Sampson B. Wright had accused the top officials of Sonoma county of breaking multiple state laws, including criminal conspiracy, election fraud and felony misappropriation of public funds. Given that the guy had such a history of filing frivolous lawsuits and had such deep pockets he always refused to settle, you can bet that there was a moment of silent contemplation as everyone wondered: How far is this lunatic willing to go with this?

Board of education president Hilliard Comstock finally spoke up and “…expressed his resentment on behalf of the board against the insinuation that they had been guilty of fraud,” as reported in the PD. Comstock also diplomatically jabbed him by making the point that  if the bonds couldn’t be sold, Mr. tax-hater would force them to raise taxes to build temporary buildings.

The crisis came a month later, in mid-March 1923.

Two things happened almost simultaneously: The supreme court threw out Wright’s lawsuit on the grounds he had no standing in the case – at the time he was living at the family ranch within the Analy school district, which was not annexed under Santa Rosa.

Wright was clearly expecting that decision and was ready to immediately fire back with a new and more ambitious lawsuit. This second action was filed under the name of his adult son, Girault, who did live in the Santa Rosa school district, and this time he wasn’t suing over a dry point of order about the state constitution. The new suit charged the bond election was “unlawful and fraudulent” and the board of trustees – which he saw as a bogus group invented via “said pretended election” – conspired to break the law by using public money to buy the Todd property. In other words, he indeed pulled the trigger and accused county officials of crimes that could send them to jail.

The next day the Press Democrat blasted Wright with the front page cartoon shown above and an emotional editorial, “Stand Out of the Way!” It had been over a dozen years since editor Ernest Finley took such a hard personal swipe at anyone local, much less a man of such great wealth:

…Unless the people follow his plan, they will never have a new high school if he can prevent it. In wintry weather our children can continue to plow back and forth between improvised quarters and in summer they can sweat and swelter in draughty fire-traps. Families can decline to locate here and continue to move away, disgusted at what appears to be our lack of public spirit and want of appreciation regarding educational necessities. All these things mean nothing to Sampson B. Wright, if he can only have his way…

Finley’s editorial was dead on; Santa Rosa was facing the possibility that no high school could ever be built as long as Sampson B. Wright lived. There would always be another suit to come, another appeal after that, particularly now that there were complex criminal charges and not merely constitutional minutiae.

A meeting for the entire community was called for March 20, the first – and to the best of my knowledge, only – town meeting to discuss a public crisis in Santa Rosa. Interest was such that the location was moved to the largest auditorium in town, the Cline movie theater (corner of 5th and B streets).

Fury at Wright was so great that the citizen’s committee organizing the townhall warned “the meeting will not be of a radical nature, and that no suggestion of violent measures will be countenanced.”

That night the movie house was packed; on stage was a lineup of men who would speak. The meeting began with everyone rising to their feet and singing “America the Beautiful.”

“The school condition in Santa Rosa is intolerable. The people are incensed and they have a cause to be,” began William F. Cowan, the attorney who chaired the meeting. He recapped the purpose of the state law and the vote on the bonds. From the Press Democrat we learn he went on for “considerable of an address” before coming to the point:

“In the series of conferences held this afternoon and this morning,” Cowan said, “everyone concerned met in a spirit of harmony, with the result that a method was suggested whereby the bonds may be sold and the work of construction begun without further delay.”

Suddenly it was over. Three hours earlier, Wright had agreed to drop his new lawsuit in principle. “Then a burst of applause broke out. It was realized that the fight had been won,” the PD reported.

Wright did not attend but his attorney was there and told the crowd he was unapolgetic. His client did not seek to delay construction of the high school, but felt he had “certain rights in this manner.” Okay, sure, whatever makes you feel good about yourself.

Because of the unexpected settlement, the meeting ending early, so they lowered the house lights and everyone enjoyed a silent movie. The next morning’s Press Democrat offered a screamer headline: “NEW HIGH SCHOOL ASSURED.”

Wright said a few weeks later he was filing yet another lawsuit against the bond sale, but apparently nothing came of it. Hilliard Comstock later estimated all the delays from Wright’s first suit cost the district $65,000.

