Give Santa Rosa credit: When it decided to destroy the downtown area, it did so thoroughly. In the late 1960s the town demolished all of its legacy public buildings including the Carnegie library (which was replaced only after considerable arm-twisting) and the county courthouse. Supposedly they were completely unsafe and ready to tumble down at the first quiver of a quake although there were little or no concerns before. County archivist Katherine Rinehart just came across blueprints from 1945 showing the county was even considering a third story addition to the courthouse.
Less mentioned is that the city hall building next to Courthouse Square was also torn down after Santa Rosa built the sprawling city complex on Santa Rosa Avenue in 1969. The new complex obliterated the site of Kabetciuwa, the most significant Pomo community in this area, so thus the town managed to score a two-fer in legacy destruction.
The old city hall represented the conclusion of post-1906 earthquake reconstruction. The original idea was for something much grander; in 1908 the city commissioned architect John Galen Howard to design a combined firehouse and city hall. His plans were in the Beaux Arts style much like the Empire Building, which he also created. For reasons never explained the project was abandoned; the firehouse remained at its previous location on Fifth street and the new city hall would be built at 210 Hinton (today part of the large bank building at 50 Old Courthouse Square).
Built in 1913, the place housed the city council chamber, police station, courtroom, jail, offices for the mayor, city clerk, tax collector, recorder, city attorney and street commissioner plus staff for all - it makes one wonder if they were sometimes sitting on each other's laps. The issue of crowding came up even before construction started, as some of the most prominent men in town met with City Council in a special session. There were more suitable vacant lots around downtown, they insisted, some almost twice as wide as the 40-foot city-owned lot where the building was planned. Sorry, said the mayor; we've already explored those options.
At least the lot was deep, and the Santa Rosa Republican provided a detailed description of the interior, transcribed below; a highlight is mention that the jail included "a 'hobo' room, furnished principally with cool walls and floor and opportunity for reflection."
The architect was Luther M. Turton, winning the contract over county courthouse designer J. W. Dolliver. I've long planned a thorough writeup of Turton as "Santa Rosa's other Luther;" he was a prolific architect all over the North Bay and particularly in Napa, where he was based (short bio here). Besides city hall, he also designed several Santa Rosa homes, schools and office buildings. For a number of years he had an office here in (what would become known as) the Empire Building.
Like his contemporary Brainerd Jones, his work was eclectic and personalized for each client - for our city hall, he even provided the office furniture. Fortunately, the Napa County Historical Society has hundreds of Turton architectural drawings including his blueprints for Santa Rosa city hall.
Santa Rosa City Hall in 1967, Photo by Don Meacham and courtesy Sonoma County Library.
One of the best designed, constructed and fitted building in Sonoma county is Santa Rosa's city hall, now nearing completion. It only remains to complete a small amount of finishing, install the lighting fixtures and put in place the furnishings.
The front facade presents a pleasing appearance, but the idea of utility at moderate cost is the object achieved. Abundance of light, superior ventilation, modern plumbing and heating have been provided and the arrangement of the interior is most excellent in all particulars.
The front rooms on the ground floor will be the office of the chief of police, provided with counter and steel lined vault, the public entrance being from the north corridor which runs the length of the building to the police cell room. A handsome private office is provided for the chief.
In the rear of this is the locker and rest room for the police force, containing seven conveniently appointed coat rooms for members of the patrol, and ample comforts for rest when off duty or on office detail.
Connecting with this room, next east is the City Recorder's court room, light, ample in size, provided with finely appointed lavatory, hot and cold water, porcelain washbasin. The court room will be handsomely furnished. Direct entrance to the open court at the south is provided as well as entrance from the closed corridor at the north end of room.
In the rear of the court room is a supply land storage room of large capacity.
The entire east end of ground floor is devoted to the cell room; abundantly lighted thoroughly ventilated and containing shower bath and every convenience permissible in a detention room. There are five cells each containing two steel framed cots affixed to the walls, which may be folded against the wall if desired. Each cell contains sanitary plumbing and every provision possible for making confinement less irksome; thoroughly conforming to the most modern prison standard.
Between this room and the storage room are a woman's cell, furnished as above and a "hobo" room, furnished principally with cool walls and floor and opportunity for reflection.
Throughout the building are convenient clothes closets provided with every convenience and sanitary luxury, all up-to-the-hour is character and style.
The floors throughout are of fibrestone, noiseless to the tread; the baseboards are all "coved" so that no lurking place for dirt or dust is found. The janitor's duties are lightened and the most sanitary result possible in office flooring is obtained.
