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Two Men Block Plan to Run New Montgomery Street to the Bay; One Asks Coin, Other Prefers Fight.
Promoters Appeal to Legislature and Do Not Neglect Precaution of First "Seeing" Vote Brokers.
When Ralston and I opened New Montgomery street we never doubted that its manifest importance would compel an immediate and voluntary extension to the natural terminus of the water-front and prove the logical outlet for congested trade. That this would have been the case had the majority of property owners been able to follow our example, I have no reasonable doubt. But just as in the case of "Montgomery Street Straight," special interests and selfish considerations stood in the way. Less than half a dozen property owners, to their irreparable disadvantage, blocked "Montgomery Straight" - a project that would have changed the whole course of the city's progress and development. Just two property owners prevented the immediate extension of New Montgomery street to the bay, and again the failure was the city's heavy loss.
These two men were Milton S. Latham and John Parrott. Latham owned a stately home and large grounds on Folsom street, directly in the line of the new thoroughfare. It was a matter of no small personal pride, and doubtless he was attached to the locality. He asked such a fabulous price for the right-of-way, which of course would have destroyed the home value of the property, that even Ralston and myself, who were accustomed to brush any minor obstacles out of our way without counting costs, stood aghast.
John Parrott, on the other hand, wouldn't trade at all. His business hours were then strictly limited from 9 to half-past 10, and every time we managed to secure an interview, all the satisfaction we could get out of him was a promise to fight us every inch of the way.
Outside of these two, we had a clear field. We secured contracts on a great number of properties along the line of the proposed thoroughfare. All the large owners concerned favored it with enthusiasm. Still we were absolutely blocked.
Under these conditions, nothing remained but an appeal to the Legislature to appoint a commission, empowered to open New Montgomery street for its full length and assess benefits and damages as provided by the general laws then in force.
And while about it, we did not stop there. We worked out a grand, comprehensive scheme of improvement, embracing the immense territory to the south.
Two years before, a bill had been lobbied through the Legislature providing for what became famous later on as the "Second Street Cut." It was a rascally project, a sordid bit of real estate roguery, carried through without a moment's thought of other people's rights. But it was an accomplished feat, and one of the results was to ruin the finest haunt of good breeding San Francisco ever had. Families were scattering from Rincon Hill to various sections of the city. The old high-priced residence property was going for a song. As the "Hill" had ceased to be either beautiful or useful, Ralston and I calmly proposed to cut it down.
We planned to have the city buy the property, which could be purchased for $5,000,000 according to arrangement with the owners, and grade it to the Market-street level. Many million cubic yards of excavated material were used to fill in a 150-acre tract of tide land, offered to the city by the State at a nominal price, lying between the Pacific Mail docks and Islais Creek; also to reclaim China Basin, at least in part. The cost of grading and reclamation work was estimated at $7,000,000; in fact, contractors were willing to undertake it at that price. In other words, the city was asked to issue its bonds for $12,000,000 and receive in payment over 200 blocks of choice property, to say nothing of great advantage to the appearance of the town and the facilities for doing business.
Two separate bills were introduced in the Legislature. One provided for the opening of New Montgomery street to the bay, and created a commission to carry out its purpose as above defined. This would probably have slipped through without any serious opposition; but coupled with it, in a way, was the great constructive bill for acquiring Rincon Hill, for filling the tideland acreage and China Basin and running all the streets from First to Third, including an extension of Sansome street, on a nearly level grade, southward to the waterfront. For the extension of Sansome street Michael Reese, Lloyd Tevis and myself had bought a solid block from Market to Folsom street.
I was very much a novice in politics, but Mr. Ralston insisted that I should have full charge of the program and take up my residence in Sacramento pending the session of the Legislature. So among other things I gathered quite an exact idea of how wires used to be manipulated underground.
In the first place, the necessity of a Legislature was not apparent at that time. What had been an able and independent body in the early history of California had degenerated to a mere recording machine for a couple of vote brokers, "Nap" Broughton and "Zeke" Wilson by name. "Nap," brief for Napoleon, was a happy, enthusiastic chap, always slapping someone on the back with a heartiness not always quite sincere; a good fellow in his way, and a most abandoned corrupter of men, a spendthrift disciple of nearly every sin, with an ever-watchful eye on the money of others, yet himself the veriest sucker that ever lived.
