A Little Montgomery Village History
Excerpts from the article “Hugh Codding Dies at 92”
By GAYE LEBARON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT Published: Sunday, April 4, 2010 at 3:00 a.m.
Hugh Bishop Codding, for more than 60 years a larger-than-life figure in the economy and politics of Sonoma County, died Saturday of pneumonia. He was 92.
Codding, generally credited with having altered the course of post-World War II Santa Rosa, became a legend in residential and commercial development in the 1950s and ’60s.
Codding’s early development projects constitute the quintessential story of Santa Rosa’s building boom of the late 1940s and 1950s.
After his graduation from Santa Rosa High School in 1936, Codding worked for his plumber stepfather, David Hall, and took construction courses at night.
The first house he built, on speculation, is at 938 Bush Street in Santa Rosa. He sold it in the late 1930s for $2,950. His next venture was a small development near the corner of E Street and Bennett Avenue. He named one of his new streets Georgia Street for the girlfriend of the man he bought the property from, displaying the whimsical approach to development that would characterize his career.
His first brush with Santa Rosa government, which would affect post-war Santa Rosa, came
when the City Council took a field trip to view the foundation for a Codding house deemed substandard. Codding was ordered to tear the house down, and he vowed he would never build another in Santa Rosa.
He honed his construction skills with the Navy Seabees in World War II, serving in the Pacific Theater, and was among the force mobilized on Iwo Jima awaiting orders to invade Japan when atomic bombs were dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan surrendered.
Home from the service, he parlayed his $400 discharge pay into the developments that would result in the decentralization of Santa Rosa.
First he built Brookside Terrace subdivision, off Sonoma Avenue near Doyle Park, where one of the one-block streets is Codding Drive. With his profits and a $10,000 bank loan, he bought the portion of the Parsons Ranch that fronted Franklin Avenue and built one of the first under-one-roof shopping centers in the state, taking the idea from Sacramento’s Town & Country Village.
He used the same name and accepted an offer of $25,000 for the center before it was completed, continuing to build homes on the remaining property, adjoining the Grace Tract.
He then bought the Hahman family’s prune and walnut orchards on Farmers Lane and, in 1949, started construction on another, larger shopping center which opened in 1950 with a dozen businesses. He named it after the new street, which had taken its name from Billy Montgomery, the young sailor who was the first Santa Rosan to die in World War II, at Pearl Harbor.
In addition to Montgomery Village, Codding Construction was building the first of nearly 3,000 homes, which sold faster than workers could lay the foundations, on land acquired along Santa Rosa Creek eastward toward the rural lane called Summerfield Road.
His project gained national attention for stunts like building an entire house in three hours and 18 minutes, or a church in five hours and 16 minutes. Time magazine featured him as the wunderkind of the post-war boom.
His clashes with Santa Rosa’s city government also assumed legendary proportions. Keeping his promise not to build within the city limits, he developed in an unincorporated area and built to county standards. He was told he would have to widen streets and make other improvements to meet city requirements before the city would accept Montgomery Village for annexation. It was part of a larger issue — who would control the growth of Santa Rosa. And Codding was eager to fight City Hall.
With characteristic chutzpah, he proposed to incorporate the City of Montgomery Village. Maps were drawn and submitted to the county supervisors. But on the eve of the election in which residents were asked to choose annexation or incorporation, there was an 11th hour agreement and Codding stopped in at radio station KSRO to ask Village residents to forget becoming a city and vote for annexation.
With the results of that 1955 election, Santa Rosa’s population increased from less than 18,000 to more than 30,000.
“As much as I liked the idea of my own private city, logic prevailed,” he told an interviewer years later, in a video-history made for the Sonoma County Museum.