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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 copes 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



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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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Search of rubble outside the Press Democrat building (California Historical Society)

1906 EARTHQUAKE: ALL FALL DOWN

“All of the buildings fell at once; no one first,” a man named Green Thompson told an investigator into the 1906 earthquake in Santa Rosa. He added the dust was so great on Fourth street he couldn’t see.

Yes, the buildings that collapsed downtown were almost all brick, and mostly built 1883-1885 during the town’s first building boom. Yes, unreinforced masonry buildings are not particularly earthquake friendly. But it has always rankled that the official 1908 State Earthquake Commission report put the blame on our ancestors not knowing the basics of building construction:

In general, inquiries as to direction of fall of buildings met no definite answer…many told me that there was no direction of fall; that the buildings simply crumbled to the ground. The Masonic Temple and the Theater, I was told, fell so directly downward “that the debris did not extend beyond the walls 10 feet in any direction”…The great damage in Santa Rosa may be accounted for by the physiographic conditions and by the weakness of the buildings in many cases. The sand for mortar has usually been obtained from the creek and contains considerable loam. Some of the mortar seems to have been made with good sand and with cement…usually throughout the wrecked area the mortar taken from the walls is easily crumbled to incoherent sand by pressure of the fingers.

It’s understandable that too much loam is undesirable (although there’s a 1903 researcher who says up to 10 percent dirt is actually beneficial) but we don’t know what the investigator meant by “considerable”, nor how he learned this. That goes to the heart of the question: before all the buildings fell down, did anyone know the mortar was weak? If it was always crumbly, that would have been apparent soon after the first brick buildings went up in 1883, and surely they would not have continued making the same mistake for another two years.

Nor is this my first beef with the official report; it was superficial and littered with errors, as I’ve mentioned here several times. Besides apparently inverting a couple of digits for the population of the town (6700 instead of 7600) which exaggerated the scope of the death toll, it claimed there were “61 identified dead, with at least a dozen ‘missing’” without explanation even though no missing persons had been mentioned since the weeks immediately after the quake.

I’ve long suspected that the investigator (name unknown) was misled by Santa Rosa boosters who wanted to underplay the scope of the disaster. Details found in the Petaluma Argus rewrote the story significantly; the big takeaway was that the interim newspaper published by Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley didn’t mention there was serious looting and the stench of death lingered over the town for days. Most significant was that neither the investigator nor the PD ever mentioned the massive explosion at the Haven Hardware store, which was so huge it took out one side of its block on Fourth street, killing at least eight. (As it turns out, Haven Hardware was one of two places in town that sold gasoline.)

In this case, I believe the investigator had important information in front of him but did not know what to make of it.

A quarter-century had passed since those bricks were laid, during which there had been a revolution in the building trade. Victorian-American bricklayers, like masons around the world, were still using traditional lime mortar in the early 1880s; like bricks and building stones, it was permeable so an entire wall handled rain (and more importantly, frost) as if it was all the same material. Some of the drawbacks of sand-lime-brick was that it took a long time to fully cure and had to be repointed after 30-50 years. When quick-drying Portland cement came along, builders rushed to add it to their mortar; transcribed below is a little snippet from the 1883 Santa Rosa newspaper showing the contractor and architect arguing over the mixture to use for the foundation of the new courthouse.

We don’t know the exact ratio used by other Santa Rosa builders at that time, but can assume they used a high ratio of lime to concrete, as was common practice. And here’s the other drawback to using the old lime formula – when it’s exposed to high temperatures it bakes, as the carbon dioxide is driven off and it begins to break down into calcium oxide (CaO), or as it’s better known, quicklime.

After firefighters train water on this weakened mortar it reverts to being a putty, with the result being powdery when dry. That seems to match the “easily crumbled to incoherent sand by pressure of the fingers” description in the report. (Disclaimer: I have not checked my theory with a material science expert in Victorian mortar, nor do I know if such a person exists.)

If this is all correct, it rewrites another part of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake story – namely, the fire was far more intense than is believed.

