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Bill Lynch: Places in my Sonoma heart

Driving around our Valley these last several weeks has been painful. It is hard to look at our once green verdant hills now blackened and not feel a deep sense of loss.

Worse yet are the charred remnants of the structures that were the homes of our Sonoma Valley friends and neighbors. Even if we personally escaped the ravages of those terrible and terrifying October fires, many of our fellow local citizens did not.

Most of our native trees will survive and our hills will be green next spring, but the harder question is how long will it be before those who lost so much can be made whole, if ever.

I was thinking about this on the eve of a special dinner at Vintage House this month at which Roger and Diana Rhoten will be honored for saving and preserving Sebastiani Theatre.

We are all grateful to the firefighters who fought so bravely and so hard to save our town from the approaching flames. It could have been much worse. Imagine if downtown Sonoma had burned like Fountain Grove or the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa.

Landmarks, including our only theater, Community Center, the mission, barracks, Swiss Hotel, El Dorado and so many more could have gone up in flames. Even our Plaza, City Hall and the classic Carnegie Library, and many more of our homes could have been damaged or destroyed.

But some institutions, like Sebastiani Theatre, are vulnerable to more than the ravages of nature.

Our little one-screen movie house, built in the 1930s by Samuele Sebastiani, survives as a delightful anachronism because of Roger and Diana’s determination to keep it open.

Time and the inevitable march of what we call progress has threatened it for decades. Our single-screen theater, virtually a mom and pop operation, competes with automated, multi-screen complexes that are little more than cold, impersonal, walk-in, large-screen video arcades. But they are much more economically efficient and sustainable.

For Roger and Diana, keeping Sebastiani Theatre open was more a labor of love than a for-profit enterprise.

And such is the nature of the battle against time that those of us who love our little hometown must fight year after year.

Not every building or institution we take for granted have guardians and caretakers as dedicated as the Rhotens. Many do, and for the rest we need to be the loyal customers, patrons, supporters and guardians.

To my list above, I would add Arnold Field, the Veterans Memorial Park, our bike path, the original Sebastiani Winery, Buena Vista Winery, our old adobes, the classic old houses along Broadway, the Castagnasso home and horse pasture on Spain Street, Eraldi’s, the Swiss Hotel with a member of the Marioni family running it; Mary’s Pizza with one of Mary’s kids, grandkids or great grandkids running it.

Further afield I would include the Sonoma Mission Inn, Bouverie Preserve, SDC, all of Glen Ellen, Kenwood and Jack London Park and Morton’s, the dairy farms of the Leveroni and Mulas families, and the Sangiacomo Ranch.

My list could go on for awhile. How about yours?

We lost much in the fires of October, but we have so much more to be thankful for.

We should never take the Sonoma we hold dear in our hearts for granted.