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TODAY YOU SAW CAL CAULKINS

Don’t panic, but we’ve been surrounded. Travel around Santa Rosa (and to a lesser extent, Sebastopol) for ten minutes and it’s likely you’ll encounter one or more buildings designed by “Cal” Caulkins, Santa Rosa’s top architect roughly between 1935-1960. Outside of the neighborhoods built by Hugh Codding, no other person did more to define the look of Santa Rosa than Caulkins.

He was also prolific. By going through the Press Democrat archives he can be found named as the architect on over 100 different buildings, and that’s not counting projects that were dropped or reassigned, projects that were simply remodels and, of course, projects that weren’t mentioned in the paper. I found references to 17 Santa Rosa houses and believe the true number is 2-3x more – either that, or there was an army of contractors here during the late 1930s doing Caulkins knockoffs.

The residential buildings he created are not artsy or pretentious – but neither are they boring and repetitious like the Codding houses. But most of his work was not in designing houses; he did about twice as many civic or commercial buildings (including a roller skating rink), a couple of dozen schools and a handful of churches. His masterpiece is probably the Art Deco-style goliath on Fourth street which is now home to Barnes & Noble (more about that later) but everything he designed has merits. A chronological list of all his known work can be found at the end of this article.

The “Caulkins style” is pretty easy to spot once you know what to look for, and I’ve created a mile-long walking tour that will showcase most of the elements seen in his work. But before putting on those hiking shoes, a little background is helpful. There were five main “styles” that he used throughout his career – and as we’ll see on the tour, he often moshed them together:

* SPANISH COLONIAL   Stucco walls sometimes with carved bas-relief details; tile roof; terracotta attic vents; arched entryways; decorative ironwork. Caulkins apparently called this “Early California.”

* ENGLISH-NORMAN   Hybrid style popular in the 1920s-1930s and also called Tudor-French Norman style. Stucco walls with half-timbering often more curvy and elaborate than simple Tudor; casement windows; cross-gabled with a steep hipped roof and the entryway beneath its own gable or part of a tower.

* COLLEGIATE GOTHIC   General 20th century style for brick or stone campus buildings to appear old, per Oxford and Cambridge. See this article on its history. (h/t to John Murphey for the name)

* STREAMLINE MODERNE/PWA MODERNE   Simplified version of Art Deco often intended to mimic 1930s automobile styling; curved edges, glass bricks, casement window pairs on corners, aluminum or even chrome trim. PWA (Public Works Administration) Moderne was another offshoot of Art Deco popular for public buildings in the 1930s-1940s.

* MID-CENTURY MODERN   Single story with maximum window space making walls as transparent as possible; flat roof, sharp angles, multiple exterior entrances preferred to hallways; often intended to look prefab or modular.

Also before we begin, full disclosure: I have a personal dislike (strike that: indifference) for much of his architecture, but my bias is not against his work specifically – I just don’t have a taste for any form of modernist architecture, which had its heyday during the same decades as Caulkins’ career. To me the “moderne” styles are Art Deco without the art, often making me think of bus stations (Caulkins did remodel the Greyhound station here) or Los Angeles’ oppressive downtown civic buildings (my long-running joke has been the style should be renamed, “Sepulveda”). The many elementary schools he designed in the mid-century modern style probably looked outdated by the time the first kindergarten students graduated high school.

At the same time, Caulkins did his best with what the clients of his era demanded. Those schools that appear mired in the ugly 1950s had an innovative baffle roof (invented by Caulkins) to bring in natural light to the side of the classroom farthest away from the big windows. Each of his residences in historic revival styles had its own unique touch in some significant way – unlike the cookie-cutter Codding houses. And while his cottage-type homes were designed for families with middle class budgets, they don’t look cheaply made. Another difference from much of what Codding built. So.

Our walking tour begins at the corner of Tenth and B streets, which might as well be called the intersection of Streamline and Moderne. Here are two of Caulkins’ best examples kitty-corner from each other. Use the Google street view below for orientation (or if you’re not walking, follow the arrows as directed):

Standing from the Google viewpoint, the building closest to the camera is the 1940 Thurlow Professional Building. On the distance on the other side of Tenth street is seen the 1938 Hamlin Medical Building. Note the large overall area of wall space devoted to windows on both, as well as corner windows wherever possible.

The SEIU building at 600 B street shows more of a debt to Art Deco, mainly because of the door and torch lights on either side (although I don’t know if these were original). Ribbons in the concrete steps lead to the entryway with its aluminum canopy, which is repeated on the side. The entrance is in the middle of the building, yet the window layout is asymmetrical.

Walk across the blocked intersection island (uh, why is it there?) to 576 B street. The imposing pilasters give it that heavy PWA Moderne look, although the corrugated metal cladding adds much needed color. Note the caduceus medallion at the top from its old days as a medical building – which is a bit awkward as the offices have been used by lawyers and accountants for as long as I can remember.

Proceed up Tenth street to see the side of the building, again packed with metal frame windows, including every corner. The arrangement of the windows is asymmetrical although edges line up vertically.

Continue up Tenth and turn left at the stop sign, walking to the intersection of College and Mendocino avenues. Cross College ave. at the stoplight and proceed left (west) on College. Turn right (north) at the first street on Glenn, and then two short blocks to Benton street.

There are at least five Caulkins homes in this general neighborhood – and likely more we don’t know about – making it Ground Zero for his residential work. One reason there may be so many is because he lived at 100 Ridgway avenue (now cut off on the other side of the freeway) during the 1930s and early 1940s.

The 1937 Douglas house at the corner of Glenn and Benton streets is a fine example of how adept Caulkins was at tinkering with the popular styles of his day. While all that half timbering and the steep roof screams jolly olde England, one doesn’t notice the other stuff that’s completely discordant. The many dormer windows are extremely large for the house – but since he used shed roofs instead of the usual Tudor gables, they don’t draw much attention. (I’d also argue that without the distracting half timber the house would look top heavy.) And look: Metal frame casement windows on three corners, à la Streamline Moderne.

