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Image: The Successful American, 1899

Kowalski Street? Part 1
Most folks in Santa Barbara have no idea why there is a street named Kowalski on the north side of the Mesa. It's named for Colonel Henry Isaac Kowalsky, an attorney from San Francisco. (The street name is spelled incorrectly.)

Kowalsky was born in Buffalo, New York in 1859, and his family moved to California when he was a kid. In 1880, he was admitted to the bar. He was known for his talent for public speaking which made him a popular after-dinner speaker. "The Colonel . . . always has a great knack of storytelling and a quick eye for a humorous situation . . . His humorous tales are setting many tables in a roar." (Oakland Tribune, September 5, 1909)

In addition to his fame as a speaker, he was also infamous for his size. It was estimated that he tipped the scales at about 300 pounds, and he was known for being hard on courtroom furniture. During one long case in 1911, the San Francisco Call wrote two lengthy articles about courtroom chairs that fell short, or just fell down, under his weight.

"When Heavyweight Attorney Awakes in Judge Graham's Court, Furniture Goes to Ruin," was the headline. "The chairs on which the Colonel has sat have unanimously collapsed. In six weeks . . . the Colonel has wrecked no fewer than 12 chairs – count 'em – 12 – two a week." Apparently, the Colonel had a habit of dozing off, and when he woke with a jerk, the chairs gave way.

After the twelfth chair was reduced to kindling, Kowalsky ponied up and bought a heavy-duty chair. "Kowalsky Gives Chair to Court," was the next headline. "Corpulent Attorney has Made Furniture Guaranteed Not to Break." The Colonel arrived at the court with "a strong, ironbound oak chair calculated to sustain the heaviest lawyer alive. And the portly Colonel presented the chair to the court."

Kowalsky never lived here. In next week's post, I'll reveal why there is a street named after this large-and-in-charge attorney.

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