Almost as if it were relieved to rest after a long journey, the Fountain Grove Winery sherry house gave little resistance when the jaws of an excavator grasped its graffiti-covered west wall and gave a mighty jerk.
The masonry wall crashed to the ground with a thunderous boom Thursday, sending a cloud of fine dust billowing upward before settling on the nearby oak trees and overgrown blackberry bushes.
Demolition crews have been making quick work of the historic former winery site, which the city of Santa Rosa ordered torn down after the latest fire made it clear the long-abandoned stone, brick and redwood buildings had become a public hazard.
The city issued a demolition permit to property owner Medtronic last month, and workers from the Santa Rosa-based Daniel O. Davis Inc. have been tearing down walls and separating materials for recycling ever since.
The main winery building, built in 1888, came down earlier this month. It didn’t need much coaxing, said Dustin Davis, owner of the demolition company.
“It was pretty fragile,” Davis said. “The fact that any of it was still standing there was pretty amazing.”
The original winery was founded in 1882 on 2,000 acres north of Santa Rosa by Thomas Lake Harris, the leader of the influential utopian community Brotherhood of the New Life. The winery ceased operations in the early 1940s after the death of the community’s second leader, Kanaye Nagasawa, and has sat neglected ever since.
In recent decades, the site had become a magnet for people looking to party, hone their graffiti skills, or just explore the surreal scene of a crumbling, roofless winery with intact barrels in a field beside high-tech offices and modern apartment complexes.
Aware of the property’s historical significance, Medtronic has worked hard to make sure as much of the material from the site as possible is reused, said Erik Kunz, Medtronic’s director of facilities.
“Almost everything is being salvaged or recycled,” Kunz said.
The large redwood timbers, which are some of the most valuable materials, will be resold largely as-is to people interested in working with old lumber, Davis said.
The metal roofing and piping and other equipment will enter the scrap-metal stream, and much of the field stone and brick will be either resold or crushed into aggregate for use in roads or other projects, he said.
Much of the fieldstone or brick isn’t worth reselling as-is because it had paint on it from the elaborate and impressive graffiti murals that lined virtually every accessible surface of the building, Davis said.
Some materials were set aside specifically for groups that asked for some artifacts to be preserved from the site, Kunz said. A large curved wooden cellar door was donated to the Sonoma County History Museum for an upcoming Fountaingrove exhibit, he said.
And some bricks, oak staves, windows and redwood lumber were made available to the nearby Paradise Ridge Winery.
Sonia Byck-Barwick, whose parents founded Paradise Ridge in 1994, said she sought out the materials for inclusion in a new tasting area and upgrade to an exhibit at the winery on the life of Nagasawa, the Japanese man behind a winery that by the turn of the century was producing 10 percent of all wines in California.