Brainerd Jones


by Shawn Montoya

For all of us who have traveled through the many cities and traversed the country roads of Sonoma County, California, one cannot help but be struck by the diverse and rich architectural heritage of the area. There remains a vast number of buildings that are beautiful to see and, in most cases, still very functional. A major contributor to this woven historic fabric that stretches as far north as Cloverdale and all the way south to Petaluma is a relatively unknown architect - Brainerd Jones.

Following the death of his father, Jones moved with his mother to Petaluma in 1875 at the age of six. He expressed his aptitude for drawing at an early age. As a young man he entered and won drawing contests at local fairs. He also took drafting classes in Petaluma before leaving the town to work for the office of McDougall Brothers, a prominent architectural firm in San Francisco. Jones returned to Petaluma and opened his own office in 1900 where he continued to practice until his death in 1945. This move proved to be very strategic (or very lucky) for this was the beginning of a boom period in Petaluma.

Brainerd Jones is probably best known for his designs of three Carnegie libraries in Sonoma County, two of which still remain and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Jones also has seven other buildings which he contributed to and are on the National Register. Anyone who has attempted to list a property on the National Register knows this is no easy task. But to have nine buildings, all of which were selected on their own merit and not because Jones was a "star" architect like Frank Lloyd Wright or Julia Morgan, is truly impressive.

The significance of his contribution to the buildings and the appearance of downtown Petaluma cannot be overstated. Many buildings of different styles are still standing today and are partially responsible for the downtown being a Nationally Registered District. There are at least eight buildings designed by Jones which are contributors to the District.

In Santa Rosa, Jones also designed many significant buildings including the now destroyed Exchange Bank, the Saturday Afternoon Club, the Lumsden House, and the Oates-Comstock House.

His significant residential building in Petaluma includes the Byce House, used for the filming of Peggy Sue Got Married; the Reynaud House, which for many years was attributed to Julia Morgan; as well as four beautiful brick homes in the D Street area.

A few examples of significant commercial buildings are the 1917 Petaluma and Santa Rosa Electric Railway Depot (now the West County Museum) in Sebastopol, the 1922 addition to the C.C. Silk Mill in Petaluma, the 1911 portion of the McNear Building in Petaluma, the 1920 Petaluma Post Office (now a retail store), and the 1922 Petaluma Golf and Country Club Clubhouse.

Though Jones is not known for any particular style of architecture, like other American architects of his time (e.g., Julia Morgan, Greene and Greene, or Bernard Maybeck), he was adept at many different styles. This is particularly evident when looking at some of his work in a two block area in the downtown area of Petaluma. First, there is the 1904 Neo-Classical Revival Carnegie Library (now the Petaluma Historical Museum, pictured at left) on the corner of Fourth and B Streets. On the same block, just behind the library, is the 1911 Greek Revival Lincoln Primary School (currently the Petaluma School Administration Building). And just up the street at 518 B Street is the 1913 Craftsman Style Petaluma Women's Club. Jones entered and won a design competition over the well known Julia Morgan for this commission.

Jones was also very versatile in the types of buildings (there are schools, clubhouses, office buildings, post offices, fraternal halls, churches, and a firehouse, as well as numerous homes of different styles) and construction techniques. For example, some of this turn of the century buildings featured the use of steel beams, a very innovative technique at the time.

So the next time you see a building in Sonoma County, no matter what the style, if it is handsomely designed and looks like it is built to last, there is a good chance that it is a Brainerd Jones design!

If anyone has any information they would like to share about the life or works of Brainerd Jones, please contact Shawn Montoya at 707 763-8006.

Take the tour of historic downtown Petaluma