The MGH Report

Michael G. Haran, Proprietor

THE VILLA CHANTICLEER

Posted by on Sep 15, 2008

Published in the Healdsburg Museum’s Russian River Recorder

Autumn 2008

By: Michael Haran

In 1942 the Rev. Mina Ross Brawner, M.D. of Melbourne, Australia jotted down notes of her early childhood in Healdsburg. “In 1896, I vividly remember the old but big Redwood tree on FitchMountain standing outside the fence surrounding my mother’s home. There was room for 20 picnickers in the hollow trunk. Its top was so high that it seemed, when viewed from our home-side, to pass the distant mountain and blend with the sky.”

One day I came home from school to find the big Redwood on fire. Its open throat was roaring like a furnace. Mother told us that the lighting had ripped down from the clouds and struck it. The roar was terrible. We could stand on the hillside and watch the fire relentlessly burn the heart of our old landmark.

Villa #1

Villa Chanticleer

But another rainstorm came down extinguishing the fire and the old tree was saved. Then suddenly a fearful crash and roar, the tree came down. We rushed to the spot – mother and the three children who were home. Was the tree gone? The nook seemed filled with the fallen trunk and branches. Quickly I returned to our cottage and secured a tape-measure. Together we measured the top of the huge tree lying like a giant submarine on the ground. It was 90 feet long. Looking up to my surprise the tree seemed to be as tall as before.

In 1943 Rev. Brawner returned to Healdsburg to see if the old Redwood still stands. It was and she wrote “Old Stovepipe they call you now, and wonder how it happened. But you and I remember. You have kept your secret all these years, but tonight I am telling the world you battled against all obstacles – and won out. Oh, joy! The old Redwood still stands.” Old Stovepipe was renamed the General Eisenhower in 1972.

Some fourteen years later, in 1910, a San Francisco Frenchman by the name of Auguste Pradel and his wife Victorine bought 130 acres, from E. Dufore and his wife Hortense on the north side of Fitch Mountain in which the old tree still stands. They established a French resort to cater to San   Francisco’s French community.  In its day the Villa was the leading French Resort north of San Francisco with accommodations for as many as 200 persons.Pradel built a road, which is today’s Powell Avenue, from Healdsburg to the Villa, and a “wagon” road down to the river below Eagle Rock to what was known as “Frenchman’s Orchard” and later part of the Del Rio Woods subdivision A horse and buggy was sent to the depot on the arrival of each train to take people up the hill. Later a small bus replaced the horse and buggy.

In 1912, August Laurens (Pradel’s son-in-law) took over the facility and made many improvements in the bungalows. He raised money from local businessmen to “put the road leading from the city limits to the Resort in splendid condition.” One wonders just how “splendid” the road was as Felix Lafon remembered that his father’s model T Ford would have to back up on the steepest part of the road to get to the Chantecler. In 1921 this road and the CampRose road on the south side of FitchMountain were made public roads, rebuilt and connected making a six mile loop from Healdsburg’s city limit to city limit.

In 1916 Victor Cadoul and his wife Seraphie purchased the Chantecler Resort (renaming it the Villa Chantecler) for ten dollars in gold coin from the Pradels and expanded the facilities. An article in the June 18th edition of HEALDSBURG TRIBUNE headlined: “THE VILLA ENJOYS BIG RUN” told that there were “nearly 100 guest enjoying the pleasant surrounding and merchants report business in every line with the guest of Chantecler.” (sounded like the merchants got their road investment back). The building had a kitchen and a bar. The dining area was a large screened-in porch on the north side. Cabins were on the east side of the grounds (eventually rooms were built in one of the buildings to accommodate the large number of “single” guests). Overflow guest were put up in tents. It was about this time that the custom of taking guests on a weekly trip to the Italian-Swiss Colony at Asti began.

Ownership changed several times over the years. According to Madeline Delagnes, Cadoul ran the Villa until 1924 when he leased it to her parents Adrian and Marie Cayre. The Cayres kept the Villa until 1926 at which time Codoul once again took over the Villa. Madeline, in an August 29, 1980 HEALDSBURG TRIBUNE article, stated that Pierre Rouquier “built a beautiful home on what is now Borel Road at Samantha Court off upper Powell Avenue. According to Georgette Cadoul Etchell, Victor and Serephie’s daughter who still lives on Scenic Lane, her father built a small home on Borel   Road because her mother didn’t want to live at the Chantecler any longer. Victor later sold the home on Borel Road to Pierre Rouquier and built another small home on Scenic Lane off N. Fitch Mountain Road.

