Petaluma Adobe SHP
Narrated by Russ Christoff
John Bidwell and John Sutter, military hero Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo figures prominently in California history.
From 1834, until the Bear Flag takeover in 1846, Vallejo was the undisputed Mexican ruler of Alto California, north of the San Francisco Bay.
Today, California State Parks is preserving some of the structures from Vallejo’s era.
These buildings are opened to the public, and can be found in the towns of Sonoma and nearby Petaluma.
Sonoma State Historic Park makes up a significant part of the town plaza, and contains soldier’s barracks and the last of the Mexican missions, San Francisco de Solano de Sonoma.
Half a mile from the plaza, visitors may tour Vallejo’s Victorian home, Laquilamontis.
Thirty minutes away in the town of Petaluma, the public may explore the impressively restored adobe that once served as the main residence of Vallejo’s agricultural empire.
We’ll begin my visit to the area in Petaluma, at Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park, where festivities for the town’s annual celebration, Old Adobe Fiesta, were well underway.
I met with Larry, one of the park’s rangers, to get some facts on the Petaluma Adobe and neighboring Sonoma State Historic Park.
Larry, give me a little history on Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park.
RANGER LARRY: The adobe is what remains of General Vallejo’s large rancho.
He had a 100 square mile rancho here in the Petaluma Valley.
Actually, it extended from Petaluma over to the town of Sonoma.
From the bay up almost Santa Rosa.
And on this land, he was mostly doing a lot of farming and ranching and raising of cattle.
The main reason for the cattle was so that they could sell the hides and the tallow or trade them to the Americans for things that they wanted.
RUSS CHRISTOFF: Now the building that we see today is only part of the original structure but it’s been fully restored, has is not?
RANGER LARRY: That’s right! We have only half of the original building and it’s a very large adobe as you saw.
The interior was just redone this last year and the exterior had to be replaced in the 1960’s, so it holding up pretty well because it’s redwood.
The building itself is in pretty good shape.
We have on display now, a large museum room with displays about the rancho and the rancho period.
We also have a spinning and weaving room.
We have a woodworking room and a room displaying leather craft.
And upstairs we have living quarters, which we figured were people living in the building that were associated with the building itself.
When I say factory, I mean the spinning and weaving, maybe the curing of the hides, working around the building.
RUSS CHRISTOFF: You have a special event going on today, something that doesn’t happen every week I take it.
RANGER LARRY: Once a year! This is our Old Adobe Fiesta which is put on by our association that helps support the park.
This one happens to be the 36th annual one. It started as a celebration of the centennial for the town of Petaluma, and then the next year they got together and decided, “Why don’t we put it on every year out at the adobe?”
RUSS CHRISTOFF: There are a lot of events going on, leather working, there is a blacksmith which I don’t think he’s dressed in period costume necessarily but the type of thing that went on during that time, right.
RANGER LARRY: Right, this isn’t a living history but they do have a lot of things that could have gone on that time like our candle dipping and the basket making, that we allow people to participate in.
And, it gives them a little view of what the place was like.
What I like about the fiesta is that you have a lot of action going on in the courtyard, and normally this place is pretty quiet.
With the activities going on, you can almost get a feeling of how this place must have been when all the workers were here and working and doing their crafts and doing their jobs and occupations.
RUSS CHRISTOFF: Larry, how far is the Sonoma Mission from here and what can a visitor expect to see when they get there?
RANGER LARRY: The Sonoma Mission and the other parks in Sonoma are roughly about a half hour or less from this park.
I like to send people over there because it ties in so well with this park, and in the mission you have the last mission in the chain of California missions, and actually it’s the last mission in the chain of California and Baja and Northern California missions.
The others were all Spanish.
This was the only Mexican mission.
Next to the mission on the plaza is the barracks.
This is where Vallejo brought his garrison from San Francisco when he was sent up to Sonoma.
They produced the barracks, that’s where they lived and stored their weapons and powder and everything.
And I’ve heard, that is also where the soldiers worked out of.
In other words, if Vallejo needed to take a trip over to Fort Ross or down to the bay or something, he would go to the garrison and say let’s take off and do the job.
RUSS CHRISTOFF: Now in the same areas as the Sonoma Mission is the Vallejo Home, which has one of the most beautiful drives leading to the house that I’ve ever seen.
RANGER LARRY: That’s right! I think it’s a quarter mile long lined with Cottonwoods and roses that Vallejo planted or had planted when he lived there.
It goes up to the house which is an older Victorian. It was actually put together piece by piece from parts brought around the Horn from the east coast on a sailing ship.
There are a couple of these still left in California. One is also in Benecia, but the little Victorian is quite beautiful inside, even though it’s a little bit small, the rooms seem to have a special air about them.
One of the nicest things about that building is that we inherited it with the furniture and most of the interior, even the colors, we knew what colors we should have inside, and so we have pretty much the way it was left when Vallejo passed away.
RUSS CHRISTOFF: So it was original furniture, everything that he owned, his possessions?
RANGER LARRY: Pretty much everything there belonged to Vallejo.
We inherited from his last surviving daughter.
RUSS CHRISTOFF: What is the importance of Petaluma Adobe and Sonoma State Park to the State of California, and why are we preserving it?
RANGER LARRY: This is a real tough question for me.
I mean, I have the answers in my heart and that’s the reason I work for the park system.
As far as the Petaluma Adobe itself, we have buildings that have stood now for over 150 years, it’s one of the best examples of the construction that was being done in California during the changeover, that period when it was part of Mexico.
And, we not only had the influence of the Spanish but also the Americans and other cultures coming here.
All of these thrown together in this kind of stew pot, that is California.
I would be so afraid if we lost that, we would lose our vision of a multiple cultural California.