Local History and Genealogy Notes
Posted on October 06, 2012
Today marks the end of National Banned Book Week. I’m disappointed that I was not organized enough to have put together an exhibit here at the Sonoma County History & Genealogy Library. I might have done something related to Storm Center, the 1956 film directed by Daniel Taradash that stars Bette Davis as a librarian who is asked by her city council, lead by a character played by Brian Keith, (remember Family Affair?!), to remove a book about Communism from the shelves of her library. The film was shot in Santa Rosa with most of the action taking place at the old Carnegie Library.
In anticipation of next year I pulled out our “Storm Center” vertical file and came across some interesting bits of information including a short article that appeared in Modern Screen Magazine in which Bette is quoted as saying that “librarians almost always have been pictured as dowdy. Movies, novels, and short stories haven’t done right by librarians, and it is time somebody did something about it.” I love this - having just finished reading about stereotypes and librarians (fact, fiction or something in between?) for a school assignment. The article goes on to say how in preparation for playing the part of head librarian, Alicia Hull, Ms. Davis spent three months meeting with every librarian she could find and had come to the conclusion that librarians on the whole were not dowdy, but smart. Whether she meant smart in intellect or appearance or both is not clear, but she did question where the “dowdy librarian” cliché had originated. If Bette was here today I could tell her. It was Santa Rosa librarian Ruth Hall who Bette Davis modeled her character after. Ms. Hall describes the experience of working with a Hollywood star and the film making process in an article she wrote called Behind the Scenes of “Storm Center” that appears in the January 1956 edition of the California Librarian – a copy of which is in the vertical file as well as in the Rare Book Room.
Ruth Hall tells a story that I didn’t see in any of the other newspaper clippings. At the time the library was constructed two palm trees were planted near the front entrance. As the trees matured some Santa Rosans, including Ms. Hall, found them unsightly. When the folks from Columbia Pictures asked if there was any civic improvement they might help with in exchange for permission to film, it was suggested that they pay to have trees removed. It’s hard to imagine just how unsightly those trees were given that the only photos I can find in the Library’s catalog are from when they were just sprouts. Today of course not only are the trees gone, but the old stone library as well. As far as I know Bette Davis never returned to Santa Rosa, but Santa Rosa continues to be a draw for Hollywood. For more on this check the Sonoma County Film Office web site. Meanwhile should you be interested, A DVD copy of Storm Center is available for loan from the Library.
Posted on October 03, 2012
One of the first things you should look for when you begin researching the history of your Petaluma home is to see if it was included in Dan Peterson's Petaluma Historic Resource Surveywhich was completed in 1977. The survey is not comprehensive. It's aim was to identify architectural resources that give Petaluma "its essential character." Because of this when Peterson and his volunteers came across a street inhabited by several houses exhibiting the same architectual style having all been constructed around the same time period he chose to survey a sampling rather than the whole block. Even if your home was one of those not included in the survey, you should find the document of use in gaining a general understanding of your neighborhood's history - if your neighborhood is included in the survey. Should your house be included, you will likely discover some useful information, but keep in mind that not all of the information may be factual and additional research will be required. A case in point is the Dranit home at 16 Sixth Street which is described on the form as having been constructed in 1916 by Frank Lepley for Mrs. Myrtle Winans who had an existing house on property moved to the rear of her lot to accomodate the new house.
The house was built for Myrtle Winans who did have an existing house moved when her new home was built. Historic maps confirm this; however, the rest of the facts may not be accurate. According to a July 8, 1914, Petaluma Argus article the house at 16 Sixth Street was built by H.S. McCargar, not Frank Lepley and was designed by Brainerd Jones. Here is the text from that article: "Contractor H.S. McCargar has been awarded the contract by Mrs. Myrtle Winans for the construction of an elegant new two story Colonial home on her property on Sixth Street and will begin work in a few days. The home was designed by Brainerd Jones and will be one of the prettiest and most convenient in the city and will be of plaster exterior. It will be full two story of seven rooms and sleeping deck and it will include every sanitary and labor saving device and will be a credit to the city. The old home will be moved back on Post Street having been purchased by Ed D. Hedges, who will put it in shape for renting purposes to desirable tenants. The new home will grace one the select sections of the residence district." It's interesting that the article describes the house as being stucco when the house today as it was in 1977 has shiplap siding. Perhaps there was a change of mind between the time McCargar got the contract and the house was built. Given that this information conflicts with the survey form, I'd want to follow the story forward. What happened after July 8, 1914? Is there an article that describes the completed house? Is it possible that despite this initial story, that in the end Mrs. Winans decided to wait until 1916 to build her new house - hiring Frank Lepley to do the work? Inquiring minds would want to know.
Posted on September 15, 2012
On Saturday, September 22, 2012, join the Wine Library Associates of Sonoma County and the Pedroncelli Winery for an evening with Professor Paola Sensi-Isolani as she discusses how the Italians came to the Sonoma County Wine Country and transformed it. This event will be held at the Pedroncelli Winery at 1220 Canyon Road, Geyserville from 5 PM to 8 PM. Wines and appetizers will be served. Tickets are $50 for the general public and $40 for members of either the Wine Library Associates or the Pedroncelli Wine Club, Club Ped. You can join either organization when you order tickets and receive the discounted price. Reservations: (800) 836-3894 - please ask for Kathy Cross
Posted on September 14, 2012
It was during an interview with a former Dairyman's Feed manager that I "learned" that the mill at 323 East Washington had sat vacant between 1964 and 1982. Thanks to Ralph Woodson, a contributor to the Facebook group: You Knew You Grew Up in Petaluma If . . . . , I know now that this is untrue. Ralph remembers when he use to pick up soy bean meal from the East Washington Street plant when he drove for Chicken International (took over Barlas Feeds when Reif and Brody went out of business) in the late 1960s. Looking at Petaluma city directories I do in fact find a listing for Pacific Growers Feed and Nulaid Foods (whole eggs) at 323 East Washington Street in 1971.
The cataloging notes on this 1975 Sonoma County Library photograph states that it is a view of the Nulaid Foods Feed Mill. Note the railroad cars. I suspect that Dan Peterson, A.I.A. took this picture when he was in the beginning stages of the Petaluma Historic Resource Survey project. Clearly more research to be done on Nulaid, Pacific Growers, etc., but in the meantime here is another bit of history on the mill. According to a current employee there is a fallout shelter beneath the plant equipped with shelves for canned food and other emergency supplies. And finally with regard to the photo of the men standing in front of the Nulaid truck. If you take a close look you will see the name William J. Raffetto painted on the window behind the men.
According to city directories, William J. Raffetto and later his son, William J. Raffetto, Jr., had a real estate, insurance, loan, and notary business at 401 Columbus Avenue during the 1940s and 1960s which suggests that the photo was taken in San Francisco and not Sonoma County.
Posted on September 12, 2012
Don't miss the Petaluma Palooza being held this Saturday, September 15th, at the Petaluma Arts Center, 230 Lakeville Street, where I will be presenting "Everything You Wanted to Know About Researching the History of a Petaluma Building in 10 Minutes or Less" at 4:30 PM.
For information on all the days' activities go to http://petalumapalooza.com/