C. R. Johnson Knew What He Was Doing

by BB Grace, October 19, 2016



There's no Wikipedia page on C. R. Johnson but there should be. He could have named Fort Bragg “Johnsonville”, had he been vain, rather than the visionary he turned out to be. When Johnson obtained the Civil War-era Fort buildings in the formation of what became Union Lumber Company he had a generational family photograph made of his parents, wife and young daughter on the Fort's hospital steps as a message to the future, that message being that buildings play a significant role in portraits. It wasn't the quartermaster’s house Johnson chose, as one can observe congressman Jared Huffman occupies it.

Before the Gold Rush and California joining the union in 1850, the redwood near what would become Fort Bragg was being felled for Henry Meigg's sawmill. The old mill is today housed in a museum at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. Meiggs, incidentally, went into hiding in the aftermath of some shady financial shenanigans whose victims wanted to kill him.

Sawmills, post Meiggs, popped up and came down everywhere for forty years along the coast and shipped out south to the growing Bay Area. C. R. Johnson's Union Lumber Company unified the Coast's timber industry, and Fort Bragg's Guest House stands as a living reminder of the prosperity the Johnson's Union Lumber Company brought to the Mendocino Coast.

The Guest House was established where the Fort Bragg Army hospital was located in 1857. The hospital situated on an effigy mound the Natives knew as a good energy place. The mound is sacred and the reason C. R. didn't want anyone living there. He understood the magic of Fort Bragg, and that the Guest House reflected the health of the community.

So why is the Guest House closed, and in such disrepair? The answer from the Historical Society under the leadership of President Mark Ruedrich, part owner of North Coast Brewing Company is, “There's no money” and “The City owns the building.”

The Guest House was given to the City of Fort Bragg in 1985 by Georgia Pacific with resolutions that it be a cultural place, preferably a museum, in perpetuity but not to be used at night; And that the House will never host a political event. Preservation of the house, made from old growth redwood the world will never see as lumber again, is crucial in the resolutions transferring ownership from GP to the City of Fort Bragg.

There are no maintenance records for the Guest House available. A deck built with love and pride for the Guest House in 1979 rots with broken glass and metal frames waiting to scratch anyone who dares to come near when the homeless aren't sleeping within it's broken seats and walls. There are frequent calls for various kinds of emergencies to the Fort Bragg Police Department and the Fort Bragg Volunteer Fire Department. But there are no City services other than City landscaping whose employees put love into their work, reinforced by the few volunteer docents who use their own money to make repairs to sparking light fixtures, loose boards, damaged leaking window sills as photographs and artifacts fade, and everyone waits for the City to find the money to properly maintain the historical site.

What they don't know is the City found the money and then buried it. Some might call it a Kick Back In Kind, others may call it a collusion, which may or may not be legal. Who will decide?

In 2010-11 The City of Fort Bragg accepted a Community Development Block Grant for $70,000 to purchase a “Guest House Museum Master Plan; City Wide Economic Development Plan”.

In January of 2012, the City of Fort Bragg, in the name of Linda Ruffing, signed a LEASE agreement for the Guest House to the Fort Bragg- Mendocino Coast Historical Society, in the name of Mark Reudrich at $1.00 per year over five years. That lease is up this December. The resolutions accompanying the conditions for House to the City were eliminated from the lease agreement and energy costs divided, are not reflected the September treasurer's reports of the Historical Society.

July 12, 2012 Fort Bragg residents and businesses marveled at the ease with which the North Coast Brewery cut through Coastal Commission Development and environmental concerns when Robert and Donna Rossi of North Coast Brewing Company and their agent Mike Wineland obtained a Fort Bragg City permit to install three new fermentation tanks and increase production to a maximum of 90,000 barrels of beer per year on North Main Street.

In December of 2012 the $70,000 Guest House Museum Master Plan was complete. Credit for the participants are listed with Tess Spade and Marie Jones being named twice. A few of the names listed are common names today: Dave Turner, Mark Ruedrich, David Foucheaux, George Reinhardt, Derek Hoyal, and Scott Dietz, and and a local woman who was shocked to see her name listed as she never heard of the Master Plan she purchased September 27th when requesting papers on the Guest House to seek an ability to form a Foundation to save the House. Linda Ruffing has not responded to the question put to her over a week ago, “Were Master Plan copies issued to those listed within, or were any listed informed they could purchase a 66 page copy from the City?”

The Guest House Museum Master Plan has two Strategic Plans within, the first being the Historical Society running the Museum following Strategic Plan 1, and Strategic Plan 2 that has the City hiring a Guest House Museum Executive Director at $50,000 @ 75% time to implement. The Master Plan architects and engineer inform that $285,000.00 in material and labor, especially cement around the fireplaces needs repair immediately. If the Strategic Plan 1 does not make the repairs to the House by 2015, the City is to immediately make the repairs and expect more repairs. The Master Plan provides for a Foundation, three executive jobs paying $50K, $45K, $50K and docents paid $15.00 an hour. Operating hours were to be 7 days a week 9 to 5. The Master Plan tells the City and Historical Society where to get the money to make repairs and hire help. It networks organizations, schools, businesses, and offered educational and literary opportunity. For $70,000 it's a plan designed to work for Fort Bragg as the Guest House would be in good repair, there would have been $57,000 in Sales, $101,700 in salaries paid, and $47,000 in the bank to enrich the community with festivals, programs, events, partnerships, and traveling exhibits.

To be specific, on Page 57 is a Chart: "5 year pro-forma" for 2013 to 2017, so this would be year 4:

  • Total income: $68,233
  • Gross Profit: $59,548
  • Salaries: $104,011
  • Net Income: ($35,778)

According to the Master Plan, the City was to have reviewed Strategic Plan under the Historical Society December 2015 and spend $285,000 on repairs. That didn't happen. When asked about the pending renewal of the Guest House Lease, Ruffing claims she and Mark Ruedrich plan to renew as is.

The agreement between Ruffing and Ruedrich works for them as the City can neglect all repairs to the House, not create jobs, or network with the community while North Coast Brewing can claim to have some philanthropic interest in the community and do more than take space for an unsustainable industry dependent on water and fossil fuels.

As I prepared this account, the Fort Bragg police refused to write a report concerning the public safety hazard represented by the deteriorated 1979 deck, but were hopeful something could be done. Scott Schneider, Administrative Services Director of the City is researching to see how OSHA applies and wouldn't take any report on the damaged deck, which by looking at all the papers, the City doesn't claim or list. If there's insurance papers, they haven't been located or shared. A visit to the Fort Bragg District Attorney suggested a call to the Ukiah DA where a voice mail was left and has not been returned. The ghost of C.R. Johnson looks on, wondering at this latter day inability to preserve the physical memory of the town he did so much to build.

Guest House, circa 1920

Guest House, circa 1920




Some additional names listed under acknowledgements:

Rosalie Gjerde, Johanna Jensen, Vivian La Mothe, David Maki, Jamie Peters, Teresa Rodriguez, Willian Scott, Mike and Denise Stenberg, Richard Storm, Nancy Swithenbank, Vicky Watts

I also have an email through Syvia Bartley from Mark Ruedrich on FB-MCHS paper that he checked with John Smith of the City and Smith's crew will be working on the Guest House soffits and doing roof repairs. It is dated Sept 26th 10:11 am.. I had dropped off a letter to Ruffing about the Guest House repairs. I never heard from her. Instead it appears she contacted Ruedrich. I also have an email from Sylvia Bartley saying only Mark Ruedrich speaks for the Guest House, and why I had to resign to do something.

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