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TODAY YOU SAW CAL CAULKINS

Don’t panic, but we’ve been surrounded. Travel around Santa Rosa (and to a lesser extent, Sebastopol) for ten minutes and it’s likely you’ll encounter one or more buildings designed by “Cal” Caulkins, Santa Rosa’s top architect roughly between 1935-1960. Outside of the neighborhoods built by Hugh Codding, no other person did more to define the look of Santa Rosa than Caulkins.

He was also prolific. By going through the Press Democrat archives he can be found named as the architect on over 100 different buildings, and that’s not counting projects that were dropped or reassigned, projects that were simply remodels and, of course, projects that weren’t mentioned in the paper. I found references to 17 Santa Rosa houses and believe the true number is 2-3x more – either that, or there was an army of contractors here during the late 1930s doing Caulkins knockoffs.

The residential buildings he created are not artsy or pretentious – but neither are they boring and repetitious like the Codding houses. But most of his work was not in designing houses; he did about twice as many civic or commercial buildings (including a roller skating rink), a couple of dozen schools and a handful of churches. His masterpiece is probably the Art Deco-style goliath on Fourth street which is now home to Barnes & Noble (more about that later) but everything he designed has merits. A chronological list of all his known work can be found at the end of this article.

The “Caulkins style” is pretty easy to spot once you know what to look for, and I’ve created a mile-long walking tour that will showcase most of the elements seen in his work. But before putting on those hiking shoes, a little background is helpful. There were five main “styles” that he used throughout his career – and as we’ll see on the tour, he often moshed them together:

* SPANISH COLONIAL   Stucco walls sometimes with carved bas-relief details; tile roof; terracotta attic vents; arched entryways; decorative ironwork. Caulkins apparently called this “Early California.”

* ENGLISH-NORMAN   Hybrid style popular in the 1920s-1930s and also called Tudor-French Norman style. Stucco walls with half-timbering often more curvy and elaborate than simple Tudor; casement windows; cross-gabled with a steep hipped roof and the entryway beneath its own gable or part of a tower.

* COLLEGIATE GOTHIC   General 20th century style for brick or stone campus buildings to appear old, per Oxford and Cambridge. See this article on its history. (h/t to John Murphey for the name)

* STREAMLINE MODERNE/PWA MODERNE   Simplified version of Art Deco often intended to mimic 1930s automobile styling; curved edges, glass bricks, casement window pairs on corners, aluminum or even chrome trim. PWA (Public Works Administration) Moderne was another offshoot of Art Deco popular for public buildings in the 1930s-1940s.

* MID-CENTURY MODERN   Single story with maximum window space making walls as transparent as possible; flat roof, sharp angles, multiple exterior entrances preferred to hallways; often intended to look prefab or modular.

Also before we begin, full disclosure: I have a personal dislike (strike that: indifference) for much of his architecture, but my bias is not against his work specifically – I just don’t have a taste for any form of modernist architecture, which had its heyday during the same decades as Caulkins’ career. To me the “moderne” styles are Art Deco without the art, often making me think of bus stations (Caulkins did remodel the Greyhound station here) or Los Angeles’ oppressive downtown civic buildings (my long-running joke has been the style should be renamed, “Sepulveda”). The many elementary schools he designed in the mid-century modern style probably looked outdated by the time the first kindergarten students graduated high school.

At the same time, Caulkins did his best with what the clients of his era demanded. Those schools that appear mired in the ugly 1950s had an innovative baffle roof (invented by Caulkins) to bring in natural light to the side of the classroom farthest away from the big windows. Each of his residences in historic revival styles had its own unique touch in some significant way – unlike the cookie-cutter Codding houses. And while his cottage-type homes were designed for families with middle class budgets, they don’t look cheaply made. Another difference from much of what Codding built. So.

Our walking tour begins at the corner of Tenth and B streets, which might as well be called the intersection of Streamline and Moderne. Here are two of Caulkins’ best examples kitty-corner from each other. Use the Google street view below for orientation (or if you’re not walking, follow the arrows as directed):

Standing from the Google viewpoint, the building closest to the camera is the 1940 Thurlow Professional Building. On the distance on the other side of Tenth street is seen the 1938 Hamlin Medical Building. Note the large overall area of wall space devoted to windows on both, as well as corner windows wherever possible.

The SEIU building at 600 B street shows more of a debt to Art Deco, mainly because of the door and torch lights on either side (although I don’t know if these were original). Ribbons in the concrete steps lead to the entryway with its aluminum canopy, which is repeated on the side. The entrance is in the middle of the building, yet the window layout is asymmetrical.

Walk across the blocked intersection island (uh, why is it there?) to 576 B street. The imposing pilasters give it that heavy PWA Moderne look, although the corrugated metal cladding adds much needed color. Note the caduceus medallion at the top from its old days as a medical building – which is a bit awkward as the offices have been used by lawyers and accountants for as long as I can remember.

Proceed up Tenth street to see the side of the building, again packed with metal frame windows, including every corner. The arrangement of the windows is asymmetrical although edges line up vertically.

Continue up Tenth and turn left at the stop sign, walking to the intersection of College and Mendocino avenues. Cross College ave. at the stoplight and proceed left (west) on College. Turn right (north) at the first street on Glenn, and then two short blocks to Benton street.

There are at least five Caulkins homes in this general neighborhood – and likely more we don’t know about – making it Ground Zero for his residential work. One reason there may be so many is because he lived at 100 Ridgway avenue (now cut off on the other side of the freeway) during the 1930s and early 1940s.

The 1937 Douglas house at the corner of Glenn and Benton streets is a fine example of how adept Caulkins was at tinkering with the popular styles of his day. While all that half timbering and the steep roof screams jolly olde England, one doesn’t notice the other stuff that’s completely discordant. The many dormer windows are extremely large for the house – but since he used shed roofs instead of the usual Tudor gables, they don’t draw much attention. (I’d also argue that without the distracting half timber the house would look top heavy.) And look: Metal frame casement windows on three corners, à la Streamline Moderne.

