When I saw the Lost Santa Rosa exhibit pop up at the Museums of Sonoma County, I about jumped out of my seat. I know what you’re thinking, nerd alert! Which is just fine, I love history and believe it’s an important tool for us to learn, understand, and grow from. On top of that, it’s all about Santa Rosa, my home town, my roots. So, it was a no brainer that I needed to arrange for a visit and tour of the exhibit. Luckily, I was able to arrange a tour with Eric Stanley, Curator of History for the Museums of Sonoma County.
Now hearing Santa Rosa has a History Museum may come as a surprise to you. Just like we have an Art Museum and Sculpture Garden on the same property, which sits in the heart of downtown Santa Rosa. This beautiful 1910 Roman-columned building, located at 425 7th Street, between A & B street, was almost lost to gentrification or urban renewal, however you want to call it. Which ironically is the point the exhibit is trying to make, says Eric, to contemplate forced change; whether it be neglect, natural disaster, or gentrification.
Building the Exhibit
The concept for this exhibit was born when Eric read an article about Santa Rosa’s oldest wooden house, the Hoag house, published by the Press in September 2017. A month to the day, the North Bay Firestorm ripped through our community and natural disaster changed the face of our landscape once again. Eric knew at that moment the exhibit had to come to fruition. To share with the community the many faces Santa Rosa has had.
Entering the Exhibit
As you enter the exhibit your eye is immediately drawn to the graffiti barn door; don’t start there. Go left and head over to the oil painting of a young lady to read about the ‘LOST VILLAGE: The place where Santa Rosa started’. As you move along that same wall you’ll come across remnants of Santa Rosa’s China Town.
Turn right to see images of downtown Santa Rosa/Railroad square prior to the freeways arrival. The freeway quite literally cut through all classes of neighborhoods, says Eric, taking out store fronts like a local pasta factory and grand turn of the century homes. Even CalTrans felt it was a poor location and advocated for a freeway closer to West County. But local officials wanted to bring traffic to the city center and so now we have a freeway in the middle of town.
As you continue to make your way around the exhibit, you’ll see a piece on the 1906 earthquake. Santa Rosa sustained more earthquake damage than San Francisco, most of San Francisco’s damage was caused by the fire that erupted after the earthquake.
Brush up on your Thomas Lake Harris knowledge. Where Fountaingrove sits today, was once a Utopian community run by Harris and later left to Nagasawa. The graffiti barn door, sitting in the center of the exhibit was part of a Winery located on the property.
And as you wrap up the tour, you make a stop in the 60’s. Santa Rosa was encouraged to grow, there had been an ‘Urban Renewal’ project under way since 1959 and Santa Rosa was taking its sweet time to make changes. But that would kick into high gear with a pair of devastating earthquakes in October of ‘69. This caused large amounts of damage to the downtown area, forcing retrofitting or complete tear downs. Needless to say, it took downtown Santa Rosa some time to get back on its feet, roughly 12 years. But hey, we got a mall! Well there is a fair amount of debate as to whether that was a good thing.
Lastly, take some time to look in all the nooks and crannies. Visit ‘The Santa Rosa Room’, an exhibit made possible by the Historical Society of Santa Rosa and includes a video, ‘Santa Rosa: The Chosen Spot of all the Earth’. Head upstairs and you’ll find beautiful paintings showcasing the Northern California Landscape. Back outside, check out the sculpture garden or visit the newest museum, the Art Museum of Sonoma County.
Article take aways:
· Change is the only constant-Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 500 BCE)
· Visit the Lost Santa Rosa exhibit before it’s gone! April 14th - September 16th, 2018
· If you can’t make it to the exhibit visit the museum and take some time to learn about our regions history.