Petaluma Revisited
 
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Take Notes:

Petaluma Wildlife and Natural Science Museum
Open to the public the first Saturday of every month from 11 a.m. till 3 p.m.
For reservations call:
Marsi Wier
(707) 778-4787

J.M. Rosen's Waterfront Grill
54 East Washington St., Petaluma
(707) 773-3200
http://www.jmrosens.com

Della Fattoria Bakery
(707) 763-5538
www.dellafattoria.com
(The bakery is not open to the public, but you can find their bread at a number of stores listed on their website as well as at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings.)

Military Antiques and Museum
300 Petaluma Blvd., North Petaluma
(707) 763-2220
www.militaryantiquesmuseum.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Petaluma is a riverfront town that's full of surprises.
 
"We have everything from our historical districts to high tech," says Michele Rosen.   

Stately Victorians line Petaluma's old residential... and business districts… where less elegant establishments also flourished. 

According to Kathleen Weber, "What it used to be like was a hardware store on every corner, and I think every corner also had a bar"
 
The old Rex Hardware Store is still going strong.  Jeff Tomasini's family has owned it since 1968, but it's been in operation since 1907... making it the oldest store in Petaluma. 

These days, there are lots of antique shops in Petaluma.  One houses alledgedly the largest retail military store in the world.  Through a well-fortified doorway in the corner... is a military museum… one of many wonders you can find in this town… if you take the time to look. 

Petaluma is located along Highway 101 in southern Sonoma County, about 40 miles north of San Francisco. 

Petaluma's nickname was "the egg basket of the world."  It was here in the late 1800's that the first chicken incubator was invented, enabling Petaluma to dominate chicken and egg production throughout the first half of the twentienth century.  

Today, Petaluma's tradition of food production continues… in places such as Della Fattoria Bakery. 

"We were growing organic vegetables," says Kathleen.  "And we thought that we could -- Maybe people would smell the bread, and maybe get some bread when they came to get vegetables.  And the bread took over."                                               

Kathleen and Ed Weber built their bakery next to the house Ed grew up in… where his parents once raised chickens. 

"Ed's father had the idea of a wood fired brick oven," explains Kathleen.  "He said you can't make good bread without a wood oven." 

Della Fattoria bread is served in several upscale restaurants and sold in many Bay Area markets.  And the Webers aren't the only ones who have taken their family's agricultural legacy in a new direction. 

"My grandfather had a hatchery for many many years," says Michele Rosen.

Michele and her sister Jan are feeding folks as well... at their Petaluma restaurant, J.M. Rosen's Waterfront Grill.  Their cheesecake has long been popular with Hollywood celebrities, and they ship it all over the country.  It all started when they brought one to Frank Sinatra.

Michele beams, "And he was kind enough to, everywhere he went, tell people about how much he enjoyed the cake, and so we were able to pick up wonderful places."
 
Perhaps the most suprising thing in town is the Petaluma Wildlife & Natural Science Museum.  It has a huge collection of mounted exotic animals… and some pretty interesting live ones, too.  But what makes it unique is the fact that it's operated by high school students.

"They feed the animals, they dust, they clean, they give the tours," says recent Petaluma High School graduate Becca Colvin.
 
Tim Sartori is a little more explicit, "One time I actually had to clean up the afterbirth of one of the boas.  It wasn't a very fun job, but I did it anyways."                             

Tim, Rachel Hernandez and Terri Wong are juniors at Petaluma High.  This is one of their classes.

Terri says, "People from the high school, they're like, 'Wait.  Where?'  We're like, 'Okay what class do you have next?'  'Museum.'  'What?'  You know, 'Where are you going?' 

The museum began after a local trophy hunter donated his million dollar collection to the school in 1989.  The school district's bus garage was transformed to hold the collection, which has continued to grow.  There are rooms and rooms of exhibits… and a new building called the Adventure Center.

Terri explains, "In here, unlike the museum, you guys get to touch practically everything in here." 

Kids can experience everything from a fossil dig… to a Tesla coil, all under the watchful eye of some slightly older kids. 

"They're so good they make me cry," says wildlife management teacher Marsi Wier.  She's the museum's director, and she insists her young docents treat the class like a job. 

"The students go to work," Marsi explains.  "And they basically have to be here and ready to handle, on the worst case scenario would be three different schools, 25 parents and sometimes over 70 children." 

Tours of the museum are given by appointment only.  One of the most popular parts is when live animals are brought out… and visitors get a chance to touch a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach… or a leopard gecko from southwest Asia… or a blue tongued skink from Australia.

Becca tells some kids about the skink, "Now scientists have pretty much figured out that they use this blue tongue to help scare away their predators, so if something comes along and wants to eat them or scares them in any way, they'll use that blue tongue to scare 'em." 

Becca was a docent here; now she attends college and works part time as Marsi's assistant.
 
"Before I was so shy that I wouldn't raise my hand in classes.  I didn't want to talk to somebody I didn't know.  I wouldn't ask somebody for the time," she admits.
"But now I'm really outgoing and everything, and I have no problem just starting a tour, talking to people I don't know."

Becca and the others also have no problem dealing with a 14 foot, 110 pound burmese python named Monty.  They lug Monty outside… and definitely capture the kids' attention.

Marsi says, "There is no way that I could do this without the influence that they have and what they do.  The snakes would be gone, that's for sure!"

The students gain self esteem, knowledge and an experience that may not be available in any other high school.  And we gain another lovely surprise in this surprisingly lovely town.

BAB 02.23.03

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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