Planning a time trip to witness the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake? Be careful where you’ll pop up; anywhere downtown will be dangerous as all of the brick buildings collapse. Surprisingly, the safest place while everything’s shaking will be inside a massive stone building – St. Rose Catholic church, on B street, built in 1900-1901.
It was (to state the obvious) an extraordinarily well-built place.
“With the exception of a few stones from a cornice, St. Rose came through the dreadful ordeal unscathed,” wrote historian Tom Gregory in his Sonoma County history five years later. A photo of the church apparently taken right after the earthquake shows a sawhorse next to the portico, where a a chunk of the corner appears missing. There was also some repair work needed on the steeple, but the job was already finished before downtown rebuilding began in earnest. The whole cost was reportedly $200; to raise funds the “ladies of St. Rose’s Church” threw a dance at Grace Brothers’ Park, illuminated by “many electric globes.”
(St. Rose church following 1906 earthquake. Source: “Views of Santa Rosa and Vicinity Before and After the Disaster, April 18, 1906” date unknown)
The expert masonry was done by a crew led by Peter Maroni, one of the skilled Italian-American stone cutters in Sonoma county. Gaye Lebaron has written often about these gentlemen from Tuscany and I have nothing further about them to offer. The basalt came from the Titania Quarry between Highway 12 and Montgomery Drive, where Santa Rosa Creek and Brush Creek join (the remains of the quarry are still there and can be visited – see this aerial view). Maroni leased it from James McDonald, the San Francisco banker and lesser-known brother of Mark L. McDonald. The stone used in building the church was donated by James.
All of that is fairly well-trod history but there’s a whopper of a believe-it-or-not! twist to the St. Rose story: It’s a forgotten design by a famous architect.
St. Rose was designed in 1899, a few years before Frank T. Shea (1859-1929) became widely known. He was classically trained at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts, which shows in his public buildings such as the Superior Court building in Sacramento and the Bank of Italy headquarters in San Francisco. His masterwork of this type was the final design of San Francisco City Hall, which was lost in the 1906 earthquake.
Shea had been the architect for the city of San Francisco from 1893 to 1897 and had a steady flow of work in the years following the quake, a time when there was much ado about the City Beautiful movement and Daniel Burnham’s vision to transform San Francisco into “Paris with hills.” Frank Shea was perfectly in tune with those ideals, and everything he designed in those years was grand and majestic. Many are on the National Register of Historic Places and all of them deserve to be.
More than anything else, Shea designed Catholic churches, creating ten others in San Francisco, Sonoma and Marin: the Mission Dolores Basilica, St. Paul (Noe Valley), Star of the Sea (Richmond District), Saint Ann Church (Sunset District), Saint Monica Church (Richmond District), St. Brigid (Nob Hill, now part of the Academy of Art University), Saint Vincent de Paul Church (Pacific Heights), Saint Anselm Church (Ross), St. Philip in Occidental and the Church of the Assumption in Tomales. He also was involved with the rebuilding of several churches following the quake, including St. Patrick (Mission District).
The scope of Shea’s work is astonishing. None of his churches are alike; he glided with ease between English, French and Italian Gothic/Romanesque styles as well Spanish Colonial, all as appropriate to the setting. By contrast, his slightly earlier Bay Area Episcopal church contemporary, Ernest Coxhead, kept reusing a favorite stylistic trait – an enormous swooping roof, which makes his churches look like Norman fortresses prepared to fend off attackers (St. John’s Episcopal in Petaluma is a Coxhead design).
The style he used for St. Rose is English Gothic (which was more apparent before its spire disappeared) and the Tomales church was Northern Italian Romanesque. That version of the Church of the Assumption was destroyed in the 1906 quake and a simpler wood church was built in its place. But those two churches were like siblings; both were designed by Shea in 1899 and used basalt from the same quarry operated by Peter Maroni. Although it was much smaller, the Tomales church took until 1903 to complete.
