May 23, 2019
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From the Archives IV-2009

By: Irene Hilsendager
August 3, 2018

The Cultural Arts Commission has joined the Historical Society of late in its ongoing search through the Archives. Robin Miller and assistants have been given the daunting task of selecting a dozen or so historic photos that best represent the history of Rohnert Park. Those have been chosen and are now being professionally printed, framed and captioned.

An historic brochure is being written to accompany the photos, which will soon be open to public view on the second floor of the new city hall.

The choices reflected more on the themes of the story than the actors. Few photos of mayors are included, because that existing series is in storage for a day when proper display areas can be designated.

Nevertheless, we will catch glimpses of the two earliest “founders,” Paul Golis and Maurice Fredericks, in and amongst the exhibit. While Golis is seen busy in his office creating new ideas and writing for his newspaper, the Rohnert Park News, Maurice is photographed with the Volunteer Firemen.

Other images depict the tremendous growth that occurred in Rohnert Park, a reflection of the hard work of many leaders and locals. Women are seen creating a homemade float, to be finished off with roses from gardens of all the neighbors.

We see not only firemen, first led by Bob Ryan, but also the first Police Department officials, headed by Joe Spinelli. We find City Manager Bill Wiggins proudly sitting in the cab of the latest city equipment whose purchase he no doubt approved. Pete Callinan appears with deserved regularity, as he wore many hats, from councilman to first city manager and mayor.

We have photos that make us proud, from Rancho Cotati’s marching band to Governor Pat Brown speaking to students at the new Sonoma State College. The overall view portrays a city of hope and progress. One of the earliest and most inviting signs to point the way to this new city of development is the beige and brown Rohnert Park sign, still standing between Highway 101 and Commerce Blvd., near Rohnert Park Veterinary.

The first sign was erected in October 1961 and originally had the RP continuously revolving. The lowest 6-sided polygon is no longer to be found, but then proudly announced “Sonoma State College.” Sonoma State opened its doors in 1960 in some apartments on College View behind Southwest Shopping Center.

According to Jud Snyder, “It took courage for the newly-formed state college to put down roots in a city still two years away from incorporation and it was gracious of the community to find room for the collection of faculty and students led by the college’s first president, Dr. Ambrose Nichols.”

While things started out friendly, somewhere along the way Cotati asserted that the college belonged to their town and many students agreed. However, “Under a 99-year agreement, Rohnert Park may annex the university site into its borders, but no other can.” This may have led to enough upset to change the sign, but that theory is yet to be verified.

A brief scan through old newspapers in the 1970s finds the sign omitted from its welcome mat. By the 1980s, the bottom piece of the sign has become “The Friendly City.” Several claim to have devised this new section and its slogan, but it has not yet confirmed authenticity.

It seems foolish to print a story that is so lacking in facts but when the RP sign today gets looked at, there isn’t much time left before it too will be gone.

Hidden behind overgrown trees and ripped up at its graffiti-covered base, one wonders what to do. Is it better to tear it down and start over or repair this monument to our heritage?

Moving further towards the 50th celebration in 2012, folds will be invited to gather and talk about what they would like to have included. Perhaps one of those items can be a discussion about what to do with the original Rohnert Park sign.