History, Uncategorized


In Sonoma Valley, as in many parts of California, fire is an important part of the environment. Before European settlement, the inhabitants of the area used fire as a tool of landscape management. In fact, what the early Spanish and American colonizers saw as an unaltered wilderness had been shaped and husbanded by humans for millennia, using fire and many other methods.

“At the time of Euro-American contact, California was more densely populated than any area of equal size in North America, north of central Mexico. Long before Europeans mapped the region, California’s tallest mountain peaks, its largest lakes, longest rivers, and its oldest trees all had names. The state’s promontories, declivities, and unusual rock formations were infused with human meaning. What is labeled as “wilderness” in today’s popular imagination and on current topographical maps actually harbored human gathering and hunting sites, burial grounds, work sites, sacred area, trails and village sites. Today’s wilderness was then human homeland.” (A World of Balance and Plenty, Land, Plants, Animals and Humans in a Pre-European California. M. Kat Anderson, Michael G. Barbour, and Valerie Whitworth; in Contested Eden, California Before the Gold Rush, UC Press, 1998.)

The first catastrophic fire in Sonoma Valley (that we know of) happened in September of 1923.



The “Boyes Springs Valley Vol. Fire Dept.” was about all they had in the way of first responders in 1923.

In 1964 and 1996, air tankers were vital to suppressing the fires. None existed in 1923, of course, but the Northwest Pacific Railroad sent a fire fighting crew, and mutual aid came from as far away as San Francisco.

It’s often stated of the 1923 fire that Boyes Springs and Fetters were completely destroyed. This is not the case. Many buildings survived. Since rebuilding was so urgently done, starting in October of 1923, it is often difficult to determine if a house or business survived the fire, but there is documentary evidence for some, such as the Sam’s Grill building. Please see https://springsmuseum.org/history/photographs/boyes-hot-springs/

In 1936 the community built, partially with Federal funds, a new fire station.



The text on the back of a WPA photo of the fire house inaccurately says it was named after the Valley of The Moon (it is so named because it is in the Valley of the Moon). However, it accurately states that the area has an “unusually large fire hazard…” See “The Living New Deal” https://livingnewdeal.org/projects/boyes-springs-sonoma-county-fire-station-sonoma-ca/ . It is a great project.

The building still stands in 2017, though greatly altered.

The next fire disaster occurred in 1964.


The 1964 fire was the worst since 1923. Hundreds of firefighters with dozens of engines and a lot of air support kept the damage lower than it would have been earlier in the century.

The 1996 Cavedale Fire, though small in comparison, stirred memories of 1964 in many Sonoma Valley residents.


The 1996 fire was kept far smaller than ’23 or ’64 by the large number of firefighters and equipment quickly brought to bear.

In the Index Tribune of August 13, 1996, Harry Martin, a CDF officer, listed the following fire prone areas: Cavedale Rd., Nuns Canyon, Grove St., Seventh St. E., and Lovall Valley Rd. All but Grove St. are within the 2017 fire boundaries.

On Sunday, August 4, 1996, as the Cavedale Fire was being mopped up, a dangerous brushfire broke out in Boyes Hot Springs, adjacent to Central Avenue. Crews already fighting the big fire were able to subdue the Boyes blaze.


Jeff Baker’s Moon Mountain Road house survived the 1996 fire and the 2017 fire, as it was designed to do.

IT1996CavedaleFire9JeffBaker copy


Fires in Sonoma Valley

Date started
Buildings destroyed
Number of firefighters
1923 9/16 10,000 2 days Napa County, Nuns Canyon/bee keepers at least 119 unknown
1964 9/19 10,000 4 days Nellligan Road/possibly power lines 27 600
1996 8/2 2100 3 days Cavedale Road/PGE accepted responsibility 4 1500
2017 Nuns Fire only 10/8 30,000 Sonoma Valley 98% contained on 10/29 Glen Ellen/under investigation over 600 At least 6,000 for all Sonoma County fires

The Sonoma Fire Project Wants Your Stories!

The Sonoma Valley Historical Society invites residents of the Sonoma Valley, the Springs, Glen Ellen and north to Kenwood to submit stories and photographs about how they and their families were affected by the October fires. These will be archived at the Historical Society in a special collection called “The Sonoma Fire Project” and will be used for research, local journalism, and possibly future publications.

If you’d like to submit your story and photos, send them to sonomafireproject@gmail.com. You can write in the body of the email, or attach a Word document. Photos can be attached in any format. It will also be helpful to have the following information:

Where you live (you don’t have to give an exact address, the general location is fine)
How long you have lived in the Sonoma Valley
Why you came here
What kind of work you do
Mailing address and phone number

The museum will send you a form to sign indicating that you give permission for your story and your photos to be used by researchers and journalists. Your name will always be associated with what you write and what you photographed.

