ST. ROSE CHURCH STORY IS GROUNDED IN QUARRY HISTORY
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 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 businesses.
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 1906 quake. (It is interesting to note that the pre-earthquake buildings, like the church, the Western and the library, all are 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 boardinghouse 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 once was 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.