Downtown Santa Rosa was like an obstacle course following the 1906 earthquake, and three months later the streets were still cluttered with lumber and bricks – only now these were piles of new bricks and wood being used in building an entire business district from the ground up.

The rapid pace of construction in those months is mind-blowing. At the June 22 City Council meeting, it was mentioned that in the two months since the earthquake, Building Inspector Willcox had reviewed nearly two dozen plans, and at that meeting alone, permission was granted for construction of five major commercial buildings downtown.

Despite the belief that poor construction was a factor in the collapse of some buildings, there was still resistance to Santa Rosa’s first attempt at enforcing building codes; Willcox issued a stop-work order to one developer for using bad mortar, only to return and find that they had constructed the wall anyway.

Alas, details about this important period in the town’s history are slim. There are no known photos from the rebuilding period, and the papers offered little more than an occasional architect’s sketch of a major building that was underway and a pair of articles that are transcribed below (note that almost all of the buildings described there were at the end of Fourth St. which was obliterated by the mall).

But glimpses of those days can be found in other newspaper items, particularly in requests and complaints made to the City Council. As construction was underway, merchants were still attempting to run their businesses alongside. “In some places where walls have been left standing owners have placed roofs on the structures and completed store rooms,” one article noted. Many of the “temporary structures” approved by Council were little more than wooden tents intended to shade open air tables. At every Council meeting there were approvals for temp buildings, typically described as “40×80 feet,” a “lean-to corregated iron shed,” and most ambitiously, a “small galvanized iron building in the rear of his new building on Fourth street to be used as a kitchen by the new grill room.”

Shoppers also had to be adventurous and nimble because of “dangerous holes and planks across sidewalks, projections from buildings and piles of materials on sidewalks.” An item in the May 13 San Francisco Call compared downtown to the chaos of a mining camp:

On all the side streets leading to the burned portion of the city numerous one-story frame buildings are being erected for temporary use as stores. This gives the city the appearance of a mining camp of the days of ’49.

It was Santa Rosa nightlife that was most transformed, however. The evenings streets were now illuminated only by moonlight; Press Dem editor Ernest Finley told the story that travelers who arrived after nightfall were drawn to his newspaper office because they had the only light visible downtown, and someone would be dispatched with a lantern to lead visitors to their destinations. Fire Chief Muther complained that it was only luck that a fire wagon didn’t collide with one of the “immense heaps of sand” in the street. There was great relief when finally a single electric street light illuminated the town’s main intersection of Fourth and Mendocino, three months after the disaster.


It is very gratifying not only to the people of this city, but visitors from other sections of the state, to see the progress made in the way of building.

Already the erection of the big C. C. Donovan building at Fourth and Washington streets and the Dougherty-Shea building at Fifth and Mendocino streets, are well under way. The walls of the Morris Prince, T. T. Overton and William Sukalle buildings on Fourth street are also arising.

Material is being hauled to the Con Sheas lots at Fourth and B and Fourth and A streets, and Mr. Shea will soon begin building.

Other property owners are getting ready to build and next week and the week after will see the commencement of several new buildings.

The P. Towey building, occupied by the Noonan Meat Company’s market is about ready for occupancy on Fourth street, and the Shea and Prince buildings are being repaired.

Mr. and Mrs. B. F. McDannell are getting ready to erect their building on Fourth street. The ground floor is already leased and if a fraternal order desires to lease the upper story for a hall it will be built.

Santa Rosa’s new business section promises to eclipse the old one. There are many fine buildings in prospect, including the five-story Livernash Building, the bank buildings, the Overton and Shea buildings, and those to be built by other property owners all along the street, B street, A, Mendocino, Third, Main, Hinton and Exchange avenues, etc.

– Press Democrat, June 28, 1906

Santa Rosa Will Have Substantial Structure

Arrangements are being perfected for the construction in Santa Rosa of reinforced concrete buildings. There is every reason to believe that in the near future work on this mammoth structure will begin, and that it will be enclosed before the rains of the coming winter set in.

The block of reinforced concrete buildings will be located on the south side of Fourth street between Exchange avenue and B street. The property in this block is owned by Mayor John P. Overton and Tol T. Overton with the single exception of the one piece owned by Mr. and Mrs. B. F. McDannaell. These three owners have been considering the matter for some days and have about completed their investigations and concluded that for safety their best interests lay in the reinforced concrete formation.

A solid block of these concrete buildings would certainly be a substantial thing, and the news is pleasing to Santa Rosans that the owners are considering the matter favorably.