It’s difficult to see how St. Philip in Occidental fits into the picture, although there’s no dispute it was credited to Shea & Shea, which was his partnership with brother William. The exterior is an eclectic mashup which insults the classical principles which Frank T. Shea held dear. If anyone in their office came up with this, perhaps it was William – he was supposedly an architect although he was never personally credited with any design, and none of his threadbare obituaries mention any training. And speaking of William Dennis Shea…
In the corrupt world of early 20th century San Francisco city government, William Shea deserved an award for exceptional grifting. The Board of Supervisors appointed him city architect in 1905, then abolished that position and reappointed him as “General Supervising Architect” – the difference being that with his newly-created title he could skim 3½ percent from any public building construction project, which meant William was expected to pull in today’s equivalent of about $5 million/year on top of his salary – and, of course, he surely would gratefully share this with his benefactors. After the 1906 earthquake and a bond was passed to build an auxiliary water supply system for fire prevention, he demanded $3 million be paid to his office for supervision, then another $91,000 for designing a temporary city hall which was never expected to be built (all figures in 2019 dollars). William Shea was among the first to be ousted by the court as the graft and corruption trials began in 1907.
There’s no hint Frank shared his brother’s flawed character and although Shea & Shea continued to exist, it appears all his ecclesiastical design in the following years was done in partnership with another architect, John Lofquist. Since these commissions came from the San Francisco Archdiocese, one wonders if the church weighed in against working with the sleazy William.
Frank designed another Santa Rosa building in 1921: The Elks’ lodge on A street, which was a full block long between Fourth and Fifth streets. As seen in the drawing below, this was to be a classic Beaux Arts design with Corinthian columns although as the inset 1941 view shows, the final design was more conventional. Besides retail space at street level, this Shea & Shea building included a large auditorium and 6,000 sq. ft. dance floor, which after WWII became the “Skyline Terrace Ballroom,” Santa Rosa’s sort-of nightclub with live music on Thursdays and other times when a C-list big band was touring through the area. It was also available to rent for weddings and banquets and like everything else in that part of downtown, was bulldozed in the 1960s to eventually make room for our monstrous mall.
St. Rose was also scaled down from Shea’s original concept, as seen below. The final building was smaller, the east facing rose window was eliminated, as was (what appears to be) a small apse on the northeast corner, which would have been the baptistry. These were probably cost-cutting measures; as it was, the church came in about $3,000 over estimate ($104k in modern dollars).
Shea visited Santa Rosa at least three times while St. Rose was under construction, notable because the round trip from San Francisco would have taken most of a day and there was no profit in the architect making so many inspections on such a small project, particularly while work at the SF city hall was ongoing. As this was his first church, perhaps he took a personal interest in seeing the work done as well as possible, as well as hoping to gain a reputation with the Archdiocese as an earnest builder of churches.
As Frank T. Shea’s first church and his oldest surviving structure of any kind, St. Rose certainly deserves to be on the National Register of Historic Places. But unfortunately, as of this writing you can’t even peek inside; over 25 years ago structural engineers declared it seismically unsound and was closed to the public. The parish has plans for stabilization and restoration and is asking for help in raising funds. (Maybe some of those developers lusting after approval to build multi-million dollar high-rises downtown would like to chip in to fix up a building that’s really architecturally and historically significant, perhaps?) There’s a pledge form available at the link above.
In the meantime, there’s the mystery of the missing steeple. Compare any photos of St. Rose prior to the 1960s to the church today and notice the spire and the bell tower are gone – and no one knows why that happened or when. Best guesses are that it happened in 1964 as they were building the new church next door and possibly for some sort of safety issue. Or maybe there was an aesthetic concern of having such a big pointy thing adjacent to the new baptistry, another big pointy thing. And there’s also a question of where it went to – did they just saw it up and haul the parts to the dump, complete with its four mini-steeples? If anyone knows more, or sees a 90-foot steeple listed on eBay, please drop me a line.
From the Rev. Rector Cassin it was learned Monday that if the architect finds that it is at all practicable the new parish church of St. Rose in this city will be built of stone.
– Press Democrat, August 23 1899
The New Church at Tomales
Work on the new Catholic church at Tomales is being pushed ahead merrily. The edifice when completed will be one of the neatest in the state. It is probable that the architect of the Tomales church will prepare the plans for the new parish church of St. Rose in this city.
– Press Democrat, August 23 1899
Architect Shea in Town
Frank Shea, the well known San Francisco architect, was in Santa Rosa on Sunday for the purpose of inspecting the site for the new church for St. Rose’s parish. He has prepared plans for the erection of many magnificent edifices in this state, so it is expected that his work in this instance will give satisfaction.
The architect was well pleased with the site and will at once begin the preparation of plans. As stated before the church will be built of stone and in architecture that will be inspiring. The stone used will be from the quarries near this city and will be donated for the purpose.
