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Craftsmen put bright new face on city's 90-year-old railroad landmark

February 21, 2004
Petaluma Depot

Restoring the exterior of Petaluma's 90-year-old railroad depot was an intriguing challenge for a group of craftsmen who labored on the project for four months.

City officials, who hope restoration of the long-neglected landmark will help spur downtown redevelopment, honored the craftsmen Friday at a luncheon at the depot.

The quality of the work was "outstanding," said Paul Marangella, Petaluma's director of economic development and redevelopment.

There were no trips to Home Depot to buy pre-fabricated material for this job.

"We were asked to preserve as much of the original redwood as we could," said Howard Schultz, a carpenter who worked on the project.

That meant rotting window frames shaped like four-leaf clovers had to be carefully detached, reassembled, measured and fitted with newly milled parts, said Schultz, who is from Santa Rosa.

Smaller areas of wood damage, such as along the fascia, were cut out and filled with epoxy, using hand-made molds.

Schultz, a carpenter for 25 years, said the work was sometimes a pain but still more rewarding than what he normally does, putting doors, windows and siding on new homes.

"This was more challenging, more interesting," he said. "It held my focus a lot longer."

"This was a lot more fun than working on a tract house," said carpenter Scott Felton of Windsor. "I was actually looking forward to coming to work."

"Howard was like a hamster in there with a router and the wood chips flying," Felton said.

Rich Vila, president of Vila Construction of Richmond, the project's principal contractor, said: "There aren't many jobs where you get to do a lot of carpentry. What they were doing was more like art and there was pride in the workmanship."

Roofers, painters, electricians, metal workers, glaziers and environmental removal specialists also worked on the project. The latter removed lead-based paint and asbestos-laced putty from windows.

While most of the depot's three buildings were sound, some parts had suffered serious structural damage from dry rot and termites, Shultz said.

Much of the original wood appeared to have come from old-growth forests, so it was denser and stronger than wood from younger trees, Felton said.

The original floor and roof beams in the waiting room are still in "awesome condition," he said.


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For city officials, the $650,000 in redevelopment money spent thus far is an investment in the future.

"It will trigger many millions of dollars of economic vitality that will create construction jobs, shopping and more affordable housing," Mayor David Glass said Friday.

Had the depot remained an eyesore, the prospects of redevelopment in the area would have been adversely affected, city officials have said.

Petaluma residents had asked for years that something be done to fix the decaying depot off Washington Street, a major crosstown thoroughfare. As the work progressed, some residents cheered it on.

"They would stop at the traffic light and honk and say, 'That looks really nice,'" Felton said.

The depot is in the 400-acre Central Petaluma Specific Plan Area, where city officials expect much of the city's growth to occur.

As city officials hoped, some developers already have started to look into the possibility of mixed-use projects in the depot area, Marangella said.

Landscaping plans are to be presented to the City Council in March and plans to restore the interior as office space and a conference center will be brought forward in June, Marangella said.

A possible occupant for the building is the Petaluma Visitors Bureau, according to city officials.

Down the road, if plans for a passenger rail line between San Rafael and Cloverdale come to fruition, the depot's platform and restrooms could be used by commuters.

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