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Take a peek inside 'Peanuts' creator Charles Schulz’s Sebastopol art studio

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When Donald and Helen Rogers bought their 8-acre getaway in Sebastopol 40 years ago, it was the beauty of the land — a sunny glade surrounded by redwoods and thick stands of redwood and oak — that sealed the deal. That, and a price of $115,000 that seemed ridiculously low compared to The Peninsula, where the couple lived and ran a commercial baking company.

It was merely a bonus that the property’s 1,300-square-foot vacation home once had a world-famous occupant.

Built in a U with a courtyard, broad patios and big windows looking out at ponds on two sides, the one-bedroom cottage perched on a knoll is the place where Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the Peanuts Gang were sketched into life.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, this was the private studio of Charles Schulz, a place where the cartoonist and father of five could break away from his large brood and work in quiet in a wooded setting on the edge of the 28-acre property on Coffee Lane in rural Sebastopol.

Here, Schulz also met with creative associates like Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson, with whom he collaborated on the popular “Peanuts” cartoon specials and movies.

Famous pals like Bob Hope and Jack Lemon also reportedly came to play golf on the four-hole course surrounding the studio.

The Rogers family has maintained the four-room studio largely as Schulz left it when he moved with his family to a ranch on Chalk Hill, not long before Schulz split from his first wife, Joyce.

“My grandmother was telling me at one point early on she thought she should add a bedroom and enlarge the kitchen,” said grandson Eric Rogers, who now lives on the property as a caretaker.

He said it wasn’t until many years later that his family realized what a blessing it was that Grandma never got around to making any major renovations.

“It dawned on us later on that this has a history to it. You want to preserve the memory of what it really was,” he said.

Eric and his father Tim, a retired helicopter pilot who lives nearby in Sebastopol, have spent the past 10 years renovating the grounds, including an irrigation system to restore the golf course and landscaping around the studio. In April, they began booking it as a vacation rental, discretely describing it on Airbnb only as “Hidden Cabin of Famous Cartoonist.”

It is only when guests arrive that they learn they will be sleeping in the former studio of Charles Schulz. An open book on the desk shows pictures of the Peanut’s creator at work in that same room, his back to a window overlooking what is clearly the same pond, although the Rogers’ have upgraded the original spray fountain.

The Rogers own only a piece of the original Schulz property, named “The Coffee Grounds” by the previous owner, photographer Rolla Watt, because of its location on Coffee Lane. After the Schulz family left about 1972, it was broken into three parcels. Artist Jack Stuppin owns a piece that contains the main family house built by the Schultz family and a photographer’s studio, where the cartoonist first set up his drafting tables.

That studio is still standing. A second parcel between the Rogers’ property and the main house is shared by multiple owners. It includes tennis courts, the miniature golf course, a pool and other amenities, as well as a home where Schulz’s mother-in-law lived and where Schulz also worked for a time.

In 1976 the Rogers bought the smallest parcel with the final studio, a stylish, Mad Men era lair with classic, mid-century modern elements.

Schulz bought the 28-acre property in 1958, moving his family out from Minnesota to what was then Apple Country, including his youngest, 2-month-old Jill.

“We wanted a place in the country, away not only from the crowded cities but winter weather, too. I might as well admit that I’m one of those who goes for that ‘it’s-a-wonderful-place-to-raise-the kids’ line... We wanted to be near San Francisco, and here we got more of everything we wanted for our money, especially land,” Schulz said in the 1960s.

His wife Joyce, with a sharp design aesthetic, took charge of turning the parcel into a showplace, overseeing the design and construction of a new split-level house and transforming the grounds into a children’s paradise, with tennis court, swimming pool, baseball diamond, stables and the pee-wee golf course complete with miniature buildings and ponds.

“It was the greatest place in the world to grow up,” Schulz’s son Monte Schulz remembered. “It was bad when we had to move... My dad thought it was the biggest mistake he ever made. My mom persuaded him to sell it, so they did.”

Monte Schulz said his mother worked closely with architects on the main house as well as the studio. The Rogers have the original blueprints for the studio structure, dated 1966.

“I think he liked the idea of going to a place to work,” Monte Schulz said. He recalled his dad working regular 8 to 4 hours in the studio; a secretary also worked there with him.

The artistic hideaway in the woods was designed by the Santa Rosa architecture firm of Steele & Van Dyk, which did major buildings that included Emeritus Hall at Santa Rosa Junior College and a multitude of schools, including Cook, Rincon Valley and Comstock in Santa Rosa.

The Schulzes also retained Steele & Van Dyk to design Snoopy’s Home Ice, the ice skating arena that opened in 1969. The same distinctive lava rock can be found incorporated into both the arena and the Sebastopol studio. (Schulz built another studio near the arena, where he worked for many years until his death in February 2000.)

The Rogers made a few modifications to make the art studio comfortable for modern living. The interior seemed a little dark, so they added skylights and two large living room windows to capture the view of the grassy slope where Schulz hit golf balls — they even found one with his name on it.

They kept the kitchen cabinets but added granite countertops. And they replaced the older Berber carpeting with tile and removed a wall of shelves in the “bedroom” to make room for a bed.

The two Rogers men and groundskeeper Ney Anaya have worked full time restoring the landscape and making improvements. They created a waterfall on the hillside using the same flat lava as in the house. They removed dead branches and 50 tan oaks that succumbed to Sudden Oak Death as well as Bay Laurel that are host plants for the deadly pathogen. They also dotted the grounds with chainsaw sculptures of woodland creatures by local artist Glen Seivert.

The house and grounds have a faint Japanese garden look, with Japanese maples and a riot of rhododendrons and dogwood in the spring. Alstroemeria, daylilies and clivias add splashes of color.

“My father used to come here on weekends to take care of the place. Now it takes three of us,” said Tim Rogers, saying they have done almost everything themselves, save for some major electrical work and masonry.

The property with historical ties to perhaps the world’s most famous cartoonist is now a part of the Rogers’ family history.

“We had paint guns, and we’d come up here and play war. The trees would be splattered with all kinds of color,” Eric Rogers confesses.

The house was small, but they frequently pitched tents in the tree glade near the cottage, where they also set up a sheet and ran outdoor movies. Now, family members tend to stay in hotels in town and come out to the property for socializing and barbecues.

“All my sisters were married here,” Eric Rogers said. “And we’ve done all our graduation parties here.”

But 10 acres — the elder Rogers at one point bought two additional acres — is costly to maintain. The family is exploring the possibility of making it available for occasional events. The estate was a key attraction on the recent Food for Thought Home and Garden Tour.

The prospect doesn’t sit too well with many of the neighbors on Coffee Lane, who are concerned about traffic on the narrow road with blind spots. They also are concerned about the amount of groundwater going into the grass and turf and other intrusions into their country neighborhood.

“Most people who live in the area can hear anything going on at the Rogers property because it resonates sound in the valley,” said David Benefiel, who lives on Coffee Lane. He was one of 44 people in 30 residences who have petitioned the county not to permit events on Rogers property. The neighborhood successfully fought off a winery’s plans for a tasting room and event center on Coffee Lane.

The Rogers said they only want to bring in enough income to offset the cost of maintaining and improving the historic site to keep it in the family.

“We’re looking at it and meeting with the neighbors to go over things,” Eric Rogers said. “We told them we’re not going to do anything unless we have some kind of consensus.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204. On Twitter @megmcconahey.

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