"Zeke" Wilson, on the other hand, was a gray, desiccated, sinister, old spider, who seldom smiled, and when he did everyone in his presence felt depressed. He was the "thinking member" of the duumvirate, and while "Nap" Broughton made nearly all the noise "Zeke" Wilson laid the plans.
The Senate used to be respectable in appearance, an able body and reasonably clean. The one that I was concerned with contained such men as Hager and Saunders of San Francisco, George C. Perkins of Butte, who made then his first appearance in politics; Rumaldo Pacheco, afterward Governor; Pendergast of Napa, Lewis of Tehama, and several others whose names are fairly connected with the history of the State.
The Assembly, on the other hand, was a conglomeration of miscellaneous riff-raff, gathered together God knows how, inexperienced, ignorant, venal and scandalously cheap. Of course there were some honorable exceptions. I am only speaking of the general rule. It was in the Assembly, not the Senate, that the "business" of the session was done. That is, if Messrs. Broughton and Wilson wanted to kill a measure, they never worried what the Senate did, but let the obnoxious bill come before the "popular-priced" Assembly, where its shrift was short.
No one in his senses ever came to Sacramento with a bill involving a considerable question of finance without establishing friendly relations with Messrs. Broughton and Wilson at the start. Treaties of alliance were negotiated through Napoleon Broughton. At our first interview $35,000 passed hands. "Nap" merely said in a casual way that I was a gentleman and I accepted the compliment for what it was worth. What became of that money I have no means of knowing, and never inquired. That would have been the height of bad manners. But he never asked me for any more, and everything I wanted slid through the Assembly on greased ways.
We were among the first who made a consistent effort to impress the merits of our measures on lawmakers by systematic good-fellowship. I practically chartered a well known restaurant, threw it open to my friends, and the bills were over $400 a day, so generously did they respond to my invitation. Down in San Francisco, Ralston was on the lookout for statesmen, and none of them struck the town without good cause to remember the experience pleasantly.
In a way, it was a striking session - a sort of breaking of new ground. The railroad appeared for the first time as a seeker for favors. It had two leading bills, each providing for a subsidy for railroads southward, one through the San Joaquin Valley and one along the coast line. Neither terminated anywhere in particular; the former somewhere in Kern county, the latter in San Luis Obispo county, near the border line of Santa Barbara. The measures simply authorized the electors of the counties concerned to vote for a subsidy payable to the first railroad that came along. The combined subsidies provided for amounted to only $3,000,000, but they were regarded as the opening wedges for more. Of course everyone knew what that first railroad would be. Strangely enough, in the newspaper and legislative discussions, no one seemed to think that Los Angeles cut any figure as a terminal or feeder. The cry was for a railroad south to the Colorado river. For that the people were willing to pay any kind of subsidy, but not a cent for a couple of local concerns. A bitter newspaper war followed, and charges of corruption were freely made. But the bills passed both houses by large majorities, and were only halted in their triumphant progress by the veto of Governor Haight. Even then, it was a close call. The Assembly enthusiastically passed one of them over his veto, and in the Senate the same action failed by only two votes.
There were so many bills of a shady, not to say rotten, nature introduced during the session that almost all measures were looked on as "jobs." Our two bills "Montgomery South" and the effacement of Rincon Hill - took their places with the rest. They were harshly criticized by most of the San Francisco papers as crafty schemes, the true inwardness of which would develop later on. They were likened to the "Second Street Cut" outrage, and a lot of ill-advised public opinion was worked up against both. Nevertheless, they passed the Legislature. How one of them became a law is an interesting story, told in many official records of the State.
The bill for the extension of New Montgomery street had gone to Governor Haight. It leaked out from the executive chambers that a veto message was being prepared. The Governor had ten days in which to veto the bill, otherwise it became a law by default. It was on the afternoon of the last day, shortly after the Senate had re-assembled, when one of my attorneys, Creed Haymond, said in a musing way, "If the Senate could only be induced to adjourn we would not have to worry about a veto message. Then it could not be delivered to anyone, and by twelve o'clock to-night would become a law." That set me thinking in a moment. "Is that correct?" I asked. Haymond replied that he was certain, although he was not sure that the point had ever been tested by the courts.
