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LeBaron: If those old stone walls could talk

  • St Rose Church, built in 1900, is the oldest of the unique stone buildings in Santa Rosa. The steeple was removed in the 1960s.

]It was a pretty standard news story that appeared on the front page last month — about plans for the restoration of a historic church. But there is a domino effect to such current events. The story of St. Rose Church can't be told without mention of the consortium of the skilled stonemasons who accounted for many of the historic buildings in Santa Rosa and around Sonoma County. Nor can we fully understand their art without knowing about the quarries and the unique stone deposits that lie beneath our land.

That's the way it goes — one account of future plans for bringing back a landmark and, before you know it, you're in prehistoric times.

Or, as the late Paul Harvey, radio's sonorous teller of tales, liked to say: "And now, for the rest of the story."

ST. ROSE Catholic Church on B Street, its stone peaks pointed toward heaven, was the first of several buildings that have stood for a century and more in tribute to the skills of a quartet of immigrants from Northern Italy who changed the face of early Santa Rosa.

In 1900, when the church building was constructed of rough-cut stone from the quarry owned by Mark McDonald and his brother James near the present-day Spring Lake, the town was less than 50 years old. There were the elegant dwellings on "Colonel" McDonald's avenue, but the business buildings were probably somewhat ramshackle, if you looked closely.

Peter Maroni and his fellow craftsmen, Natale Forni, Massimo Galeazzi and Angelo Sodini brought an old-country masonry skill with them from Tuscany. They knew how to assemble sturdy and picturesque buildings from native stone.

In the first decade of the 20th century the four of them, taking turns as contractor, built not only St. Rose but also the Western Hotel, the railroad station, the Railway Express Office (now A'Roma Roasters coffeehouse) and La Rose Hotel, all clustered around the railroad tracks and the cannery in a bustling district of immigrant business.

The four worked together twice on the Carnegie Library "uptown" at Fourth and E streets, once to build it and then to repair it after the '06 quake.

(It is interesting to note that the pre-earthquake buildings, like the church, the Western and the library are all survivors of that quake that destroyed the downtown. They were damaged but fixable.)


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