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(Editor?s note: This is one in a series of monthly stories taking a close-up look at neighborhoods in Petaluma.)

Chris Oaks remembers buying his Bassett Street house 36 years ago and thinking it would make a good starter home for him and his new bride.

?This was supposed to be the beginning of moving on to other places,? the 62-year-old builder said. ?But it always looked better than the alternative.?

Today, Oaks and his wife, Susan, share their Victorian home with their daughter and grandson and are one of several neighborhood families who have put down roots along the streets near City Hall and Petaluma High School.

Cathy Podesta and her husband, Gary, moved to Bassett Street 30 years ago, thinking they would fix up an early 1900s home and move along in five years or so.

?Here we are 30 years later, still fixing it up and still working on it,? she said.

Even the residents whose years in the neighborhood number in the single digits can see themselves staying far into the future.

?I kind of hope I grow old here,? said Lana Reuter, a mother of two young children who moved to Baker Street seven years ago.

Elsa Beatty and her family relocated to Petaluma from Corvallis, Ore., a year and a half ago due to her husband Jason?s Coast Guard job. They were drawn to their Bassett Street home because it?s close to the downtown.

?We felt strongly about living within walking and biking distance to town,? Beatty said. ?We often park our car for a few days before we need to get back into it.?

The nature of her husband?s job means the Beattys are never certain about how long they?ll stay in one spot, but they were welcomed with open arms when they moved to the neighborhood last year.

Shortly after arriving, they were invited to a post-Butter & Egg Days Parade barbecue on the lawn outside nearby City Hall.

The event, which happens occasionally over the years, is one of several get-togethers put on by neighbors.

?It was a great way for us to meet everyone,? Beatty said. ?It was a great feeling, to know that your neighborhood cares enough to organize something like that.?

Feelings of camaraderie and mutual admiration are common among residents of the neighborhood that encompasses parts of English, Bassett and Douglas streets ? and their side streets ? northeast of the high school.

There are several Victorian homes from the late 1800s in the neighborhood, along with smaller bungalows, former farmhouses and other residences that became part of the city as Petaluma grew west.

There have been a few changes over the years.

The land where the high school sits was once the city?s fairgrounds. The brick-and-white column Washington Grammar School once stood where City Hall is now and the Petaluma City Schools administration offices are located in the old Hagstrom?s Big T market on Douglas Street, which closed in the mid-1990s.

Today, Keny?s Donuts is the only non-school tenant in the old Hagstrom?s shopping center. Residents said they signed a petition to keep Keny?s open after the school district moved in.

The loss of the grocery store changed the character of the neighborhood a little, Oaks said.

?We don?t hear big trucks in the morning anymore,? he said.

What neighbors do notice from time to time is traffic from the nearby high school. Several said heavy traffic, and occasional speeders, are the biggest problems they?ve encountered during their residency.

?We get a rush of traffic between 8 a.m. and 8:20 a.m., before school starts,? said Casey Arena, who moved into the neighborhood 21⁄2 years ago from the Westridge area.

?I sometimes notice a fast car or two going up the street at 3 p.m., but it?s not a huge problem,? said Don McFadden, who moved to Douglas Street 42 years ago.

Larry Potts, who moved to Bassett Street 33 years ago, said neighbors want to get speed-limit signs and other traffic controls put at intersections along that street to make it safer for pedestrians.

But having the school nearby can also be a plus, neighbors said.

?The high school has its pros and cons,? said Kathy Merriman, a Bassett Street resident since 1984.

?We have to deal with a little bit of garbage from the high school kids, but in general they?re a pretty good bunch,? she said. ?And I love hearing all the sports announcements from my back yard.?

?It gives a certain life to the neighborhood when school is in session,? Beatty said. ?During the summer, it?s kind of quiet.?

Lory Teicheira and her husband moved to the neighborhood 23 years ago, spending a year and a half in a small bungalow before relocating to a larger house on Bassett Street when the first of their three children was born.

The home was centrally located throughout her child-ren?s school years, Teicheira said.

?I really liked the fact that our children could go to preschool, elementary, junior high and high school all by walking,? she said.

It was a good place to raise a family, said Helen Cavanagh, wife of former city councilman Jack Cavanagh and a resident of the neighborhood for 60 years.

They raised a son and daughter in the neighborhood, and Helen Cavanagh?s ties to the area go back even longer ? her 70th high school reunion is Sunday at PHS.

Tom Brandal, a Douglas Street resident for 34 years, raised two children in the neighborhood ? and he and his wife still find themselves over at the nearby high school for basketball and football games.

The school provides one of several open spaces in the neighborhood where residents like to gather for outdoor activities, said Teresa Barrett, a Petaluma City Council member who has lived on Bassett Street for almost 30 years.

The high school ? along with City Hall, the Moose Lodge, the Petaluma Creamery, St. Vincent de Paul Church and other nearby spots ? helps bring character and community to the neighborhood, she said.

?It?s a nice blend of lots of different things that make up what?s almost a little city,? Barrett said. ?And it?s a really nice group of people.?

?There are a lot of good people here,? Brandal said. ?That?s one thing that makes this place shine.?

Neighbors said they look out for one another, whether that means watching over a home while the owner is on vacation or working together to plant new street trees and keep the area clean.

One year, the nonprofit group Christmas in April ? now called Rebuilding Togeth-er ? organizing a day-long work party to clean up the neighborhood and help senior residents fix up their homes.

It took some prompting to get neighbors to go along with the idea, organizer Cathy Podesta said.

?It was hard to get people to trust it, but that particular day was really rewarding, because it pulled all the neighbors together,? she said. ?It brought everybody out.?

And during the Christmas season, a neighborhood tradition has really taken off ? also thanks to the Podestas.

What started as a night of Christmas caroling with a wine tasting group has expanded into a welcomed and expected holiday activity, Podesta said.

?It?s evolved to the point where half of our house is full ? I don?t even know everyone,? she said. ?We have up to 75 people ? sometimes, our neighbor, Larry Potts, brings his guitar.?

The group of revelers wanders through the neighborhood, knocking on doors and bursting into song for whoever answers.

Beatty, as a recent addition to the neighborhood, said her family joined the caroling festivities last year ? just a few months after moving in ? and was immediately impressed.

?People would open their doors and sit down to listen,? she said. ?Some even brought hot chocolate to us.?

(Contact Corey Young at corey.young@arguscourier.com. Reporters Dan Johnson and John Jackson also contributed to this story.)

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