Views From Lafferty…Views of Lafferty

For those not familiar with the background story of the Lafferty property on Sonoma Mountain, here is a quick summary:  The 269 acre property (Lafferty Ranch) on the side of Sonoma Mountain was purchased by the City of Petaluma in 1959 to serve as part of its water system.  Access to the property by city employees was never challenged.  It wasn’t until recently that adjacent property owners challenged access to the property when it was proposed to turn it into a Wilderness Park for the general public.  Some of the details of this dispute, and its possible resolution, are contained in the links at the end of this article.

A recent article in the Press Democrat (link below) about public access to Petaluma’s Lafferty Ranch revived an old longing on my part to see the land and the supposedly grand vistas from the mountain.

The problem, of course, is that the public cannot access the property at present.  Unless, of course, one obtains “legal” access with a City Official and a guide. And so it came to pass that I found myself on February 18th in front of the Lafferty Gate–the scene most often published in articles about Lafferty…

The Lafferty Gate

Lafferty "Entrance" Gate

Lafferty “Entrance” Gate


Moving up from the gate to the first meadow I had to pause to take it all in.  While it was partly sunny (in California, that means mostly cloudy) I was able to see the entire Petaluma Valley, the course of the Petaluma River, Mt. Tam, and San Pablo Bay. I could string out a long collection of clichés about the views but instead I will say that I could have stayed there all day watching the light change and playing with the camera toys.

A View From Lafferty

A View From Lafferty

Lafferty Petaluma Valley Vista

Lafferty Petaluma Valley Vista


The Lafferty landscape is indeed a wilderness in terms of vegetation, wetlands, animals, and streams. Some of the foundation stones of the original Lafferty home are still in place.  For the most part, much of the land is the same as it was when California became a state.  In many places the only sound (other than my occasional grunting) was the sound of Adobe Creek.

Granted, the area is not as lush as it normally would be at this time of the year because of the drought, but the recent rains did have some positive impact. 

Lafferty Middle Meadow

Lafferty Middle Meadow

"If you go out in the woods today..."

“If you go out in the woods today…”

Photo Gallery (Click to Open)

In closing, the best evidence as to whether or not I was impressed by my Lafferty experience is that it provided a new header for this blog.  Perhaps the opportunity to visit Lafferty will be available to everyone in the not too distant future.


History At Your Feet Part I…Petaluma’s Downtown

The buildings on Kentucky St. and Petaluma Blvd. are home to an active business and retail district but they also represent and reflect Petaluma’s past…

Kentucky & E. Washington

Kentucky & E. Washington

From my perspective, this area is also a terrific location for photography and I concentrated my efforts there from February to July in 2012.  See Downtown…Photo Grid

I thought I had thoroughly “absorbed” the area during my photo grid project. However, on a recent visit, I happened to look down.



Granted I had noticed (but did not note) this marble and tile work from my past walks but I now wondered about the thresholds and entry ways of other buildings. So I decided to attempt a photo survey of sorts. I mainly confined my efforts to Kentucky St. and Petaluma Blvd. bordered by East Washington and Western Avenue…


  • Not every building has a marble, granite, or tile threshold or entryway.  Many are simply standard sidewalk concrete presentations.
  • On the other hand, I did find many intricate mosaic tile displays, some mixed with marble or granite.  Some contain the street address or the names of previous businesses from the distant past. For example, Daunt’s, Nielsen’s, S & G, L & M Drug Co.
  • Other locations did have tiled entrances but they were, shall we say, in various stages of deterioration.
  • Some locations reflect modern tile work which is quite colorful.

According to local historian, Katherine J Rinehart, much of the older work was by  E.W.M. Evans: “Evans and his sons are responsible for much of the tile and marble work you see in downtown building entrances. He died in 1942 and according to one obituary, ‘…he took pride in the work of installing monuments, vaults and granite curbing. He also installed many store fronts, tiled floorings and marble work.’”

Over time, more and more of the tile and marble work may disappear as remodeling takes place. In fact, I observed tile being removed and replaced with concrete last week in one location. 

My goal for this project was to try and document some of  what remains. 

For example, this elaborate mosaic tile apron on Kentucky & Western…

Kentucky DSCF1168RAW

…and the scenes in this gallery.

Click on any photo to open the collage to see full sized photos.