Lime-based mortar begins to break down to quicklime at around 850°C (1562°F) which is around 30 percent hotter than an average house fire. But if everything collapsed at once, it had to reach those temperatures after the buildings had fallen – which would mean that much of downtown was an inferno, at least for a short period of time.

That is not at all hard to believe; eyewitnesses including Luther Burbank said the gas was still on, so there would have been hundreds of gas jets feeding the flames. A man who nearly burned to death said the heat was “unbearable” and another witness later wrote, “the heat was overpowering and all that saved the town was the absence of wind.” In his 1908 speech laying the cornerstone for the new courthouse, Herb Slater reminded people what it was like that day:

Delay meant death; death from the smothering dust; death from the cruel weight of beams, planks and stone; and worse than all, death from the cruel flames which were already bursting forth from piles of debris from fallen and partially fallen buildings. The belching smoke served to intensify the horror.

In another account, Miles Peerman, a former Santa Rosa constable, was pinned down by wreckage at corner of 5th and B streets. “They did their best to dig him out, but the heat of the raging fire became so intense that they could no longer stay by him.” And then there were six known who were completely cremated into “nothing but burnt bones and ashes.”

The last bit of evidence I’ll submit is this: Look at any of the photographs from the following days, including the one below, and you’ll see only piles of scattered bricks – not even small sections of walls fell intact, which suggests the mortar completely failed, either while standing or while on the ground.

This item wouldn’t be complete without its obl. Believe-it-or-Not! coda, but it’s not about Santa Rosa – it concerns the Notre Dame Cathedral catastrophe. Much of that day I spent weepy-eyed and watching the excellent (English language) coverage from France24. To fill airtime they aired snippets from various news items on the Cathedral from earlier years, particularly about the restoration that was underway before the fire.

This brief segment about bad mortar repairs left me shaking. Anyone involved with old house restoration would recognize it as undesirable “tuck-pointing” – modern concrete being used to fill in gaps where old lime mortar has fallen out due to weathering. Because cement mortar is impermeable, water ends up trapped in the adjacent brick or stone which over time starts to crumble away, as seen on the video.

But what was not shown is even scarier. Tuck-pointing is patchwork; the worker never digs out all the old lime mortar before slapping in the new stuff, which means (I assume) that the interior sides of the stone still have soft lime mortar. And if the fires we saw on TV reached those critical temperatures, there is now weakened or even no viable mortar on the scorched cathedral walls – but stuff that’s hard as rock on the outside. And, of course, some of the exterior sides are being pressed inwards by those famous flying buttresses. (UPDATE: The yellow smoke seen during the fire was 210 metric tons of lead cladding vaporizing, which was just a small portion of the entire weight of the roof.)

I pray to the goddesses that some engineer in Paris is thinking about that, or an even greater tragedy may soon follow.

1906pdrubble

Search of rubble at the Press Democrat building (California Historical Society)

 

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S. Carle spoke in relation to using lime in the rockwork for the foundation of the Court House. He would like one barrel of lime to one barrel of Portland cement and three barrels of sand. The specifications call for one barrel of Portland cement to three of sand, no lime mentioned. He claimed that the use of the amount of lime spoken of will make just as good a job as to have it all cement. Mr. Bennett, who was present stated that the proposition of the contractor would result in doing just as good a job as the other, and that he had drawn the specifications in that way so as to have full control of the material that went into the foundation. A long and desultory debate ensued, and finally the matter was informally referred to Messrs. Morse and Proctor.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 17 1883

 

 

A Perfect Mortar.

A new building material called stone brick, harder than the hardest clay brick, is made from simple mortar, but a scientifically made and perfect mortar; In fact, a hydraulic cement, and the grinding together of lime and sand in a dry state — including, also, some alumina, which is usually present in sand — and the subsequent heating by steam, give the mixture the properties of the burned hydraulic cements at present in use.—Public Opinion.

– Daily Democrat, February 8, 1890

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THE JEWEL IN THE BOOMTOWN

The first time Santa Rosa had more than a couple of dimes rattling around its coin purse, the town bought itself a present. A really big present.