Continue walking north on Glenn street one block, to the intersection with Denton Court/Denton Way. The cul de sac site was the subject of much controversy in 1949, as Santa Rosa wanted to put the War Memorial Auditorium there – yes, the same hulking building now across from the fairgrounds (and designed by Caulkins). It’s a long story, explored here in “THE VETS WAR MEMORIAL WARS.”

Turn east on Denton Way, walking on the right side of the street. You will pass two more Caulkins houses at #432 and #446, built respectively in 1935 and 1936. Aside from mentions in the Press Democrat, we can ID these as Caulkins houses because of…wait for it…corner window pairs. (The windows at #446 are updated.) The newer house also has a unusual feature also found on the Chamber of Commerce model home he designed about the same time: A tall, swept standing seam canopy draping over a bay window.

At the end of Denton Way is the 1937 house for Acme Beer baron Floyd Trombetta. It is the largest of the Caulkins homes in the area and the one most conforming to a style, here Spanish Colonial Revival – no Streamline Moderne windows this time. He did somewhat break stride by putting the entryway in a tower, per the English-Norman hybrid.

Proceed north on Mendocino avenue. You’ll immediately be in front of St Luke’s, which Caulkins designed in 1945. It is supposed to be “Tudor English Gothic,” but aside from some of the fenestration I wouldn’t have guessed.

Walk north to the stoplight at Ridgway ave. where you should cross Mendocino ave. to the east side. Continue two short blocks to the Crawford Court intersection.

Cal Caulkins 1936 drawing of the Trombley house, 1122 Mendocino ave

 

On the corner is the home Caulkins designed in 1936 for his friends, the Trombleys. “Professor” George Trombley was Santa Rosa’s premier music teacher and founder of the Santa Rosa Symphony in 1929. Although it’s now altered and broken up into apartments, this was a showplace when it was built; the Press Democrat printed his drawing at least twice, along with a lengthy description of how “ultra modern” it was. And yes, there were corner windows.

Cross the street back to the west side using the pedestrian stoplight and continue north until you reach the Santa Rosa Junior College gate. This was designed by Caulkins and dedicated June 15, 1935 in a ceremony including the widow of Luther Burbank. Here would be built a grand college, the arch promised.

In the years that followed, Cal Caulkins designed ALL of the original buildings on the campus. If he had created no other architecture in his life, he should be remembered for that.

His full name was Clarence Adelbert Caulkins Jr., although everyone called him “Cal” – which has caused some to mistakenly assume he was a Calvin. He was born 1899 in Montana and studied architecture at UC/Berkeley, where he worked for years with John Galen Howard, who designed the Empire Building and would have given Santa Rosa several other memorable buildings had our civic leaders not gone on the cheap.

Caulkins moved to Santa Rosa around 1932 and partnered with William Herbert, an architect who had been here for about fifteen years. Curiously, the prolific Caulkins is now all but forgotten while Herbert’s prestige as “Santa Rosa’s first architect” has risen – even though he accomplished little.

Today Bill Herbert is falsely credited with projects such as the original Luther Burbank school (sorry, it was built about ten years before Herbert showed up) and the designs which appeared during the firm’s sudden burst of activity that began once Caulkins joined the firm. Herbert is often named as the architect for Sebastopol’s 1935 Park Side School, for example, although the design is clearly in synch with Caulkin’s version of PWA Moderne. What Herbert did accomplish was mainly in the 1920s, particularly as being the supervising architect during the construction of Santa Rosa High School. He was also Santa Rosa’s building inspector for a number of years. Only two surviving examples of his solo architecture still can be found in Santa Rosa – a modest house at 418 Denton Way and the “Von Tillow Block” at 616 Mendocino ave., home to the Round Robin dive bar. Although William Herbert was said to be an MIT graduate, I’ll wager it was in a field of study other than architecture.

Scan the list below of the work produced by the Herbert & Caulkins office in 1935 and be humbled – two major schools, the first Junior College building (the gym), a major office building and four houses in Santa Rosa, one of them a place in Proctor Heights that the Press Democrat called “palatial.” There were probably more; next door to the house at 1121 St. Helena ave. is another from the same year, both exactly using Caulkins’ English-Norman vocabulary. And a couple of doors away is #1107, which was used as a model home for a time, eventually becoming the Caulkins family home. And on top of all that, he did a design for the county hospital (seen here).

(RIGHT: May 8, 1936 Rosenberg store fire. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

When Caulkins opened his own office in 1936, things got really busy for him. There were at least seven more houses including the Streamline Moderne showpiece for his friends, the Trombleys. And then the disaster of May 8th happened.

The fire at Rosenberg’s Department Store was most devastating event in Santa Rosa since the Great 1906 Earthquake. The fire was so fierce there was concern that the city reservoir might not have enough water to fight it. Firemen from all over the area needed several tense hours to bring it under control.

The Rosenbergs vowed immediately to rebuild – and as the lost building’s upper floors were a major hotel, there were two businesses to restore. They gave Cal Caulkins the commissions for both.

The site at Fourth and B (currently the CitiBank building) was to become the New Hotel Santa Rosa as soon as fire debris was cleared and the blueprints were ready. The department store would be built on the half-block at Fourth and D, which was then a gas station and a garage. The Rosenbergs already owned the portion of Third and D which is still used as a parking lot behind the store.

The New Hotel Santa Rosa opened in December 1936, just seven months after the fire which is nothing short of amazing – three shifts of construction workers were kept busy 24 hours a day.

The exterior of the hotel appears plain and rote, but that’s only because all photos are in black and white; when it opened the PD spent a paragraph praising Caulkins’ innovative use of color – yet without describing what the colors were. Inside the design straddled Moderne and Art Deco. Aluminum bands were used there as well to create strong horizontal lines with indirect lighting cast upward from the pillars. These features continued in the dining room, which could seat 350 (!) and had walls painted in brown, yellow and apricot, which might well have been the muted exterior colors as well.

New Hotel Santa Rosa.  Photos courtesy Sonoma County Library

 

But also in December the paper revealed the San Francisco firm of Hertzka & Knowles were the architects for the department store. Nothing was said of why they were replacing Caulkins – or if he was being replaced completely.

