We are all grateful to Calvin Simons for capturing the history of SRCC in a series of essays.
Early Days of SRCC
Every enterprise begins with an idea someone would like to accomplish.
In 1972 Susan and I had been following with some personal interest the communes that had been springing up around the country in the ‘60s. That year I was 46 years old, close to 1/2 of my age today. Susan and I started to think about what it would be like living in a community, and we talked about it with people we knew. Then we started holding meetings at our home with those who seemed to be interested. But we found that people were not returning to a second meeting, and it looked as though we would not be able to form a group to work on this idea.
We heard about a group that was already meeting, which included two couples in Santa Rosa. They put us in touch with Red Stephenson, who lived in Berkeley and was president of "The Earth Quakers.” This group got together once a month over a weekend to get acquainted and plan for the future. They invited us to meet with them in October 1973. We joined this group officially in May 1974.
Several members of the Earth Quakers found 400 acres east of Santa Rosa, bought it, and called the place Monan's Rill. This increased our desire, but because Susan and I were both working, we wanted to have our housing in Santa Rosa. By 1975 Red Stephenson was living in Santa Rosa and was working as a realtor. In 1977 he showed us the property at 883 Sonoma Avenue in Santa Rosa. Eight families interested in the property ponied up $5,000 each to buy it. We incorporated in the name of Santa Rosa Creek Cooperative and began meeting every other week to plan our community. In 1978 the property at 901 Sonoma Avenue came on the market, and we purchased it as well.
We developed plans for the project, but financing was very difficult. No bank or savings and loan was comfortable lending to a motley group of cooperators. Then we found the National Consumer Cooperative Bank had been formed, and we were able to get funding from them and the State of California in 1981.
Construction took until mid-1982, and we were able to move in in July of that year.
From idea to realization took ten years from 1972 to 1982, and Susan was with it all the way. There is no way she cannot be considered a co-founder of Santa Rosa Creek Commons.
A video of the Rose ceremony where this was first was presented is in the Northeast corner of the Laundry Lounge.
March 15, 2020
How Santa Rosa Creek Commons Obtained Financing
The major factor that took the Co-op so long to be built was the financing. It took over two years before we were able to finalize the sources of the funds to begin the construction of the buildings. Sometime in early 1979, we first approached Exchange Bank, where we had our checking account, and other local banks to ask for a loan. We were turned down every time.
On May 19, 1979 we were contacted by Lloyd Frimmersdof, who was on the Board of the Council on Aging. He told us he could obtain a loan for us from HUD; he asked for a retainer of $1,000. I went with him to Crocker Bank in San Francisco, where they promised us a construction loan to build the project if we had a promise of a take-out loan. We did not have one.
Frimmersdof said he could get the mortgage we needed from HUD through an attorney he knew. But it turned out this attorney had retired. So when we went to HUD in San Francisco, we were told there were no funds we could apply for. Then we lost Mr. Frimmersdorf—he went to jail for fraud against the Council on aging. Goodbye to our $1,000.
We heard about Al Bonnett in Oakland, who told us about a new state law that covered Co-ops that agreed to limited equity increases over time. He also knew about the formation of the National Consumer Cooperative Bank in Washington D.C. Congress had formed the NCCB in 1978 under President Carter and funded it with a $300,000,000 loan. However, when President Reagan took office in January 1979, he wanted to take back the money. The president of the bank, Carol Grunwald, transferred the money into another bank that the government did not have access to, which made money available to borrow. Al Bonnett and I went to the NNB western office in Alameda with our plans, and we were delighted to hear them say YES! They did want us to get another lender that would fund low-income housing. Al Bonnett had the answer for that too.
He told us about a program at the State of California Department of Housing and Community Development called the Rental Housing Constriction Program which was loaning money to build multiple units for low income persons. We went to Sacrament to o present our program. They agreed to build to build ten apartments for the project which would be to provide housing for ten low income families. These units would be affordable because the coop members living in them would only be required to pay 25% of their income in carrying charges. Their membership share would also be affordable based on the size of the unit. The State also gave us $5,000 from which we could loan to families not able to pay the fixed down payment. In March 1981 both organizations committed to the project. The State of California and NCCB agreed to provide the money for construction.
In August 1981 the State of California Rental Housing Construction Program committed $457,000 to the Coop at no interest for 30 years. That year mortgage interest rates were 16%. NCCB agreed to loan us $518,000 upon completion of the project. $240,000 of this would start at an interest rate of 1% the first year increasing each year until 1989 from a special loan fund the bank had for low income coops/ The balance would cost 12/75% for the first five years.
At last we had the financing that we needed to sign the contract with Todd Construction to start building in January 1982.
May 7, 2020
About Our Buildings
I wish I could tell you when the building at 883 Sonoma Ave. was built and by whom. I do know that on 2/14/1989 a map was filed in the office of the County Reorder of Sonoma County at the request of C. C. Farmer, executor of the estate of E. J. Farmer, deceased. The map added the Sonoma Avenue District known as the Farmers addition to the city of Santa Rosa.. The property at 883 is in the Sonoma Avenue District. Could the house have been in existence then? It would be interesting to see if that could be proven.
