Russian River Flood History

photos of Russian River floods       The following are the top ten recorded floods of the Russian River:   (1) 48.8’ – 2/18/1986; (2) 48.0’ – 1/10/1995; (3)  47.6’ – 12/23/1955; (4) 47.4’ – 12/23/1964; (5) 46.9’ – 2/28/1940; (6) 45.38’ – 2/27/2019; (7) 45.0’ – 1/1/1997; (8) 42.5’ – 1/5/1966; (9) 42.1’ – 2/18/1879; (10) 41.8’ – 1/1/2006.
       The upper photo shows #9 worst flood.  It was in 1879, Guerneville, with the very first recording of flooding along the lower reaches of the Russian River.  Damage was widespread.  The tracks of the San Francisco & Northern Pacific Railroad dropped into the stream just east of Rio Nido. The boilers and engines at the Korbel sawmill were likewise under water.  Some eighteen homes in Guerneville were either afloat or off their foundations.  Two homes were washed away.  Part of Guerne Mill fell into Fife Creek (near today’s Saefway parking lot). (more…)

North Pacific Coast R.R.

image of trains to Russian RiverThe North Pacific Coast R.R. ran from Sausalito to Cazadero via west Marin. Operated under different owners from 1877 to 1935 the line carried redwood to San Francisco and returned with weekenders who were anxious to party. From Freestone to Occidental, there was a dramatic horseshoe bend that allowed front and back passengers to gaze at each other before crossing the monstrous Browns Canyon Trestle, which at the time was the largest man-made structure west of the Mississippi. The broad gauge and narrow gauge met in Monte Rio before running down present day Moscow Road and crossing the Russian River at Duncans Mills. Nine years later the line was extended to Cazadero at the behest of the town’s founder, Silas Ingram. Much of the redwood lumber was used to help rebuild San Francisco and Santa Rosa after the 1906 earthquake.  It is also said that redwood pilings from the mills were used as foundation for the Bay Bridge.  (more…)

Benny Barth, musician and local treasure

image of Benny Barth/ width=Benny Barth, musician and local treasure, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1929, becoming a song-and-dance man by the age of four.  He took up the trumpet but soon left it behind when he noticed that the girls liked him better as a drummer.  Benny received a music scholarship to Butler University where he played the best black jazz clubs in the city. To this day, he is the only white member of the Bebop Society of Indianapolis.  When the group met at Benny’s house, they would gather in a circle with their arms around each other, each scatting two choruses of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Hooly Koo”.  In this segregated city, neighbors would prance by, shielding children from the sinful sight.

He became part of the Mastersounds that were signed by World Pacific Records in the late fifties. They were hot, playing at the Blue Note in Chicago as well as the original Birdland in New York.  These boys had hit the national scene. (more…)

Sam Sirdofsky

image of Sam SirdofskySam Sirdofsky is eighty-four years old and still defying gravity.  She is flying high, working hard at her craft while displaying her talents at several different locations including the Russian River Art Gallery in Guerneville along the Russian River.  Sam was born in Berkeley and holds a BA and an MA in visual arts and art history from the California College of the Arts and the San Francisco Academy of Art.  A long career in illustration placed her work in major periodicals, animated commercials and fun projects such as rock posters (The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, The Black Keys) and children’s books. 

Sam Sirdofsky’s giclee at the far left recently sold for $40k and is typical of her whimsical spirit.  Her warmth and humor is visible in her work, translating into some great fun.   The Russian River Valley is blessed with so many wonderful artists.  Check Sam out at the R.R. Art Gallery.


Guerneville Inn

While researching for my next novel, Don’t Stop the Music, I came across this little nugget.  The photo is a mock-up of the 1967 Guerneville Inn, which rested where the parking lot is today near the Coffee Bazaar.  The devil was indeed at work here.  According to a local old timer (let’s call him Preacher), the restaurant served Italian faire and was renowned for “cutting” corners, literally.  One day the owner and his buddy went on a late night hunt.  They soon returned with a cow they had shot near a rancher’s fence line. The beast was butchered and sold to make ends meat.  The Preacher says that the Guerneville Inn served the best beef Parmesan on the Russian River.

