Test your Petaluma trivia prowess
Published: Friday, December 28, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 at 1:35 p.m.
What does the name Petaluma mean? Did you know Petaluma is mentioned in a number of songs? What movies were filmed here?
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve lived here a lifetime, or just a few months, there are just some things you should know about your hometown — and the Argus-Courier is here to help.
While this is by no means a complete collection of Petaluma facts and information, it will help you get started on your way to looking like a Petaluma know-it-all in front of your family, friends and neighbors.
What is the meaning of “Petaluma?” No one knows for sure, but the name of our town is believed to mean “flat back hills” in the language of the Miwok Indians.
Is the Petaluma River really a river? No, technically it’s a tidal slough, winding 13 miles from San Pablo Bay to its tributaries on the northern edge of Petaluma.
“The Petaluma River and our wetlands are at the base of our watershed,” says Gerald Moore of the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance. “It collects all the pollutants that escape into the watershed, frequently causing bird and fish kills. We need to keep the watershed clean. Wetlands also reduce flooding and erosion during winter storms and purifies the water that passes through them. The wetlands also provide a habitat for more than 200 species of California birds.”
Walking and biking town: Petaluma is a walking and biking town. The river trail is an off-road pedestrian and bike path along the river that connects east and west Petaluma. It goes underneath the freeway and is a popular bike route. Petaluma’s neighborhoods, parks and downtown are all popular spots for pedestrians.
For the birds: Not only is the 165-acre Shollenberger Park a great place for a stroll, it’s also the place for birdwatching. It’s located just off of South McDowell Boulevard and Cader Lane. Just watch for the signs. Visit www.petaluma wetlands park.org for the full scoop.
High and low: The highest elevation in Petaluma is 313 feet — at La Cresta Drive and Summit Way. The lowest elevation is East Court — 6 feet.
North, south and east: Petaluma Boulevard North starts at B Street. South of B Street, the addresses are Petaluma Boulevard South. East Washington Street starts at Petaluma Boulevard. Everything west of Petaluma Boulevard is simply Washington Street, not West Washington Street.
About the Boulevard: Petaluma Boulevard North was originally known as Main Street and Petaluma Boulevard South was Third Street. Both were renamed in 1958 as Petaluma Boulevard North and South. The new names were thought to be more modern.
What is a Leghorn? The White Leghorn was considered the number one egg-laying chicken and became the breed of choice for Petaluma poultry ranchers. The Petaluma Leghorns was the name of a semi-pro football team from 1947 to 1958 and the city recently named its newest park Leghorns Park.
Raw strength and courage: For many years, Petaluma was the mecca of armwrestling competition (it was called wristwrestling here). “Raw strength and courage” was the motto of the World’s Wristwrestling Championship, which was held in Petaluma for 51 years before it moved to Reno in 2003. While it was here, it put Petaluma on the map, with television coverage by ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” a “Peanuts” comic strip and booster-columnist Bill Soberanes.
A sense of community: Petaluma is town that cares for its people. Whenever there is a need great or small, Petaluma’s many service clubs, churches, non-profit groups, small businesses, large companies and individuals alike are eager to chip in to see the need met.
What was invented here? In 1879, Lyman Byce invented the egg incubator, a device for hatching eggs that was instrumental in the development of the profitable egg industry in Petaluma in the early 20th century.
Egg Basket of the World: Petaluma had become the world leader of the chicken and egg industry by 1917. The Petaluma Chamber of Commerce hired promoter H.W. “Bert” Kerrigan to capitalize on the chicken mania and he declared the town “The Egg Basket of the World.” He then proceeded to market Petaluma, sometimes shamelessly, as the center of the Chicken Universe. The town helped launch a National Egg Day on Aug. 13, 1918,
Petaluma in the movies: Many features films and advertisements have been filmed in Petaluma, including “American Graffiti,” “Peggy Sue Got Married,” “Cujo,” “Explorers,” “Inventing the Abbotts,” “Mumford,” “Lolita” and the Morning In America television ads for Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign.
Petalumans in the movies: Both Lloyd Bridges (1930s) and Winona Ryder (1980s) went to Petaluma High School before they went to Hollywood and started making movies.
