When Henri Maysonnave died in 1989, his aged 1910 farmhouse on First Street West was donated to the City of Sonoma with the provision that it be used for art, cultural or museum purposes. Now, five years after the Sonoma League for Historic Preservation beautifully restored the main house and gardens, and moved in as primary tenant, the city is taking a long look at the other structure from the Maysonnave bequest — a decrepit, boarded-up “cottage” at the back of the property.
The eyesore sits to the east of the bocce courts along Depot Park and the bike path. You can’t miss it. It’s the one that looks like a crack house.
The property was once owned by General Vallejo, but the run-down cottage is not historically significant. The League did a fine job with the main house, but dealing with the “cottage” is not its responsibility. That falls to the landlord –- the city of Sonoma.
With a price tag of $700,00 to bring the structure to standard, the city is predictably looking for other options –- as in, other people’s money.
The council decided not to look at subdividing the parcel and selling it for a single-family residence. Instead, they voted 3-2 to explore a plan that likewise violates the Maysonnave will: renovate the cottage for use as a B&B or vacation rental.
Even with Picassos in the lobby, it would be hard to pass the resulting hostelry off as a museum. But no worries, the council decided. The dictate of the will can be circumvented by something called the “equitable deviation process.” Translation: sorry, Henri, we need the money.
Taxes generated by the hospitality industry pay a lot of bills in this town, thanks goodness. But just how deep is that well? Must every city bill be paid in new rental rooms?
New hotel rooms are coming to town, to be sure. Why wedge a very small bit of commerce into park-like surroundings in the meantime?
The thought here: no B&B no matter how many chocolates seem to be under the pillow. Honor the will, the document by which the city was graced with bocce and petanque courts and a postcard-perfect restored home.
Instead, pay to demolish the rat hole. Don’t let it rot to the ground while lawyers figure out how to make it a Hyatt Junior. Get rid of blight, then build a garden – with sculptures, perhaps –- that would honor the spirit of Maysonnave’s wish for art and culture.
To sum it up, Councilmembers Gallian, Barbose and Gallian: tear down those walls!
— Val Robichaud