One unusual, interesting, and useful, landmark in downtown Petaluma is the old Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) drinking fountain, erected in 1891. It stands on Western Ave near Petaluma Blvd, in the heart of downtown and is an interesting small landmark to see, since relatively few places still have one. It's the only one I know of in the region.
The predecessor to Petaluma's current downtown post office, which opened in 1932, still exists but is now commercial space. It was the post office only from 1920-1932 but still says "Post Office" on the front. It was designed by renowned local architect Brainerd Jones, who designed many of the prominent commercial builginds and houses around town.
There are some great examples of nice Victorian style architecture all around the downtown area. Kind of reminds you of the French Quarter a bit. Take your camera, take a stroll, gaze at some fine craftsmanship, and enjoy that sweet, oh so sweet, California weather
Downtown Petaluma has an impressive collection of 19th-century Iron Front buildings. They're all within a few blocks of each other. It's no wonder that this town has served as the setting for movies; it's among the most picturesque in all of California. And, even though it lies near San Francisco, the 1906 earthquake did little damage to it.
In addition to Victorian ironfronts and the like, Petaluma also has a couple interesting, grand old neo-classical bank buildings made faced with faux marble. They are both antique and carpet stores now and one an go in the old vaults, open with things to see.
One of the defining elements of Petaluma's downtown and architectural heritage is its wealth of ironfront Victorian commercial buildings. They tend to be quite ornate and several, such as the 3-storey Mutual Relief Building (1885) and the Masons' Building (1882), are pretty large. Their primary concentration is at the very core of downtown, with the Masonic Building at the corner of Petaluma Blvd N. and Western Ave. and most others right near it on both those streets.
This is a particularly unique element in Petaluma and I read once that Petaluma has more ironfront Victorians than any city on the West Coast of the US except Portland, Oregon, which is much larger. This certainly seems to be true and it makes sense considering the histories of the other towns which might be contenders. For example, San Francisco of course had a lot, but much of the city was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, after the heyday of ironfronts (about 1870-1890) had ended. Nearby Santa Rosa suffered similarly, as all of its commercial buil;dings were destroyed in the same earthquake. San Rafael, to the south, was not as big or wealthy as Petaluma in the ironfront era, so didn't have as many, while it also tore down most of its historic buildings between 1950-1975. Sacramento saw most of its growth before 1870 and after 1900, so has few ironfronts (although it has many older buildings). Seattle didn't grow much until the late 1870s and also lost almost all of its buildings in the great 1889 fire. Petaluma, on the other hand, had one of its heydays in the ironfron era and it saw little "development" between 1950-1970, so didn't tear down much, either.
This is a striking church designed in about 1890 by Ernest Coxhead, who designed, among others, many Episcopal buildings in the greater San Francisco Bay Area and other parts of California. It is apparently considered among his finest buildings and is paradigmatic of his eclectic style and his use of shingles. Coxhead was a British architect who came to California in the late 19th century and was influential in the architecture of the region.
This is a beautiful, grand church built in the 1920s. It has two small domes decorated with tiles, including tiles with images of all the Spanish missions in California. The church is one of the taller buildings in town and it is very prominent from the hilly areas around town, with the sun gleaming off the domes. It has its original beautiful stained-glass windows made in Germany and an altar from Italy. In the 1990s, it was heavily refurbished and repainted so it is now quite stunning, inside and out. This is an especially grand curch for a town of this size, again reflecting Petaluma's early prominence and wealth.
In addition to its downtown architecture, Petaluma has a wealth of old houses, including many beautiful Victorians, some very large. It also has a couple houses, one very large with servants' quarters, etc., designed by Julia Morgan, who helped Hearst design Hearst Castle among other things. Most of these are west of downtown, especially along D Street, and the immediate area, like B St., and 6th, 7th, and 8th Streets. To the east, north, and south, there are some also, and certainly neat old neighbourhoods with cute homes, but these areas don't have as many really impressive houses. Either way, some of the streets, like Prospect, are narrow old streets, helping to give one an old-town feel.
On Liberty Street right on the edge of downtown is a white Queen Anne Victorian with a 3-storey turret which was the house of Lyman Byce, the man who invented the modern poultry incubator in Petaluma and started Petaluma's rise to fame as "chicken capital".
Walking tours are available and I believe can get information on these from, among others, the museum in the old library at the corner of B Street and Kentucky Street.
During the 19th century, this was an important means of transportation. Now, it's for pleasure craft. The river has a turning basin and some docks in downtown Petaluma. There is also a very large marina outside the town.
Petaluma's Adobe State Historic Park shows how life was during the last years of Mexican rule. This was the main entrance to Rancho Petaluma, a vast hacienda of 66,000 acres owned by General Vallejo, the governor.
This large brick factory is a Georgian revival industrial building, very rare in the western US. It is also very substantial and easy to notice. It was once the Carlson-Currier Silk Mill but then became the Petaluma Line and Twine, manufacturing those products. It closed only recently, in about 2003.
Petaluma's downtown post office, opened in 1932, is really a very nice building with tall windows and a lot of ornamentation. The basic style of the building is Spanish Colonial Revival, but it is a heavily modified version of that style.
Petaluma's old fire station, on D street near 1st and 2nd, and near the D St. Drawbridge, is an interesting old Art-Deco building still used as the central fire station. It is on the national register for historic places, like many buildings in Petaluma.
Petaluma's "Old Adobe" is the largest extant Mexican adobe house in California, built in the 1830s by Mariano Vallejo, the Mexican landowner who was the official in charge of Mexico's domain north of the San Francisco Bay.
Most of the ranch station is still standing and it offers a great glimpse into the life of the Mexican (Californio) rancheros who dominated California in the days before the U.S. nabbed it, and the Indians who worked the Californios' ranches. Vallejo's main home was in the town of Sonoma, a few miles away. At the time, in the 130s-1840s, California's non-Indian population was less than 10,000, and Sonoma County inluded a few landowners plus some people living in Sonoma. The ranch was the extent of settlement in what is now Petaluma, just as nearby Santa Rosa at the time consisted only of the smaller adode house of Dona Maria Carrillo, Vallejo's mother-in-law.