Bird’s Eye View of Santa Rosa, California


“Santa Rosa.  Sonoma County.  California.  1885.”   Santa Rosa, CA: Guy E. Grosse, 1885.  20 1/4 x 25 3/4.  Lithograph by Elliott & Co. Lith., Oakland California.  Good margins.  Very good condition.  Reps: 405.


A fine example of the American bird’s eye view of the nineteenth century.  Beginning after the Civil War, the bird’s eye view became one of the most popular of print genre.  This was a period of significant urban growth throughout the country, and the civic pride which proliferated provided a fertile field for print publishers to market these visual vistas of American cities and towns.  According to John Rep’s seminal Views and Viewmakers of Urban America, publishers sent their artists out into the field throughout all parts of the country to draw and market the views.  The artist would walk the streets of the town or city, drawing all the buildings and encouraging the citizens to subscribe to the view that would be produced.  Once the entire area was sketched and enough subscriptions obtained, the artist would use a standard projection to turn his street-level images into a bird’s eye view of the town.  Because these views were primarily sold to citizens of the place depicted, they had to be accurate and all buildings shown, lest an owner were to be insulted.  Thus these views are not only highly decorative, but are also detailed and accurate pictures of each place shown, providing us with a wonderful documentation of nineteenth century urban America.

This particular example was published in California by a businessman from Santa Rosa, Guy E. Grosse, “Broker in Real Estate.”  This print was thus mostly intended as a promotion for the city and, naturally, Grosse’s business.  Typically, the buildings in the city are very clearly drawn and labeled with a key at the bottom identifying 52 specific places.  To help fund the production, Grosse sold 16 small vignettes around the image promoting specific businesses, such as hotels, colleges, and public buildings.  Views like this would have been issued in large numbers, but few survive.  John Rep’s survey of institutions located only three copies, at the Society of California Pioneers, the Huntington Library, and the Amon Carter Museum, with the Library of Congress having the image only in facsimile.