We are doing this project to document the individual, personal side of this great regional tragedy, and are grateful to everyone who wants to participate.

If you have any questions, just send them along to project manager Lynn Downey at sonomafireproject@gmail.com.


Boyes Hot Springs, Entertainment, History, Uncategorized

Music at the Resorts

From earliest European settlement (and possibly before), the Valley of the Moon was a place of rest and healing, but by the late 1890’s excitement was added to the activities: show business. First and always there was music. Theater and the spectacle of the circus were also popular. Movies arrived by 1917.

The following is a sampler of the variety of music available at the resorts.



Art Hickman had been coming to Sonoma Valley since 1910. He was a newspaper man who became the leader of a popular band in San Francisco. He is sometimes credited with inventing the word “jazz,” in Boyes Hot Springs. This dubious claim is fully discussed in Bruce Vermazen’s interesting article: http://www.gracyk.com/hickman.shtml

Hickman’s arrival in Boyes Springs was front-page news in 1923. (No elucidation as to the nature of his accidental burns is given.)

In that year, Prohibition was in force, which did not prevent the resorts from offering refreshing beverages to their guests, to enhance their musical appreciation. As we see from the headline, the El Verano resorts were “Again Raided.”


Was Nuf Sed the name of the “Original Ragtime Orchestra…” or just an emphatic statement?


It looks like a circus troop in this photo, marching with a band. The stamp on the reverse dates the card to 1909.

Some of the musical offerings were more high-toned. A Ladies Singing Society would be very refined.1922HARMONYSOCIETYCLIP


Between 1920 and 1950 there were over a dozen ads in the IT for “Hard Times” dances. Attendees were expected to come dressed in stereotypical farmers’ clothing, and decorations leaned towards hay bales, wagon wheels, and animal harnesses. The music for this 1928 affair, held at the Boyes Springs Club House, was provided by Prof. G. Nimpfer, who was originally a tailor and had run a resort in Agua Caliente under his name. What discipline his PhD was granted in is not known.



Paul Marcucci’s “Hill billy Band” from 1933. Marcucci was a talented musician and song writer who presided over Paul’s Resort for three decades in the mid-20th century.


Unfortunately described as a “negro orchestra,” the Funmakers featured Johnny Alston and Jeanne DeMetz. Alston and DeMetz recorded extensively. To get an idea of what they might have sounded like at the Fetters Resort, listen to this recording of “Sam the Boogie Man,” 1946, from the Prelinger Archive:  https://ia600604.us.archive.org/13/items/78_sam-the-boogie-woogie-man_johnny-alston-and-his-orchestra-robert-scherman_gbia0007741b/Sam%20The%20Boogie%20Woogie%20Man%20-%20Johnny%20Alston%20and%20his%20Orchestra.mp3





Hugh Wedge and his Melody Men were active in the Valley in 1950 and 1951. Obvioulsy versatile, they played for dancing of all eras (modern and old-fashioned).


Leon Pasco’s orchestra, “from Napa,” gigged a lot in the resorts from 1948 through 1953. Hugh Wedge was also billed as from Napa. Did they really hail from there, or was that puffery to make them sound more exotic? The Funmakers were billed as “direct from many smash engagements at New York’s most elaborate NIGHT SPOTS,” which probably had some truth to it. But “from Napa?” Not very enticing.


Anson Weeks was famous as the leader of the orchestra at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in the 1920s and 1930s. For more on Weeks, see https://soundcloud.com/peter-mintun/sets/anson-weeks-his-orchestrahttp://www.sfmuseum.org/hist1/weeks.html

In 1969 Pete Mancuso took over the old Resort Club in the heart of Boyes Hot Springs and renamed it Little Peter’s Melody Club. The establishment was in operation until the mid 1980s.


The Melody Club sign was in place until 2014, when it was removed for safety.

Architecture, El Verano, History, mid-century, Resorts, Uncategorized


Rozarios’ resort, the successor to Parente’s Villa, was located on Verano Avenue between the Highway and the bridge.

Louis Parente, a notorious bar owner, fight promoter and would-be politician, came to El Verano in 1906 from San Francisco. (Please see Jeff Elliot’s great santarosahistory.com for much more on Parente: http://santarosahistory.com/wordpress/2016/07/the-village-of-vice-in-the-valley-of-the-moon/

By 1925 he had built a “new” hotel.


