Murray’s Monterey

Footprint and Postcard

Murray’s mansion and the property he held across the street (labeled a private park in property records).

Last month I travelled to Monterey, California to tie up loose ends on research for my biography of James A. Murray. I knew several things about Murray’s life in Monterey prior to my trip. He moved there in 1904, at age 64, eight years into his second marriage. He purchased the Tevis Estate from David Jacks, and was likely the home’s first permanent occupant. The home remained in the Murray family until it was demolished in the 1940’s to make way for the expansion of Cannery Row. Murray died in the home in 1921 and the battle for his estate played out in the Monterey Superior Court. Today, a portion of the residence (the horse stables and corral) is the site of the Monterey Bay Plaza & Spa. Five other buildings occupy the site as well. The Monterey Bay Inn sits on the location of his main residence. During the seventeen-year period that Murray called Monterey his home, he commissioned a monument to mark the location of Junipero Serra’s first mass, purchased a Leon Trousset painting of the same event, found work for a dear friend at the Monterey Cypress newspaper, buried that friend at the San Carlos cemetery, commissioned a monument to mark his friend’s grave, and loaned money to several Monterey residents, including artist Charles Rollo Peters. Murray’s wife remained in Monterey after his death, as did her son by another marriage, Stuart Haldorn, and his wife Enid Gregg.

Serra Trousett

Murray’s Trousset painting now hangs in the Carmel Mission.

My primary research objective on this trip was to define the relationship between Murray and Charles Rollo Peters. My secondary objective was very broad. I wanted to find any other information that would further define Murray’s role in Monterey’s early history. My advance work for the trip was aided by James Perry at the Monterey County Historical Society and Dennis Copeland at the City Library. Perry pulled the case numbers I needed to look up court records involving Murray – two of which involved Peters. Copeland pulled a glass negative of the Trousset painting that I could examine to determine if Murray’s version was the same one that now hangs in the Carmel Mission. My plan was to review the cases at the Superior Court, see if the negative matched the Trousset painting at the Carmel Mission and then spend time looking though reels of local newspapers at the City Library. My time flipping through the newspapers was just a hunt for random stories.

My time at the court went very quickly. The lawsuits between Murray and Peters were very revealing. Murray lent Peters a total of $15,000 in two loans between 1906 and 1907. This was a significant amount of money in that time period. It would take a blue collar worker 30 years to earn that amount, and a white collar worker ten. Both loans were secured against his estate (Peters’ Gate). This was at a time of lavish spending for Peters. He took in artists after the 1906 earthquake and opened a gallery at the Del Monte hotel. Both notes were due within one year, but as with many of his charitable loans, Murray did not make any effort to collect. When Murray died, he held over 50 uncollected private loans to individuals totaling over $1.25 million. Many were worthless and of a similar age to Peters’ notes. It seems he only moved to collect on these private loans if he felt slighted.

It appears Murray’s lawsuits were prompted because Peters sold his estate (Murray’s collateral) between 1909 and 1910, and did not use the any of the proceeds to repay Murray. This likely irritated Murray, so he foreclosed on the new property owner to assert his right to title. It appears he won his effort to gain title to the property, as new owner entered into a mortgage with Murray. Whether any money exchanged hands for the clouded title is unclear. Murray probably did not receive much, but the foreclosure process allowed him to go after Peters for some compensation. The court records indicate Peters was forced to sell two paintings hanging at the St. Francis hotel in San Francisco to make at least a symbolic payment to Murray. Paintings by established California artists at that time sold for $50 to $500.

The lawsuit with Hugh Porter revealed that Murray started the Monterey Cypress newspaper in 1907 and lent Porter, the paper’s editor,  half of the start-up money to be a partner in the business. Murray did this with a lot of people to avoid paying them a salary – instead, his partners worked for free and had to make sufficient profit to pay off Murray’s loan. In this case, Porter also had to make sure he could pay John Maguire’s salary as associate editor. Murray also owned newspapers in Pocatello, Idaho and Livingston, Montana where he had business interests. He also invested heavily in the radical Butte Bulletin.

