Mose Goldman (1881-1952) was a man who did things in a big way, whether it was his private residence or a commercial structure to house his Leader Department Store. In both cases, Goldman looked to San Francisco to find architects who would do him and his adopted city of Petaluma proud.
In 1924, Sylvain Schnaittacher designed Goldman’s Mediterranean-inspired home at 1 Brown Court. In 1940 Goldman hired Hertzka and Knowles to design the largest and most modern building in the North Bay devoted entirely to ladies’ wear. In later years this firm would gain recognition for its collaboration with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill on the Crown Zellerbach building, a San Francisco landmark.
Goldman may have selected Hertzka and Knowles because of their work, with local architect Cal Caulkins, on Santa Rosa’s Rosenberg’s Department Store in 1937. Considered by some to exemplify the technology of the future, a model of Rosenberg’s was exhibited at the 1939 World’s Fair on Treasure Island.
Ground was broken for the Leader Department Store in January of 1941. William D. Rapp, a Santa Rosa builder, who later served on the Santa Rosa City Council, was awarded the construction contract after submitting a bid for $52,160.25 to complete the 19,000 square-foot structure that included a rooftop penthouse. G.M. Simonson was the consulting engineer.
The streamline design of the Leader Department Store mirrors the era in which it was built when efforts were made to draw people out of the dreariness of the Depression and into a promising future. The style was heavily influenced by the shapes of modern transportation that reflected the growth of speed and travel in the 1930s.
The style is founded on the idea that mass production and quality were not mutually exclusive. Rounded corners, flat roofs and unadorned surfaces that incorporated horizontal bands of windows to create a streamline effect were all included in the design of the Leader Department Store.
W.R. Carithers and Sons Inc. of Santa Rosa purchased the Leader Department Store from Goldman in 1946. In 1985, having sat vacant for a year or so, Carithers was sold to Terese and Mark Thomas who owned Couches, Etc., a Petaluma business since 1979.
After weathering 68 years of evolving retail trends, Hertzka and Knowles’ original design stands as Petaluma’s finest (and one of its last) examples of the streamline style and as such is a contributor to Petaluma’s Downtown National Register District – a district significant for its broad spectrum of architectural styles that collectively present a visual history of Petaluma’s commercial development.
Today the building is occupied by Sleep City. Plans for its alteration are underway following a City of Petaluma Planning Commission vote on December 11, 2012 (documents and audio/video recordings posted on the City of Petaluma website).
Note: A portion of this article first appeared in the Petaluma Magazine Winter 2009 edition.