Introductory Video Narrated by Peter Coyote
James Knox Taylor: The National Architect
The Santa Rosa Post Office and Federal Building was designed by James Knox Taylor, Supervising Architect for the US Treasury Department. Taylor was known as “The National Architect,” due to his efforts to improve federal buildings across the country, with designs that were compatible with the building’s surrounding environment, rather than imposing a grand federal-scale design.
From Design to Reality (1906-1910)
Congress introduced a bill to construct the Post Office on March 9, 1906 and passed the bill on June 28, following the 1906 earthquake that devastated Santa Rosa on April 18th. The Post Office became part of the Santa Rosa rebuilding effort and was the city’s first federal building. Constructed by the local Hoyt Brothers contracting firm of Santa Rosa, the building is a great example of Roman Renaissance Revival, with limestone columns and Spanish terra cotta tile roofing, a style that was popular in California at the time. The cost, when completed, was approximately $60,000, or 31 cents per cubic foot.
The Old Post Office
Postal employees, including Postmaster H.L. Tripp, moved into their new post office on March 9, 1910. The actual move took place at night, after the distribution of the evening mail, as to not disrupt postal delivery. Tripp and about a dozen postal carriers served the city, which at the time had a population of less than 10,000. The postal workers were given use of the first floor, with the Internal Revenue Offices upstairs.
The building featured an automatic oil burning plant to operate a hot water heating apparatus, the first system of its type in California. This system, which provided instant hot water in the lavatories and showers, was made public in the Bay Area years later at the 1915 Exposition in San Francisco. Upstairs in the attic, were secret viewing corridors, accessible by a series of shafts and ladders, that allowed the Postmaster to perform routine inspections without being seen.
In 1967, after postal services moved to the new Santa Rosa Post Office on 2nd Street, the building was sold to the County of Sonoma and was used as a data processing center for the school district. Following a major earthquake in 1969, the building found itself on the list of structures to be demolished as a part of the Santa Rosa Urban Renewal Agency’s plan for a regional shopping center. Historian Gaye LeBaron recalled the destruction of the earthquake and the clearing of buildings to make way for the mall, stating, "One building stood alone on the northern edge of this wasteland, a majestic building with four stone columns."
National Register of Historic Places
In April 1974, Santa Rosa architect Dan Peterson nominated the Post Office to the National Register of Historic Places, citing the integrity of the structure, its renowned architect, and stating that it “represented the pride the community had for its high quality craftsmanship by local people.” California State officials recommended the nomination, placing it on the Register and saving it from demolition. However, one problem remained- they still needed to clear the way for the mall.
Museum on the Move
In 1979, a team led by Dan Peterson took on the impossible task of rolling the 1,700-ton building two blocks, from 5th to 7th Street, adopting the slogan, “They said it couldn’t be done!” By raising the structure and using a bed of rails and a network of pulleys and cables, they rolled the building several inches per day. 800 feet and 75 days later, the Post Office was successfully relocated to its new home on 7th Street. Following the move was an expansion and remodel to convert the Post Office to a museum, which included the addition of the basement and mezzanine. With the support of the Sonoma County Bicentennial Commission, Sonoma County Historical Society, and the community, the Sonoma County Museum officially opened its doors on January 12, 1985.
Today, over 110 years after the construction of the Post Office, thousands of locals and tourists can enjoy the architecture and the changing art and history exhibitions presented by the Museum. As times change, the building, an achievement of a community’s rebuilding efforts, continues to be a symbol of Sonoma County’s resilient spirit.
Explore the historic Santa Rosa Post Office Building on our new self-guided tour! Launch the 360 viewer by clicking the image below and follow the map below for fun facts about the building.
Main gallery inaccessible for 360 tour. Images captured July 2019 during the exhibition "Grass Roots: Cannabis from Prohibition to Prescription." 360 views generously provided by Threshold360 and Sonoma County Tourism.
The front of the building features granite steps, leading up to the terrazzo floor. The four Indiana Bedford Limestone columns are topped with a composite style cap. The pendant light fixture and the iron light fixtures flanking the building were made to operate on both gas and electricity.
The first floor was used by the postal workers. The public lobby extended into the gift shop. The floors are terrazzo with marble dividers and borders. In the doorways between the lobby and main gallery area (the workroom), were the counters.
The chandeliers are not original to the post office; they are from the now demolished Poulsen Building, which once neighbored the post office on A St. While the black radiators along the wall are no longer functioning, the building did have an automatic oil burning plant to operate a hot water heating apparatus, the first system of its type in California! This system was made public in the Bay Area at the 1915 Exposition in San Francisco. The system provided instant hot water in the lavatories and showers. The lobby is ornamented with plaster friezes, pilasters, and ceiling molds.
The workroom occupied the center portion of the first floor and was two-stories high (same as the lobby) as the mezzanine was not added until the 1980s remodel.
4. Assistant Postmaster and Superintendent of Mail’s Private Office
5. Postmaster’s Private Office and Toilet Room
The Postmaster’s office (now a kitchen), featured a private toilet room, vault, and a ladder to access the secret viewing corridor in the attic (see 9 for more). No public access.
6. Money Order and Registry Department
7. Toilet Room
All of the original toilet rooms have terrazzo floors and marble wainscoting.
The main stair is an open-well boxed stringer with a “U” shaped plan. The newel post, railing, and turned baluster members are oak, stained and varnished. The bottom treads are curved in a bullnose fashion. The office at the top of the stairs was added in 1927.
9. Secret Viewing Corridors and Attic
At the top of the stairs is a door to the boardwalk and the secret viewing corridors in the attic. A series of shafts and ladders allowed the Postmaster or Postal Inspector to perform routine inspections without being seen. The attic also features a steep staircase to the roof of the building, allowing access to the flagpole that was installed on the ridge. No public access.
10. Internal Revenue Service Offices
The west offices were for the Deputy Collector of the IRS. Along the west wall was a toilet room. From outside, you can see a small window between the two larger windows (image below). This is where the toilet room was. It was covered to allow for more wall space.
The mezzanine, back staircase, and elevator were added in the 1980s, when the building was renovated for the museum. When facing the elevator, you’ll notice the top of the large window to the right, that extends from the first floor. The symmetrical window on the left is missing. This window was covered in the early 2000s. The wall and metal supports can be seen from outside.
12. Store Room
Storage area. The entire east side of the second floor is now office space for museum staff. No public access.
13. Swing Room
Lounge area for postal workers, connected by a staircase from the downstairs workroom. This area was also visible from the secret viewing corridors.
14. Toilet Room with Showers
Postal workers enjoyed instant hot water in the lavatories and showers, thanks to the hot water heating apparatus, powered by an automatic oil burning plant.
The mission of the Museum of Sonoma County is to engage and inspire our diverse community with art and history exhibitions, collections, and public programs that are inclusive, educational, and relevant.