LeBaron: Pathfinders and places from Sonoma County’s past

A "really big show" at the Callifornia Theater on B Street drew crowds in the 1900s. (Santa Rosa, A Twentieth Century Town)


Americans are a celebratory lot. Not only do we celebrate the customary holidays — religious and secular — with familial (and commercial?) ritual, we also observe, with considerable press attention, the simple passage of time.

If you turned on your television in the last week of May you probably heard that it was the 80th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. Those of us who produced pedestrian gridlock on the 50th — and stretched the cables to a frightening max — are now the Old in an Old Older game.

The Olders? They walked across when it opened, and are among the lucky ones now if they can still walk at all.

Time takes its toll, as do bridges.


You might also be asked to note this year is the 50th anniversary of the Hula Hoop and the Frisbee, the first Toyota sold in America. If you pay attention you will learn it has been 40 years since Settle Slew won the Triple Crown, “Roots” dominated our TV screens, and it snowed in Miami for the first time in history.

Some things noted and dwelt upon seem inconsequential at best, but there are others worth our attention. The 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love for example, currently being observed all over the Bay Area, is an important time in recent history, a flashpoint for subsequent changes in our society. There are plenty of those game-changers. We are 60 years out from Sputnik, the integration of Little Rock’s Central High, the first nuclear power plant in the U.S. and the publication of The Cat in the Hat. All duly recorded and observed.


Seriously, consider the “Little Rock Nine” — the courageous black teenagers who faced down vicious taunts and dire threats to walk, with U.S. marshals, into Little Rock, Arkansas’s all-white Central High School in the fall of 1957.

Melba Joy Patillo was one of them. I guess you are Old if you recall that, after completing their landmark year at Central, the students scattered, choosing to continue their education in calmer environments.

Joy, as she was known in those days, came to Santa Rosa. She joined the Melitta Road household of Kay and George McCabe and enrolled, without notice or fanfare, at then-new Montgomery High.

George was the director of the Santa Rosa Center of San Francisco State College, the predecessor of Sonoma State. Kay was active, not only in politics but in the Quaker community.

They had stepped up when they learned that these students were seeking temporary homes away from the troubled South. They invited Joy to join their four kids for the school year.

Central High was a flash point for the Civil Rights movement and Joy’s stay in Santa Rosa was pivotal for her. She remained in close contact with the McCabes, earned college degrees, settled in the Bay Area where, as Melba Beals, her name after marrying, she became well-known as a newsperson and personality on KQED-TV.

Later, she joined the faculty at Dominican University in San Rafael and retired as director emeritus of the school’s communications department in 2014.

Remembering Melba on Bay Area television may make you feel Old. Remembering Joy as a fellow classmate at Montgomery may make you feel Older.

So, now you find yourself playing that silly Old Older game. That’s how it’s done. It’s portable. You can go anywhere with it, in place or time.

It may even be instructional in some remote way. Do we dare call it history?

Old if you went to the dedication of the new City Hall and vocally lamented the fact that Santa Rosa Creek was in a tunnel underneath.

Older by 20 years if you liked an architect’s ambitious 1945 plan to put all our government buildings — County Courthouse, City Hall and the new Veterans Memorial Building — in a civic plaza along both sides of the creek.

Old if it has suddenly dawned on you while driving the new downtown Santa Rosa traffic patterns, that the one-way streets around the Square go in the opposite direction from your cruisin’ days.

Older if you accepted a dare to drive your Dad’s new postwar Ford for a couple of blocks on the not-yet-open four-lane road that was proudly called a freeway despite seven stoplights in less than 3 miles.

Old if you saw the Pointer Sisters at the California Theater in a Farewell to the Cal concert when desperate attempts to route the new mall around the classic movie house failed.

Older if you have a whole set of green glass dishes from the Depression era giveaways at both the Cal and the Roxy, in the same block of B Street.

Old in Sonoma Valley if you remember the ride along Arnold Drive past the State Hospital when it was absolutely mandatory to wave back to the patients on the lawns. It made them seem so happy.

Older if you knew that Jack London’s widow still lived in the House of Happy Walls, just up the hill from Glen Ellen.

You’re an old gourmet if you can remember the first ”small plates” restaurant to make a dent in the local cuisine. A bottle of Geritol to the first one who said “Willi’s Wine Bar.”

Older if you can provide the two most familiar names for a spot that was originally a tea room called the Old Trail Inn.

Who said Clayt’s? Who said Hank’s?

Old if you remember when there were three Italian families running restaurants in Occidental, prompting a suggestion that there was an underground pool of spaghetti sauce beneath that west county town.

Older if you just shouted out that the Panizzera family still runs the Union Hotel and Negri’s is still across the way. The third, for the record, was Fiori’s.

Old in Santa Rosa if you have a vague recollection of a time when Brookwood Avenue stopped at Sonoma Avenue and there was a big white house where the east end of the police station is today.

Older if you know for sure that it was the residence of a dapper man-about-town named Emil Kraft who sold auto parts and served on the Fair Board.

Old if you ran a tab at the Topaz Room (can’t have an Old-Older without the Topaz)

Older, maybe, if you had a beer stein with your name on it hanging over the bar at “the Boots.”

Extra points for knowing the full name and location of the Boots & Saddles at the corner of Sonoma Highway and Brush Creek Road.

Older in fancy-pants Healdsburg (watch out, this one is reversed) if you did your school shopping at Rosenberg & Bush department store.

Getting old if you remember when the late Bruce Campbell, watching the town head upscale from his H’burg sheep pasture, lamented that he “had to go to Santa Rosa to buy underwear.”

Old if you bought your Levis — all your work clothes, in fact — at Paolini’s on Wilson Street.

Older if you took your fur coat — or your grandmother’s fox fur with head, teeth, glass eyes etc. — to Jack Berger’s fur shop on Fourth between A and Wilson (think the middle of the mall) for cold storage in summers.

Finally, Old if you remember when celebrities, being interviewed, could finish a couple of sentences without saying “like” or “y’know.”

Older folks shouldn’t complain if they told Knock Knock jokes. Or Shaggy Dog stories.

That’s, like, enough already. We have to save some game for later, y’know. For, like, the next big anniversary. When we are all, like, even Older.