Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mableton's Latest Changes

The floor plan illustrates the extent of additions and alterations made to the McDonald Mansion in the latest remodel:

            Main floor plan with latest remodel

Mableton’s Newest Plan: An Overview

1. Verandah

Both spatially and stylistically, Mableton’s verandah remains the most defining exterior feature of the house. Directly adjoining most of the public rooms, it provides a generous amount of covered outdoor living space and overlooks the grounds in three directions.

2. Entry Vestibule

Axially aligned with the main front entry stairs, this semi-enclosed area welcomes visitors at the front door and announces a processional sequence of public rooms within.

3. Main Hall

The most dramatic and spatially impressive of all Mableton’s rooms, the Main Hall’s design reflects the Stick/Eastlake style and detailing of the building’s exterior. Rising nearly two stories in height, its vertical proportions are in striking contrast to the predominantly horizontal lines seen outside. In the manner of a courtyard, with a skylight extending nearly its full length, it is the interior’s primary organizing element. When fully opened to the adjacent formal rooms, the Main Hall becomes the centerpiece of an expansive, interconnected sequence of public spaces.

4. Library

Conceived in the English tradition of grandly scaled private libraries, this book-lined room exploits its high ceiling with two levels. A cast iron spiral staircase ascends to a mezzanine-level “catwalk” and separate Map Room (situated directly above the Entry Vestibule).

5. Turkish Parlor

Recalling a Victorian era fashion for special-use areas such as “smoking rooms”, this whimsical space is designed to function as an informal reception room or private retreat. During the period, a homeowner’s status and sophistication were implied by a conspicuous display of souvenirs from worldly travels in an appropriately exotic setting.

6. Ladies’ Parlor

In homage to the period’s taste for gender-specific rooms, the décor of the Ladies’ Parlor reflects the popular historic association of lighter, French-inspired styles with “feminine” taste. The most intimately scaled of the public rooms, it also forges the closest relationship with outdoor living spaces.

6a. Hall/Powder Room/Closet

Extensions of the Ladies’ Parlor in décor, these centrally located conveniences also adjoin the Turkish Parlor.

6b. Service Pantry

Designed as a secondary outdoor entry vestibule, this space connects both the Ladies’ and Turkish Parlors to the Verandah. Conveniently located for family use and entertaining indoors and out, it also incorporates a compact kitchen facility.

7. Gentlemen’s Parlor

The most generously scaled of the four parlors adjoining the Main Hall, the Gentlemen’s Parlor was conceived as a complement to the Ladies’ Parlor directly opposite. Its décor reflects the historic style association of Gothic Revival with “masculine” taste.

8. Stair Hall

8a. Elevator

A cross-axial counterpoint to the Main Hall, the Stair Hall serves as both a buffer and a connective link between various interior and exterior spaces. The staircase and adjacent Elevator provide vertical circulation to three levels. The Stair Hall’s design shows an “Anglo-Japanese” variation on the “Stick/Eastlake” theme seen in the adjoining Main Hall, Dining Room, and in the building’s exterior.

9. Dining Room

On axis with the Main Hall, the Dining Room shares a similarly grand scale and “Stick/Eastlake” design aesthetic. Octagonal in plan, the room features a three-sided outside wall that parallels the Rear Terrace, and gestures towards the pool and landscape beyond.

9a. Butler’s Pantry

In the 19th century tradition, the Butler’s Pantry forms the service link between the Dining Room and Kitchen.

10. Breakfast Room

10a. Balcony

A transition between the home’s public and private areas, the Breakfast Room functions as the family’s informal dining room, and is the first of three intimately-scaled spaces that comprise the Kitchen wing. Its décor reflects a simplified interpretation of the “Stick / Eastlake” style. The adjoining Balcony is primarily intended for the display of potted plants.

11. Kitchen

Continuing the simplified “Stick / Eastlake” style of this wing, the Kitchen forms its centerpiece. Open to both the Breakfast Room and Family Room, the Kitchen adjoins the Dining Room through the Butler’s Pantry. Exterior doors open directly on to the Rear Terrace, with stairs leading to the pool and other outdoor living areas.

12. Family Room

Lit by windows on three sides, the Family Room terminates the Kitchen wing, and enjoys views over the pool area and surrounding garden.

13. Master Sitting Room

Adjoining the Stair Hall, this room creates another transition between public and private spaces, and comprises half of the Master Suite wing. In a distinct departure from the predominantly Victorian atmosphere seen elsewhere, the Master Sitting Room’s style reflects the (later) Edwardian era taste that is utilized throughout this wing.

