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A CHURCH OF STRONG FOUNDATION

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.”

strose1906(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.

Frank T. Shea drawing of St. Rose church (San Francisco Chronicle, December 3 1899)
Frank T. Shea drawing of St. Rose church (San Francisco Chronicle, December 3 1899)

 

Undated postcard of St. Rose church (courtesy Denise Hill)
Undated postcard of St. Rose church (courtesy Denise Hill)

 

Peter Maroni and August Deghi during construction of St. Rose church  (courtesy Sonoma county library)
The Sonoma county library has two copies of this photograph, one identifying it as Peter Maroni and August Deghi during construction of St. Rose church and the other stating it shows two unknown workers during construction of the Healdsburg Grammar School in 1906. As this is a Romanesque arch and St. Rose arches are (apparently) all Gothic, this is likely showing the school or another project



elks

 

 

sources
Will Build a Stone Church

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

 

THE DEDICATION
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

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YOUNG BRAINERD JONES

If it can be said that there was a renaissance period of American architecture, then it had to be San Francisco in the 1890s. The city was vibrant with possibility; buildings were being designed that had never been imagined before. And in the middle of this was a twenty-something young man from Petaluma who was absorbing it all.

(This is the final part of a presentation made at the Petaluma Historical Library & Museum on October 20, 2018. Part one, “THE MAKING OF BRAINERD JONES,” explained how Queen Anne style and Shingle style architecture came about and became the groundwork for his career, and that his early clients were likely hyper-literate about trends in modern architecture because of the profusion of articles in popular magazines.)

Was Brainerd Jones a genius? A genius is not simply a person with a big grab bag of tricks and techniques. Whether he was a genius or not I can’t say – but he was certainly a very fine architect.

Or can we say any of his work qualifies as a masterpiece? A masterpiece is more than the sum of its parts, checking off items from a list of what’s considered attractive and pleasing – at the time. To weigh the merits of a work of nice architecture, I like to play a game called, “How easy would it be to screw this up?”

Today’s Petaluma Historical Library & Museum

 

Instead of bringing sand-colored stone from the quarry at Stony Point, Jones could have used basalt from McNear’s quarry less than a mile north of town. Besides being locally sourced, the dark gray stone would have matched Santa Rosa’s Carnegie Library, which was built in 1903.

 

Santa Rosa’s 1910 post office (now the Sonoma County Museum) is a Beaux Arts-Neoclassical-Spanish Colonial mashup with a tile roof and a portico with Corinthian columns. (MORE)
Why not a clock tower for an important public building like the town library? In 1907, John Galen Howard, one of the top architects on the West Coast, designed a lovely Beaux Arts building for a bank in downtown Santa Rosa. But the elegant architecture became merely a base for the clock tower that harkened back to the too-busy Second Empire style from about forty years before. (MORE)

 

Brainerd Jones was born in Chicago in 1869, moving to Petaluma at age six after his father died. As a teenager he was recognized at the local fair for his drawing skills and his ability in “netting,” which is a kind of crocheting. He supposedly took art lessons from Max Roth, a marble cutter and monument maker who had a yard on Western ave. The first sighting as an adult (at least, that I can find) is as a carpenter in Tiburon in 1892, and a carpenter in San Mateo the year after that. His first known professional gig was as a draftsman in 1896 for the construction firm McDougall & Son. This was not a prestigious place to work; although their main offices were in San Francisco, between 1894-1897 most of their work was around Bakersfield building hospitals, schools and jails. The successor business, McDougall Brothers, became quite important after 1906 and remained so for the next twenty years. That was long after Jones was gone, however.

 

The San Francisco that Brainerd Jones knew was still a gaudy party town, but by the mid 1890s it was quickly developing a reputation for cultural and intellectual advancement. The 1894 Exposition in Golden Gate Park celebrated the city’s progress and drew 2.5 million visitors.

 

This world’s fair also brought the city its first art museum with this odd, neo-Egyptian building which became the de Young after the fair. It was destroyed int the 1906 quake.

 

This was also a time of heated politics and all kinds of activism. Architecture was no exception; In “the Wave,” the leading local periodical of literature and the arts, Willis Polk savagely attacked the popular Queen Anne style, with photos of “monstrosities” on “Chaos Avenue.” After the 1906 earthquake, Polk would play a key role in the “City Beautiful” reconstruction of San Francisco.

 

The excitement wasn’t contained to San Francisco. Berkeley and Oakland were becoming the intellectual centers of the Bay Area, thanks in part to the growth of UC/Berkeley. Like the wildly inventive Shingle style buildings seen in part one, there were plenty of innovative homes being built in Piedmont and the Berkeley Hills. Although Jones only lived four or so years in San Francisco, imagine being twenty-something and having all this swirling around you – there was probably no better time or place in American history to be studying architecture.