The emergency demanded swift work. To offer a motion to adjourn, just after settling down to business, would certainly have aroused suspicion and a general rumpus. Here I worked in a bit of strategy or what might have more properly been called chicaue, which I trust may be pardoned me in my final account.
Senator John S. Hager was the leader of what might be called the "reformers" and had quite a following among his fellow members. He was the unwearied foe of anything like a job. Among other measures, he had opposed the Montgomery Street Extension bill. But there were several bills on a special file that afternoon that were his pet abominations and he justly feared that they might slip through. While in this frame of mind, a certain gentleman called him aside and advised him that several members were anxious for an adjournment, that if he would make the motion it would probably carry and the obnoxious bills would lose their places on the special file and their chance of final passage.
The Senator swallowed the bait - hook, sinker and all. While he was lining up the "reformers," somebody else was attending to the "performers," and when the gentleman made his motion to adjourn he must have been gratified at the unexpected support. It went through nem con, as the lawyers say. The officers of the Senate were hurried out of the room on one pretext or another and in a few minutes the chamber was vacant.
Dr. Edward R. Taylor, later Mayor of San Francisco, was the very efficient private secretary of Governor Haight. I was in an agony of fear lest he should pop into the Chamber with the fatal message before the adjournment could be arranged. For this reason, I had several effective conversationalists stationed between the Governor's office and the Senate, to engage the secretary for a few minutes if he chanced to appear. This they actually did, although Dr. Taylor has forgotten the incident. What he does remember was that he found much to his surprise an empty Senate Chamber, and after ruminating over the situation for a time, carried back the veto message to the Governor's office and laid it on his desk.
On the following day the Governor attempted to deliver his message, but the Senate held he was too late. His Excellency refused to certify the bill to the Secretary of State as passed and I brought a mandamus suit to compel him to take that action. The title of the case was Harpending vs. Haight, and attracted a wide attention at the time. It was carried to the Supreme Court on an agreed statement and decided within fifteen days in my favor. The decision can be found in Vol. 39, Cal. Reports, page 189. Other Governors have been cautious not to hold back their vetoes till the last day. Hager roared like a wounded bull buffalo when he found out how he had been used, but his lamentation bore no fruit.
Thus the Montgomery South bill became a law of the State, although the Governor liked it not. Commissioners were appointed by Judge Lake, a lot of work was done in surveys, estimates of benefits and damages, but in the end it came to naught. Two years later, while I was in Europe, a bill with a misleading title, designed to repeal the act, was introduced and Ralston, busy with many things, never knew about it until it had sneaked through both houses and become a law. Because of this, New Montgomery street still halts at Howard street and bids fair to camp there forever more.
As to the Rincon Hill measure, that also passed both houses triumphantly, but was held back through the opposition of Senator Hager, so that it went to the Executive just one day beyond the period when a return to the Legislature must be made. It found a peaceful resting place in the Governor's capacious pocket.
Thus all our grand schemes for the development of the city southward fell by the dreary wayside of lost opportunity. I do not pretend for a moment that Ralston and myself were inspired in our efforts by the pure spirit of benevolence. We would have made our profit, but a mere trifle in comparison to the public good. It was the most comprehensive plan for the city's improvement ever presented in a concrete form, and the pity is it was not better understood.
Just take a retrospect. Who is there who would not admit that five fine level streets from Market, between First and Third, southward to the bay, would not be a vast improvement and convenience to business, over the blockade that prevails to-day?
And was such a real estate proposition ever before offered to a people and turned down? For the sum of $12,000,000 the city would have acquired full title to approximately two hundred and twenty blocks, the present value of which would be hard to estimate exactly. But a rough valuation indicates that the property would be worth enough to pay the entire city debt, buy the Spring Valley Water Company's plant, bring in the Hetch-Hetchy water supply and leave a balance large enough perhaps to settle all questions with the United Railroads and municipalize the entire street transportation system, not in the dim future, but now.
Immense revenues would have flowed into the municipal treasury from these utilities. Taxation would have become a joke. All these things are among the haggard, melancholy "might have beens."
There were too many well-intentioned, but bigoted, reformers in the city then, just as there are now.
And the incident serves to indicate the superiority of hindsight over foresight, which has been illustrated unhappily and too often in the history of the State.
Taken during his active career in San Francisco.