1904comstockhouse-s

BRAINERD JONES’ PAINTING OF COMSTOCK HOUSE

With MUCH gratitude to Harrison Comstock, we can now share Brainerd Jones’ preliminary design for Comstock House, painted in 1904.

This watercolor shows several differences with his pen and ink architectural elevation (also shown below), which accurately represents the final design. Other historical images of the completed home can be found in the Comstock House photo gallery.

Two years before starting this project, Jones had completed the mansion-like Paxton House two doors down from close friends of Mattie and James Wyatt Oates, who now commissioned him to create their own home. As discussed in that article, the two buildings complimented each other. Both were in the cutting-edge Shingle Style with predominant roofs and asymmetric projections popping out everywhere.

One difference was that (the home that would become known as) Comstock House was smaller, with a footprint of roughly 60 x 40 feet. The watercolor shows the house was wider and deeper in Jones’ original design and almost square, adding considerable attic space and room for two more windows on the sides. The additional massing makes it less of a “little sister” to Paxton’s big place, but Jones achieved that by raising the roofline. This extended the upper slope of the gambrel roof much further than common on Dutch Colonial Revivals. making the house look a little squat. Worse, it undermined the genius engineering principles that distribute the gravity load in a traditional gambrel rafter-and-gusset frame – if built as shown, this house probably would not have survived the 1906 earthquake.

Also mirroring the Paxton House is the doorway closing off the south (shown left) side of the porch. The Paxtons had an enclosed porch room on their north side; this was likewise a semi-private space separate from the main porch.

A significant difference is that the street view first floor, the porch columns and chimney are clad in rusticated basalt, same as used with the fence surrounding the house. Stonework like this was a common element in Shingle Style. Also, the watercolor shows the house shingled in Eastern White Cedar, which turns silver-grey as it weathers. That kind of wood was specified in Jones’ notes to the contractor, although the more readily-available Western Brown Cedar was used instead.

There are other differences to spot. The front door is directly in line with the steps and not off-center; there is a window on the north end of the porch and not the traditional Dutch Colonial “coffin door,” which was probably needed to vent the smoke from Wyatt Oates’ cigars. The bank of Tutor-style casement windows seen to the rear left ended up on the other side in front. The carriageway is in front on Mendocino avenue and not on the Benton street side.

Sadly, there’s no floor plan to go along with this original design. But it’s pretty easy to tell that all the bedrooms and living rooms would have been a couple of feet larger on all sides. You can bet, however, the wretched servant would still have the smallest and coldest room in the house, no toilet except for the one off the back porch and a kitchen so miserable it could only have been designed by a man who never had to work in one.

Watercolor on paper, 16″ x 9¼”

 

Drawing published in the Santa Rosa Republican – see photo gallery

 

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OUR ARTIST NO LONGER IN RESIDENCE

It’s nearly Christmas, 1912. Want a nice gift for your spouse? There’s an art auction in Santa Rosa, and the paper says original oil paintings would be sold “at a remarkably low figure.” You might even know the guy who painted those landscapes – he’s S. Tilden Daken, “the Sonoma County artist.”

Other painters blew through Sonoma county with brushes and easels in the first few years of the Twentieth Century, most notably Carl Dahlgren, who was hired in 1908 to paint Burbank creations by one of the publishing groups trying to write a series of books on Burbank’s plant breeding. Dahlgren also found time for at least one landscape painting and some sketching on the river (“oh, in your coundy it iss beautiful, b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l!” he raved to a reporter for the Press Democrat in his Danish accent) but he was still a visitor, working out of San Francisco. Daken lived here with his family on Chestnut street (off Sebastopol Ave.) and rubbed shoulders with Santa Rosa’s hoi polloi; when the Press Democrat ran a silly 1909 scavenger hunt contest to promote downtown businesses, there he was as question #91, between the Gamble Brothers grocery store and the Harper Hair Dressing Parlor. “What is the name of the eminent artist who came to Sonoma county three years ago and established a studio and school of art?”

