FIRST LADY MAYOR
Julia B. Platt entered Pacific Grove politics with a shot-gun.
Exasperated by the continual forays of a neighbor's chickens
on her flower garden, she summarily shot the worst offenders.
The neighbor appealed to the police. Miss Platt, revealing
her comprehension of legal rights and civic authority,
countered by having an ordinance passed which zoned certain
limits of the city against chickens or other livestock.
From then until her death nearly thirty years later, (1935),
she constituted herself the town's watchdog.
Combine rugged individualism, high and
radical intelligence with a fierce sense of civic duty
in the person of a vigorous, dynamic maiden lady and the
result is likely to be "hell
on wheels"-- although she was also known as "a
grand ol' gal."
Pacific Grove owes much of its beauty to her. Single-handed
she beautifed Lover's Point, clearing the land, raking,
hoeing, watering the plot zealously. She trundled a wheelbarrow
of plants and garden implements through the streets of
the city, on her way to the "Point." She was
a familiar and eccentric figure in her old-fashioned dress
with its tight bodice and long full skirt. Her bushy white
hair was cut short, almost like a man's; she wore a mannish
hat, a little triangular shawl, and carried a small market
basket with her wherever she went. She was a tall woman
who walked vigorously with her shoulders thrown back and
her stomach forward-- she must have been a formidable figure
to the lazy or stupid.
Imagine the impact of Julia B. Platt, when as a maiden
lady of forty-three, she retired to Pacific Grove, a strait-laced
temperance town of churches and white jig-saw houses and
proceeded single-handed to make a beautiful progressive,
sensibly run town of it. Miss Platt spoke out with candor;
she knew she had more intelligence, honesty, and aggressiveness
than most of the other citizens, and never hesitated to
admit it. She made no secret of the fact that her views
on religion were unorthodox -- some suspected her of being
an atheist. But worst of all, she was a scientist, a zoologist,
who believed she knew a bit more about the ways of God
and man, than anyone except a few other zoologists -- darned
The lady watchdog sat down in front at the town council
meetings, a "regular, interested, forceful, and delightful
participant" Vigilant as a hawk, sharp as a ferret,
she pounced on every irregularity, evasion, sentimentality
in civic affairs, mincing no words at all. There was a
packed house every time the council met in those days.
Everyone came to hear what Miss Platt would have to say.
She never hesitated to disagree and always spoke exactly
what was on her mind.
After twenty years of combating, vocally and with paid
advertisements in the local paper, what she considered
the inefficiencies and abuse of the town government, she
drafted with her own hand, a city charter, circulated the
petition, and won its adoption.
For a while, peace reigned. Then bang! A controvery developed
over the bath house and beach at the foot of Forest Avenue.
The bath house and property adjoining the beach was owned
by Mrs. Mattie McDougall who erected a barrier across her
property, preventing public access to the beach in retaliation
when the city condemned the bath house. Miss Plat contended
that the citie's original deed from the Pacific Improvement
Company guaranteed public right of way to the beach. Mrs.
McDougall countered that the old deed had long since lapsed
on account the deterioration of morals.
"Wrong," said Julia Platt and with that she opened
the gate. Back and forth the opening and the closing of the
gate feud went on-- Mattie locked, Julia filed. Mattie nailed,
Julia chopped. Finally Mattie slapped a summons on Julia
in 1932, the complaint said that Julia "kept the entrance
free by using axes, saws, sledge hammers, and files." The
city council got so tired of being told off by Miss Platt
that they said, "OK, you run things" and
made her Mayor. In fact, hers was a hotly contested campaign
against strong opposition based on her age (74), her sex,
and her alleged lack of tact. Her platform was simple. "It
will take a good man to beat me," she said, "and
if a good man is elected that will be all the better." She
won. The story of her election was widely publicized over
the country -- with resulting fame for Pacific Grove.
Then came the happenings. She made Foster and Kleiser
remove the Bull Durham sign. She fought for a bathing suit
ordinance, forcing men to cover their torsos, and such
depictions of barnyard romances -- all were in nasty taste
and detrimental to the morals of the young.
Miss Platt had by the sheer power of good sense and patience
secured harmony and cooperation, but not for long, for
Mrs. McDougall sued the city for $8,000 over the bath house.
A fine fight developed over the Platt regime. The Chamber
of Commerce agitated for the city to buy the bath house
and avoid the suit. She ran for re-election, opposed by
a councilman who said he was opposed "to highbrows,
savants, idealists and visionaries." He lost.
Soon Mayor Platt found herself bucking the whole town.
Time proved her right, it must have been fun for before
her term ended in 1933 she fought for and established the
principle of "work relief" rather than the dole.
Pacific Grove's beautiful bathing beach, a WPA project,
was the result.
She died in 1935, but managed to cause the city fathers
discomfort even after her death. For in a note, she requested
that, sailor-fashion, her body be encased in a wicker basket
and cast into the sea. Civic dignitaries traditionally
accompany the body of a Mayor to its last resting place.
Twelve miles out to sea in a small fishing launch went
the party, and twelve miles back after their office was
accomplished. Even the most stalwort among them must have
felt some qualms of mal-de-mer. One prefers not to contemplate
the suffering of others. But how her spirit must have chuckled,
as her body sank into the sea. True to her sex, she had,
if not the last word, the last laugh.
Photo courtesy of the city of Pacific Grove
Game and Gossip 1946