And now, the happy ending: On November 21, 1923 the cornerstone was laid, complete with a copper box time capsule, and on December 29, 1924 the doors were opened to students for the first time. After all the chasing over town to make classes during the previous three years I’m sure the kids had an appreciation for the building we can’t grasp today. Even a basic service like a school cafeteria must have seemed a joy to them and 300 crowded in for the first lunch, where they could choose swiss steak for a dime or “weenies and hot rolls” for 7¢ – dessert was apple pie, brick ice cream or “Arctic Cakes” for 6¢. Chocolate cake was just a penny more.


* It was later said that another possibile high school building site was at/near the current location of the Santa Rosa Plaza, which would have blocked development of the mall and/or highway 101. That location was never under consideration.


TOP: 1926 photo (Sonoma County Library) BOTTOM: 1925 photo (SRHS Foundation)
Grammar School Districts Annexed For High School Purposes – Promised Representation on School Board

Hearty co-operation of the outlying grammar school districts in the extension of the high school system and enlargement of its work was assured as the result of the conference between the directors of the Santa Rosa chamber of commerce, the Santa Rosa board of education and trustees of the rural school districts held at the rooms of the chamber of commerce last night. It had been shown that both the local school authorities and the chamber of commerce were on record to provide for district representation on the high school board of education as quickly as the necessary steps could be taken.

The meeting was well attended and a thorough discussion of the problems was held, in which the outsiders showed their kindly spirit and willingness to do their part in providing for suitable school system centering in Santa Rosa if given their rights of representation and assurance that there was no intention of forcing them to be taxed without representation.


President Wallace Ware presided at the meeting, which lasted two hours. District Attorney Geo. W. Hoyle was present and gave a resume of the law and steps leading up to the recent act of the supervisors in adding 25 rural school districts to the Santa Rosa districts for high school purposes and the steps which remained to give them their proper representation on the board of education.


After the conference the directors of the chamber held a session in which the matter was again gone over, and Hilliard Comstock was named a committee of one to see that the work of clearing up the school problem is pushed forward as rapidly as possible.

District Attorney Hoyle is at present engaged in a thorough search of conditions, law and decisions bearing on the case in answer to queries propounded by the school authorities, and as soon as this is ready it will be submitted, together with the opinion of the attorney general. It is hoped this will open the way for immediate action in securing a union high school board…

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 23, 1921



At 2 o’clock Monday afternoon a parade boosting school bonds consisting of the high school, Junior College and the elementary students will start from the Congregational church and march west on 4th street to Davis street. Superintendent Jerome Cross has appointed Miss Alice Koford as grand marshal of the parade as a reward for her work in making it possible.

The students will carry large banners on which are printed slogans for boosting the bonds. A number of cheers have been worked up by the students and will be given every alternating block.

The formation of the parade will be as follows…

– Press Democrat, April 2, 1922



Santa Rosa’s $241,000 school bond issue was carried in the election yesterday by 3,082 to 113.

This is believed to be the largest majority ever accorded any issue in Sonoma county, and speaks eloquently of the overwhelming sentiment for new schools here…This is a remarkable growth in sentiment over the figures of two years ago, when the bonds carried by approximately 4 to 1. At that time, however, there was by no means the elaborate organization working for the bonds that was built up for the campaign ended yesterday…

– Press Democrat, April 5, 1922



No time is to be lost by the board of education in replacing the ramshackle Fremont and Lincoln school buildings with the moder structures Santa Rosa proved it wanted at the election Tuesday…It is the tentative plan of the board to begin the tearing down of the old schools the day following the end of the term. Time will be made the essence of the contracts and the new buildings ready for occupancy, completely appointed when the September term begins…

– Press Democrat, April 6, 1922
 District to Vote at Same Time on Choice of Three Proposed Sites; Wright Property and Leddy Tract on Sebastopol Avenue Offered in Addition to 30-Acre Todd Property

The voters of the City of Santa Rosa high school district, which includes the Santa Rosa grammar school districts surrounding the city, at a special election May 18, will be asked to authorized a $375,000 bond issue for the purchase of a site and the erection and equipment of a high school building and improvement of the grounds.