“It gives us unlimited pleasure to chronicle the fact that a long felt want, in the shape of an opera house is at last to be built in Santa Rosa,” boasted the town’s Sonoma Democrat newspaper in mid-summer, 1884.

That opera house was to be called the Athenaeum (a name usually given to a library or academic/literary salons, not so often public theaters). It filled the western side of D street, from Fourth to Fifth streets and was 80 feet wide. Newspaper readers were repeatedly reminded that it was the largest auditorium in the state outside of San Francisco.

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The Santa Rosa Athenaeum in 1890. (Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

 

Why a farm town of 5,000 needed an auditorium large enough to hold up to half its population was never discussed. But the mid-1880s were boom times for Santa Rosa, and much of the original downtown was being replaced with entire blocks of new buildings. A new city hall was built along with that pretty little courthouse in Courthouse Square. There were forty other projects under construction at the same time as the Athenaeum, almost all of them made out of bricks. Almost all of them would collapse in the 1906 earthquake, including the Athenaeum.

Outside it looked like a nondescript brick warehouse, but the interior drew high praise. Alas, there are no (surviving) pictures of it – a dilemma I often encounter here, so indulge me a short rant: Except for a couple of postcard views of the exterior, there are likewise no photos of the fabled 40 room “Buena Vista Castle” near Sonoma. Jack London’s Wolf House was nearly complete when it burned down, but there is only a single glimpse of the place under construction and most of it is obscured by a horse-drawn wagon in the foreground. There are no images of the inside – all of which is particularly aggravating because London was a photojournalist. I could name scads of other really interesting-but-lost-forever views just in Santa Rosa during the era when Kodak cameras were ubiquitous; I can’t understand why something was considered picturesque or important enough to be described in a newspaper – yet apparently no one thought of whipping out a Brownie camera to take a snapshot.

Fortunately there are multiple descriptions of the theater which paint a pretty detailed picture. I still wanted to find an image of an auditorium that was a reasonably close match and spent much of the last week prowling through hundreds of photos and period drawings of theater interiors here and in Europe. Two finalists were the Memphis TN Lyceum and the Virginia City NV Opera House, but the former is a little too cavernous and the other lacking architectural details. I could find only one theater that fits comfortably in the Goldilocks zone – and may the goddesses forgive me, it’s the Golden Horseshoe at Disneyland. All important details and proportions match except the Athenaeum was a few seats wider.

Let’s take a look inside the Athenaeum: Start your virtual tour by standing in front of the lovely 1911 Beaux-Arts style Doyle Building at 641-647 Fourth street. This has exactly the same footprint as the Athenaeum, except the stairway to the upper floor was almost twice as wide. At street level there was always a grocery to the west side of the stairs (more about that below) and in later years the Santa Rosa post office was on the corner side.*

The theater occupied the second and third floors. At the top of the stairs was the foyer with the box office. Wainscotting in the foyer used black walnut – a nice signal that you were entering a space that was posh and as permanent as a bank. Staircases on either side led to the third floor, where there was another larger foyer which took up about sixty feet of the top story. This was called the Society Hall and was rented out for banquets and dances when the theater wasn’t booked.

Beyond the top floor hall/foyer, theatergoers took seats in the balcony which wrapped around three sides of the auditorium. Called the “gallery” at the time, the balcony was both suspended from the ceiling and supported with posts. An item in the Democrat paper suggested some were squeamish over the safety of the overhanging balcony. “Let us whisper to the timid, if any such are left, that each of the seven iron columns under the gallery will support a weight equal to two hundred tons, or fourteen hundred tons in the aggregate.”

The gallery had the cheap seats but anyone who could afford better would sit below. There was the parquet circle directly beneath the gallery; like the balcony there was a baluster rail in front. It was (probably) at stage level, which meant the sight lines and acoustics were better than the main floor. The primary difference from the Disneyland theater was that the Athenaeum had more private boxes overlooking the stage; six on each side at the gallery level, and two on either side of the parquet circle.

