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Preservation at the Sonoma Developmental Center

Preservation at the Sonoma Developmental Center

The Glen Ellen Historical Society (GEHS) has asked the Board of Supervisors to seriously consider permanent preservation of selected buildings and structures, the historic cemetery, and related landscapes that sit within the boundaries of the existing Historic District of the Sonoma Developmental Center at Eldridge.

In a letter sent to Board of Supervisors Chair Lynda Hopkins, Angela Nardo-Morgan said the proposal “includes a museum, library, and visitor center on the grounds contiguous with and complimentary to the historic cemetery, open space and wildlife corridor.” Nardo-Morgan is president of the historical society’s board.

The request acknowledges the complexity of competing issues relative to the existing buildings and infrastructure, but argues that historical preservation is an important factor to consider in light of SDC’s 150-year history as an “integral and critically important part of our Glen Ellen and Eldridge communities.”

The campus and surrounding areas have been identified as an Historic District, and are listed on file at the Northwest Information Center of the California Historical Information System. The SDC property is also eligible for listing on the California Register of Historic Resources (CRHR) and the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Consisting of at least 40 contributing resources, this Historic District’s designed landscape and Colony Plan represent significant shifts in architectural history, in addition to the institution’s role in the history of medicine.

The GEHS’ goals are:

• To designate and establish an Historic Preservation Area which will include the historic cemetery—under county, state and federal government directives.

• To establish a museum dedicated to preservation, documentation, and display of the history of SDC and its undeniable relationship to Glen Ellen, Eldridge, and other local communities.

• To establish a library dedicated to researching the history of SDC’s 127 years as a care facility, its medical advances and achievements, and its longstanding relationship with the local community.

• To preserve the knowledge of individuals closely associated with the inner workings of this care facility and the surrounding communities that were directly involved.

Buildings of immediate interest are the iconic Administration Building and Sonoma House. Acquiring historical status can provide some protection, reduction of property taxes, and facilitate building codes designed to make restoration easier than otherwise.

While the existing museum is too far gone to be reasonably useful, the superintendent’s residence could serve, and there are several other sites that could be used as well. Artifacts to be preserved and exhibited include furniture, medical equipment, vintage oak wheelchairs, custom-made adaptive equipment, and seating systems.

There are many photographs, maps, and other images. There is also a 7,000-volume medical library and reproductions of original documents GEHS is also documenting living histories from staff and local residents, many whose families have worked as caregivers at Eldridge spanning several generations.

These stories of local community engagement in service to others is quite prevalent and worthy of sharing.

GEHS has already received grants and funding to support an historic museum on the property and says that townspeople overwhelmingly support the creation of this district.

A supporting presentation says that GEHS is confident that it will be able to secure the support and backing needed.