Continue walking north on Glenn street one block, to the intersection with Denton Court/Denton Way. The cul de sac site was the subject of much controversy in 1949, as Santa Rosa wanted to put the War Memorial Auditorium there – yes, the same hulking building now across from the fairgrounds (and designed by Caulkins). It’s a long story, explored here in “THE VETS WAR MEMORIAL WARS.”

Turn east on Denton Way, walking on the right side of the street. You will pass two more Caulkins houses at #432 and #446, built respectively in 1935 and 1936. Aside from mentions in the Press Democrat, we can ID these as Caulkins houses because of…wait for it…corner window pairs. (The windows at #446 are updated.) The newer house also has a unusual feature also found on the Chamber of Commerce model home he designed about the same time: A tall, swept standing seam canopy draping over a bay window.

At the end of Denton Way is the 1937 house for Acme Beer baron Floyd Trombetta. It is the largest of the Caulkins homes in the area and the one most conforming to a style, here Spanish Colonial Revival – no Streamline Moderne windows this time. He did somewhat break stride by putting the entryway in a tower, per the English-Norman hybrid.

Proceed north on Mendocino avenue. You’ll immediately be in front of St Luke’s, which Caulkins designed in 1945. It is supposed to be “Tudor English Gothic,” but aside from some of the fenestration I wouldn’t have guessed.

Walk north to the stoplight at Ridgway ave. where you should cross Mendocino ave. to the east side. Continue two short blocks to the Crawford Court intersection.

Cal Caulkins 1936 drawing of the Trombley house, 1122 Mendocino ave

 

On the corner is the home Caulkins designed in 1936 for his friends, the Trombleys. “Professor” George Trombley was Santa Rosa’s premier music teacher and founder of the Santa Rosa Symphony in 1929. Although it’s now altered and broken up into apartments, this was a showplace when it was built; the Press Democrat printed his drawing at least twice, along with a lengthy description of how “ultra modern” it was. And yes, there were corner windows.

Cross the street back to the west side using the pedestrian stoplight and continue north until you reach the Santa Rosa Junior College gate. This was designed by Caulkins and dedicated June 15, 1935 in a ceremony including the widow of Luther Burbank. Here would be built a grand college, the arch promised.

In the years that followed, Cal Caulkins designed ALL of the original buildings on the campus. If he had created no other architecture in his life, he should be remembered for that.

His full name was Clarence Adelbert Caulkins Jr., although everyone called him “Cal” – which has caused some to mistakenly assume he was a Calvin. He was born 1899 in Montana and studied architecture at UC/Berkeley, where he worked for years with John Galen Howard, who designed the Empire Building and would have given Santa Rosa several other memorable buildings had our civic leaders not gone on the cheap.

Caulkins moved to Santa Rosa around 1932 and partnered with William Herbert, an architect who had been here for about fifteen years. Curiously, the prolific Caulkins is now all but forgotten while Herbert’s prestige as “Santa Rosa’s first architect” has risen – even though he accomplished little.

Today Bill Herbert is falsely credited with projects such as the original Luther Burbank school (sorry, it was built about ten years before Herbert showed up) and the designs which appeared during the firm’s sudden burst of activity that began once Caulkins joined the firm. Herbert is often named as the architect for Sebastopol’s 1935 Park Side School, for example, although the design is clearly in synch with Caulkin’s version of PWA Moderne. What Herbert did accomplish was mainly in the 1920s, particularly as being the supervising architect during the construction of Santa Rosa High School. He was also Santa Rosa’s building inspector for a number of years. Only two surviving examples of his solo architecture still can be found in Santa Rosa – a modest house at 418 Denton Way and the “Von Tillow Block” at 616 Mendocino ave., home to the Round Robin dive bar. Although William Herbert was said to be an MIT graduate, I’ll wager it was in a field of study other than architecture.

Scan the list below of the work produced by the Herbert & Caulkins office in 1935 and be humbled – two major schools, the first Junior College building (the gym), a major office building and four houses in Santa Rosa, one of them a place in Proctor Heights that the Press Democrat called “palatial.” There were probably more; next door to the house at 1121 St. Helena ave. is another from the same year, both exactly using Caulkins’ English-Norman vocabulary. And a couple of doors away is #1107, which was used as a model home for a time, eventually becoming the Caulkins family home. And on top of all that, he did a design for the county hospital (seen here).

(RIGHT: May 8, 1936 Rosenberg store fire. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

When Caulkins opened his own office in 1936, things got really busy for him. There were at least seven more houses including the Streamline Moderne showpiece for his friends, the Trombleys. And then the disaster of May 8th happened.

The fire at Rosenberg’s Department Store was most devastating event in Santa Rosa since the Great 1906 Earthquake. The fire was so fierce there was concern that the city reservoir might not have enough water to fight it. Firemen from all over the area needed several tense hours to bring it under control.

The Rosenbergs vowed immediately to rebuild – and as the lost building’s upper floors were a major hotel, there were two businesses to restore. They gave Cal Caulkins the commissions for both.

The site at Fourth and B (currently the CitiBank building) was to become the New Hotel Santa Rosa as soon as fire debris was cleared and the blueprints were ready. The department store would be built on the half-block at Fourth and D, which was then a gas station and a garage. The Rosenbergs already owned the portion of Third and D which is still used as a parking lot behind the store.

The New Hotel Santa Rosa opened in December 1936, just seven months after the fire which is nothing short of amazing – three shifts of construction workers were kept busy 24 hours a day.