The stage lights and everything else in the auditorium was lit by gaslights which were individually controlled by a panel. In the middle of the ceiling was an enormous “sun burner” (MORE info) which brilliantly illuminated the hall when turned up full. But what everyone was buzzing about was the artwork – the ceiling and walls were covered with murals. The Sonoma Democrat had the most detailed description:


About the ventilator in the center is a bit of sky, with clouds piled cumulus like, just as we sometimes see them on the horizon, while trailing vines, laden with blossoms seem to be peeping in the windows of some conservatory. The entire ceiling and gallery walls are hand painted, and at each corner a lyre and sprays of vines retain the eye, with elegantly designed borders enclosing numerous sky blue spaces. At the corners are huge clusters of reeds, conventionalized branches of leaves beneath. The area in front of the top of the stage is resplendent with flowers and sprays, and must be seen to be appreciated.

The stage itself was in the classic proscenium 19th century style, with drapery and an olio painted curtain depicting “a villa in the distance, amidst a beautiful grove with a magnificent garden in the foreground.” The artist was Thomas Moses who later became a top artist in this niche, painting scenic drops like this for theaters all over the country, including Broadway.

The official seating capacity was 1,600 although numbers up to a thousand higher were also mentioned. Theaters like this used wooden chairs, not seats bolted to the floor, so it was only a matter of placing them farther or closer together. (The cheapest gallery seats were apparently fixed in place, however.) Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley wrote an appreciation of the old place in 1932, which was abridged in a book, “Santa Rosans I Have Known.” Finley wrote “The theatre itself seated 1700 persons while 2500 could be and frequently were crowded in.”

Finley, who grew up in Santa Rosa, also recalled the Athenaeum box office was a popular place for kids to money launder any counterfeit coin which “sometimes found its way into their pockets without its spurious character being noticed.”

The Athenaeum’s official dedication was the night of July 9, 1885. After the orchestra gave “a preliminary toot or two,” there were remarks by the president of the Athenaeum association and a San Francisco theatrical manager, then an actress read a really bad poem. (“…Through groves of drooping oak, a glistening stream/ Runs, like a silver thread, through emerald green/ And over all is sunset’s purple sheen./ Another change the Mexican appears/ He seems a centaur, horse and man, and spurs./ Across the unfenced valley, like a bird/ He sweeps, amid his startled sleek skinned herd…”) Once that was suffered through, the curtain went up for the performance of a blood-and-thunder melodrama based on Jules Verne’s novel “Michael Strogoff.”

The Santa Rosa paper enthused over everything about the evening (“It was the first time Don Mills’ mule ever greeted an audience”) but glossed over the detail that the theater wasn’t even half full on its opening night. It appears that it would be more than a year before the Athenaeum was actually filled, and that was for a free October, 1886 speech by the Republican candidate for governor. (Predictably, the highly-partisan Democrat sniffed, “His speech was dry, prosy and wearisome, and elicited very little applause.”)

Thus was the fate of the Athenaeum clouded from its earliest days. Although the theater itself was a jewel by any measure, it’s hard to imagine that a hall which was only open  every week or so – and then usually around half empty – could be profitable. When the entire hall was rented out and open for free admission it was sometimes reported filled: Church coalitions brought in famous bible thumpers, political parties had election eve rallies and small groups held conventions – the State Sunday School Association was scheduled to be there in late April, 1906, with plans cancelled because of the earthquake.

Finley and others wrote of the celebrated performers who appeared on its stage. Yes, John Philip Sousa’s famous brass band played a rousing concert and modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller was here. Heavyweight boxing champ James Jeffries tried to jumpstart a new career starring in a play about Davy Crockett (the audience liked it most when he hit things or flexed his muscles) and San Francisco promoters sometimes booked a slate of classical music artists, mainly opera singers past their prime.

But for every highbrow concert by a “tenor robusto” there were twenty performances of hoary melodramas like “Ingomar the Barbarian” or trite comedies such as “James Wobberts, Freshman.” For every serious debate or lecture by someone like the guy predicting the year 2000 there were a dozen touring comedians such as “Yon Yonson,” “Ole Olson,” or vaudeville acts like “Thirty Educated Dogs.” And there were minstrel shows – lots and lots of minstrel shows.