ParenteAlternateweb copyParente3

According to the Index Tribune, “The 43 room hotel, hut, cottages and grounds were purchased by the Rozarios in 1943, and it was on January 1, 1944 that they opened it for business. The former San Francisco and Marin county residents had purchased the property from Joe Parente [actually Louis Parente], colorful Bay Area sports figure who brought many prize fighters here to train.”

Rozario’s was popular through the 1950s for wedding receptions, fashion shows, and formal dinners.


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The Rozarios sold the resort to Carl Innskeep and Joe La Rango in 1955.

It later became known as the El Verano Inn.ElVeranoInnweb

The buildings were torn down in 1985 to make way for an extension of the Finnish American Home Association’s housing complex for retired people, which was located behind the old resort building. In that year, the editor of the FAHA Manor News explained in a letter to the editor of the Index Tribune that FAHA wanted to preserve the building, but “could not afford the very expensive improvements necessary…” Thus we lost another piece of our history.RozariosTornDown1985clip



Boyes Hot Springs, History, Photographs, Trees, Uncategorized

The Fairmont Employee Parking Lot

The site at the corner of Vallejo and Highway 12, now in use as the employee parking lot for the Sonoma Mission Inn, has a long history.

This postcard, post marked 1913, shows the entry arch, to Woodleaf Park (in the middle of the lot),  which was one of the early subdivisions in Boyes Hot Springs. The sign at left reads “Desirable Summer and Winter Cottages for rent. J. W. Minges.” Minges was a prominent land owner and businessman in early twentieth century Boyes Hot Springs and was often referred to as the “mayor” of Boyes Springs.



This is part of a full page ad (above) from 1925 promoting Boyes Hot Springs. It reads, in part, “In place of the frame building and barber shop that was located next to the original post Office at Boyes, the enterprising business man (Bob Liaros) let the contract for a handsome hollow-tile building with concrete floors and fireproof throughout.”

The view from the 1930s (below) shows the building mentioned above.  Lairos was another Boyes booster and long-time business owner. Beyond the Liaros building are the ice plant and Sam Agnew’s service station at Vallejo St.


Liaros sold part of his land to the proprietor of the ice plant.

LairosIcePlantweb copy


The building changed hands in 1949.LairosVarietyStorePlansJims

This article mentions that Jim’s Lunchroom is located in the building. If only we could get the Embalmers to come back! Perhaps they could “frolic?”


The above mentioned variety store, operated at one time by the Polidori family.

BHS1939SMISignweb1930s ?BHS1950sSnapshots2webBHS1950sSnapshots5web1950s


The building was demolished as an eyesore in 1992. Progress!?


In 1997, a lone California Bay tree stood on the lot, but it was dying.


The merely functional parking lot in 2008.

Thanks to the Sonoma Valley Historical Society, Stanford University Library Special Collections, and Mr. Lloyd Cripps.



Document describing the land in Woodleaf Park that Bob Liaros bought in 1931, including the ornamental arch.



Architecture, Boyes Hot Springs, History, mid-century, Photographs, Uncategorized

The Corner of Thomson Avenue and Highway 12


Thomson Avenue, not Thompson Avenue, was named for Dr. Allen Thomson, who had been physician to General Vallejo, and who married one of his granddaughters. Thomson was president of the company that developed the subdivision known as Boyes Springs Park . Thomson Street is its southern border.BHSSubDivBweb

The building at the southeast corner was a Red Crown gas station circa 1930. It later became the Ferrando’s Plumbing building and now houses La Michoacana Ice Cream and Plain Janes. It was famously made over by Rico Martin in 2015.


The caption says “Questerman/Churchill Garage.” Note the misspelling of the street name and the designation “east.”

Directly across Highway 12 from the end of Thomson (not East Thomson!) was Baker’s Drive In, established in 1957 (and open 24 hours per day!)Baker'sArticleAd In 1958 Norman Baker had big plans to build a truck stop on this property, but the county would not approve the project.BakerTruckStopweb


Looking South, Farrell’s sign at left, Baker’s Drive In at right.


Looking at Bakers’ Drive In on Hwy 12, from Thomson. Red Crown building seen at left.


Looking North

These photos from 1958, courtesy of the Sonoma County Library, were used in a court case, the nature of which is unknown, but could have been a suit over a traffic accident. In the photo of the highway looking south, a sign can be seen (below the Richfield sign) which proclaims Farrell’s Resort, which would have been on the property now partially occupied by Arroyo Vet Hospital.

In 1972, John Metallinos and family opened the Fruit Basket on Arnold Drive.


