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Local History Lesson: 03/15/2013

The Kenwood Hilton: The Story of Monroe Ranch



The 1906 quake sent buildings crashing down and started devastating fires. Those who survived found their lives changed forever, sometimes in surprising ways. Santa Rosa was hit especially hard. John Galloway, an engineer, was hired by Santa Rosa Bank to oversee reconstruction of its main building on Courthouse Square. John lived in the East Bay with his wife Nettie and their family.

Traveling to Santa Rosa by train, John caught a glimpse of Sonoma Creek. On impulse, he got off at Lawndale Station and backtracked on foot. He discovered clear, cold pools and riffles where the water gurgled over the rocks. John loved to fish and knew a good trout stream when he saw one. He soon bought creekside property in Adobe Canyon and built a cabin.

Before long, the Galloways invited Nettie’s sister Mary, her husband Charles Monroe, and their son to their new place. Natives of New York state, Mary and Nettie came to California as girls, probably by sailing ship, in the 1850s. Originally from Massachusetts, Charles Monroe also arrived in California as a child. The two were married in 1892; Grant, their only child, was born the following year. Charles was a dry goods clerk, selling textiles, clothing, and sundries. The family rented a house in Oakland.

It’s easy to imagine why the Monroes bought half the Galloway’s Kenwood vacation property in 1912. But it’s a mystery what inspired them to purchase 42 acres the next year and start a ranch. As middle-aged city dwellers, they had little or no agricultural experience. Perhaps an inheritance or mid-life crisis inspired the change. Or perhaps Mary longed for the country life she’d known briefly in Napa, in her younger days.

They built their home on what is now the corner of Highway 12 and Greene Street; planted a prune and walnut orchard; and put up a barn, fruit dryer, and workers’ bunkhouse. From the start, they welcomed guests. Within a few years, four of Mary’s siblings had moved in for good. It’s unclear who ran Monroe Ranch at first. Charles continued in dry goods and then became a bank director. In the 1920s, Grant took on the ranch management. After his parents passed away, he continued living there into the 1940s.

Like John Galloway, the Greenes discovered Kenwood while enroute to somewhere else. The trains had stopped running; Kenneth and Mildred were on a road trip from Seattle to Mexico. They bought Monroe Ranch on Kenneth’s retirement. Like the Monroes, they were joined by extended family. Their daughter, Jenke Pankovich, moved into the bunkhouse with her husband John and two children. John was ranch foreman.

Their daughter Susan has fond memories of growing up there. “The first thing I ever drove” she recalls, “was a Caterpillar tractor … sitting on my Dad’s lap. I was about six.” She also remembers him placing smudge pots in the orchard on frosty nights. “People don’t believe me,” she says, “but cars were so rare, that my sister and I played hopscotch on Highway 12!”

When Kenneth Greene died in the mid-1950s, Arthur Coops and his second wife Esther bought the place. “Dad” Coops had lived in Sonoma Valley since he was a small child, leaving only to serve in World War I. Sick with dysentery and then scarlet fever, he was relieved from combat, which probably saved his life. During Coops’ recovery, he worked in a warehouse. That experience helped him with the fruit business he later started with his brother. Initially successful, they lost everything in the Depression.

The Coops, too, welcomed extended family. After Esther passed away, “Dad” married Catherine. They entertained so many guests that she nicknamed it ‘The Kenwood Hilton,’ and joked, ‘The sheets never got cool.’ Meanwhile, the orchard was past its prime and losing money.

After someone told him the ranch was a ‘gold mine,’ “Dad” began selling off small parcels, creating the neighborhood which exists today. Daughter-in-law Shirley and her husband Arthur took care of “Dad” in his final years. She remembers how, “‘Dad’ liked to talk to people; he got along with people. In his old age he loved to go for rides – he’d perk up when he heard the keys jingle. He lived to be 98 years old.”

“Dad’s” heirs sold the house to the Yars, who remodeled it into Muir Manor Bed & Breakfast. They also petitioned to have it designated a county historical landmark. Nancy and Jerry Fischman, who bought it in 2005, have continued the house’s century-long tradition of hospitality. After further restoration, it reopened as Birmingham Bed & Breakfast.

Relatives of the Monroes and Galloways still enjoy the cabin John built a century ago. Trout still live in Sonoma Creek. And yes, the Santa Rosa Bank building was successfully repaired and stands to this day, overlooking the Santa Rosa Plaza.

Writer and historical consultant Arthur Dawson lives in Glen Ellen with his family. You can visit his website at Sonomahistory.com, or email him at baseline@vom.com.



Email: baseline@vom.com

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