13a. Master Bath

Expressing a fashionable European influence that coincided with the Edwardian era, the décor of the Master Bath is conceived with distinctive Art Nouveau design characteristics.

13b. Master Closet

14. Master Bedroom

At the end of the Master Suite wing, this private retreat allows for outlooks in three directions. Off a short hall adjoining the Master Closet, a pair of exterior doors open directly to the Rear Terrace, where stairs lead to various outdoor living spaces.

15. Rear Terrace

The Rear Terrace spans the length of the Dining Room, and repeats its angled form. At either end, where it adjoins the Master Suite and Kitchen wings, stairs connect the Rear Terrace to the pool and garden areas.

For more information about the McDonald Mansion and other ROBA projects, visit Rynerson OBrien Architecture's website.

Mableton's Evolving Plan

The floor plan illustrates the various additions that occurred to the McDonald Mansion after its initial construction.

                                    Evolution of the McDonald Mansion Plan

It also shows the configuration of the house in 2005, at the onset of the design process for its current remodel. The process of researching the history of the house, its builders and occupants, its city and neighborhood, and the multiple layers of its physical changes over time, has been painstaking and gradual. While some of Mableton’s remaining mysteries may never be solved, the following descriptions summarize the primary findings resulting from historical research and from physical evidence observed on the site.

Area A represents the remaining extent of the original structure.

Area B represents the earliest changes, which were undertaken by Mark and Ralphine McDonald only a few years after the house was first built. Primary among these is the addition of a large formal dining room, placed on axis with the original main hall, and with its west wall in the form of an angled bay. Flanking the dining room are other added spaces, which include a master bedroom and bathroom on the south side and a breakfast room and butler’s pantry on the north side. All of these new first floor rooms are separated from the original main hall by a long transverse hallway. Like the former rear verandah it replaced, this hallway is aligned at either end with exterior stairs. To further facilitate interior circulation, the hallway also contains a staircase that provides access to newly developed second floor spaces.

The McDonalds’ growing family had outgrown the confines of the home’s original plan, and this likely fueled the initial expansion plans. Beyond the needs met by the new first floor additions, the previously undeveloped attic level provided ample space for additional family bedrooms. Above the original structure, a bedroom was place in each corner (with the central space above the main hall occupied by a large skylight). The second floor of the new (yellow-shaded) addition allowed for a large sitting room above the dining room, with a bedroom on either side. As the second floor rooms were developed, it was necessary to add dormer windows to each, which resulted in significant changes to the appearance of the original roofline.

Area C indicates a subsequent minor addition by Mark and Ralphine, a south-facing bay window off the master bedroom.

Area D indicates further changes made to the house while under the ownership of Mark Jr. and Isabelle McDonald. They relocated the kitchen from its original basement site to a new addition adjacent to the breakfast room, added a new master bath and closet space, expanded verandah space on the south side, and added a balcony off the breakfast room on the north side. It is likely that Mark Jr. and Isabelle also added two second floor bathrooms (on the north and south side) between the bedrooms added above the original portion of the house. While dormers matching those of the upstairs bedrooms were added for these bathrooms, their asymmetrical placement disrupted the roof’s previously balanced configuration.

Area E represents additions made in the 1970s-1980s, in the years following the McDonald family’s ownership of the property. These included expanded spaces for the master bedroom closet, dressing, and bath areas.

Area F indicates the locations of original exterior staircases that were removed during the remodels of the 1970s-1980s.


Area G indicates where earlier, poorly planned additions made to the rear (west side) of the house were removed. This was a particularly important exposure in that it adjoined a combination of public (Dining Room), private (Master Bedroom), and utility (Kitchen) spaces.

Area H represents the new additions that supplanted these spaces, and resolved various space planning problems. Central among these was a lack of any direct connection to outdoor living spaces on the building’s rear (west) side. This was resolved by the addition of a raised outdoor terrace that extends primarily from the Dining Room (on the same level), and includes direct access to the garden level via a pair of exterior staircases. This terrace also provides exterior circulation for newly reconfigured Kitchen/Family Room area (north side) and Master Bedroom suite (south side). The addition includes an equivalent expansion of living spaces situated directly below, which adjoin the garden at ground level. Comprised of two small wings with a connective link, the new addition re-establishes a sense of symmetrical balance that had been lost on the rear façade. While significant, the massing of this addition remains respectfully subordinate to that of the remaining historic structure.