They opened their Boyes Springs branch sometime later, probably in the early 1980s, at the old Baker’s Drive In. On June 15, 1983, a fire destroyed that building.FruitBasketFireweb

Nearly a year later, the Boyes Springs Fruit Basket reopened, “in a flourish of live Greek music and dancing,” in its new building, which was designed by architect William Dimick.



The Fruit Basket in 2107. It really is a graceful building.

My thanks to Mark Maberly for information about Dr. Thomson, and his general enthusiasm for our history. As always, contributions of knowledge are welcomed. Please leave a comment.

History, Uncategorized

Real Estate


A “deseño” presented to the Land Claims Commission in support of a claim by Joseph Hooker. (Courtesy, Bancroft Library)

The story of the Springs as we know it, is a story of real estate. And it’s a sometimes confused and confusing story, because it starts after a war and involves many people and many conflicting land claims. But in California before European contact, the native peoples lived for over 10,000 years. You would think that that would give them some ownership rights, but the Spanish saw only empty wilderness, there for the taking. The original people were dispossessed. That deserves our deeper study.

What we call the Springs is a part of the Rancho Agua Caliente, which was the Mexican land grant from 1836 that stretched from Agua Caliente Creek all the way to Glen Ellen. It was originally granted to Ignacio Pachecho, who deemed it unsuitable for farming. Pachecho gave the land back and parts of it passed to Lazaro Piña, M. G. Vallejo, and many others.


Land Office document showing Ignacio Pachecho’s grant of Rancho Agua Caliente in 1836

One of the earliest chapters involves one Andrew Heoppner, the music teacher to MG Vallejo’s children. In 1846, Vallejo granted Hoeppner 1000 acres of the Rancho to Hoeppner in exchange for music lessons. Hoeppner was the first person to commercialize the hot springs, in 1847. Later, it came into dispute whether Vallejo held title to that land at the time.


Andrew Hoeppner’s ad in the Daily Alta California for his Annenthal resort, December 8, 1847.

But cloudy titles never slowed down the market in those days.

In 1849, Thaddeus Leavenworth, Mexican war veteran and prominent land swindler in San Francisco, moved to the Rancho, possibly escaping his angry victims in the City.

There he laid claim to 300 acres of land, which encompassed the present day Springs, plus Maxwell Farms. MG Vallejo also claimed this land, so they went to the Land Claims Commission, set up after the war to adjudicate such matters. Leavenworth won, according to historian Robert Parmelee, because he “ had better appearing forged documents…” This was in 1855.

(To make the story even more confusing, Hoeppner was reported to have sold his land to Leavenworth, in 1873!)


(Courtesy, San Francisco Public Library)

In 1882, along came a pair of innocents by the name of Henry and Antoinette Boyes, English gentry. Wishing to establish themselves in Sonoma Valley, they bought 110 acres of Leavenworth’s claim, without making the most basic check of the title. The land already had several owners, and years of law suits followed. The ending was happy for the Boyes, of course. They went on to establish the resort and town that bear their name, but they didn’t get clear title until the mid 1890s.



Boyes Springs Hotel circa 1909. (Author’s collection)


You can’t sell lots without subdivisions. By 1927 there were twenty subdivisions in the Springs, including the town sites of El Verano, Verano, and Agua Caliente.

Boyes Springs A was subdivided and amended 3 times in 1913

Boyes Springs B Sonoma Highlands-1914

Boyes Springs Hotel Grounds-1916

Woodleaf Park-1909

Sonoma Highlands

Fetters Springs Terrace

The Oaks Park

Agua Caliente Park

Town of Agua Caliente

Richards Subdivision

Baron’s Villa Tract

Verano Court

Carriger Subdivision

El Verano

Verano Townsite

El Verano Villa Assoc. Tract

Riverside Addition

Craig Addition

Sonoma Vista Tract

Eaton Park

Creek Front Addition

Full page photo

This map was titled “Sonoma Valley Resort Map,” showing that the subdivision lots were not seen as being for permanent residences. (Courtesy Robert Parmelee.)

In 1996 a house sold in Boyes Springs A (bounded by Central and Calle del Monte).


(Courtesy Sonoma County Recorder’s Office.)