Since the days immediately after the fire, Caulkins had been talking up his design to reporters and a drawing of his appeared in the PD less than three weeks afterward. Those early articles show plans were very much in flux; the paper said it would be a one story building with a mezzanine, then soon after that it could be up to six stories high with “a battery of elevators and escalators.” His drawing shows a building half again as large as what was built. Consistent throughout was that Fred Rosenberg wanted the place to look hip; according to the PD, Caulkins was “instructed to design the store as ultra-modern as possible…it will be of moderne architecture, with Caulkins intending to call for considerable use of a new-type structural glass and chrome-plated ironwork in his plans.”

The second drawing below appeared just before construction began and was most likely done by H&K. The most striking difference between Caulkins’ early drawing is the tower, which reached the building’s six-story potential – as the tallest structure in town, it was said to be like a beacon when illuminated at night. Aside from that, his preliminary sketch of a much larger building is recognizable in this later drawing, particularly the strong vertical decorative elements on the face contrasting with a stack of belt courses wrapping all the way around. And there’s plenty of that glass brick which Caulkins was intending to use.

Cal Caulkins preliminary drawing for Rosenberg’s Department Store. PD, May 26, 1936

 

Final (?) drawing unsigned for Rosenberg’s Department Store. PD, Jan 21, 1937

 

Whether H&K completely took over or collaborated with Caulkins is unknown, as is whether the final design belongs to him, them, or both. I’m inclined to believe all of the store’s interior and most of its exterior should be attributed to Caulkins; as seems to be the case with the hotel, there’s an originality in the design which defies simple definitions of what Art Deco or Streamline Moderne is “supposed” to look like. Nor can I find any examples of Hertzka & Knowles designing anything else that looks like this store. In 1941 they created the Leader Department Store in Petaluma (later Carithers) and that’s best described as being more in the International style, so devoid it is of any artistic features.

What does seem clear is that the poor guy was overstretched when construction plans were being finalized at the end of 1936. Besides the two enormous Rosenberg projects and the houses, a major problem arose at the Junior College while constructing his second building, causing all work to stop (the lumber was poor quality). With pressure to open the hotel doors ASAP, Caulkins would have had to be superhuman to give the department store project his full attention, what with the required budget breakouts, contractor bids, and million other last minute details large and small. Construction on the store began in January 1937 and its grand opening was shortly before Hallowe’en the same year.

Caulkins stayed incredibly busy over the next few years – check out the timeline below. In 1938 alone he designed Burbank auditorium and three other major buildings at the Junior College. He also became president of the Rotary, which seems to have been a full-time job, judging be all the doings reported in the news. And when WWII happened he went away for three years as a civilian employee designing dorms and housing for the Navy, becoming the architect for the entire Naval District in the Bay Area.

And now the obl. Believe-it-or-Not! surprise twist: Everything you’ve read here so far about Caulkins is just prelude to the really interesting story.

When Cal came back from the war, he had a vision to redesign almost all of Santa Rosa’s downtown core from the ground up. Instead of the grid of streets which had been  platted out way back in 1853 when there was only a couple of houses, a tavern and stray pigs, Caulkins envisioned a magnificent modern civic center to serve the town and county, something which likely would have turned us into a model city of postwar reconstruction for the entire United States.

The Chamber of Commerce loved the idea, as did the labor unions, service clubs, veteran’s groups, women’s groups and politicians of all stripes. The Press Democrat ran a banner on the front page reading, “Santa Rosa’s Future is at Stake.” It looked like a done deal. And then came December 4, 1945 – a day that will live in a kind of infamy.

 

 

 

CAL CAULKINS ARCHITECTURE


1932
Corning Union High School gym – Tehama county  (w/ Herbert)


1933
Webb & Bowman building – fuel oil and boilers 3rd and Main (w/ Herbert)


1935
Usseglio house 432 Denton Way
Chamber of Commerce model home 1621 Proctor Terrace – English cottage (w/ Herbert)
Proctor house 2445 Sunrise Place/Proctor Heights  – Mediterranean  (w/ Herbert)
SRJC gate dedication June 15 Mrs. Burbank
SRJC gym (w/ Herbert)
Sebastopol Union Elementary School – now Park Side (w/ Herbert)
Farmer’s Mutual Insurance 631-635 Fifth st (w/ Herbert)
Malm house 1121 St. Helena ave (w/ Herbert)
Cloverdale Union High School  (w/ Herbert)


1936
Eicher house 438 Denton Way
Call house 928 McDonald ave
Talbot house 201 Talbot ave
Rapp house 236 Talbot ave
E. Stewart house one story early California style
George Bech house 210 Palm ave Sebastopol enlarge and alter
Trombley house 1122 Mendocino ave
SRJC “home science and commercial” building
Rosenberg’s Department Store
Hotel Santa Rosa 4th and B, 508 Fourth st – see PD 12/4/36
Trombetta house 821 Mendocino ave
D. W. Douglas house 354 Benton st
H. T. Graves house 1421 17th st
WPA community center at Howarth Park (proposed – built?)
Stone co. new bldg + alter  625 Fifth st
Ralph Brown house 1612 Bryden Lane


1938
Hamlin medical bldg 576 B st
Knowlden Court apt building 502 Santa Rosa ave (now Economy Inn)
Challenge Cream and Butter Santa Rosa ave
auditorium for Fremont school
county hospital nurse’s quarters
doctor office remodel  1116 Mendocino ave (next to Trombley)
Burbank auditorium, 3 other major JC buildings – PD 9/8/38 – open Jan 1940
roller rink at south entrance Santa Rosa Redwood Hwy near Triangle


1940
Clark Avery house 219 Doyle Park Drive
Thurlow Professional Building 600 B st
Ives Park pool and rec buildings, Sebastopol
L. Grant Kellogg house hillside east of Santa Rosa (59b Adobe Canyon Rd?)
Ukiah fire station and jail
houses for doctors in Ukiah, Willits, Mendocino, Eureka