For more information about the McDonald Mansion and other ROBA projects, visit Rynerson OBrien Architecture's website.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mableton's Planning and Features

With a room arrangement typical of many antebellum plantation homes, Mableton’s original 1879 floor plan reveals more of its Southern heritage. To maximize natural air circulation through the house, a wide central hall bisects the house from front to back, and opens to shaded verandahs at either end. Typical of the most common plans, two rooms on either side of the central hall each provide additional direct access to the verandah. In lieu of conventional windows, the rooms open to the verandah through “slip-head” windows. Very tall double hung windows that extend to the floor, slip-head windows may also function as doors. Unusually high ceilings were essential to accommodate these oversized window openings within the walls. A highly effective passive cooling system was achieved by the combination of verandah-shaded exterior walls, high ceilings, and interconnected rooms. In Southern examples, sources of heat and potential fire hazards were often removed from the main house, with utility and service areas (such as the kitchen) located in nearby separate structures. Alternately, the kitchen and other service areas were placed in the ground level basement (the location of Mableton’s original kitchen).

                                McDonald Mansion Main Floor Plan, 1879

In a departure from typical Southern precedent, Mableton’s design allows for the admission of natural light through a long skylight above its central hall. Between the central hall and each of the four flanking rooms, wide doorway openings are fitted with sliding pocket doors. These generous openings perform multiple functions: in addition to sharing natural light between spaces, they enhance cross-ventilation, and allow greater flexibility in how rooms can be used. The unusual width of Mableton’s central hall, and the presence of a fireplace at its far end, permits it to function as both living and circulation space. Designed for entertaining on a grand scale, this plan creates the potential to effectively combine all of the rooms into a single, contiguous space. The surrounding verandah further expands the interior spaces, and reinforces the strong relationship between the house and its landscape

Prior to the development of bedroom space in the attic, all of the McDonald family’s living areas were located on the main (first) floor. It is probable that the two rooms towards the rear of the house were used as bedrooms. However, in the informal context of a summer home, it is likely that these rooms (and possibly the others as well) were employed for multiple uses. Notable is the presence of a large interior bathroom, placed between the two rooms along the south side. This original feature was an unusual luxury at a time when most homes (especially in rural locations) still relied on outdoor plumbing facilities. To better accommodate a growing family, the McDonalds soon expanded the home outward and upward, to include more living, bedroom and bathroom space.

For more information about the McDonald Mansion and other ROBA projects, visit Rynerson OBrien Architecture's website.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mableton's Architectural Style

The McDonald Mansion’s stylish street presence, and its prominent corner site on an oversized parcel, made it an effective tool in the marketing and sales of residential lots in the newly established “McDonald’s Addition” neighborhood. As a result, McDonald Avenue soon became the address of choice for the most prominent citizens of the expanding city of Santa Rosa. However, no other home built on the street ever eclipsed the visual prominence of Mableton and the sprawling scale of its grounds.

                    earliest known view of the McDonald Mansion

“Mableton”, circa 1882. This is the earliest known view of the house, taken from a lithograph published in the 1880’s. It was built in 1879 as the summer home of the Mark L. McDonald family, whose primary residence was in San Francisco. The family chose the name “Mableton” after the Mississippi plantation home of Ralphine North McDonald. Note the original two-tiered roof cresting and the bands of patterned roof shingles (now missing), which are to be restored. Partly visible on the far right of the image are the carriage house and the gazebo. Courtesy of Sonoma County Library History Annex and Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

It was in homage to the Mississippi plantation home of Ralphine North McDonald’s childhood that the McDonalds called their summer home “Mableton”. Unusual for substantial California homes of its era, the architectural form of the house can be described as a large-scale adaptation of a so-called “raised Southern cottage”. The typical plan of such homes included a single main living level, built or “raised” over an above-ground basement that was intended as a flood precaution. The second floor or attic level of such homes was often left as undeveloped space, but was sometimes utilized for later expansion.

Initially, the wrap-around porch or verandah, another characteristic Southern feature, surrounded all four sides of the house. This defining element creates a strong link between the house and its landscape, where specimen trees, spacious lawns and abundant flowers completed the ideal summer home setting.