 

Just as the Shingle style had architects arguing over “unity,” the byword in artistic Californian circles was simplicity in all things, and living in surroundings as natural as possible. Poet Charles Keeler, whose Maybeck home was shown in part one, wrote: “The home must suggest the life it is to encompass. The mere architecture and furnishings of the house do not make the man any more than do his clothes, but they certainly have an effect in modifying him.” The popular architecture magazines discussed the philosophy of John Ruskin, with “Ruskin Clubs” in America joining the movement already in England. In this photo c. 1901, the man seated on the far right is Jack London.

 

Jones moved back to Petaluma in 1898, where he registered to vote and gave his profession as “glassman,” which presumably meant someone who worked in leaded and stained glass. This window is from the dining room in a 1901 home designed by Jones. In the 1900 census he’s listed as an architect living on English street.

 

Jones’ first known commissions came from sisters Mary Theresa and Helen Burn in 1900 and 1901 (MORE on the Burn family). They lived in Petaluma from 1900 to 1907, but why they came here is unknown; they previously lived in Chicago and were originally from the Kitchener, Ontario area. Mary – who went by the name, “Miss M. T. Burn” – had a business on Main st. where she taught and sold “fancy work” (embroidery). The four cottages they commissioned were scattered on both east and west side lots. One is definitely lost, one can’t be found (and may not have been built) and one has been heavily modified.

 

The best surviving Burn cottage is at 332 Post street and is firmly in the popular Queen Anne cottage style, using spindlework to frame the porch. This was the last of the four Burn commissions, being built in late 1901.

 

The Byce House at 226 Liberty street also dates to 1901. It’s mostly a conventional Queen Anne with a corner tower and the usual fish scale shingles.

 

The window pediments and ornamental molding around the attic window are neoclassical, but all the finials are gothic, as is the metalwork around them on each gable.

 

Compare the Byce House wit the 1904 Harriet Brown House at 901 D st. They share some similarities, such as the porte-cochère, but this house might be his most conservative design. Victorian neoclassical elements are everywhere, from the widow’s walk at the top to the profusion of finials to garlands on the columns. Of interest is the use of two elements that would become Brainerd Jones’ signatures: The “union jack” pattern (actually classical Roman) and deconstructed Palladian windows. Note the bit of whimsy in the attic gable, which has a broken pediment inside another broken pediment.

 

Jumping back to 1901, a third Queen Anne built that year was the Lumsden House at 727 Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa. Today the front view is obscured by mature foliage

 

The stained glass seen earlier was from the Lumsden House; here is another example.

 

Like the other two homes we’ve seen from 1901, the Lumsden House is firmly American Queen Anne style. This was probably the busiest year of his career, with no fewer than nine houses under construction. At the exact same time this was being built, the Blitz Paxton House was going up next door.

 

Although the building was torn down in 1969, its footprint can be seen on the old fire maps. Guesstimating from the irregular shape, Paxton House was between 6,500 and 7,000 square feet – the largest residence Jones ever designed (MORE). As far as I know, Jones was the only architect who designed in both the popular Queen Anne style and the more artistic Shingle style.

 

In my opinion, this was based on the 1892 Anna Head school seen earlier. They have the same massing – a wider than usual building with a heavy roof. This view of the Paxton House clips off the southern end, but in the previous image it can be seen there was a significant gabled extension projecting out from the main building. Although the face of both buildings is anything but flat, they share deep eaves and a second floor slight overhang which creates a shadow to emphasize the horizontal lines. Both used decorative corbels to lend an illusion of support for projecting walls. Even if all the similarities were coincidental, they shared an unusual design for the entrances, with the front door recessed several feet and steps coming up sideways, from the left. The porch landing is concealed by a parapet, and we know from the family photos the Paxtons used this as part of their main outdoor living area, which was in keeping with the design principles of the artistic shingle architects.

 

Three years later, Jones designed another Shingle style house for Paxton’s friends who lived two doors down on the same block. Now known as Comstock House at 767 Mendocino avenue, the two houses must have made quite a statement. 

 

Seen here just after completion in 1905, the house had an astonishing number of windows and many whimsical features. Almost everything appears off-center; left/right, front/back views of the house are never symmetrical. The right sides of the gambrel gables are uncompleted (but on the east and south side only) and on south end of the porch is a decorative giant corbel that appears to be supporting the top floors. The deconstructed Palladian attic windows are above another set of deconstructed Palladian windows. In his directions to the contractor Jones even embraced the radical ideals of Wills Polk and specified no paint was to be used on any wood, inside or out; architecture, in this view, a house was no different than fine, artisan furniture.

 

But the design also shows Jones was closely following the new architectural ideas appearing in magazines, particularly Stickley’s “The Craftsman.” In 1904, Jones painted this concept shortly after Stickley published the design seen here inset. These designs would have been structurally unstable because the upper portion of the gambrel roof was too broad; the static load would have predominantly pushed outward instead of downward. As a result, Stickley’s design and this one would have probably flung itself apart under stress – such as the 1906 earthquake. That he copied Stickley’s roof profile makes another point: Jones – and most architects of his day – were terrible engineers.

