Hey, Santa Rosan — What school did you go to?
If it was Lincoln Elementary, or Rincon Valley Middle, or Santa Rosa High, you probably never wondered how your school got its name.
But what about Slater, Comstock or Carrillo? Who was that guy Lawrence Cook, and why does he have a middle school named after him?
Let’s start there, with Mr. Cook. A call to the school generates a few answers: “Good question!” “I’ll have to do a little research on that.” “We know he was an educator in this area.” And finally, “You might want to try the public library.”
And the Sonoma County Library’s research department delivers. “Larry” Cook was a popular teacher, counselor and administrator in Santa Rosa schools during the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. The 1951 yearbook of Santa Rosa Junior High, where he served as principal, describes him in detail: “…handles his job with ease…kind and reassuring…understands students and their problems…has a very extensive vocabulary and good speaking voice…has a keen sense of humor…tall and dark…often wears a good-luck bow tie…” He was principal of Slater Junior High when he died in 1957 at age 49.
Other Santa Rosa schools also are named for local historical figures. And, like Mr. Cook, some remain obscure even to those who once wandered the halls of buildings named for these luminaries. So, let’s review:
Don’t call it “Allen High School.” Elsie Allen was a Southern Pomo Indian and a fourth-generation basket weaver known worldwide for her beautiful basketry. Born in Santa Rosa in 1899, she spent her early years in northern Sonoma and southern Mendocino counties. After raising four children she focused her talents on basket weaving, following in the tradition of her mother and grandmother. She gave classes in weaving techniques and taught others how to gather and prepare basket materials. Her baskets are displayed at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Elsie Allen was a tribal scholar and consulted on Southern Pomo culture and language. She lived until the age of 91; the school with her name on it opened in 1995.
The school on Sonoma Avenue in eastern Santa Rosa is named for a journalist, politician and — as his obituary described him — “friend of man.” Slater, who lived from 1874-1947, also was known throughout California as “the Blind Senator.” When he died, Gov. Earl Warren came to his funeral to serve as a pallbearer. And while he couldn’t see, Slater was a man of vision, substance and accomplishment. Born in Herfordshire, England, he came to Sonoma County around 1890 and within a couple of years had taken a job turning the hand crank that operated the presses at the Evening Press in downtown Santa Rosa. Soon he was writing many of the paper's news stories. Slater often is credited with helping make Luther Burbank a household name in America, and consequently giving Santa Rosa its reputation as an agricultural Eden. He was elected to the state Assembly in 1910, served two terms and was elected to the state Senate in 1914. At the time of his death, he had served longer in the Legislature than anyone in the state's history. He was an effective legislator, writing pioneering legislation on behalf of the handicapped and bills that preserved the Sonoma Mission and Fort Ross as state parks. And for the entire 37 years he spent in the Legislature, he also continued to write his Press Democrat columns, the daily "Political Gossip" and "Rod & Gun" three times a week.
Founded in 1996, Santa Rosa’s newest public high school is named after one of its oldest non-native residents. Maria Ygnacia Lopez de Carrillo was born in San Diego in 1793, the youngest child of a large family. At 16, she married Joaquin Victor Carrillo, a young man who had left his family in Baja, California, to come north and train as a soldier. The couple eventually had 13 children. The family thrived first in San Diego and then in San Gabriel. When Joaquin died in 1835 at the age of 42, Maria had no means with which to support her nine unmarried children so she took her family and walked north. She lived for a short period in Sonoma in La Casa Grande with her son-in-law, General Mariano Vallejo, and his family. In 1838, Gen. Vallejo granted 8,885 wild, undeveloped acres to Maria, and she hired Native American and Mexican workers to build her home beside a creek on the property. The remains of that adobe still stand alongside Santa Rosa Creek, just north of Montgomery Village shopping center. Maria Ygnacia Lopez de Carrillo died on Feb. 28, 1849.
Santa Rosa’s second high school, built in 1958, was named for William “Billy” Montgomery. He was a seaman aboard the USS California, which was moored along Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He was the first person from Santa Rosa to die during World War II. He is also remembered with his name on a major Santa Rosa street, a shopping center, a neighborhood and a plaque on the elevated freeway that bisects the downtown.
The third high school in Santa Rosa opened its doors in 1966. Albert Biella was its first principal, and a nearby elementary school subsequently was named for him."Piner" was the name of an early pioneer family in the countryside northwest of Santa Rosa that eventually became known as the Piner-Olivet Elementary School District.
The school on Steele Lane near Marlowe Road is named for the Santa Rosa jurist and civic leader. Hilliard Comstock was born in 1891, and became interested in law at an early age. Though he never earned a law degree, he learned the ropes in the law offices of Wyatt Oates, passed the bar and by the time he was 21 became Oates’s partner. Comstock was a civic leader with a keen interest in children's issues. He was president of the Santa Rosa Board of Education from 1920-1929, a period of reorganization and rapid expansion that included construction of Santa Rosa High School, four elementary schools, and launching the building program for the junior college. But he was best known as a Superior Court judge for 35 years, always re-elected without opposition. He was a leader in the creation of Howarth Park and the drive to build Memorial Hospital.