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Santa Rosa’s oldest wooden house is demolished after years of neglect

After years of deterioration and neglect, Santa Rosa's oldest wooden house has slipped away with hardly anyone noticing.

The remnants of the Hoag House, built in 1856, sat for more than two decades in a weed-choked field across from Trione-Annadel State Park after being moved a couple of times, including from its original downtown location along the banks of Santa Rosa Creek.

But what was left of the historic, fire-scarred structure was demolished and hauled away in a dump truck earlier this year after its current owner determined there was little left worth saving.

“It was trashed. It was all fallen apart. A pile of junk is about what it was,” said Dick Carlile, the retired civil engineer who was given the Hoag House after a local senior care business' plans to develop the surrounding site with a retirement community and interpretive center fell through.

For history buffs and cultural preservationists, the demise of the Hoag House fits a pattern of neglect for Santa Rosa community landmarks that include the crumbling, circa 1838 Carrillo Adobe, and the imposing 1904 Carnegie stone library that was condemned and replaced by an unimaginative central library building in the 1960s.

“It's one of those touchstones with the past that for so many years we disregarded,” said historian and Press Democrat columnist Gaye LeBaron, and now “it's gone without so much as a farewell.”

Save for a couple of doors, its picket fence and some of the trimming, Carlile salvaged little of the original Carpenter Gothic style home, distinguished by its steeply pitched roof and gables, and gingerbread ornamentation.

But with the help of a historical architect, he spent time drafting a set of plans that will enable a replica of the Hoag House to be reconstructed - if a site can be found and if there is money to build it supplemented by donated materials and labor.

Those are big “ifs,” given that attempts to find a new site for the Hoag House have foundered for 35 years along with various plans to incorporate it into new development projects, or make it part of an interpretive center.

“The real key is to find a home. It's always been a problem child,” Carlile said.

Carlile is talking to city parks officials about the prospect of building a replica of the Hoag House in Juilliard Park. The city would have to amend its parks master plan, subject the proposal to public hearings and be convinced it is viable.

“I value our city's history, and the Hoag House is a big part of that,” Mayor Chris Coursey said. “I'm certainly interested in hearing about any plans to preserve it.”

Beginnings, failed moves

Built by carpenter Charlie White when Santa Rosa was barely 2 years old, the house was purchased in 1875 by Obediah Hoag, who came to California by way of Cape Horn during the Gold Rush and served in the 1860s as a state assemblyman.

When he bought the house near First and B streets, Hoag was a lawyer living in Bloomfield, and was moving his family to Santa Rosa after being elected Sonoma County recorder and auditor.

Hoag and his wife, who came across the plains from Missouri in a covered wagon, had 11 children. Several of their sons and daughters never left the house.

That included two of the sisters, Lorena and Althea, who lived there into the 1960s.

The butterscotch-colored home festooned with wisteria was sometimes called the “Witch's Cottage” for its similarity to an illustration from Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm.

As the city changed around the house and urban redevelopment took hold with a Sears department store built across the street, a surviving niece of the Hoag sisters sold the property in 1982 to Home Federal Savings for construction of an office complex.

Preservationist architect Dan Peterson proposed moving the Hoag House to the city's old Corporation Yard next to the 1890s DeTurk Round Barn on Donahue Street, where he planned to restore it and make it a residence as part of a historic housing enclave.

Before he could get approval for the move, the boarded-up Hoag House, which had become a haven for street people, caught fire in 1983. Most of the seconstory burned and the rest was badly damaged. Peterson chastised the city for dragging its feet.

The next year, the historic structure was put on a flatbed truck and moved 10 blocks to the Corporation Yard. But Peterson's project never materialized amid a dispute with the city over responsibility for cleaning up underground oil and gasoline contamination there.

In 1995, the Hoag House was moved 7 miles to its final resting place off Channel Drive after Pacific Lifecare Corp. promised to restore it, converting it to an interpretive center as part of a senior citizen's development. But the project never went forward.

In 2004, Pacific Lifecare turned over ownership to its engineer, Carlile, and sold the property it sits on to Oakmont Senior Living, which plans a large housing project.

An engineer's dream

Carlile hoped to use what he could of the original structure to build a lookalike version of the Hoag House at the foot of Prince Memorial Greenway, close to the original site.

At one point, he obtained a building permit to go ahead, along with commitments from construction contractors to pitch in and help reduce the $200,000-to-$400,000 cost of the project.

But the recession took hold “and nobody could do anything” to contribute, Carlile said.

Then city officials nixed the plan to put it at the foot of the Greenway because they needed the space to make improvements to a children's play fountain and install a restroom.

Other ideas to put the Hoag House next to Luther Burbank's home, or in nearby “Spaghetti” Park along Sonoma Avenue, have come and gone.

So for the past 22 years, the Hoag House sat in a meadow encircled by a chain-link fence, overgrown brush and waist-high thistles, unprotected from the elements.

Architectural historians say that for all its significance as Santa Rosa's oldest surviving wood-framed house, it was treated horribly, with neither the city nor developers keeping promises to preserve it.

“Once the notion of moving it back into downtown didn't fly, it was doomed,“ LeBaron said, adding “you have to give (Carlile) credit for a good try. No one else wanted to.”

Carlile said this week he never intended to rebuild the existing structure because it was too far gone, but does want to do a complete reconstruction.

He demolished what remained because “I didn't want to have it here as a liability. It's been lingering too long,” he said standing in the clearing where the ruined Hoag House spent its final years.

Few people took note after the structure - partially obscured by high weeds but visible from Channel Drive - was removed around February.

“A few people asked ‘Hey, what did you guys do with the Hoag House?'” said state Parks Ranger Neal Fogarty, whose office is just down the road. “We didn't do anything with it,” was the reply, although he acknowledged it was disconcerting to realize it was gone.

Carlile said it was his decision to flatten and cart away the building and was not a result of pressure as Oakmont Senior Living's project comes closer to review.

He said only an ordinary demolition permit was required by the contractor he hired to do the work.

“I have all the permits to rebuild. That's the important thing,” Carlile said.

Santa Rosa Parks and Recreation Director Nanette Smejkal said there is still a chance a replica of the house could be built in Juilliard Park, or another city park, but there would have to be a funding proposal, a clear idea of what function it would serve and who would run it.

And she defended the city's record of retaining and restoring historic properties, including the DeTurk Round Barn, Luther Burbank's home and Church of One Tree. Smejkal said in addition to its history, a recreated Hoag House might serve as a concession stand or some other retail or rental facility. But it could take years before any such project got off the ground.

Mayor Coursey acknowledged as much.

“If it was easy, it would have been done by now,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 707-521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@clarkmas.

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