It's time to sing "Happy Trails" to one of the two covered wagons at Santa Rosa's Montgomery Village shopping center, where the wheeled transport of the pioneers has stood above the din of Farmers Lane traffic for more than half a century.
The wagon at Montgomery Drive and Farmers Lane came down from its raised stand Thursday as part of a new restaurant and bakery project nearing completion at the northwest section of the shopping center. The wagon, which in recent years held weekly banners featuring pithy quotes, had stood there more than a decade after the first Conestoga wagon was moved to the south end of the center.
Shopping center owner David Codding acknowledged that in the past, patrons had urged him to keep a wagon above the corner, a reason he bought a replica after moving the original wagon to its new perch at Farmers and Patio Court.
Codding said city officials encouraged him to remove the newer wagon and make improvements around the new Boudin bakery and restaurant, slated to open in June. He agreed and plans to build a small plaza with bronze statues near the corner.
"It's going to be even better," Codding said.
The shopping center opened in 1950, a time when Santa Rosa was expanding east from downtown and making the transition from farm town to city. Codding said the original wagon was a gift to his father, developer Hugh Codding, from film actor and Sonoma County rancher Fred MacMurray.
Press Democrat columnist and historian Gaye LeBaron wrote that in those early days the wagon was a prominent feature of the center's "unremittingly western" theme.
When David Codding in 2001 undertook a major renovation that brought in such fashionable retailers as Coldwater Creek and White House/Black Market, he moved the MacMurray wagon to the center's south end. And patrons who lived nearby complained that he had removed a key guidepost for directing their guests.
He recalled being told, "We always say, 'Turn right at the wagon, and now they're getting lost.'"
Codding responded by purchasing a second, smaller wagon for the corner, where in later years he hung weekly quotes. One displayed on a Google image of the corner is from comedian George Carlin: "Men are from earth. Women are from earth. Deal with it."
Cattlemens restaurants is taking the smaller wagon and will use it to decorate one of its locations, Codding said, though not the Cattlemens at Montgomery Village.
The wagon's recent removal surprised Santa Rosa High students Reilly Briggs and Claire Avila, who walked past the corner Saturday.
Briggs, a sophomore, said the wagon seemed something of a landmark.
"It wasn't bad," she said. "It's always been a part of Santa Rosa."
You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or firstname.lastname@example.org.