At the same time the question of a sight will be submitted to a decision of the voters. On the same ballot with the bond proposition, but as separate and distinct proposals, will be listed three sites from which the voters will be asked to select the one wanted for the new high school building…

…It is felt by the board that the Todd property is the most acceptable owing to its being so centrally located to all the main arteries of travel from the surrounding country and as convenient, if not more so, for the town people than any other site which could be secured for school purposes.

The Leddy tract and the Wright property are both within a very short distance of the west line of the district which separates the Analy high school district from the Santa Rosa district and are off the main traffic highways through the country.


The trustees have been offered each of the various Wright properties at various prices raging from $350 to $1250 an acre. This includes the Esther Wright, the Sampson Wright and the Girault Wright tracts. The Leddy tract is offered at approximately $1,000 an acre…[The Todd] property is held by the trustees under an option at $1000 an acre or a total of $30,000. The option expires June 1.

– Press Democrat, April 23, 1922



Sampson B. Wright has withdrawn his property facing the Sebastopol highway from the list of possible sites for the new district high school.

Announcement to this effect was made Wednesday. It leaves only the Leddy tract, alson on the Sebastopol highway, and the Todd property facing Mendocino avenue, for the people to vote on at the election May 18.

– Press Democrat, April 27, 1922
 Committee Dispels Confusion About Location of Todd Site; Many Bodies Represented

Two meetings were held here yesterday for the purpose of planning active campaign work in behalf of the high school bond issue…At both meetings it was brought out that some confusion had arisen over the name “Rush B. Todd site,” some believing that this referred to the Todd district. The committee and school authorities are anxious to have it understood that the proposed site is the old Ridgeway [sic] property at the northern edge of the city on Healdsburg avenue…

– Press Democrat, May 10, 1922


Representatives of 16 Districts Attend Chamber of Commerce Dinner, and All Are Enthusiastic in Approval of $375,000 Issue to Be Voted on May 19.

Representatives and trustees of 16 school districts, both in and near Santa Rosa, voiced unanimous approval Thursday night for the high school bond election to be held May 19 and for the Rush B. Todd site in Healdsburg avenue for the location of the proposed school…

…A great number of the most prominent architects in the state have been interviewed by the school board in regard to the construction and price of the proposed school buildings. [City Superintendent Jerome O.] Cross stated, and in ever instance the architects recommended a class “C” type building. This is very plain in architecture, it was stated, but one that gives the best of service for a school building.

Regarding the proposed location of the school on the present Todd property, or what is known as the former Ridgeway property, and the conflict that is arising over this location due to the Leddy tract on the Sebastopol highway being offered at a lower figure, Cross explained that not only is the Todd property the exact geographical center of the district, but it has the advantages of city water, electricity and gas, fire protection and sewage system. The price of this land as offered to the board is $1000 an acre, a price that is cheaper than many unimproved tracts of land in other communities.

The Leddy tract was offered at a much lower figure, but being so far out of the city limits, some two and one-half miles, it would mean a large expense to bring the necessary water, light, gas, sewage, and so forth to this location. Another bad feature, it was pointed out, was the fact that it would cost several thousand dollars to level the Leddy tract sufficiently to build on it…

– Press Democrat, May 12, 1922

Editor Press Democrat:

Major Comstock quotes me incorrectly. I said: “Major Comstock told me that unless the deal for the Todd property could be closed by June 1st, 1922, the chamber of commerce would lose $500 cash bond put up.”

That statement surprised me because it was apparent that the chamber of commerce would find a way to protect the option. But if I be given false premises my conclusions are likewise apt to look a bit unreasonable. He told me the option would expire on June 1st, 1922, and that as to a renewal, Mr. Todd would be difficult. The signing of the $4000 note seems of minor importance.

The major first denies that he ever signed any such note and then seems to qualify that statement by saying: “I have no individual responsibility whatever in connection with the Todd property.” Mr. Walter Price attended a meeting between certain members of the chambers of commerce and representatives of the Santa Rosa realty board. He states that at this meeting certain gentlemen from the chamber of commerce wanted the real estate board to underwrite absolutely 34 acres of the Todd property and to agree to take over the other 29.65 acres in case the voters refused to accept the latter as a site for the new high school.