Carmel Mission Basilica

When I visited the City Library I discovered that in the week prior, the library has just transitioned all of their microfilm roles to an on-line platform. I searched the database very quickly and found a great article on (new-to-me) renovations at the Carmel Mission funded by Murray in 1908. This work was completed shortly before the installation of his Serra Monument. I then spent some time in the California Room browsing through file cabinets and shelves. I found some good articles on Charles Rollo Peters to provide context for Murray’s loans and the disposition of Peters’ Gate. The image of Murray’s Trousset was out for scanning, so Dennis arranged to send me a copy via email later in the week.

Steps to Little Pulpit

Steps to small pulpit in Carmel Mission. Repaired by Murray.

I accomplished all of the goals I set for the trip, so I shortened my stay in Monterey and booked a room near U.C. Berkeley. I wanted to check out the Douglas Tilden papers to see if there were any mention of the base reliefs he prepared for the Serra Monument Murray commissioned at the Lower Presidio Historic Park. As I left town the next day for Berkeley, I stopped by the Carmel Mission to see if any of the work Murray commissioned still existed. The curator, Jewel Gentry, was kind enough to give me a tour of the mission. It appeared to me that only the work Murray did with the stairways remained. My last stops before leaving the area were the Monterey County Historical Society and the County Recorder. At the society office I had a chance to brief Perry on what I had found, and at the Recorder’s Office I found several new-to-me property documents that enlarged the footprint of Murray’s ocean front mansion.

My trip to Berkeley the next day only provided a couple bits of new information, but reading Tilden’s papers was a very moving experience. With a few extra hours I had, I made another unplanned trip to Mission Delores to see a bronze

IMG_0745My trip to Berkeley the next day only provided a couple bits of new information, but reading Tilden’s papers was a very moving experience. With a few extra hours I had, I made another unplanned trip to Mission Delores to see a bronze casting of the Tilden base relief that was part of Murray’s Serra monument.

HuntersHotSprings Tri-fold Post Card (2)

Murray’s Hunter’s Hot Springs Resort with Mission Style Architecture (Montana).

 

With my new research I have a fuller picture of Murray’s role in Monterey’s historic preservation, the lengths he went for his good friend John Maguire, and the secret role he played in funding the area’s artist colony. It also came clear to me just how much influence the mission architecture influenced his other projects. Two resorts that he developed in Montana reflected this influence. Monterey was fortunate that they were able to experience the best of Murray’s personality. Most places where he did business were not so fortunate.

Now back to writing the biography of my complicated relative……

Letters of heartbreak and hardship worth the visit

After two days researching documents in Monterey, I moved north and spent a day at the Bancroft Library on the U.C. Berkeley campus. There I reviewed the papers of famed sculptor Douglas Tilden. My subject, James A. Murray, commissioned two base reliefs from

Base Relief

Created by Tilden for Serra’s Cross

Tilden in 1904. Both adorn the monument Murray placed at the spot of Father Serra’s first mass in Monterey, California. One is a profile of Serra and the other a likeness of Mission Carmel. I quickly realized that I would not find anything of significance relating to Murray’s monument, but left with several hours of spare time on my hands, I started reading through random letters in the collection. I’m glad I did.

After reviewing several folders, I was struck by the heartbreak and hardship in Tilden’s life. Before Tilden garnered great success in his late thirties, his collection of papers includes terse correspondence from bill collectors, associates in desperate straits pleading for payment from Tilden, and even Alexander Graham Bell’s handwritten note expressing regret he could not afford to buy any of Tilden’s wares. I approximate that half of Tilden’s professional arc was a flat line of despair and agony. Adding to his hardship was a hearing impairment that rendered his world silent.

I wondered why Tilden held on to these reminders of suffering, and then it occurred to meDouglas-Tilden-WPA-by-Peter-Van-Valkenburgh I had seen this before. I’ve reviewed the papers of two other individuals at University archives and both of them, despite having a public perception of great success, also left a trail of papers documenting the darkest days of their careers. In the biographies that treat their lives you might read that they experienced early hardships, but in their papers – in their own hand and those of others – you feel excruciating pain. Willis Polk, who went on to become a noted architect, wrote Tilden a note on a small piece paper in the late 1890’s pleading for a payment of a few dollars. Family members had taken ill and he desperately needed payment to take care of their medical needs.  Tilden saved none of his responses, but three additional notes from Polk over six months, each escalating in desperation, indicate that Tilden could not make ends meet.  In the other papers I reviewed, those of Ed Fletcher and Frank Brown, I also read desperate pleas from men, all whom showed a strong public face, needing money to take care of their wives, children and parents.

