Hotel gets new lease on life Decade-long effort revives downtown landmark from skid row dive to prominence of glory days

Marylyn Hanson remembers five decades ago when sharply dressed dignitaries would cruise into town in chauffeur-driven limousines headed to the Bohemian Grove retreat, stopping at the upscale Redwood Room at the Hotel Petaluma on the way.

Hanson, who has lived at the four-story hotel since the 1950s, saw it in its glory days decades ago and in its darkest days, when it was referred to as a skid row dive after years of neglect.

A group of local businessmen saw the Washington Street landmark and its dust-covered hallways, down-on-their-luck tenants and 25 percent vacancy rate as a hidden gem, buying the 104-room hotel in 1994 for $1.25 million.

Since then they've been working to turn it around.

They've kicked out tenants who were making methamphetamine in their rooms, replaced carpets, installed a new steam heater and spent $30,000 painting the banquet room, where orchestras played from a balcony over the ballroom during the hotel's heyday.

It's no longer a place where people stay by the night. Its occupants are long-term renters.

The tenants are young and old, some are poor, others are well-off. About half leave every day to go to work.

Until recently, the tenants included well-known poet Eugene Ruggles, who died three weeks ago at age 68. Other occupants include an artist, an aspiring musician, an accountant and a retired civil engineer who used to drive by the hotel on his way to work each day.

Then there's Hanson, who has loved the hotel and its quirky style since her younger days growing up in town.

"People say 'Why do you live there?'" Hansen said. "I think it's a really nice residential hotel. I've always liked my little room."

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