Many years ago a man came to visit 883 Sonoma Ave. with his son. He said he wanted his boy to see the property because his grandfather had lived there. He showed me a picture of the house at that time. The house had a porch that surrounded it; only the back porch remains. The man's grandfather was the head groundskeeper at U. C. Berkeley campus and when the Life Sciences Building was being built, he brought the trees from there and planted them on our floodplain. That is why we have such a variety. It would be a great project to identify all the trees and mark them with their names.
We purchased the first property in 1977 from an investor who lived in Sebastopol. The property went all the way back to Santa Rosa Creek behind the house at 883 Sonoma Ave. and included the land behind the middle house back to the creek. When we took possession, the fireplace had collapsed during the earthquake in 1966. We removed the fireplace and rebuilt the wall. The house had been rented to the YWCA, which used the building as a woman’s shelter. We terminated the lease with the YWCA, and members of our group occupied it.
Behind the main house several other structures had been built. There was a spacious barn behind the building which we used for our meetings and shared meals. Halfway down the driveway was a one-bedroom house located where the west side of our Building Three now stands. On the left side of the driveway was a very small one-room cottage. Where our Building One stands there was a duplex consisting of two smaller one-bedroom units with a carport between them. These units we rented out providing us with enough income from the property to make our mortgage payments and maintenance costs.
In the summer of 1981 we needed to clear the property of all the structures behind 883. We contracted with a non-profit organization, Circuit Rider Productions, to dismantle the garage and the smaller one-room cottage. They used the materials for constructing a building on their property in Windsor.
We contracted with Coker/DeSilva architects to move the one-bedroom house and the duplex to vacant lots they purchased in the Burbank neighborhood where they continue to be occupied. The duplex was divided into separate units before they could be moved. The one-bedroom house just barely squeezed between the house at 883 and the building on the middle lot as it was moved down our driveway. The architects also removed vegetation and trees from the sites where our buildings were to be located.
In 1988 we purchased the house at 901 Sonoma Ave. There were no other structures on this lot which went all the way to the creek. This house was listed as an historical site. It had been built and occupied by Ole Opland in 1904. The house had been listed as a single unit when in fact it had been remodeled before we bought into two one-bedroom units. We rented them to members.
May 20, 2020
The Quaker Connection
There can be no history of a housing coop without recognizing the people who helped make it happen. Especially the Quakers. Since SRCC is a direct descendant of a group called Earth Quakers, I will start with that group. Earth Quakers was started by Quakers living in Berkeley. Since the group’s interest was to create housing communities, it attracted several non-Quakers. By the time non-Quaker Susan and I joined them, I believe the non-Quakers were the greater number.
Susan and I felt very comfortable with Quakers. When we had lived in Whittier, California years earlier, we had sent our children to a private Quaker school because we had felt good about what they would be taught. We were immediately impressed with "Red" Stephenson who was President of Earth Quakers. He had been a conscientious objector during World War II but was hired by the American Friends Service Corps to perform relief work in France at the end of the war. Among those doing relief work was Madeleine Yaude, who became Red's wife on September 20, 1947 in France. Their largely "romance by correspondence" was written by Madeline and published after her death: "Journey of the Wild Geese."
In the years prior to SRCC occupancy there was considerable communication among people employed by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), particularly among those who were about to retire. Some had even moved to Santa Rosa within the year prior to occupancy. Among these were Virginia Heck, who moved to Santa Rosa about a year ahead; like Susan and me, she was a member of the Earth Quaker group. Her sister Helen Perkins retired from a secretarial job at AFSC in mid-1961 and rented the house at 883 Sonoma Avenue; she served as the first Secretary to the Board of Directors for many years.
Hortense McIver and Alberta Lundgren had cousins who were retired in other communities, but they moved to Santa Rosa just in time to become original members. It turned out that Helen Perkins was a great communicator among both her family and AFSC members. Helen's correspondence with members of the American Friends Service Committee drew a recently retired couple from Southern California to occupy one unit. Another had attracted Edwin Duckles and his wife Jean from Mexico City. He had just retired as the Director of the American Friends Service Committee for their Mexico program. The Duckles and their furniture arrived two days before the City gave PG&E permission to start the electricity and gas service, so upon arrival they moved in and camped. The front of the house at 883 was occupied by two members of the local Quaker meeting.
In July 1982 when the first residents settled into Santa Rosa Creek Commons, only seven units were occupied by Quakers. We established an arrangement with the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Rosa to refer qualified families for the ten units that were part of the arrangement we had with the State of California.
Some of the units were filled by a few of us who had become members of Earth Quakers during the planning and development of the project. Besides Susan and me, this category included Ruth Allen; Gail McCoy who had recently come to Santa Rosa from Alaska; and James and Lucy Forest, who were very helpful to us as we completed the move-in. The Forests had previously lived in a Housing Coop in San Francisco for which James had been working as their manager. However, James and Lucy did not immediately move into their unit because he had become live-in manager of a low-income housing project in Santa Rosa, and he could not leave until he was replaced. They sublet their unit to a woman from the City of Santa Rosa Housing Authority who had worked with us.
Two units were filled with friends of ours, including a former neighbor from our Whittier days.
The last unit was sold to Marianne Wood, who walked in off the street during the construction.
June 25, 2020