Friday, March 15, 2013

John (“Jake”) Jacobson, 1884-1941: Newly Discovered Major Shaper of Davis (106)

1942 El Rodeo

This is the first in a series of posts on “Jake’s Addition” on Russell Boulevard and the Howard-Abbott House at 445 Russell Boulevard. Because a public hearing on the historical significance of the Howard-Abbot House has just been announced for Monday, March 18th at the Hattie Weber, posts relevant to that hearing will appear before then.

In recently mucking about in a new-to-me corner of Davis history, the name John Jacobson kept turning up. Piecing together various mentions, Mr. Jacobson rapidly came into focus as a figure of considerable significance in the 1910s, ‘20s and ‘30s. But alas, to modify an elegant cliché, he is a person time forgot.

His civic, Farm, and other activities are summarized in both his UC In Memoriam entry and in his Davis Enterprise obituary, both reproduced here. Let me only say that in addition to directing all Farm construction and serving two terms on the first City Councils, he seems to have exhibited a decidedly charismatic personality.

Some time ago, I devised a category of “major shapers” of Davis, by which I meant and still mean individuals who have “significantly altered or elaborated the physical or social character of Davis.” *

For several reasons, Mr. Jacobs is at least a candidate to be a member of this category.

One, he was in charge of all constriction on the University Farm for many years and had considerable influence on the physical shape of the campus.

Two, he was a member of the first regularly elected Davis City Council and reelected as the top vote getter four years later. These Councils literally constructed the civil order of Davis--they summoned a city into existence.

Three, he devised what is called “Jake’s Addition” on Russell between South Campus Way and Oak.

In all of this, he appears to have been a person of enormous personal influence-- a “natural leader,” to use the familiar term.

So why was he forgotten? One plausible answer jumped out at me as I read the microfilmed California Aggie for later 1941 and for all of 1942: World War II. He died just a few months before that war started and mindsets were rapidly and radically altered by an entirely new set of pressing concerns. By the time “normalcy” began to return in 1945, a new mindset of an explosive and forward-looking California had taken hold.

* Post number 73, September 9, 2012, at:

California Aggie, August 28, 1941