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Seeing red over Sonoma shop's pink door

By Jeremy Hay, The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Feb. 16--Unquestionably, Grandma Linda's Ice Cream's pink-painted door is the most pink thing on Sonoma's beloved Plaza. Elsewhere on the historic square, the closest thing to it is a small, glossy pink sign in a jeweler's window down the block, though some bright reds and dark purple hues show up here and there on other shops' window frames or doors.

"The kids, they love it," said Jason Salazar, who on Thursday afternoon was opening the First Street East ice cream store. "The little girls go, 'Ooh, it's pink.'"

But the pink is like red to a bull for a group of people appealing the Sonoma design commission's approval of the paint job, which, including the door, covers perhaps 25 square feet of the shop's exterior.

"I've lived in the town for a long time, and you don't do that," said Donna Lewis, a Sonoma resident who owns a Victorian bed and breakfast.

The ice cream shop is in the Renaissance Revival-style Pinelli Building, completed in 1890 and built of blocks of basalt stone often referred to as plum stone because of its color, according to the state's historic resources inventory.

"This is a historic building, it's only a few feet from the mission, and here these people come in and they start painting it pink," Lewis said. "People will go there anyway, they don't need that."

Dawn Marmaduke, who owns the store with her husband, Troy, said that as second-generation Sonoma residents, they value the square's historic nature. But uniformity is a poor goal, she said.

"There are really a lot of things going on in the plaza and it would be a shame to be cookie-cutter," she said.

Pink, in itself, is not the problem, said Johanna Patri. "We think they needed to do some research on historic colors. There are some really lovely pinks that have been historically used that are softer, look-like-they've been-there-forever type of colors."

Patri is one of 12 residents making the appeal, which asserts that the design commission did not follow its own guidelines and approved a paint job that violates the historic and aesthetic values of the Plaza.

In a town as cognizant and proud of its long history as Sonoma is -- last year the Design Review Commission was renamed the Design Review and Historic Preservation Commission -- that is considered a grave misstep.

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"Those of us who are really concerned about preservation, we're like watchdogs; we just take a look at things and we respond to them," said Loyce Haran, a member of the Sonoma League for Historic Preservation. The influential league did not press the appeal, but many of its signers are members.

The Marmadukes, who ran the store as a Ben & Jerry's franchise until October, when they struck out on their own, said they worked hard with the commission to find a color scheme that worked for everyone concerned.

"We went through everything and went back and forth to come up with something that works for the business and for the historic building," said Dawn Marmaduke.

They imagined, she said, that the townspeople would be pleased that the Ben & Jerry's and its nationwide presence was being replaced by an individual, local presence.

"We thought that we would be applauded for getting the franchise off the plaza, but it seems like the same people who didn't like our franchise don't like our colors," said Marmaduke, who is a Sonoma insurance broker. Her husband is a manager at a Novato gourmet market.

The couple have posted a letter in their shop window explaining that the paint color they chose (cerise delight) was the favorite of Troy Marmaduke's mother, whose memory they plan to celebrate with special displays devoted to grandmothers. They also ask residents for support at the City Council, which will hear the appeal on March 3.

"We definitely understand and appreciate Sonoma and the history and we only want to make it better. And I don't think the color of our door has hurt anything at all," Marmaduke said.

One thing the Marmadukes and those who oppose their paint can agree on: ice cream is good.

"We love ice cream stores, we want them to be there, we loved Ben and Jerry, we love these people," said Patri, a past president of historic preservation league. "We want to retain the historic integrity of the plaza and that's the only thrust of our appeal."

(You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.)

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(c)2014 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)

Visit The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.) at www.pressdemocrat.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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