(RIGHT: Samuel Tilden Daken portraits in the Santa Rosa Republican, 1911 and 1912)

The art studio could be found on Fourth street, but there never was a “school of art.” He had moved to Santa Rosa in late 1908 hoping to establish an art institute affiliated with a national association of art schools. Plans never advanced past the drafting board, but he was so convincing the Chamber of Commerce included his architectural drawing of the proposed building in its hyped 1909 “Illustrated Portfolio of Santa Rosa and Vicinity” promotional book. Lack of funding probably killed that project but he stuck around, painting redwoods and valleys and geysers and more. Sonoma county is “b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l,” after all. In summertimes the family, with two baby daughters born here, enjoyed painting excursions to Yosemite and Lake Tahoe.

Daken also was the focus of a 1911 promotional campaign to distribute prints of three of his Sonoma county views to selected parties in the Midwest and Eastern states with the goal to hopefully “induce them to come to this favored section to make their homes.” The printing was done by the Santa Rosa Republican, which patted itself on the back in announcing “This is the most extensive 3-color cut work ever done in Sonoma county…It is superb in every way.” In truth, the printing is terrible; with poor registration and the colors oddly washed out, the prints look like the sort of crappy halftone found on baseball cards from twenty years earlier.

Amazingly, researcher Bonnie Portnoy – Daken’s granddaughter – has a mint-condition copy of the 1911 “Sonoma County Beautiful” portfolio. With permission the prints are reproduced below and a higher resolution copy of the entire brochure is available at the Comstock House digital library (DOWNLOAD). Bonnie writes and curates the tildendaken.com website and has penned articles about Daken for the Sonoma Historian. She has unearthed a trove of information on him and is preparing a full biography.

There was apparently no East Coast tour by the artist following distribution of the art portfolio, but Daken was busy anyway; “For some time past Mr. Daken has been making displays of the Sonoma county scenes throughout the state, at county fairs and industrial exhibitions, particularly the one at San Jose, where he spent some weeks,” the Republican reported. A particularly fine painting, “View of Russian River from Guernewood Heights,” was often exhibited and won awards.

But these must have been lean times; until the 1912 auction, there are few mentions in the papers of paintings sold. One of the few known commissions during these years was a pastoral scene painted on the “drop curtain” for the theater at the Union Hotel in Sonoma (now on display at the Depot Park Museum). Before moving to Santa Rosa he lived in Glen Ellen for a couple of years, and in the Sonoma State archives Bonnie Portnoy found he was sued by a storekeeper there for an amount due of $27.35 – about two weeks’ average household income at the time – and to settle the paltry debt, he had to turn over two paintings. Adding to his misery, he was summoned back to court because he still owed $2.70 in fees.

The 1912 auction marked the end of his reign as “the Sonoma County artist” and the Daken family returned to San Francisco. This was also apparently the year the Comstocks closed “The Gift Shop” in downtown Santa Rosa, where they sold work by members of the local Arts and Crafts Guild as well as artwork from many pioneers of the emerging Arts and Crafts style. It is left to you, Gentle Reader, to ponder why the town’s only two purveyors of fine art both closed studios while Santa Rosa was enjoying its first truly prosperous year since the Great Earthquake.

It turned out his six years in Sonoma county were an idyl in an otherwise bold, tempestuous life. In 1913 he left his family behind and moved to Mazatlan, where he was caught up in the Mexican Revolution, wounded a couple of times and imprisoned as a POW. His marriage ended after he had an affair with Sophie Tucker (“The Last of the Red Hot Mamas”). There were years in Hawaii where he designed a custom diving bell so he could paint underwater landscapes seascapes. He painted headhunters in New Guinea and silent film stars in Hollywood. He wrote short stories based on his restless adventures.

Examples of his art can be viewed at the tildendaken.com website, but he created an estimated four thousand paintings – if it were possible to view them all and spend just one minute looking at each, it would take nearly three days straight. Until he died at age 59 in 1935, his brushes must have been never dry for a single moment.

