Each of Sonoma County’s towns has a distinct personality. Here are some of Petaluma’s endearing quirks.
Usual excuse. A working drawbridge disrupts downtown traffic whenever a boat wants to travel into or out of the Turning Basin, spawning this common excuse for Petaluma tardiness: “Sorry I’m late: the bridge was up.”
There’s a chicken … Locals still love their chickens. A giant plaster chicken, one of many relics of the city’s glory days as the World’s Egg Basket, greets visitors at the Fairgrounds. Originally the chicken perched at the train depot, the first thing visitors saw.
But where’s Robin? The town character is Petaluma Batman, an anonymous masked and cloaked hero. Like his comic book ancestor, he doesn’t announce his presence ahead of time, but can be seen downtown at night, making sure the streets are safe and calling law enforcement in case of trouble.
Namesake in N.Y. A New York City neighborhood restaurant is named for the town. Petaluma Restaurant at 1356 First Ave. at 73rd St., reminds diners of its roots by posting this description on its website: “… like our namesake Northern California town, (our) approach to service is that of comfortable, energetic and easy-going friendliness.” The owner, not surprisingly, is a transplanted Petaluman.
Passing through. All roads lead to Petaluma: Farmers from Bodega, Tomales, Point Reyes, Lakeville and other points west, north and east, used them to bring crops to flat-bottomed scow schooners that carried the local agriculture to San Francisco.
Brush with art. Two downtown businesses – Rex Hardware and Vintage Bank Antiques – have trompe l’oeil paintings. An old red truck appears to be parked in the Rex garage, while the former bank has a man in a green eyeshade standing in an old cashier’s cage, a tall vase on one side, landscape painting on the other.
Water, yes; vodka, no. The WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) fountain, at the corner of Petaluma Boulevard North and Western Avenue, was erected in 1891 and bears the inscription, “Total abstinence is the way to handle the alcohol problem.” Stop for a drink – of water.
Quick getaway. The Lan-Mart Building has entrances on both Kentucky Street and Petaluma Boulevard North, a handy cut-through, especially during rainy weather.
Front-dock service. The Sheraton Sonoma County-Petaluma is, of course, accessible by car. But guests can also sail or motor up the river, park their boat and spend the night.
Keeping watch, part I. It has more than its share of sculpted bushes. Norman and Jane Plummer have a playful topiary family of leafy green “people” in their front yard at 333 Keokuk. Our favorite is the “peeping tom” who’s been clipped so it appears he’s looking into the Plummers’ living room.
Keeping watch, part II. The older (1866) section of the landmark McNear Building is an elaborate ironfront with flowers, crests and tiny sculptured heads of mustachioed men atop the curved upstairs windows: eight men in front, 18 on the Kentucky Street side.
Oldest abode. Oldest house in town is an adobe, the “Old Adobe” built in 1836 by General Mariano Vallejo, who once said this about Petaluma: “Nowhere was there a scene of such beauty and suggestion of everything desirable for man.”
— Katie Watts