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Road to Villa Chanticleer

When Rouquier took title to the property he expanded the home adding a big room to the home and started the Bellevue Villa which eventually included a full service restaurant, 50 cabins and a bowling alley. Knowing that he now had competition, Cadoul made substantial improvements to the Villa Chanticleer including the famed dining room which was reputed to be the largest room between San Francisco and Eureka. Four years later, due to the lack of water available at the Villa, coupled with the depression that made him land pour, Codoul wanted out and he approached Madeline and her husband Lucien Delagnes who owned the Hotel Gotham in San Francisco.

According to Yvette Delagnes Conz, Madeline and Lucien’s daughter who still lives off Borel Road, in 1934 Cadoul leased the Villa to her parents (they bought the property a year later). The lease covered the 40 acres of buildings and the business, with Cadoul keeping control over the remainder of the 90 acres. Delagnes installed an outdoor “duck pin” bowling alley. On Sunday afternoons $25 in cash prizes were award to the best bowlers and also held the Healdsburg championship. New improvements also included new lighting fixtures. The resort boasted of two milk cows and a “help yourself” cherry orchard. A children’s playground and a playing card grotto under “Old Stovepipe” were also installed. As a predecessor of today, weddings were also held under the big tree.

Three meals per day, a room and wine cost $18 per week. When the Villa was overbooked Madeline would even set up cots inside the old tree. She liked to serve fresh vegetables and guests enjoyed gathering around to help string beans and snap peas. Seven course meals were served with a bottle of wine. During prohibition the wine was served in a cup. Lucien bought 50 gallon barrels of wine from Mel Pedroni for $35 per barrel.

Gil Delagnes, Lucien and Madeline Delagnes’ son who now lives in Windsor, said that when he was a child he would help Frank Vatalli count the money from the 10, penny, nickel and quarter slot machines that were set in and around the Villa. Gil’s pay allowed him to buy the model planes and cars that he loved to make as a child. His parent’s share of the slot machine revenue helped pay for the family’s annual vacations. Partaking in the slots were many local and state politicians who would visit the Villa during the summer months.During the 1940’s the Delagnes’ subdivided the 16.7 acres that currently comprise the Villa and the residential lots that now surround the property. Also in the 1940’s The Delagnes’ let the Pradel’s build a home on a northeast part of the property which they lived in until their death. In gratitude, upon his death Auguste left four thousand dollars for the care of the Villa.

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The Villa Chanticleer circa 1912

In 1945, they sold the property to two San Francisco men Jack Kent and W. Johnson. This is where legend mixes with reality and fantasy with facts. Madeline claims that Kent mentioned to her that they planned to build a casino for “the Hollywood people.” “One fellow talked a lot of, you know, b.s. He was a liar – pouf! He was not bad looking, though.” She said that they wouldn’t sell until Kent dropped his plan to convert the property to a casino.

On the night of September 14, 1945, while 200 guests were dancing in the famed dining room a fire started in the kitchen. All the guests were safely evacuated but the dining room was burned to the ground. Kent and Johnson rebuilt the beautiful existing main building on a lavish scale and were nearing a reopening date.

Then, on May 11, 1947 a Santa Rosa man named Nick DeJohn (aka Nick Rossi), at one time allegedly involved with Al Capone’s Chicago mafia, was murdered in San Francisco. He had been strangled and was found in the trunk of his car. Soon after, an anonymous source informed authorities that Rossi was connected with a man who was planning a “night spot” at one of the resorts in Healdsburg. All fingers pointed to Jack Kent. Charges were never pressed and Kent vehemently stated, “I’ll give this whole place to anybody who can prove I ever met, saw, nodded, or even spoke to this gangster in my whole life.” But the idea of the Villa as an upscale gamblers’ joint was never fully erased. The six foot by six foot walk-in, impregnable safe that’s still in the Villa’s basement added to the speculation. Soon after DeJohn’s death, and with only the landscaping remaining to be finished, Kent and Johnson declared bankruptcy and all construction ceased. Coincidence?…

As for the Villa’s use as a brothel, The Villa was named Chanticler by Cadoul in the early 1920’s. He took the name from a French fable LeRonain de Renard which was/is a satire on human conventions and morals. Chanticler was a rooster in the fable. The name was derived from “chante claire” which means “clear singing” as in the rooster welcoming the dawn. A 1984 Press-Democrat newspaper article on the Villa claimed that the rooster is a French symbol for a bordello, a fact which is disputed by Yvette. As far as anyone knows this is as close to a brothel as the Villa has ever come.

When it was first built in 1910 by Pradel, the Villa was known as Frenchman’s Resort. In a May 1972 memo from City Administrator Edwin Langhart to the Petaluma sign maker included a sketch of what the Villa’s new sign (the one that now stands at the entrance to the Villa) was to look like. This sketch had only one e in the spelling; however, the new sign was delivered with the double e in the name. Whether the sign maker made an error or if he was instructed to make the change no one knows but the Villa Chantecleer now has the double ee and will so for ever more.

