The autumn-summer weather helped to make for an ideal outdoor meeting as the Somoma League for Historic Preservation met on October 13th for a reunion of members after an almost two year hiatus of activity.
“This weather is just perfect for our outdoor meeting and the garden here at the Maysonnave House is beautiful,” said Sonoma Mayor, Madoyln Agrimonti.
Agrimonti was among the first to arrive as caterers had just set up and arranged the hors d’oeuvres of prosciutto and melon, wine and refreshments for the 6:00 PM meeting that Wednesday evening.
“The main purpose of this meeting is to reopen and welcome back our members after more than almost two years of quarantine and distancing since COVID,” said Sonoma League for Historic Preservation Vice President Martin Laney.
Despite in keeping with current COVID protocols, a lilting glow of sunset lent itself to a very casual atmosphere. People gradually made their way in, greeting and chatting with one another leisurely as a guitarist played various melodies acoustically.
The League’s Board of Directors were present and Executive Director Robert Delmer greeted and introduced people individually back and forth. All in attendance were very pleased that an in-person meeting was made possible.
When this reporter asked what was the immediate goal of the League besides meeting in person after a prolonged absence, Demler said, “Re-establish our lecture series, continue our civic advocacy regarding preservation issues in Sonoma and reconnect with members who did not renew during the pandemic.”
Demler, a native Texan by way of Port Arthur, has settled in Sonoma for the past 25 years after traveling the United States and the world on various assignments during his career. His love for Sonoma and its history has become a primary passion, with the League as an appropriate vehicle/platform in preservation efforts. The most crucial thing that the League has on its agenda? I asked. “Finding a president and to increase the efforts to grow the number of directors on our board,” Demler added.
League member Bernice Thorstensen, and others see how the quaint integrity of the once small town is changing rapidly. While slow growth initiatives have been established in Sonoma and elsewhere, they often fall apart or get misinterpreted.
As noted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, small and rural communities…”might find that their policies are not bringing the prosperity they seek, while fast-growing rural areas at the edge of metropolitan regions face metropolitan-style development pressures.” Some researchers at the EPA and elsewhere see a distinction between “slow growth” and “smart growth strategies.” This is something that Sonoma League and others understand as a dilemma.
“When my husband and I retired to Sonoma in 1995 over 25 years ago, it was truly a small town,” reminisced Thorstensen. “Now it is different, especially since the wildfires and, of course COVID,” she added. The crisis in affordable housing and the upheaval COVID has caused, certainly stands in sharp contrast to Somoma’s Early California 19th Century roots.
The League is a not-for-profit corporation devoted to protecting Sonoma and Sonoma Valley’s historic buildings and cultural heritage. It offers preservation related events and advocacy programs from its headquarters in the Maysonnave House at 291 First Street East, less than two blocks from the Historic Plaza at the heart of town.
The long absence due to COVID has not been a complete lack of activity by the League, as Laney and Demler each pointed out. “This gave us an opportunity to refresh the Maysonnave House interior and gardens. The Carriage House adjacent to the garden was remodeled and is now equipped with a large office which we are presently leasing to the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Association.”
Pleased with the revenue/funding that this particular rental space now provides, Demler also noted, “We rent the boardroom on an ongoing basis for the board meetings of three other non-profits. Those local nonprofits are Sonoma FISH, Sonoma Valley Newcomers and the Overlook Trail Stewards. The boardroom is also available for special meeting events and the garden for weddings, receptions, private luncheons as well as for memorial gatherings” he said.
Thorstensen enjoyed the prosciutto and melon as did Mayor Agrimonti, both noting it’s Italian origin and which then brought to mind the presence of Sebastiani Winery, now fading as the 21st Century is changing the wine-making industry. Wine is still Sonoma’s signature product and claim to fame.
“I lived in San Francisco for many years and then in Emeryville in the East Bay. I am originally from South Dakota, said Thorstensen. My husband and I were so enthralled with Sonoma on our first visit that we knew it was where we wanted to retire. And even though I was contemplating being buried back there in South Dakota, my husband is buried here in Sonoma at Mountain Cemetery, near Overlook Trail. Sonoma is so beautiful. I can’t imagine being anywhere else, that’s why with the years I have left, she said, I want to help it stay beautiful and serene which is why my husband and I came to Sonoma in the first place.”
The League’s annual fundraising appeal is normally in November and The Sonoma League is eager to invite and encourage new members to join. To learn more about The Sonoma League for Historic Preservation, visit the website.