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Blue Wing getting seismic, roof updates

Scaffolding went up recently at the Blue Wing Inn. Bill Hoban/Index-Tribune

Scaffolding went up recently at the Blue Wing Inn. Bill Hoban/Index-Tribune

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The Blue Wing Inn has been on Patricia Cullinan’s mind for a long time.

A Sonoma native and history lover, Cullinan is a founding member and president of Blue Wing Adobe Trust, a nonprofit formed in 2010 to promote the preservation of it and other historic buildings in town.

“We do have a goal of adaptive reuse as a way of preservation. And that’s very important to us,” Cullinan said on Monday.

As part of its advocacy, the group has been pushing for the state to rehabilitate the Blue Wing, which had a leaky roof – a potentially fatal problem for an adobe – and needs some seismic retrofitting. And this month they got their wish: California State Parks, which owns the structure, has put up scaffolding and begun removal of the old roof, according to State Parks representative Jason Hart.

Before the new roof is put on, crews will make some seismic upgrades that can only be done while it’s off – “Otherwise you have to take the roof off again,” Cullinan said.

State officials say the work is being done by the California Department of General Services Direct Construction Unit using $350,000 in funding from Proposition 84, a bond measure approved by voters in 2006.

Materials were delivered July 1, the scaffolding put up soon after, and construction began in the second week of July.

The project is scheduled to be completed sometime this fall.

That’s if the weather is agreeable, said Hart, who last week noted wryly, “When you remove the roof, all the weather changes on you.” Sure enough, a wet weather system moved in over the weekend, with some mild drizzling on Saturday and Sunday.

As of Monday, work had halted at the Blue Wing. Crews were expected to resume when the weather dries out again.

Even after the current retrofits are made, more seismic upgrades will be needed to bring it fully up to code, Cullinan said. Her group will keep pushing to make sure that happens.

She said Blue Wing Adobe Trust, while fairly new, was established in response to overtures made by state parks officials in 2005 who “said that they were interested in some sort of public-private partnership” with regards to rehabilitating the Blue Wing.

Ultimately, her group hopes that the goal of “adaptive reuse” leads to a more sustainable model for it and other state-owned historic structures.

For example, if it could be rented out as a business space, the money earned from that arrangement could help with its upkeep.

“The Blue Wing is a unique building, and you would want to be extraordinarily careful” with how it’s used, Cullinan added.

She said the state has put together a working group called the Parks Forward Commission, and options for the Blue Wing’s future won’t be known until it delivers its findings.

“They’re looking at how State Parks functions,” she said. “And they’re going to come up with some recommendations on how State Parks can be reorganized.” It is hoped this will lead to financial and other benefits – a possible revolution that Cullinan called “The most amazing thing that’s going to happen to State Parks in a long, long time.”

With much of its original construction still standing – including adobe bricks laid by Native American neophytes as early as 1830 – the Blue Wing is considered the oldest extant adobe structure in Northern California. In its original version it housed the majordomo of the nearby mission, but later add-ons gave it its current form as early as 1852.

“It’s really quite untouched. And that’s an amazing piece of history,” Cullinan said.

In her time growing up in Sonoma, Cullinan said, “I’ve seen lots of changes. It’s really important as a community that we preserve our historic fabric.”

“If we lose that we’re just going become a strip mall somewhere.”