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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 MAKING OF BRAINERD JONES

Brainerd Jones designed high-fashioned mansions and simple homes; he was adept with both the old styles and the avant-guarde. If there was any other architect as versatile as this, I do not know who it is.

But he had no formal training. He did not study architecture at any college, nor did he apprentice at a major architectural firm. His only credentials were having worked as a carpenter and a draftsman. Yet there he was at the turn of the century, hanging out his shingle as an architect.

This is the first part of a presentation made at the Petaluma Historical Library & Museum on October 20, 2018, and explains the developments in late 19th century architecture which had the most impact on Jones. Part two covers his background and some of his residential architecture up to 1906.

When Brainerd Jones was born in 1869, America was mainly a nation of plain Greek Revival farmhouses, federal style and assorted regional styles that didn’t travel very far from where they emerged. Builders had limited skills and worked without plans, having previously built nearly identical houses many times before. Builder’s guides and manuals often only contained directions on how to best follow classical principles and apply decorations.

 

Modern American architecture started after the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia as a wave of nostalgia swept the country for the first time. Probably driven in part by escapism from hardships of the ongoing Long Depression, popular books and magazines glorified America’s colonial past with sentimental tales of Revolutionary days of yore, illustrated with drawings of cozy cottages and Elysian farms, where everyone supposedly lived and worked in harmony and fought the heroic cause (the bloody and divisive Civil War had also ended just a few years before, remember). All things colonial became fashionable again, particularly furniture and building styles.

 

Fairgoers also packed a replica New England Kitchen of 1776, where they could interact with players in colonial costumes.

 

Pavilions representing the states, such as this one for Illinois, exposed the limited range of American architecture, where the Gothic style loaded with ornamentation was considered the ideal design.

 

At the fair visitors encountered architecture completely unlike anything back home. Most talked about were the Queen Anne style buildings at the British compound. In England this revival style already had been popular for several years.

 

The “Japanese Dwelling” presented an architectural esthetic with simple, clean lines and the highest craftsmanship; an observer said it was “as nicely put together as a piece of cabinet work.” Inside was an open floor plan without doors or even permanent interior walls. The Atlantic Monthly commented it made everything else look “commonplace and vulgar.”

 

About ten million people attended the fair, the equivalent of 1 in 5 Americans. Victorian Gothic, with its busy gingerbread ornamentation quickly lost popularity as American Queen Anne began evolving as the popular favorite nationwide. This house still has lots of scrollwork but also many of the curvy elements of Queen Anne, including a gazebo wrap.

 

Another transitional Queen Anne, with more curved surfaces and a prominent, irregular roof.

 

In a remarkably short time, Queen Anne evolved into the style we all recognize today, in all its boundless variations. But American Queen Anne lost all relationship to its historic roots; it was popular because it was a new, highly picturesque style.

 

Where the Pacific states were usually slow to adopt new trends from the East Coast, Queen Anne emerged simultaneously throughout the country; this is the 1881 Atherton House in San Francisco.

 

One reason Queen Annes caught on so quickly was because there was now a trade magazine that taught builders how to make those turrets and other unfamiliar elements. American Architect and Building News – which also appeared in the Centennial year of 1876 – did much to standardize construction methods nationwide.

Through the late 1880s and 1890s, Queen Annes sprouted like mushrooms all over San Francisco.

 

 

Let’s rewind back to the Centennial Exposition to meet the birth of Queen Anne’s twin. Now called “Shingle Style,” it was really Artistic Queen Anne, created by a cadre of East Coast architects, particularly the firm of McKim, Mead and White. It mixed the Tudor elements with aspects of the Japanese building. Usually wider more than tall and with a prominent roof, the designs incorporated as many windows as possible and open interiors, which transformed hallways and vestibules from mere circulation corridors into living spaces.

 

Unlike the popular Queen Anne style with its flashy look, these architects were consciously trying to create artistic houses that looked as if they could be centuries old. Plain shingles were sometimes aged in buttermilk or painted the color of moss. These homes had minimal ornamentation; notice here the fine latticework that suggested Asian wicker or rattan. (For more background, see my history of the East Coast Shingle Style, “Behind the Design” with illustrations and footnotes.)