The exterior of the hotel appears plain and rote, but that’s only because all photos are in black and white; when it opened the PD spent a paragraph praising Caulkins’ innovative use of color – yet without describing what the colors were. Inside the design straddled Moderne and Art Deco. Aluminum bands were used there as well to create strong horizontal lines with indirect lighting cast upward from the pillars. These features continued in the dining room, which could seat 350 (!) and had walls painted in brown, yellow and apricot, which might well have been the muted exterior colors as well.

New Hotel Santa Rosa.  Photos courtesy Sonoma County Library

 

But also in December the paper revealed the San Francisco firm of Hertzka & Knowles were the architects for the department store. Nothing was said of why they were replacing Caulkins – or if he was being replaced completely.

Since the days immediately after the fire, Caulkins had been talking up his design to reporters and a drawing of his appeared in the PD less than three weeks afterward. Those early articles show plans were very much in flux; the paper said it would be a one story building with a mezzanine, then soon after that it could be up to six stories high with “a battery of elevators and escalators.” His drawing shows a building half again as large as what was built. Consistent throughout was that Fred Rosenberg wanted the place to look hip; according to the PD, Caulkins was “instructed to design the store as ultra-modern as possible…it will be of moderne architecture, with Caulkins intending to call for considerable use of a new-type structural glass and chrome-plated ironwork in his plans.”

The second drawing below appeared just before construction began and was most likely done by H&K. The most striking difference between Caulkins’ early drawing is the tower, which reached the building’s six-story potential – as the tallest structure in town, it was said to be like a beacon when illuminated at night. Aside from that, his preliminary sketch of a much larger building is recognizable in this later drawing, particularly the strong vertical decorative elements on the face contrasting with a stack of belt courses wrapping all the way around. And there’s plenty of that glass brick which Caulkins was intending to use.

Cal Caulkins preliminary drawing for Rosenberg’s Department Store. PD, May 26, 1936

 

Final (?) drawing unsigned for Rosenberg’s Department Store. PD, Jan 21, 1937

 

Whether H&K completely took over or collaborated with Caulkins is unknown, as is whether the final design belongs to him, them, or both. I’m inclined to believe all of the store’s interior and most of its exterior should be attributed to Caulkins; as seems to be the case with the hotel, there’s an originality in the design which defies simple definitions of what Art Deco or Streamline Moderne is “supposed” to look like. Nor can I find any examples of Hertzka & Knowles designing anything else that looks like this store. In 1941 they created the Leader Department Store in Petaluma (later Carithers) and that’s best described as being more in the International style, so devoid it is of any artistic features.

What does seem clear is that the poor guy was overstretched when construction plans were being finalized at the end of 1936. Besides the two enormous Rosenberg projects and the houses, a major problem arose at the Junior College while constructing his second building, causing all work to stop (the lumber was poor quality). With pressure to open the hotel doors ASAP, Caulkins would have had to be superhuman to give the department store project his full attention, what with the required budget breakouts, contractor bids, and million other last minute details large and small. Construction on the store began in January 1937 and its grand opening was shortly before Hallowe’en the same year.

Caulkins stayed incredibly busy over the next few years – check out the timeline below. In 1938 alone he designed Burbank auditorium and three other major buildings at the Junior College. He also became president of the Rotary, which seems to have been a full-time job, judging be all the doings reported in the news. And when WWII happened he went away for three years as a civilian employee designing dorms and housing for the Navy, becoming the architect for the entire Naval District in the Bay Area.

And now the obl. Believe-it-or-Not! surprise twist: Everything you’ve read here so far about Caulkins is just prelude to the really interesting story.

When Cal came back from the war, he had a vision to redesign almost all of Santa Rosa’s downtown core from the ground up. Instead of the grid of streets which had been  platted out way back in 1853 when there was only a couple of houses, a tavern and stray pigs, Caulkins envisioned a magnificent modern civic center to serve the town and county, something which likely would have turned us into a model city of postwar reconstruction for the entire United States.

The Chamber of Commerce loved the idea, as did the labor unions, service clubs, veteran’s groups, women’s groups and politicians of all stripes. The Press Democrat ran a banner on the front page reading, “Santa Rosa’s Future is at Stake.” It looked like a done deal. And then came December 4, 1945 – a day that will live in a kind of infamy.

 

 

 

CAL CAULKINS ARCHITECTURE


1932
Corning Union High School gym – Tehama county  (w/ Herbert)


1933
Webb & Bowman building – fuel oil and boilers 3rd and Main (w/ Herbert)


1935
Usseglio house 432 Denton Way
Chamber of Commerce model home 1621 Proctor Terrace – English cottage (w/ Herbert)
Proctor house 2445 Sunrise Place/Proctor Heights  – Mediterranean  (w/ Herbert)
SRJC gate dedication June 15 Mrs. Burbank
SRJC gym (w/ Herbert)
Sebastopol Union Elementary School – now Park Side (w/ Herbert)
Farmer’s Mutual Insurance 631-635 Fifth st (w/ Herbert)
Malm house 1121 St. Helena ave (w/ Herbert)
Cloverdale Union High School  (w/ Herbert)


1936
Eicher house 438 Denton Way
Call house 928 McDonald ave
Talbot house 201 Talbot ave
Rapp house 236 Talbot ave
E. Stewart house one story early California style
George Bech house 210 Palm ave Sebastopol enlarge and alter
Trombley house 1122 Mendocino ave
SRJC “home science and commercial” building
Rosenberg’s Department Store
Hotel Santa Rosa 4th and B, 508 Fourth st – see PD 12/4/36
Trombetta house 821 Mendocino ave
D. W. Douglas house 354 Benton st
H. T. Graves house 1421 17th st
WPA community center at Howarth Park (proposed – built?)
Stone co. new bldg + alter  625 Fifth st
Ralph Brown house 1612 Bryden Lane