  • Navigate between photos using the left and right arrow keys, or by clicking or tapping the arrows on the left and right.
  • Click “view full size” below any image to see the photo directly outside the gallery.

In Part II I will take you to the doorway of a famous Petaluma building>> (CLICK HERE)

American Alley WPA Murals–Meet the Artist In The Argus

Past articles regarding the WPA murals by Charlie Roetter* & Fernando Nugent are filed under American Alley

Sixth in the series about Petaluma’s American Alley

A collaborative project with Independent Journalist, Frances Rivetti

* We learned  today that this is the correct spelling of the name. “Roder” was picked up from the original Argus article in 1995.


Eighteen years after completing his work on the American Alley WPA multimedia murals, Fernando Nugent once again returned to the scene to talk about the project with Frances Rivetti.

By way of history, Fernando was featured in an Argus-Courier article on April 25, 1995, standing in front of the artwork.

Today, May 10, 2012, Fernando is again featured in a column by Frances Rivetti in the Argus: American Alley mural ‘hiding in plain sight’ 

  • For those fortunate enough to be Argus-Courier subscribers, you are in luck! If you are not a subscriber, pick up a copy of today’s paper! The column will not be available online except in the E-edition of the Argus. For information as to how to subscribe, go to Argus Courier E-Edition
  • For readers ourside the Bay Area, including Petaluma Expats living in Washington DC and NYC, I can offer little solace except that Frances has also written a blog article about the interview with Fernando Nugent. In her blog article, Frances also includes photos of me getting down & dirty! Lord, did I really do that!!?  I guess a photo is worth a 1000 words! Check it out now by clicking on Petaluma’s American Alley Mural Mystery. 


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Rebuilding (A Community) Together…Petaluma

“I believe that it is only by sharing our stories that we truly become one community.”

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

(New York Times Book Review, April 29, 2012)

In the spirit of this quote, I will attempt to share some of the stories from Rebuilding Together Petaluma’s workday on April 21st.

On April 21, 2012, Rebuilding Together Petaluma (RTP)* volunteers once again spread out across Petaluma to  assist five qualifying homeowners with major home repairs and modifications. In addition, RTP and Daily Acts conducted an educational work project to enhance the City Hall Gardens planted in 2009. The City Hall project was sponsored by Sonoma Bank and the Paula Lane Action Network.

While I have never seen a barn rasing, RTP workdays are, most likely, quite similar in terms of energy and human spirit.

In the past I have attempted to show a portion of these RTP projects through photos.  This time I will first provide some feedback  from two of the homeowners:

  • ” (We had)…all about gave up on humanity. We were in despair – until all of you came. Thank you for giving us hope and faith. Thank you also for your hard work, efforts, kindness and compassion. You’re truly our heroes. From the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU! With Joy and love.”
  • “The kindness of the volunteers meant much more than words could ever thank you for! It is humbling to receive this kind of help. Bless you all. My home is lovelier than it has been in years and years.”

Jane Hamilton of RTP reports that in one location: “The work day generated so much activity in the neighborhood, that several other homeowners started working on their places and within days all of the leftover compost and mulch were distributed into many yards.   Often when repairing a person’s home we inadvertently end up affecting the whole neighborhood as well!”

Jane also advises that the work on a  mobile home of a disabled veteran was particularly gratifying: “(Mr. R’s) mobile home (is now)…a cleaner, safer, more water and energy efficient, accessible home. Most of (the RTP volunteers did not) get to see the final product of (their) exceptionally hard work, because it took a few more days to finish, but the results were stunning. (Mr R.) asked me to express his deepest gratitude to all of you and let you know he feels he is living in a whole new world. He is exercising up and down the hallway 4 times a day with his new grab bars, able to use his kitchen and bathroom with ease, and he is extremely motivated by the amount of stuff gone from his home and yard.”

And now the photos!

Photographers Joan Bunn, Victor Kunkel, Guiseppe Lipari, and Joe Chatterton covered four of the work sites and I was at two homes in Leisure Lakes.

