One of the most familiar block of buildings in the Petaluma Historic Downtown District is Western Avenue, between Petaluma Blvd. North and Kentucky Street. But, what is so strange about it?

All of the buildings have “ironfronts.” Some writers believe that this row of Itaianate ironfronts is “unmatched in California architecture” and is “Petaluma’s most significant architectural gem.” Petaluma’s Ironfront Row starts with the Masonic building; extends past businesses at 9, 11, 15, 19, and 25 Western Avenue, and then continues down Kentucky Street past the rear of the 1887 and 1911 McNear buildings on 4th Street.

Petaluma ironfronts were shipped up Petaluma Creek after being manufactured at foundries in San Francisco. The iron pieces were then bolted directly to brick walls. If you have a bar magnet, you can find these pieces by placing the magnet on various panels. Try placing your bar magnet on the building fronts at the above street addresses on Western Avenue, Kentucky and 4th Streets. Also look for the plaques that identify the manufacturing foundry at the bottom of various panels or columns.

In the 1880s, buildings with ironfront facades were believed to be extra strong and fireproof. This belief, unfortunately, was proven false when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed most of the city’s iron front buildings. Very little damage, however, occurred in Petaluma. Enjoy them while you can.

Stay tuned for more strange, but familiar places in Petaluma.