1938
Hamlin medical bldg 576 B st
Knowlden Court apt building 502 Santa Rosa ave (now Economy Inn)
Challenge Cream and Butter Santa Rosa ave
auditorium for Fremont school
county hospital nurse’s quarters
doctor office remodel  1116 Mendocino ave (next to Trombley)
Burbank auditorium, 3 other major JC buildings – PD 9/8/38 – open Jan 1940
roller rink at south entrance Santa Rosa Redwood Hwy near Triangle


1940
Clark Avery house 219 Doyle Park Drive
Thurlow Professional Building 600 B st
Ives Park pool and rec buildings, Sebastopol
L. Grant Kellogg house hillside east of Santa Rosa (59b Adobe Canyon Rd?)
Ukiah fire station and jail
houses for doctors in Ukiah, Willits, Mendocino, Eureka


1941
Building Trades Temple 636 Third st
Seidel house Petaluma – early colonial


1945
Mendocino county hospital
St. Luke’s 905 Mendocino Ave built 48 “tudor english gothic”
Lessard Paper co. Sebastopol ave and Olive corner


1946
Sears – 7th st block between A and B 75000 sq ft opens 1949
Dodge-Plymouth dealership 955 Redwood Hwy S
Buick dealership Redwood Hwy S “automobile row”


1948
Ling furniture store 1044 Fourth st
Doyle Park school built 1950 (now Santa Rosa French-American Charter)
Ben Hall bldg SW corner 10th and Mendocino ave


1949
SRJC assembly hall and music bldg
Fremont grade school (demolished now Charter School for the Arts)
Middletown Unified School
Mark West Union School
American Trust Co. bank corner of Fourth and Exchange
Belleuve Union Elementary School (Kawana)
Carniglia house 1940 Grace Drive
1949 remodel of courthouse basement for county surveyor and road commissioner
Mendocino county courthouse
Mendocino union high school


1950
First Presbyterian 1550 Pacific ave (early sketches gothic)
IOOF Hall Santa Rosa 545 Pacific ave
Charles Niles Jr. house 2111 Linwood ave


1951
Greyhound expand and remodel 5th and B
Forestville Union Elementary school new wing
Flowery Elementary School Fetters Hot Springs
Sharrocks house 931 Litchfield ave Sebastopol
Roseland elementary admin + addition  985 Sebastopol ave


1952
Harmony Union School District, Occidental built 1957
East Petaluma fire station
Ukiah High School gym


1953
Doctor’s bldg 1158 Montgomery Dr


1955
Christian Scientist 330 Hope st
Welti Funeral Home 1225 Sonoma Avenue (now Daniels Chapel of the Roses)
car wash between Santa Rosa ave and Petaluma Hill Rd


1956
Cinnabar Elementary School


1957
Cotati Elementary School


1958
Veterans Memorial Sebastopol
Twin Hills Union Elementary School


1959
Alexander Valley Union School addition


1961
Roseland elementary 950 Sebastopol ave (new school or 5 room add to Sheppard school?)
Office of Civil Defense – recondition buildings at Naval Air Station Sebastopol Rd.


1962
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church 500 Robinson Rd Sebastopol


1963
Salvation Army 115 Pierce st
store 112 N Main st. Sebastopol (south of People’s Music)
Newberry’s store Fourth st additions and renovation


1964
Knox Presbyterian 1650 W 3rd St


(Year Unknown)
A. Z. Blackman house 549 Talbot ave
Carl Livingston house “Circle 3L Ranch” Santa Rosa (7639 Sonoma Hwy?) early american
Yaeger & Kirk offices 701 Wilson st (now Copperfields warehouse)
Congregationalist church Oakland
Lewis school additions
Lakeview, Eucalyptus school districts projects
Point Arena school
Upper Lake school
Round Valley school

 

CAL CAULKINS CAREER EVENTS


1935
plans for American Legion bldg south of Julliard park between Santa Rosa av and A
preliminary plans on county hospital


1937
1937 settles $1100 claim for prelim plans on county hospital $800 (John Easterly final)


1938
mainly four SRJC projects, Rotary president


1940
Nov. issue Architect and Engineer feature


1941
Hogan house in Yokayo subdivision Ukiah wins award


1942
May – active duty on dorms, housing for Richmond/Vallejo farm/defense workers


1943
civilian employee of Navy in SF


1944
architect for 12th Naval District


1945
Andre Morilhat, C. J. Harkness joins firm


1946
North Bay rep for AIA


1947
Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital preliminary plans (not used)


1952
“Caulkins Plan” seismic survey of all downtown bldg. mandated retrofits


1959
President Santa Rosa Downtown Development Assoc

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cityhallturton

OUR FORGOTTEN CITY HALL

Give Santa Rosa credit: When it decided to destroy the downtown area, it did so thoroughly. In the late 1960s the town demolished all of its legacy public buildings including the Carnegie library (which was replaced only after considerable arm-twisting) and the county courthouse. Supposedly they were completely unsafe and ready to tumble down at the first quiver of a quake although there were little or no concerns before. County archivist Katherine Rinehart just came across blueprints from 1945 showing the county was even considering a third story addition to the courthouse.

Less mentioned is that the city hall building next to Courthouse Square was also torn down after Santa Rosa built the sprawling city complex on Santa Rosa Avenue in 1969. The new complex obliterated the site of Kabetciuwa, the most significant Pomo community in this area, so thus the town managed to score a two-fer in legacy destruction.

The old city hall represented the conclusion of post-1906 earthquake reconstruction. The original idea was for something much grander; in 1908 the city commissioned architect John Galen Howard to design a combined firehouse and city hall. His plans were in the Beaux Arts style much like the Empire Building, which he also created. For reasons never explained the project was abandoned; the firehouse remained at its previous location on Fifth street and the new city hall would be built at 210 Hinton (today part of the large bank building at 50 Old Courthouse Square).