 

This photo from 2006 before restoration began shows Jones also did not understand the physics of water on this type of roof. Note previous owners installed a rainstop at the end of the roof to slow the deluge in a heavy rain. The problem was that over two-thirds of the water would shoot down the small portion of the roof seen here on the left. The solution was to add gutters twice as wide and deep as the original plus a diverter where the angles change.

 

Several houses Jones designed in the 1910s seem derived from Stickley’s Craftsman Homes, but he was very much in touch with other modern trends. His 1908 design for the Saturday Afternoon Club in Santa Rosa (MORE) was in synch with the the Arts and Crafts movement’s cottage style now called “First Bay Tradition.”

 

Let’s end this survey of young Brainerd Jones with the earliest known picture of him. Here he is, age 39, at the groundbreaking for the clubhouse just mentioned. As you can see, he was a short man and was apparently sensitive about that; in the voter registrations his height kept growing from 5′ 6-3/4″ to 5-7 and then 5-8. But at this point in his life he had designed at least 25 homes as well as commercial buildings and a remarkable public library. Should he have retired on this day he would still have left a towering legacy – but he remained working at his drafting table for another 37 years.

 
So let’s ask again the questions I raised at the beginning.

Was he a genius? It’s jaw-dropping that he accomplished this work with his minimal training and education apparently limited to what he read in magazines and saw on the street. Yes, his lack of engineering caused some of his buildings to be flawed, but so were many of the works of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Were his designs architectural masterpieces? I would argue the Petaluma Museum qualifies. It’s neoclassical but also original, with yet another take on deconstructed Palladian windows. And then there’s the stained glass dome – something usually found in upscale hotels and businesses or churches. And that raises another “how easy it is to screw up” test; since this is a library and patrons are supposed to be looking down at books, wouldn’t clear skylights and hanging drop lights be more practical?

I believe every home he designed was considered a masterpiece by its original owner. Each was designed to fit their tastes and lifestyle like a glove. Mrs. Brown obviously wanted an old-fashioned design and Jones gave it to her, yet without larding on Victorian ornamentation. Blitz Paxton wanted the biggest house in town so he and his wife could throw lavish parties. And Jones gave him that, plus an ultra-modern look which dialed it up to bring attention to his ostentatious lifestyle.

That, I think, was Brainerd Jones’ real genius; he listened intensely to his clients so as to fully understand what would make them happy. The design became a collaborative effort.

And this also shows he deeply understood the principles of John Ruskin. When you live in a house that has been put together thoughtfully – even a simple California craftsman cottage – it has an impact on your outlook every day. Coxhead, Polk, Maybeck and other California architects at the time also knew this; it was about something deeper than picturesque street views – it was about creating art someone actually lived in.

 

 

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THE GRAND MANSION SANTA ROSA THREW AWAY

It was the grandest, most beautiful house ever built in Santa Rosa, and a century ago this was a town with no shortage of grand and beautiful homes. Its design was bold in a controversial new style; there were few buildings anywhere on the West Coast that looked like this.

And the parties! Hundreds attended one swank affair in 1903, with an orchestra on the balcony and San Francisco chefs in the kitchen. Elaborate evening gowns and diamonds glimmering in myriad electric lights, the rooms perfumed from honeysuckle, azaleas, carnations and roses – overall an ostentatious show of wealth by the scion of an old Sonoma County family with enough money to act like aristocrats.

Then years passed and other families moved in. There were no more orchestras at famous parties. The style of the house was no longer so remarkable and the reasons it was once considered so revolutionary were forgotten. Then in 1969, when the building was only three score and seven, it disappeared.

Why it came down will make you want to scream.

Before diving into all things architectural, this is also the second and final part of the story about Blitz Paxton, the man who commissioned this grand home for his family. His past is dredged over at length in part I, “The Wars of the Paxtons,” but in brief: His parents were among the wealthiest in Sonoma County, building a Healdsburg mansion known today as Madrona Manor. Blitz had a brief first marriage that gave birth to two children. After their divorce, Blitz and his ex-wife would battle over alimony and child support, even after the children became adults. All told they were in court for eighteen years – probably the longest running legal fight in county history. It would be easy to damn Blitz for not aiding his kids – especially as he was claiming to be broke even while hosting a party with three hundred guests – but it’s not as simple as that. Read the story.

Six years after that divorce, Blitz hit the reset button and married again in 1900. His bride was the former Jane Marshall, part of a large well-to-do family involved in many kinds of agriculture in western Marin and Sonoma – the little community of Marshall on Tomales Bay is named for them.

Jane had a five year-old boy from her first marriage, aptly named, “Marshall.” It’s unknown whether Blitz formally adopted his stepson, but Marshall’s last name was officially changed to Paxton and he always identified Blitz as his father on legal documents. (As a little Believe-it-or-not! factoid, the Paxton males had the worst luck with their eyes. Blitz had some unspecified but apparently serious “poor eyesight” issue, his son from the first marriage became totally blind in a childhood accident and Marshall was blind in his left eye.)

