The story of St. Rose Church can&’t be told without mention of the skilled stonemasons who accounted for many of the historic buildings in Santa Rosa and around Sonoma County.

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]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.)

Sodini was the lead mason for the building on Westside Road that became Hop Kiln Winery. Galeazzi built his own hotel and boarding house on Sonoma Highway, which became known as the Stone House. Jack London chose Natale Forni, who had been the contractor on the railroad depot, to build the ambitious and elaborate Wolf House on his Glen Ellen Beauty Ranch, a triumph of stonework that was reduced to ruins by fire before it could be occupied.

There are historic stone buildings, by other masons, in both Healdsburg and Sonoma. Sonoma's City Hall in the Plaza and the former Pinelli Hardware building on First Street West are landmarks.

QUARRIES WERE COMMONPLACE in the late 19th century county. Deposits of a stone used for making paving blocks lay under the hills east of Petaluma and the ridges between Santa Rosa and Sonoma. Known to geologists as gray trachyte, it was and is commonly, albeit erroneously, called basalt.

Literally millions of flat-topped paving blocks (standard 4-by-6-by-8 inches, weighing 20 pounds each) were cut from the Sonoma County quarries to pave the early streets of San Francisco and Oakland. They were shipped first by barge down Petaluma Creek and across the bay and later by railroad. Some say they even paved the streets of port cities in the mysterious Orient, used as ballast for the return voyages of the China clippers. (The blocks are often called cobblestones, which is wrong. Cobblestones have rounded tops.)

In Sonoma, the Schocken Quarry in the hills behind the Mission was the largest of several in a Sonoma Valley industry employing more than 300 people in the 1890s.

A turn-of-the-century California State Mining Bureau publication lists 35 quarries in Sonoma County. Remains of the industry still can be found in the hills, including Howarth Park and Annadel State Park where the pits of the Wymore Quarry, created when sheets of stone were dynamited out of the hillside, can be inspected by curious hikers. Those who brave the misnamed Cobblestone Trail are on a steep route that was once a funicular railway (cars filled with blocks coming down pulled the empty ones up) from the quarry to Melitta Station where the railcars were loaded for shipping.

THE QUARRIES, like the lumber camps to the north, provided a first job for immigrants from Europe and the British Isles. Irishmen, Swedes, Scots and Welshmen were the earliest blockmakers. But it was the arrival of young men from Northern Italy, beginning in the 1890s, that brought change to our architectural landscape.

These "paisani" came from Tuscany where quarrying is a way of life, where the mountains of marble above the towns of Massa and Carrara yielded the stone for Michelangelo's David and still produce a goodly portion of the world's marble.

Stone was something the immigrants understood, although many would recall the irony of leaving their homeland to escape the quarries and finding work in the same trade here. Still, they elevated blockmaking from entry level to skilled labor.

When I talked with Joe Catelani some 30 years ago, he told me about his father, Daniele, one of the blockmakers from Carrara who worked in the hills above Kenwood.

"Each one of the blockmakers was his own boss up there in quarries," Joe told me. "There were quarrymen and muckers and helpers, you know, but the blockmakers did their own drilling and blasting."

It was a dangerous business. Lives and limbs were lost in blasting accidents. Anselmo Baldi, who built the grocery store at Melitta Corners and later owned a landmark grocery at the corner of Middle Rincon Road and Sonoma Highway, was propelled into storekeeping by a quarry injury.

While most of the quarries were company-owned, some of the blockmakers were independent contractors who were represented by their enterprising countryman, Natale Bacigalupi, who brokered the stone to San Francisco pavers and sold the spolls (chips left from the blocks) to Southern Pacific for beds of the railroad tracks.

The stonemasons, like the blockmakers, were an independent lot as well. Some had their own quarries. About 20 years ago, Maroni's great-grandson, Mike Capitani, found the slab of stone with the name and date (1907) of Maroni's "Titania" quarry on land that is now Hampton Woods subdivision on Santa Rosa Creek. Galeazzi's quarry was behind his Stone House on the hill.

New paving systems like macadam and asphalt — much easier on the new horseless carriages — ended the demand for paving blocks, and, soon enough, the quarries closed forever.

FOR THE OLD STONE St. Rose of Lima Church, closed, used for storage these past decades, there is promise of new life.

When a new wing was built in the 1960s, veering northwest from the original marble altar, worshippers could choose old or new while the officiating priests would say Mass from odd angles to accommodate both. Then concerns about structural safety closed the old church and for 22 years it has been locked and all but forgotten.

Sitting in the cool of the old building on a hot afternoon last week, Father Denis O'Sullivan, St. Rose's pastor for 32 years, expressed his regrets.

"I feel bad," he said, "that it's sat for 22 years. That's a whole generation."

The parish, he explained, had to build a school when the existing school building was deemed unsafe. And the old school structure had to be refitted as a meeting and events place.

And the congregation was changing. The old Italian majority who had built the church and dominated the congregation for two or three generations were being supplanted by a fast-growing Latino community. Currently, said Fr. O'Sullivan, three of the seven Masses each weekend are said in Spanish.

But now the parishioners have sent a clear message, the priest said, that "Now it's time!"

The fundraising has begun. It will take an estimated $2.6 million "finished out," said Fr. O'Sullivan, $1.4 million for the first phase, which includes replacing wood columns with steel, carefully encased in the same wood to keep the original look.

It will be a gift, he says, to the community as well as the parish.

Indeed, a gift of history. Standing in the old church last week, I swear I could hear echoes of the masons' mallets and the chink of the hammer on the blockmakers' chisels.

And that's only a part of the story.