Sea Ranch Lodge tops list of Sonoma County’s most beautiful buildings
Earlier this year, we asked Press Democrat readers to tell us, in their view, what are the ugliest, homeliest, least attractive buildings in Sonoma County. And they responded with some pretty strong opinions.
There is Santa Rosa Plaza mall (“hideous,” said one reader), the CVS Pharmacy building in Sebastopol (a “monstrosity,” another reader said), the Sonoma Cheese Factory building in Sonoma (likened to a “gas station bathroom” turned inside out) and even The Press Democrat building in Santa Rosa and printing plant in Rohnert Park (“looks like a prison building” and “needs a paint job”).
The most scathing critiques were reserved for Santa Rosa City Hall (“so ugly you can’t even tell which side is the front or back” — ouch!), which got the most votes for ugliest of them all.
Because we highlighted what are viewed as our architectural dogs, we thought it only fair to also call attention to our gems. So we asked, what buildings in Sonoma County are the most beautiful?
The winner, in our online poll, is Sea Ranch Lodge, set in the Sea Ranch community that is a product of the environmental movement of the 1960s.
With unpainted redwood siding and sloping shed-style roofs, the 17-room lodge (restoration of the rooms is set to begin this fall) rests on 53 acres within the coastal community designed by a cadre of architects whose mantra was “living lightly on the land.”
Intended to be the antithesis of the so-called “Malibu wall” approach to dense, multistory seaside development, the Sea Ranch community runs for 10 miles and 7,000 acres along Highway 1 at the county’s northern reach, without lawns or fences and nothing but native vegetation.
The lodge captured 12 of the 46 nods by Press Democrat readers in our poll aimed at identifying the county’s best-loved buildings.
Santa Rosa architect Mark Quattrocchi said he was “delighted to see the lodge as a community favorite.” He had pegged it as “the least-known, yet among the best architecture in Sonoma County.
“Its timeless, unpretentious design makes it approachable to all,” said Quattrocchi, a Sea Ranch resident and local architect for 35 years.
Sea Ranch resident Rachel Schanding called the lodge “one of the most iconic buildings and an architectural destination worldwide.”
People are also voting for the Sea Ranch community, which shares the lodge’s aesthetic, with their wallets, buying homes there currently priced 41% higher than last year, with an average price of almost $1.5 million — on par with San Francisco and Santa Barbara and double the Sonoma County average, according to a Sonoma Magazine report.
“Guests and residents become stewards of the land with a mindedness to its preservation,” said Julie Cavanaugh, another Sea Ranch resident, about the community. “And it’s just plain fun to be there.”
In a meadow on a separate part of the Sea Ranch community rests a sacred structure, smaller than most granny units and open to the public from sunrise to sunset every day of the year.
Sea Ranch Chapel, fashioned from redwood in 1985 with stained glass windows and few straight lines, defies architectural classification.
“Organic, artistic, curvilinear. It really moves people,” said Jim Nybakken, vice president of the foundation that maintains the chapel.
The chapel, which got three votes in our poll, has guest book signatures of people from all over the world, he said. It can accommodate only 20 people.
“Beautiful sweeping lines, resembling a witch’s hat or something Robin Hood would have worn,” Stephanie Loney, a Sea Ranch resident, said about the little chapel.
Luther Burbank’s legacy
Sixty miles away in Santa Rosa and a century older, Luther Burbank’s Greenhouse garnered nine votes, finishing a close second in the architectural beauty contest.
Designed and built of brick and stepped glass roof panels by the famous horticulturist in 1889, the greenhouse stands next to Burbank’s Greek Revival home and near his grave beneath a cedar tree in the city park at the corner of Santa Rosa and Sonoma avenues.
“Unique, historic and lovely,” Amber Turner of Novato said of the greenhouse. “Emblematic of Sonoma County as the center of agriculture and as the economic driver of the region.”