Son Blitz Jr. was born a year after they married and by all accounts the four of them made a happy family. Junior and Marshall grew up to be seemingly well-adjusted people (Blitz Jr. was a popular Santa Rosa policeman in the 1930s), so apparently Blitz wasn’t fighting child support for his older kids because he was unwilling or incapable of being a parent.

Jane and Blitz seemed to be best friends with Mattie and James Wyatt Oates; rarely was Jane mentioned at a social event without Mattie being named as well, and the party with 300 guests was in honor of the young woman who was something of a godchild to the Oates. Wyatt was Blitz’ attorney throughout the prolonged court fight, and the only time either of the boys can be spotted on a vacation away from their wives was when the pair of them took off on a week-long fishing trip.

Santa Rosa had some gala weddings in the 1890s but never, ever, had the town seen anything like the Paxton house parties before the Great 1906 Earthquake – it was as if we had our very own branch of the Astor family determined to relaunch the Gilded Age. “Elegance Never Surpassed in this City,” gushed the headline in the Santa Rosa Republican after the 1903 housewarming. “One of the most brilliant social functions ever given in the ‘City of Roses’” swooned the Press Democrat.

The papers also praised the “artistic beauty” of the home with its huge reception hall and a balcony on the broad staircase large enough to fit a small orchestra. “The magnificent home is ideal, as the spacious apartments and halls being well adapted for receiving so many guests. Then, again, the handsome and costly furnishings add much to the effect of everything.”

Two words kept popping up whenever either Santa Rosa newspaper mentioned the Paxton’s house: “Elegant” and “costly.” It was never mentioned how much was required to build and outfit the enormous place but it must have been a fortune – and mostly it must have been Jane’s fortune through inheritance.

Through newspaper coverage of the many child support lawsuits we know Blitz owned some stocks of iffy value, and in the 1890s his main source of income was an allowance from his mother. Prior to his 1900 marriage he was named president of the Santa Rosa Bank co-founded by his father (despite having no apparent experience in banking) where his salary was $175/mo – a good executive salary for the day, but hardly enough to underwrite a mansion.

And soon after they were married, Blitz was spending like never before. He purchased four lots on the corner of Carrillo street and Healdsburg avenue (later renamed Mendocino ave.) and bought a sideboard of carved Flemish oak imported from Italy. It cost $750, which was worth nearly two years’ income for the average American household.

Now all he needed was a house for his Italian sideboard and young family. “Plans are being prepared for the residence by a San Francisco architect,” the PD mentioned a few months later, in March 1901. The paper had it half-right; the home was being designed by a former San Francisco architect who had lately returned to his childhood hometown of Petaluma. His name was Brainerd Jones.

“Illustrated Portfolio of Santa Rosa and Vicinity,” 1909

If you were looking for someone to design your showy, damn-the-cost mansion in 1901, Brainerd Jones would probably be your last choice; the 30 year-old architect had a thin résumé and non-existent portfolio.

Jones had no formal training aside from basic drafting classes; his experience consisted of some carpentry work and apprenticeship with the McDougall & Son firm, which mostly churned out undistinguished designs for banks, municipal buildings and such around Bakersfield and Fresno. At the time Blitz hired him apparently the only work produced out of his Petaluma home-office were blueprints for two cottages and a modest house, none of which were yet completed. But he had one great advantage: He came of age as an architect in San Francisco during the 1890s, which was possibly the most exciting time and place in the history of American architecture.

Up to then West Coast architecture imitated what was popular in the East and Midwest, usually with a lag of several years. We built “Colonial Revival” homes of various kinds although our part of the country had no past as a British colony; we copied the mansard roofs of the “Second Empire” style even though France was nearly on the opposite side of the globe. But mainly in Victorian America, we all shared the notion that fine architecture had to be “picturesque” in some way. That often meant some kinds of ornamentation and led to the great popularity of the “Queen Anne” style, with elaborate finish work, faux details, witch-hat turrets and the like.

A few high-end architects in the Northeast were headed in the opposite direction, however, designing mansion-sized homes in a style devoid of most decoration and meant to look naturalistic. Later dubbed “Shingle Style,” these houses were broader than tall, with strong horizontal lines. There was more window space than ever used before and there were open interiors, which transformed hallways and vestibules from places you pass through into spaces where you live. It was absolutely radical architecture in the 1870s-1880s (and some of it looks pretty modernistic even today) but it quickly faded in the wake of a renewed interest in classicism. It left a mark, however, as elements began to show up in Queen Anne designs, and it led directly to the “Craftsman Style” and “Prairie Style” of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright. (For more background, see my history of the East Coast Shingle Style, “Behind the Design” with illustrations and footnotes.)

As the scene was fading on the East Coast, a few mavericks who had worked for the firms most associated with Shingle Style moved to San Francisco (in Richard Longstreth’s excellent “On the Edge of the World” there’s a fun picture of many of them getting drunk together in 1890). They had been thoroughly radicalized by their exposure to those new artistic ideas and were not shy about expressing their opinions on the sorry state of architecture. Classicism was boring and designing something in that style was little more than an exercise in draftsmanship; the ultra-popular Queen Anne houses were “architectural monstrosities.” As San Francisco was then jammed with Queen Annes – each of them competing to be more adorable and whimsical than the Queen Anne next door – these guys were in no danger of being overwhelmed with work from the city’s hoi polloi.

