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Living Life Well

A better alternative
Living Life Well
This century-old building was converted from storage for winemaking to a cabin in the 1970s.Photo by Jim Shere

by Jim Shere

Visitors from other places often stop to talk with me and to take photographs of my cabin. Several weeks ago I received an email from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington D.C.; someone had sent just such a photograph to them, and they wanted permission to publish it in their quarterly magazine, Preservation. The photograph now appears in the current issue, with the following commentary by the photographer, Janet Minker:

“I live in Sarasota, Florida, where I’m a staunch advocate of saving historic buildings. I recently visited Sonoma County, California, on my first trip in a year and a half. I had seen the cabin before and wanted to see if it was still intact. It’s nestled high above Sonoma Creek in Jack London Village, near Glen Ellen, California. I did a little research and discovered that the original building was built sometime between the 1880s and the 1940s as a bin to hold stems and leaves from the winemaking process. The cabin was creatively built underneath it in 1970. As an added benefit, a local artist outfitted the building with beautiful walls of stained glass. It’s now used by local psychotherapist Jim Shere. He has been a big advocate for saving that building and others in Glen Ellen. It gives me joy to see how an historic building like this can be treasured and maintained and, especially, repurposed. I’ve seen too many demolitions in my experience.”

I quickly wrote to the editors that we have always been proud of our history, here in Glen Ellen, and that we work hard to preserve it in this rapidly changing world. I went on to tell how some of us had once chained ourselves to the Civil War cannon that still presides over the center of town, when an East Coast weapons collector had come to buy it, and that many of us had successfully campaigned to save the century-old Chauvet Hotel, when it was condemned to demolition by the county, while more recently others of us had rushed to save our even older community church, when it was threatened by the wildfires that destroyed a quarter of our town.

“Many of our buildings could easily find a place in the Transitions section of your magazine,” I wrote, “for we have many such ‘places restored, threatened, saved, and lost’ —from the ruins of Jack London’s famed Wolf House to the rebuilt cabin that once belonged to his friend, Martin Eden. Today the local state hospital is one of those places in transition. Originally established in 1891, its 940-acre campus has become a virtual anthology of architectural styles from every era throughout the 20th century. The hospital is now closed, and there are controversial plans to redevelop the property for housing and other uses.” I went on to propose writing an article for them about the history and the future of the place, about the challenge to preserve and repurpose it, and about the people who are working toward its designation as an historic district.

The three alternative plans for redevelopment of the Sonoma Developmental Center at Eldridge — once referred to as the State Hospital — that were proposed this past month by the county of Sonoma, were the result of two years of study by a consulting firm the county hired to investigate what is needed, what is productive, and what is possible. Meetings to sample public reaction were then held, at which local response vigorously protested the density and direction of the three alternatives, all of which seem to be only variations on the same theme: housing and hotels, with insufficient creek setbacks to ensure healthy waterways and a wildlife corridor that clearly would be choked off by residential and commercial density. I understand the need for financial feasibility but doubt the plans’ logistic feasibility; and, I am deeply concerned about the impact of residential density upon the region, particularly upon the infrastructure and the ecology.

I want to see attention paid to the community, the environment, and the wildlife, and that families and children are considered, and that vision and sustainability are prioritized over profit. I remember, for instance, that the Children’s Museum in Santa Rosa was at one point thinking of relocating; I believe bringing it here would level the playing field of tourism to include the very important younger set — for our children will be the adults of our future. Furthermore, because food is as important to our valley as drink, a commercial kitchen could be developed and rented by the hour to encourage cottage industries to enter the commercial food market; and the establishment of public gardens could enable families without access to backyards to grow their own vegetables. In short, I want to see that the needs of the people who live here are addressed— rather than that more people are brought into the area, ultimately increasing rather than relieving the burden upon the neighborhoods.

I’ve been in my cabin at Jack London Village for over 18 years now. Early on, I watched the Village suffer the insults of patchwork repairs and seriously deferred maintenance — until the current owner, Steve Coates, stepped in. Steve cares about this place, what it has been and what it can be. His great concern, effort, and investment over the past decade, and the attentive and competent work of the people he brought in to rebuild the Village, have made it a wonderful place — catching the attention of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Like the place my cabin has within Jack London Village, and like the place Golden Gate Park has within the city of San Francisco, this is what I hope can happen at Eldridge, that it becomes a place restored — not lost — within the heart of Glen Ellen.

Jim Shere is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Glen Ellen. He is also a writer and poet and the executive director of the Glen Ellen Historical Society. You are invited to explore his website at jimshere. com. Email him at [email protected]