The United States Postal Service does not deliver mail to many houses in Boyes Hot Springs, Fetters Hot Springs, Agua Caliente, and El Verano, so people put mailboxes out on the street. Over time, these boxes, singly and in groups, take on personalities.
Opening September 10, 2022
In a sense, this exhibit is a follow-up to Michael Acker’s book “The Springs, Resort Towns of Sonoma Valley,” (Arcadia Publishing, 2017) with many more photographs and ephemera, and in color. Here is a small preview.
Thanks to the Sonoma Valley Historical Society for assistance, especially Lorrie Baetge Fulton, Patricia Cullinan, Kate Shertz, Peter Meyerhoff, Roy Tennant, and Lynn Downey, and for images, and access to the Index Tribune archive.
Thanks also to the many community members who have shared their memories and photographs with the author.
Paul Verdier died in 1945. His daughter and her husband, John Piro, take over and managed the resort until 1962. During this period, the resort was extensively photographed by Zan Stark. Several elaborate brochures were also produced .
In 1962 Paul Verdier, the younger, died. He and his sisters had sold the resort to Hugh B. Nyce (really!) that year. Then, in 1964 a big change.
1964 October-Juanita Musson takes ownership of Verdier’s.
Juanita was a well known, even notorious, restaurateur in Sausalito from 1953 to 1963. The IT informed us “Mrs. Musson, whose language at times is as colorful as her muumuus, was popular restaurateur in Sausalito between 1953 and 1963. Early in 1964, with the backing of Scott Mc Donald of San Francisco, she took over Verdier’s. She ran the business as Juanita’s Galley until 1969, when a fire consumed the dining room, kitchen, owner’s quarters, and several outbuildings. Juanita did not close the business, however. “She still plans to cater a dinner this coming weekend for a Sears Point Raceway group at the Veterans Memorial building which she has rented for the occasion. While the bar will continue “business as usual,” Mrs. Musson told the Index-Tribune yesterday she also hopes to make arrangements for the preparation and serving of food in the and dance hall area.”
A small article next to the bottom photograph notes that lawsuits against PGE for starting the 1964 fire in Boyes Hot Springs, were settled. In 1969. Everything old is new again, the wheels of justice, etc.
Juanita was not able to resurrect the El Verano resort and moved on to Fetters Hot Springs.
Ms. Musson, who loomed large in the Springs for many years, will get her own entry in this journal soon.
By 2012, the property have been divided and sold to several people. A new house was built that incorporated some of the resort into the back yard.
This sign was donated to the Sonoma Valley Historical Society by Eric Morrison.
Index Tribune and photo of Juanita courtesy of the Sonoma Valley Historical Society. Other photos by author or from author’s collection.
The “French Colony” of Sonoma Valley included the Dutil, Lounibos, and Verdier families. The Lounibos’ arrived from France in 1873, the Dutils and Verdiers in 1893. (A different Verdier family came from France to San Francisco in 1850. They founded the City of Paris department store.)
By 1900 Jean and Anna Dutil were running a boarding house in El Verano, and improving it. “J. Dutil received a carload of lumber here Monday with which he will build a five room annex to his private boarding house in this place,” wrote the Index Tribune. After construction was complete, “Doc Wilson is painting J. Dutil’s villa. The colors are red white and blue.”
In 1902 “Mons J. Dutil, mine host of the French Cottage [as it was now called] will commence the erection of a large hotel in this place in a few days.”
Mrs. Anna Dutil died in 1943. According to the IT, she was 80 years old and came from Lyon France “fifity years ago,” ie, 1893. “she and her husband founded the French Cottage, one Sonoma Valley’s first summer resorts, now Verdier’s.”
According to historian Joan Lounibos, the Verdiers, Paul and his wife, worked for the Dutils at the boarding house, and, by 1922, they were the proprietors. “Mr. and Mrs. P. Verdier of the popular resort, the French Cottage, are making many improvements about the grounds, laying out beautiful gardens, painting the different buildings and getting ready for the coming season.”
By 1929, the resort was called Verdier’s. In the spring of that year, the Young Ladies Institute “enjoyed a bounteous repast at Verdier’s French cottage. The tables were beautifully decorated with daffodils and smilax, and the menu was elaborate, with chicken, ravioli and French pastry.”
1939-Paul Verdier makes more improvements
Paul Verdier died in 1945. His daughter and her husband, John Piro, take over and manage the resort until 1962. During this period, the resort was extensively photographed by Zan Stark. Several elaborate brochures were produced also.
This day, sixty one years ago. Eighteen pages in the issue. What happened that day? Things small and large, meaningful and trivial. Presented with just a few comments and notes.
Valley Mourns Oscar Larson-See page 14 for an editorial appreciation of this important figure in mid-twentieth century Boyes Hot Springs.
