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In defense of cerise delight

WILL ROSE, an employee at Grandma Linda’s Ice Cream, leans against the shop’s pink door. Some say the Plaza storefront’s bright exterior doesn’t fit Sonoma’s historic downtown. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

WILL ROSE, an employee at Grandma Linda’s Ice Cream, leans against the shop’s pink door. Some say the Plaza storefront’s bright exterior doesn’t fit Sonoma’s historic downtown. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

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Some of Sonoma’s good citizens have taken exception to the presence of cerise delight on the Plaza. Perhaps it is, in part, the name, which sounds appropriate for an 1890s burlesque queen.

But alas, “Cerise Delight” is not performing risque dance routines, at least not anywhere near the Plaza we know of; it’s just a bold and only-slightly-seductive color, enticing children and adults to the Marmaduke family ice cream store, recently repainted and renamed for the matriarch who loved that color.

It is easy to understand the objections of those who filed an appeal against the Design Review and Historic Preservation Commission’s approval of cerise delight. It is not a subtle color, and it does stand out against the prevailing, subdued hues of the Plaza color palette.

But, as Kelso Barnett, a commission member, so expertly and rationally argues in the Op-Ed column at right, lively colors have a place in our past, our present and, hopefully, in our future. And bright hues are far more period-appropriate than some people may imagine; witness the famous Painted Ladies Victorian homes fronting Alamo Square in San Francisco, with a lively array of color.

Barnett dug deep enough into the issue to unearth some research on historic use of color, including a scholarly article by architectural historian Hugh Howard who explains that modern paint analysis has revealed a range of historic color in places like colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon and Montpelier, Vermont that belies public assumptions about preferred colors of the time.

“Even today,” wrote Howard, “many people maintain the mistaken impression that our ancestors lived in a world of muted and ‘tasteful’ shades.” Howards adds, “In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, however, the range of choices would expand exponentially, making possible the polychrome paint schemes of the Victorian age, typified by the so-called ‘painted ladies’ of San Francisco.”

It is in that context that Barnett affirms the reasoning behind the Design Review group’s approval of the Marmaduke ice cream parlor’s color choice. Not everyone will like it, but it is not historically inappropriate and, we would guess, it is probably far more pleasing to the eye than most of the color schemes and signage that adorned Plaza businesses at the turn of the 20th Century.

So we thank Barnett for his research and we applaud the commission for making the right decision. This is being written, necessarily, before the Monday night City Council decision on the cerise delight appeal had been heard, but we are confident the council will agree with the commission and let the now infamous pink door become, in time, a beloved local landmark.