Villa Grande


Villa Grande is an unincorporated community in Monte Rio along the Russian River. How the name Villa Grande was born is a story unto itself.   In the very beginning, there was “Big Flat”, a patch of land filled with redwoods and owned by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, which ran along present-day Moscow Road. The logging boom started to fizzle out by the beginning of the twentieth century, causing NWPR to sell lots in the Big Flat area. A fourth-class post office was established under the title of “Mesa Grande”, a name which adorned the train depot as well (far left photo).       Unfortunately, there was another Mesa Grande located in the San Diego area, necessitating a change. The post office operated under the new moniker of “Grandville”, doing business out of a cubbyhole in the general store.  However, due to confusion with Grandeville in Tulare County, there was yet another adjustment. With a bit of linguistic trickery, “Grandville” was turned inside out to become “Villa Grande” and has remained such since 1921.   

Sidebar: In 1973, the post office (near left photo) was moved to the garage/workshop area of the general store owner’s private residence in order to create a private lobby and additional mailboxes.   It has remained at this site ever since.

 Vacationers from San Francisco would climb aboard the North Pacific Coast Railroad for the three-hour ride from Sausalito to their front door in Villa Grande. The community soon accommodated a hotel, firehouse, general store, post office, and numerous shingled cottages. 1910 was the first year that electricity arrived along with a windmill (near right photo), which supplied water to the cabins. It was dismantled in 1977 and given to a camp in Cazadero but the attached house still remains. With the revenue collected from their whist games, the good ladies of the village erected a sturdy windbreaker for the main beach each summer, which was located directly in front of the windmill.          Across the river was the Sherman House (known today as “The Chocolate House”…far right photo), which served as a hotel for those visiting Monte Cristo. This tourist locale extended from the Sherman House to present-day Monte Cristo Avenue near the Monte Rio Elementary School. This was the most popular party venue for residents of Villa Grande as it rightly laid claim to hosting the largest dance floor along the lower reaches of the Russian River


Sailing on the Russian River

images of boating on the Russian RiverJohn King built a small stern-wheel steamboat in 1869 and sailed it along the Russian River. Named the Enterprise, there are no known photos of the vessel but it probably resembled the Montrio (upper photo), which plied the waters as far west as the old Monte Rio footbridge.  King’s little ship was fifty feet long and sat high in the water, with a draft of only a foot, perfect for the shallow stream.   He carried cargo from Heald and Guern Lumber Mill (near Guerneville’s Safeway today) to the mouth of the river at Jenner. On occasion he would promote excursions, towing two barges upon which revelers would dance to live music while under steam.   After several failed attempts, the Enterprise sunk trying to reach Healdsburg. (more…)

Octagon House

images of octagon house

Well-to-do San Francisco architect McLachlan built the Octagon House that presently sits at 22292 Moscow Rd. near Villa Grande. Horticulturist John McClaren, a crony of McLachlan’s and best known as the man who created Golden Gate Park, designed the gardens. The McLachlans used the house as a summer getaway for approximately thirty-five years, hosting parties for their friends traveling from San Francisco for galas on the Russian River. Sailing was always a popular amusement for guests and a boathouse was located on the property. The residence is used today for weddings and other assorted gaieties. (more…)

Villa Grande Summers

image of Villa Grande General StoreMost of the activity in Villa Grande (upper photo) centered around the General Store and the old hotel.   It was a real treat for kids to gather some spare change after a barbecue dinner and head down to the General Store (lower photo) where they would load up on hard candy, root beer barrels, candy grab bags and RC Colas.   Warren Payne recalls his failing ritual of purchasing a toy balsa wood airplane only to invariably lose it to the limbs of a nearby redwood. The post office was located here as well where a mynah bird and a dog named Laddie would great patrons upon entering. (more…)

Flood Hits Hard

photos of 2019 Russian River floodThe flood last week was Jeff Bridges’ fourth rodeo.  He is the owner of the R3 Hotel in Guerneville.  Over eight feet invaded his lodge, bar and restaurant (upper photo).  But Bridges was not intimidated.  After all, he had had his tetanus shot and was prepared to use lots of bleach and power washers.  However, even with protective gear, it is difficult to keep the river crud at bay.  It splashes onto your face and other areas of exposed skin.  Some were forced to halt cleanup as sickness set in, diarrhea in full swing. 