All photos are available by clicking on RTP’s SmugMug Page

PLUS…A Brief Slideshow

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Please take note of the businesses and organizations that sponsored and/or volunteered their expertise or goods to help make these projects a success:

Sears Heroes At Home Program; S.C. Barns; Jeff England & Associates; Lon Wiley Construction; Doug Sanders Painting; Craig Riddle Handyman; North Bay Corporation; Velasco’s Restaurant; Whole Foods

Larry Hillblom Foundation; Petaluma Realtors; Circle Bank; Podesta Builders; C & J Properties Services, Casey Hopkins; City of Petaluma; Just Floor Covering, Mike Roesner; JF Electric, Jamie Freedman; Moore Heating & Air-Conditioning, Jon Diamond; North Bay Corporation; Strom Electric, David Freedman; The Floor Works, Robyn Perry

Redwood Credit Union & Volunteer Team;  Summit Bank; Adaptive Pest Control; Casey Hopkins; City of Petaluma; C & J Property Services, Jim Gemperline; Design in Wood, Andrew Jacobson; Fine Home Tuning, Rick Edwards; Just Floor Covering, Mike Roesner; Icon Plumbing, Jeff Martini; JF Electric, Jamie Freedman; Moore Heating & Air-conditioning, Jon Diamond; Nick Ryan Construction; Tony Capretta

American Alley’s Secret WPA Murals…Hiding in Plain Sight…PART II

Fourth in the series about Petaluma’s American Alley

A collaborative project with Independent Journalist, Frances Rivetti

Past articles are filed under American Alley

The Quest

EmbarrassedI must admit to feeling more than sheepish, dare I say embarrassed, as I have walked through Putnam Plaza at least a 1000 times over the years and NEVER noticed the artwork on the back of Copperfield’s until March 17, 2012!

American Alley ©Frank Simpson

AnnoyedTherefore, I was now determined to correct my blatant failure to exercise my powers of observation. I thought it would be a simple matter (silly me!) of just asking my usual sources for things historical.  They had always provided answers in the past.

This time they came up with bupkis…nothing…nada…zip.

So I elevated my inquiry to Bill Hammerman and Nina Zhito. Bill did know of the existence of the murals; however, he did not know the “who, what, when, and why” of their creation.  Bill and Nina independently referred the question to Katherine Rinehart who is an historian and expert on local architecture.  Katherine also knew about the murals, but, like Bill, did not know how they came to be.

At this point I was ready to ascribe the work to space aliens and be done with it all. Instead, I enlisted the help of Frances Rivetti. We met in Putnam Plaza and went back to look at the mural set. She was intrigued and immediately started working her information network–Literally, as it turns out, right there in the alley. It’s a story only she can tell!

As an aside, we have all become accustomed to simply going to our favorite search engine on the Internet for answers. This, of course assumes that all historical records, research materials, etc. are online.  They are not. We assumed there would be at least one newspaper article about the artwork.  We learned from Katherine Rinehart that searching for and locating such an article would be nearly impossible as the archives of the Argus-Courier are on microfilm and are not indexed.  Without a hint or inkling as to when any such article was ever published, we would have to know at least the month and the year to make a search even remotely feasible.

As a result of countless e-mails, phone calls and continuing investigative work by all of the above named people, Frances and I were able to discover the people behind the artwork. Hint–It wasn’t space aliens! 

Our work included, but was not limited to:

  • Interviewing the man who commissioned the work and learning its purpose.
  • Frances focusing on locating one of the artists and finally succeeding.  She used several channels and I suspect she even employed telepathy to pull it off.
  • Finding the Argus Courier article.

You will note that I have only published two photos of the artwork in this series. That was deliberate on my part.  For those who live in the area, you should go see them for yourself.  For those living elsewhere, you will have to “suffer” for a time. I will, however, include a complete set of photos in a later post or perhaps a web gallery.

TOMORROW:  American Alley’s Mural Array–Whodunit?

American Alley’s Secret WPA Murals…Hiding in Plain Sight…PART I

Third in the series about Petaluma’s American Alley

A collaborative project with Independent Journalist, Frances Rivetti

Past articles are filed under American Alley

At this point, a brief explanation of the photo grid project–the exercise that led me to explore American Alley–is in order. Photo grids have many definitions and applications. My approach is to cover the same territory on a regular basis at different times of the day to see what circumstance and lighting present as possible subjects during each pass. Opportunities vary on each walk.

What I call The Bovine Photo Grid  starts at the Bovine Bakery, runs down Kentucky to East Washington, and then back to the walkway into Putnam Plaza. Next, I scan and/or walk Petaluma Blvd for possible shots, and then proceed to the River and Water Street.  The grid ends by looping back to the bakery.

