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The research Alan McCandless undertook prior to opening his café inside a former Santa Rosa lamp shop extended well beyond how to make a locally sourced, from-scratch doughnut.

McCandless went historical. He discovered that the Fourth Street home of his new eatery is near what was, from the earliest days of Santa Rosa, a storied — even infamous — outdoor gathering place known at times as the City Gardens.

The spot’s occupied now by the Creekside Park Apartments, just east of the former Safeway store that’s now a Grocery Outlet.

It was just another open space in the bare beginnings of a town and was known as Hewitt’s Grove when, in 1854, Julio Carrillo and other founding citizens hosted a barbecue there to persuade voters to move the county seat from Sonoma to Santa Rosa.

Through the 1860s to the mid-1880s the park was called the City Gardens. Historian Jeff Elliott found this description in the Sonoma Democrat in 1869:

“City Gardens thronged with several hundred people — listening to the splendid music of the brass band (36 pieces), wandering through the lovely walks and saying sweet nothings while resting on the rustic seats, boating on the miniature lake, looking at the birds and animals, or watching gay youngsters going around the velocipede track at a 2-40 gait.”

Changes came when Henry Kroncke, the owner of a wood-planing mill, bought it and in 1886 opened it to the paying public as Kroncke’s Park.

Gaye LeBaron noted in her book on Santa Rosa’s past that Kroncke built there a bowling alley and a pavilion and he “advertised shady arbors and ice cream and lemonade, and for those with stronger tastes, fully licensed premises.”

Kroncke invited visitors from as far away as San Francisco to ride a Sunday excursion train to town, drink in the amenities of his park, then ride home.

“It must have seemed like a good idea at the time,” LeBaron wrote.

But soon, Kroncke’s Park drew trainloads of people, some hooligans “who prowled the streets, spat in people’s faces, insulted the womenfolk and knocked senseless anyone whose looks they didn’t like.”

Public outrage prompted city officials, in 1890, to deny Kroncke a liquor license. No more excursion-train booze fests.

The park reverted for several years to City Gardens and in 1897 the owners of Grace Bros. Brewery bought it and created Grace Park, a beer garden.

Cheers to new cafe owner McCandless for hailing the history of the neighborhood by naming his place City Garden.

JANE SMILEY, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, is coming this way.

When she and KQED’s Michael Krasny settle before microphones June 18 at the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center, who knows where the conversation may go.

Center chief Diana Rich finds Smiley’s appearance particularly timely “given our West Coast confusion about what’s happening in middle America. That’s what Jane Smiley writes about — Iowa, right there in the midst of that great expanse between California and New York.”

The 7:30 p.m. dialogue will be a benefit for the Sebastopol center. There’s an optional, VIP dinner beforehand.

To open up the Smiley/Krasny conversation to students, the center offers a $20 ticket for all with school ID.

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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