Secluded element of Juilliard Park attracting trouble
There is something fitting about the fact that Santa Rosa’s historic Church of One Tree, made from the lumber of one Guerneville-area giant, today looks out on Juilliard Park through a small grove of redwood trees.
They are tall enough to create a cool forest habitat, casting shadows across the park and creating a comfortable, convenient and concealed environment that attracts trouble.
“It’s that secluded element of the park that attracts folks who don’t want to be watched,” said Jennifer Collins, a resident of Sonoma Avenue just north of the park.
Prostitution. Drug sales. Dog fights. Intimidating groups of homeless people and teens.
These and many other nuisances have been reported at Santa Rosa’s 8.8-acre central park by neighbors, parks officials and police, all of whom are trying to solve the problems.
“It’s a nice park, and people with their kids and walking their dogs shouldn’t have to be threatened by riffraff,” neighbor Fred Joyce said.
Parks officials say the troublemakers who congregate there have made it harder for the city to rent the 2,000-square-foot Gothic church for weddings and to community groups.
People have swiped food from wedding receptions. They have barged into martial arts classes to use the bathrooms. And they have scared away prospective brides who might otherwise have rented the church for their special days, generating much-needed revenue for the city.
Citing these and other challenges, the city’s parks department has asked to erect a steel fence around the Church of One Tree, which reopened after a major renovation in 2011.
They argue that the fence will protect the historic church, increase its attractiveness as a venue for all kinds of special events and make it easier for police to effectively patrol the area. The issue goes to the City Council Nov. 18.
Neighbors agree that something must be done to revitalize a charming but challenged historic neighborhood and one of the city’s oldest and best-loved parks. Many are hopeful that the fence is a step in the right direction, but not all agree that it is the best solution.
The proposal has sparked a robust debate about how best to respond.
Donated to city
In 1872, Charles F. Juilliard, a son of French immigrants who as a young man had struck it rich in Trinity County gold mines, brought his successful mercantile business to Santa Rosa.
He built a two-story Victorian house facing Santa Rosa Avenue, surrounded it with orchards and for years was a partner in a successful hardware store. He also founded a Sebastopol winery in 1882.
His children Frederic and Isabelle donated the property to the city for a park in 1931, and during the 1930s, the federal Work Projects Administration helped build a park.
Its stone bridge, pond and walkways were constructed with 10 tons of rock from a Kenwood quarry, according to Gaye Lebaron’s book “Santa Rosa, a 19th Century Town.”
The Church of One Tree, then First Baptist Church, had been built on B and Ross streets just two years after Charles Juilliard’s home.
In 1957, it was relocated to its present location, a move made possible by a fundraising campaign.
There it housed the Robert Ripley Museum for many years, displaying memorabilia from Ripley’s cartoons and popular “Believe it or Not” collection, including a two-headed calf. The museum closed in 1998 and, 13 years later, the renovated church reopened, thanks to city efforts paid for in part with state grant funds.