1900plays1The melodrama “Chimes of Normandy” and the comedy “Wang” both appeared at the Athenaeum in 1900

 

Ridgway Hall was the only other venue downtown for large gatherings and it was mainly used for dances and county conventions, but the Athenaeum was used for local events, too, including commencement ceremonies and school literary exercises. Locals also put on shows at the Athenaeum; Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Mikado” was produced here and Santa Rosa Attorney T. J. Butts produced a farce he had written, “Misery, or Three Spasms for a Half.” (A few years later, Butts participated in a lecture series on the topic, “What Is the Matter with Santa Rosa?” His position was that “our city government is as good as we deserve,” which gets my vote as our city motto.)

The Athenaeum was completely destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and many commented that it was a good thing it didn’t hit when the theater was occupied. Three days earlier, nearly every kid in town was in there for choir practice before the upcoming Sunday School convention. Ernest Finley wrote the best obit in his 1932 reminisces:


The Athenaeum went down at the time of the earthquake, together with everything else in that entire block…the Athenaeum was built by T. J. Ludwig, active here as a contractor at that time, and its plan of construction was much criticized. Resting on the side walls of the building were great trusses which stretched across from one wall to another and from these the auditorium was practically suspended in air. There was some underneath support, but not too much. There was no regulation of such matters in those days. This type of construction would not now be permitted anywhere. After the building collapsed, investigation showed that certain beams in the great trusses, which were entirely of redwood, had decayed at the edges. It is not improbable that, had the building continued in use many years longer, some of these beams might have given way under the tremendous strain and a holocaust far greater than that occasioned by the earthquake itself might have resulted.

Oddly, some of the early hype about the theater focused on the impossibility of its collapse. The Democrat promised before construction began that it was to be an “earthquake proof building,” and a few days before it opened, the paper offered a commentary on the safety of the Athenaeum and the new courthouse. “This is a good time to kill the idle street talk we hear about one building being unsafe, and another one just ready to topple over…So will Santa Rosa outgrow the little fellows who go whining about the streets. If none of them die until they are killed by the falling of Athenaeum, or the new Court House, they will survive a hundred years, which would be a greater misfortune to the city than the fall of both those substantial and elegant structures.”


*The Athenaeum Grocery was an ambitious effort to create a real food market, complete with canned goods, fresh produce, a butcher and fish counter, and something like a deli offering lunch. “Many a lady dreads the Saturday’s marketing, because she knows that she will perhaps have to walk over the whole town before completing her purchases, but when the new central market is opened it will be different; she may do all of her marketing in the one building, and her purchases will be delivered at the same time.”

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Santa Rosa Athenaeum, 1906 (Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

 

 

Santa Rosa Athenaeum.

It gives us unlimited pleasure to chronicle the fact that a long felt want, in the shape of an opera house is at last to be built in Santa Rosa. A joint stock company with a capital stock of $20,000 has been organized, and incorporated under the laws of this State for of constructing a solid, substantial and earthquake proof building, on the corner of Fourth and D streets, covering that entire lot, extending through to Fifth street, known as the T. H. Pyatt lot. The building will have an eighty foot front on Fourth and Fifth streets, and will be 200 feet in depth. The seating capacity will be from 1,600 to 2,000 people. Two stores will be fitted up on Fourth street, and a society hall will also front on the same street. A gallery will extend around three sides of the building. The main entrance to the auditorium, will be from Fourth street with side entrance from Fifth aud D streets, so that the hall can be quickly cleared in case of a panic. The stage will extend across the Fifth street end of the building, and will be seven feet from the door. On each side will be three dressing rooms for theatrical companies. Under the stage a kitchen with range and all other necessary equipments, and a spacious banquet hall will be fitted up for the convenience and benefit of fairs, festivals, etc. The structure promises to be one of the most convenient and perfect ever built, and fills a long felt want in this community.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 5 1884

The lot for the Santa Rosa Athenaeum, on the corner of Fourth and D street is cleared, and work excavating for the foundation has commenced.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 19 1884

 

Our Opera House.

