Easter Blossoms in Railroad Square

Tree Blossom at the Railroad Depot, Santa Rosa

Tree Blossom at the Railroad Depot, Santa Rosa

We’re enjoying perfect Easter weather in Santa Rosa, and yesterday afternoon I visited Railroad Square, where the trees are blossoming. I took several photos, including this one of the former Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad depot (which is now Chevy’s restaurant).

As you can see, the depot’s name is still visible (although usually unnoticed by passers-by) in the wrought ironwork of the balcony, which is above what was the main entrance of the Spanish-Colonial-style depot when it was built in 1927. Its survival is quite remarkable, given that passenger services on the P&SRRR ceased in 1932. The building’s appearance has recently been improved by new paintwork. The photo below shows the full façade of the building. On the other side of the blocked door is the restaurant’s bar.

Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad Depot

Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad Depot

Those familiar with Railroad Square may be surprised that I didn’t start with a photo of the more familiar North Western Pacific railroad depot. That building also is currently surrounded by blossoming trees, as shown below:

Former NWP Depot, Santa Rosa

Former NWP Depot, Santa Rosa

The reason that I didn’t choose that as my header picture was because, as you can see, it’s impossible to get a composition without its being spoiled by all the cars parked around it!

This railroad depot achieved fame by being featured in the 1943 Alfred Hitchcock movie, Shadow of a Doubt. There’s a well-known photo of the entire cast and crew in front of the depot. Perhaps the building’s more impressive achievement, prior to that, was that, along with most of the other stone buildings in Railroad Square, it survived the 1906 earthquake, which did far more damage per capita in Santa Rosa than it did in San Francisco.

It’s heartening to be able to report that passenger trains are once again stopping at this depot, for the first time since 1958. Yesterday, as I arrived at Railroad Square, a northbound train was paused at the station, as shown below.

SMART Train at Santa Rosa Station

SMART Train at Santa Rosa Station

The Snoopy statue on the right in the photo above, which stands in front of the former Railroad Express Agency building (now a coffee/ice-cream shop), is painted as a SMART conductor, shown in close-up below.

Snoopy as a SMART Conductor, Railroad Square

Snoopy as a SMART Conductor, Railroad Square

Immediately beyond the railroad depot stands the La Rose Hotel, which is visible in the photo below, behind the huge monkey puzzle tree.

La Rose Hotel, Santa Rosa

La Rose Hotel, Santa Rosa

The Real Significance of Easter

In my Easter-time post of last year, I mentioned that I’m very glad to be free of the macabre, ignorant religious nonsense that afflicted this time of year during my youth, in nominally-Christian Britain.

Instead, I’m now able to enjoy the real significance of Easter, which is the seasonal regrowth of life in Northern climes.

Of course, I’m aware that the festival occurs at this time of year because it originated in cultures of the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, it makes no sense at all, a simple fact that seems to have been completely unknown to the supposedly-omniscient gods!

Santa Rosa: Shadow of a Courthouse

The Reunified Old Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa

The Reunified Old Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa

Yesterday, I was in downtown Santa Rosa, and visited Old Courthouse Square, for the first time since the completion of its “reunification”. Despite controversy over the cost of the project, the result seems to have been successful, as shown above. The new space seems much more open and welcoming than the previous divided “parks”, and more effectively isolates pedestrians and other park users from the traffic. Santa Rosa has had an unfortunate history of short-sighted town planning decisions, so let’s hope that this turns out to be one of the better ones.

This part of Santa Rosa is perhaps most famous for having featured prominently in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 movie Shadow of a Doubt. Thanks to its restricted wartime budget, the movie made extensive use of real locations in Santa Rosa instead of studio sets. The result is a unique glimpse into day-to-day life in the city all that time ago.

The still below from the movie shows the exterior of the Til Two Bar, which would have been on the far left in my photo above.

Shadow of a Doubt: The Til-Two Bar

Shadow of a Doubt: The Til-Two Bar

In the background of the movie still, you can see the Empire Building (then known as the Bank of America Building), which exists today and is prominent in my photo.

The central courthouse building that appeared in the movie was demolished during the 1960s, but in my heading photo above, the cruciform area of grass marks the plan of its predecessor, the original City courthouse, which collapsed in the 1906 earthquake. After the replacement courthouse was demolished, the square was split by a road driven through to connect Sonoma Avenue to Mendocino Avenue, but which turned out not to have been a wise decision.

My next photo, below, shows a close-up of one of the monuments that have just been placed around the grassed area in the square. They look great at the moment, but I wonder how well they will withstand the weather and the vandals?

Luther Burbank Monument, Old Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa

Luther Burbank Monument, Old Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa

From the north side of the square, looking down Mendocino Avenue, the Rosenberg Building is still prominent, as shown below. This used to be the location of Santa Rosa’s Woolworths store, and is still a retail location now.

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The Rosenberg Building, Mendocino Avenue, Santa Rosa

Finally, wandering a bit farther down Fourth Street, the former Rosenberg’s Department Store is occupied by Barnes & Noble, as shown below. Santa Rosa made another bad town planning decision when they approved the building’s demolition in 1994, but, fortunately, instead of demolishing it, the bookseller did an amazing job of restoring this Streamline Moderne (Art Deco) building.

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Rosenberg’s Department Store, now Barnes & Noble, Santa Rosa

P.S. June 7th: this new article in the Bohemian provides more details of the square.