SOFA Rising

  • Ofelia sits in the doorway waiting to greet customers at Jeremiah's Photo Corner, on the corner of A Street and Sebastopol Avenue in Santa Rosa, on Thursday, August 30 2012.

Within walking distance of downtown Santa Rosa, the rustic A Street neighborhood near Juilliard Park seems a prime spot for visitors.

Long a haven for artists, both at public galleries and in private studios, the area has been evolving for the past decade. Locals have organized themselves as South of A Street, or SOFA, and now host several public street events a year.

But since the opening of the Spinster Sisters restaurant last month at the corner of Sebastopol Avenue and A Street, there's a sense of new energy up and down the block.

Spinster Sisters


"The neighborhood's really jumping," said Barbara Harris, who runs the Gallery of Sea and Heaven art gallery and artists' studio complex on A Street.

"We've crossed a threshold, and we're not going back," Harris said. "A quarter of the people who come to our events say, &‘I've never been here,' but once they're here, they love it."

Some neighborhoods seem to change almost overnight, but on A Street, the transformation has been gradually building for roughly a decade.

Nearly a century ago, the corner of Sebastopol Avenue and A Street, not far from downtown Santa Rosa, was a busy crossroads. Then the freeway arrived. By the latter decades of the 20th century, the A Street neighborhood, just behind Juilliard Park, had a reputation for drugs, transients and crime.

"It was sketchy down here 20 years ago, but now it's a vibrant, welcoming neighborhood," Harris said.

The district's greatest strength is its diversity and authenticity, because it has developed naturally, instead of being contrived to draw tourists, Harris explained.

Now, A Street and Sebastopol Avenue are home not only to a few dozen visual artists and several restaurants, but also the Atlas Coffee Company, a popular gathering place, as well as a live theater company, two bakeries, two photography-oriented businesses, three hair salons, a dog grooming business, a shoe repair shop and more.

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