From the Rev. J. M. Cassin, rector of the parish, it was learned that the proposed new church will cost about $14,000 or $15,000. The reverend gentleman is very enthusiastic over the report made by Mr. Shea after looking over the site.
– Press Democrat, September 27 1899
THE FIRST CHURCH IN SANTA ROSA TO BE BUILT OF STONE
The people of St. Rose’s parish expect before long to see the commencement of the building of their new church, as designed by Shea & Shea, the well known San Francisco architects.
The church of St. Rose is to be erected of stone to be found in the near vicinity of Santa Rosa from the quarries of Captain McDonald of San Francisco. Captain McDonald has permitted the church to take the stone from his quarry free of cost, and, therefore, when the edifice is completed it will stand as a substantial monument and strong evidence of his great generosity.
No brickwork will be used in the construction, as the walls will be entirely of stone, including the foundation piers, etc. The church will be 45 feet in width, 40 feet in height, and 90 feet in length, cruciform in plan, capable of a seating capacity of over 500 people. The spire will be 92 feet to top of cross. A gallery in front of the church of extensive capacity is also provided which is reached by a large square staircase placed in the square tower.
The baptistry is placed to the right of the church entrance and octagonal in shape, well lighted, and easy of access. The main entrance of the church is emphasized by three arches which face as many separate doors back of the main vestibule. Two side entrances are also provided in the transcepts which will permit of rapid exit of the congregation.
The lighting of the church is admirable, a large rose window pierces the front gable, two large gothic arched windows pierce the respective transcept gables, while the side aisles are provided with smaller yet perfectly proportioned windows flanked by buttresses. There is still provided [rest of paragraph missing]
It will be when completed one of the most substantial, picturesque and capacious houses of worship in the state outside of the city of San Francisco.
Much credit is due the Rev. Father Cassin for his efforts toward the erection of a church of enduring materials.
The idea of the past in this state has been to rear temporary structures or buildings of perishable materials, which demand constant attention in the way of repairs, for all time.
Economy in the end, saying nothing of beauty, dictates the employment of stone or masonry in ail buildings, and particularly in regard to a sacred edifice.
[start of paragraph missing] an extra effect of nave illumination by smaller windows above the aisle arches which adds to the architectural effect of both outside and inside and also provides perfect means of ventilation without draught.
The sanctuary, sisters’ chapel and side altars are crowned with arches and groined with artistic effect. The interior finish is proposed to be entirely of wood with paneled walls, arches and trusses, all finished in the natural state, while the sanctuary walls alone are to be finished in plaster for the purpose of future frescoe decoration which is so appropriate. The roofs will be of California black slate. The style of architecture employed is the English Gothic, destitute of high walls with their cheerless effect. The church will be lighted by electricity and heated by gas radiation.
No paint will be employed but the entire material used will stand for itself in evidence of its own natural virtues. Plainly decorated glass will be set in the windows but of a subdued pleasant tint that will enhance the interior effect considerably.
– Press Democrat, January 17 1900
CONTRACTORS BID TO BUILD THE NEW CHURCH
The Rev. J. M. Cassin and Contractors J. O. Kuykendall and C. D. Roberts were present in the offices of Shea & Shea in San Francisco on Monday, when the bids for the erection of the new church of St. Rose were opened. The bidders and bids were as follows:
Carpenter work —Simpson & Roberts. Santa Rosa, $10,516; Dryer & Co., San Francisco, $11,695; McIntyre, Oakland, $10,440; Crawford & Son, San Francisco, $10,000; J. O. Kuykendall, Santa Rosa, $12,107.
Stone work — Fisher & Kinslow, Santa Rosa, $13,997; P. Maroney, Kenwood, $11,235; J. O. Kuykendall, $10,439; Joe Neurauter, Santa Rosa, $7,440,
It will probably be several days before the award will be announced.
– Press Democrat, February 14 1900
Kuykendall Secures the Contract
Bids for the building of the new parish church of St. Rose in Santa Rosa were opened on Wednesday at the office of Shea & Shea, the architects, at No. 26 Montgomery street, San Francisco. The Rev. J. M. Casein and others wore present.
Contractor J. O. Kuykendall of Santa Rosa will build the new church, his bid being the lowest. The bids were as follows:
Simpson & Roberts, $21,117; J. C. Lindsay, $19,492; Johnson, $18,981; Thomson, $18,107; J. O. Kuykendall, $17,299.
These bids were for the entire work of construction including stone work and carpenter work.
