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Petaluma weighs demolition of houses on historic site

Petaluma code enforcement officer Joe Garcia walks past an historic structure at Cedar Grove Park in March.

Kent Porter / PD
Published: Monday, March 24, 2014 at 5:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 24, 2014 at 5:37 p.m.

Petaluma planners and historic preservation committee members will consider an application Tuesday night to demolish one of several houses on what may have been the site of the earliest European settlement in Petaluma.

The Cedar Grove area is considered the location of perhaps the earliest historical structure in Petaluma, a rustic 1850 hunting camp hut of John Lockwood.

The following year, the first trading post in Petaluma was established on a boat in the Petaluma Creek, next to the camp.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Cedar Grove – a 7-acre parcel off Lakeville Street between the Petaluma River and the railroad tracks – was host to a private city garden, an amusement park, picnic grounds, hotel, bowling alley and more.

There are several structures on the property, including the Bloom-Tunstall house and the remains of what may have been the first hotel in Petaluma. For several years, Holmberg Roofing was located there.

In the past decade, developers have eyed the parcel for potential housing developments.

But access problems have been an obstacle, worsened by recent SMART's plan to close or consolidate private crossings over the tracks. Without that crossing, used by Clover Stornetta Farms to park its truck trailers, the land is inaccessible.

Since the last renters moved out of the Beck House about four years ago, the property has become a homeless and squatters' camp, attractive to criminals, drug users and those wishing to hide from the outside world, Petaluma city official said.

Other structures are rotted out and not fit for occupancy.

Landowner John Barella, former North Bay Construction company owner, was ordered last year to clean up the property and protect the historic structures from further neglect.

The city said Barella hasn't acted on the notice of violation, other than to recently board the windows of the Bloom-Tunstall house. Barella said the city has delayed approval of the necessary demolition permits.

Barella submitted a request for the Historic and Cultural Preservation Committee approval to demolish the 1930s Beck House and other structures.

Because of its age, city approval is needed to demolish it.

The Beck house has been enlarged several times and no longer retains any historic value, city officials said.

The house's windows are broken out and junked appliances and garbage litter the inside. Graffiti covers the inside and out.

Several commissioners toured the property last week.

The Bloom-Tunstall house, which also has suffered years of neglect and vandalism, is protected by the city's historic codes and can't be demolished.

The commission will discuss the request for demolition at its 7 p.m. Tuesday meeting at City Hall, 11 English St.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.

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