ELEGANT THREE-COLOR WORK BY REPUBLICAN
Daken’s Art Portfolios Ready for Public Distribution

The REPUBLICAN office has turned out some of the most artistic printing ever done north of San Francisco in an Art Portfolio issued for Samuel T. Daken, the Sonoma county artist. The work is done in three colors, and represents some of the splendid paintings from the brush of the artist. This is the most extensive 3-color cut work ever done in Sonoma county and it shows the ability of the REPUBLICAN mechanical force to do the best work that can be done.

The three pictures which are reproduced in the colors are “Glimpses of the Sonoma Valley,” “Overlooking the Lowlands of Sonoma County,” and “Redwoods at Sunset.” They are among the best works of Artist Daken, and are to be given free to some persons in an effort to raise funds for an exhibit of Sonoma county scenes in eastern cities.

The portfolios are to be sold at one dollar each. The matter has the hearty approval of the Board of Supervisors.

With the funds thus raised for the disposal of these pictures, an exhibition of the famous Sonoma county scenes depicted on canvas by Artist Daken will be made in all of the principal cities of the east and middle west. Mr. Daken will make this exhibit with the handsome scenes which he has transferred to canvas and it will be a matter of the best kind of publicity for Sonoma county to have these beautiful scenes shown in the eastern states.

All persons should secure some of the portfolios, not only for their intrinsic value and the opportunity presented to secure one of the three paintings mentioned, but because it will enable the beauties of this splendid section to be shown in the east. When the edition has been disposed of Artist Daken will arrange the exhibit at once and start on his eastern journey to give the people there an opportunity to view Sonoma county, and induce them to come to this favored section to make their homes.

The color work done by the mechanical department of the REPUBLICAN office reflects great credit on the force. It is superb in every way, and shows how well all classes of printing can be handled on the up-to-date machinery with which the office is equipped.

For some time past Mr. Daken has been making displays of the Sonoma county scenes throughout the state, at county fairs and industrial exhibitions, particularly the one at San Jose, where he spent some weeks. At this display between ten and twelve thousand people attended daily and viewed the beautiful pictures of Sonoma county scenes and landscapes of different sections of the county.

These three pictures, which are to be presented to the persons purchasing the folios, will be placed on display in the Hotel Overton lobby, where they may be viewed by the people.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 13, 1911
INTEREST IN DAKEN DISPLAY
Pictures May Be Seen at Odd Fellows’ Hall Sunday

The elegant display of paintings from the brush of S. Tilden Daken, the well known Sonoma county artist, is attracting much attention. The display is made at the reception rooms of the Odd Fellows’ building on Mendocino avenue, and many visitors are going in daily to inspect the canvasses. The exhibit will be open on Sunday from 10 in the morning until 9 o’clock at night and Mr. Daken will be present during these hours. An invitation is extended to the public to come in and view these elegant works of art.

Daken is the first artist to paint the beauties of Sonoma county scenes, and he has a number of splendid views of this county, including pretty landscapes from various sections. Some of these are from the Pluton [sic] regions, others from the redwood section and still others from the fertile valleys. Persons can find just what they desire in the Daken collection, and these beautiful paintings will make elegant Christmas presents.

Among the canvases displayed are some of the beautiful Yosemite valley, to which place Artist Daken made a number of pilgrimakes [sic], and whose beauties have been transferred to canvass [sic]. The display is well worth seeing, and none should fail to make a visit to it.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 14, 1912
PAINTINGS TO BE AUCTIONED
Daken Collection to Go Under Hammer Friday Eve

The splendid collection of paintings which have been on exhibition at Odd Fellows’ hall on Mendocino avenue, will be offered at auction on Friday evening, December 20th. There are about forty beautiful views in this collection, and it is by far the best that Artist Daken has ever grouped together. It represents a number of beautiful landscapes from Sonoma county scenes and some from Yosemite Valley, which is the ideal spot for artists. In variety the collection is one of the finest that could be found anywhere, and the pictures will be auctioned without reservation. The auction will begin at 8 o’clock sharp and it is more than probable that a large crowd of Santa Rosa and Sonoma county people will be in attendance.

