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Sunday, April 03, 2005

Center’s dedication had a predecessor in 1914

Sabine Goerke-Shrode

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‘Old’ Solano County Courthouse was ushered in with great fanfare

On Saturday we Solano County citizens have a once-in-a-century opportunity to celebrate the dedication of our new government center.

Community celebrations begin at 10 a.m. on the plaza in front of the center, followed by a reception at 5 p.m., honoring local artists whose artwork has been installed at the center.

Obviously, with such a fascinating subject at hand, I had to find out what previous residents did to celebrate their 1914 dedication of the new “old” courthouse. And I have to tell you, they sure knew how to throw a party! I doubt that our present-day citizenry will rival their enthusiastic participation in that historic event 90 years ago.  The “old” Solano County Courthouse was designed by architects

C. Hemmings and W.A. Jones according to the latest architectural ideas in public space. While the Board of Supervisors accepted the building as complete in its session of Dec. 4, 1911, it took until 1914 before its completion was celebrated in style.

By April 1914, the first articles appeared in the Solano Republican, alerting readers that “some high jinks” were planned for that year’s July 4th celebration. A committee had been formed to fund-raise for a grand dedication celebration.

The idea quickly prospered, according to an article of May 8, 1914, titled “Celebration Fund Growing Like Bay Tree.”

Interestingly, the Suisun committee was one of the driving forces behind the effort. “The Suisun portion of the finance committee secured about $1000 in a day last week for the celebration of July 4th,” said the Republican.  “Fairfield members have not reported as yet, but will doubtless make a good showing.

“The Courthouse will be dedicated that day and the supervisors have donated $500 to that cause and these ceremonies will be of more than common interest to everybody in Solano county. For this part of the work Chas. F. Wyer will join with the present executive committee and assist them in making it something of which all can be proud.”

The committee was trying to attract the biggest names possible: “If Governor Hiram W. Johnson is not a thousand miles away, so that his coming is not possible, he will be the speaker at these ceremonies. ...”

County residents certainly were anticipating the big event: “From word received from all parts of the county, it is prophesied that we shall have the biggest crowd ever assembled in this community, and every effort is being made to show them a pleasant day.”

By May 22, the committees had been firmly established and the program began to take shape. Charles F. Wyer assured county residents “a beautifully decorated building and some extensive advertising for their home county as well.”

Gov. Hiram Johnson promised to be the main speaker “with great pleasure if his campaign itinerary could be arranged rightly,” but could as yet not make a firm commitment.

A large “real live” barbecue, overseen by the ladies of the community, was one of the planned activities. Local orchardist Lewis Pierce had been prevailed upon “to furnish a riding and roping series of cowboy events and will collect as good a show as can be secured in California.”

Other promises included a huge dance pavilion   and ball games. Suisun’s new deep-water harbor was to host the water sports, including the promise that “some fast motor boats will be here to win honors if possible.”

By May 29, the Solano Republican let readers know in its headline that “More than Three Thousand Dollars Donated to Make the Celebration a Great Big Success.”

As Gov. Johnson remained an uncertain candidate for keynote speaker, the committee also contacted Judges McLaughlin, Samuel Shortridge and Emmet Sewell in the hopes that one of these men would be able to attend the ceremonies.

The Wednesday Club ladies were put in charge of selecting “the Goddess of Liberty,” an important symbolic figure in every July 4th parade. A. C. Tillman, in charge of soliciting floats, reported “there will be some nifty floats when the parade forms on July 4th.”

By that time, the committee had developed a rough budget for the festivities. Based on the more than $3,000 donated so far, they allocated for the Goddess of Liberty and her entourage, $100; $250 for the grounds; $300 for decorations; $50 for the parade; $300 for hiring the bands; $150 for water sports; $350 for fireworks; $200 for illuminations; $100 for publicity; and the grandest sum - $600 for the Wild West Show.

By June 12, the headline ran “High Jinx Festival Prancing,” and the program components had been confirmed.

“The program will include a grand parade, consisting of decorated floats, horribles (a kind of worst-costume competition) ..., horse cart, motorcycle races and others, boat races and other water sports, fireworks, dancing day and night on open-air platform, and other amusements for old and young.

“An important feature of the day will be the formal dedication of the new court house with appropriate ceremonies, including an address by some honorable speaker (seemingly, Governor Johnson and the three judges were unable to commit.) The Court House will be elaborately dressed for the occasion.”

But nothing could eclipse the Grand Rodeo. “Probably the most unique and attractive feature of the event will be a Grand Rodeo, consisting of expert cowboys, cowgirls, ropers, bronco busters, rope spinners from the leading cattle ranges west of the Rocky Mountains, who have been engaged especially for the celebration. This aggregation of wild west entertainment is the most celebrated on the Pacific Coast and will be brought here at a cost of hundreds of dollars.”

Decorations were planned throughout Fairfield and Suisun. “The principal streets of the two towns will be magnificently decorated with streamers of the National colors and electric lights, and inspiring music will be furnished by three brass bands and a fife and drum corps of 23 pieces.”

And most important, “Owing to the dedication of the Court House, this celebration is a county-wide affair, in which the entire county should take an active interest, and any and everybody throughout the county is invited to participate in the affair, either by entering floats or decorated automobiles in the parade, or any manner they chose, but, above all, COME!”

In June, the Liberty Goddess was chosen: Miss Della Sherburne was to be the celebrated figure, surrounded   by a court consisting of Mrs. Doris White, Ruth Morrill, Madelyn Lenahan and Dorothy Sparks and pages Frank Trainor and Lester Heermann.

On June 19, the Republican described “Something Classy,” namely the elegant invitations sent out by Commissioner C. F. Wyer to distinguished guests for the dedication ceremony. The invitations “are very neat samples of the Art Preservative. Every thing about them carries an air of modest richness,” rhapsodized the Republican. “A beautiful photo of the building adorns the upper while the lower half carries the invitation ‘The board of Supervisors and the Committee of Arrangements for the dedication of the Solano County Courthouse request the pleasure of the company of yourself and ladies at the dedication ceremony, ten o’clock Saturday morning, July the Fourth, Nineteen Fourteen, at Fairfield, Solano County, California.’ A gold monogram S. C. adorns the envelope and first page of the invitation.”

The message was brought to all corners of the county. The weekend before June 26, “a boosting party in thirty automobiles visited Rio Vista Sunday and attended the Water Carnival at that place to boost for the celebration here on July Fourth.” Other auto parties went to Vacaville, Winters, Dixon and Elmira.

Preparations were well under way, with “the big dancing platform, well protected from night breezes, ... done, and will be used tomorrow (June 27) when a monster crowd will dedicate it.”

Three large, cool rooms had been reserved for women and children at the Masonic Hall, the Odd Fellows Hall and Armijo Hall, “where Suisun and Fairfield ladies   will look to the comfort of their lady guests. The nicely decorated Anderson building on Solano Street will be used as a gentlemen’s rest room.”

The keynote speaker for the dedication turned out to be the Honorable C. F. Stearns, Secretary of the State Highway Commission. “Mr. Stearns has few equals and no superior as an orator in this State,” promised the Solano Republican, “and his address will be interesting and entertaining to all who may hear him.”

And finally, the grand day dawned.

I will finish the story of Solano County’s courthouse dedication 90 years ago in my next column. I look forward to seeing you at our Government Center celebration which will take place in Fairfield on April 9, starting at 10 a.m., with programs planned throughout the day.