“My intent is to reveal not only what is hidden, but also what is plainly visible and seldom noticed.”
The Springs Museum concerns itself with “History, Art and Community.” Art has been somewhat neglected until now. Wing Young Huie is not a resident of the Springs, but the art he created here constitutes an important document of the place. It is an artistic achievement and a historical archive of Boyes Hot Springs in 2007.
“I am the youngest of six and the only one in my family not born in China. For most of my life I’ve looked at my own Chinese-ness through a white, middle-class prism. Growing up in Duluth, Minnesota made it easy. After all, I was weaned on Snoopy, Mary Tyler Moore, and the Vikings. Mom made me pray to Buddha every New Year, but it was Jesus Christ Superstar who became my cultural touchstone. The result was that sometimes my own parents seemed exotic and even foreign to me.
They also were my first photographic subjects. I was twenty and living at home, experimenting with my new Minolta camera, when I made the first exposures of my dad in the kitchen. It was strange and exhilarating to look at someone so familiar so intently, and see something new. Now, some thirty years and hundreds of thousands of exposures later, I’m still trying to look at the world anew.
Inside the Springs follows my many projects that attempt to reflect the dizzying mixture of socioeconomic and ethnic realities that encompass our changing cultural landscape. My first major exhibition in 1996 focused on Frogtown, a St. Paul neighborhood plagued with a dubious reputation driven in part by media stories. I spent two years photographing the complexities and mystery behind those headlines.
I continue to focus on submerged communities that exist on the periphery of the prevailing cultural radar. My intent is to reveal not only what is hidden, but also what is plainly visible and seldom noticed.
I had never been to The Springs or Sonoma prior to my residency through the Sonoma Community Center. At the invitation of Shelly Willis, the former Artistic Director of the SCC, I spent one month photographing Boyes Hot Springs in October 2007. The process of photographing and interacting with people has remained, for the most part, the same since I photographed my own neighborhood in Duluth. I simply walk around, encountering people on the street, who then suggest or introduce others to photograph.
In this manner I meandered through the crooks and alleys of The Springs, photographing hundreds of citizens going about their daily lives. To describe a few: barbequing chickens, harvesting grapes at dawn, waiting for the school bus, a job, a blessing, a taco, dancing in the driveway, singing, jogging, mourning, celebrating, taking communion and pictures, aerobically swimming, tasting coffee and sweating communally.
It’s difficult to sum up what I saw or learned. I photographed a fraction of what is there, but I feel I saw a lot. Sometimes I get asked what is the purpose of what I do and I’m never sure how to answer. In a way, making those first photographs of my dad may have been one of the most intimate things I ever did with a man who was not easy to know. Maybe that’s the reason.
There were many who helped me along the way, including Mario Castillo and the Vineyard Workers Services, Libby Hodgson, manager of the Barking Dog, Eric Holman, Abdul and Celeste Winders, formerly of the Valley of the Moon Teen Center, Juanita Brinkley, Tarja Beck and the Finnish American Heritage Association, Ellen LaBruce and the La Luz Center, Martha Parra, Ross Drulis Cusenbery Architects, and all the folks at the Sonoma Community Center.”
The corners Sonoma Highway makes with Boyes Blvd. and Vallejo Ave. are the heart of Boyes Hot Springs. From the 1890s to now, it has been our commercial hub. Many buildings are gone, but significant ones remain, if altered. The Post Office has been there, in three different buildings, for over one hundred years. Many new businesses thrive and more are planned. During the season, we now have a weekly farmers market.
The path the highway follows was probably originated by mastadons migrating to the coast. Boyes Blvd. and Vallejo Ave. came along much later, during the early 20th century, when speculators started to subdivide the land.
Only the highway ( called “Road to Santa Rosa”) was there in 1860 when the United States Court confirmed Thaddeus Leavenworth’s claim to 534 and 62/100 acres of land in the Rancho Agua Caliente, land that was to become Boyes Hot Springs, Agua Caliente, and Fetters hot Springs.
The highway is just called “County Road” in the 1916 Hotel Grounds subdivision map, which also show Boyes Blvd. but does not extend to the east, so no Vallejo.
Possibly the oldest photographs of the location are scenes of The Club House (Red roof in lower photo, shown on the Hotel Grounds map), Grahams Store, and other businesses, from around 1910.
A beautiful 1939 shot shows the entrance to the Sonoma Mission Inn, the Richfield Station, Jim’s café, other businesses and the palm tree in the center of “Boyes Plaza.”
Shot from slightly farther south, this 1930s photo also show Jim’s, in the distance, and two buildings in the foreground that are still there in 2019.
Now looking south at the Center Building, that housed Jim’s, past the corner of Vallejo Ave.
The southwest corner with the Woodleaf Store, around the same time (1930s).
This 1943 Naval aerial photo shows the train depot and palm tree in the upper right corner.
In the early 1950s, the Plaza Center building replaced the Boyes Plaza. The Center Building (opposite side of the highway) has become Polidori’s 5 + 10 cent store.
The Mission Inn entrance in the 1950s. On the right, signs for Gallo Brothers Service, Mike And Rose’s market and the C.O.G. club.
A little later in the 50s, Polidori’s has become the Boyes Variety store. The Woodleaf Market sign is promienent on the right, as well as Betty’s Cut and Curl.
In 1955 the Chamber of Commerce issued a map showing many local businesses, including ones at our corner.
The Big three closed in 2016, never to reopen? Buildings come and go. It’s inevitable. But preservation should be important to all of us. Let’s hope we can do what is needed to preserve the Big Three/Woodleaf from demolition.
Two artistic interpretations of the intersection from the Valley of the Moon Main Stem Project, by Michael Acker.
Thanks to Arthur Dawson for the Leavenworth Plat interpretation and general info. Other images courtesy of the Sonoma Valley Historical Society, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Historical Society, the Sonoma County Recorder’s Office, and Stanford Library Special Collections.
We found our friend Dick Dawley out in front of his house on Vallejo St., building a fence. Dick is 85 years old and he’s lived in Boyes Hot Springs for forty nine years. Many people know Dick from the twentyeight years he worked at Parson’s Hardware.
Dick’s fence, which he built from redwood 1x12s milled from logs salvaged from the 2017 fires.