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Smith: He bets Burbank's fence won't go easily

Whenever the project commences to tear out and replace the stately but decrepit white-picket fence at Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, 96-year-old Peter Bassignani hopes to witness it.

Bassignani is curious to see what sort of effort is required to dismantle the 740 feet of fence. Because he remembers, from 60-some years back, the labor that went into building it.

"I worked on that fence," said Bassignani, a retired carpenter who was born in Santa Rosa's westside Italian quarter in 1917.

He remembers his former boss, contractor Robert Whiting, landing the job to dismantle and restore the previous fence around Luther Burbank's property at Santa Rosa and Sonoma avenues. That was sometime in the 1950s.

Bassignani said he and the rest of the crew did a heck of a job. The fence of redwood pickets, some new and some salvaged from the earlier structure, was constructed atop a concrete curb designed by architect Leland Noel.

Bassignani said the base of each new post was drilled, then a length of galvanized pipe was inserted to a depth of 6 or 8 inches. The other end of the pipe was anchored into the curb.

That baby was built to last. When the restoration project finally was completed, Bassignani and the others admired how solid and beautiful it was, and how true to its predecessor.

As Bassignani recalled, the fence looked great for three weeks. Then, "some guy, I don't know how the hell he did it, but he went through it with a car."

The wrecked section had to be rebuilt yet again. Through the six decades since then, Bassignani can't pass by the Burbank home without admiring the fence he helped to build.

But now it's in sorry shape again. Last week, City Hall and members of the association that operates the city-owned Burbank Home announced they've pooled the money needed to replicate the custom, redwood fence.

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