Every one is cordially invited to come in and look over the collection of pictures, whether they purchase or not. The pictures will be sold under the second bid, and this will afford a fine opportunity to get a fine example of Artist Daken’s work at a low figure. Daken is the Sonoma county artist, and has done more with the brush to make Sonoma county popular and prominent than all the other artists combined.

Edward Curtis, the noted art auctioneer of San Francisco, who conducts a studio at 1700 Van Ness avenue, and who is the greatest art auctioneer of the Pacific coast, will conduct the auction of this splendid collection of paintings. Mr. Curtis has conducted large sales of paintings on the Pacific Coast and in the east, and is a noted critic of all the schools of art. One of the large sales which he conducted was that of the collection of the late Colonel Issac Trumbo. This collection of paintings was appraised at $35,000 and was conducted at the St. Francis hotel in the metropolis.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 19, 1912
AUCTION SALE OF PAINTINGS ODD FELLOWS HALL TONIGHT

S. Tilden Daken, whose likeness is presented in the cut printed herewith, is known all over the state as the Sonoma county artist. It was he who first produced on canvass in great numbers the many beautiful scenes to be found within the confines of Imperial Sonoma. This evening at 8 o’clock at the Odd Fellows’ Hall, on Mendocino avenue, an auction of his pictures will take place. This will afford an excellent opportunity to get a splendid Daken picture at a remarkably low figure.

[..]

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 20, 1912

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LOST: THE ART INSTITUTE OF SANTA ROSA

Did you know Santa Rosa once had an art school? It’s right there in the “Illustrated Portfolio of Santa Rosa and Vicinity,” a 1909 book put together by the Chamber of Commerce and the Press Democrat to promote the town. Granted, the school didn’t get beyond the planning stage and the building was never constructed, but hey, Santa Rosa needed something to show that it could become a classy place.

(RIGHT: Architectural sketch that appeared in both Santa Rosa newspapers and the Portfolio as “S. T. DAKEN’S ART SCHOOL, SANTA ROSA CAL.”)

By 1909, the pace of change in Santa Rosa was accelerating. The last of the post-earthquake reconstruction was finishing up and the town’s administrators finally closed the tenderloin district after 30 years. There were now three theaters downtown and almost all of the main streets were asphalt paved. In this burgeoning little metropolis the art school would have fit right in. Located on College Avenue near the current location of the Mission Car Wash, the plans for the school show a very modern design; in some ways it anticipated the streamlined Art Deco style of a quarter-century later, with its rounded corners on the roof above triple-row horizontal banding.

The force behind the planned art school was S. T. Daken, a landscape painter who was in Sonoma County for five years after the 1906 earthquake, living in Glen Ellen near his friend Jack London until he and his family moved to Santa Rosa in 1909. Here he taught art at the Ursuline College and at his studio at 509A Fourth Street, today the location of a pawn shop. Daken’s time in the county has been recently described in a pair of very interesting articles in the Sonoma Historian, the quarterly newsletter from the Sonoma County Historical Society. The author, Tilden Daken’s granddaughter, has a web site devoted to her ancestor, and also in the newsletter tells the tale of Daken and London meeting in a hayloft, the pair of them then hopping trains and riding the rods underneath boxcars from Reno to San Francisco.

The art institute project floundered for almost two years before it was abandoned, apparently due to Daken’s rocky personal finances and inability to find enough investors. His partner in the development plans was local contractor Frank Sullivan, with whom he had other dealings in 1909. Together with Daken’s former landlord, Dr. C. C. O’Donnell, they were hornswoggled by a con man who supposedly planned to build a world-class sanitarium for alcoholics in Glen Ellen. Sullivan and O’Donnell both were scammed, but when he tried to sweet talk Daken into painting a 12-foot canvas, the artist wisely refrained from putting brush to canvas until a deposit was forthcoming – which, of course, it never was.

