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'Petaluma Memories' series to highlight local history

Some Petalumans can still recall catching a Leghorns football game at Durst Field, or electing Helen Putnam as the first female mayor. Those who can't, rely on oral history and fading photographs for a glimpse of early to mid-20th century Petaluma.

Local filmmaker Andrew Martin, who has lived in Petaluma since 2005, has collected some of Petaluma's best stories for a documentary series called Petaluma Memories. His work captures the city at a time when buying a loaf of bread meant visiting the local baker, and the fastest way to get from Petaluma to Healdsburg was by train.

"One of the beauties of this project was that it was a chance to meet people that are the foundation of the community," said Martin, 73, a retired video producer and director. "It is about people and their lives."

Martin and his partner, Janet Papina Cella, spent a year interviewing, filming and editing the four-part series. The project is divided into half-hour episodes on the Petaluma Leghorns semi-pro football team, old bakeries of Petaluma, the railroads of Petaluma and memories of Helen Putnam, the groundbreaking local politician.

They interviewed 35 people for the project, including such local luminaries as Helen Rudee, former county supervisor, Dan Benedetti, former CEO of Clover-Stornetta, and the late Ramey Chaney, former owner of U.S. Bakery.

"It is a pretty tight community, so (getting access) was something I was leery of," said Papina Cella, who did all of the interviews for the series. She has lived in Petaluma since the 1960s. "But everyone was friendly and willing to talk. I learned many things about Petaluma. I did not realize the impact the Leghorns had on the community. Helen (Putnam) I knew, but I learned a lot about her."

The series is full of fascinating facts about Petaluma's history. Train buffs will be interested to learn that, long before the SMART commuter train was ever conceived, there was a horse-drawn railway in Petaluma. Businessman John McNear and his partner, Isaac Wickersham, bought the railway, renamed it the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway Company and electrified it.

Local historian Skip Sommer, who is featured in some of the segments, said that the project will serve as a sort of time capsule to preserve some of the history of Petaluma.

"This is really important for local history," said Sommer, who is on the board of the Petaluma Historical Museum. "These will be viewed forever I think."

The programs played on local public access channels and will air on public television station KRCB later this month. Stan Marvin, KRCB director of programming, said that viewers respond well to shows about local history.


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