As the story started back in February of 1964: Once upon a time a handsome prince was riding along the highway and passed a beautiful meadow.
“That is a fine place to build a city” he said to himself “and that now is my ambition.”
Years later his dream did come true. This tale is not pirated from the works of Hans Christian Andersen but is adapted from a story heard here and there in Sonoma County about the origin of a new city, Rohnert Park.
The “handsome prince” is Paul Golis, an attorney and the “once upon a time” is as recent as eight years ago (1956) when Highway 101 was flanked just north of Cotati by the huge Waldo Rohnert seed farm.
There is still a considerable amount of meadow left; the dream still needs some developing. And quite a few people besides Golis are involved in the fairy tale.
One is Maurice Fredericks, another attorney.
Asked about the story of his partner, Golis deciding to build a city on the seed farm, Fredericks laughs and says he has heard it also. The tale, as fiction often does, closely resembles the truth.
In 1955 the two attorneys were working in Montgomery Village, representing Hugh Codding. As Fredericks explains it, the lawyers saw huge development taking place and “we decided to fire our own cannon.”
The Rohnert seed farm offered the largest fairly level tract of land in the county with ready access to the Northwest Pacific Railroad and to the soon to be built freeway on the 101 route.
“Many people passed by the land but ignored its development possibilities,” said Fredericks.
Talks were begun with Waldo Rohnert, now deceased, and an option system was set up for development of the land in stages as the growth transpired. The Rohnert land totaled 2,700 acres. Also involved was 600 additional acres, the former Ben Brian’s ranch. A master plan was drawn for the city incorporating school sites, parks, industrial, commercial and residential land. It is a city designed “from scratch” which is rare in California.
Rohnert Park is a city that “started with 3,300 acres without a tree on it,” says Fredericks.
The city grows on a basis of “from nothing to something” as one official described it.
Most cities have some theme, some central activity or focal point by which they are known. As an example, Sebastopol has apples; Sonoma the Bear Flag and grapes and Paris has its Seine. Rohnert Park has Rohnert Park.
In the financing of the development, basically Golis and Fredericks allied themselves with the Spivock interests and formed Alicia Homes.
This firm subdivided and sold lots to contractors. In addition there is a separate industrial development corporation holding land at the north section involving Dorothy Rohnert Spreckels and Fred W. Rohnert, daughter and son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Waldo Rohnert.
The “fairy tale” city has attracted scoffers and Fredericks realized this.
“When Paul and I were working in Montgomery Village,” he recalls, “People told us we were working in a slum. Now the place has settled down. The same thing will happen here.”
Has growth transpired as rapidly as expected? Fredericks says it has, though the city is like many others in desiring more rapid industrial development for employment and a tax base.
“There are stories about “rows of empty houses” in Rohnert Park. Fredericks has this to say:
“Empty houses do exist, quite a few right now because another section was recently completed. These provide an inventory during the winter and building will resume in April or May.”
And in one southern section there are bare concrete foundations, obviously left for some time.
Fredericks says contractors often will experience this situation. When sales catch up with supply, these foundations will support new houses as intended.
(To be continued next week.)
Irene Hilsendager’s column each week touches on moments in the history of Cotati, Rohnert Park and Penngrove.