Mr. Price has verified his former statement to the effect that at that meeting it was freely stated that three members of the chamber of commerce — one of whom being Major Comstock had acted as a committee for that body and had signed the note referred to for $4000. He also says that while Major Comstock did not attend that meeting the other two (2) members of that committee were present. So it may be that technically Major Comstock is not personally liable in this matter.

There is one objection to the Todd property as a high school site which should eliminate it from consideration. It is the fact that it lies within the lines of the southwest winds which sweep over the Noonan slaughter house and corrals during almost every day during the summer and fall. It is incomprehensible to me that sponsors for the Todd property, especially the high school trustees, should have failed to note and direct attention to this objection.

Again if the school be located there about the next move will be a condemnation proceeding against the Noonan plant to compel its removal and then $250,000 or more will have to be provided by the tax payers with which to pay damages to the Noonan company.

This will mean a tax of $1.92 on every $100 on the 26 school districts and if the 25 outside districts withdraw from Santa Rosa it will mean a tax of $3.84 on every $100 inside Santa Rosa. Moreover the Noonan plant to be destroyed might be appraised at $030,000. [sic]

Drainage from the Todd lands is over the Noonan property and I am reliably informed that Mr. Noonan is not going to tamely submit to present drainage conditions.

An abundance of water can be had on the Leddy tract by pumping. The City of Santa Rosa pumps water. Why not pump on the Leddy tract?

The railroad officials well know how to transport children and they will have guaranteed in writing that they will transport them. An objection to the Leddy park on that score seems puerile.

Major Comstock declares that transportation to the Todd property will be refused to the 383 students living inside the limits of Santa Rosa and that it must be allowed if Leddy park be selected, Then parents generally in town should vote for Leddy park in order to let their children ride.

The major says that in order to transport 383 school children a year on cars at 12 cents each day the cost will be $13,788. According to my calendar there are 52 Saturdays and 52 Sundays in a year. Usually there are 60 days summer vacation, 14 days around Christmas and other holidays to interfere with school attendance might amount to six days and institute week five days, a total probably of 189 days. Deduct these from 365 and there are 176 days left. At 12 cents the cost of transporting one student 176 days would be $21.12 and 383 would cost $8,088 — 5,700 less than Major Comstock figures. Major did you cause this statement, $13,788 as the cost to appear, two times in the Santa Rosa Republican through error or was that done advisedly?

It is well to note that the present high school trustees may not live always and admitting that they will so live they are not going to be able to control the situation. If Santa Rosa is to make a city a growth of two miles along the electric car line is not much of a growth.

I am urging all voters to support the Leddy park tract for a high school site and to oppose the bond issue as submitted. In submitting a bond proposal for a high school the trustees should be those who can function for the entire 26 districts sufficient time should be allowed for people to be registered 30 days before election and every schoolhouse should be a voting place. It is claimed that these trustees want to be fair and yet a large percentage of the people living in outside districts are disfranchised so far as this bond election goes.

A new call should be made and in asking for that amount of money should be stated which is to be spent in improvement of the grounds, the amount to be spent on insurance, the amount to be spent on furniture and apparatus, the amount to be spent in the purchase of a lot and the amount to be spent in the construction of buildings. A statement upon these points outside the proclamation does not bind any one nor is that the law.

– Press Democrat, May 13, 1922 [paragraphing added for clarity]
High School Is To Have Museum Worth Thousands

When the Santa Rosa High School District acquires its new, strictly up-to-date school building, we are promised a very valuable accessory in the form of a museum, rich and complete in anthropology.

The acquisition of the museum has been made possible largely through the effort of Jesse Peter, graduate of the Santa Rosa high school of some years since, who is a recognized anthropologist and is by profession a civil and mining engineer. He returned from Alaska a short time ago to again take up his residence here…

…Here is what Mr. Peter has to say:

“Santa Rosa and Sonoma county have long felt the need for an historical museum and from time to time a museum of one kind or another has been talked of. One of the features of the new high school and junior college will be a museum of anthropology devoted to the Sonoma county Indians. This is a unique educational feature in California schools and is capable of far-reaching scientific results…The faculty of the department of anthropology of the University of California has generously offered and assistance within their power to make the Santa Rosa high school museum a success…

 – Press Democrat, May 13, 1922


 High School Site Offered Free Would Permit Pupils To Travel On Li’l Gondola

Not to be outdone by others who have high school sites on hand, Messrs. Gray and Gremott Saturday came forward with the offer of a site absolutely free of charge!

