(Editor?s note: This is one in a series of monthly stories taking a close-up look at neighborhoods in Petaluma.)
Plenty of natural beauty ? including hayfields galore ? surrounded Mary Matthias and her family when they moved into a brand new, one-bedroom home on Cortez Drive in 1952.
?There was no McDowell Elementary School, no Kresky Way and no freeway. I?ve seen a lot of changes in our neighborhood, but our street still is pretty quiet,? she said.
Matthias, who was born and raised in Petaluma, moved into the home with her husband, Edward, and daughter, Donna. The couple?s three boys ? Allen, Wayne and Paul ? all were raised there. Edward passed away, and now Matthias lives in the home with Allen and his daughter, Samantha, who represents the third generation of the family to be raised there.
?In my family?s case, the nut doesn?t fall too far from the tree,? Matthias said. ?I work in a Petaluma bookstore, and talk to a lot of people who go to places like New York and Florida to visit their relatives, but I don?t have anywhere to go ? all my children live in Sonoma County. People say I?m lucky.?
Matthias feels particularly fortunate to live in Petaluma, and in the old McDowell Village neighborhood, in particular.
?I can?t complain. It?s been a good place to live,? she said.
She is one of many long-term residents in the neighborhood, which has changed considerably over the decades while maintaining the intimate feel and many of the humble qualities of a slower, more relaxed period. The first homes were built in 1952 on 6,000-square-foot lots with a sycamore tree in the front yard, and about 90 percent of them had redwood frames and an attached carport.
Consistent with the two-tone cars and PaperMate ball-point pens of the period, the redwood-frame homes, which cost less than $10,000, were painted in two colors. The remaining homes were made of cinder block, and were painted in only one color.
Other subdivisions were built in the next few years, and steadily boosted the neighborhood?s population, which consisted mainly of young families. The many young children attended McKinley Elementary School until McDowell opened in the late 1950s.
?When we first came here, my mother stood in the front yard and counted 21 kids,? said Betty Rhodes, who has lived on Coronado Drive since 1969 and raised two children with husband Bobbie.
?We have a scarcity of kids in our area, and I miss them,? said Bob Ausiello, who has lived with wife Sharon on Adrienne Drive for the past 22 years. ?Most of the people in our area are retired.?
While the children have grown up and most of them have moved away, many of the parents have remained ? and gradually, more of them are passing away.
?Over the years, we?ve lost a lot of neighbors who we knew very well,? Rhodes said.
?And when spouses pass away, the neighbors are there to help,? said Pat Smith, who appreciated their heartfelt assistance when she lost her husband, Sidney.
Long-time residents wistfully recall the early days of the old neighborhood.
Josephine Graham, 94, a resident on Cortez Drive, remembers the exact date that she moved into her home ? July 28, 1952. She says that in the 1950s, neighbors were friendly and that wives kept up with each others? business.