Petaluma in songs: Songs with Petaluma in the title include Norman Greenbaum’s “Petaluma;” Susan Werner’s “Petaluma Afternoons;” Freak Accident’s “Never Going Back to Petaluma;” “Petaluma Riot City” by the Working Stiffs; and Harry Partsch’s “And on the Seventh Day the Petals Fell on Petaluma.”
Who were the McNears? John A. McNear and his son, George P. McNear, were shrewd businessmen, entrepreneurs and civic leaders. John came to Petaluma in 1856 and operated a livery stable, hay yard, shipping business, shipbuilding, warehousing, banking and milling. In 1876, George became his father’s partner in his flour mill. In 1886, John McNear built the McNear Building in downtown Petaluma.
The River Plaza’s original name: The shopping center on East Washington Street between Water and Weller streets was recently changed to River Plaza, but it has been known to locals for many years as the Golden Eagle Shopping Center. The name Golden Eagle acknowledged the mill that was established on this site by Hiram Fairbanks and others in 1888. Prior to Fairbanks’ involvement it had been the Percival Milling Company. The company began as a 50-barrel a day flour mill, but by 1893 was producing 200 barrels a day. Over time, the plant expanded so that it eventually occupied eight acres of land — fronting both the Petaluma River and East Washington Street. This prime location permitted easy access to the river and rail. Flour production was phased out in 1924 and Golden Eagle put their energies into livestock feeds for the burgeoning poultry and dairy industry. The feed was sold under the GEMCO brand. In 1958, Golden Eagle purchased its competitor and neighbor, the G.P. McNear Company and both became known as Hills Mills. In 1964, the buildings originally associated with Golden Eagle were torn down and by 1968 plans to develop the property as a shopping center were underway. The Golden Eagle Shopping center opened in 1974.
Petaluma had its own “China Town”: It’s true. Petaluma had its own China town, located on the east side of Petaluma Boulevard between C and D streets. It was torn down around 1926 and is the current site of Theatre Square.
Building a city: Sonoma County’s famed architect Brainerd Jones moved to Petaluma with his mother in 1875 and is credited with designing many of the town’s buildings. He’s best known for his designs of three Carnegie libraries in Sonoma County including the one that now houses the Petaluma Museum. Jones also designed the Craftsman style Petaluma Woman’s Club building at 518 B St. His significant residential building in Petaluma includes the Byce House, used for the filming of “Peggy Sue Got Married.”
Ironfront row: The block of Western Avenue between Petaluma Boulevard and Kentucky Street is the location of one of Petaluma’s most significant architectural treasures, a row of Italianate ironfront buildings. The buildings’ cast iron facades were manufactured at San Francisco’s foundries, then shipped up the river, assembled and bolted to brick walls.
Historic downtown: While its ironfront buildings and nearby Victorian homes help make it beautiful, there’s plenty to do downtown. From dancing and concerts to dining and movies, downtown is also the place where local residents like to hang out.
Does Petaluma have a state park? Yes, Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park, or as locals call it, “the old Adobe.” Built between 1834 and 1846 by General Mariano G. Vallejo, it is one of the oldest preserved buildings in Northern California. Visit www.petalumaadobe.com.
The Petaluma Museum was orginally the Carnegie Library: Petaluma’s was one of 2,509 library buildings constructed in towns and neighborhoods throughout the English-speaking world between 1886 and 1919. Construction began on the Petaluma Free Public Library at Fourth and B streets in 1904. The building, designed by local architect Brainerd Jones and built from locally quarried stone, features the largest free-standing leaded glass dome in Northern California. The building is in the neo-classical style, featuring original fan-glass windows, round leaded-glass windows, also original interior wood paneling and columns. It eventually outgrew its purpose, and in 1977 a new library was built at East Washington and Payran streets.
The former library, now known as the Petaluma Museum, houses Petaluma poultry, dairy, and Miwok Indian history exhibits from the 1850s, as well as travelling exhibits, guest speaker series and concerts.
History lessons: If these morsels of town trivia have whet your appetite, visit the Petaluma Museum at 20 Fourth St. to discover more about the city’s rich history.
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