WHAT MAKES A TOWN
By Michael Haran
Published Healdsburg Tribune May 1, 2008
This year, the American Association of University Women’s 18th Annual Healdsburg Historic Homes Tour features five unique and distinctive homes. This walking tour raises money for the AAUW’s scholarship and public school funds.
The homes chosen each year are examples of the town’s diverse architectural heritage, the characteristics of which are what make Healdsburg such a great place to live. From our earliest settlers to about a dozen new homes which have been built over the past year, Healdsburg’s detached single family dwellings reflect, as much as anything, our town’s evolution from squatters to ultra modern living in “smart” homes that can practically clean themselves.
In Hanna Clayborn’s “History of Healdsburg,” and “Adaptation from the Healdsburg Cultural Resource Survey,” she talks about Healdsburg’s early architecture. Most of the early cabins and houses around Healdsburg were modest structures often “designed” and built by amateur carpenters. In the tradition of the “first come first buy” American frontier, no section of town was set aside for business or public purposes. Residences lined the main street and clustered in the downtown area on the east and south sides of the Plaza.
According to one observer, T.F. Cronise in 1867, the majority of Healdsburg residents came from the southern United States and the then “southwestern” states including Missouri (where the Healds came from), Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Their origin, he noted, is “indicated not more by the peculiarities of their manners than the style of their houses, most of which have huge chimneys built outside, after the custom of their early houses”. Cronise noticed the difference of Healdsburg’s early architectural style from the norm in California which was overwhelmingly Yankee.
Although most of Healdsburg’s early homes were copied from folk designs or later, catalog designs, there was a time in the early 1870’s when Healdsburg had a resident architect named William Henry Middleton. Middleton’s most notable building still standing is the elegant Italianate at 211 North Street, now know as the Camellia Inn.
The first Euro-American settlers built cabins of split-log redwood. After the first sawmill was built, the first permanent structures were made of adobe, utilizing native clay and local Indian labor. Between 1840 and 1848 three adobe structures were built. All of these homes were either destroyed or damaged in the 1906 earthquake, with the exception of an adobe outbuilding which has been recently restored and still stands at 8644 Highway 128.
In the 1850s, most of the new homes were simple wood frame “homestead” style structures. Most were single-story, single-gable structures built to house the settlers, most of whom didn’t have families. An example of an early (1853) homestead still stands at 239 Center Street. In the 1850s and 1860s these homestead style houses became larger to accommodate families and became easier to build because of sawn lumber and massed produced nails. Examples of basic later homestead houses are at 815 Johnson Street, 317 Tucker Street and 414 North Street. A couple of larger homesteads can be seen at 230 Center Street, and 340 East Street.
Between 1870 and 1880 (know as the late settlement era), the prosperity of Healdsburg’s agriculture and businesses prompted a more elaborate architecture. Several large Italianate homes, which were probably based on architectural plan books, were built. Examples of these Italianates can be seen at the aforementioned 211 North Street., 619 Johnson Street., and 14891 and 14851 Grove Street. Toward the end of the 19th century, the eastern influenced Queen Anne style homes were being built in Healdsburg. An exemplary Queen Anne mansion is the SwisherMansion at 642 Johnson Street, and the Queen Ann cottage at 403 Matheson Street. Many of the late Queen Annes were built between 1890 and 1910 including one at 423 Matheson Street.
Between 1900 and 1925, two styles of bungalows, the California and the Craftsman, reflected the movement away from the excesses or the ornate Victorian architecture. Both provided housing for the growing middle class population, superseding the function of the Queen Anne cottage, and which integrated indoor and outdoor living spaces with the use of sleeping porches and natural woods. The more prevalent Craftsman homes, with their broad-based pillars, overhanging eaves, and exposed beams, made use of somewhat more prominent design features than the simpler bungalows. An exemplary Craftsman bungalow can be seen at 439 Matheson Street. A California style can be seen at 214 Center Street.
By the mid 1920s Prohibition brought on a severe depression in the local hop and vineyard industries which curtailed residential construction in Healdsburg until after World War II. Accordingly, only a few Prairie style homes (popular in the San FranciscoBay area) and Vernacular cottages (primarily FitchMountain summer homes) were built in Healdsburg. Examples of the Prairie style of architecture can be found at 744 Healdsburg Avenue, and the Vernacular cottage style can be found at 1610 and 1616 S, Fitch Mountain Road. Some Mediterranean and Spanish or Mission style homes were built in Healdsburg between 1930 and 1945.
After WWII, Healdsburg participated in the economic boom times the rest of the nation was enjoying. One of the town’s 1950s developments was the Rose, Josephine, and Florence Street subdivision off Powell Street. These homes were the forerunners of the California ranch style homes which were to be built into the 1960s, 70s, and 80s throughout California. Built at the same time were the ultra modern or futuristic designs favored by Frank Lloyd Wright and which are similar to the Eichler Homes (the Terra Linda area of San Rafael was built by Eichler) that feature floor to ceiling glass, interior atriums and radiant floor heating.
Although sharing some of the same design features of the 1950’s ranchers such as low-pitched roofs, the Eichlers were more upscale for their time. They were built when home energy was cheap (can you believe $15 per month PG&E bills) and are notoriously non-energy efficient. Unless retrofitted, they leak heat like sieves. Healdsburg is fortunate to have its very own Frank Lloyd Wright designed home which is located at 550 Tucker Street. The home at 323 Matheson was built in 1954 and reflects the one of the best example of the post-modernistic style in Healdsburg. Other example can be seen at 426 Fitch Street, 316 North Street and 204 Solar Way.
Although many new homes are being built in a modified California Bungalow style futuristic home are still being built. Two prime examples can be found in the Parkland Farms subdivision at 260 Clear Ridge Drive and especially at 1591 Clear Ridge Drive.
Out of the 1983 Healdsburg Cultural Resource Survey came a change to the town’s approach to its architectural heritage. An historic district was established in two neighborhoods. One is along both sides of Johnson Street between Piper Street and Powell Avenue; and the other is along both sides of Matheson Street between East and First Streets. The Historic District designation may be applied to areas of the city that are of historic significance or contain historic structures in order to preserve, maintain and enhance their historic integrity. The historic designation doesn’t limit structure inclusion by date and, as such, could include the oldest and/or newest if the City Council deems the home to have significant historic qualities.
According to Lynn Goldberg, a senior planner at Healdsburg’s Community Development Center, most of the new people who are buying historic homes are doing so because that’s what attracted them to Healdsburg in the first place. It was the town’s “old timers” that had a problem with the new historic districts. This had more to do with America’s “traditional property rights” than anything else. But once they saw the value, most soon came around and supported these districts and designations.
Up until 1992, Healdsburg had a separate design review board which was responsible for reviewing the historical integrity of any dwelling whose owner had applied for either a permit for new construction, demolition, or an alteration which would increase the structure’s floor area by more than 25%. When the design board was eliminated, two additional positions were added to the town’s Planning Commission. The people filling these positions were supposed to have knowledge of architectural design such as architects and/or contractors.
The AAUW’s annual tour not only raises money for two great causes but also transports participants back in time. Imagine walking Healdsburg’s streets seventy-five, a hundred or even one hundred and fifty years ago. Amazing! It’s our architectural heritage from all eras that defines who we are, adds to the quality of life that we enjoy and contributes to what makes this town our town.