Work was begun Monday morning on the foundation for the Towey building at the southwest corner of Fourth and A streets. This structure is to be constructed especially for the use of J. C. Pedersen, the furniture man, and will be rushed to completion as rapidly as possible. The foundation will be sufficient to carry a building of several stories.

Con Shea has begun work on the block of stores he proposes to construct on the southeast corner of Fourth and A streets. Workmen were busy early this morning making the boxes for molding the foundations, which will be heavy with cement. It is expected to have these stores ready for occupancy before the rains of winter begin.

The Coughran, Parsons and Proctor reinforced concrete block, consisting of five stories on Fourth street between Hinton avenue and D street is well under way. The rear walls and side walls are under construction, and the front will be held in abeyance until the matter of widening Fourth Street has been definitely determined by the city council.

Morris Prince and Dougherty and Shea will be among the first property owners here to construct an entirely new business block in the Greater Santa Rosa. In some places where walls have been left standing owners have placed roofs on the structures and completed store rooms. Mr. Prince began from the bare lot and has two handsome buildings already under construction, both being on Fourth between A and B streets. Both of these structures are already one story high and will be carried up another story. Mr. Prince realizes the demand for apartments here and will build as rapidly as he can get men for the work. Messrs. Dougherty and Shea have their building completed to the one story line, but will make it a two-story structure. This will provide elegant offices for attorneys and professional men, something that is badly needed at the present time.

The C. C. Donovan building has reached the second story and is being rapidly completed. The window frames for the second story have been placed in position. Many other buildings are projected for the City of Roses and in a short time there will be even greater activity than is noticeable now.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 16, 1906

It is indeed remarkable how rapidly the scars of the recent disaster in Santa Rosa are disappearing. The city will be rebuilt sooner than any of us have supposed. Three months have passed since the trouble came upon our fair city. What busy months they have been. First there was the clearing away of the debris then the making of plans, and now there is building activity all along the line. Dozens of fine business blocks will be completed before the winter rains are upon us. These business blocks will be filled with splendid stocks of goods just as soon as they are completed. Everybody notes the progress of our city. Everybody has a good word for the rapidly rebuilding City of Roses. Visitors are thoroughly surprised at what is doing here. They note our progress with great satisfaction and are giving Santa Rosa favorable advertisement wherever they go.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 19, 1906


Contractors who refuse to obey the orders of Building Inspector William H. Willcox in future in regard to the building ordinances of Santa Rosa will be arrested and punished. This was officially determined at the Council meeting Tuesday evening. Inspector Willcox reported that he had ordered the work stopped on a certain structure on Fourth street because sand was being mixed with the slacked lime before the lime had an opportunity to cool. This is in violation of the ordinance. The inspector then left town for a couple days, and declared on his return the mortar so made had been used in the building. It is contended that the mixing of sand with hot lime takes the textile strength from the mortar and makes it unfit for use. The councilmen were angry at the treatment accorded the building inspector and notified him in the future to call on Chief of Police Rushmore to arrest any one violating the building ordinances of the city. It is proposed to have this ordinance respected in every particular. The councilmen also discussed the advisability of compelling the tearing down of the wall in which the improperly mixed mortar had been used.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 25, 1906

A petition for an arc light on Fifth street, between A and B streets, was referred to the Street Committee.

– Press Democrat, May 26, 1906

Light on Fourth Street

An electric light has been placed at the corner of Fourth and Mendocino streets, where it was greatly needed. Many favorable comments were heard Thursday night.

– Press Democrat, July 22, 1906
Negligence on the Part of Contractors and Property Owners Will be Punished

Fire Chief Muther called the attention of the Council last night to the negligence of contractors in leaving obstacles on streets in the city, on dark nights without any warning lights being placed thereon. He instanced Monday night when the town was in darkness by reason of the shutting off of the lights and stated that lanterns were missing on a number of immense heaps of sand, etc., and piles of lumber. The fire department had a call and it was only by the sheerest good fortune that an accident was averted.

Attention was also called to the negligence of property owners and contractors on Fourth street and on other streets, who have dangerous holes and planks across sidewalks, projections from buildings and piles of materials on sidewalks without lights to warn pedestrians.

The Street Commissioner and Chief of Police were instructed to enforce the law and if necessary arrest and see that the offenders were punished.

– Press Democrat, December 12, 1906

The Overton Building, designed by San Francisco architect Victor Dunkerley, who is said to have worked for Frank Lloyd Wright. This intersection at the southeast corner of 4th and B was seen also in an earlier post – note the W.C.T.U. water fountain in the foreground of both pictures

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