San Francisco’s ‘Fresh Air Bed Company’: A con artist and a different plague



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    A photo of William Young Kinleyside in the April 1, 1915 San Francisco Examiner after he had fled the city when his stock scheme was exposed. “If I could get hold of Kinleyside now I would horsewhip him,” said the wife of one of his unwitting employees.

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    A photo of William Young Kinleyside in the April 1, 1915 San Francisco Examiner after he had fled the city when his stock scheme was exposed. “If I could get hold of Kinleyside now I would horsewhip him,”

    … more


    Photo: San Francisco Examiner

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A photo of William Young Kinleyside in the April 1, 1915 San Francisco Examiner after he had fled the city when his stock scheme was exposed. “If I could get hold of Kinleyside now I would horsewhip him,” said the wife of one of his unwitting employees.

less

A photo of William Young Kinleyside in the April 1, 1915 San Francisco Examiner after he had fled the city when his stock scheme was exposed. “If I could get hold of Kinleyside now I would horsewhip him,”

… more



Photo: San Francisco Examiner


About a century before COVID-19 sent the Bay Area indoors, a different respiratory plague drove people to sleeping outdoors in the name of good health. It inspired an entire architectural movement, as well as a San Francisco con artist who tried cashing in on it.

The “California Fresh Air Bed Company,” based in San Francisco and promising apartment dwellers a convertible outdoor bed, was apparently just another of his investment scams.


Tuberculosis was the second-leading cause of death in the United States in 1900, just behind pneumonia. It’s the reason the American Lung Association was founded in 1904. Like the coronavirus, it especially preyed on the urban poor, and the lack of a vaccine terrified the country for decades.

Physicians endorsed lots of fresh air as a way to ward off the disease, and it was during this time that the sleeping porch became a trend in Bay Area houses, led by Bernard Maybeck’s Arts and Crafts style.



The sleeping porch was essentially a screen-enclosed, open-air bedroom. It was preferably on the second floor, because the air was believed to be purer at higher altitudes. Many homes built from 1895 to 1920 had them, and they experienced a revival in the early 2000s.




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An ad for the Fresh Air Bed in the February 1912 Western Architect and Engineer

An ad for the Fresh Air Bed in the February 1912 Western Architect…



In 1919 the U.S. Health Service published a series of recommendations on avoiding TB, and first on the list was “Sleep with windows up in bedroom or use a sleeping porch. Allow plenty of fresh air in the place where you work.”


San Francisco’s mild winters made the sleeping porch a year-round favorite, and the city demonstrated a zeal for fresh air in the name of wellness. (It was also around this time that indoor saltwater baths were a wildly popular local health activity.)


The Chronicle ran a full-page spread on fresh air in 1911, including this portion on the city’s women: “The San Francisco girl looks upon fresh air as her birthright. … The San Francisco girl is not afraid of drafts, but rather apoplexy, pneumonia, and tuberculosis and the injury of her complexion through lack of sufficient cold air.”

San Francisco historian and native John Freeman told SFGATE his father-in-law, born in 1920, often slept with the window open while growing up in the Richmond District.

“He said his life was horrible under that regime,” Freeman said. “His nose ran constantly during the day, and as an adult he had asthma. He had a lifetime of respiratory problems, which he attributed to the medically recommended ‘fresh air’ sleeping practices promoted in San Francisco.”


In March 1915, an entrepreneur named William Young Kinleyside and his partner, R.W. Michaels, vanished from San Francisco after it came to light they were selling bogus stocks to investors.

Mrs. H.S. Comfort, whose husband was scammed to the equivalent of over $20,000 in today’s money, told the San Francisco Examiner, “If I could get hold of Kinleyside now I would horsewhip him. That is the only way men of his caliber must be treated.”




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An ad for the Fresh Air Bed in the January 1914 Pacific Medical Journal

An ad for the Fresh Air Bed in the January 1914 Pacific Medical…



The San Francisco Chronicle reported Kinleyside was also attempting to sell physicians on another venture of his: the California Fresh Air Bed Company. “The value of which,” the Chronicle reported, “to say the least, has not been proven.”

Multi-page ads for the Fresh Air Bed Company can still be found in online archives for two trade journals: In the February 1912 Western Architect and Engineer, and the January 1914 Pacific Medical Journal. Prototype images depict a revolving, dome-shaped wall separating the bed between the indoors and outdoors. When outside, the sleeper would be protected by a wire screen and storm curtains.

Also advertised as the Co-Ran Fresh Air Bed, the listings claim in large type it was “highly endorsed by architects and doctors” and its owners could save space with “no more cold and leaky sleeping porches.”

The ad in Western Architect claims that 600 Fresh Air Beds were sold during its first public demonstration at the Architectural League of the Pacific Coast exhibition in Los Angeles. The company claims two Bay Area addresses: One on 833 Market Street in San Francisco and one at 1764 Broadway in Oakland.

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The Fresh Air Bed also appeared dozens of times in the Los Angeles Herald’s apartment listings from 1912 to 1913. Though it sounded more like an ad for the bed itself than an actual room for rent: “Enjoy the exhilaration of sleeping in a Co-Ran Fresh Air Bed at the LOHMAN APARTMENTS, Tenth and Georgia streets.”

Kinleyside had come to San Francisco from Los Angeles where, according to a person quoted in the Chronicle’s story, he also ran a women’s tailoring business.

The only possible evidence that the bed entered a Bay Area home could be found in an apartment listing for the Oakland Tribune in 1913, though again it sounds more like product placement: “The only apartment house in Oakland with the Co Ran fresh air beds (you go to bed in your warm room and by moving the canopy you find yourself outdoors, completely protected from drafts or storm).”

Whatever Kinleyside’s intentions with the Fresh Air Bed Company – we found only one article linking him with it and there may have been other collaborators – neither he nor his beds are heard from again after March 1915.  Four months after he came to San Francisco and started the National Deposit and Mortgage Company, his victims began realizing the $100 “Founders’ Certificates” they bought from him were worthless.

Homer S. Comfort, a solicitor for Kinleyside who also lost money to him, said he reported to work in mid-March to find everything gone, including Kinleyside. As none of Kinleyside’s victims were wealthy, they didn’t have the means to pursue him.

Could a more legitimate businessman have made the indoor-outdoor bed work in San Francisco? Not likely, said the historian Freeman.

“It might have had traction somewhere, but his timing and the way housing was changing in the Bay Area was horrible,” he said. “In a boom period, if you need space, you don’t add on a combo window seat/window bed. You move on. It also looks like it would have only worked for a small child.”

Greg Keraghosian is an SFGATE homepage editor. Email: greg.keraghosian@sfgate.com 

Article source: https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/San-Francisco-Fresh-Air-Bed-Company-scam-15248291.php

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