Local History and Genealogy Notes

Sonoma County Historical Society Seeks Nominations

Every March the SCHS recognizes the outstanding accomplishments of individuals and organizations serving the interests of Sonoma County history.  The competition is open to both members and non-members of the Society and nominations are due in January.

314 Bodega Avenue as it appeared in 2006. Photo courtesy of Katherine J. Rinehart

Rick and Trisha Young received the Brainerd Jones Preservation award last year for their amazing rehabilitation of a Petaluma bungalow located at 314 Bodega Avenue which is currently for sale. 

314 Bodega Avenue as it appears today. Photo courtesy of Westgate Real Estate.

Preservation is not the only category. There is also the Editor’s Award for Historic Scholarship, the Carmen J. Finley Historical Website Award, Robert Thompson Commercial Award and several others. For more information please contact SCHS president, Jeremy Nichols at Jeremy@cds1.net.

Wilsey-Bennett Co., Petaluma, Calif.

Wilsey-Bennett Co. Ships Eggs to London, England

Wilsey & Bennett, Co., yesterday completed packing 500 cases of Petaluma eggs which will go by steamer to London, direct. The firm has secured the entire compartment on the steamer and expect to land the eggs in perfect condition. They were carefully packed and processed for the long trip. The consignment was prepared by Manager I. Bureker. The cases were made by the Frasier box factory. The eggs were shipped under the brand of "Willbefresh" the trademark of the firm's processed eggs. On each case is printed in attractive letters: "Packed in packing house of Wilsey Bennett Co., Petaluma, California." (Source: Petaluma Daily Courier on May 28, 1922)

I believe that there are 180 eggs to a case so that means 90,000 eggs were shipped from Wilsey & Bennett, Co., which was located at 238 Main Street, to London on May 27, 1922 - perhaps that is when this photo was taken.

SCL Photo No. 295

Banned Books, Palm Trees & Hollywood

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.

Santa Rosa librarian, Ruth Hall with Bette Davis - September 12, 1955. Photo taken by John LeBaron. SCL Photo No. 5193


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.

Post card view of the Santa Rosa Carnegie Library that stood at the southwest corner of Fourth and E Streets - 1910. SCL Photo No. 4833


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.

Historic Homes of Petaluma: 16 Sixth Street --1914 or 1916? McCargar or Lepley?

16 Sixth Street - Oct 2012. Photo taken by Katherine J. Rinehart


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.

Myrtle Winans' house that was moved to 16 Post Street. Photo taken Dec 2010 by Katherine J. Rinehart


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.  

From Peasants to Entrepreneurs: The Italian American Experience in the North Coast Wine Industry

SCL Photo No. 5689

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