A Republican’s legacy
In the recent June primary, a Sonoma voter witnessed an incident of voter intimidation. The observer is neither Democrat nor Republican, and writing in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, he told of precinct workers mocking a voter who asked for a Republican ballot. “They joked aloud that this must be one of the two Republicans in Sonoma County,” he observed. The voter who was mocked remained silent.
Ironically, those precinct workers enjoy a community largely formed by Republicans. Among them is Allen Ray Grinstead, the staunch Republican who’s often referred to as the “Father of the Plaza.”
From his law office across the street, Grinstead was constantly reminded of Sonoma’s “8-acre problem.” As a member of the city council in the 1920s, he was the guiding force behind the crafting of Sonoma’s crown jewel.
A landscape architect was brought in to lay out and execute a plan, and it became a community effort as various town organizations adopted a section to maintain.
Grinstead was not a native Sonoman. He was born in 1887 in rural Glenn County, the son of a high school principal. After graduation from Cal, he studied law and passed the bar in 1913. During World War I, he served as an Army lieutenant.
In 1923, Grinstead came to Sonoma to set up a law practice in the Poppe Building on First Street East, and married Emily Poppe, who taught English at Sonoma High. One of her students, historian/journalist Gaye Le Baron later recalled her teacher’s influence.
A charter member of Kiwanis, Grinstead showed he was a man of many talents. Fun and camaraderie prevailed in his writing of musical skits. He was a witty and popular toastmaster at Kiwanis affairs.
Seeing the potential of tourism, Grinstead in 1937 chaired a convention of like-minded representatives from nine North Bay counties. They hoped to promote the Redwood Empire as “a year around mecca for tourists.”
Although prohibition was voted out in 1933, the wine industry had yet to appear on the horizon.
Whether as city attorney, in his personal law practice or as community volunteer, Grinstead relied on the good services of Jean Allen, his legal secretary.
In 1941, she married Robert Lynch, future publisher and editor of the Index-Tribune.
While Sonoma sons like Bob Lynch went off to war, Grinstead and others volunteered as “home guards.” Armed with shotgun or rifle, the volunteers stood night duty to protect the municipal water supply.
They later merged with the aircraft warning system.
The increased workforce at Mare Island brought an influx of new residents to the Valley, and health care services were strained. Prior to 1945, small hospitals lacked a guaranteed source of revenue. Addressing this, Grinstead lobbied the state legislature to pass a district hospital law authorizing local hospitals to levy taxes.
He himself wrote the basic district hospital act which the California legislature passed in September 1945. It became the model for hospital districts throughout the state.
In 1958, Grinstead was appointed Judge of Sonoma Justice Court, a position he held until his death in 1966. One day in May he was thrown by a horse which put him in a coma. He died two months later.
In Judge Grinstead’s time, you were known by your service to the community. In the annals of Sonoma history, the name of this Republican is writ large.
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June England is a resident of Sonoma.