The property is a tract of 20 acres, described as being “only 20 minutes from the court house by Duesenberg Special or 70 minutes on a bicycle.”

Having sold all the balance of their sub-division, the two public-spirited citizens have no ulterior motive in offering this site, it is said. The property is on the Petaluma-Sebastopol highway and only a quarter of a mile from the electric line.

There is a beautiful lake on one end of the property, which could be used for bathing in the summer and boating in the winter. During the latter season this lake is said to become somewhat enlarged, so that the high school on that site might present the appearance of a Venetian villa, or something like that.

The generosity of the owners of this property is to be commended, and doubtless some adequate expression of thanks will be prepared by the women’s auxiliary of the chamber of commerce.

– Press Democrat, May 14, 1922



The schools of Santa Rosa assisted by several from outlying districts who are in the high school district will stage a demonstration this afternoon at 3 o’clock in favor of the high school bonds. A parade will be held with the pupils from the fourth grade up participating and there will be a number of interesting features in the way of floats and various displays…

– Press Democrat, May 18, 1922

Considerable interest was aroused yesterday morning by the announcement that Sampson B. Wright plans to attempt, through litigation, to delay the construction of a new high school here.

It is understood that in Wright’s opinion Section 1734b of the political code, under which elementary districts may be annexed to high school districts, is unconstitutional. Wright’s contention is reported to be that the State legislature erred in attempting to delegate certain power to county superintendent of schools together with a single supervisor, rather than to the board of supervisors as a whole… [section of 1921 law cited]

– Press Democrat, May 26, 1922

Miss Ellen F. Deruchie and Miss Edith Troxell of the high school facility were laid up Wednesday by illness and it is not expected the former will be able to return to work for several days at the best. The exposure and trying conditions to which the teachers of the Santa Rosa high school are being subjected is proving a heavy tax to their health and strength.

A visit to the high school Wednesday showed under what difficulty both teachers and pupils are working since the destruction of the old building the night of November 15, 1921. At the present time the school is divided among more than half a dozen buildings scattered over many blocks which must be traveled between each class during the day either by the teacher or pupils.

The study hall and five recitation rooms are located in the Congregational church with poor light, ventilation and accommodations for drying out wet clothing. Two other classes are located in the Methodist Episcopal church where the conditions are not much better. Four classes are housed in the old Mailer hall on Fourth street and five in the old Mailer warehouse at Fifth and Mendocino avenue. This is made of corrugated iron and is not warm or comfortable in such weather as is prevailing at present.

The Junior College with eight recitation rooms in the Masonic Temple is the most comfortably provided of any of the schools with one class in the Labor Temple adjoining. Two bungalows are being used and several class rooms at the Annex in conjunction with the junior high school classes which overcrowds that building making good work exceedingly difficult.

“I can truthfully say that the teaching corps has proven highly efficient and loyal under all the handicaps,” said Principal E. H. Barker in commenting on school conditions in Santa Rosa. “The school is maintaining a high standard despite the great lack of accommodations and proper equipment and both teachers and pupils are showing the right kind of spirit. It will not be to our advantage, however, if a number of the best teachers accept positions another year where they can have better accommodations, but we must expect to meet such conditions, as there is a demand for teachers in places having the best of facilities.”

– Press Democrat, January 25, 1923


Stand Out of the Way!

After having failed in one attempt to set aside the will of the people as expressed at the polls, Sampson B. Wright again brings suit to prevent the construction of a new high school here. The present suit is not brought in his name, but it is his, nevertheless.

The question of building a new high school to replace the one destroyed by fire was submitted to public vote and the bonds carried by a tremendous majority, but Mr. Wright steps in and says, “No.” Unless the people follow his plan, they will never have a new high school if he can prevent it.

In wintry weather our children can continue to plow back and forth between improvised quarters and in summer they can sweat and swelter in draughty fire-traps.