We strolled into the Athenaeum on Friday afternoon and found the timbers for the gallery being placed in position, and the scantling for the different partitions being erected. The inside is going to present a handsome appearance. The gallery is semi-circular in form, and the timbers for the “circle” are being bent as they are being placed in position, under the immediate supervision of Col. Gray, whom we saw, with hammer in hand, as busy as any of the artisans. We should suppose that there were about thirty men engaged with hammer and saw, and noted that the work was progressing very satisfactorily.

Mr. Mailer, of the firm of W. C. Good & Co., informs us that the tin for the roof is all in readiness in the shop, and that twelve men are putting the work on the roof, as rapidly as possible. A few days fine weather, and the roof will be tinned. This firm have just received a consignment of ninety boxes of tin for the roofs o( other buildings now in the course of completion.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 28 1885

 

Handsome Ornamentations.

We were permitted to take a view of the ceiling of the Athenaeum, on Friday, as the decorative artists had just completed their work. It is a study in art. About the ventilator in the center is a bit of sky, with clouds piled cumulus like, just as we sometimes see them on the horizon, while trailing vines, laden with blossoms seem to be peeping in the windows of some conservatory. The entire ceiling and gallery walls are hand painted, and at each corner a lyre and sprays of vines retain the eye, with elegantly designed borders enclosing numerous sky blue spaces. At the corners are huge clusters of reeds, conventionalized branches of leaves beneath. The area in front of the top of the stage is resplendent with flowers and sprays, and must be seen to be appreciated. We consider it the most elegant finish we have ever seen in so large a building. The theater will be ready for occupation about the first June. In the main auditorium the seating and finishing touches only remain to be attended to, but the stage and the front hall yet remain to be finished.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 16 1885

 

Ambitions Santa Rosa.

The San Francisco Figaro, of a recent date, contains the following: “It may seem strange, but it is true nevertheless, that Santa Rosa will soon have the largest and most magnificent theatre building outside of San Francisco. Though occupying nearly as much space as our Grand Opera House, it will have only two circles, it is decorated in grand style, is called the Athenaeum, and will be finished about the middle of next month. Good for Santa Rosa, which is one of the most delightful cities of the interior, and a growing one, surrounded by a rich farming region, belted by timber lands almost inexhaustible. With a modesty unusual and worthy of note, the owner of the edifice did not give to it his own name.” Come up and see it Bro. Bogardus, and if we don’t give you a hearty welcome for old time’s sake, we will try it. Call soon.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 6 1885

 

The Athenaeum.

We stopped a moment at the Athenaeum, on Tuesday. Preparations are being made to lay the stone sidewalk, by putting in the curbing. Work on the inside is progressing. Painters are priming the woodwork, and graining has commenced. The railing for the boxes and about the orchestra are placed in position. The handsome railing for the stairways leading to the gallery is being put up. The doors about the entrance to the parquette and dress circle are being hung. The racks and slides for the scenery are being put in place and the lower hall is being graveled for cement pavement.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 13 1885

 

Dedicating the Athenaeum.

In response to an invitation of the Board of Directors of the Santa Rosa Athenaeum Company, a number of gentlemen met at the parlors of Occidental Hotel to consult in regard to the formal opening of the building, now so near at hand. In response to this, there were present…

…The building is nearly completed. The seats in the gallery are about finished. At the ends of the gallery circle, nearest the stage, are six compartments on each side the building set apart by railing as mezzanine boxes. Directly below them, at the terminus of the dress circle, are four elegant boxes, two on each side, decorated very handsomely and elaborately.

We have stated that six iron pillars have been placed beneath the gallery, which support it, so that it is no longer suspended from the roof.

The chairs for the boxes, dress circle and orchestra will arrive in a few days. They are on the way. There are 800 of them.

Work laying the scenery is progressing rapidly, and the stage now begins to have the appearance of business.

The painters and grainers are putting the finishing touches to the main hall, and back stairway, and glaziers are preparing the sash for the numerous windows. The wainscotting in the foyer passages, doors and stairways is black walnut. In the banquet, ball and offices, oak.

The patent stone work for the sidewalk and lower portion of the main entrance is completed and is now hardening. Work laying the basalt blocks in the gutter is progressing.