Built in 1913, the place housed the city council chamber, police station, courtroom, jail, offices for the mayor, city clerk, tax collector, recorder, city attorney and street commissioner plus staff for all – it makes one wonder if they were sometimes sitting on each other’s laps. The issue of crowding came up even before construction started, as some of the most prominent men in town met with City Council in a special session. There were more suitable vacant lots around downtown, they insisted, some almost twice as wide as the 40-foot city-owned lot where the building was planned. Sorry, said the mayor; we’ve already explored those options.

At least the lot was deep, and the Santa Rosa Republican provided a detailed description of the interior, transcribed below; a highlight is mention that the jail included “a ‘hobo’ room, furnished principally with cool walls and floor and opportunity for reflection.”

The architect was Luther M. Turton, winning the contract over county courthouse designer J. W. Dolliver. I’ve long planned a thorough writeup of Turton as “Santa Rosa’s other Luther;” he was a prolific architect all over the North Bay and particularly in Napa, where he was based (short bio here). Besides city hall, he also designed several Santa Rosa homes, schools and office buildings. For a number of years he had an office here in (what would become known as) the Empire Building.

Like his contemporary Brainerd Jones, his work was eclectic and personalized for each client – for our city hall, he even provided the office furniture. Fortunately, the Napa County Historical Society has hundreds of Turton architectural drawings including his blueprints for Santa Rosa city hall.

 

Santa Rosa City Hall in 1967, Photo by Don Meacham and courtesy Sonoma County Library.

 

SANTA ROSA’S NEW CITY HALL

One of the best designed, constructed and fitted building in Sonoma county is Santa Rosa’s city hall, now nearing completion. It only remains to complete a small amount of finishing, install the lighting fixtures and put in place the furnishings.

The front facade presents a pleasing appearance, but the idea of utility at moderate cost is the object achieved. Abundance of light, superior ventilation, modern plumbing and heating have been provided and the arrangement of the interior is most excellent in all particulars.

The front rooms on the ground floor will be the office of the chief of police, provided with counter and steel lined vault, the public entrance being from the north corridor which runs the length of the building to the police cell room. A handsome private office is provided for the chief.

In the rear of this is the locker and rest room for the police force, containing seven conveniently appointed coat rooms for members of the patrol, and ample comforts for rest when off duty or on office detail.

Connecting with this room, next east is the City Recorder’s court room, light, ample in size, provided with finely appointed lavatory, hot and cold water, porcelain washbasin. The court room will be handsomely furnished. Direct entrance to the open court at the south is provided as well as entrance from the closed corridor at the north end of room.

In the rear of the court room is a supply land storage room of large capacity.

The entire east end of ground floor is devoted to the cell room; abundantly lighted thoroughly ventilated and containing shower bath and every convenience permissible in a detention room. There are five cells each containing two steel framed cots affixed to the walls, which may be folded against the wall if desired. Each cell contains sanitary plumbing and every provision possible for making confinement less irksome; thoroughly conforming to the most modern prison standard.

Between this room and the storage room are a woman’s cell, furnished as above and a “hobo” room, furnished principally with cool walls and floor and opportunity for reflection.

Throughout the building are convenient clothes closets provided with every convenience and sanitary luxury, all up-to-the-hour is character and style.

The floors throughout are of fibrestone, noiseless to the tread; the baseboards are all “coved” so that no lurking place for dirt or dust is found. The janitor’s duties are lightened and the most sanitary result possible in office flooring is obtained.

The finish is mainly in oak and mahogany, some native woods in finish harmonizing with the remainder. The is [sic] rich and solid in appearance, classic in design and devoid of “gingerbread” ornaments; sensible and durable.

The north corridor and staircase are of oak, the wainscoting being of fibrestone. All walls of the main floor offices are tinted in a manner to soften and tone the light with most pleasing effect.

The main front room on the second floor is for the use of the city clerk and provided with steel lined vault, and all conveniences for both public and the official. A mail chute to the chief’s office below permits the saving of many extra journeys up and down the stairs. An adjoining room for stenographers’ use, etc., and convenient closets are provided.

The rooms at front end of corridor make a private office with ante room for the Mayor.

In rear of clerk’s office are rooms for city attorney and street commissioner.

East of these office rooms is the council chamber, finely designed, handsomely fitted in oak and mahogany, light, airy, and with ample accommodation for the public as well as the city officials. The ceiling is ornamental in design and when the electric lights are turned on at sessions will present an artistic appearance.

On a dais in the southwest corner of the room “his honor” will be enthroned at a handsome mahogany desk, overlooking the scene from an eminence, as it were. Directly in front the city clerk’s desk will be in direct connection with the mayor’s–or within easy reach for the passing of documents. The councilmen will be seated at desks ranging in a quarter circle, the whole space being enclosed by a substantial parapet instead of openwork railing.

Wall seats line both north and east walls, giving ample and comfortable seating for more than fifty people. Flanking the clerk’s desk there are desks for the press representatives.

The acoustic properties are good and it will be easy to hear the ordinary tones of conversation any place within the room. When the handsome furniture is in place it will be a “gem” in its way.

The east rooms are for the city engineer and city assessor, commodious, light, with large storage closets and all conveniences.

The whole building will be heated by the hot water system, the radiators being already in place and the plant ready for operation,

The most modern sanitary plumbing fixtures have been used throughout and there is no concealed work, all being exposed, easy of access for repairs, ornate to look upon and the best that can be found anywhere. Hot and cold water are supplied to all basins and there is no place for germs or filth to accumulate in any part of the building.

The upper corridor is abundantly lighted by three large skylights and vault light frames in the floor admit plenty of light to the lower corridor.

The best of materials and workmanship have been employed throughout and Architect Turton is more than pleased with the manner in which the contractors, Gallagher & Wygant, have carried out their agreement.