1941
Building Trades Temple 636 Third st
Seidel house Petaluma – early colonial


1945
Mendocino county hospital
St. Luke’s 905 Mendocino Ave built 48 “tudor english gothic”
Lessard Paper co. Sebastopol ave and Olive corner


1946
Sears – 7th st block between A and B 75000 sq ft opens 1949
Dodge-Plymouth dealership 955 Redwood Hwy S
Buick dealership Redwood Hwy S “automobile row”


1948
Ling furniture store 1044 Fourth st
Doyle Park school built 1950 (now Santa Rosa French-American Charter)
Ben Hall bldg SW corner 10th and Mendocino ave


1949
SRJC assembly hall and music bldg
Fremont grade school (demolished now Charter School for the Arts)
Middletown Unified School
Mark West Union School
American Trust Co. bank corner of Fourth and Exchange
Belleuve Union Elementary School (Kawana)
Carniglia house 1940 Grace Drive
1949 remodel of courthouse basement for county surveyor and road commissioner
Mendocino county courthouse
Mendocino union high school


1950
First Presbyterian 1550 Pacific ave (early sketches gothic)
IOOF Hall Santa Rosa 545 Pacific ave
Charles Niles Jr. house 2111 Linwood ave


1951
Greyhound expand and remodel 5th and B
Forestville Union Elementary school new wing
Flowery Elementary School Fetters Hot Springs
Sharrocks house 931 Litchfield ave Sebastopol
Roseland elementary admin + addition  985 Sebastopol ave


1952
Harmony Union School District, Occidental built 1957
East Petaluma fire station
Ukiah High School gym


1953
Doctor’s bldg 1158 Montgomery Dr


1955
Christian Scientist 330 Hope st
Welti Funeral Home 1225 Sonoma Avenue (now Daniels Chapel of the Roses)
car wash between Santa Rosa ave and Petaluma Hill Rd


1956
Cinnabar Elementary School


1957
Cotati Elementary School


1958
Veterans Memorial Sebastopol
Twin Hills Union Elementary School


1959
Alexander Valley Union School addition


1961
Roseland elementary 950 Sebastopol ave (new school or 5 room add to Sheppard school?)
Office of Civil Defense – recondition buildings at Naval Air Station Sebastopol Rd.


1962
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church 500 Robinson Rd Sebastopol


1963
Salvation Army 115 Pierce st
store 112 N Main st. Sebastopol (south of People’s Music)
Newberry’s store Fourth st additions and renovation


1964
Knox Presbyterian 1650 W 3rd St


(Year Unknown)
A. Z. Blackman house 549 Talbot ave
Carl Livingston house “Circle 3L Ranch” Santa Rosa (7639 Sonoma Hwy?) early american
Yaeger & Kirk offices 701 Wilson st (now Copperfields warehouse)
Congregationalist church Oakland
Lewis school additions
Lakeview, Eucalyptus school districts projects
Point Arena school
Upper Lake school
Round Valley school

 

CAL CAULKINS CAREER EVENTS


1935
plans for American Legion bldg south of Julliard park between Santa Rosa av and A
preliminary plans on county hospital


1937
1937 settles $1100 claim for prelim plans on county hospital $800 (John Easterly final)


1938
mainly four SRJC projects, Rotary president


1940
Nov. issue Architect and Engineer feature


1941
Hogan house in Yokayo subdivision Ukiah wins award


1942
May – active duty on dorms, housing for Richmond/Vallejo farm/defense workers


1943
civilian employee of Navy in SF


1944
architect for 12th Naval District


1945
Andre Morilhat, C. J. Harkness joins firm


1946
North Bay rep for AIA


1947
Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital preliminary plans (not used)


1952
“Caulkins Plan” seismic survey of all downtown bldg. mandated retrofits


1959
President Santa Rosa Downtown Development Assoc

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1101

RIDGWAY’S CHILDREN

That huge white house was the first thing you’d notice when driving into Santa Rosa during the early twenties; it stood right on the northern city limit with a three-story turret like a lighthouse, marking the transition from Redwood Highway to Mendocino avenue and the route downtown. Out-of-towners probably assumed it had been built by a prominent family wanting to make an ostentatious show of wealth. Maybe it was the grand house was out there on the edge of town because they threw riotous parties and did not want to disturb close neighbors. Those assumptions were completely wrong – the home was built by a modest Quaker woman who lived there quietly with her brother until both died in the 1910s. Not that they were uninteresting people; it was said by some in Santa Rosa he kept a fortune buried somewhere on their property, and it was widely believed she was long dead.

(RIGHT: The Judith Todd home at 1101 Mendocino Avenue, as seen in 1915. Photograph courtesy Sonoma County Library)

These were the children of Jeremiah Ridgway. Not much is known about their father; he was profiled in only one of the Sonoma County histories although bits and pieces about him can be found in a few other places. Ridgway was fifty in 1854 when he arrived in California via wagon train with neither a specific trade nor fortune. But he prospered once he came to Santa Rosa three years later and by the boom times in the 1870s, “Jerry” Ridgway was among the wealthiest men in town, owning property on three sides of Courthouse Square. Most significant was the Ridgway Block, which was the eastside of Third street between Courthouse Square and B street. Next to the current location of the Empire Building he built Ridgway Hall, the hotspot for public dancing in late 19th century Santa Rosa.

It seems out of character that he settled here, as Santa Rosa was not known for having a Quaker community and Ridgway’s faith was important to him. “[He] used the Quaker form of speech,” Press Democrat publisher Ernest Finley wrote later in a character sketch for the newspaper. “He would say ‘thee’ and ‘thine’ rather than ‘you’ and ‘yours.'” Except for a stay in Sacramento, every other place he is known to live had a large and well-established Quaker presence, including LaPorte Indiana, where the Ridgways lived before heading west. It was there he would die in 1885 during a visit to his oldest son, Jeremiah Jr.

LaPorte was also the place 20 year-old Judith, the middle child of the Ridgway family, met and married her husband in 1850. Simeon Seymour Todd was a recent graduate of the medical school there and after a few years practicing in Kentucky the young couple joined her parents in heading to California in 1854, apparently on the same wagon train (or at least, the general dates match).