And so it was on March 17, 2012  

St. Patrick’s Day was cloudy and, frankly, not particularly warm. I decided to go ahead and walk the grid but did so with a mostly pro forma attitude. I just wanted to get through it, take a few pictures, get a cup of coffee, and go home to warm up.

Around 9:30 am, I was on the pedestrian walkway connecting Kentucky and Petaluma Boulevard. I had just taken a few steps into Putnam Plaza when the sun broke through a hole in the clouds. At that point I happened to look over my shoulder at the back of Copperfield’s when something on the upper wall caught my eye . I ignored it momentarily, but then thought I should take a quick look to see if it was just the light playing tricks on me…or whether something was there.

Confused What the…?Surprised smile

As I stepped from Putnam Plaza into the alley behind Copperfield’s, I was–there is no other word–stunned 

I was looking squarely at a very large mural, in fact, several mural panels stretching across the upper part of the building. As I continued along the back of the store, I tried to absorb the scope of the designs and the sophistication of the work. When I reached the end of the building I had counted or noted:

  • 12 Mural Panels (8 Large 4 Small) on the upper half of the building
  • Several wooden gears integrated with the mural panels
  • What appears to be decorative piping surrounding some of the panels

The next day, I went back to make sure I had not been hallucinating and observed that the bottom part of the building up to the top of the doors was a single mural of several large gears running the length of the building. This work was not readily visible the day before as the walls were wet.  It was obvious that it was part of the artwork on the upper part of the building. 

There was no other conclusion I could come to except that the back of Copperfield’s was home to the largest mixed media public art in Petaluma.  And I will stand by this assertion until someone comes along and points out a larger one! 

Regarding the “style” of the work, I thought of the WPA art work from the 1930′s, although some of it looked to be influenced by Post World War II themes. 

One of the large mural panels really caught my attention as it reminded me of a poster in my father’s office at Caterpillar.  Such artwork was common in the industrial environment in the late 1940′s and early 1950′s…

American Alley © Frank Simpson

But what the heck was all of this doing here in American Alley on the back of Copperfield’s? Certainly it had to be fairly recent given the apparent condition of the work. Who did it? Why did they do it? When was it done?

TOMORROW–Searching for answers in American Alley’s Secret WPA Murals…Hiding in Plain Sight…PART II

American Alley…An Introduction & First Impressions

First in a series about Petaluma’s American Alley

A collaborative project with Independent Journalist, Frances Rivetti

Articles will be filed under American Alley

Those who associate me with a certain kind of “reporting” in the past about blight and graffiti will be disappointed in this series.  There will be no ranting or bemoaning the fall of civilization. 

  • It will, of course, be a story about American Alley
  • It will be a story of scenes that are seen, but not seen, or scenes that are only revealed at certain times of the day. 
  • It will also be a story of how a photo exercise led to the discovery of a sophisticated mixed media public mural similar in scope and size to the Petaluma Heritage Mural on East Washington. Seeking the origins of the WPA style artwork turned into an ongoing research project to uncover its history. Several people participated in this effort, including Katherine Rinehart of the Sonoma County Library and, of course, Petaluma’s favorite history buff, Bill Hammerman. 



American Alley may not be all that familiar to many in Petaluma. Until recently, I was barely aware of its existence or function other than to note the frequent tagging on the walls as I drove by on East Washington.

Signage for American Alley off of East Washington © Frank Simpson

My “discovery” of the alley was a result of a photo grid exercise I have been running since February of this year in portions of Petaluma’s Downtown. The exercise has reinforced a lesson I learned some time ago:

There are three ways to see a neighborhood or urban environment:

  • If you drive through, you see things from the perspective of the vehicle. 
  • If you ride a bicycle, more scenes become apparent. 
  • If you walk, still more is revealed to you. 

After my experiences in the alley, I now appreciate that if you walk the same area at different times of the day with different lighting, even more is revealed.