It came with a tattered copy of the bill of sale for the land, which reads in part: “This Indenture, made the 17th day of the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and eighteen, between Boyes Springs Park Co. Inc. and L B. Richards, that the said party of the first part for and in consideration of the sum of ten dollars gold coin of the United States of America, to it in hand paid by the party of the second part, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, has granted bargained, and sold, conveyed and confirmed, and by these presents does grant, bargain and sell, convey and confirm, unto the said party of the second part, and to his heirs and assigns forever all the certain lot, piece or parcel of land, situate, lying and being in the County of Sonoma, State of California, and bounded and particularly described as follows, to-wit: Lot number six in block number twelve, subdivision A in Boyes Springs Park…”  That’s interesting, but imagine the buyer’s disappointment when reading on…

“…the said party of the second part, his heirs, executors and administrators, tenants or persons claiming or occupying under them, or either of them, said land or premisses or any part thereof, shall not use or employ nor directly or indirectly suffer, allow or permit any other person or persons whatever, to use or employ said land or premises or any part thereof, for the purpose of carrying on or conducting any species of card or dice playing, gaming or gambling or an notorious or immoral house, or for any other purpose whatever, except solely and exclusively for the purpose of a private dwelling; or use or employ directly or indirectly suffer, allow or permit any other person or persons whatever to use or employ said lands and premises or an part thereof for the purpose of selling, exchanging, bartering or dealing in spiritous or malt intoxicating liquors, wine or cider, nor for any mercantile or manufacturing business.”

Not even cider! 

This buyer’s happy ending, of course, was, 1996 was just about the bottom of the market.

Another interesting story from the early days has to do with the subdivision known as the Boyes Springs Hotel Grounds. This subdivision entailed all the land around the present day Sonoma Mission Inn from Northside St. on the north to opposite Calle Del Monte on the south, and from the creek to the highway.HotelGrounds1

In 1922, Sam Ganos, a Greek immigrant, bought a lot on the highway, possibly with a building, from the Hotel Corporation. On the recorder’s map, this lot is labeled as “grill.” His restaurant, Sam’s Grill, operated until the 1950’s. In 1923, when the terrible fire swept the valley, Sam saved his building by pouring the waters of the hot springs on it, according to the Index Tribune. The building still stands and now house the Taqueria La Hacienda. This blog published an article about Sam and his building previously. A few years ago, his grandson found it and contacted the author, giving him a deeper knowledge of the family history. Todd Ganos:

“My earliest memory is that of being in the restaurant and looking up at my grandfather.  They also owned the Big 3 grocery store.

“(My dad was born in 1915.) Our old family friend, Gus Kapranas, … told us that my dad’s birth mother was a young waitress that worked for Sam and her name was Clara.  She was born in the US and was supposedly of German and Irish descent.  Gus Kapranas said that Sam refused to marry her and she committed suicide when my dad was a year old or perhaps younger.  Clara’s parents did not want the child and gave my dad to Sam.  According to Gus Kapranas, Sam could not initially care for my dad so he put my dad in an orphanage in San Francisco.  My dad spoke of Father Lawry as the Catholic priest who ran the orphanage…At some point, Sam removed my dad from the orphanage and began to raise my dad himself (with Uncle Gus).  Gus Kapranas said that people objected to a child being raised in a restaurant without a mother.  As a result, Sam, Gus, and my dad moved to Boyes Hot Springs.  I believe the timing would coincide with my dad being about 5 to 7 years old, which would be 1920 to 1922.”

He said that Sam Ganos brought Mendel — his stepson — on board at the restaurant and eventually turned it over to him. He said this occurred in the early  1950s perhaps. He seemed to think that Sam’s Grill was renamed to Mendel’s Cafe at that time.


Real estate man and insurance agent L. E. “Bud” Caster held forth from his office in Boyes Hot Springs for over 50 years. Not incidentally he was a director of the Golden Gate Bridge and Transit District for 40 years, which is the longest tenure of any director.


L.E. Castner, second from left. (Courtesy Sonoma Valley Historical Society.)

Castner started working life as a logger in Mendocino County, became a doorman in San Francisco, and a collections agent, finally founding his own collection agency. After WWII he moved to Agua Caliente to take up chicken farming, but couldn’t stand the smell. The natural progression was to insurance. (Pause for laugh). He went into business with an established firm in Boyes Hot Springs. Taking over the business when the owner died, he also acquired a partner, Bill Downey, who soon became a judge. Court was held in the back of their building on the highway. Castner leased some of the space in his building to the first doctor, the first dentist, and the first pharmacy in Boyes Hot Springs. (Dr. Michael Makita, Dr. Holly Christenson, and Pine Wagner, pharmacist.) Castner was a Regent of St. Mary’s college in Moraga, which would have been his alma mater if he had graduated. According to Bill Lynch, “The veteran Golden Gate Bridge director was best known for his short fuse, his long friendships, and his devoted service to the bridge district…” L.E. “Bud” Castner died in 1992.


Bud Casnter’s “new” office, at the corner of Sierra and the Highway, circa 1970s. Now owned by the Sonoma Mission Inn. (Courtesy, Sonoma County Library)