On the Plaza’s north side is a ring of chain link, wrapped in a cloak of green netting. From the fence hangs a banner reading “Welcome back to your Plaza, General Vallejo!”
Inside the fenced area is a paddock of concrete, surrounded by a low fieldstone wall. New sod has been furred in to meet the old sod, which men in orange shirts have been watering diligently. The General himself has not arrived yet, but he’s expected to make his appearance any day now.
He’ll sit on a bench with a book on his knee, a quintessentially proper Plaza posture for this time, and all others.
General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was the maverick who formed this town out of dust; in gratitude, the town has now forged his likeness in bronze. Positioned in perpetual repose on the Plaza’s north quadrant, he’ll face the same structure he built to house his own troops. His face, lined by time, is thickened with age; the mutton chop sideburns frame a bemused smile.
What’s funny, Vallejo? The glut of Plaza wine tasting rooms? Starter homes priced in the middle six-figures? Whatever he’s thinking, the man looks content, as though the worries and cares of life are long past.
The statue was designed and chiseled by bronze sculptor Jim Callahan, who was a principal founder of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art and named Sonoma Treasure Artist in 2000. The site plan for the surroundings was designed by Michael Ross of RossDrulisCusenberry, an award-winning Sonoma-based architectural firm.
Conceived by seven Sonomans in late 2014 and funded entirely through private donations, the very existence of the Vallejo monument represents a certain brand of pioneering spirit.
“Going through all the city’s hoops — and some of them were flaming hoops — was not the easiest undertaking,” said Robert Demler, city historian and chairperson of the Vallejo Monument Committee. Politics in any setting can be an uphill slog, but it’s perhaps even more so in a small town like Sonoma.
“Especially in Sonoma!” Demler agreed. “Its two middle letters are N-O.”
Detractors argued that the general was a mere colonizer, a government proxy who brutalized Valley natives. Others had aesthetic objections to the sculpture, finding a seated General somehow undignified.
“There are just some people who are always unhappy,” Demler said.
Nonetheless, he and the others persisted with their vision, and on Pueblo Day, Saturday June 24, at 4 p.m., they will christen their monument. The dedication will be followed by a no-host cocktail party on the Swiss Hotel’s back patio.
The only other monument on the Plaza is a few feet southeast, depicting an iconic moment of the Bear Flag Revolt. Demler is no fan of that band of disruptors and, in fact, positioned his monument to deliver a perpetual dis.
“We purposely put his back to those damned Bear Flaggers,” Demler said.
“We wanted the old man sitting there feeling content, basking in what he began,” Demler added.
The city – or pueblo – that Vallejo founded turns 182 this year, and for this year’s birthday — and all others here on in — the guest of honor will be at the party.
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Pueblo Day runs from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 24, and is free and open to all ages. There will be booths and activities in the Barracks Courtyard representing the rapid social changes of the 19th century, the Los Gu’achis band will play, there will be a collection of 1840s pistols on display, tortilla making, uniformed militia and more.