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In a hectic world, people might pine for a bygone era when folks sat on their front porches for most of an evening and greeted their neighbors as they walked by.

That place still exists, and it's not far away.

In Santa Rosa's West End neighborhood, not far from downtown and just north of historic Railroad Square, residents have spent the past couple of decades recapturing the area's charm.

"The neighborhood is one of the oldest in Santa Rosa," said Allen Thomas, a West End resident and one of the organizers of the district's weekly seasonal farmers market, running 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 15.

Lying between West College Avenue on the north and West Sixth Street on the south, with North Dutton Avenue to the west and Davis Street to the east, the area still contains homes built in the late 19th century.

"This was one of the first subdivisions of the City of Santa and dates back to the 1880s, probably 10 years after the railroad came ..." Thomas said.

The neighorhood's best-known landmark is the DeTurk Round Barn on Donahue Street, built in 1891 by wealthy winery owner and horseman Isaak DeTurk.

While most of the area is residential, its boundaries touch on the 6th Street Playhouse, housed in a renovated 19th-century cannery building, and Chop's Teen Club, formerly the site of the much-loved Lena's Restaurant.

Nearby stands a current local favorite, Stark's Steakhouse, on the former site of Michelle's, another beloved longtime neighborhood restaurant and hangout. Both Lena's and Michelle's were Italian restaurants, and remained as reminders of the neighborhood's Italian heritage, long after the area's demographics began to change.

"At the turn of the century, and into the 1920s and '30s, the West End was primarily an Italian neighborhood. There were immigrants who came to work at the cannery in Railroad Square," Thomas said.

"In the 1970s and '80s, the neighborhood declined a little bit, and in the mid-'80s, a neighborhood association banded together to raise the quality of life," he added. "That spirit is still prevalent in our neighborhood."

Gradually, into the mid-1980s, younger families began moving into the West End. Realtor Carol Haseltine-Ernst, 42, who bought a house in the neighborhood in 1999, had a very personal reason for doing so.

"I bought this house because when I was teenager, my best friend lived here with her mom, and I said that when I grew up, I was going to buy it, because I loved it so much," said Haseltine-Ernst, who now shares the home with her husband and their 10-year-old daughter.

"People who live in the West End love it here," said Haseltine-Ernst. "It's just got a completely different feeling. You have a place where you belong when you live here."

In 1988, veterinarian Deborah Crippen bought a house in the West End, and since 2000, she has been living there, working in her garden in her free time, and sharing the house with two dogs and two cats.

"This neighborhood is perfect for me," said Crippen, 62. "People know each other and keep an eye out. We don't drive into garages with garage-door openers. We see each other coming and going all the time."

Thomas and his wife, Lea Barron-Thomas, current president of the West End Neighborhood Association (srwestend.com), not only live in the neighborhood but own rental properties there, and they have watched the demographics of the area shift.

Since 2000, Kid Street Learning Center Charter School has made its home at the former Lincoln Elementary School at Seventh and Davis streets.

"A lot of the people who are moving into the area now are younger, under 40, but you do get some folks who retire here," Thomas said.

"In my opinion, people who are drawn to the West End like the sense of community, and the fact that they have neighbors that they know," he said. "It's an attitude that has really flourished, mostly in the last 10 years."

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.