BJ Blanchard: Notes from Glen Ellen, Reimagining Eldridge

Sonoma Mountain Preservation hosted one of its walk-throughs of the historical Eldridge main campus last Saturday. More than 30 walkers, some with canine chums, were led by Glen Ellen’s Tracy Salcedo, a local writer and activist, through the remarkable campus of the shuttered Sonoma Developmental Center, currently in transition into “something else.”

Amid the songs of Orange-Crowned Warblers and Red-Shouldered Hawks, walkers were led on a three-mile loop through a peaceful Redwood grove and down sun-dappled paths. Peeking through the smudged windows of long-ago closed classrooms, residences and administrative buildings, one could imagine how things looked here 100 years ago.

The beautiful architecture of Walnut, for example, a one-time home for residents, stands out. Dilapidated now, but if resurrected, what could this striking structure house? An architect office? Up a quiet drive is the old Queen-Anne style Superintendent’s home with screened porches and bowed bay windows. Could this fine structure become a museum? Could these serene botanical surroundings transition into an arboretum? Further on, not far from the Eldridge Firehouse, are the sooty brick industrial buildings straight out of Charles Dickens’ 19th century London.

Up the road on a grassy slope facing Sonoma Mountain is the tender cemetery. Markers remain, but no headstones, and it endures as a quiet testament to residents who lived and died here. Some have re-imagined this site with a memorial along its stone-wall border. Envisioned is the inscription of names of those buried beyond, along the stone wall bordering the graveyard.

The concept of the walk was to view the exceptional site and envisage what innovative uses could replace the now-outdated structures. A mysterious building with spooky outbuildings was imagined as a bed and breakfast inn specializing in murder mystery vacations. Low-cost housing was frequently suggested by the group.

The intersection where the dusty brick industrial buildings stand drew particular attention. Here, there are a decommissioned carpenter shop, an electrical shop, a power plant, and an industrial kitchen. All could be repurposed in this historical setting as a vocational training site.

The charming antique carousel with carved horses, once a playground for youngsters living on the property, could once again spin for the enjoyment of local families.

Join the next group of walkers reimagining the Eldridge treasures on April 12. Visit for details.

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