(Editor?s note: This is one in a series of monthly stories taking a close-up look at neighborhoods in Petaluma.)
One hundred years ago, a walk through Petaluma?s riverfront warehouse area south of the downtown core would have looked very different.
There would be no office or apartment buildings on First Street, no townhouse projects under construction, no hot drinks being poured from Petaluma Coffee & Tea or Aqus Cafe.
Yet, in many ways, the elements that bring the neighborhood?s diverse uses together today have always been present.
Although the row of metal-sided warehouses that once lined the river along First Street may be the neighborhood?s most recognizable image, the 15-square-block area has always been more than just the part of town where goods are stored.
There was a mix of industry, agriculture, housing and services in the area ? bounded by D Street on the north, the Petaluma River on the west, Foundry Wharf on the south and Petaluma Boulevard to the east.
That mix is echoed in the appearance and makeup of the neighborhood and its people today.
Historian Diana Painter?s 2004 Historic Context Report on the riverfront warehouses says 19th-century fire insurance maps show a variety of uses cropping up there just a few years after Petaluma?s birth as a city in 1858.
A mule-driven railroad traveled down Second Street on its way to Haystack Landing south of town, passing a planing mill (where Rivertown Feed is now), the gas works, a steamship landing and fruit canning plant.
Within a few years, the fruit company had given way to an overalls manufacturer and Petaluma?s rise to chicken capital of the world was bringing other changes.
In 1910, livestock feed entrepreneur Magnus Vonsen built a large warehouse at the end of E Street with a riverfront wharf for access to shipping.
It was followed by more warehouses, some owned by Vonsen and others not, designed to connect rail and river shipping for the benefit of agriculture, Painter writes.
?The story of the entrepreneurs associated with these feed and grain businesses is the story of Petaluma in microcosm,? she said. The presence of the large warehouses along the river ?is the key to Petaluma?s history as an agricultural port.?
The agricultural boom that sparked the need for warehouses also meant a need for workers, so many of the small cottages and bungalows in the neighborhood were built as rentals for those employees, historian Katherine Rinehart said.
It was another sign that the mixed-use neighborhood would remain that way ? both at the present and into the future. Mixing homes, businesses and services is a model that urban planners now desire in downtowns.
In the riverfront warehouse area, ?You?ve got mixed-use already, and now we?re trying to replicate that in other parts of the city,? Rinehart said.
The neighborhood now
Recent census figures show 33 households in the neighborhood, a figure that is about to get a big boost when the recently completed apartments and soon-to-be-finished townhomes are counted.
?It?s certainly a new mix around here,? said Don Coover, vice president of Kresky Sign Co., which can trace its roots in the neighborhood back 100 years.
Coover has been working at the sign manufacturer?s First Street location ? once one of the large feed warehouses ? for a quarter century.