Whenever they had a pliable client they designed buildings based on the principles of the East Coast Shingle Style but took it even further. Because the San Francisco Bay Area weather was so much milder than the Northeast, a house could be more harmonious with its setting by incorporating the outdoors into living areas. Local materials – particularly western cedar shingles and old growth redwood – were abundant and of such quality they didn’t have to be painted or varnished for protection. And they placed high value on craftsmanship, insisting it should be on display and not hidden away – after all, a building should be constructed as carefully as if it were a piece of fine furniture. Much later, their kind of architecture was named the “First Bay Tradition.”

(Begin opinion rant: I hate this term because it’s used to lend credibility to claims a “Second Bay Tradition” grew from it around the 1930s. In my view there’s hardly any connection either architecturally or philosophically; the latter was just early California Modernism and not even that closely linked to the region, except for its continued use of redwood.)

For an apprentice architect like twenty-something Brainerd Jones, 1890s San Francisco was a heady clime. We don’t know if he actually bumped elbows with any of the rebel architects but it really doesn’t matter; their new kind of architecture one of the hottest topics to discuss (read: argue about) in local magazines dedicated to the arts. Jones obviously knew what they were building and liked it, as he used his big commission to make a bold statement in their style.

The Paxton House was a deconstruction of a well-known example of the new West Coast Shingle Style: The Anna Head School for Girls in Berkeley. A few years later, Jones would again fold other elements into the design of Comstock House.

“Anna Head” was a famous day/boarding school for young women and this building was completed in 1892, one of the earliest major projects in the style. It was designed by Soule Edgar Fisher, a local architect who fell in with the East Coast firebrands (he’s in the drinking photo mentioned above). Amazingly, the building still exists – albeit in poor condition; it’s on Channing Way and now part of UC/Berkeley. A modern photo shows it has been altered somewhat and is partially concealed by ivy.

The first thing to notice is they have the same massing – a wider than usual building with a heavy roof. This view of the Paxton House clips off the southern end, but in other images below it can be seen there was a significant gabled extension projecting out from the main building. Although the face of both buildings is anything but flat, they share deep eaves and a second floor slight overhang which creates a shadow to emphasize the horizontal lines. Both used decorative corbels to lend an illusion of support for projecting walls.

Even if all the similarities were coincidental, they shared an unusual design for the entrances, with the front door recessed several feet and steps coming up sideways, from the left. The porch landing is concealed by a parapet, and we know from the family photos the Paxtons used this as part of their main outdoor living area.

Both buildings harkened back more to the original Eastern Shingle Style of the 1880s than the newer, anti-Queen Anne designs. The front face (and possibly the original sides and back) of the school was shingled with white cedar so it would age to gray, just like the mansions in the Northeast. We don’t know if the Paxton House had those shipped in or used the cheap, easily-available brown cedar from the Pacific Northwest, but Jones did specify that Comstock House was to be shingled with the white variety. (It wasn’t originally, but when we reshingled in 2010 we used white cedar for the walls and brown cedar for the roof.) Both also had decorative Queen Anne touches; look closely at the modern photo of Anna Head and note there are diamond-shaped shingle medallions on the walls. Jones reinterpreted the cross gable next to the massive chimney as a Queen Anne turret.

Brainerd Jones’ interpretation added two features that would have been met with high approval by the new wave architects. He extended the landing into a porch room enclosed on three sides, which another family photo shows the Paxtons enjoying. Jones also changed the cross gable to the right of the door into a gable with a massive bank of windows. Presumably this was the reception room that dropped the jaws of visitors.

For Jones his design was an artistic statement but not a manifesto. For the rest of his life he worked within whatever style pleased his client; the same time Paxton House was under construction they were also building his design for the Lumsden House (now the Belvedere) next door, and that is a cookie-cutter Queen Anne.

Two years later Jones revisited his ideas with the contract to design (the home that would become known as) Comstock House. Mattie and Wyatt Oates might even have suggested he mirror the home of their best friends, two doors down; they certainly must have made a striking pair, even with the unremarkable Davis House sandwiched between.

With Comstock House Jones again borrowed from the Anna Head School, this time adapting its gambrel roof and true cross gable. He also copied exactly the Tudor-style row of lead glass casement windows with diamond panes, all under a prominent second floor overhang. He borrowed the use of small dormer windows popping out of the roof and reinterpreted the oriel and bay windows on a larger scale – Comstock House has four bays, each over ten feet wide. What Jones’ design for the Oates did not have was a speck of Queen Anne influence, even lacking the herringbone shingle work used as trim on the school and Paxton House.

So now we come to the painful part of the story: What happened to Brainerd Jones’ masterpiece?