Families can decline to locate here and continue to move away, disgusted at what appears to be our lack of public spirit and want of appreciation regarding educational necessities.

All these things mean nothing to Sampson B. Wright, if he can only have his way…

…It is probably Sampson’s Wright’s contention that outlying districts should not be taxed to keep up a hight school in Santa Rosa. He favored the construction of a new building under the consolidated district plan as long as he though it could be located out of his way. He fought hard for it, and even made public tender of part of his property as a site–at a price.

Then when the people voted on the question and decided to build the structure in Santa Rosa, the central point, he recanted and became a bitter opponent of the whole idea. The thing looks bad, but let that pass. Let’s consider the point he now raises.

Should the outlying districts be taxed to build and maintain a new high school, or should Santa Rosa build it and pay for it and maintain it for the benefit of the outside districts? That is all there possibly can be to the question back of Wright’s suit…

..The people have said what they want, so let Sam Wright stand out of the way!

– Press Democrat editorial, March 16, 1923
Now For a New High School

Sampson Wright’s suit questioning the validity of the bonds vote a year or more ago for the construction of a new high school has been withdrawn, and the probability now is that within the next few weeks actual construction of the much-needed building will be under way. This is good news, and the outcome of recent efforts will be welcomed by the community generally.

Any citizen has the right to bring suit in our courts where he believes his interests are jeopardized. Nobody questioned the right of Sampson B. Wright to test the law on this high school question, or object if he believed the law was not being followed properly. The trouble with Mr. Wright’s suit was that under the procedure employed, a necessary and vital improvement was retarded. Nothing could ben done to replace a high school that had been destroyed by fire, although its speedy reconstruction was absolutely necessary. Under the terms of the agreement just reached, the work of rebuilding will begin at once and the legal points raised by Mr. Wright will be fought out later. This method of procedure should have been adopted in the first place. It might have been induced long ago, if the community had united and made its demand to that effect sooner. The outcome of this matter affords a striking example of the power of united public sentiment when properly and intelligently directed. Nothing can withstand it.

– Press Democrat editorial, March 27, 1923



A new suit, directed against the sale of $375,000 worth of bonds for the construction of the Santa Rosa high school building, is to he filed by Sampson B. Wright, a rancher residing west of Santa Rosa, he announced Wednesday.

“It is the only feasible plan right now,” Wright, plaintiff in the former case, declared. Nor will a bill, passed hy the legislature, validating the existence of a Santa Rosa high school district, block the way to bring such a suit, Wright explained, “The legislature,” he continued, has no right to pass any retroactive measure. The suit, brought previously, questions the constitutionality of the law creating such high school districts.

“When I signed the stipulation in the dismissal of the last suit, it was on the understanding that I should sacrifice none of my rights in the case.”

The necessity of re-advertising for bids is set up by Wright as the reason for the latest attack on the construction of the high school building.

– Healdsburg Tribune, May 3 1923


New Educational Building Proves Delight to Visitors

Santa Rosa appeared to have turned out en masse last night for inspection of the new half million dollars High School building erected on the Redwood highway at the northern city limits on a 30-acre campus and occupied for the first time yesterday.

Despite the storm, filly 2500 patrons of the school with the children gathered at the new building and spent several hours inspecting the rooms and facilities provided for the care and education of the children of the community.

Members of the high school faculty and board of education with their wives acted as a reception committee. Each room was decorated in some manner and all contained potted flowers. Miss Helen G. Cochrane, supervisor of music in the high school rendered an impromptu musical program in the music room during the evening with some of her pupils. The program consisted of choral work duets, trios and solos as well as instrumental number and proved quite an attraction to many. This was the only attempt at entertainment during the evening…

…Judges, lawyers, bankers, business and professional men and women, ranchers, laborers and retired men and women and even whole families of Chinese mingled and exchanged felicitations over the possession of such a wonderful plant for the district work. All were delighted with the convenience, the adaptability and compactness of the structure. One visitor here from the East, who took a great interest in examination of the structure on leaving remarked to the writer, “Never before in all my life have I seen such a magnificent school for a city of this size. It is simply wonderful.”

– Press Democrat, December 30, 1924

Read More