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Villa Dining Room circa 1912

The Villa languished for eight years until SonomaCounty forced a sale for back taxes in 1955. With no bidders, two tradesmen who had filed liens for unpaid work for Kent and Johnson, reluctantly took title for the sum of the unpaid taxes. During this time the City of Healdsburg was in a quandary. They had been planning to use what is now the Longs shopping center on Center Street for a new city hall. After a report from a San Francisco consultant stated that the highest and best use was shopping, the City dropped its plans for a city hall at the site. The town had also outgrown the old American Legion Hall, which was also on the Long’s site, as a community center. When the Villa became available and the same consultant said that the resort would make a splendid community center, the City the 17.04 acre Villa for $45,000. The purchase price included the Villa, annex, 20 cabins (all but four were torn down) and all equipment. The City annexed the property and spent $150,000 finishing the landscaping and made upgrades.The 50 by 70 foot dining room has many large widows with views of Mt.St. Helena and CobbMountain. It is served by a kitchen with four big ranges, ovens and other appliances. On the other side of the lobby is the ballroom, with an oak floor and a large fireplace. Between these two is the Redwood Lounge, a horseshoe-shaped bar with 22 stools, and eight booths along the sides. The painting behind the bar was commissioned to Lloyd Wasmuth of Santa Rosa by Kent & Johnson. It is a technique called “juxtaposition,” in which every brush stroke is a small square. The painter took it home after the bankruptcy but the City bought it back for $250 and reinstalled it. The annex has one large meeting room and a small kitchen. There are picnic and barbeque areas for 200-300 persons, parking for about 200 cars, tot-lot, lots of trees – oak, redwoods, eucalyptus, acacia, madrone – and 10 acres of undeveloped land.

Since its purchase the City has invested, and is still investing, substantial amounts of money to keep the Villa up to date. In the mid 1980’s the Villa was losing about $10k per year as compared to about $50k per year today. Adjusted for inflation, this is relatively the same amount. The City is now working on new programs to generate revenue which will not only close this revenue gap but also generate an income surplus. As Healdsburg’s most treasured social venue and the keeper of Old Stovepipe, “You have battled against all odds and won out. Oh, Joy!”  The Villa still stands!

Photos Courtesy of Healdsburg Museum

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WHAT MAKES A TOWN

Posted by on May 1, 2008

By Michael Haran

Published Healdsburg Tribune May 1, 2008

 This year, the American Association of University Women’s 18th Annual Healdsburg Historic Homes Tour features five unique and distinctive homes. This walking tour raises money for the AAUW’s scholarship and public school funds.

The homes chosen each year are examples of the town’s diverse architectural heritage, the characteristics of which are what make Healdsburg such a great place to live. From our earliest settlers to about a dozen new homes which have been built over the past year, Healdsburg’s detached single family dwellings reflect, as much as anything, our town’s evolution from squatters to ultra modern living in “smart”  homes that can practically clean themselves.

In Hanna Clayborn’s “History of Healdsburg,” and “Adaptation from the Healdsburg Cultural Resource Survey,” she talks about Healdsburg’s early architecture. Most of the early cabins and houses around Healdsburg were modest structures often “designed” and built by amateur carpenters. In the tradition of the “first come first buy” American frontier, no section of town was set aside for business or public purposes. Residences lined the main street and clustered in the downtown area on the east and south sides of the Plaza.

According to one observer, T.F. Cronise in 1867, the majority of Healdsburg residents came from the southern United States and the then “southwestern” states including Missouri (where the Healds came from), Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Their origin, he noted, is “indicated not more by the peculiarities of their manners than the style of their houses, most of which have huge chimneys built outside, after the custom of their early houses”. Cronise noticed the difference of Healdsburg’s early architectural style from the norm in California which was overwhelmingly Yankee.

Although most of Healdsburg’s early homes were copied from folk designs or later, catalog designs, there was a time in the early 1870’s when Healdsburg had a resident architect named William Henry Middleton. Middleton’s most notable building still standing is the elegant Italianate at 211 North Street, now know as the Camellia Inn.

The first Euro-American settlers built cabins of split-log redwood. After the first sawmill was built, the first permanent structures were made of adobe, utilizing native clay and local Indian labor. Between 1840 and 1848 three adobe structures were built. All of these homes were either destroyed or damaged in the 1906 earthquake, with the exception of an adobe outbuilding which has been recently restored and still stands at 8644 Highway 128.

In the 1850s, most of the new homes were simple wood frame “homestead” style structures. Most were single-story, single-gable structures built to house the settlers, most of whom didn’t have families. An example of an early (1853) homestead still stands at 239   Center Street. In the 1850s and 1860s these homestead style houses became larger to accommodate families and became easier to build because of sawn lumber and massed produced nails. Examples of basic later homestead houses are at 815   Johnson Street, 317 Tucker Street and 414 North Street. A couple of larger homesteads can be seen at 230   Center Street, and 340 East Street.