The finish is mainly in oak and mahogany, some native woods in finish harmonizing with the remainder. The is [sic] rich and solid in appearance, classic in design and devoid of "gingerbread" ornaments; sensible and durable.
The north corridor and staircase are of oak, the wainscoting being of fibrestone. All walls of the main floor offices are tinted in a manner to soften and tone the light with most pleasing effect.
The main front room on the second floor is for the use of the city clerk and provided with steel lined vault, and all conveniences for both public and the official. A mail chute to the chief's office below permits the saving of many extra journeys up and down the stairs. An adjoining room for stenographers' use, etc., and convenient closets are provided.
The rooms at front end of corridor make a private office with ante room for the Mayor.
In rear of clerk's office are rooms for city attorney and street commissioner.
East of these office rooms is the council chamber, finely designed, handsomely fitted in oak and mahogany, light, airy, and with ample accommodation for the public as well as the city officials. The ceiling is ornamental in design and when the electric lights are turned on at sessions will present an artistic appearance.
On a dais in the southwest corner of the room "his honor" will be enthroned at a handsome mahogany desk, overlooking the scene from an eminence, as it were. Directly in front the city clerk's desk will be in direct connection with the mayor's--or within easy reach for the passing of documents. The councilmen will be seated at desks ranging in a quarter circle, the whole space being enclosed by a substantial parapet instead of openwork railing.
Wall seats line both north and east walls, giving ample and comfortable seating for more than fifty people. Flanking the clerk's desk there are desks for the press representatives.
The acoustic properties are good and it will be easy to hear the ordinary tones of conversation any place within the room. When the handsome furniture is in place it will be a "gem" in its way.
The east rooms are for the city engineer and city assessor, commodious, light, with large storage closets and all conveniences.
The whole building will be heated by the hot water system, the radiators being already in place and the plant ready for operation,
The most modern sanitary plumbing fixtures have been used throughout and there is no concealed work, all being exposed, easy of access for repairs, ornate to look upon and the best that can be found anywhere. Hot and cold water are supplied to all basins and there is no place for germs or filth to accumulate in any part of the building.
The upper corridor is abundantly lighted by three large skylights and vault light frames in the floor admit plenty of light to the lower corridor.
The best of materials and workmanship have been employed throughout and Architect Turton is more than pleased with the manner in which the contractors, Gallagher & Wygant, have carried out their agreement.
The city now possesses a commodious and handsomely equipped building and--it will be paid for in full when the contractors turn it over in a few days.
Mayor J. L. Mercier and Counclmen Pressley, Skaggs, Spooncer and Wolfe were present, when the meeting was called to order and Councilman Hail came In later.
President John Rinner and a number of the Directors and members of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce called on the Council. The object of the visit of the delegation was to present a protest against the building of a City Hall on the forty-foot lot on Exchange avenue [sic], if any other plan could be devised.
A number of the visitors spoke on the subject, Including President Rinner. Director Rosenberg and Messrs. J. P. Overton, E. L. Finley and C. H. Bane: and the Mayor and Councilmen Joined in the general discussion which followed.
The visitors voiced the opinion that the Hinton avenue lot was too small and confining for a suitable site for a public building; that the structure there would be lowered by the larger and more costly County Court House; that the same building erected in a lot giving ample room for a grass plot would make a far better showing; that an open lot for the building would give air and light, and at the same time remove danger of fire damage; that it might be possible to sell the present lot and purchase another better located and still have sufficient money from the sale to pay the additional expense on the building necessitated by having to furnish all four walls.
It was suggested that the Farmer property on Fourth street, adjoining the Library, 73 by 135 feet, be secured for the building with the possibility of purchase or condemnation of several adjoining lots through to Third street to give a pretty park which would end for the present the talk of bonding the city for park purposes and yet give a breathing place for the general public right In the heart of town.
Mayor Mercier explained that many months had been spent by the Council in studying the situation. An effort was made, he said, to secure a conference with the Board of Supervisors looking towards a trade of the city property for the county lot on the corner of Third street, but the Supervisors even refused to meet in conference to discuss the subject. Other sites had been discussed, but after all the matter came back to the old lot. An effort to get the Farmer property had even failed owing to the refusal of San Francisco heirs to agree to trade even for the present site.
After an informal agreement to sell the property, signed by E. C. Farmer, had been presented and filed with the Council, the subject was taken under advisement and the visitors departed.
The Council spent some time with Architect Tarton going over the proposed plans and specifications. These will shortly be In shape to submit to bidders, but meanwhile the Council will consider the matter presented by the protestants and decide upon some line of action.