One of the building’s signature details is its extensive use of flat sawn and cutout wood ornament (seen in the two-tiered roof cresting, and icicle-like trim that outlines the various roof overhangs). The use of such repeating flat patterns, and their geometric quality, are particularly characteristic of the Victorian era’s “Stick” and “Eastlake” styles (sometimes called “Stick/Eastlake”), which enjoyed nationwide popularity during the post-Civil War era. The style moniker “Steamboat Gothic”, coined in reference to similar decorative treatments applied to large riverboats of that era, is likewise evoked by Mableton’s low-slung proportions and long verandahs. The application of California redwood ornament to a Southern building form makes this house a uniquely American domestic hybrid.

In the early lithograph view, the stepped pyramidal (hipped) form of Mableton’s roofline is completed by two tiers of cresting, and its surface is enriched by successive bands of patterned shingles resembling horizontal stripes. While the verandah and second floor roofs are pierced by small “eyebrow” vent openings, the upper roof is primarily broken by a single central gable with an arching bargeboard. In the verandah roof, a smaller gable occurs above the main entry stairs. Still missing are the larger dormer windows that were added for bedrooms developed later in the attic space.

Visible on the left side of the house is part of a two-story rear addition across the rear, which supplanted the original verandah there. Within the former rear verandah space, a hallway and stairs were built to access the added second floor bedrooms. Later the rear addition also sprouted second floor dormers, and a square bay window on the left side of the first floor level.

In addition to the main front entry stairs, those seen extending from the left side of the verandah are one of an original pair of stairs placed on opposing sides of the house. Partly visible on the right side are the carriage house (with a cupola and weather vane), and the top of the gazebo projecting above the trees. The original configuration of the curving driveway, with its pair of triangular planted “islands”, remains in place today.

For more information about the McDonald Mansion and other ROBA projects, visit Rynerson OBrien Architecture's website.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mableton In Transition

Ultimately, Mableton was saved from the wrecking ball by Dr. Jack Leissring, who purchased the dilapidated mansion in 1974 with the intention of restoring it. In that same year, the property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Then, in 1977, during the course of the restoration process, a major fire occurred. Most of Mableton’s roof and second floor rooms were destroyed, and the fire burned through the previously intact original main hall ceiling and skylight.

                                   March 1977
                               Santa Rosa Fire Department extinguishing fire in Mableton in 1977.

Officially, the house was considered to be nearly a total loss. It was only through the efforts and perseverance of Dr. Leissring that Mabelton would once again regain its historic position of prominence on McDonald Avenue.

                    photo                photo
                           Aftermath of 1977 fire.                      Re-framing Mableton roof after 1977 fire.

In 2005, the mansion was purchased from Dr. Leissring by John and Jennifer Webley, who remain the current owners. The Webleys' vision for the future of Mableton has guided the direction of the project that is currently in progress.

                                                          Mableton in December 2005.

For more information about the McDonald Mansion and other ROBA projects, visit Rynerson OBrien Architecture's website.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Brief History of "Mableton" and the McDonald Family

 The McDonald Mansion, originally called “Mableton,” was built in 1879 by Mark L. McDonald, one of Santa Rosa’s most prominent early citizens. Colonel McDonald, a Kentucky native, came west as captain of a wagon train in the early 1850’s. Trained in engineering, he first built roadways servicing gold and silver mines. His early successes allowed him to buy a seat on the San Francisco Stock Exchange, during which time he joined the ranks of the city's rich and powerful, including George Hearst, Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker.

          Mrs. McDonald                    Mr. McDonald 

      Ralphine North McDonald (b.1843-d.1918)                      Col. Mark Lindsey McDonald (b.1833-d.1917)


By the late 1860’s, McDonald had begun to apply his wealth, influence and entrepreneurial spirit to new business opportunities in Santa Rosa. These included purchase and subdivision of 160 acres of land, then called “McDonald’s Addition.” During the 1870’s, the new development flourished, and McDonald Avenue became the premier residential street of Santa Rosa. The neighborhood’s popularity was enhanced by a range of amenities including gas and water service, and a new streetcar line established by Colonel McDonald. An extensive tree planting program, implemented with the assistance of famed local botanist Luther Burbank, introduced some imported species while preserving existing native examples.

McDonald was active in civic affairs and was instrumental in the development of numerous local improvements, including Santa Rosa’s first library, the first steam railroad brought to Santa Rosa and operation of the Santa Rosa Water Works Company, an early private utility. He capitalized and built the nearby reservoir known as Lake Ralphine, which was named for McDonald’s wife. His other business interests included fruit packing plants and drying yards in the area.

