Santa Rosa's Chapel of the Chimes

Submitted by krinehart on November 18, 2018 - 6:16pm
  • Post card view of the Chapel of Chimes circa 1947. Courtesy of Denise Hill and Joe Lilienthal photo

    Post card view of the Chapel of Chimes circa 1947. Courtesy of Denise Hill and Joe Lilienthal

People often think that because Julia Morgan did a redesign of Oakland's Chapel of the Chimes in 1928, that she also designed Santa Rosa's Chapel of the Chimes. Not the case; although, there is a connection to the famous architect.

The Chapel of the Chimes located at 2601 Santa Rosa Avenue was designed by Lazer Nusbaum, a former associate of Julia Morgan, in 1937 and dedicated in 1938. In 1941, Nusbaum was hired again to design a mausoleum. I came to learn this by a chance discovery while looking through an unprocessed stack of architectural drawings at the Sonoma County Archives. The Archives are managed by myself and other staff at the Sonoma County Library.

The Sonoma County Archives are housed in a 3,800 square foot building that was once part of the Los Guilicos School for Girls located off of Pythian Road, about nine miles east of downtown Santa Rosa. Within the Archive is a large collection of materials known as the Henry N. Wallace Collection.

Henry N. Wallace (1916-1974) was a Sonoma County-based civil engineer and surveyor. During the 1930s Wallace served as the director of two different New Deal Era programs: State Emergency Relief Administration (SERA) and the Civil Works Administration (CWA). Later he was employed by the County of Sonoma’s Surveyor-Road Commissioner’s Department. In 1955, Wallace founded his own consulting firm of Henry N. Wallace and Associates in Santa Rosa.

Following Wallace’s death in 1974, his collection of field books, property surveys, engineering records, architectural drawings, building and bridge specifications and hundreds of other documents were deeded to the Sonoma State University Special Collections Library by Wallace's former associates. Sonoma State, in turn, gave the collection to the Sonoma County Library in the 1990s.  The collection consists of materials related to Wallace’s career as a private consultant as well as items that date back to the 1900s which belonged to his uncle, Marshall M. Wallace, a former County of Sonoma Road Commissioner, a sanitation engineer, and surveyor.

As a surveyor for the County of Sonoma, Marshall Wallace reviewed a lot of plans including those associated with the Chapel of the Chimes. Those records apparently were transferred to his nephew at some point.

Although I have yet to find the 1937 drawings for the chapel, it was the plans and specifications for the 1941 mausoleum that provided the clue I needed for further research.

A Press Democrat article dated April 23, 1937, which was easily found using which is accessible through the Sonoma County Library, describes how a Spanish type community chapel and crematory was to be designed by L. L. Nusbaum, "widely known architect until recently associated with Julia Jordan (sic)" on a five-acre tract on the Redwood Highway near Hearn School.

Using a variety of resources such as, I learned that Lazer Nusbaum was born on November 18, 1896, in Duluth, Minnesota. His father was from Russia and his mother from Austria. At the time of their immigration to the United States, Nusbaum's parents were living in Russia.

After graduating from City High in Duluth, Nusbaum worked as a draftsman for a well known local architect named Anthony Puck and later attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.  By 1924, Nusbaum was calling himself an architect when he applied for a passport; was living in San Francisco and working in the Merchants Exchange Building - the same building in which Julia Morgan had her offices between 1904 and 1950.

Other documents found within the Henry N.Wallace Collection related to the Chapel of the Chimes include building specifications and plans for an addition to the Garden Mausoleum prepared by architect Aaron Green, an associate of Frank Lloyd Wright, dated July 22, 1952;  building specifications and plans for a mausoleum addition, prepared by architect, John D. Wagenet, a former draftsman for Julia Morgan, dated March 4, 1955.

Santa Rosans may not be able to claim a Julia Morgan design when it comes to the Chapel of the Chimes, but her association with those who did is notable as is the connection to Aaron Green.  

Other treasures related to Santa Rosa's and Sonoma County's architectural history will soon be revealed as efforts to fully inventory the Henry N. Wallace Collection are underway thanks to funding from the Sonoma County Historical Records Commission, the Sonoma County Historical Society and the Sonoma County Landmarks Commission. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, stay connected with the Sonoma County & History and Genealogy Library by liking our facebook page.

Note: This article was first published in the Historical Society of Santa Rosa's Fall 2018 newsletter. To learn more about the good work that this organization is doing check out their website.

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