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Muralist transforms drab stretch of Hopper Avenue near Coffey Park in Santa Rosa

Jerry Ragg, the muralist who recently injected life and color to a previously dull expanse of Hopper Avenue near Coffey Park, has been in love with painting since he was a boy growing up in Minneapolis.

At the age of 8, Ragg recalled, he helped himself to his father’s painting supplies. He then created in the family basement a mural featuring Fred Flintstone and Snoopy, whose creator, like Ragg, was a Minnesota native.

“Charles Schulz was a rock star to me,” said Ragg, citing the late Peanuts cartoonist’s effect on both his art and childhood, “whether it was on TV, or in the funnies.”

So it was with special reverence that Ragg researched, then painted the first of seven large murals now greeting commuters as they cruise along Hopper, a few hundred yards east of the entryway to Coffey Park in Santa Rosa. That first panel depicts Santa Rosa’s Charles M. Schulz Museum. In the foreground, the late cartoonist glances out at passing traffic, looking up from a sketch of Charlie Brown.

Those seven murals, covering some 2,100 square feet, enliven what had been a stretch of bland, brown south-facing walls belonging to Security Public Storage, which rents 700 drive-up storage units on that block.

That property is one of more than 50 run by Security Public Storage, a family-owned business with at least one highly endearing practice. To beautify and brighten the communities where it does business, the company commissions artists like Ragg to paint murals on the walls of its buildings.

“If we’re part of the community,” said Taylor Reedy, a property manager for the company, “why not do something that honors it, and is a reminder of what is so awesome about living here?”

In addition to burning nearly 1,500 houses in Coffey Park, the Tubbs fire in October 2017, destroyed 132 of Security Public Storage’s self-storage units. It also burned the landscaping that had covered the walls facing Hopper. When Reedy and property manager Terri Hemenes asked higher-ups in the company to consider a mural upgrade, the idea was quickly approved.

Ragg, of San Diego County, has painted thousands of murals across the country over the last three decades. This was his fifth project for Security Public Storage. After deciding on the subjects of his seven murals, he checked into a nearby Best Western, and got busy. Starting April 2, he worked up to 11 hours a day for just two weeks, until the project was finished.

The panel just west of his homage to Schulz is a celebration of Northern California’s redwood trees. Next is a 38-foot-long, 10-foot-high depiction of Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square Historic District, featuring the iconic water tower, a steam locomotive, and an overflowing, 4-foot-tall mug of craft beer, beneath which Ragg has added the reminder: “Drink Local.”

“Gotta plug the local microbrews,” he said.

A propeller plane of uncertain vintage soars over a fighter jet in a panel devoted to the city’s Pacific Coast Air Museum. Monarch butterflies and hot air balloons hover throughout the next two panels, which feature a sunset over Lake Sonoma, then a vibrant snapshot of the county’s rugged Pacific Coast. While he acknowledged that such balloons may not often be spotted so close to the coast, Ragg couldn’t resist the “pop of color” they added.

Ragg was humbled and gratified, he said, by the repeated thanks and small acts of kindness from passersby delighted to see the murals in progress. Motorists honked and waved. Pedestrians stopped to thank him, engage him in conversation. They presented him with snacks, water, coffee and, in the case of one uninhibited elderly woman, a hug.

Meanwhile, in the office, Hemenes took call after call from people expressing appreciation. “They were just thanking us for beautifying the community,” she said.

While Coffey Park is almost completely rebuilt, it was meaningful to Ragg to be able to help the neighborhood heal. He was also healing himself. This was the first mural he’d painted since losing his oldest son, who died in March. As he painted, he processed his grief. “Whether it’s painting or music,” Ragg said, “I really believe art can heal us.

“I’ll never forget this wall,” he said of the Santa Rosa project. “It had a lot more meaning to me than just some other mural I painted.”

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @ausmurph88.

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