If you’ve been following these columns, you’re aware that Kenwood was originally Los Guilicos and was a residential development of the Central Pacific Railroad Company, one of many such commercial ventures up and down the state. The fact of Central Pacific ownership and control was neatly tucked away under layers of subordinate corporations with less contentious identities, The Sonoma County Land and Improvement Company being one. The ranks of these subservient companies were usually staffed by locally known and respected businessmen but the top position was typically a hand-picked representative of Charles Crocker. In the case of Los Guilicos, that person was N.W. Griswold. Crocker’s strategies were shrewd if not brilliant in that they allowed him control over a myriad of projects each of which appeared to be locally inspired thereby avoiding the instant resistance his reputation, and that of Central Pacific, would have engendered.
The nineteenth century marketing of these new “communities” is an interesting study. Strikingly similar to a modern campaign, the advantage of retrospect provides us a better understanding of how and why our Sonoma Valley community was conceived and why it has survived despite having been a commercial failure all those years ago.
The building of the Santa Rosa & Carquinez Railroad by Mark McDonald, a Santa Rosa local but also a Crocker insider, opened the door to the development potential of Sonoma Valley. As evidenced in the ad (at right), Sonoma Valley was highly regarded for its bucolic appeal and agricultural promise. Where better for the wealthy of San Francisco to invest in a weekend get-away, a mere two and a half hours away by train?
You should find the adjoining ad (Daily Alta California, 28 Aug. 1887) to be entertaining as well as informative for the descriptions of the valley in 1887. Clearly this was the wilds, complete with running trout streams, hot and cold springs and the ever-popular sunny hillsides. And all this could be yours for a “small outlay.” Reading further you find that your inquiry was to be directed to Easton, Eldridge & Co. or The Sonoma County Land & Improvement Company, both with San Francisco addresses.
Easton, Eldridge & Co. at 615 Market Street, was an impressive firm well known for the creative subdividing and marketing of choice properties from San Francisco to San Diego. The firm became the general real estate agents for all Central Pacific and Southern Pacific California holdings. Wendell Easton is best known for developing San Diego’s La Jolla Park and the Sunset District in San Francisco.
The Sonoma County Land & Improvement Company was, of course, an arm of Central Pacific, N. W. Griswold, president. Reading the understandably very small print you find his office was in the quarters of the Celery, Beef and Iron Extract Company, a “procoction that creates cheer without inebriation.” This was apparently another of Griswold’s creative attempts at wealth-building that ended with an embarrassing episode involving the sheriff, some confiscated office furniture and a misappropriated vault. Another story sometime – but probably not.