The city now possesses a commodious and handsomely equipped building and–it will be paid for in full when the contractors turn it over in a few days.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 13, 1913
WANT NEW SITE FOR CITY HALL
Citizens Confer With Council at the Special Meeting on Monday Evening

There was a special session of the City Council Monday night to meet Architect L. M. Turton, whose plans for a new City Hall have been accepted, to go over the working details and specifications of the structure.

Mayor J. L. Mercier and Counclmen Pressley, Skaggs, Spooncer and Wolfe were present, when the meeting was called to order and Councilman Hail came In later.

President John Rinner and a number of the Directors and members of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce called on the Council. The object of the visit of the delegation was to present a protest against the building of a City Hall on the forty-foot lot on Exchange avenue [sic], if any other plan could be devised.

A number of the visitors spoke on the subject, Including President Rinner. Director Rosenberg and Messrs. J. P. Overton, E. L. Finley and C. H. Bane: and the Mayor and Councilmen Joined in the general discussion which followed.

The visitors voiced the opinion that the Hinton avenue lot was too small and confining for a suitable site for a public building; that the structure there would be lowered by the larger and more costly County Court House; that the same building erected in a lot giving ample room for a grass plot would make a far better showing; that an open lot for the building would give air and light, and at the same time remove danger of fire damage; that it might be possible to sell the present lot and purchase another better located and still have sufficient money from the sale to pay the additional expense on the building necessitated by having to furnish all four walls.

It was suggested that the Farmer property on Fourth street, adjoining the Library, 73 by 135 feet, be secured for the building with the possibility of purchase or condemnation of several adjoining lots through to Third street to give a pretty park which would end for the present the talk of bonding the city for park purposes and yet give a breathing place for the general public right In the heart of town.

Mayor Mercier explained that many months had been spent by the Council in studying the situation. An effort was made, he said, to secure a conference with the Board of Supervisors looking towards a trade of the city property for the county lot on the corner of Third street, but the Supervisors even refused to meet in conference to discuss the subject. Other sites had been discussed, but after all the matter came back to the old lot. An effort to get the Farmer property had even failed owing to the refusal of San Francisco heirs to agree to trade even for the present site.

After an informal agreement to sell the property, signed by E. C. Farmer, had been presented and filed with the Council, the subject was taken under advisement and the visitors departed.

The Council spent some time with Architect Tarton going over the proposed plans and specifications. These will shortly be In shape to submit to bidders, but meanwhile the Council will consider the matter presented by the protestants and decide upon some line of action.

– Press Democrat, November 26, 1912

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THE HOUSE THAT MARY BUILT

“That brown shingle house across from the high school? It’s probably a Julia Morgan,” an architect told me shortly after we moved into the neighborhood in 2006, naming the famous designer of Hearst Castle. In a recently updated survey of work by Brainerd Jones – the architect of Comstock House – it is listed as one of his buildings. Somewhere in the years between, I was told that while it was unlikely to be an actual Frank Lloyd Wright design, it must have come from the drafting table of someone who trained in the master’s office.

930 Mendocino Ave. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

For decades, the identity of the architect who designed the lovely home at 930 Mendocino Avenue has been a mystery. Even the late Dan Peterson, who literally wrote the book on Santa Rosa’s architectural heritage, didn’t know who designed it – and he not only had it placed on the National Register of Historic Places, he owned it for a number of years, using it as his architectural office. But it’s now known that the building was designed by Mary Rockwell Hook.

Umm…who?

She was related to the property owners (more about that in a minute) but this was not nepotism at work. Mary was a capable architect as this building shows, even though it was only the second of her designs to be built. She was also a pioneer several times over, for whom recognition is overdue.

Mary Rockwell Hook (1877-1978) decided to become an architect in 1902, during an era when few professions were open to women and any who wanted a career were suspected of being something between an ardent feminist or political radical. She had qualified support from family; her father approved of the artistic aspects of architectural study and paid her tuitions, yet expected she accept no salary when she found a job. And of all the professions to pursue, architecture was among the least welcoming to women at the time, having evolved from the manly building trade. At the first firm she approached for a job she was told, “We’re sorry but we could not take a woman. You can’t swear at women and they can’t climb all over full sized details.” But the next office was glad to accept her. “They never needed to swear and I could manage full size details,” she wrote in her memoir. So rare was her kind that even by the time she reached middle age, you could have assembled every single American female architect in a small school auditorium that seated 200.

Although she was denied entry to the fraternal system that advanced the careers of her male colleagues, she had a major advantage: Mary was a Rockwell. The wealthy and esteemed family (introduced here) spent much of their time traveling abroad or visiting each other; she and her four sisters were immersed in high culture. After she graduated Wellesley College in 1900, for example, the family spent eight months in Italy and Switzerland. They were barely back home in Kansas when her uncle, General Adna Chaffee, was appointed military governor of the Philippines. So off they went again, this time visiting Japan and China and the Middle East as well. The next year were trips to Venezuela and Sicily. And so life went for the Rockwells.

Her architectural studies began in 1903, when she was the only female student in that department at the Art Institute of Chicago. Reference works state she studied and/or graduated from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, but that’s not quite true. According to her autobiography, she was enrolled in an atelier operated by Jacques-Marcel Auburtin, a rising star in French architecture (and who had recently proposed marriage to one of Mary’s sisters). Mary did take an entrance exam – being the first woman since Julia Morgan to get that far – but received a failing grade. In truth, she could not have attended the school for very long, even if she had passed all the exams; although it was no longer off-limits to women, there still was a policy that students couldn’t be older than thirty, and Mary was already 29.

But at the same time, being accepted by an atelier was a not insubstantial achievement. They acted as an adjunct to the Ecole proper; some were even located inside the main building. It was a bit like having workshops training medieval journeymen grafted onto a modern college. You studied – often for years – at an atelier préparatoire to prep for passing all three entrance exams, then once you were admitted your student work was prepared under the guidance of an atelier, possibly the same one. A very good overview of the tradition-bound Beaux-Arts system as it worked around the turn of the century can be found in this book.