Between 1870 and 1880 (know as the late settlement era), the prosperity of Healdsburg’s agriculture and businesses prompted a more elaborate architecture. Several large Italianate homes, which were probably based on architectural plan books, were built. Examples of these Italianates can be seen at the aforementioned 211 North Street., 619 Johnson Street., and 14891 and 14851 Grove Street. Toward the end of the 19th century, the eastern influenced Queen Anne style homes were being built in Healdsburg. An exemplary Queen Anne mansion is the SwisherMansion at 642 Johnson Street, and the Queen Ann cottage at 403   Matheson Street. Many of the late Queen Annes were built between 1890 and 1910 including one at 423 Matheson Street.

Between 1900 and 1925, two styles of bungalows, the California and the Craftsman, reflected the movement away from the excesses or the ornate Victorian architecture. Both provided housing for the growing middle class population, superseding the function of the Queen Anne cottage, and which integrated indoor and outdoor living spaces with the use of sleeping porches and natural woods. The more prevalent Craftsman homes, with their broad-based pillars, overhanging eaves, and exposed beams, made use of somewhat more prominent design features than the simpler bungalows. An exemplary Craftsman bungalow can be seen at 439 Matheson Street. A California style can be seen at 214 Center   Street.

By the mid 1920s Prohibition brought on a severe depression in the local hop and vineyard industries which curtailed residential construction in Healdsburg until after World War II. Accordingly, only a few Prairie style homes (popular in the San FranciscoBay area) and Vernacular cottages (primarily FitchMountain summer homes) were built in Healdsburg. Examples of the Prairie style of architecture can be found at 744   Healdsburg Avenue, and the Vernacular cottage style can be found at 1610 and 1616 S, Fitch Mountain Road. Some Mediterranean and Spanish or Mission style homes were built in Healdsburg between 1930 and 1945.

After WWII, Healdsburg participated in the economic boom times the rest of the nation was enjoying. One of the town’s 1950s developments was the Rose, Josephine, and Florence Street subdivision off Powell Street. These homes were the forerunners of the California ranch style homes which were to be built into the 1960s, 70s, and 80s throughout California. Built at the same time were the ultra modern or futuristic designs favored by Frank Lloyd Wright and which are similar to the Eichler Homes (the Terra Linda area of San Rafael was built by Eichler) that feature floor to ceiling glass, interior atriums and radiant floor heating.

Although sharing some of the same design features of the 1950’s ranchers such as low-pitched roofs, the Eichlers were more upscale for their time.  They were built when home energy was cheap (can you believe $15 per month PG&E bills) and are notoriously non-energy efficient. Unless retrofitted, they leak heat like sieves. Healdsburg is fortunate to have its very own Frank Lloyd Wright designed home which is located at 550 Tucker Street. The home at 323 Matheson was built in 1954 and reflects the one of the best example of the post-modernistic style in Healdsburg. Other example can be seen at 426 Fitch Street, 316 North Street and 204 Solar Way.

Although many new homes are being built in a modified California Bungalow style futuristic home are still being built. Two prime examples can be found in the Parkland Farms subdivision at 260   Clear Ridge Drive and especially at 1591 Clear Ridge Drive.

Out of the 1983 Healdsburg Cultural Resource Survey came a change to the town’s approach to its architectural heritage. An historic district was established in two neighborhoods. One is along both sides of Johnson Street between Piper Street and Powell Avenue; and the other is along both sides of Matheson Street between East and First Streets. The Historic District designation may be applied to areas of the city that are of historic significance or contain historic structures in order to preserve, maintain and enhance their historic integrity. The historic designation doesn’t limit structure inclusion by date and, as such, could include the oldest and/or newest if the City Council deems the home to have significant historic qualities.

According to Lynn Goldberg, a senior planner at Healdsburg’s Community Development Center, most of the new people who are buying historic homes are doing so because that’s what attracted them to Healdsburg in the first place. It was the town’s “old timers” that had a problem with the new historic districts. This had more to do with America’s “traditional property rights” than anything else. But once they saw the value, most soon came around and supported these districts and designations.

Up until 1992, Healdsburg had a separate design review board which was responsible for reviewing the historical integrity of any dwelling whose owner had applied for either a permit for new construction, demolition, or an alteration which would increase the structure’s floor area by more than 25%.  When the design board was eliminated, two additional positions were added to the town’s Planning Commission. The people filling these positions were supposed to have knowledge of architectural design such as architects and/or contractors.

The AAUW’s annual tour not only raises money for two great causes but also transports participants back in time. Imagine walking Healdsburg’s streets seventy-five, a hundred or even one hundred and fifty years ago. Amazing! It’s our architectural heritage from all eras that defines who we are, adds to the quality of life that we enjoy and contributes to what makes this town our town.

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