A mansion perfectly preserved

  • Angelo Leoni, left, and his wife Tressa Leoni have lived in their Petaluma house on D Street since 1962. Crista Jeremiason 2013

When Rinaldo and Tressa Righetti purchased a piece of property at 1000 D Street in Petaluma back in 1927, the local newspaper declared, "There is not a finer site for a beautiful home in Sonoma County."

Righetti set about building a noble residence befitting both the address and his status as manager of the Petaluma branch of the Bank of America. He enlisted Warren Charles Perry, the dean of the College of Architecture at U.C. Berkeley, to design it, a Georgian-style Colonial reminiscent of a plantation mansion, complete with shutters, cedar shake shingles and columns.

As the frame of the house went up in 1928, the Petaluma Argus-Courier predicted that it would be "one of this city's most elegant homes on one of the finest sites on the finest street."

Inside Petaluma's 'Finest Home'


But by 1962, when the widow Righetti was ready to downsize, the 4,719-square-foot, 11-room mansion with maid's quarters was something of a white elephant.

It was listed for sale as "Petaluma's finest home," and priced at $53,000, a princely sum at a time when the median U.S. home price was $17,200. The property taxes were a then-hefty $1,262 a year.

Tressa Righetti thought highly of her doctor, Angelo Leoni, who had a practice in town. When the father of eight, with one on the way, got it in his mind that the house would be a great birthday gift for his wife (also coincidentally named Tressa), he was able to talk the elderly widow into selling it for $46,000.

"Angelo knows that before we even bought it, every time we'd drive by I would say, 'That's my house,'" a now 91-year-old Tressa Leoni remembers.

The couple have now happily lived in Petaluma's "finest home" for half a century, raising 10 children within its aging splendor.

Tressa Leoni was sitting on the brick patio overlooking nearly an acre of formal grounds that still bear the original classical bones designed by Walter Hoff, a leading landscape designer of his day in the Bay Area. Front and center in the yard is a reflecting pond, now dry.

"The house is quite amazing," said Katherine Rinehart, a local historian who is working on a coffee table book of Petaluma's great historical architecture.

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