53

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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25

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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bnview

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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