More from our trip to Sonoma CA: As the days of the Mexican war came to an end and California was annexed into the US, the square where Spanish soldiers once drilled was turned into a lovely park, with businesses along the the perimeter. As white settlers and immigrants from Europe and the Far East poured into California, the rich soils yielded great fortunes in cattle, crops and eventually the vineyards which would one day be among the worlds best. Among the families who prospered in the wine business were the Italians family Sebastiani. Civic-minded Samuele Sebastiani, the patriarch of the successful family winery, thought there should be an entertainment facility on the square befitting Sonoma’s growing status and prosperity. In the early 1930’s he built the Sebastiani Theater, designed by famed theater designer James W. Reid. The show house featured a stunningly colorful neon marque which proudly trumpeted the talkie showing that week, or an upcoming stage show or musical review. The interior was ornately decorated, and all in all it was quite a showplace.
However, as the decades went by, television and other diversions lessened the demand for a theater, which in the 60’s closed on Monday and Tuesday, and would cancel an evening’s presentation if there were less than seven paying customers in the house. The building began to crumble, and was eventually saved from demolition by local devotion and the now corporate Sebastiani Winery’s generous financial support. We went to see a movie at this historic venue (The current release “A United Kingdom”, which I recommend highly) and were very blown away by the new, state of the art sound and digital picture.
We learned the theater regularly shows classic movies using the old 35MM projectors, along with quality live music presentation. You can even purchase three strands of either red or black licorice for just 25 cents (mix and match if you wish). The lobby was also covered by hand-drawn color portraits of the great movie stars of the 20s-30’s by a local artist during the depression, but not discovered until recently. We followed the moving with a knock-out dinner at The Plaza Bistro (theplazabistro.com) just a few doors down on the Square. I think that’s one of the reasons I like Sonoma so much. It’s a farm town with class, but little pretense.
A few days ago Joan, my mom Joyce and I returned from visiting family in Sonoma California. Sonoma is nestled in a spectacularly fertile, rolling and green patch of the planet roughly 45 minutes north and east of San Francisco. The indigenous Miwok Indians called the land the “Valley of the Moon” for the way each full moon lit like day the entire Sonoma Valley. The photo above is of bro-in-law and host Steve and my mother in front of Sonoma’s famous “Valley of the Moon” mural just off the Square). The Spanish entered the area in 1835 looking for treasure, land and “heathen souls”to convert. Unfortunately for the proud and peaceful Miwok the Spanish proved most adept at spreading small pox, resulting in the convertion of a large number of the Miwok into corpses.
The Spanish made Sonoma the northernmost of their string of California missions. Today the Sonoma Valley produces some of the finest wines in the world and welcomes tens of thousands of visitors for year-round fun and frolic. Napa, Sonoma’s neighbor to the east, is the more famous of the two. but that popularity has turned Napa into a city with city-type problems, an outlet mall, and, shall we say, a crabby disposition towards the tourists who park in their spots, take the good seats at the restaurants and generally make the place Wine Disney World. Sonoma, however, is still at heart a farm town of around 10,000 where feed stores and fantastic restaurants live comfortably side-by-side and just about anyone you meet while walking the town still smiles and says “hello”. You also won’t find a fast-food restaurant or Walmart, and the only chain store is Williams Sonoma because the famed kitchen and home store was founding in, well, Sonoma. Although I no longer get to enjoy the fruit of the vine, I remember Sonoma wine as every bit as good as those in Napa, and in many cases, better.
Joan and Mom, boarding at FSD
I’ve often said that the older I get, the fewer things I know “for sure”, meaning that as time rambles on, the know-it-all black and white brashness of youth gives way to the reality that life is constructed mostly of gray. I’m in my 56th year, and I can state with certainty I know the following to be true: 1) People hate change. 2) It’s never too cold for ice cream. 3) There is always room for a little pie. And 4) If you are ever given the option of having loving family live in Sonoma, have the good sense to say “yes” and visit them often. More bits of Sonoma history and trip tales to come.