So despite coming away empty in new facts, I did gain additional perspective on the wreckage caused by subject’s like mine, when they leverage desperation to meet their business goals. Perhaps this is the reason, in part or in whole, that my three left their papers for others to see.

If you have a historical figure of interest I strongly encourage you to see if they, or their partners, donated papers to archives. If they did, they left a trail for you to follow to gain additional perspective on their lives, and their interactions with others. Seeing for yourself, the steadiness of their hand, their choice of stationary, and most importantly their own words, will give you valuable insights that even the best biographer is want to capture.  It will be worth the trip.

Picture in banner: Tilden’s Mechanic sculpture amidst the ruins of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Tieing up the last loose end…

I’m travelling to Monterey this week to look through court records from the early 1900’s involving James A. Murray’s lawsuits against famed artist Charles Rollo Peters. It appears Murray held a substantial mortgage against Peter’s Gate, the artist’s popular retreat. Hopefully the court records and local newspaper accounts of the trial will review the nature of thier partnership. I’m hoping there is more to the story than Murray’s typical loan sharking practices. This is the last loose end in my research on Murray’s activities in Monterey.Murray v. Rollo.jpg

My Unorthodox Query Letter is Rejected. But I Wouldn’t Have Changed it.

My brother’s query on a unique travel destination between Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe. Tonapah was a roaring mining camp back in late 1800’s and through the turn of the century. There is a nice hotel in town that has been restored recently. It makes a great pit stop.

thomas farley's blog

My query letter to National Geographic’s Traveler was just rejected. But I think I did the best I could. Here are the details. Perhaps you will be inspired to put your own off-the-wall query letter into the mail.

I proposed a travelogue to central Nevada, participatory tourism to discover turquoise at the Royal Royston claim outside of Tonopah. That was what my Rock&Gem (internal link) article was all about and I thought I might interest Nat Geo in a piece tailored toward their audience.

Since my article and query letter revolved around turquoise, I decided to confort the query letter editor with the real thing: real turquoise. I bundled up two samples, one rough, one finished, and sent them off. I included my magazine article and a photo of Kate Blanchett at the Academy Awards wearing a turquoise necklace. Just to show turquoise is in style. (See the image below.)

Alas, my…

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Tax History 101 for CBS Debate Moderators

Nancy Cordes, CBS Congressional correspondent, and a moderator at this cordesweekend’s Democratic Presidential debate, was shocked and amused at Bernie Sander’s response to her question about the top rate in his tax plan. Sanders’ remarked that it would not be as high as President Eisenhower’s ninety percent (90%) top rate – adding a humorous note that he was not as big of a socialist as was Ike.  Cordes’ amusement revealed that she either knew little about the history of tax policy in this country, or she is personally opposed to raising tax rates – neither being a good quality for a moderator.

The history of tax policy in this country is critical to understanding many of the issues that are highlighted in presidential debates. Income inequality, the cost of higher education, and the lack of funding for veteran’s programs are all tied to dramatic, and relatively recent reductions in tax rates applied to the wealthiest Americans.

The History of Income Tax Rates in America

Federal Income tax was reinstated in this country in 1913 after a nineteen-year hiatus, and by 1917 the top marginal tax rate jumped to 67% on income above $2.0 million per year (the equivalent of $35 million in 2013). The top rate dropped significantly leading up to the Great Depression, before rising again to fund F.D.R.’s New Deal.

Figure 1 below provides the tax rate applied to the highest income bracket (in blue)and the tax rate applied to households with annual incomes of $500,000 (adjusted each year to 2013 dollars and illustrated in red). Note that the differential in tax rates on the wealthiest Americans (making over $500,000) were reduced starting in the Kennedy administration and eliminated completely by the end of Reagan’s first term.