The McDonalds’ primary residence was in San Francisco and Mableton was built as their summer home. The couple had seven children, although two of their daughters (Ralphine and Alice) died during childhood. Those who survived into adulthood included Mark L. McDonald, Jr., Stewart, Mabel, Edith and Florence.

                   McDonald Avenue street car, circa 1910. Note 804 McDonald Avenue (Healey Home) in rear.


Colonel Mark L. McDonald family around 1900. Mrs. McDonald, Edith, Stewart, Maxwell McNutt (husband of Florence McDonald), Mable, Florence, Mark Jr. and the Colonel.

Mark McDonald Jr. married Isabelle Juilliard, and it was they who would eventually own Mableton. Stewart McDonald died of tuberculosis in 1907. Mabel, who was an accomplished horsewoman, married William H. Hamilton of San Francisco. Edith married Selah Chamberlain, a socially prominent San Franciscan. Florence, also an excellent horsewoman, married Maxwell McNutt, a high-profile San Francisco attorney.


           Mabel McDonald and William H. Hamilton Wedding PartyOn Mableton steps circa 1904.

Mark L. McDonald Sr. died in 1917, in San Francisco, at the age of 84. Following his death, his wife Ralphine resided at Mableton, where she died in 1918 at the age of 75. The couple is buried in the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, which is located at the north end of McDonald Avenue.

             Mableton, McDonald Mansion photograph

Mableton”, circa 1910. This photograph was included in a promotional brochure published by the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. It shows that, by this date, dormer windows had been added to the second floor bedrooms. Visible at far left is a bay window added to the rear portion of the house (absent in the 1882 lithograph view). Also, some of the original roof cresting is still visible. Courtesy of the California Historical Society.

The Middle Years

After the death of the senior McDonalds, the eldest son Mark Jr. and his wife Isabelle eventually became sole owners of Mableton, and made it their primary residence.  In his career, Mark Jr.'s followed the example of his father, and found success running the Santa Rosa Water Works, and the M. L. McDonald Jr. and Co. Fruit Packing plant.  He also had extensive holdings in orchard land and other real estate.

                                            Mrs. Mark L. McDonald, Jr. (Isabelle Juilliar
                                                holding son Julliard, with daughter Marcia.


                                           Mark Jr.
                                                            Mark McDonald, Jr., with daughter Marcia

Like her husband, Isabelle was a native Californian with family roots dating back to the Gold Rush. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Frederick Juilliard, settled in Santa Rosa. The site of their family home was donated to the city by Isabelle’s father, and survives today as Juilliard Park in downtown Santa Rosa. Isabelle’s privileged upbringing included private East Coast schooling and several years of residence in Tuxedo Park, New York with her wealthy uncle Augustus Juilliard, who was the founder of the Juilliard School of Music.

By the early 1920’s, Mark and Isabelle had begun to extensively remodel Mableton to suit their own tastes. Among the changes they implemented were alterations to the rear of the house, installation of additional bathrooms, and numerous landscape improvements, including a tennis court (now the site of a formal garden). The couple had two children who survived into adulthood: a daughter, Marcia, and a son, Juilliard (a third child, Mark McDonald III, died in infancy).

              Marcia Augusta McDonald, around age 18                        Juilliard McDonald, as a young adult.

The Last of the McDonalds

After Mark L. McDonald, Jr. died in 1932, Isabelle occupied a Nob Hill apartment in San Francisco as her primary residence. Until her death in 1960, Mableton was once again used mostly as a summer home. Isabelle’s son, Juilliard McDonald, had a successful career and maintained the family’s business interests. Although he was married twice, Juilliard died childless in 1946. Following the death of Isabelle, her daughter Marcia became the last surviving McDonald heir. Like her mother, Marcia chose to make her primary home in a San Francisco apartment. However, after her mother's death, she was less inclined to visit Mableton, and subsequently allowed the property to fall into disrepair.

When Marcia, who never married, died childless in 1971 at the age of 65, the fate of the mansion was uncertain. The terms of Isabelle’s will and trust had dictated that, upon Marcia’s death, Mableton was to be left jointly to the University of California and Stanford University. Eventually, the property was offered for sale to the City of Santa Rosa, and local controversy over possible development plans for the site ensued.

                                                                            Mableton circa 1971.

For more information about the McDonald Mansion and other ROBA projects, visit Rynerson OBrien Architecture's website.