Historic downtown Petaluma building listed for nearly $5 million

The three-story Italianate-style Mutual Relief building at 25 Western Ave. is a local landmark.|

A landmark building on the corner of Western Avenue and Kentucky Street in downtown Petaluma went on the market earlier this month for just under $5 million.

The historic three-story structure known as the Mutual Relief building – easily identified by its ornate Italianate-style facade and old-fashioned Coca-Cola mural on one side – was listed for sale by David and Erika Rendino of RE/MAX Marketplace on March 22, with an asking price of $4,995,000.

According to the listing, the 11,752-square-foot mixed-use building was designed by renowned Bay Area architect John M. Curtis and built in 1885. Its first floor is home to the Ava Lane Hairdressing salon, the second floor “is currently leased to residential tenants on a month-to-month basis,” and the third floor “is minimally occupied and ready for value-add opportunities such as high-density office space.”

Also, “This building features a grand staircase leading to the upper floors, a 1,500-square-foot ballroom with soaring ceilings, built-in glass cabinetry, faux metal ceiling, fireplace, a walk-in bank vault and hardwood floors throughout,” the listing reads.

All current leases will be protected with the sale of the building, said David Rendino.

What further distinguishes this building is the developed central bay window with complex layers of ornamentation, including columns painted in faux marble, the Rendino team said.

Aside from its eye-popping architecture, the building’s most notable outward feature is its Coca-Cola sign on a brick wall of the building’s south-facing side. Painted in 1942 by Lew Barber, the sign itself was designated a landmark in 1977 – the entire building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places – and has been repainted several times.

As explained in a blog post by local historian Katherine Rinehart, the building was originally designed and built for the Mutual Relief Society, a community life insurance organization. Described as the “crowning glory of Western Avenue,” its architecture, inspired by the Italian Renaissance, was finished with cast-iron fronts provided by Pendergast’s Foundry of San Francisco, contributing to a “level of architectural integrity that is unmatched in California,” Rinehart writes.

Following the dissolution of the Mutual Relief Association in 1896, the building was sold to I.G. Wickersham for $12,000, and later sold to his future son-in-law, Thomas Maclay, in 1899 after Wickersham’s death. It was sold in 1997 for $425,000, according to records, and was last sold in 2017 for $2.9 million.

Among the earliest tenants of the building were the Petaluma Commercial College, attorney Dr. E. S. Lippitt, and a Wells Fargo Express office.

Curtis also designed courthouses in Glenn and Placer counties, halls of records and jails in Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz, and many other commercial, fraternal and residential structures, Rinehart writes.

Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at amelia.parreira@arguscourier.com or 707-521-5208.

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