Figure 1

The chart illustrates several important points:

  • Bernie Sanders and others speaking to a higher tax rate for the 1% have history on their side (sorry Nancy, but you should have done your homework on this).
  • Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” was served by federal programs funded through tax rates that placed a greater burden on the wealthiest Americans.
  • Medicare, aimed at serving the aging members of the Greatest Generation, was adopted at a time when tax rates focused on the wealthiest Americans.
  • Recent decreases in tax rates and elimination of free tuition (1) followed the adoption of the Civil Rights Act, denying minorities the educational opportunities afforded to the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers.
  • Practically every presidential candidate, and debate moderator, lived during a time when tuition was free at public universities (or just a fraction of what it is today).

Figure 2 below compares the top tax rate and the top income bracket since 1913. The top income brackets are adjusted to 2013 dollars and displayed on a logarithmic scale.

Figure 2

Going forward, perhaps the questions for presidential candidates should be:

  1. “Why shouldn’t Millennials benefit from educational opportunities afforded to the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers?
  2. Why should free college tuition, withheld from minorities prior to the Civil Rights Act, be denied to minorities after passage of the Act?
  3. Why aren’t the tax rates and tax brackets that served the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers not being used for the benefit of Millennials?

(1) The University of California system is used to illustrate the end of free tuition in public universities.

Note: Historical tax rates can be found at the Tax Foundation.

Our presidential contenders could all benefit from free college tuition when they were 18

Daily ClogLilia Vega of the Daily Clog takes baby boomers on a walk down memory lane with her piece that details the history of tuition and fees in the University of California system since 1868.

The UC system, one of two in California, and home to UC Berkeley and UCLA, started in 1868 with a goal of free tuition for all students. The system met that goal for over one hundred years. Here are the undergraduate tuition and fees that our presidential candidates would have paid if they entered the UC system when they were 18:

The above charges were fees for non-classroom expenses. Tuition was free. Adjusting these fees to today’s dollars, results in annual college costs for our candidates of $1,123, $1,348, $1,510, and $2,146.

And the cost for our next generation of leaders?

In 2015-16 our next generation is paying $5,006 per quarter ($15,000 per year) for the UC system. Of this amount, $3,740 per quarter is for tuition ($11,220 per year) and $1,266 is for fees ($3,800 per year). The new college catalogs address this with an entire section devoted to student loan programs, a feature missing in catalogs from the baby boom years.

Book Review: When Mandates Work: Raising Labor Standards at the Local Level

when_mandates_workWhen Mandates Work [1] is a good resource guide for use in cities and airports located in primary urban markets. Most of the research centers on San Francisco, which likely applies to cities like Seattle, Portland and San Diego and their airports. The content of the book is drawn from individual journal articles written by several different authors, so the content varies dramatically from chapter to chapter.

Part one of the book looks at living wage ordinances in cities and airports. Significant benefits are found in terms of reduced turnover rates and improved employee morale. For restaurants in one study, price increases  of 2.8 percent occurred, which is remarkably similar to estimates on anticipated cost increases derived using MIT’s living wage models.[2] As an aside, I am confounded that there is not bi-partisan support for living wages at fast food restaurants across the country. Why any fiscal conservative would not want the fast food industry to stand on its own, and stop using federal subsidies to bolster worker’s living standards, is incomprehensible.[3] Every fiscal hawk should be wagging their finger at Ronald McDonald to get off the public dole!

Part 2 covers health care benefits and Part 3 provides execution strategies – including the use of Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs).

Anyone looking at CBA’s for their city should take a close look at the CBA negotiated with Twitter in San Francisco. The hearings on this document are readily available on-line in City archives. Twitter clobbered the City in negotiations. Adding insult to injury, the primary beneficiary of Twitter’s move to the City’s central business district (building owners) did not participate at all in the CBA.

If you are on a budget, review the table of contents and search for the individual journal articles that comprise this book which are relevant to your situation, and download those individually (most libraries provide patrons with access to JSTOR – the primary database for academic journal articles).


[1] Michael Reich, Ken Jacobs, and Miranda Dietz, eds., When Mandates Work: Raising Labor Standards at the Local Level (University of California Press, 2014).

[2] http://livingwage.mit.edu/

[3] McDonald’s has in the past directed employees to federal assistance programs through their employee hotline.