RECEPTION AND PROMENADE CONCERT.

The Committee appointed, as mentioned above, met immediately after the conference adjourned, and adopted the following programme:
1. Overture by orchestra.
2. Prayer by Rev. J. Avery Shepherd.
3. Remarks by the President. B. M. Spencer.
4. Dedicatory by A. B. Ware.
5. Vocal Music.
6. Remarks by R. A. Thompson.
7. Vocal Solo.
8. Closing remarks by Senator G. A. Johnson.
9. Overture by orchestra.
10. Promenade concert and reception.

[..]

– Sonoma Democrat, June 20 1885

 

The Athenaeum.

We were permitted to visit the interior of the Athenaeum on Tuesday, and found Mr. Bumbaugh with a large force of painters at work. The main hall has been most artistically and beautifully adorned, and the work is well done.

We met Mr. C. N. Crouse, who came from Chicago to arrange the scenery and mount it. He showed us the drop curtain, which is the finest we have seen in California, not even excepting the famous one at the Sacramento Theater, “Othello relating his adventures.” It represents a villa in the distance, amidst a beautiful grove with a magnificent garden in the foreground, while the whole is enclosed in gorgeous and elegant drapery. It is superb. Mr. Crouse says that nearly all the scenery is now ready. There are one or two set pieces to be arranged, a bridge forty feet long and a cottage scene.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 27 1885

 

The Opening of the Athenaeum.

On Thursday, Secretary C. A. Wright, of the Athenaeum Company, signed a contract with Al. Hayman, the well known theatrical manager, of San Francisco, to lease our new opera house for three nights, viz; July 2d, 3d and 4th.

There will be presented on these evenings, on the 2d, “Michael Strogoff,” on the 3d, “Lights o’ London,” and on the 4th,the magnificent drama. “The Count of Monte Christo.” The Company of the Baldwin Theater will present the plays, and they will be put on the stage in the best manner possible. The scenery will be superb, all most all new. Mr. Hayman has pledged himself to make the opening a credit to the handsome building, and to sustain the enviable reputation his company has gained. It will all be first class in every particular. The orchestra will consist of seven or eight accomplished musicians.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 27 1885

 

A WORD WITH YOU.

We hate to give advice and absolutely won’t scold, but we wish to say to you that this is a good time to kill the idle street talk we hear about one building being unsafe, and another one just ready to topple over, that the town is overgrown, the land given out, and the bugs have taken the country. In point of fact the croaker is the bug that is doing the most harm just now. His idle talk reminds us of an incident which came under our observation. A plant was growing vigorously in a garden. It was thoroughly in sympathy with the soil in which it grew and the air with which it stretched its limbs, but its young and tender branches were covered with the aphide, a pestiferous parasite that mars the beauty while it sucks the life of the plant upon which it feeds.

Fears were expressed to an old gardener that the “bugs” would kill the plant. “O no,” said he, “it will outgrow those little fellows.”

So will Santa Rosa outgrow the little fellows who go whining about the streets. If none of them die until they are killed by the falling of Athenaeum, or the new Court House, they will survive a hundred years, which would be a greater misfortune to the city than the fall of both those substantial and elegant structures.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 4 1885

 

THE TEMPLE OF ATHAENE
Brilliant Opening of Santa Rosa’s Beautiful Opera House

The youth, beauty and fashion of our fair city were out in force at the opening of the Athenaeum on Thursday evening. It must have been the greatest pleasure imaginable to those of our enterprising citizens who took such a leading part in the construction of the beautiful temple of the muses to hear the exclamations of unfeigned delight which fell almost unconsciously from the lips of nearly all present, most of whom had not seen the interior of the building since the work of ornamentation had begun. The comfortable opera chair, the pleasant Mezzanine and elegant proscenium boxes and the superb decorations on every hand.

THE ATTENDANCE.

Was a pleasing surprise to all. Over one half of the seating capacity was occupied, and we noticed in prominent parts of the foyer representatives of every leading interest in our city, and in the dress circle, parquette and boxes the elegant toilets of our pride, Santa Rosa’s fair ones, lent an air most charming to the most novel and really pleasant scene ever witnessed in the “City of Roses” not less than five hundred persons were present, the gallery was about half filled, and the lower portion more than half filled. The gallery was of anything the most sedate portion of the house.

