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Happy haunting at historic schoolhouse

  • Leah Taylor and her husband Rick Williams have seen ghostly apparitions and experience creepy, unearthly noises while living in the circa 1880's Potter Schoolhouse in Bodega.
    (photo illustration by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Taylor says her parents, Tom and Mary Taylor, teachers by trade, never thought about "The Birds" when they bought the school, which had been closed for safety concerns and sold at auction in 1961. She was told it had first been bought by a lumberman who wanted to harvest its spectacular virgin heart redwood. But after Hitchcock turned the school into a cinematic landmark, the lumberman may have changed his mind.

"We used to pass by here all the time on our way to the beach," Taylor remembers. "The front door had chains across it and the windows were all boarded up."

When her mother saw an ad that the place was for sale, the family drove out from their Bennett Valley home to investigate.

Potter Schoolhouse

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"It was a huge monstrosity. All my parents' friends thought they were crazy," says Taylor, who was 11 at the time and recalls riding in the back seat with a friend, giggling at the absurdity of anyone buying it.

The sky was visible through the rafters, owls had taken up residence, and a thick layer of bird poop covered the beautiful fir floor and 19th century Steinway grand piano in the upstairs meeting hall.

"I think my mother always had her vision. She was totally into history and loved the beauty of the building and valued it as something historic," Taylor says. She is seated in a comfy couch in that hall, now a living room cheerfully lit from windows offering views of the sandy-colored coastal hills.

"She wanted to live here, not realizing how the movie had made it hugely popular from another point of view."

The Taylors, including Leah's two brothers, spent two years cleaning, painting and repairing the school before opening the Bodega Art Gallery in the downstairs classrooms in 1968, offering fine arts along with a few souvenirs to appease movie fans. By 1971, the school was habitable, with a bedroom, bath, kitchen and living room upstairs.

The space has been reinvented many times. Leah ran a cafe in one classroom in the late '70s, and in the late '80s, two classrooms were divided to create a bed-and-breakfast inn.

Leah, who has a degree in theater, staged theatrical shows in the big hall. The late folk singer Kate Wolf gave concerts there. But in recent years, it is simply a home for Taylor, her husband, Rick Williams — the couple own Harmony Farm Supply in Sebastopol — and their son.


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