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."
The hotel has been improving from its skid-row days when Hansen, who worked at the county courthouse, saw some of the people facing charges in court returning home later in the day to the hotel.
As the hotel was cleaned up in recent years it attracted a wider variety of tenants.
City Manager Mike Beirman lived there from August 2002 through March 2003, when he was interim city manager before taking the permanent job.
"It was a great place to be. It was very convenient," Beirman said. "It was no fuss, no muss. I was able to walk to work and walk downtown. It was really kind of nice."
Beirman, who moved from South Carolina for the job, ended up renting an apartment and then buying an eastside house when his wife and daughter followed him after the job became permanent.
He said the hotel was a great transition to the community. "I had no complaints there at all," he said.
The hotel fills a niche in Petaluma. In a county where the average home sells for almost $500,000 and the average apartment rents for more than $1,000 a month, the hotel has rooms starting at $360 a month and topping out at about $750, depending on the size of the room and whether it has a private bathroom. Three-times-a-week maid service runs $100 a month, including hotel linens.
"We've helped some people get started over in their life," said one of the hotel managers, Bob Layman.
Walking into the hotel takes people a step back in time. The lobby has rows of mailboxes for the tenants and a sunken spot in the wall where the bellman used to stand.