Preserving Sonoma by C. L. Coleman
"We are riding the crest of a
wave," announced Dr. Peter
Mellini, co-director of California
State College, Sonoma's new undergraduate
Dr. Mellini and other professors
at the college are riding a
wave of expanded awareness in
local historic preservation. This
spring many of their efforts will
culminate as the novel under·
graduate program gets underway.
"This is one of the very few
undergraduate programs in preservation
in the United States,"
Moreover, Cal State's innovative
program will serve as a
model for similar ventures in
The California State University
and Colleges system, Mellini noted.
The college's historic preservation
from a wide spectrum of interests
and needs in the community
and at CSCS.
Faculty, students and community
members expressed concern
in preserving and enhancing
Sonoma County's unique character,
and their cooperative efforts
began to crystalize into a solid
"Four years ago," Mellini reports,
"Dr. Timothy Bell, an
historic geographer in Cal State's
geography department, worked
with the Sonoma County Planning
Department and initiated a
systematic survey of sites and
buildings throughout Sonoma
Dr. Mellini supervised classes
at the college on historic preservation.
One successful course,
"Photography in History," collected
old and new photos of
Sonoma County's past and present.
These photos have been displayed
in five different exhibitions
throughout Sonoma County.
Dr. Edgar Morse, co-director
of the new preservation program,
and history professor at
CSCS, has launched an oral history
project in "preservation
Morse's brainchild involves recording
and preservation of significant
memories of Sonoma
County from the 1850's to the
Students of oral history conduct
interviews with articulate
residents who recall the county
during this period, Dr. Morse
Other college professors and
community members were asked
to join the Historic Preservation
Technical Advisory Committee
which has made recommendations
on a preservation program
to the County General Plan and
Board of Supervisors.
The College's project received
a $1600 impetus last fall from
Assembly Bill 3116 to support
the site survey and photo exhibitions.
This year the prestigious
Chancellor's Office Fund for Innovation
awarded Sonoma's program $14,200.
The initial objectives of the
pilot undergraduate program include
three basic goals.
"First," Mellini explained,
"we are developing a core curriculum
in historic preservation.
The first class offering this
spring at the college is titled
"Society and Architecture."
Second, a nationwide survey
of preservation education and
employment opportunities is being
developed by CSCS economist,
Dr. Sue Hayes.
Informal surveys, according
to Mellini, indicate employment
opportunities for trained preservationists
are available in both
the public and private sector.
" Finally," Mellini noted,
"there will be a conference in
June on preservation education
curriculum, the surveys and objectives
of Cal State's new program".
Educators, professional preservationists
and local residents
will be invited to share their
ideas at the conference.
"The Frontier is Over"
"Interest in historic 'preservation,"
Mellini speculated, "is
spreading at the college, surrounding
communities, in California
and the United States.
"Sonoma County itself is well
on the way to incorporating
historic preservation within the
"Sonoma County is one of
the few counties in this area
with some options left as to the
future character of land use,"
Dr. Mellini noted.
There is a real possibility, he
said, that the rapid growth
which transformed counties
north of the Bay Area into
'ribbon development' may not
shape Sonoma County's future.
Local initiative has already
resulted in the designation of
Freestone as an historic district,
and Occidental a scenic district.
"Land use patterns here are
very attractive," Mellini reported.
"There is it lot of potential
for healthy growth.
"There are options," he said.
"We are sensitized to our
environment. The frontier is
over, but that doesn't mean opportunity is."
Drs. Mellini and Morse say
their main concern is preservation,
though not in the classical
"We want to record history as
it was then, and how it is now.
We hope that classes offered at
Sonoma," Mellini said," will provide
individuals with skills and
insight which will lead them to
more realistic decisions on what
to preserve, adapt for reuse, and
what to destroy .
"Sonoma County has an unusual
variety of buildings and
communities that reflect its diverse
history," Mellini reports.
"Sonoma County hosts a unique
historical and architectural
Preservation awareness is one
goal designed to sensitize groups
and individuals to the splendid
architectural heritage of the
area. Mellini's photo exhibits
help illustrate this rich heritage.
Assembly Bill 926, signed last
fall by Governor Brown, allows
local counties to amend building
codes to preserve buildings "deemed
worthy" of preservation.
This legislation should, according
to Dr. Mellini, enhance the
value of a variety of older buildings,
and make possible their
continued use or adaptation.
"Ultimately," Mellini concluded,
"we would like to offer
Sonoma County a scheme combining
healthy growth with the
preservation of local history."
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