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Sonoma’s historic Hooker House lures new tenant

History group gives up lease on historic property|

Hooker House history

The wooden house came pre-cut from Sweden and was erected in the 1850s by Joseph Hooker, an Army Lieutenant Colonel who was stationed in Sonoma at that time. He soon sold it to Catherine Vasquez, and her husband Pedro, who lived in it for the next fifty years. In 1973, the house was owned by the Lynch family who gave it to the League, who moved it from 117 First St. West to 404 First St. East. The house opened as the Vasquez House in 1976 and housed both historic records and a public tea room. In 2009, the tea room was closed, and the name was changed to the General Joseph Hooker House. During its subsequent years, it served as a small museum.

A new tenant is in the process of signing papers to move into the Hooker House, as the Sonoma League for Historic Preservation bows out of managing the historic Plaza-area abode, according to local leasing agent Ryan Snow.

Faced with questions and concerns from League members about the decision to give up the Hooker House, League officials earlier this month sent an email clarifying the history of the lease of the iconic downtown landmark in the El Paseo alley.

According to League board director and secretary Tracy Reynes, when the League entered into a lease agreement in 1974, its officers agreed that at the end of the lease, the ownership of the 170-year-old house would be transferred to the owners of the land on which the building sits. El Paseo is currently owned by Mill Valley-based Redbird Investments LLC, which also owns the shopping center at Sonoma Highway and Verano Avenue that includes Palms Restaurant.

“Under the terms of the lease agreement negotiated by the Board of Directors at that time, the house becomes the property of the Lessor at the conclusion of the lease term,” Reynes wrote in the letter. “There is no circumstance under which the League would obtain permanent ownership of the home [after that time.]”

Reynes confirmed that rather than wait for lease to expire, the League has decided that early termination of the lease is preferable.

She declined to comment on when the lease was due to end and the current lease terms, including the specifics of its annual rent.

Reynes said the League has not had the resources to properly run Hooker House for some time.

“Our lease requires us to hold the house open a minimum of 50 hours per month,” she said. But in recent years the house has only been open about 12 hours a month.

Reynes said that despite communication to members and several newspaper ads asking for volunteers to act as docents, the League fell short of garnering the necessary resources.

Perhaps most importantly, Reynes noted to members that the annual expense of operating the building totaled in the thousands of dollars each year, and fell short of revenue generated, causing the house to operate at a significant annual loss.

“As a result, the owners of El Paseo are now advertising the house for lease,” she stated in her email.

Snow announced on April 7 that a new tenant for the quaint 1,160-square-foot house has been found. The advertised rent was $4,500.

Reynes made it clear to members that the League doesn’t have any control over the future use of the building but she said that she hopes the new tenant will give the public greater access to Hooker House than the League was able to.

“A new tenant may be able to give this beautiful, historic property greater exposure in the community,” said Reynes.

And that may mean yet another tasting room on the Plaza. Reynes said in her email to members that anything is possible.

“It is available for any allowable commercial use from private offices to a tasting room as is any other commercial building in Sonoma,” she wrote to members.

Bruce Cardinal, a partner in Redbird Investment LLC, did not return phone calls by press time.

Reynes said that she hopes to work with Cardinal to ensure that key League documentation and plaques will be on display to convey the historical nature of the house and that any future lessee would be required to post and maintain them.

The League has already moved from the house any historic contents including the timelines, the photo collection and all of the furniture.

Last Saturday, Hooker House was open to the public by the League for perhaps the last time.

It was former Index-Tribune owners the Lynch family which donated the Hooker House to the League back in the mid-1970s. Former editor and publisher Bill Lynch explained that his family needed the house moved, as it was located in an unwieldy location in what is now the parking lot behind the Lynch Building at 117 W. Napa St.

The League renovated the house with donations of materials and labor from local residents.

The house opened as the Vasquez House in 1976 and housed a library of historic records and a tea room. In 2009, the tea room was closed, and the name was changed to the General Joseph Hooker House after the man who built it and served as a general in the Union Army during the Civil War. The League estimates that the small museum saw around 1,700 visitors annually.

Bill Lynch said the building was lucky to have found new life thanks to the League.

“We donated the house to the League unconditionally and we were thrilled they could move it,” said Lynch. “We were happy to give it free to a good home.”

Contact Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.

Hooker House history

The wooden house came pre-cut from Sweden and was erected in the 1850s by Joseph Hooker, an Army Lieutenant Colonel who was stationed in Sonoma at that time. He soon sold it to Catherine Vasquez, and her husband Pedro, who lived in it for the next fifty years. In 1973, the house was owned by the Lynch family who gave it to the League, who moved it from 117 First St. West to 404 First St. East. The house opened as the Vasquez House in 1976 and housed both historic records and a public tea room. In 2009, the tea room was closed, and the name was changed to the General Joseph Hooker House. During its subsequent years, it served as a small museum.

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