“There used to be a house just like yours on the corner,” a long-time resident of our neighborhood told us shortly after we moved into Comstock House. “Except it was bigger.”

Larger it was. Although the building is gone, its footprint can be seen on the old fire maps. Guesstimating from the irregular shape, Paxton House was between 6,500 and 7,000 square feet – and that’s not even counting whatever was above the second floor.

But what happened to it? Strangely, nobody recalled. There was no memory of it being torn down or catching fire, although many people remembered it well: “I used to bicycle around the U-shaped driveway in the ’60s,” a woman told me. “I walked past it every day when I was going to school,” someone else remembered. “It was such a pretty house.” Some thought it might have been destroyed by the 1969 earthquake(s) and that seemed to be as good an answer as anything else. The mystery deepened after I visited the Building Department and found there was no demolition permit issued for 747 Mendocino avenue; it was as if the place really had been spirited away overnight.

From the newspapers it was known the Paxtons sold the house in 1920 to the Slusser family, who passed it on to their daughter. (Blitz and Jane stayed in the area for about a dozen years before retiring in Los Angeles.) I could have traced ownership beyond that through a title search but there didn’t seem to be any point as long as there was no record of demolition.

The only remaining lead was that the address used to be 739 Mendocino avenue instead of 747. I had asked about this on my visit to the city office, but was told the records should be linked as long as the property was not subdivided since. This time I returned  and asked directly for #739. After a bit the clerk returned with a single sheet of microfiche – and there was the whole sad story. The house was demolished in 1969 alright, but not because of damage from the October 1 quake.

In January, the city building inspector posted a notice of hazardous conditions and ordered PG&E to shut off power, stating “the building was in very poor condition…making it unsafe for occupancy.” Santa Rosa sent the owner a letter declaring the home a public nuisance, listing four reasons:

1. Abandonment and lack of maintenance
2. Obsolescence, dilapidated condition, deterioration, damage and decay
3. Faulty wiring
4. Unsafe venting of gas appliances

The following month it was an item on the City Council agenda and the owner given thirty days for abatement. In June, the city sent a notice that since no abatement work was done, demolition was ordered. The building was torn down on June 30 with the owner billed $1,600.

So the magnificent building was just left to fall to ruin – there was nothing in the records showing the man who owned it corresponded with the city about making efforts at repair or even attended the times it came before the Council. He just walked away from it.

That owner was Ted Snyder. He was among the county’s movers ‘n’ shakers in those days, living near the Santa Rosa Country Club and president in the 1960s of the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce, the county chambers of commerce association, the Healdsburg Republican Club, head of the Knights of Columbus and probably active in even more clubs and civic groups the newspapers didn’t mention. For awhile in the early part of the decade he was co-owner of an important sawmill near Healdsburg but that was liquidated; later he identified himself as a real estate broker, but it’s not clear he was ever associated with an established realty office or even had a license.

It would be easy to blame Snyder alone for the destruction of this gem because he apparently did nothing at all to save it. But the real burden of shame lies on the city of Santa Rosa, who gave this grand structure no more consideration that it would a dilapidated backyard shack.

The City Council considered no other options. No architect or historian was sought to report upon such a major building’s significance; it was enough that Senior Inspector G. R. Martin deemed it obsolete. From today’s perspective, that might well be deemed irresponsible.

In a better world the Council could have required Snyder to simply provide an abatement plan (“unsafe venting of gas appliances,” really?) or with his continued failure to respond, even used powers of eminent domain for the city to take it over and restore it to code for use as municipal offices or something. Aside from “faulty wiring” it does not appear the building was in irreparable shape – and it’s safe to bet that just meant it still had knob-and-tube wiring, which remains perfectly safe as long as it isn’t tampered with.

But that was the late 1960s – early 1970s, which for historic architecture preservation was the darkest of the Dark Ages. That Snyder did nothing and the city did nothing and the grand house which was laid to waste is merely part of an indictment of that era, which witnessed so much of America’s heritage demolished in the name of redevelopment and urban renewal. It was a modern age and time to clear out the old and make way for the new, which was always better because. In this case, however, it wasn’t just any nondescript house – it was something uniquely historical and still beautiful. It could have long remained our city’s jewel, had anyone in the city cared.

 

All photos from the Paxton family albums, except as noted. Much thanks to David Sox for sharing the images and family stories

 

Detail of front view of Paxton House 1910

 

Rear view of Paxton House, 1910

 

Southern view of Paxton House, 1910

 

Blitz Paxton and Blitz Jr. 1902

 

Jane, Blitz Jr. and Marshall Paxton, 1904

 

Blitz Paxton and two unidentified women, 1910

Blitz W. Paxton has leased the residence of Mr. and Mrs. D. B. Hart on Mendocino street and will soon occupy the same. Mr. and Mrs. Hart expect to travel extensively during the present summer.