It was 8:15 when Prof. S. L. Parks’ orchestra gave “a preliminary toot or two,” and then began the first overture, and at its close, B. M. Spencer appeared and introduced Mr. Al. Hayman, who spoke in glowing tones of this new building and referred in eloquent terms to the enterprise of those who built this temple to the muses. He then introduced Miss Phoebe Davies, who read the following prologue:

THE OPENING OF THE ATHENAEUM.
INVOCATION.

[..]

All was enthusiasm. The prologue was read before a scene carefully prepared, and as Miss Davies left the scene, the beautiful drop curtain fell, and was displayed to an audience for the first time. Miss Davies was heartily applauded, and the curtain was the signal for another burst of enthusiasm.

[..]

NOTES.

It was the first time Don Mills’ mule ever greeted an audience.

Sosman & Landers of Chicago painted and prepared the scenery which every one so much admired, and it was mounted by C. M. Crouse, one of the most experienced in the United States, and who was brought here by the Athenaeum Company especially to fit up this stage. He had done his work in the most satisfactory possible.

The drop curtain was designed and painted by a special artist employed by Sosman & Landers, and who devotes his entire time to this class of work. His name is Thomas Moses.

An important feature is the nickel plated gas stand, by means of which the gas in any part of the building can be readily regulated. It was made by H. C. Hickey of Chicago.

The lights are perfection. The huge sun-burner in the center of the ceiling and the numerous side lights illuminate the auditorium perfectly.

Let us whisper to the timid, if any such are left, that each of the seven iron columns under the gallery will support a weight equal to two hundred tons, or fourteen hundred tons in the aggregate. General John A. Brewster says so, and he knows. This is independent of all support from the roof.

Mr. Hayman says we can say for him that we have the prettiest and most commodios [sic] theater in the State outside of San Francisco, and that it is perfect in all its appointments.

The acoustic properties of the building are excellent. Each line was as distinctly heard as could be. There is no difficulty in hearing at all in any part of the building. It is a credit to the architect and contractor, T. J. Ludwig.

The painting and graining by C. M. Bumbaugh, is the best in Santa Rosa.

The drapery about the boxes is splendid and is the work of Doubleday Bros.

We must give credit to Mr. Lyons, who has been the foreman of the construction ever since the foundation was laid, for the evident excellence of his work.

The opening was a brilliant success, and to the Board of Directors and officers…we extend the congratulations and thanks of this entire community.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 11 1885

 

The Athenaeum.

Arrangements were completed on Monday to have a sectional floor put in the Athenaeum, so that balls and parties can be given in the main room. This will make a floor of 100×50, and will contain no seats. It will be completed by New Year’s eve, and has been engaged by the Knights of Pythias for that occasion.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 5 1885

 

New Enterprise.

Mr. O. Howell signed a five years’ lease with the managers of the Athenaeum Saturday morning, for the large storeroom under the west half of the theater, where he will open a central market. It is Mr. Howell’s intention to supply a want long felt, viz: a place where the housewife can do her morning marketing in the one store, or as it should more properly be called, the market. There will be the grocery department, butcher’s stalls, greengrocer’s stalls, fresh fish and oyster department, flour and feed department, poultry and game department and lunch counter, where the farmers and their families, when in town over the dinner hour, can partake of a lunch without the expense of the restaurants and hotels. This market will not only be a great success to its projector, but will be hailed as a solution to the problem of the housewife and busy husband, “What shall I get for dinner?” or supper, as the case may be. Many a lady dreads the Saturday’s marketing, because she knows that she will perhaps have to walk over the whole town before completing her purchases, but when the new central market is opened it will be different; she may do all of her marketing in the one building, and her purchases will be delivered at the same time. Mr. Howell has undertaken no small job in consummating his plans to a successful issue, and he appreciates his situation and enters into it with the determination of making it one of the successful and useful institutions of Santa Rosa.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 18 1886

 

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