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Dec 27

Howard Jack, editor of the San Luis Obispo Breeze

What happened to the Breeze?
Last week the story of 19th century Tribune and Breeze editor George Staniford was told.
When Staniford passed away in 1903 his former newspaper the Breeze soon came under the helm of Howard Jack. The name may sound familiar; Howard’s father, land developer and rancher R.E. Jack built the Jack House in San Luis Obispo.
Howard was a teenager but his energy and ability to write must have impressed the paper’s owners. Howard infused the paper with a teenager’s temperament and he reveled in tweaking the readers of the Republican and respectable Morning Tribune and the moralizing temperance minded Daily Telegram.
Jack played fast and loose with ethical standards that would get a reporter fired today but who would put a teenager in charge of a newspaper today? The young man wanted out of this little backwater town and this was a stepping-stone on to the bright lights of the University of California.
Staff writer Gilbert Moore told Jack’s colorful story in the August 7, 1969 Centennial edition of the then Telegram-Tribune:

Howard Jack, rancher and and in his teen years editor of the Breeze. Published August 7, 1969 in the Telegram-Tribune.

When Howard Jack was editor of the Breeze
Hardly a man now alive can remember the days when ranching mogul Howard Jack was a brash and controversial teenage newspaperman.
In fact, his Democratic party oriented editorials for the brassy old San Luis Obispo Breeze were something of a family scandal.
“We really went to town,” the 82-year-old Jack recalled the other day.
We didn’t give a damn about libel or anything else.”
Jack’s father, R.E., was a prominent Republican banker and rancher. So there were raised eyebrows in 1905, when Howard went to work for the Democratic Breeze.
“I’d write those hot editorials and it was just like throwing dynamite at the old gent,” Jack laughed.
“He’d say to my mother, ‘We’ve got to do something about this boy.’ They had thought I should wait a while —I was only 17 — before starting college, but those editorials were the way I finally got to Berkeley the next year.”
In fact, Howard Jack was in San Francisco, making preparations to enroll the next fall, in April 1906 — when the San Francisco earthquake hit.
He lived in Golden Gate Park for a while with the survivors and, already the paper’s editor, wrote a series of quake dispatches.
The editor had died at the turn of the year, and at the age of 18, the ranching heir found himself installed in the top office of the small paper, one of three in town. The others were the Telegram and the Tribune.
“The previous tenant had a big picture of Abe Lincoln on the wall, and when I would be interviewing a fellow and wanted to loosen him up, I would push Old Abe back and yell through a concealed hole to a bar nicknamed ‘Bakersfield’ next door, and order up some beer,” Jack said.
“A social glass of beer often would produce a larger story.
“The main thing I learned through interviewing was not to make a decision about the importance of an individual, particularly, not to judge him by the clothes he was wearing.
“The Breeze was some paper. People used to take it to see what we were gonna say about them. I’d cover all the daily news when I was a reporter.
“In the justice court, the judge would take on a few drinks because he had to preside over so many weddings. He’d turn to the bride and say ‘the official kissing of the bride will be done by Mr. Jack here of the newspaper.’
“The onion and garlic would knock a man down sometimes but I did my duty.
“I really liked the excitement of the game, getting the news, sorting out the more important from the less important, taking the telegraph dispatches, getting something you thought would appeal to the public for a sensational headline.
“We used to write Southern Pacific wrecks in more detail than was necessary — to get extra passes out of them. Same with touring stock companies. If we didn’t get our passes, we’d review ‘em and throw a few roasts in so we could get remunerated with the proper number of passes.”
Howard Jack made the acquaintance of another north county figure, publisher William Randolph Hearst, during an interview in 1905, and later grew to know Hearst well.
A few years ago, the Jack family Rancho Cholame was sold to Hearst’s descendants for several million dollars.
In the fall of 1906, Jack finally got started at U.C. Berkeley, majoring in chemistry and agriculture.
“On Aug. 9, 1906 my dad telegrammed offering me the superintendency of the 60,000 acre ranch. I wired back that I’d be on the next train, and have my fraternity brothers send my belongings.”
And Jack was on his way to becoming one of the county’s most famous ranchers, the tales of which would take several more stories to tell.
Howard Jack these days makes his headquarters at the Anderson Hotel, where he is a familiar lobby figure, still busy, active—and plenty sharp.
He remembers his newspaper days with great nostalgia.
“There’s something still sacred to me about a newspaperman,” he says seriously, knowing full well this is a distinctly minority opinion.
“The important thing always was getting a man to talk. If I could just get him talking, I could frame a story — and I could judge him pretty well too.”

The Breeze did not blow for much longer after Jack left; the Daily Telegram could barely contain its glee when the Breeze was shuttered May 7, 1909.

Related posts:

  1. George Staniford, Tribune and Breeze Editor
  2. James J. Ayers, founder of the San Francisco Call, editor of San Luis Obispo Tribune
  3. Crowning Miss San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo County Fair
  4. James J. Ayers, western journalist, Tribune editor part 2
  5. J.J. Ayers, The Tribune’s second editor, family details