Land Trust gets historic SR home

Today is a milestone birthday for Santa Rosa's Daphne Smith. But instead of getting gifts she is giving one, a big one: the deed to a historic Queen Anne mansion on Sonoma Avenue.

The recipient of Smith's philanthropy is the Sonoma Land Trust, a nonprofit land preservation organization. The mansion, known as the Bolton House and built in 1903, is valued at nearly $1 million.

"I've supported the work of the Sonoma Land Trust for many years. The house is a gift so the Land Trust can continue its important work," said Smith, who taught French at Ursuline High School until her retirement in 1993.

These days she tutors in French, volunteers and goes about her quiet philanthropy. Besides the Land Trust, she's active in the Alliance Francaise, the Madrone Audubon Society and the United Nations Association of Sonoma County.

Since 2002 the Land Trust has leased the building at a bargain rate from Smith. But as of today the organization owns the landmark building free and clear. Perched on the corner of Brookwood and Sonoma avenues, the grand old house will be the Land Trust's permanent home and lend visibility to the organization.

"This gives a huge boost to our efforts to protect the scenic, agricultural landscapes of Sonoma County," said Ralph Benson, executive director of the Sonoma Land Trust.

Since it was founded in 1976, the Land Trust has permanently protected more than 17,000 acres of land from urban development.

Before donating the mansion, Smith spent more than $50,000 to paint the old house and repair its rotting front porch.

"Daphne made sure that she gave us the house in mint condition. She is a total sweetheart," said Reta Lockert, the Land Trust's director of communications and donor relations.

Smith, who is divorced, never lived in the house, buying it in 1995 because it was hauntingly empty and in desperate need of repair.

"It was vacant and didn't have a taker," said Smith.

She's done the same with other historic properties in Santa Rosa, finding satisfaction in restoring the grand old ladies from Santa Rosa's past.

The Bolton House was designed by renowned Petaluma architect Brainerd Jones and built 103 years ago. It's been ranked among Santa Rosa's top 20 landmarks.

The house has survived three earthquakes, rot and the wrecking ball. Now, and for many decades to come, the Bolton House will be the headquarters of efforts to preserve Sonoma County farmland and the county's natural beauty.

A luncheon at the house today will celebrate the property transfer and Smith's birthday. She's not saying how many candles will be on the cake.

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