Here is exactly what Mary wrote of her Beaux-Arts experience, which biographers consistently misstate:

Through Kitty’s acquaintance with Marcel Auburtin, I arranged to study architecture at his atelier in Paris. He had seven Americans enrolled – all graduated of Yale and Princeton. When these boys heard a girl was coming they didn’t like the idea. They decided to name me “Liz.” It turned out that we all became lifelong friends. These boys worked three years before they passed all the examinations to enter the Beaux Arts.

We all took the first examination. I learned that I was the second woman who had ever taken an examination at Beaux Arts. The other woman was Miss Morgan of San Francisco who later devoted most of her life to the building of the Hearst Palace of great renown in California.

One must pass the first exam to qualify for the second, then must pass the second for the third, and so on for several weeks. None of us passed the first one, but what a memorable day! They put me in a big library with guards and locked the door. Hundreds of French boys begin to take these exams every six months, beginning at 14 or 50 years of age. All day I could hear them yelling and singing.

When the day was over one of the American boys came to rescue me. He said he would take me by the back way because all day the French boys had been planning to throw buckets of water on me as I entered the big courtyard. He had a taxi waiting and we ran, falling into it with our drafting boards, “T” squares and triangles.

Incidents of gender harassment aside, it left fun memories. She and a couple of her sisters lived in the raucous student quarter of the Left Bank and she wrote happily about bicycle sojourns into the countryside. She was still in Paris when the April, 1906 earthquake hit Santa Rosa. Her mother later told her, “On the morning of the earthquake she [mother] appeared fully dressed with hat, veil, and gloves and wondering if she shouldn’t call her sister, Mrs. Finlaw, to cancel their dinner engagement. A call she couldn’t have made. All the phone lines were down.”


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Mary returned to Kansas City later in 1906 intending to join an architectural firm, only to be told by father Bertrand that he would consent to her working in an office only as an unpaid student. It would be easy here to wave off Bertrand as being a paternalistic jerk but he was a loving parent and notably forward-thinking. The Rockwell family has a 1911 newspaper clipping that commented Captain Rockwell had “recently attracted considerable attention by the assertion that the daughter or daughters of a family, no matter what their station in life, should be taught a profession in which they could earn their own living.” It was more likely that he was being protective, knowing she faced discrimination that might be insurmountable and it would be easier for her to walk away from an unpaid internship than bear the professional stigma of quitting a position without expecting references, should she feel a need to leave. And Papa did actively support Mary’s ambitions; he purchased a lot in a Kansas City subdivision for her to build her first house (modern view to right).

She later wrote that house “followed the latest trends of California cottages” and the design, with its asymmetrical saltbox roof with extended eaves and dormer windows, was in keeping with the contemporary Arts & Crafts style. In particular, it resembles Gustav Stickley house design No. 28 (example here) which she could have seen in a 1905 issue of his magazine, “The Craftsman.” After it was completed, she lived it in for a month “to try it out.”

From her autobiography: “Next came a house for my sister Florence Edwards in Santa Rosa, California.” The Edwards’ moved in autumn of 1908, so the home at 930 Mendocino was designed 1907-1908.

She designed a house for a college friend and her father purchased another Kansas City lot, this intended for her to build an 11-bedroom family manse. That home and eight others she designed in the area between 1908 and 1927 are on the National Register of Historic Places (PDF). Together, they describe what might be called a “Mary Rockwell Hook style” that was in step with the progressive craftsman designs coming from leading architects at the same time.

RIGHT: Mary Rockwell c. 1911 PHOTO: Rockwell Family Archives

Her homes were usually asymmetrical, according to the authors of the Register nomination for the Kansas City houses, with a “T” or “L” shaped ground plan instead of a square or rectangular box. Windows were plentiful and also not symmetric, and the floor plan was often multi-level with irregularly shaped rooms. In some, she included an area that could be used as a stage. The home she designed for herself was described as “a rambling aggregation of intersecting wings and extruding gables, dormers, decks and porches.” She incorporated outdoor space into the designs with sleeping porches, upper decks, balconies, patios that were called “outdoor living rooms” and even integrated swimming pools. She gave rooms an Old World touch by often making fireplaces and chimneys out of rough stone and antique tile. “Long before recycling of materials became an economical advantage, Mrs. Hook was rummaging in demolished buildings and salvage yards for useable or picturesque artifacts, which were employed both structurally and decoratively.”

The Santa Rosa house matches her typical style, although in appearance it’s quite different from the Kansas City houses. It fits into the shingle-style “First Bay Region Tradition” that characterizes residential designs from that period by Julia Morgan and others and she may have also been encouraged by character of the neighborhood, where there were new and prominent Brainerd Jones buildings in this style – Comstock House, the Saturday Afternoon Club, and the lost Paxton House – just down the street. Mary would have been very familiar with those shingled places; she was designing the house for sister Florence, who was a past president of the Club, and the Oates family (first owners of Comstock House) threw a party for another of the Rockwell sisters in late 1907, just about when Mary would have been drawing architectural plans.

Mary loved sleeping porches, and wrote in her memoir, “This and That,” of once waking up with snow on her blankets. Her original design for the Rockwell family home had a sleeping porch off of every bedroom, and the Edwards House in Santa Rosa had a screened porch as large as a regular bedroom. Now enclosed with windows, the exterior of the porch can be seen above left, and the door to the porch – shown here opened – has a diamond paned lattice window that lights the second floor hallway.

(As the building has been converted to private offices, only common areas are pictured here. CLICK or TAP on any image to enlarge.)

Similarities to her first home design can be seen above in the dormer windows, strong roof corbels, and square bump out window seat in the living room. The earlier house also had a juliet balcony, although the railing is currently steel and not likely to be original. The balcony on the Edwards House faces south and is now heavily shaded by mature trees, but would have brought considerable natural light into the second floor hallway. Note the decorative balusters that continue the craftsman design of the glass doors, discussed below.