Todd set up an office in the Gold Country and later wrote the doctoring business was lucrative, but he utterly failed in his attempts at gold mining: “I managed to dodge prosperity at every threatened point and keep poor as a rat.” After a couple of years of patching up miners the Todds moved to Santa Rosa, about in tandem with her parents. It might well have been Dr. Todd who paved the way for the Ridgways; here he formed a partnership with college classmate, Dr. J. F. Boyce.1

In Santa Rosa Judith gave birth to two sons (a couple of other children had died in infancy). Rush Boyce Todd – note the middle name of his partner – was born in 1857, and Frank Seymour Todd in 1859. It was around the time Frank was conceived that the doctor began beating her.

For this chapter of the story, all credit goes to historian and cemeterian Jeremy Nichols, who has extensively documented Dr. Todd, even photographing his Missouri tombstone. Most importantly, Jeremy dug through old court records which can be a nightmare, poorly indexed (if indexed at all) and available only on often illegible microfilm. This is the root canal of local historical research.

Judith asked for divorce in June, 1861, citing spousal abuse and frequent intoxication. She told the court he choked her in October, 1858 and struck her in her face in September, 1860. She and the boys had moved in with her parents three months before the suit was filed.

Todd denied everything; he wasn’t a drunk and never abused or threatened her. She had “abandoned him in a period of stress due to the burning of their home and due to a ‘difficulty’ with her brother”. Further, he complained, his father-in-law Jeremiah Ridgeway “hates Defendant and verbally abuses Defendant in front of the children.” The doctor’s lawyer, by the way, was the notorious Otho Hinton, recently admitted to the California bar and starting life anew, having avoided federal prosecution for mail theft. Long story.

As discussed in an article about another local divorce case around the same time, divorce then was unusual but not unheard of. California had a divorce for every 355 marriages, close to double the national rate in 1870 (the first year statistics were collected). While divorce wasn’t forbidden among the Society of Friends it was exceptionally rare and considered to be a breakdown of the Quaker community – although for what it’s worth, Dr. Todd was not a Quaker. The divorce was granted in 1863, almost exactly two years after she filed suit.

While divorce proceedings were underway Todd was in the Union Army, serving as a hospital administrator and surgeon in California. At the end of the Civil War he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he quickly rose to become a respected physician and prominent citizen. There he told everyone he was a widower – and he was making no vague remarks of once having an unnamed wife who died sometime long ago; he precisely stated she was Judith Ann Ridgway, daughter of Jeremiah Ridgway of LaPorte, Indiana and that she passed away in 1861.

It’s unknown whether the Ridgways knew that Judith’s ex had pronounced her prematurely dead. But the audacious claim appeared in at least four Missouri histories and in his 1899 front page obituaries, so it’s hard to imagine that not a single person who knew the Santa Rosa family did not stumble across his lies over three-plus decades. The deception continues still; every online genealogy I find for that branch of the Todd family notes first wife Judith died in 1861. (He married twice again and the second wife, Thirza – likewise a Quaker – really did croak on him.)

Free of the odious Dr. Simeon Seymour Todd in 1863, the Ridgways of Santa Rosa flourished over the next 20+ years. Judith raised the boys, grandpa Jerry’s real estate empire grew and Joseph, her younger brother, did…well, it’s not quite clear what he ever did. More about him later.

It’s certain they all lived together during those years, but we can’t be sure where; neither the 1870 or 1880 census report lists a street address for them. It appears the only residential property they owned was the north end of the block between Glenn street and Healdsburg avenue (now Mendocino ave). There’s an 1885 bird’s-eye view of Santa Rosa – a portion of it can be seen here  – and it shows a modest house apparently surrounded by a garden. On the keymap shown to the left, it’s the smaller red dot. There are also a few other buildings closer to the avenue which could be homes; it seems likely the Ridgway family lived somewhere in this group.

Across the street was their crown jewel – the 160 acres that Jerry had purchased soon after moving to town, shown here outlined in green. Judging by the 1885 map it was still peppered with mature valley oak trees. It was the largest untouched parcel of land on Santa Rosa’s borders.

Come 1885 and Jerry Ridgway passes away, his will slicing the estate equally between his three children. Jeremiah Jr. presumably received much of value in the East, as it appears he inherited nothing in Santa Rosa. There were many other properties divided up but youngest son Joseph got the north end of the 160 acres that ended on Elliott avenue with Judith taking the southernmost half. With her inheritance she built that grand house on the corner, the largest red dot on the keymap.

Seen to the right is a detail from the 1897 bird’s-eye view, showing her castle-like home and grounds, nearly the size of a city block. (There was no development there on the 1885 map, proving she built everything after her father’s death.)

In the big white house little apparently changed over the next quarter century except for the boys growing up and moving away. Judith did not remarry, but changed her status from divorced (1880 census) to widowed (1900 census). Apparently the only souls shuffling through the hallways of that enormous manse were her and brother Joseph, an Asian servant and Annie Mathias, a woman the same age as Judith about whom nothing is known. The only thing noteworthy about those years is that Judith kept growing younger. She was actually born in 1830, but shaved between 4 to 27 years off her age in every census report between 1860 and 1910. As a result Joseph – born nine years after her – vaulted waaaaay back in time to become her much older sibling.

Then in 1912 Joseph died, nursed by Judith through months of declining health. He was 54; except for the eleven years of her marriage to Dr. Todd, Judith and her bachelor brother had lived together their entire lives.

We really don’t know much about Joseph Ridgway; he’s listed as a farmer in city directories and every census, but many people who never touched a plow claimed that profession. Even the urbane and fabulously wealthy Nellie Comstock told the census taker she was a “farmer” by way of living in the Hoen avenue rural district at the time. In another of Finley’s character sketches found in “Santa Rosans I Have Known,” he wrote Joseph made personal loans:

Joe Ridgway was much like his father. He used to loan a good deal of money and I have been told on good authority that very frequently when he made a loan, which was usually in gold coin, the latter showed every appearance of having been buried. Ridgway is believed to have kept much of his money secreted in the ground, as did certain others at the time.

