Cotati – a history worth celebrating
Music and politics part of the charm that makes Sonoma County’s smallest incorporated city so unique
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By Dave Williams  July 12, 2013 12:00 am

Cotati may be the smallest incorporated city in Sonoma County, but it has a history just as rich and unique as any in the county. Cotati on Saturday will celebrate the 50th anniversary of it becoming an incorporated city (its actual incorporation date was July 16, 1963), but it’s been around long before that.

It has been documented that since at least 2000 B.C., Cotati area was home to the Coast Miwok civilization. It’s more immediate history, however, dates back to 1827 when John Thomas Reed built a cabin near Crane Creek, which subsequently was burned, and Reed retreated south to Mill Valley.

Seventeen years later, in 1844, the Mexican government ceded Rancho Cotate to Mexican military commander Capt. Juan Castaneda as payment for his service as a soldier under General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. 

The original name of the Coast Miwok village was Kotati. Legend has it that Rancho Cotate was named after a Pomo chief named Cotati. The plaque marking the statue across the street from La Plaza Park is named Chief Cotati.

 

Land changes hands

Castaneda failed to develop Cotati, which was one of the legal requirements when he was granted the area covering 17,238.6 acres. Therefore, he lost control of the land, which was passed to Thomas Larkin and then to Joseph Ruckle. Dr. Thomas Stokes Page purchased the land from Ruckle in 1849 for a grand total of $1,600.

Page used the land for farming and ranching, and in the late 1800s, Page sold parcels of land to squatters who laid claim to some of the land. When Page died in 1872, the dairy and stock farm was left to his sons. In 1875, the Page Ranch was considered the county’s largest farm as it covered nearly 10,000 acres. A clause in his will stipulated the ranch remain intact until the youngest child reached the age of 25.

Wilfred Page, in 1889, began selling parcels of land to new settlers, which brought new families and diversity to the area. Since then, Cotati has transformed from a farming community to one of the quirkiest cities in the county.

Cotati became an ideal stop for motorists in 1915 as Cotati Boulevard was chosen as the main route between Santa Rosa and Petaluma. It’s been home to a motor speedway and a professional baseball team in the 1920s. 

City hall once a school

The building where City Hall currently resides was built in 1922 but once served as a school. It has been City Hall since 1971. Cotati also had a volunteer fire department in 1927 but has been under the jurisdiction of the Rancho Adobe Fire District since 1933. And long before The Community Voice came into existence, Cotati residents got their news from a newspaper known as The Cotatian, which was established in 1944 by E.A. Little. Longtime Cotati residents Prue and Lloyd Draper were publishers of the paper from 1951 to 1965.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Cotati was an attractive stop for musicians traveling from the immediate Bay Area north to places such as Oregon or Washington. The stage at Inn of the Beginning, which was located where Friar Tucks is now, was graced by the likes of Van Morrison, the Grateful Dead, Neil Young and Country Joe and the Fish among others.

La Plaza Park, one of the city’s best assets, has helped Cotati enhance its reputation as the go-to place for music in the county with the annual Cotati Accordion Festival (Aug. 17-18) and the Cotati Jazz Festival, which took place in June. At around 2 p.m. on Saturday, local favorite Pride and Joy will take the stage in La Plaza Park.

Celebrating the Cotati Crawl

Another famous or infamous part of the city that is widely celebrated is the Cotati Crawl, which is a stretch of bars downtown on Old Redwood Highway that draws visitors from Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Sebastopol because of the music.

Cotati also has been host to the annual Kids Day Parade and subsequent celebration in La Plaza Park. The Kids Day festivities will take place this Saturday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

The hexagonal layout of Cotati’s downtown plaza is one of only two in the United States. The other city, believe it or not, is Detroit, Mich. 

Other than the hexagonal layout and a history for good music, there aren’t too many other similarities between Detroit and Cotati.

Another characteristic of Cotati is the political involvement of its citizens. There have been some divisive issues in Cotati – fast-food ban, roundabouts, whether or not to allow Lucky to build a supermarket and Measure A – that have strained some relationships and created some odd alliances.

Who knows what Cotati’s next 50 years will be like, but the last 50 and those before incorporation have proved worthy of Saturday’s pending celebration.

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