The ground floor plan of the Edwards House is quite novel. From the front door is a large entrance hall with a free standing stairway in the center. Walking directly forward passes under the stairway’s landing and directly into the living room. At the foot of the stairway on the other end of the entrance hall are four matching glass doors partitioned into a Arts & Crafts pattern very similar to Stickley designs of that same period. Above left: The double doors that led to the dining room, and to their immediate right, another door into the living room.

Above: The glass door leading into the panty with the alabaster stained glass illuminated from behind.

The pantry is quite large in proportion to the 3-bedroom house and suggests Mary’s sister, Florence, had quite a dish collection. In a short essay about the 1906 earthquake (transcribed here) she lamented that  “…[We] listened to the crash of our beautiful wedding china and glass as it smashed on the floor. My parents screaming as they both fell down on the floor amid glass and china and cut their knees and hands.”

Although the kitchen is bungalow-sized, the lighting is very good with a pair of east windows and one facing north providing supplemental light. A sunny kitchen was not to be taken for granted; in many home designs of that period the kitchen was an afterthought. In Brainerd Jones’ original 1904 design of Comstock House, for example, the stove was in the least ventilated part of the room with the single source of natural light being a window connected to a porch, several feet behind the cook – it must have been onerous to prepare the simplest meals. Inclusion of a well-designed kitchen shows the architect understood how domestic work functioned, and may demonstrate a significant advantage for architects who grew up in Victorian America as girls instead of boys. Mary wrote in her autobiography that at her first job, the head draftsman asked her, “tell me, what does a butler do in a butler’s pantry?”

Most of the windows in the Edwards House are casements, which were very modern at the time and part of the Mary Rockwell Hook “style.” But the latches on these dual windows above the stairway landing would require a ladder to open, making it impractical to cool the second floor at the end of a hot summer’s day by inviting in the foggy marine layer.

Current owner Trae Seely deserves highest praise for his good taste and judgement in restoration of the house, but the interiors may have been modified by some of the (at least) five previous owners. The complete lack of ornamentation is surprising; except for the alabaster glass doors and picture rail, the house is spartan. There is no wall crown molding, nor basic details such as returns on door or window trim. Missing are typical craftsman style features such as box beams and natural wood paneling, except for the fireplace mantles. As the closeup above right shows, the crown molding above doors, windows and cabinets is not just simple, but minimalist. But while there are examples such as the newel post that do show signs of replacement, why would someone would tear out substantial original woodwork? It would be very interesting to compare these interiors to those in other houses she designed in that period. If original, it would be notable as a pre-modernist take on the general craftsman style.

Mary Rockwell Hook’s career divides neatly into two chapters. The latter part began in 1935 when she purchased 55 acres near Sarasota, Florida for only $10,000 and designed many of the homes there, including an artist’s colony (more about that period here, including another portrait).

But the first part began with the house for her friend and sister Florence, and concluded in 1929 with the final construction of another California house for her sister Katherine in Woodside. That chateau-like manor house, called “Le Soleil,” is as opulent as the Santa Rosa house is humble, with gold leaf ceilings and a 12-car garage. Sister “Kitty” – the same one who was once engaged to the Beaux-Arts atelier master – married Francis Crosby, who was president of the famous Key System streetcar service that linked San Francisco and the East Bay cities (until General Motors, Firestone Tire, and Phillips Petroleum conspired to put them out of business, that is). Like the Edwards House, Le Soleil is mostly unknown as a Mary Rockwell Hook design, and her name wasn’t mentioned in promotional materials when the estate sold in April, 2013 for $8,400,000 (photos here, here and here).

Also in the first part of career she designed most of the campus for the Pine Mountain Settlement School, a boarding school and local cultural center in a remote area of the southern Appalachian Mountains. From her memoirs it is clear this work meant much to her and although the site is now a National Historic Landmark, it never brought her great acclaim. But that certainly was okay with her; while she clearly loved architecture, she did not have the ego driving her to want to be The Great Architect. By the age Mary decided that she wanted to pursue a career in the field, Julia Morgan already had a BS from UC/Berkeley in Civil Engineering and had completed an internship with Bernard Maybeck. There were years that Mary did not practice architecture at all; near the end of WWI she worked for the Post Office translating “Spanish trade mail” and later spent a year working for a charity assisting French peasant-farmers trying to reestablish their lives postwar. She often spent hours a day riding horses and sometimes toured in amateur theatrical productions. It seems that she had a well-balanced and happy life right up to her death at age 101.

As for the Edwards House, Florence and her husband did not live there long. It appears that they moved in during the autumn of 1908, judging by the newspaper clipping mentioned below and because the Rockwell family scrapbooks contain an October 12, 1908 receipt from the Fountaingrove Vineyard Co. for five gallons of “Saut (sweetened)” – presumably sauterne, which was quite popular in the day – that cost 75 cents a gallon, plus another buck for the keg. Presumably there were more gallons of the cloying sweet wine on hand when James was elected mayor of Santa Rosa in 1910 and invited the congratulatory crowd that gathered outside their home to come in and have “something to eat and drink.” Hopefully Florence didn’t lose too many pieces of her replenished dishware collection that evening.

The Edwards apparently sold the house in 1913 to Milton Wasserman, one of the larger hops dealers in the area. Florence and James Edwards moved back to McDonald Avenue, where he had lived most of his life, this time taking up residence at number 925, directly next to the Mabelton mansion.

     The James R. Edwards are now comfortably installed in their handsome new residence on Mendocino avenue. They have certainly good reason to be proud of their new home and the friends who have been privileged with an inspection of the interior furnishing and arrangement cannot say too much in compliment of the taste displayed.

    – “Society Gossip”, Press Democrat, November 22, 1908

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