Shall we play "Jeopardy?" The answer is: Nothing. The question is: What's happening to the historic cannery site on the tracks across from Railroad Square?
If you're up on the latest news from city hall you know that the big plans for the old buildings have fallen apart, victims of the loss of both redevelopment funds and city council enthusiasm.
So now we are left with a historic site that is nothing more than walls.
Ahh, but if these walls could talk, what tales they would tell. (Sorry about the clich?, but it's just too tempting.)
Now standing like specters on West Third Street, they are ghosts of a food industry that dominated both the landscape and the economy for half a century.
I've written about California Packing Company's Plant No. 5 in the dim and distant past, about the several hundred people who worked there, many of them recent immigrants at their first American job.
With the fate of the landmark structures in true jeopardy, not the game variety, it seems important to tell it again.
There is a distinct Italian accent to this story. The workforce for the three-block long cannery was drawn from the neighborhood, an area where the earliest immigrants had established themselves at the turn of the 20th century with boarding hotels and shops along and west of Wilson Street.
The scope of the cannery and its importance to the economy was enormous, In the April-to-October season, workers processed a wide variety of crops, coming by truck and train — pears from Lake and Mendocino counties, apples, berries and cherries from Sebastopol, peaches and plums from Geyserville and Cloverdale. There were also vegetables. Cal Pack, as the company was known, leased fields in Valley Ford and Ignacio to grow spinach and peas.
There were even tomatoes from the Sacramento Valley, although Cal Pack's predecessor at the Santa Rosa site, Hunt Brothers Cannery, had long since established itself as the premier tomato processor in the Sacramento area, on its way to becoming a national brand (think Hunt's tomato sauce, think ketchup).
The workers were mostly women, although there were often whole families employed. Daughters worked beside mothers, peeling and sorting fruit; sons were with fathers in the box-making area or keeping the machinery running.
Berries were the most fragile, and that short season often meant 16-hour days to get the fresh fruit washed and sorted and canned. (Train cars filled with berries or cherries were often "hijacked" by teenage boys who would jump aboard at a country crossing and ride to town, eating all they could before the trip was over.)
THERE WERE a few Irish, some Portuguese but mainly they were Italians, many of them "just off the boat," as they would tell it. Ask your third-generation Italian friends in Santa Rosa for a brief family history and it's a safe bet the cannery will be somewhere in the mix.
Not only did the work sustain families economically, but there was romance, and marriages and lasting friendships that came off that food processing assembly line.
DESPAIRING OF the potential loss of an important part of the town's history, I paid a visit last week to my friend Rita Carniglia Hall. Rita knows a lot about Santa Rosa's Westside neighborhood and the three-block cannery in its midst.