On another occasion, a husband comes in and spies his wife accepting a drink from a stranger.  An argument ensued between the husband and stranger.  The wife tries to calm the pair, saying there was plenty of her to go around.  (more…)

The Historic Louvre Saloon in Guerneville

louvre-saloon-canvaThe historic Louvre Saloon in Guerneville along the Russian River was once the most popular watering hole in the area.  Located on the northwest corner of Main Street and Armstrong Woods Road, it served the best spirits from the 1880’s into the 1960’s.  The building still stands, having housed the Russian River Video store for twenty-five years and presently the Community First Credit Union.

The Guerneville & Russian River R.R. Line (an addition to the San Francisco & North Pacific R.R.) used to transport passengers to the Louvre Saloon’s front steps from the ferry building in Sausalito.  An outdoor beer garden (circa 1920’s) was located across the street while inside there was a card room in the rear with rumors of one-arm bandits stationed nearby to relieve you of your money.   In more recent times, boxing great Carl Bubba Olsen used to receive free libations in exchange for the saloon using his name for promotional reasons. (more…)

The Hideaway saloon in west Sonoma County

Images of The HideawayThe Hideaway saloon in west Sonoma County sits on the same site as the 1870 Montesano Station, which served as a depot for the Guerneville & Russian River R.R. line.  The structure burned down in 1920 but not before witnessing the grand ol’ days of the lumber  industry. The present building was built on the original foundation, perhaps explaining why until recently not a square or plumb inch could be found.  For decades the roofline and windows were cockeyed, which seemed a good fit for the eclectic bunch of characters who frequented the joint.   At one time there were several cabins out back for rent while the main lodge served as inn and local watering hole.  Historical legend states that the upstairs housed a six-room brothel back in the day, all the while playing host to a number of supernatural guests.  Former employees testify that they have had numerous encounters of the prankster kind with Evelyn Ripkin, a deceased owner from the Depression era. (more…)

The City/River Rock ‘n’ Roll Hookup

image of sixties rock bandsThe sixties and seventies epitomized a City/River Rock ‘n’ Roll hookup.  Several bands lived within a six-block radius of each other in the Haight Ashbury District of San Francisco during the Summer of Love (1967).  In fact, there were over 500 musical groups in the City at the time, many of them playing at the Avalon Ballroom, the Fillmore Auditorium, Winterland, and the Straight Theater.  That same year, the Monterey Pop Festival helped to  catapulted at least four northern California ensembles  to stardom. The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin), Moby Grape and Quicksilver Messenger Service all vaulted to the top of the psychedelic acid heap, soon venturing north to the Russian River to showcase their infusion of Indian, jazz, folk and blues.

The Rio Nido Dance Hall and the River Theater in Guerneville were but a few of the venues where these musicians strutted their stuff in Sonoma County. (more…)

Stumptown Daze Parade

Image of Stumptown Daze-the novel & book-canvaThe Stumptown Daze parade this last Saturday in Guerneville was a hoot.  I never get tired of this small town tradition.  All that was the lower Russian River was represented.  You had mounted honor guard, rodeo queens, antique fire trucks, politicians, the El Molino H.S. Marching Band, erotic clowns, classic cars and so much more.   One of my personal favorites was a gray-haired musical group that belted out some nifty dixie and jazz tunes. Never too old to swing.   There was also a ragtag group of folks who live on the edge out here along the River.   They festooned themselves with a mishmash of colorful hats, striped capes, and wide grins.  As my grandfather once said, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.”  Everyone was welcomed to participate and why not. (more…)

Korbel Champagne Cellars

Image of Korbel_Champagne bottleImage of T.V. series poster-Combat!Korbel Champagne Cellars was bought in 1954 by Adolf Heck.  The previous four years he had been president of Italian Swiss Colony Winery. Under Heck’s leadership, Swiss Colony developed one of the most successful marketing campaigns in the history of spirits, using “the little old winemaker, me” tagline for its advertisements. After four years at the helm, Heck had transformed Swiss Colony into the largest American winery before moving over to Korbel.  There he continued his winning ways, thinking of creative promotional stunts for the bubbly. One such venture served dual purposes when he hooked up with the producers of the 1962 T.V. series, Combat!, starring Vic Marrow. (more…)