Petaluma newbies may wonder what that building is, and what it's doing out there on the McNear Peninsula. Longer-term residents can recall 2004, when the building — the Grimes Livery Stable — was carefully raised and transported from its century-old home at First and D streets to Steamer Landing Park.

The building is the topic of a May 20 lecture by local architect Bill Wolpert, "Adaptive Re-Use of a Petaluma Livery Stable," one of four local talks celebrating National Preservation Month.

According to local architectural historian Katherine Rinehart, the livery stable is an example of an early 20th century false-fronted building that "conveys a sense of a bygone era, when the horse was the primary form of transportation."

Wolpert, who's been involved with historic buildings for 25 years, will be giving an update on the livery stable's life and times.

"I'm fascinated by historic buildings," he said. "How they evolve, and how they change to adapt to new uses."

He first became interested in old buildings in Pasadena, when he served on that city's Heritage Board.

"I grew fond of the old buildings and their histories. They're such wonderful examples of craftsmanship."

His talk will cover some of the improvements in store for the livery stable. "The first restoration of its false fa?de has already been approved by the Planning Commission," he said. "Hopefully, that will be done this summer."

The fa?de was damaged at some point in the building's history but the restoration "will result in it looking the way it was when it was originally constructed."

He'll also discuss how the building evolved on its original site and how it will be used in the new location.

Wolpert's been working for several years with the Friends of the Petaluma River.

"It really wants to be a river heritage museum," he says of the old barn, "part of a larger city park. There are a lot of ideas for the general area, "but the barn would like to be an educational center for boat building workshops, small watercraft, historical and Native American crafts, which include building tule canoes."

Wolpert refers to what the building wants because he thinks "old buildings do have a personality. What makes them fascinating is that they have a story to tell. It gets revealed a little at a time. Getting to know it means scratching away at the surface, seeing those details that have changed over time, seeking the clues as to what happened, the milestones in its life."

The lecture series continues at 7 p.m. May 10 as Rinehart discusses "From Grain Elevators to Harcheries: Petaluma's Agricultural History as Told Through its Architecture."

(Contact Katie Watts at