Incorporation, Bank sought at Boyes –“’A committee to form a committee’” to work for incorporation of Boyes Hot Springs as a full-fledged city, was appointed Tuesday at noon meeting of the Boyes Hot Springs Merchants Association, held at Sonoma Mission Inn.” Zan Stark Jr., Harry Phinney and Milton Greger were appointed to “establish a “citizens committee” to “sell” the incorporation plan in the area.”
More about Oscar Larson. Dr. Ronald Scott fished in Oregon. Big News! (Oregon keeps coming up in this issue.)
You could get a permit to burn things.
“Never used anything like it,” say users of Berlou mothspray, odorless, stainless, and guaranteed to stop moths for five whole years. Simmons Pharmacy, WE 8-2039.
“Bob Fouts, sportscaster for the San Francisco 49ers and other athletic events of both radio and television, plans to spend the summer in the Valley of the Moon, the Index Tribune learned this week. Fouts, his wife and five children will reside in the Bel Aire development near the Sonoma golf Course, where they will temporarily rent a home during the summer months.” Just a few years later, Dan Fouts would be starring at quarterback for the University of Oregon, which is mentioned page 17.
Merchants meeting continued:
“Help from an outside source in the merchants’ fight to retain the identity of the Boyes Hot Springs Post office came at the meeting when Harry Kay of Santa Rosa, member of the State and County Democratic Central committee pledged his aid.”
“The El Verano Improvement club members will meet on June 12 at the clubhouse on Riverside Drive.”
“Key figures in Valley of the Moon Little League…Gene Morreton, August Sebastiani, J. Bettencourt, C.M. Marsh, Carl Ellason, Betty Thomas, Thelma Ashley, Paul Marcucci Sr., Bud Butts…”
“New Safeway Store to be Discussed By City Planners”, “No Setting Aside of Prunes This Year.”
Mario Ciampi is recognized in Life Magazine for design of Sassarini Elementary School.
Oscar Larson remembered. A letter to the editor about Valley Unification.
Justin Murray Combo at the Palms Inn!
“Dr. and Mrs. Michael Mikita of Sobre Vista returned home recently after spending five days in Eugene, Oregon, visiting their son, Michael who is a freshman at the University of Oregon.”
Index Tribune courtesy of the Sonoma Valley Historical Society
UPDATE at the end of the post.
Highway 12 is thought by Breck Parkman, retired State Parks archeologist, to have originally been a mammoth trail from the valley that is now the Bay out to the Russian River.
The Diseño is a hand-drawn map showing the boundaries of a land grant, used in Alta California during the Mexican period. Several were drawn for the Rancho Agua Caliente, which encompassed the Springs area. Ecological historian Arthur Dawson interprets it this way:
“The mission is on the far right, Hwy 12 route is marked ‘camino de sonoma’–For some reason it changes from grey to red just west of ‘Portuzuelo’, which means a pass or a gap and I would bet refers to the area around the CalFire station by the Regional Park. In a car it’s not very noticeable, but on foot or horseback it does qualify as a pass. Also notice the Casa de Rancho, somewhere near Fiesta Market; Agua Caliente; and ‘siembra’ which means ‘plowed field. Arroyo Grande is Sonoma Creek. Corte de Madera is the neighborhood of Atwood Ranch. ‘Arroyo de los Guilucos’ =Nunn’s Canyon. Outline of the ranch is in red as is part of the road, which is a little confusing. But once you know that it makes sense.”
California State Highway 12, know as Sonoma Highway from the Town of Sonoma to Santa Rosa, once referred to as the Santa Rosa Road, is the main street of the old resort area of Sonoma Valley, including Boyes Hot Springs, Fetters Hot Springs, and Agua Caliente. Only a little west of the Highway is El Verano, the fourth settlement in the resort quartet. The entire road runs from Sebastopol in the west, to the town of San Andreas in the Gold Country to the east. In Napa County it runs through the Carneros region. It was there that photographer Charles O’Rear snapped the picture that was to become “Bliss,” the Microsoft screen saver that some claim is the most viewed photograph in history (see note.)
According to Californiahighways.org (a massive resource!):
“Historically, this route is close to the original “El Camino Real” (The Kings Road). A portion of this route has officially been designated as part of “El Camino Real.
The portion of this route running through Sonoma County is called the “Valley of the Moon Scenic Route“. “Valley of the Moon” was the name Jack London, resident of Glen Ellen, coined for this area. The first such sign with this name is when the Farmers Lane portion ends in Santa Rosa.
South of the town of Sonoma, Route 12 is called Broadway until it intersects Route 121 near Schellville. Route 12/Route 121 to Napa County is called alternately “Fremont Drive” or “Carneros Highway.” The latter term continues into Napa County.“https://www.cahighways.org/009-016.html#012
- First mention in the IT of the “Santa Rosa Road.”
