Almost 122 years ago, Santa Marians went to the polls to vote either for or against the incorporation of the town.
It was a hot subject because, if the town incorporated, Whiskey Row was sure to be history. The “wets” wanted things to stay the same while the “dries” wanted the "eyesore" on East Main and Broadway to go.
When the polls opened June 25, 1895, Santa Marians voted at either the Hart House reading room or the Bryant and Trott hardware store, both located on East Main Street.
In case the measure carried, the names of five prospective members of the board of trustees were included on the ballot. However, the spaces for clerk, treasurer and town marshal were left blank, allowing voters to write in their candidates of preference.
Although the contest was said to have been earnest but good-natured, the race was so evenly divided that contestants were “neck and neck,” with neither side willing to concede until the results had been announced by the judges.
When the results finally came in, the official count showed the measure was defeated by 10 votes.
Sensitive to the issue, the Santa Maria Times reported: “Were it not so painful a subject to the boys elected to offices that don’t exist, we would give the official returns, but our kindness of heart causes us to desist.”
However, the issue was not dead.
When the voters went to the polls Sept. 12, 1905, and the votes were finally tallied, the Board of Supervisors announced that, of the 368 eligible voters, 202 voted to incorporate, while 139 people were against the measure. Obviously, there wasn't a full turnout.
Thus, Santa Maria became duly incorporated as a “Municipal Corporation of the Sixth Class,” under the name and style of “City of Santa Maria.”
The first board of trustees (now the City Council) for the new city included Emmett T. Bryant, Alvin W. Cox, William Mead, Reuben Hart and Samuel Fleisher. Madison Thornburgh became the city’s first treasurer, John Walker the first clerk and ex-officio assessor, while G.L. Blosser became city marshal and ex-officio tax and license collector.
At the first meeting of the board, held on the 21st of the month in the directors’ room of the First National Bank building, the group elected Alvin Cox as president, and Thomas Preisker (father of Leo Preisker) became the new city attorney.
The board meeting, though, was mostly dedicated to getting into motion the machinery of city government.
That night, Ordinance No. 1, regulating liquor licenses, was passed and ordered published in the Times.
By the Oct. 24 meeting, other items had appeared on the agenda, such as measures prohibiting fast riding or driving, as well as keeping animals off the sidewalks.
In addition to the members voting on the licensing merry-go-rounds, they appointed Matt Jessee as “Night Watch” (night patrolman) and awarded the office of pound master to Joseph Spriggs. Petitions to open two saloons, though, were rejected.
One of the group’s first clashes with local citizens arose over the application of business licenses. With merchants having a difficult time reconciling themselves to this fee, some of them even threatened to refuse to pony up.
Although a flood of protests engulfed the board for several hot meetings, the merchants eventually resigned themselves to paying the business license fee, and the board went on to discuss other matters of importance to the new city.
When Emmett Bryant resigned from his position on the board the following April, William C. Oakley took his place. Oakley served one term (1906-08), but was returned to office in 1912 and was soon elected by the members to succeed Alvin Cox as president. Oakley served as president until 1916. In 1918, he was elected to the board and was again elected president. He served in this capacity until 1920.
Oakley later served as county supervisor and state assemblyman.
Sam Fleisher served on the board until January of 1910, while both William Mead and Alvin Cox (who was president for seven years) left in 1912.
When Reuben Hart resigned from the board in 1912, Ernest Gibson took his place.
It wasn’t until 1927 that the word “mayor” came into use through an act of the state Legislature, resulting in Arthur F. Fugler, son of Francis and Elizabeth Fugler, technically becoming the first legally designated mayor of the city of Santa Maria. He served in this position until 1932, when he retired.
Flora Rivers, the first woman to fill an elective office in Santa Maria, became city clerk in 1928, and served in that capacity until she retired in 1944.
Sadie West, Santa Maria’s first councilwoman, was elected in April of 1930 and served until April of 1934.
For 70 years, West remained on record as the only woman ever to serve on the City Council. However, that record was broken in 2000 with the election of Alice Patino, who later became the first female council member to serve as mayor pro tem and later mayor.
Marion Rice, who was elected to the City Council in 1930, served as mayor of Santa Maria for 14 years.
According to city records, in 1974 when the office of mayor became an elective position, Elwin Mussell became the first person elected by the public instead of by council members. Mussell served as mayor until April of 1980. The following month, he was killed in a car accident.
The City Council met in four different locations before City Hall was built in 1934, with the first meeting being held in the director’s room of the First National Bank building (on the corner of Lincoln and West Main streets). Shortly thereafter, it began meeting at the Odd Fellows Hall, located diagonally across the street from the bank building. In June of 1909, it began meeting in the new Carnegie Library and in 1916, it moved to 116 S. Broadway.
The new City Hall, designed by Louis Noire Crawford and built at a cost of $63,000, was dedicated in September of 1934.
The following month, the council met for the first time in the new, fully paid for and city-owned building.
Among those present at the first meeting were former Mayor A.F. Fugler and Judge C. Douglas Smith.
City Clerk Flora A. Rivers read a communication from the American Legion Marshal, N. Braden Post, asking if the city wished to dispose of the cannon formerly sitting on the library grounds, and if not, that it be given to them for safe keeping. However, this being the property of the government, it was voted to be kept redecorated and used to ornament the grounds of City Hall.
The subject of Whiskey Row was brought up numerous times until 1959, when during a City Council meeting, Mayor Curtis Tunnell announced, “Whiskey Row must go.” The "Row’s" days were numbered, and in January of 1963, the buildings were torn down -- one by one.