It’s hard not to wonder if he claimed to be a farmer as his little joke about planting and harvesting gold coins, which would befit a man who might have been a tad eccentric. The obituary below remarks “he had his own way of doing things” (an odd thing to write in an obit) and Dr. Todd blamed some “‘difficulty’ with her brother” as being a significant reason for their split. Whatever his personality and relationship with his sister, he died wealthy, leaving an estate worth today about $6 million entirely to Judith (there was no bequest to brother Jeremiah Jr. whom he thought had “ample fortune”).

Judith died at home five years later at age 87 – although in accordance with the last age she told a census taker, she was a sprightly 69.

Our final chapter begins on November 15, 1921. Judith’s oldest son Rush was then living in the great house with his extended family. From their third floor front windows it’s likely they saw the flames shooting from the high school, three blocks away on Humboldt street. As it continued burning through the night with the unnerving thunder of occasional explosions, there were fears burning embers flying over the rooftops might set the neighborhoods on fire, according to first-hand accounts in Lee Torliatt’s “Golden Memories of the Redwood Empire.”

The school was a total loss. Nothing could be done for the 485 students except to scramble finding them temporary classrooms in churches, office buildings and whathaveyou, but planning for the construction of a new high school had to begin immediately. But where should it be? In a remarkably swift two weeks – with the Thanksgiving holiday in the middle – a deal was struck with the Todds. The banner war-victory sized headline in the December 2, 1921 Press Democrat: “BUY 30-ACRE TRACT FOR HIGH SCHOOL” (transcribed below).

It was no great surprise that officials turned first to the Todds. Rush and Bertha had recently sold another thirty acres directly north of the designated school site to the city and Chamber of Commerce which was intended to become the “Luther Burbank Creation Garden.”2 And although the PD article is vague on specifics, it appears the Chamber was also negotiating with Todds for an option to buy the 65 acres to the west as a future home of a junior college or possibly an agricultural branch of the University of California.

Even though the high school plans were cooked up in just a few days, much of the description sounds like what we have today. It envisioned a campus with the main building facing the street (then part of the Redwood Highway) with parking lots and ball fields behind. It would be so modern there would even be space for “the new school bus transportation system” then under development.

The surprise in the deal was the carve-out of seven acres on the corner for the “old Ridgway mansion” as a continuing family home. And indeed they stayed. The 1936 obit for Rush Todd reported he died “at the old home in Mendocino avenue that had been the residence of the pioneer Todd and Ridgway families for more that half a century.” His widow, Bertha, can be spotted there still in the 1940 census with a niece and grandson. She lived until 1972 although the house certainly did not survive that long.

At some point Berry lane was renamed Ridgway avenue, a token nod to history lost on students racing in and out of the parking lots. Where once Judith’s grand house stood are now windowless squat buildings and satellite dishes, unquestionably the ugliest part of the high school campus. It’s hard to believe this bleak corner was once among the prettiest in Santa Rosa, or that it meant so much to a family who left their land mostly untouched for decades until it was given up for higher and better use.

1  Dr. J. F. Boyce had a storied reputation as a heavy drinker who bolted down up to thirty shots of liquor each day, according to Finley’s sketch found in “Santa Rosans I Have Known.” Every morning Boyce would walk down to the butcher shop and cut off a piece of raw meat in order to have “something for the whisky to work on.” Boyce had a beautiful house built after the Civil War which still can be seen at 537 B street.

 

2  Despite its name, the “Luther Burbank Creation Garden” had very little to do with Burbank, aside from a promise he would contribute some plants. It was really the latest installment in the perennial melodrama over Santa Rosa’s efforts to create its first public park, this time with the good juju of Burbank’s famous name and intentions that it would someday include a community auditorium, another benefit the town lacked. Nothing much came of it (although they passed the hat at events for years, seeking donations) and the property was sold in 1930 to become the basis of the new Junior College campus.

 

BUY 30-ACRE TRACT FOR HIGH SCHOOL
Regional Junior College Planned For
Todd Property is Selected As Site of School Center

Location of the new Santa Rosa District High School on a thirty-acre site on the highway just north of the city limits, has been assured with the purchase from Mr. and Mrs. Rush B. Todd of the sixty-five acre property lying between the site highway and Cleveland avenue, Berry lane and the Southern Pacific railroad.

Deeds transferring the property to a committee of trustees jointly representing the Santa Rosa High School Board and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce were signed Thursday and are held in escrow pending the perfection of the abstracts and certificates of title.

Simultaneously with the execution of the escrow and trusteeships, articles of agreement were signed for the protection of the school board’s right to take over the property, or such portion of it as may be needed for high school purposes, when the present legal status of the high school district is determined and arrangements perfected for the construction of the new high school.

HANDLED THROUGH CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

Negotiations of this transaction followed a joint meeting of the board of directors of the chamber of commerce and the board of education, together with City Superintendent Jerome O. Cross, on November 16th, the afternoon following the burning of the Santa Rosa high school building. Its details have been handled by a joint committee representing the two bodies, comprised of Hilliard Comstock, R. A. Belden, Frank P. Doyle and Glen E. Murdock and Wallace L. Ware, the latter two representing Mr. and Mrs. Todd.

TODD RESIDENCE SITE EXCEPTED

Transfer of the property to the trustees named makes available for high school purposes a 600-foot frontage on the west side of the Redwood highway beginning at a point 390 feet from the corner of Berry lane. The articles of agreement provide for excepting from the sale a seven-acre parcel of land on which the old Ridgeway [sic] mansion stands, and which is located at the corner of Berry lane and the highway. This the Todds wished to retain as it is the site of their home. The seven acres extend westward to a point corresponding with the extension of Glenn street.

WILL WIDEN BERRY LANE

Arrangements provide for widening Berry lane to eighty feet, the entire length of the tract, west from the state highway to Cleveland avenue and for the extension of Morgan street, north through the sixty-five acre property, and thence on across the Southern Pacific railroad and along the western line of the Luther Burbank Creations Garden site, owned jointly by the chamber of commerce and the city of Santa Rosa.

