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.
"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.
Bodega was a thriving mill town when the grand schoolhouse was completed in 1873, with two big classrooms downstairs and a 3,000-square-foot community hall upstairs. It was named for Sonoma County Sheriff Charles Potter, who donated the land.
The building may look slightly sinister because of its cinematic association. But the spookier stories take place inside.
Given the fact that the school was officially dedicated with a public gathering on Oct. 31, 1873, Taylor thought it would be fitting to open up the big front doors once again for a Halloween Party fund-raiser for the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center.
A member of the center's board of directors, Taylor will share true tales of her own encounters with strange phenomena and spectral figures.
"I personally have experienced many things over the years, as have members of my family. I actually saw an apparition in the door there," she says, pointing to a door to the kitchen, formerly the cloak room. She recounts the way a "little floaty thing that had a silver aura around her" emerged.