The General Scene

The alley fits the classic definition of an urban alley in that it runs behind the buildings on Kentucky Street and Petaluma Boulevard and functions as a service road for deliveries and garbage pickup. Bill Hammerman advised me that the alley got its name from the American Hotel which was torn down to make way for Putnam Plaza.*  

It is easy to miss and, upon first glimpse, is not particularly inviting…

American Alley Exit to Western Avenue © Frank Simpson

As an aside, if one is curious about the origins of the word “alley,” Wikipedia and some of the online dictionaries report that it is a derivative of a French word: “Middle French ‘alee’ a walk, passage…derivative of feminine of ale, past participle of aler to walk ( French aller ).” In England, they are sometimes called “mews.”

However, American Alley is…well…it is an alley.

To be more specific, it is a commercial or business alley. 

The one way entrance is off of East Washington and the alley terminates at Western Avenue. Along the way it passes through the back of Putnam Plaza, briefly serving as part of the walkway or pedestrian concourse that connects Kentucky St. and Petaluma Blvd. Whether they realize it or not, people who use the walkway are regularly walking along or across part of American Alley at the back of the Plaza…

American Alley "Meets" Putnam Plaza © Frank Simpson

The above notwithstanding, the alley’s main function is a service road, if you will, for the businesses on Kentucky and Petaluma Blvd. 

Consequently, you would expect to see…what else?…deliveries…

American Alley © Frank Simpson

American Alley © Frank Simpson

American Alley © Frank Simpson

 And alleys being alleys, there is the occasional trash bin “inspector.”

American Alley © Frank Simpson

At this point, if I had not ventured further into the alley, the series would end…perhaps closing with a photo demonstrating how this upper stone building facade at the end of the alley has a pinkish or cream color in certain lighting conditions…

Corner of Western Avenue & American Alley © Frank Simpson

It would have been very easy to conclude that I had seen all there is to see. It is just another urban alley.  Move on.

Curiosity, however, caused me to examine the area more closely. 

TOMORROWAmerican Alley…Hidden Scenes

NOTE: *The American Hotel–1852 to 1966. There were actually three hotels as fires consumed the first two at the site. The last hotel “…was demolished in 1996, when the city condemned it. The vacant lot that resulted was later occupied by the present-day Putnam Plaza.” (Petaluma: A History in Architecture page 11 by Katherine J. Rinehart)



Petaluma Photos 2011

2011, in many respects, is a year I would like to forget on so many levels. To facilitate the departure of 2011, I am releasing my annual photo series now.

Unlike previous years, there are two albums or slideshows, presenting, perhaps, two distinct sides of the same coin.

Go to…

Falcons…Hawks in Petaluma?


While walking along McDowell by the hospital, I noticed a bird swiftly fly out of the field across from McDowell and Professional Drive and land on a street lamp by the field. It did not look like one of the numerous crows and clearly it was not a sea gull. I turned on the camera, zoomed to the max, and caught the following series of a falcon (hawk?) having breakfast. Look carefully under the right foot.


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  Enhanced Photo To Highlight The Markings

Feel free to jump in with your opinion as to its identity!

Spring (Soggy) In Petaluma

Today, I had planned to post a brief article recognizing or directing attention to the new blog header I created just for the season.

Instead, I am writing about…

…weather only a duck would love

On this first day of spring I got up early, unclogged a downspout, and noted the 2.5 inches of rain in the rain gauge. My scanner was crackling with county-wide police and fire traffic reporting wires down, trees down, trees into homes, flooded roads, and flooded intersections.  As predicted, the first in a series of storms with rain and high wind did their best to tax the resources of Petaluma and the other public safety agencies in Sonoma County.

As storms go it was not a “lollapalooza” as predicted by KGO Radio, but it was a significant storm nonetheless.  Given the fact that we are already waterlogged from past storms, this storm was bound to produce problems. The scanner traffic was proof enough.

During a lull in the rain (around 8:00 am) I took a quick walk around our East Side ‘Hood to see how we fared.  There were lots of branches and other debris in the landscape. However, on balance it was not too bad with this being the most dramatic scene I encountered…

The low-lying areas are flooded as usual…

As expected, the lake in Lucchesi is quite high, almost at level with the puddles on the other side of the walkway…

And of course, the creeks are running…

East Washington


A WORD OF CAUTION–It seems as if this has to be repeated every year: Do not drive through flooded roadways! You may not make it out. And if you encounter barricades, do not go around them.  In Petaluma, the police set up barricades on a flooded street and people were still driving around them.  Fortunately, their efforts were “rewarded” with citations.