– Press Democrat, June 2 1900

 

Quiet Wedding Saturday

A wedding of considerable interest to Santa Rosans and to Sonoma county people occurred on Saturday in San Francisco at the bride’s residence on Washington street. The contracting parties were Mrs. Jennie Bates and Blitz W. Paxton, the well known president of the Santa Rosa Bank. The hour of the ceremony was half past 12 o’clock. Relatives and friends witnessed the ceremony, which was a pretty one. The Rev. William Martin, pastor of the First Presbyterian church of this city, was the officiating clergyman. An elaborate wedding breakfast was served. When Mr. and Mrs. Paxton return to this city they will reside for the present at the Hart residence on Mendocino street which Mr. Paxton has leased. Their wide circle of friends extend congratulations. Mrs. Paxton is a member of a prominent Sonoma county pioneer family and was formerly Miss Jennie Marshall of Petaluma. Mr. Paxton is the son of Mrs. Paxton of Healdsburg and for years has been prominently identified in banking and commercial circles in this state. Their friends here are glad that they have decided to make the City of Roses their future home and will accord them a welcome when they arrive.

– Press Democrat, June  6 1900

Blitz Paxton’s home in Santa Rosa will shortly be adorned with a magnificent
sideboard of carved Flemish oak. The sideboard is one of the handsomest that has ever been seen on this coast, and comes direct from Italy. It cost Paxton $750.

– San Francisco Call, November 5, 1900

 

To Build a Handsome Home

In the near future another handsome residence will adorn the pretty suburbs of Santa Rosa. President Blitz W. Paxton of the Santa Rosa Bank has purchased a large lot adjoining that occupied by the Walter E. Davis residence on Healdsburg avenue, located on the corner of the avenue and Carrillo street. Plans are being prepared for the residence by a San Francisco architect.

– Press Democrat, March 14 1901

W. H. Lumsden has purchased a lot from Frank P. Doyle on the southwest corner of Mendocino and Carrillo streets upon which he will shortly erect a neat residence. The sale was made through the real estate agency of Davis & Crane.

– Press Democrat, March 22 1901

The palatial residences being built on Healdsburg avenue and Carrillo streets by Blitz Paxton and William H. Lumsden are nearing completion. Both houses are fine ornaments to the residence portion of the City of Roses.

– Press Democrat, November 12 1901

The plasterers have very nearly completed their work upon the handsome new residence of W. H. Lumsden on Carrillo street. Bagley & Bagley were the sub-contractors for this part of the work

– Press Democrat, December 13 1901

Blitz W. Paxton has just finished his costly and elegant home on Healdsburg avenue with the help of Contractor Kuykendall. This is an elegant mansion and a big improvement to the city. Just across Carrillo street from the Paxton mansion is the large ten thousand dollar home of W. H. Lumsden. which with the Paxton home are the handsomest dwellings built in Sonoma county this year. Simpson & Roberts has the contract for Mr. Lumsden’s house.

– Press Democrat, February 2 1902

 

A BRILLIANT EVENT MANY GUESTS AT THE MAGNIFICENT PAXTON RESIDENCE WEDNESDAY NIGHT
Reception Held by Mrs. Paxton and Mrs. Marshall Waa Amid a Scene of Radiant Beauty

One of the most brilliant social functions ever given in the “City of Roses” was the reception at the Paxton mansion on Healdsburg avenue on Wednesday night for which several hundred invitations were sent out by Mrs. Blitz Wright Paxton and her mother. Mrs. Marshall.

The hours of the reception were from eight to eleven. During the hours there was a constant stream of guests passing through the handsomely decorated hails and reception rooms to greet the hostesses and to mingle socially. From the balcony on the broad staircase the strains of sweet music mingled with the sweetest perfume from the honeysuckle, the carnations and the roses, which burdened the air delightfully.
For the giving of a function like the one that charmed everybody on Wednesday night the magnificent home is ideal, as the spacious apartments and halls being well adapted for receiving so many guests. Then, again, the handsome and costly furnishings add much to the effect of everything.

During the reception the scene was one of much brilliancy. Many elaborate evening gowns were worn by the ladies. The light from a myriad of electric globes through silken shades shone softly on the gay throng. Exquisite taste was displayed in the adornment of the house from top to bottom. Pink and green were predominant colors. The always graceful bamboo radiated from the arches and nooks in halls and reception rooms, while here and there beautiful rose clusters and banks of pink honeysuckle were arranged in perfect keeping with the decoration scheme. The great showy blossoms displayed their magnificence of color to perfection. The festoons were entwined in soft greenery and the decorations were greatly admired.

The entertainment provided by the hostesses could not have been more lavish or more graciously extended. In fact nothing could possibly have added to the pleasure of the evening. In one room, transformed into a radiant bower, delicious punch’ was served by a bevy of charming girls.

Master Marshall Paxton, wearing a neat suit of white, received the cards of the guests on a silver tray. Mrs. Paxton and Mrs. Marshall were assisted in receiving by Mrs. James W. Oates, Mrs. Samuel K. Dougherty. Mrs. William Finlaw and Mrs. William Martin. The young ladies who assisted in serving were the Misses Martha Hahman, Bess Riley, Bess Goodwin, Marie Farmer, Jimmie Robertson, Mab McDonald, Jessie Robertson, Edith McDonald, Zana Taylor, Ella Holmes, Bessie Porter and Miss Edith Lewis of Petaluma.