 

In the letters section of magazines like American Architect and Building News and Harper’s, philosophy and aesthetics were hotly debated. For some it was a crusade to forge a unique style of American architecture, while others argued a higher objective was “unity,” which meant in part that a building must be in harmony with its setting.

 

And some designs look ultra-modern even today.

 

These mammoth “cottages” were commissioned by the wealthy families of the Gilded Age living in Newport and elsewhere in New England. This is Elberon, New Jersey, which was the Newport for the nouveau riche.

 

While popular Queen Anne was immediately embraced by San Francisco, it took ten years for Shingle Style to arrive. The city had a reputation as a provincial backwater indifferent to the arts, including architecture. Big commissions for commercial buildings went to firms in Chicago and New York. A. Page Brown opened an office in 1889 on a trial basis and soon found himself swamped with clients. Brown hired Willis Polk, Alexander Oakey and other A-team architects from the East who had been associated with McKim, Mead and White. Bernard Maybeck worked with Brown’s firm on and off for several years.

 

This 1890 card party at Willis Polk’s apartment included Ernest Coxhead, whose designs straddled Shingle Style and the British Queen Anne Style. All of them were with a few years of Brainerd Jones’ age, as was Julia Morgan, who would be studying under Maybeck at UC/Berkeley in the following years. The man on the far right is Soule Edgar Fisher. (Photo: On the Edge of the World: Four Architects in San Francisco at the Turn of the Century, Richard Longstreth)

 

Fisher’s 1892 Anna Head school in Berkeley was firmly in the East Coast Shingle Style, avoiding any ties to popular Queen Anne. Here are some others:

 

A. Page Brown’s Crocker Old People’s House in San Francisco, 1889.

 

Coxhead’s Carrigan House, San Anselmo, c. 1895

 

Coxhead’s Beta Theta Pi Chapter House in Berkeley, 1893

 

Coxhead’s Churchill House 1892 Napa, now Cedar Gables Inn

 

Maybeck house for Charles Keeler, 1895

 

Hearst’s Wyntoon, which involved Willis Polk, Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan

 

Coxhead’s 1890 St. John’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco

 

American Queen Anne and Shingle style architecture are two of the three significant influences on Jones as he began his career. The last element was the news stand. Trade periodicals had taught builders how to make a Queen Anne but in the mid-1880s, general public interest in home design was strong enough to support periodicals. Shoppell’s was the most popular, selling about 10,000 copies of every issue by the turn of the century.

 

George Barber’s pattern books were the other main source for “mail order houses.” More than anyone else, Barber established the American Queen Anne style. His firm sold plans for over 20,000 houses, but it’s likely a far greater number of houses were built without buying blueprints, instead improvised from the floor plans and basic drawing shown in his pattern books.

 

Barber launched his monthly “American Homes” in 1895 to appeal to a wider audience of people who may not be building in the near future. The magazine included poetry and general interest articles with many photographic illustrations.

 

Keith’s Magazine was somewhat like the nerdy Popular Mechanics/Popular Electronics magazines of the mid 20th century. Plenty of DIY projects and technical articles aimed at builders and architects. When Barber’s American Homes ended publication the firm’s designs were featured here.

 

Magazines with enormous circulations such as House Beautiful began presenting readers with more articles about modern trends in residential design. Even Country Gentleman, the oldest magazine aimed at rural America, began running articles about modern architectural design. (This issue is from much later, but the cover is a personal favorite.)

 

Gustav Stickley’s The Craftsman was a true general interest magazine, with short fiction, poetry, children’s stories as well as in-depth articles about all kinds of art, particularly fine furniture and home decoration. The magazine popularized the word, “bungalow” and nearly every issue included a “Modern Craftsman” house design following the clean look of the Arts & Crafts movement, free of decoration and with exposed construction elements, Stickley’s houses meshed with the philosophy of John Ruskin, who promoted skilled craftsmanship and the pleasures of a simpler way of life.

 

A group of magazines such as shown above is probably what Brainerd Jones saw on the coffee table (or dining room table, more likely) when he first met with a new client. With so much exposure to modern architecture through popular media, they probably already had strong opinions about the kind of home they expected Jones to design, making it more of a collaborative effort with the architect than we have today, where a client is expected to pick a design from the contractor’s brochure. This helps explain why Jones’ work represents so many different styles.

 


NEXT: YOUNG BRAINERD JONES

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