s
s
Sections
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone

I saw a terrific short film about my hometown last week. Beginning with Maria Carrillo, who arrived by oxcart, the movie tells of the people who came to this valley and made it what it is today. The film is called “Santa Rosa: The Chosen Spot of All the Earth …”

If you’re a Santa Rosan, this movie will make you proud. It might also cause you to wonder what it will take for future generations to make their own history.

The title, of course, borrows on the enthusiasm of a famous Santa Rosan, horticulturalist Luther Burbank. He said, “From what I have seen, this is the chosen spot of all the earth so far as nature is concerned.”

With an exception or two, Santa Rosa has been a town dedicated to protecting its natural surroundings. Not many towns, after all, are bounded by a 5,000-acre state park.

Santa Rosa also is a town inhabited by people of extraordinary generosity. Organizations that support human services, the arts, education and environmental protection prosper here.

And Santa Rosa is a town that values education. After 98 years, Santa Rosa Junior College remains a source of great pride for its graduates and for countless people who enjoy the many and varied opportunities provided by a vibrant community college.

All this is true, it turns out, because Santa Rosa has been blessed by people who imagined how their world could be better.

Burbank, the plant wizard, took advantage of soil and climate to create more than 800 species and varieties of fruits, vegetables and other plants.

Banker Frank Doyle conceived an idea that would become the most famous bridge in the world, the Golden Gate, and then he endowed a scholarship fund that — so far — has granted $82 million in scholarships to 120,000 Santa Rosa Junior College students.

Businessman and philanthropist Henry Trione imagined how great it would be if 5,000 acres of meadows and woodlands on the city’s eastern boundary were preserved forever. Beginning this year, we call it Trione-Annadel State Park. (Trione was also responsible for creating the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts and for too many other good works to mention here.)

Cartoonist Charles Schulz was a quiet man who created the most beloved cartoon strip of all time. His philanthropies — now administered by his widow, Jean Schulz — continue to make this a better place to live in more ways than we can count.

In recent years, if we are to be honest, Santa Rosa has not always respected its own history. It was too willing to embrace new commercial developments that looked like developments in countless other cities. It let the downtown be divided by a freeway, tore down the historic courthouse and drove a city street through the historic plaza where the courthouse once sat.

In the film, Mayor John Sawyer laments the destruction of the courthouse and of two historic downtown theaters, the old Roxy and the California: “It was a great loss to Santa Rosa to lose those architectural jewels.”

Taken together, these decisions put the downtown at risk. Leaving the theater last week, we walked by a vacant commercial building adorned with no-trespassing signs, and we remembered that Santa Rosa still has work to do.

Now, with the reunification of Old Courthouse Square and the re-invention of the historic Empire Building — it will become a hotel — the city is pursuing projects meant to make amends.

Maria Carrillo, Mark McDonald, Luther Burbank, Ernest Finley, Frank and J.T. Grace, Frank Doyle, Hugh Codding, Henry Trione, Charles Schulz and others — Santa Rosa has been blessed by pioneers brave enough to imagine how their world could be better.

Now we wonder, who will become Santa Rosa’s next great historical figure?

Going forward, he or she may be credited with bringing new life to the downtown. For better or worse, Santa Rosa (and every city) will be judged by what people find when they go downtown.

Or maybe the next great historical figure will hasten the welcoming of a growing population of Latinos into the economic, social and political life of the city. With Latinos now representing more than a quarter of the city’s residents, their success will be important to everyone.

In the film, Catherine Barnett, the executive editor of The Press Democrat, finds parallels to a generation of Italian immigrants who arrived near the turn of the 20th century: “In many ways, their story is like the Mexican immigrants of today, where they were the key workforce.”

Everyone associated with the production, including veteran filmmaker Don Cambou and historian and columnist Gaye LeBaron, should be proud of this gift to their city. (In return for a donation to the Historical Society of Santa Rosa, you can get a DVD of your own. Send requests to info@historicalsocietysantarosa.org.)

Mike Grace is a descendant of a pioneer family and the person most responsible for gathering the resources that made this movie possible. (In the credits, he is described as “Fundraiser and Do-Anything Guy.”)

“Today,” he says, near the end of the movie, “Santa Rosa is a big city with a really large heart. I don’t think we’ve lost our small town values.”

Not much has changed. As always, towns find success when people are motivated by their sense of place and when local leaders imagine what a better future looks like.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.

Show Comment