Location & Setting
Glen Ellen is located approximately eight miles north-northwest of the town of Sonoma, which is in turn located in the southeast portion of Sonoma County, north of San Pablo Bay. Glen Ellen is within the Valley of the Moon, a valley distinguished by the presence of Sonoma Creek, which runs north-south through Sonoma Valley. At the heart of Glen Ellen is the convergence of Sonoma and Calabazas Creeks, which occurs just north of the bridge over Sonoma Creek. The crossing of Sonoma Creek occurs between the north and south commercial centers of the town, dividing the two areas. Sonoma Creek also defines the third commercial center of Glen Ellen, forming the eastern edge of Jack London Village. Jack London Village formed around a sawmill at the confluence of Sonoma and Asbury Creeks established by General Vallejo, which was purchased by Joshua Chauvet in the mid-1850s. The reason for the sawmill was the presence of the creek. The waterwheel for the sawmill – later a grist mill – is still there today. Beyond Glen Ellen are rolling hills and wilderness. The town backs up against Jack London State Park to the west, and Sonoma Valley Regional Park and eventually the Mayacama Mountains to the east.
Patterns of Growth
Within the corridor considered by this study is a broad range of building types and, to a lesser extent, architectural styles. The historic heart of Glen Ellen, signaled by a cluster of its most important historic structures, occurs just west of the crossing of Sonoma Creek. This is marked by the presence of the 1906 Hotel Chauvet, the 1906 Poppe Building, and 1905 Jack London Saloon. But there are other significant historic structures along the corridor as well, from the Grist Mill and H. J. Chauvet house at Jack London Village to the Gaige House, at the center of the northerly node of commercial development in Glen Ellen.
Clearly the first decade of the twentieth century was important for Glen Ellen, but only a handful of extant buildings that reflect that era. There are numerous other more modest, historically significant structures as well, however, from the several intact cottages along the corridor to Marshall’s Auto Body Shop, at the site of a former blacksmith shop.
There are distinctive periods of development in the town as well. The earliest extant building appears to be the 1839 mill, portions of which still exist despite the ca 1860 conversion of the mill to a grist mill and the addition of a second story, as well as numerous later renovations.
The largest periods of growth within the historic district as a whole occurred in the 1940s and 1950s. Growth in the 1940s, which can be seen along the corridor, was the addition of housing and related businesses that supported the war effort, specifically the need for housing for workers at Mare Island and other World War II industry sites. More recent development includes residences and commercial/institutional buildings from the 1960s, including the Glen Ellen Post Office and Glen Ellen Grocery, and residences and commercial buildings from the 1970s, including a cluster of 1970s residences south of Glen Ellen, and the Jack London Lodge (1978). Another small spurt of development occurred in the 1980s.
Styles and Building Type
The character of the larger Glen Ellen district, which is largely residential, differs from the character of development along the corridor, not only because the corridor contains most of the commercial development, but also because more postwar residential development occurred in the outlying areas, including the largest period of growth in the decade of the 1950s, followed by another period of growth in the 1960s. Within the corridor, by far the largest period of growth represented by extant buildings today occurred in the 1940s. About 20% of the properties include at least one building from this era.
The commercial corridor within Glen Ellen is characterized by relatively modest architecture, even among the most distinguished buildings. The Hotel Chauvet and Jack London Saloon are both examples of vernacular commercial buildings, distinguished by their segmental arched window openings with modest label molding and Victorian-era details. Two Victorian-era houses reflect the high period of the Queen Anne as it occurred in Sonoma Valley, the Gaige House and the J. H. Chauvet House, although some detailing and features of both of these buildings have been altered.
Building styles and types from other eras reflect fairly typical versions of their types, including early twentieth century hip roof bungalows, commercial buildings, ca 1940s Minimal Traditional houses, modest Ranch houses, and residential buildings or residential-like buildings that contain commercial businesses. A few buildings are constructed to emulate earlier styles or types, from a Western False front to a “new” Victorian residence. All these factors contribute to the eclectic character of Glen Ellen’s commercial core.