“It will be a total gut job and renovation,” Bridges said.  “But it will reopen bigger, better and more sparkly than before.”  Such is the uplifting attitude and familiar refrain from many who are determined to thumb their nose at the rebellious Russian River in exchange for a slice of paradise. (more…)

Businesses Flooded

images of 2019 floodThe February 27th flood injured several businesses along the Russian River, including over four hundred commercial or industrial buildings countywide.  The Rio theater in Monte Rio (upper left photo) had seen this several times before, at least seven times since its construction in 1950, but not to worry.  Its iconic piece of Christo’s Running Fence rests high and dry across the theater’s ceiling.  The owner, like many hardy souls in the area, owns a sense of humor.  Last weekend he changed the marquee out front to read A River Runs Thru It.

God only knows how many times the Highland Dell Hotel in Monte Rio (upper right photo) has been inundated since its inception in 1910.  Records state nine such incidents have occurred, but there have been several times when rain gauges have been swept away or damaged beyond useful.  Its beautiful lobby, bar, and dining area are under three feet of water.  We wish Herb and Ingrid a quick recovery. (more…)

2019 Russian River Flood

photos of 2019 Russian River floodMajor flooding along the Russian River in Sonoma County on Wednesday, February 27, 2019 prompted mandatory evacuations and left two towns accessible only by boat (see aerial photo of Guerneville). The river crested at 45.4 feet, the sixth largest flood in the area since recording such events began in 1879. At 33 feet the river crept onto the peewee golf course in Guerneville (lower right photo) and the Mirabel trailer park in Forestville. No big deal. At 39 feet River Road began to close near Hacienda Bridge (lower left photo-rescue workers motor near bridge) and the Triple R Resort in Guerneville flooded.   Hmmmm.  

At 41.5 feet, True Value hardware, Napa Auto Parts and Stumptown Brewery along the strip between Guerneville and Rio Nido had already accumulated over a foot of water. (more…)

New Year’s Eve Flood, 2005

photos of 2006 floodThe New Year’s Eve flood of 2005 crested at 41.8′ at the pedestrian bridge in Guerneville (upper photo).  The abandoned amusement park (across highway 116 from the peewee golf course) renders new meaning to the term “water slide” (lower left photo).

At the Northwood Golf Course in Monte Rio, a sign warns visitors what will happen if they do not use the “proper” facility (lower right photo).  Perhaps a certain New Year’s Eve reveler should have taken this as an omen.  A visitor to the area, he had rented both a vehicle and a house to celebrate the incoming of 2006.  But heavy rains blocked Redwood Drive, which ran to the lower reaches of the course.  Wanting desperately to feel the warmth of his cabin after an arduous night of bar hopping, the man motored past the second tee box, around the restrooms and started down the cart path, cruising parallel to the fifth fairway. (more…)

Monte Rio, 1986 Flood

photos of 1986 flood In Monte Rio, the flood of February 18, 1986 reached 48.56 feet, inundating much of the town.  The upper photo depicts the old Highland Dell resort alongside private residences, taking on as much as eight feet of water.  In the lower left photo is pictured a classic. VW buses are great for a number of things—camping, hitchhiking, parking at inspiration point—but fording through water, not so much.  You wonder if the driver will get help, or even contemplate returning as the sign above suggests?

The torrent brought both sadness and humor to the scene. One story relates how the Pink Elephant saloon in Monte Rio kept its doors open despite the presence of three feet of muddy water. Patrons continued to play a game of pool while in their canoes. Others sipped whiskies, feet dangling from bar stools into the river as if it was just another day in paradise. (more…)

1986 Russian River Flood

images of 1986 Russian River floodwet El Nino swept in a series of tropical storms, beginning February 13, 1986 leading into a three-day weekend capped by Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day. Two years earlier, workers had completed Warm Springs Dam, which held back the flows of Dry Creek, and created Lake Sonoma. Officials said it spared downstream residents what would have been an additional five vertical feet of flooding. But some say that premature releases from the dam increased the water levels (upper left photo).

Evacuees were offered temporary shelter at the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Guerneville, though it was abandoned when water crept too close. The shelter was then moved to St. Hubert’s Hall off Armstrong Woods Road and then to a higher elevation, St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church. (more…)