A Tale of Three Houses – June 17 2013

Our last hike of Spring Footloose 2013 plumbed some memories, discovered new worlds nearby and ended with delicious conversation at our potluck most lucky. We met at Michael’s former home on McDonald Avenue, Santa Rosa where we’ve enjoyed festive potlucks past and shared some of those amazing Halloween celebrations complete with marching band. We got a chance to walk around in all the rooms once again in a farewell tour of this remarkable and historic house. It felt renewed and ready for the next owner and it was important for us to linger a moment inside and out to say goodbye.


Rod, Mari, Armand and Sarah talking with Michael and Cappie Garrett in the entry and living room of 925 McDonald – Pat descending the staircase. Cappie is a neighborhood friend of Michael’s who knows the McDonald area history and shared some with us on the walk. Cappie is on the Santa Rosa Cultural Heritage Board.


A YouTube video records the 2011 Halloween celebration, Michael may be seen at 10:45 on the video . . . “there’s an interesting character there . .”

Here is a 2011 Press Democrat article questioning if the Halloween celebration has gotten too large:

December of 2011 after our expedition to Gourmet Mushroom, Inc. in Sebastopol, we gathered on the steps of 925 for a picture. http://www.mycopia.com

Some autumn colors of 2011 adding to the Christmas celebration

Larry adds to the festivities with his famous reindeer reprise.

925 McDonald Avenue with Chris reconnoitering


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Just across the street is the venerable “McDonald House”, no relation to Ronald. Many words spring to mind mostly edible: confection, gingerbread or wedding cake – maybe we were just hungry before the potluck. The McDonald House has a storied history starting with its construction in 1879 as a summer home for the McDonald family whose primary residence was in San Francisco. Patterned after the family home in Natchez, Mississippi of Raphine North McDonald the mansion retained the name of the ancestor home of “Mableton”. Built by her husband, Col. Mark Lindsay McDonald, it is a classic of Victorian architecture. Col. Lindsay was then head of the Santa Rosa Water Company.

http://www.visitnatchez.org/things-to-do/tour/historic-homes/ You can see the context of rich and elegant homes in this wealthy southern city, a hub of trade and commerce along the Mississippi. It isn’t clear what home Mableton was or if it still exists but take a look at # 20 and see if Glen Auburn looks familiar.

Harriet asked how they would have gotten from San Francisco to Santa Rosa, not as easy as crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and taking 101 north. Ferries had been plying the SF Bay since John Reed’s first sailboat ferry in 1826 so ferry service had a long history by 1879. There are a variety of train possibilities with the Petaluma and Haystack Railroad on the map in 1868, the Napa Valley Railroad establishing service in 1865 with a connecting ferry in Vallejo and the Northwestern Pacific Railroad beginning service in the late 1800s. It would be an intriguing effort to figure out how they might have traveled to their Santa Rosa mansion. There was a Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad incorporated in 1903 with predecessor horsecar lines built in Petaluma and Santa Rosa 1888-1891. We’ve photos of horsecar lines going down McDonald Avenue so perhaps after the initial carriages this was their next means of travel. When did they begin to drive?


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petaluma_and_Santa_Rosa_Railroad Be sure to read “The Battle of Sebastopol Road” for a terrific example of free market competition.

And now that the McDonalds have made the journey, here is their destination.

1015 McDonald Avenue – Here’s a link to the best site I’ve found detailing the history and architecture of the McDonald family and their Mableton mansion including a photo of the disastrous fire in 1977.


http://www.noehill.com/sonoma/nat1974000560.asp This site is amazing as well.

The building played a big supporting role with some modifications in Disney’s 1960 film Pollyanna:


John and Jennifer Webley are the new (2005) owners of Mableton, John Webley Jr. opens the gate as we arrive. John is a friend and former neighbor of Michael’s on McDonald Avenue. Michael had arranged for our tour with him. He kindly took us all around from the basement to the widow’s walk. He said at one point there was a move to demolish the mansion and replace it with condominiums! John is a graduate student preparing to go on an archaeological dig next week in Jordan.

From the Press Democrat in 2010: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20100423/LIFESTYLE/100429771

The National Trust for Historic Preservation fights for the preservation of historic structures and locations that are threatened with “development” and destruction. They fight for buildings of historic significance large and small, for areas like national battlefields that could be saved as parks, for national trails, for old movie theaters that face the wrecker’s ball – for the history that needs remembering, for the history that makes us who we are.


