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McDonald Mansion opens its doors

  • Steve Rynerson, right, architect that worked on the McDonald Mansion project, led a tour of the house during the Sonoma County Medical Foundation Alliance 20th anniversary celebration held at the McDonald Mansion Thursday. (CRISTA JEREMIASON PHOTOS)

For more than three years people have ogled from the street as Santa Rosa's fabled McDonald Mansion underwent a meticulous, multi-million dollar makeover.

On Thursday, some 75 major patrons of the Sonoma County Medical Association Alliance and Foundation were invited past the hedges to stroll the park-like grounds, with their formal boxwood cutting gardens in full bloom, imported English conservatory and 60-foot reflecting pool.

But the bigger prize was inside.

For the first time, owners John and Jennifer Webley formally invited guests beyond the front door of the 14,000-square-foot plantation-style mansion, built as a summer home in 1879 by civic developer Mark McDonald and his wife Ralphine.

The site of the grand entry, with its vaulted, 21-foot-tall stained glass ceiling and musician's balcony, did not disappoint.

“It's absolutely exquisite. I've always thought, ‘Oh my gosh. I'd love to live there. And when they started remodeling it, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. I'd love to be able to go inside,'” marveled Jo Sandersfeld, an executive with St. Joseph Health Systems as she stood in awe in the middle of a Turkish parlor, complete with Moorish arches, just off the entry hall.

The mansion peek was a thank-you to the highest level supporters of the alliance and foundation, which is featuring the McDonald Mansion grounds as a marquee attraction of its 20th annual Garden Tour today and Saturday.

“This is a national level project. There are not a lot of parallels in the country,” Paul Duchscherer, the lead historical designer on the project, told several dozen guests trying to absorb all the details while standing on the newly finished floors in their stocking feet.

Other guests, many of whom work with the six social agencies that will benefit from the estimated $60,000 raised by the tour, were thrilled simply to see the grounds and gardens, which themselves are historically significant, with their rare hybrid 19th century palm and Gold Rush era-roses harvested from the old City Cemetery in Sacramento.

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