MODERN SCHOOL GROUP PLANNED

It is proposed to use the east half of the property for the high school site, on which will be built the new building group, along lines of the most advanced plans for modern high school institutions in the United States. This contemplates a group of modern, fireproof buildings on a campus, units being added from time to time as the need arises. The rear portion of the thirty acres will be utilized as an athletic field for baseball, football, and other athletic activities, ample parking space for automobiles and the new school bus transportation system that will be developed with the perfection of the new high school district administration.

The new school will be erected according to present plans on that part of the tract now used by the baseball diamond and will face the state highway.

AGRICULTURAL STUDY GARDENS

Agricultural studies will be facilitated by using a portion of the thirty acre high school site or the necessary experimental and practical demonstration plots…farming and agriculture work in the Santa Rosa district will be greatly benefited as a result of thus combining the two phases of instruction in the new Santa Rosa District High School.

REGIONAL COLLEGE ON WEST HALF

The western half of this splendid sixty-five acres tract will be held in trust by the chamber of commerce committee pending arrangements, already under way or location of a regional junior college at Santa Rosa. This has been quietly worked on by a joint committee and the board of education for more than six months, and is practically assured.

Already negotiations have been entered into by City Superintendent Jerome O. Cross with the authorities off the University of California or the development of an agricultural plan of sufficient strength to warrant the hope that some day a branch of the agricultural department of the university will be established in Santa Rosa.

This hope is justified by the proximity of the new site to the Luther Burbank Gardens, which will be the most important in California, if not in the United States.

Location of regional colleges is provided for in recent legislation, and Santa Rosa’s claims for consideration as the place or such an institution have been presented in a most effective manner by the joint committee representing our aggressive civic-commercial organization and the board of education. It will provide here in Santa Rosa two years of college education, and is designed to relieve the main institution at Berkeley of the crowded conditions that are beginning to make educational work there so difficult.

[editorializing on the hopes it will become a regional educational center]

BEAUTIFY TODD RESIDENCE

Beautification and improvement of their seven-acre homesite is being planned by Mr. and Mrs. Rush B. Todd, as an additional attractive feature of the transaction. This will include the removal of all old fences and buildings now on the property, and the landscaping of the portion adjoining the house on the highway.

[Santa Rosa baseball association agrees to not challenge lease on ball diamond]

TODDS ARE PRAISED

Those who have been working on the matter highly praise Mr. an Mrs. Todd for the public-spiritedness and co-operation. They went more than half way in assisting the trustees, and it is felt that through their help the district will have the best possible site for its new high school.

– Press Democrat, December 2, 1921
DEATH OF JOS. W. RIDGWAY
Well Known Pioneer Resident of Santa Rosa Dies at His Healdsburg Avenue Home

At five o’clock Monday night amid the familiar scenes of fifty-four years Joseph W. Ridgway’s eyes closed in death.

The well known pioneer died at the beautiful suburban home out on Healdsburg avenue, where he and his sister, Mrs. Judith Todd, had resided together for many years.

For several days before the end Mr. Ridgway had been in a very critical state and in a comatose condition. Prior to his final illness Mr. Ridgway had not been a well man for months, and had failed perceptibly.

During all of his illness he was devotedly ministered to by his sister, Mrs. Todd. The bond between brother and sister was very strong, and now that the ties are broken the sister is almost prostrated with grief.

Mr. Ridgway was a son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah Ridgway, early pioneers of this state. He came to this state in 1856 and two years later came to Santa Rosa. Both his parents are buried in the local cemetery.

The deceased was a just man, and his integrity in dealing with his fellow man was never questioned. He had his own way of doing things, and he was never known to swerve from what he considered right. Those who knew him best said this of him Monday night.

The deceased owned considerable property here and in the east. He was a very wealthy man. In addition to his sister, Mr. Ridgway is also survived by a brother Jeremiah Ridgway of Indiana. He once lived there, and is now on his way from the east to Santa Rosa, having been apprised of his brother’s death. Upon his arrival the funeral arrangements will be made.

The deceased was a native of Pennsylvania, and was seventy-three, nine months and twenty days old. He came of an old Quaker family in Pennsylvania.

– Press Democrat, November 12, 1912
A KINDLY WOMAN GOES TO REWARD
Death Thursday Morning of Mrs. Judith R. Todd After a Long and Trying Illness.

The soul of a quiet, kindly woman, Mrs. Judith R. Todd, was called from its earthly tenement just before daybreak on Thursday morning.

In the passing of Mrs. Todd, Santa Rosa has lost one of her oldest and much esteemed residents, for those who knew Mrs. Todd best were aware of many kindnesses to friends and many a kind deed, not of record in the outside world, but of that sweetest of virtues, the charity done without ostentation.

Mrs. Todd died at the fine family residence out on Healdsburg avenue. Mrs. Todd had been ill for many weary weeks and had suffered much pain, so that the silent messenger came as a harbinger of peace.

Mrs. Todd  was a woman of fine character and her heart was full of goodness. Her life span had extended seven years more than four score. A long life it was and about sixty-two years of that life were spent in Santa Rosa.

Mrs. Todd was born in the state of New Jersey and when she was a young woman she came with her father the late Jeremiah Ridgway, and other members of the family, to this state in 1854. They first settled in the Sacramento region, remaining there until 1856, when they came to Santa Rosa. For many years Mrs. Todd and her brother, the late Joseph Ridgway, lived together in the family home on Healdsburg avenue, standing as it does at the edge of the 160 acre estate adjoining. She continued to live there after her brother’s death.

Mrs. Todd was a very wealthy woman and owned, in addition to te residence and 160 acres of land on Healdsburg avenue, the big lot on Hinton avenue, adjoining the City Hall, and the lot on Exchange avenue the site of the former Ridgway hall. In addition she owned the block of store buildings on Third street, as well as the big lot on the opposite side of the street and other property.

Mrs. Todd came from an old Quaker family. She was a member of the Friends’ church. Mrs. Todd is survived by her two sons, Rush D. Todd of Santa Rosa, and Frank R. Todd of Oakland, two grandsons, Addison and Roland Todd, and a brother, Jeremiah Ridgway of La Porte, Ind.

