(Editor?s note: This is one in a series of monthly stories taking a close-up look at neighborhoods in Petaluma.)
As a teenager growing up in the tiny, sleepy town of Bloomfield, Fernando Nugent yearned for the excitement of downtown city life on weekends.
?I came with my friends to Petaluma to have fun. We liked to cruise the Boulevard ? in ?84 and ?85, it was the thing to do,? he said.
Soon after graduating from Tomales High School, the lure of downtown Petaluma enticed him to move there. And 19 years later, he and his girlfriend, Pattie Merrill, have become so rooted in the area that they jokingly refer to themselves as ?Mr. and Mrs. Petaluma.?
?Downtown has kept the unique charm of what old town Petaluma is all about,? Nugent said.
Despite accelerating development, the downtown area ? with its impressive ironfront, 19th century buildings and wildly diverse shops housed in historic structures ? still suggests a cozier, simpler time, and catches the eye of everyone from casual tourists to Hollywood directors. Its intriguing residents flourish in this atmosphere, which like them is becoming more of a rarity as uniform modernization dominates much of American city life.
For the most part, downtown residents are an eclectic mix of self-styled individuals, many of whom are artists and musicians who live in apartments above, below and behind restaurants and other businesses, as well as in the fabled Hotel Petaluma. Unlike other Petalumans, they live in the heart of the city ? an area full of activity, night and day ? and are constantly aware of its pulsating energy.
?Mostly, it?s a fun, happy neighborhood,? said Connie Madden, who has lived with her partner, Wayne Morgenthaler, on Water Street since 2000.
Like many downtown residents, they live in an unusual spot ? a large basement/warehouse below a restaurant that they also use for their work.
?The thing about living in a warehouse is that you can do all sorts of things you can?t do in a house,? Madden said. ?We can have two people for supper or more than 100 people over to dance, and it still feels like home.?
She also enjoys living near the Petaluma River.
?I love to walk around the Turning Basin,? she said. ?You can see the reflection of the boats on the water, and it?s almost always peaceful there ? if someone is rude there, you certainly notice it, because it?s the exception.?
Madden and many other residents and shop owners laud the excitement and accessibility of the downtown area.
?It?s perfectly located for banks, stores and nightlife,? said Mary Skevos, a resident of the Hotel Petaluma on Washington Street.
?The best part of living downtown is going to see a great show at the Mystic Theatre. It?s a family place where you can have a great time,? said Nugent, who lives on Petaluma Boulevard North.
?I like the variety of things here, and there?s more to do now than ever before,? said Claudia O?Flynn Phelps, co-owner of the Aesthetic Approach on Kentucky Street. ?Everything is very accessible ? I can go from a bookstore straight to a pedicure, for instance.
?The quality of the stores is what makes Petaluma what it is. They?re very eclectic, and most shop owners have a great rapport with each other. And the downtown roads have their own antiquated expression.?