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Historic sites in need of saving


(Editor's Note: This is the second in a two-part series that explores preservation efforts in Petaluma).

The way Petaluma historian Katherine Rinehart sees it, there are a multitude of unkempt landmarks that could be saved from "demolition by neglect" if the city seeks Certified Local Government, or CLG, designation.

Rinehart highlighted six historic structures that tell the stories of Petaluma's past but have fallen by the wayside from years of neglect. Each stands to benefit from improved funding and more consistent planning, which advocates say CLG status can help provide by encouraging partnerships between local governments, the State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service.

The Silk Mill

Perhaps Petaluma's most well known landmark, the Silk Mill was the very first mill of its kind west of the Mississippi. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historic Resources, the mill was originally home to San Francisco's Carlson-Currier Silk Manufacturing Company. In the 1940s, Sunset Line & Twine Company took residence in the building, manufacturing silk parachutes for World War II and cords for parachutes used in the Apollo and Gemini space programs.

For a decade, the building has been closed and slowly degrading. Recently, Rinehart and other concerned citizens banded together to nominate the Silk Mill for the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 2014 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Rinehart said the group should find out this month whether or not the mill made list. Such recognition, she said, would give the Silk Mill national attention, thereby attracting developers who might have the money and the expertise to take on such an enormous rehabilitation project.

The Railroad Trestle

Petaluma's historic 500-foot long railroad trestle was once the foundation for the Petaluma Trolley. Built in 1904, the trolley was part of the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad, which transported passengers between Sonoma County and the San Francisco Bay Area. The Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad was the only interurban passenger and freight railroad in Sonoma County.

To begin restoring the trestle, and ultimately bring the trolley back to Petaluma, a Coastal Conservancy Grant was awarded to the city in October 2010 for $475,000, with a local match requirement of $25,000. Between 2011 and 2013, that grant funded the design engineering, environmental assessment and construction documents needed for the trestle's renovation.

Project Manager Diane Ramirez said the next step for the city is to secure construction funds, which now amount to about $5 million.

The Masciorini House

In 1872, Swiss immigrant Joseph Giuseppe Masciorini, now known as the patriarch of one of Petaluma's founding families, settled near Sear's Point. In 1906, he purchased the 246-acre John D. Ellis ranch on Lakeville Highway, and five years later, the Masciorini House was built.

Today, the house sits near the Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility, boarded up with occasional landscape maintenance. The building's roof was replaced in 2007 to help the structure maintain its integrity, but currently there is no upkeep or preservation work planned.

The Polly Hannah Klaas Performing Arts Center

Located across from City Hall on Western Avenue, the old Petaluma Christian Church was constructed in 1910. After the church vacated the building in the 1970s, the city bought the property with plans to level the structure to build a parking lot. Instead, Petaluma preservationists were able to designate the building as a historic landmark. The church building was dedicated in 1994 to Polly Klaas, a Petaluma 12 year old who was kidnapped and murdered. Klaas loved the stage, and it was decided that Cinnabar Theater would take over after the space was renovated — but it never was.

The building was deemed unsafe in 2000. Renovation costs, including earthquake retrofitting, electrical rewiring and foundation work, are estimated at about $1.5 million.

Assistant City Manager Scott Brodhun said the city is still holding approximately $170,000 in a donation account for the building.

Brodhun said there are no new plans for the building. However, some city council members have considered increasing the city's transient occupancy tax, which could help pay for future renovations.

The Red Barn

Danish immigrant Niels Christian Scott purchased the 134-acre ranch on the corner of D Street and Windsor Drive in 1915, after arriving in California 15 years earlier. Scott contracted the remodeling of every building and fence on the ranch, including the two-and-a-half story red barn. Upon Scott's death in 1941, an article in the Petaluma Argus-Courier stated that the Scott Ranch was one of the "model places in the county."

The property was passed onto Scott's son, Arnold, a lifelong Petaluman. Arnold Scott owned the ranch until his death in 1999, at which point he left the property to the University of the Pacific, where he had received a degree in sociology.

The Scott Ranch was purchased by Walnut Creek developer Davidon Homes in 2004 for $7.8 million, as part of a luxury home development. The developer's original proposal, submitted that same year, called for 104 single-family residential homes. The plan has since been scaled back to a maximum of 66 homes, and includes two options for the historic structure.

One option, at 66 homes, would involve the relocation and rehabilitation of the historic red barn across the creek. A second option, with a total of 63 homes, would preserve the red barn and two related outbuildings in place.

Rinehart hopes that the barn will be left where it's always been, since transporting such an old structure has proved to be a difficult task in the past. The city has yet to take any action on the revised Davidon project.

The Hansen House

The historic Hansen House, located along North McDowell Boulevard, was built in 1906 by Danish immigrants Hans and Anna Marie Hansen. Upon settling in Petaluma, the couple purchased 23 acres of land on North McDowell to launch their chicken ranch, which was, at that time, on the outskirts of town.

The Hansen House once served as a de facto community center for Danish immigrants, but since its heyday, the house has sat neglected along the roadside. After being designated as a local landmark last summer, the city's planning commission approved a housing project on the land, North McDowell Commons, a 34-unit rental subdivision, as long as the house was preserved.

Santa Rosa developer Hugh Futrell has incorporated the rehabilitation of the house into his subdivision plans, and preservationists like Rinehart are hopeful the renovations will go as planned.

(Contact Allison Jarrell at al lison.jarrell@arguscourier.com)