– Press Democrat, May 5 1900
Has Let the Contract
Contractor J. O. Kuykendall, the builder of the new church of St. Rose, has let the contract for the concrete and stone work of the church to the firm of Cushing & Wetmore of San Francisco. The firm will bring to Santa Rosa their own crusher to prepare the concrete for the foundation. Arrangements have been made with Ph. Meyer to supply power for the running of an electric dynamo which will operate the machinery. From Mr. Kuykendall it was learned on Saturday that work would be commenced on Monday morning and that it will be pushed ahead with success.
– Press Democrat, June 27 1900
Ground Broken For St. Roses
Ground was broken Monday morning for the erection of the new church of St. Rose on B street. Tuesday from ing & Wetmore’s [sic] men will arrive from San Francisco and the work of building the concrete work will go merrily ahead. The breaking of the ground Monday was an important event for the people of the parish.
– Press Democrat, June 27 1900
The stone foundation of the new parish church of St. Rose on B street has been completed in a satisfactory manner by Cushing & Wetmore of San Francisco. The architect, Mr. Shea, and the Rev. Father Cassin are pleased with the work done. Contractor Kuykendall will now receive his first payment from the contract price.
– Press Democrat, July 14 1900
New St. Rose’s Church
Architect Shea is expected here today from San Francisco and it is learned that the first stone of the superstructure of the new parish church of St. Rose will be laid. Mr. Maroni, who has the sub-contract for the stone work from Contractor Kuykendall, is ready to begin work at once. It is probable that in about two weeks a date will be set for the laying of the foundation stone.
– Press Democrat, July 21 1900
Contractor P. Maroni has a force of eight stone masons at work on the new church of St. Rose on B street and the building is progressing well. Architect Shea is pleased with the work so far.
– Press Democrat, July 28 1900
Construction of New St. Rose
The work of building the new church of St. Rose is progressing very satisfactorily. It is an interesting sight to watch a machine in the nature of a derrick, which lifts huge blocks of stone weighing over a ton from the wagons and places them in position where they are required in the building. One of the blocks, used for a sill placed on Saturday, weighed two tons and a half. The six huge iron pillars, two of cast iron and four of wrought iron, which will be used to support the gallery, have arrived.
– Press Democrat, September 5 1900
The handsome marble corner stone for new St. Rose’s church has arrived. It Will be laid on Sunday. October 28 by His Grace the Most Reverend Archbishop Riordan.
– Press Democrat, September 12 1900
South Gable Finished
The south gable of the magnificent stone church of St. Rose on B street was completed on Saturday and with pride and satisfaction the work was beheld by Rector Cassin and many of his parishioners and friends. On October 28, His Grace the Most Reverend Archbishop Riordan will lay the corner stone of the edifice. He will be assisted by Rector Cassin and a number of visiting priests.
– Press Democrat, October 12 1900
CAME AFTER STONE TO BUILD THE NEW CHURCH
The Rev. Father John Rodgers of Tomaies came to Santa Rosa Wednesday with a small army of six-horse teams to haul stone from the quarries near here to complete the new stone church he is building in the little Marin county town. The good priest has won the admiration of everybody for his indefatigable efforts in the building of the church of which he is justly proud. Wednesday he directed the men be brought with him and in the afternoon the wagons went home loaded. The thirty huge steps to the edifice are being quarried here by P. Maroni.
– Press Democrat, October 20 1900
CORNER STONE OF SAINT ROSE’S
Archbishop Riordan, Attended by Priests and Acolytes, Performs the Impressive Ceremony, While Hundreds Reverently Watch and Listen
With impressive ceremony befitting the occasion the corner stone of the new Catholic church dedicated to St. Rose on B street was laid by His Grace the Most Reverend Archbishop Riordan at half past 2 o’clock on Sunday afternoon…
– Press Democrat, October 31 1900
HE DONATED THE STONE FOR THE CHURCH STEPS
Contractor P. Maroni shipped the last of the stone steps constructed for the new Catholic church at Tomales to that place yesterday by team and the huge blocks will soon be placed in position. The stone steps to be placed in front of the new Tomales church are not unlike those leading up to the entrance to the courthouse in this city. Each step is eighteen feet long, and there are four rests in the ascent, two six feet in width, one ten feet and another four feet wide. Yesterday while in San Francisco Contractor Maroni called upon Captain J. M. McDonald, the owner of the quarries from which the stone was taken, to ascertain the cost of the material used. Captain McDonald informed Mr. Maroni that as long as the stone was used for church work there would be no charge whatever. Needless to say the Captain’s generosity is highly appreciated.