John Webley Sr. has been the prime mover in the house’s renewal working with architects, a design consultant and contractors to bring the building back to its former 1879 glory. http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20110512/ARTICLES/110519754?p=1&tc=pg
Mr. Webley is the co-founder of Advanced Fibre Communications, former chairman of Turin Networks and founder of Sonoma Cools. He and his wife “bought the McDonald Mansion in 2005 for $3.6 M, a record price for a residential property inside the Santa Rosa city limits.”

http://www.sonoma.edu/pubs/newsrelease/archives/2010/05/ssu_nominates_l.html Some helpful background in this article about their honorary degrees from SSU. http://www.corporationwiki.com/California/Santa-Rosa/john-webley/43326458.aspx
Michael commented that the extensive reconstruction process has provided jobs for many contractors in Santa Rosa through these challenging economic times.

http://www.northbaybiz.com/General_Articles/General_Articles/This_Old_House.php This article gives some some background on the previous owner, Dr. Jack Leissring, who acquired the property in 1974 “in dilapidated form”. It was while working on its restoration that the 1977 fire destroyed the roof and second story. Dr. Leissring was passing by as our group was leaving so we were able to meet him. He was particularly excited about the new brick maze on the property.

The entry level of the library, a spiral staircase leads up to another level.

The entry Main Hall with doors leading off to the Library, the Turkish Parlor, the Ladies’ Parlor, and the Gentleman’s Parlor – your choice on a tour of Victoriana.

Some details of the reconstruction showing a variety of remarkable wallpapers, many of the light fixtures are period and acquired by the Webleys on a trip back east, looking down from the widow’s walk on the entry path and two solid and beautifully rendered newels at the landing on the stairs.

John leads us up the stairs to the second floor. There’s an elevator through that doorway + hallway and stair detail.

Looking down the hallway to the stairs with some of the artwork done by one of the Wembley daughters, Sarah, who studied at the Florence Academy of Art.

A band plays from the gazebo at outside events in the gardens.

In the basement billiard room a good question from Sue Morris for Michael. Let’s see, what was that about?

Jennifer Webley is a great collector of costumes including a special love for hats which started when she was living in Nevada. John Jr. related that growing up in straightened circumstances there, she shopped in thrift shops for clothing and used the hat collecting as an explanation to her friends. Now she has returned to this real love with her hat shop in Santa Rosa, Portobello Hats.


The garden tour? Maybe next year.
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For our third adventure we caravanned to Michael’s new place, 2360 Grahn Drive, which was quite nearby the McDonald addresses. Maybe not quite caravan since that means “merchants or pilgrims journeying together through deserts, hostile territory etc.” but we did play follow the leader and got there in short order. Michael has landed on his feet with a neat ranch house with flowing floor plan and a great backyard, we all relaxed and enjoyed seeing him and his stuff in the new location. There was the skeleton, there was the crocodile, there was his skull collection and there were some more and some more as well. Michael is the only one we know who decorates with skulls – a neat fit with his love of Halloween. Many beautiful skulls but no skulking for our eclectic leader.

Do you recall the terrific skull exhibit at the old Academy of Sciences where a large, auditorium size display area was filled with many of the skulls of the animal kingdom? There was a beauty, power and poignance to the exhibition – a great ringing memory. The Academy continues to have these insights:

In that link to the Academy they ask Nina Jablonski, Curator and Department Chair of Anthropology, “Are skulls specialized to help an animal chew? NJ: “The skull provides a framework for the face and neck muscles – animals that need stronger chewing muscles will develop larger bony attachment ridges for these muscles, such as the sagittal crest along the top of the skull and zygomatic arches on the sides.” Here we round the wonderful potluck table ready for our picnic lunch, enjoying some delicious food and exercising our strong chewing muscles, sagittal crests and zygomatic arches.

We gather in the backyard with a GREAT addition as Armando arrives to join our circle. The crocodile looks on and the bicycle lock will probably not provide us very much protection.

Margie, Louise and Sharon enjoying talking with Michael and he with them.

Everyone’s engaged in the conversation. Nice storage shed too!

Clockwise from the bottom right: Michael talks to us outside of his former place, 925 McDonald, shares in the next photo to the left some of his experiences – he’s recently returned from his Turkey Trip. After an extensive tour of many areas in Turkey toward the end of his visit, he went to Taksim Square in Istanbul during the protests with the smell of teargas in the air. He said that any free country should have the right to peaceful protest and hopes that soon perhaps an economic downturn will bring the leadership back to the former balance of many years between secular and Islamic interests. In the photos above he recalls having a shave from his favorite Istanbul barber and realizing that he was stretching his neck back to a muslim, that these were troubled times in the middle east and . . . fortunately, that he and the barber were friends.

The circle gets a little cavalier with the crocodile. I like that . . . “Cavalier the Crocodile”. Rod is close to the business end and Harriet must mind the tail.

Having made his escape, we are all relieved.

Next time we need the story on this.

We’ll leave it all up to Ganesh now, thanking Michael, Armando, Jim and Don for a super Spring 2013 Footloose Hiking Series with so many vistas discovered, adventures enjoyed and memories shared. Happy Summer, Lew

P.S. Thanks Rowena for your email on this – we greatly enjoyed REBELS WITH A CAUSE at the Smith San Rafael Film Center last Saturday. Pat and I recommend it highly. Because of the unusually good response last week it has returned for a second week there starting yesterday, June 21st until June 27th. The film makers and some of the REBELS will be at the performance tonight at 6:30 and tomorrow, Sunday, 23 June, at 2 PM. Here’s the link:


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