– Press Democrat, June 1, 1917

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WHO WAS JESSE PETER?

In a 1983 Press Democrat column, Gaye LeBaron compared him to a real-life Indiana Jones, “Scaling the cliffs of Indian dwellings preserved for centuries in the dry desert air…such is the stuff from which anthropological adventures are made.” When I recently mentioned his name to archeologists, 2 out of 4 dismissed him using the same description: “Pothunter,” which is an insult that ranks at the bottom near “grave robber” (it means an amateur who vandalizes prehistoric sites searching for interesting and/or valuable artifacts). The man was Jesse Peter. He wasn’t Indy, and it isn’t fair to call him a pothunter, either.

From his death in 1944 until recently, his name was on the Santa Rosa Junior College Museum in homage to his driving role in its creation. Jesse Peter was known in the 1930s for his donations of interesting rocks and Indian relics to the Junior College and for leading some field trips to the pueblos of the Southwest with JC students, documented in some very Indiana-Jonesish photos in the school’s collection. His day job was far less glamorous; he taught shop class at Santa Rosa Junior High, where his challenge was guiding pimpled Santa Rosa boys to use hammers for hitting nails and not their thumbs.

Teaching “manual arts” was a midlife career change for him. Born in 1885, he studied at UC/Berkeley, but never graduated. His father – also named Jesse – had been a miner, and he likewise spent his early adult years knocking around mining camps, starting in the Mojave Desert tungsten mines during the boom period when that ore was considered as precious as gold (think: Filaments for those popular, new-fangled lightbulbs). After that came at least five years in the Alaskan gold fields near Juneau. “Jess” also spent some time as a construction worker and contractor. He was good at these jobs and earned a living, but it was a bit of a drifter’s life.

At the same time, Jesse Peter had another identity as a well-known and respected figure in the world of archeology. In 1933 and 1934 he was among the 75 “experienced men” nationwide invited by the National Park Service to join the prestigious Rainbow Bridge/Monument Valley Expeditions. The group trekked into the vast, 3,000 square-mile “Four Corners” region of the Southwest – then accessible only by horseback and mule – to document Navajo culture in the remote area and begin archeological research into the little-known Anasazi people. (There are thousands of photos from the expeditions available here, but participants are rarely identified.)

Closer to home, he documented over 200 archeological sites in the North Bay, more than anyone else of that era. He had an uncommon eye for seeing what other’s couldn’t; his most significant discoveries locally were probably the locations of the enormous obsidian quarry at Annadel State Park and the large Pomo village now covered by Santa Rosa’s City Hall.

That Peter spent his last decade associated with the Junior College and the creation of its museum gives a nice arc to his biography – he was just about the same age as a SRJC student when he made his astonishing debut as an archeologist. In 1907, when he was just 22 years old, he donated to UC/Berkeley a collection of over 600 artifacts that he had excavated near Santa Rosa, apparently on his family’s farm. These “finished and half-completed mortars, spear points, knives, and ceremonial instruments,” according to a university newsletter, included “several pieces of types that have not been discovered before and are therefore of particular importance.” Over three decades later, it was still described as one of the most important private archeological donations ever made to Berkeley.

Given his lifelong interest in the field, it may seem strange that Jesse Peter didn’t become a professional archeologist, but you have to consider his time; had he finished a degree at the university he would have been a member of the class of 1907, when there were few career opportunities in archeology aside from college teaching or working as a museum preparator. There was also less stigma to being an “avocational” scientist in those days; another example from Peter’s generation was John A. Comstock (eldest brother of Judge Hilliard Comstock), who became the acknowledged expert on California butterflies despite having no former education whatsoever. The difference between Comstock and Peter, however, was that Comstock published his research (always the academic yardstick of accomplishment) while nothing by Peter appeared in print – even as his field notes, maps, and artifacts were recognized as important and were being collected by the University of California and other institutions.

(RIGHT: Jesse Peter in the 1930s. Photo courtesy Santa Rosa Junior College Museum.)

Peter’s reputation is further diminished by our modern revulsion over the destructive nature of archeological practices of a century ago. In the photo seen to the right (CLICK to enlarge), he is counting tree rings to calculate the age of a log shaped by Native Americans. While modern scientists have the technology to bore tiny core samples into wood, it appears here that the hewn tip of the log was sliced off with a saw, destroying much of the worth of this object – and possibly the entire site – to future researchers.

And finally there’s the “pothunter” label, which likewise has to be understood in the context of the day, when the belief was that important objects had to be taken away and preserved before they were grabbed by treasure hunters, accidentally destroyed by development, or ended up on someone’s knicknack shelf. “Everyone picked up objects back then,” an SSU anthropologist told me, “including the most well-known names. You can’t point fingers.”

MAKES GIFT TO UNIVERSITY

Jesse Peter, a former well-known young man of this city and a graduate of the high school here, has presented the University of California at Berkeley a valuable collection of prehistoric implements obtained by him principally from the deposits around the warm spring two and a half miles east of Santa Rosa on the Peters place. The specimens were found at varying depths ranging down to more than twenty feet below the surface. The collection includes more than six hundred pieces, of which many are rare objects not commonly represented in museums. It is of special value because all of the material has been obtained from a limited area and the facts relating to the discovery are all available.

– Press Democrat, August 24, 1907

JESSE PETER’S GIFT TO THE UNIVERSITY
Archeological Remains Found Near Santa Rosa Are Given to Museum at Berkeley

The University of California Weekly News Letter acknowledges a gift from Jesse Peter of this city of archaeological remains unearthed near Santa Rosa. The letter says:

“Jesse Peter, of Santa Rosa, California, has presented to the Museum of Anthropology of the University a collection of archaeological remains from the vicinity of Santa Rosa. This collection comprises several hundred pieces, including finished and half completed mortars, spear points, knives and ceremonial implements. There are several pieces of types that have not been discovered before and are therefore of particular importance. Of special interest is a large series of chipped obsidian implements and charm stones, all found in a large spring where they were evidently for a long period deposited as offerings by the Indians of prehistoric times.”

– Press Democrat, February 2, 1908

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