– Press Democrat, November 14 1900
P. Maroni, the stone contractor for the new St. Rose’s church, says that if the weather remains clear that he will finish the stone work on the building in about twenty days. Mr. Maroni is doing some splendid work upon the edifice.
– Press Democrat, December 26 1900
THE CROSS ON HIGH
Stone Work of Upper Portion of Church Finished
Much Progress is Made With Building of New St. Rose’s Church in This City
The cross on the front wall of St. Rose’s church was placed in position Saturday afternoon.
This completes the upper portion of the stone work which has been carried on for months past with many delays on account of unfavorable weather. The steps and other stone work of tbe lower portion of the church will now be attended to. The carpenters, slaters and copper men will now quickly complete the upper portion of the church. The interior work will also be carried on at the same time, and probably in April the church will be dedicated and become an ornament to Santa Rosa.
– Press Democrat, February 10 1901
BELL OCCUPIES ITS CHAMBER OF STONE
Yesterday the sweet sounding bell which for many years has summoned the worshipers to the services in old St. Rose’s church on B street was removed from the old church tower and was hoisted into position in the new church. From its chamber near the top of the massive tower of the new stone church its tongue will be heard for the first time next Sunday morning. Architect Shea visited the church building on Monday and expressed himself as being well pleased with the work of the contractors.
– Press Democrat, 13 February 1901
New St. Rose’s Church
J. P. Silva of the Oakland Slating company finished the slating on St. Rose’s church last week and he has returned to Oakland. The copper work has also been finished by William Cronin of San Francisco. The stone work of the church has been completed all but the steps and in a few weeks now the carpenterwork will be finished and the edifice will be ready for occupancy…
– Press Democrat, March 17 1901
WITH A HIGH MASS
Last Service in the Old, First in the New Church
Elaborate Ceremony Will be Witnessed in New Saint Rose’s Church Today
This morning at 8 o’clock the last service will be held in old St. Rose’s church, which for almost half a century has been the house of worship for the Catholic congregation of the parish of Santa Rosa and around which cling so many memories.
Today for the first time divine service will be held in the handsome new stone church, whose embattled tower is surmounted by a cross of gold. Consequently today will be an important one in the religious history of Sonoma county, for the sacred edifice which will be used for the first time is the first stone church to be erected in the county…
– Press Democrat, June 2 1901
Solemn Ceremony by Archbishop Riordan Today
The New Church of Saint Rose Will be Formally Set Apart For Worship
The solemn dedication of St. Rose’s Roman Catholic church will take place at 11 o’clock this morning…
– Press Democrat, July 21 1901
Permission was granted Rev. Father Cassin to repair the tower of St. Rose Church.
– Press Democrat, June 6 1906
Contractor P. Maroni finished the stone work on the Western Hotel on Thursday night and is now at work on the tower of St. Rose’s church.
– Press Democrat, June 8 1906
BIG SOCIAL EVENT
Fete and Dance at the Park on Wednesday Night
The entertainment and dance at Grace Brothers’ Park on Wednesday night under the auspices of the ladies of St. Rose’s Church, is sure to be a very delightful and well patronized event. Under the direction of Mrs. Joe T. Grace a splendid musical and literary program is being arranged, and San Francisco talent will assist. The pavilion will be decorated and many electric globes will glisten in the park. The proceeds are for the benefit of St. Rose’s Church.
– Press Democrat, June 17 1906
Church Repairs Made
The repairs on the Church of St. Rose have been completed and everything about the handsome edifice looks as it did before. Rector Cassin is greatly pleased that the work has been finished.
– Press Democrat, July 26 1906
Water Color of Elks Temple at Nagle’s
A large water color drawing of the new Elks Temple has been placed in the display window of Nagle’s Sport Shop, where it is attracting considerable notice. The drawing of the building, from plans by Shea and Shea of San Francisco, attractively presents the building as viewed from the Fifth street entrance.
– Press Democrat, July 20 1922
Plans For New Elks Building Are Submitted
Architects William and Frank Shea of San Francisco, were in the city last night to submit the plans for the new Elks’ building to be erected in Santa Rosa. The plans were submitted to the building committee and a report will be made to the lodge.
– Press Democrat, December 13 1922