Round barns are fast disappearing. This late 19th century architectural trend faded quickly, so a substantial number have succumbed to the ravages of time. The survivors are often historical landmarks, and in some cases, even tourist attractions.
Sonoma County has three good examples: Mount Weske, Fountaingrove and DeTurk.
Looking back at them through the past 50 years, it would seem that they take turns falling apart. Or being restored. Either way, it makes news.
It's the DeTurk Round Barn's turn to be in the spotlight — this time for the right reason.
Last week the Santa Rosa City Council contracted with GCCI Inc., a Santa Rosa construction firm, for a $2.1 million renovation that will breathe new life into the historic structure on Donahue Street, creating a space for weddings and limited community events.
The old barn was built in 1891 by pioneer winemaker and horse-breeder Isaac DeTurk as a stable for his trotters.
That was the same year that a San Francisco businessman named Adolph Weske, founder of the highly successful California Cracker Company, built his round stables, circled by a mile-and-quarter racetrack at Mount Weske, his country retreat, in the foothills east of 101. Weske's barn was much more elaborate than DeTurk's utilitarian building, with a walkway around the cupola on top so he could watch his horses on the track.
While DeTurk's barn is truly circular, Weske's is an octagon. Architectural historians consider both to be authentic examples of the round barn style, as is the most visible of the Sonoma County trio, the 16-sided Fountaingrove Round Barn.
On a slope beside the Fountaingrove Parkway on the northern edge of Santa Rosa, this last remaining building from the Utopian "Home Centre" of the Brotherhood of the New Life was built in 1899 when Kanaye Nagasawa, one of the first Japanese in the United States (who remains an historic figure in Japan) was managing the Fountain Grove Winery and its vineyards for the departed founder of the community, Thomas Lake Harris.
Nagasawa hired a well-known Santa Rosa carpenter named John Lindsey to construct the barn from plans drawn by the community's fanciful architect, who claimed to design the buildings to be "taken directly into the celestial sphere come the millennium."
The millennium has come and gone and the round barn still stands. The current owner is the same corporation that owns the Fountaingrove Inn. Manager Ken Murakami says that plans call for a catering extension of the inn. But high development costs and the economic downturn have stalled the project, although Murakami offers assurances that it is only delayed.
Meanwhile, the red barn has fallen into disrepair. At one point, when the hotels were new and the parkway was being built, the property owners at the time offered the barn to the city. The council declined the offer, and several years later, new owners, a couple from Germany, proposed a brewpub and beer garden on the site that never got beyond the proposal stage.
When the Fountaingrove Inn's project gets under way, care must be taken to preserve the plaque placed there in the 1990s, with appropriate speeches and Japanese dancers, dedicating the barn to Nagasawa, who ordered its construction.
There is now a full-fledged park up the hill named for Nagasawa. That's how important he is to our history. But the barn is what every freeway traveler sees, entering and leaving the town.