Knight Wagner Flynn Architects
William Knight is known for his civic vision even more than his carefully crafted designs. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Knight was at the forefront of the fight to restore Santa Rosa Creek, limit city growth and build downtown housing that would keep the city alive after dark.
As a result of his efforts, the Prince Memorial Greenway has been completed and the city has plans for further creek enhancement. There are restrictions on the number of homes that can be built each year. And now, to Knight’s delight, condos and apartments are sprouting on Seventh Street and Railroad Square.
“We’ve done commercial stuff downtown, but it was a great joy in my life to get the residential going,” Knight said. “I really wanted to be able to get downtown housing, and it’s taken all these years to get the city to realize they should have downtown housing and higher densities. It’s been years of talking.”
Knight has changed the face of the city, said Santa Rosa developer Hugh Futrell.
“As an architect, he’ll be tremendously missed. I think it’s appropriate as he retires that people also remember the tremendous beneficial impact he had as a city councilman and a mayor. His cumulative impact has been quite extraordinary,” Futrell said.
Without Knight, it’s unlikely the Santa Rosa Creek restoration would have taken place, said City Councilman Steve Rabinowitsh.
“I don’t think it would have happened without him,” Rabinowitsh said. “He had credibility, he was very politically astute and he had tremendous energy.”
Knight was born and raised in Sebastopol, and returned to Sonoma County in 1960 after graduating from Stanford University.
He has served on numerous city boards and commissions and was a councilman from 1990 to 1994. His fellow council members named him mayor during the last year of his term.
In 1996, Knight was awarded the highest honor architecture can bestow when he was made a fellow in the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows.
Knight said architecture has been a love as well as a profession, but now he wants to focus on his volunteer work with the Sonoma County Museum, which is planning a major expansion and extensive fund raising.
“I’m getting tired,” Knight said. “I love doing it, but in the last couple years I’ve gotten more and more involved in community stuff, and I can’t do things as intensely as I used to. I felt like now was the time.”
Projects designed by Knight Wagner range through neighborhoods and business districts of Santa Rosa, from the Star of the Valley Church in Wild Oak to the Mission Plaza Shopping Center off Highway 12 to a newly constructed apartments-above-stores complex on Fourth Street in Railroad Square.
Others include the Blood Bank of the Redwoods building in Bennett Valley, Burbank Orchards in Sebastopol and the conference center at Bishop’s Ranch near Healdsburg.
Knight championed downtown housing when on the City Council, a vision that is only now being realized.
In the past five years, he has had a chance to design some of that housing – new apartments and condos on Seventh Street and in Railroad Square.
He is a proponent of mixed-use developments, where ground-floor shops are complemented by apartments or condos on the floors above. He likes the idea that buildings bustle with people around the clock.
“People used to talk about Santa Rosa rolling up the sidewalks at 5 p.m. and everyone going home. When you have more variety, it makes a more energetic environment,” Knight said.
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