The elaborate supper, in which the art of the competent chefs from the metropolis was exemplified, was served in the dining room. The room was adorned in pink and green. The dellicates were served at daintily arranged tables. Herbert Vanderhoof’s orchestra supplied the music during the reception. The guests were delighted with everything and the event will long remain memorable in Santa Rosa’s social world. In addition to the people present from this city a number of invitations were sent to other cities and the out of town guests were present.

– Press Democrat, June 11 1903

 

BRILLIANT AT HOME
Elaborate Social Function at the B. W. Paxton Residence
Mrs. Paxton and her Mother, Mrs. Mary E. Marshall, Held a Reception Wednesday Evening — Elegance Never Surpassed in this City.

Never was there a more brilliant social function given in this city than the reception at the handsome Blitz Wright Paxton home on Healdsburg avenue Wednesday evening. The hostesses were Mrs. Paxton and her mother, Mrs. Mary E. Marshall, and the hours for the reception were between 8 and 11 o’clock. The guests, several hundred in number, passed and repassed in a constant and brilliant stream through the spacious reception rooms during this period.

Combined with the elegance and varied beauty of the costumes worn by the feminine portion of the company and the soft brilliancy of the electrical effects, was the beauty of the home furnishings, the whole enhanced by floral decorations, the most perfect that nature could produce and art devise. Pink and green were the dominant shades, both in the floral adornment and in the electrical tints. Fragrant azaleas and honeysuckle, carnation and roses entered into the decorations with exquisite effect and the graceful bamboo formed an artistic background, its drooping ends bending from doorway and arch. From fern and floral bower of marvelous beauty on the balcony above the reception hall, the softest music floated. Thus were all the senses charmed music, fragrance and artistic beauty being combined. The music was furnished by Vanderhoof’s orchestra.

The entertainment provided was most elaborate. In one room a company of daintily gowned young girls presided over the punch bowl. The supper room was magnificently appointed and the repast was a triumph of the caterer’s art. Chefs and caterers from the metropolis had the affair in charge and the refreshments were served at dainty tables.

Assisting Mrs. Paxton and Mrs. Marshall in the reception of the guests were Mrs. Samuel K. Dougherty, Mrs. James Wyatt Oates…

…Mrs. Paxton’s costume was of white brocade satin covered with an overdress of most exquisite hand lace. The corsage was low and to the skirt was attached a court train. Her hair was dressed becomingly high and adorned with an aigette [a feathered headdress]. Her ornaments were diamonds, many and brilliant. Mrs. Marshall was costumed in black satin, with an overdress of gauze. A train also finished her gown and her corsage was slightly low at the neck [and] like her daughter her ornaments were diamonds.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 11 1903

 

Real Estate Transfers

Blitz W Paxton to Jane M Paxton: Oct 4, ’01, Lots 4, 5, 6, S 30 ft Lot 3, Walter S Davis’ Add to Santa Rosa; $3500

– Press Democrat, December 31, 1904

 

THE PAXTON TEA A BRILLIANT AFFAIR
NEARLY THREE HUNDRED GUESTS CALL TO MEET MISS ANNA MAY BELL OF VISALIA
Elegant Paxton Home on Healdsburg Avenue Transformed Into a Veritable Bower of Beauty

The elegant Paxton home on Healdsburg Avenue was the scene of a brilliant reception Thursday afternoon in honor of Miss Anna May Bell of Visalia. Almost three hundred guests called between three and six o’clock to meet the popular girl in whose honor the affair was given.

Miss Bell is a relative of Col. and Mrs. James W. Oates of this city. She has spent much of the present summer here, where she has many friends. She is a charming girl with friendly, cordial manners that make her a great favorite wherever she goes and the reception of Thursday afternoon was one of the most successful of a large number of functions that have been planned in her honor this summer.

The house was a veritable bower of beauty. The decorations were entirely pink. The reception hall and parlors were decorated with La France and Duchesse roses and amaryllis blossoms. The dining room was fragrant with great clusters of beautiful pink carnations attractively arranged and placed where they showed to advantage. Master Marshall Paxton stood in the doorway and ushered the guests into the reception hall, where they were received by Mrs. Blitz Wright Paxton, the hostess, assisted by Mrs. J. W. Oates, Mrs. T. J. Geary, Mrs. M. H. Dignan, Mrs. Wm Martin, Mrs. Mark McDonald, Mrs. Frank Doyle, and Mrs. James Edwards. Mrs. Paxton looked charming in a handsome silk gown trimmed with heavy pearl lace. Miss Bess Riley, Miss Jessie Robertson, Miss Zana Taylor, and Miss Bessie Porter served ices and cakes in the beautifully decorated dining room. Music was furnished during the afternoon by C. Mortimer Chapin and Mrs. Berry.

– Press Democrat, September 15, 1905

 

 

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