P.L. McGill, Road Overseer of the township, in addition to the improvements on the Napa road, mention of which was made a few weeks ago, has just finished repairing the Petaluma road from Agnew’s Lane to the dividing line between Sonoma and Vallejo townships. This piece of road, which has been a terror to wagon spokes and horse flesh in times past, is now in fine traveling condition. Mr. McGill at present is engaged in grading from Gibson’s to Drummond’s on the Santa Rosa road and eventually expects to have every bad road in his township in a through state of repair.
In 1917, arguing for highway improvements, the IT states “There were beaten paths to the hot springs a century ago and as far back as 1850, the Sonoma Bulletin began the plea for a better connecting link through the Sonoma Valley to Santa Rosa.”
On these maps of Agua Caliente from 1888, the road from Sonoma to Santa Rosa is called Main Street.
In 1938 Bessie L. Mantifel applied for a liquor license for her Hollywood Inn, located on W. S. State Highway #12, El Verano, Sonoma County.
Promotional match book covers and brochures had maps inside.
Before the 1964 renumbering, this route was signed as Sign Route 12 for most of its length. However, SR 12 was designated as Legislative Route 51 (LR 51) from SR 116 to SR 121.
Note on “Bliss”:
In January 1996 former National Geographic photographer Charles O’Rear was on his way from his home in St. Helena, California, in the Napa Valley north of San Francisco, to visit his girlfriend, Daphne Irwin (whom he later married), in the city, as he did every Friday afternoon. He was working with Irwin on a book about the wine country. He was particularly alert for a photo opportunity that day, since a storm had just passed over and other recent winter rains had left the area especially green. Driving along the Sonoma Highway (California State Route 12 and 121) he saw the hill, free of the vineyards that normally covered the area; they had been pulled out a few years earlier following a phylloxera infestation. “There it was! My God, the grass is perfect! It’s green! The sun is out; there’s some clouds,” he remembered thinking. He stopped somewhere near the Napa–Sonomacounty line and pulled off the road to set his Mamiya RZ67 medium-format camera on a tripod, choosing Fujifilm‘s Velvia, a film often used among nature photographers and known to saturate some colors. O’Rear credits that combination of camera and film for the success of the image. “It made the difference and, I think, helped the ‘Bliss’ photograph stand out even more,” he said. “I think that if I had shot it with 35 mm, it would not have nearly the same effect.” While he was setting up his camera, he said it was possible that the clouds in the picture came in. “Everything was changing so quickly at that time.” He took four shots and got back into his truck. According to O’Rear, the image was not digitally enhanced or manipulated in any way. [9
Over the next decade it has been claimed to be the most viewed photograph in the world during that time. Other photographers have attempted to recreate the image, some of which have been included in art exhibitions. Wikipeidia
Paste copy of cease and desist order from Microsoft here.
Index Tribune courtesy of the Sonoma Valley Historical Society
Diseño courtesy Bancroft Library
2nd Agua Caliente map courtesy Jeff Gilbert
In 1924 we celebrated the opening of the newly paved highway. It was quite a grand event! Chairman of the State Highway Commission Harvey Toy is mentioned. There is a Toy Lane in Boyes Hot Springs.
Update at the end of post
“As Ellen Dissanayake has observed, the function of art is to “make special”; as such, it can raise the “special” qualities of place embedded in everyday life, restoring them to those who created them…”
“Psychologist Tony Hiss asks us to measure our closeness to neighbors and community and suggests ways to develop an “experiential watchfulness” over our regional ‘sweet spots,” or favorite places. Seeing how they change at different times of day, week and year can stimulate local activism.”
From The Lure of the Local, by Lucy Lippard.
It’s all about paying attention.
The course of the seasonal Lily Creek starts somewhere in the open space above Monterey Ave. (in the “Mountain Avenue Canyon”), goes under the street at Central and Verde Vista, travels below ground along Verde Vista, pops up at the corner of Verde Vista and Arroyo, ducks under again then is visible curling around the foundation of a house on Las Lomas, then parallels Arroyo Rd. traveling through back yards.
It’s curious that what is essentially an east-west water course would turn south very close to Sonoma Creek.
Tracy Irwin Storer was a biologist, not an artist or a poet or a historian, but a trained observer nonetheless. He thought it was worthwhile to note, in 1922, that “the French bullfrogs for sale,” he found near Boyes Hot Springs, “had been caught locally, along the creek, by two small boys.” Posterity thanks him for that evocative snapshot.
Thanks to Dan Levitis for showing me how to find field notes from the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.
Addendum 3, December 20, 2019
Photos from author’s collection. Index Tribune courtesy of Sonoma Valley Historical Society.
December 2021 Update: Lily Creek with water!