Santa Rosa's classic, Roman-columned 1910 post office faced demolition 40 years ago when architect Dan Peterson advocated saving it by picking it up and sliding it out of the path of urban renewal.
Some locals mocked the notion of moving the two-story, 1,700-ton stone edifice. Conservationist Peterson beamed in 1979 as it completed its snail-paced, two-block journey — and some spectators sported T-shirts that exclaimed, “They said it couldn't be done!”
Peterson, a pioneering historical architect who played a major role also in the restoration of Railroad Square, died Monday evening at age 76.
The co-author, with his wife and business partner, Geraldine “Gerrie Mann” Peterson, of two often-referenced books on Santa Rosa's and Petaluma's architectural heritage lived with cancer the past four years.
From the mid-1960s to the mid-'70s, Peterson worked at Santa Rosa's Fruiht-Tomasi Architects as a staff architect and then partner. Igniting his interest in historical architecture was his leadership of an effort to save Mableton/the McDonald Mansion by dividing its valuable plot of land and constructing around it five beautifully designed homes.
Peterson and his wife had lived in Santa Rosa for 22 years when they relocated to Point Richmond in 1985. He took on restoration projects and historical-building studies throughout the state.
For most of the past dozen years, he worked part-time with his son, Santa Rosa architect Chuck Peterson. Dan and Geraldine Peterson returned to Santa Rosa last year.
Chuck Peterson said his father “was surprisingly very quiet until he spoke about his passion.”
The elder Peterson certainly spoke with passion in defense of the old Santa Rosa post office when, following the 1969 earthquake that ravaged much of downtown Santa Rosa, it was slated to be razed.
Press Democrat columnist and Santa Rosa history author Gaye LeBaron wrote in 1999 that a few years after the quake the area right around the post office building at Fifth and A streets was a scene of war-like destruction.