Both Santa Rosa newspapers wrote of the art school as if it were a fait accompli, and the article transcribed below waxes poetic on the glory of painting local sunsets. Had the place actually been built, students trying to capture twilight’s last gleaming from the studios would have certainly kept school’s westward windows shut, as it was a block away and downwind from the slaughterhouse.

Obl. believe-it-or-not footnote: The item from the Santa Rosa Republican included a snippet of poetry using a word that can’t be found in any dictionary: “Trancid,” which apparently was a mashup between “tranquil” and “placid.” A search of Google Books shows that it was in use from at least 1856 to 1942, but not even the Oxford English Dictionary mentions it. The word most often appears in obscure verse and poetry; really bad poets seemed drawn to it as moth to flame.

(BELOW: Portrait of Samuel Tilden Daken from the Portfolio)

SANTA ROSA TO HAVE AN UP-TO-DATE ART SCHOOL

Santa Rosa is seen to have what few towns of its size can boast–an art school and art gallery. S. T. Daken, the artist, has had plans prepared by J. B. Durand for a building to be devoted to these purposes. It will be located on the corner of College avenue and Ripley streets, and, judging from the plans, will be a decidedly attractive structure.

The style of architecture is along simple, dignified lines and the exterior finish will be something unique in rough cast cement plaster. The building will be a two story and basement heated by a furnace. The first story will be devoted to living rooms, and the entire second floor will be used for class room and gallery purposes. Special attention has been paid to the lighting facilities for the benefit of the art students as well as to show the paintings in the gallery to advantage.

Besides Mr. Daken’s private collection of the works of noted artists, and his own paintings, which will form a permanent display in the gallery, the American Art Association, with which the Daken school will be affiliated, will furnish at various times excellent examples of art, including sculpture and architecture, as well as paintings. This association, whose headquarters are in New York, supplies circulating collections to affiliated schools throughout the United States.

An art library will be at the disposal of the students and lectures by well known artists will be given at frequent intervals. These, with the affiliation mentioned, cannot but be of great advantage to the students. The course will include studio work from models and sketching classes.

In the vicinity of Santa Rosa are many beautiful landscapes, and the cloud effects are especially fine. There are sunsets of exceeding grandeur when the dying rays gleam on St. Helena’s snowy crest, throwing over the dark canyons of the eastern mountains yet darker shadows, and there is beauty too.

“In trancid calm of summer night,
When the cloudless moonlight fills
With chastened splendor, gently bright
The circuit of the hills.”

This city is indeed a fitting location for such an Art School as Mr. Daken purposes to found and there is every reason to believe that the institution will be highly successful.

The construction of the building will be under the supervision of Mr. Durand and work will be commenced as soon as possible after he recovers his health sufficiently to attend to business.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 22, 1909

ARTIST DAKEN DID NOT BITE
Told Williams Deposit Must Accompany Order

Artist S. T. Daken of this city is the only man who was shrewd enough to prevent being “taken in” by Dr. F. Harry Williams, who was also an attorney. Williams, it will be remembered, is the man who came here and purported to purchase the O’Donnell ranch at Glen Ellen for a huge Emanuel [sic] Sanitarium.

After letting contracts with lavish hand and transacting all kinds of business without parting with any coin, Williams determined that he wanted a huge landscape scene of the sanitarium, showing San Francisco bay in the distance, to place on exhibition at the Seattle exposition. He consulted with Artist Daken and ordered from the latter an oil painting six by twelve feet, showing the sanitarium.

In accordance with this order Artist Dakin went over to Glen Ellen and made the preliminary sketches from which to paint the scene, and forwarded these to Williams’ address in the metropolis. In the letters to Williams Mr. Daken informed him that if he wished the work to proceed he would have to enclose a remittance in the return letter as a deposit on the same.

The picture was one that would have had little commercial value to Artist Dakin had it not been accepted by Williams, and he proposed to take no chances with the man, who was an entire stranger to him.

From this it will be seen that in addition to being an artist of renown, Daken possesses the faculty to read human nature in a far greater degree than some other Santa Rasans [sic], who are mourning the time and money lost on Williams.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 29, 1909

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