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Old Santa Rosa; Railroad Square comes back to life with shops, restaurants, renovations.

Once a bustling hub of northern California commerce, Santa Rosa's Railroad Square district slipped into disrepair as newer modes of transportation eclipsed the iron horse. In recent years, however, things old-fashioned and out-of-date have helped spur a remarkable revival in the area.

Venerable buildings within this national historic district have been dusted off and carefully rehabilitated. A large number now house antique dealers. In others you'll find a brewery, restaurants, and specialty shops.

Modern forces-a new cafe and club-add flair to the area's resurgence.

A place to stay, food, entertainment, and antiques-within walking distance

The historic district is bounded roughly by Sixth Street on the north, Davis Street on the east, Third Street on the south, and Santa Rosa Creek on the west. At its heart, directly across Wilson Street from the old Northwestern Pacific depot and park, is the recently renovated Hotel La Rose. Built soon after the 1906 earthquake to accommodate railroad workers and passengers, it retains its period charm while providing modern amenities. With a new courtyard annex, it has 49 rooms; doubles are priced from $49 to $89. For reservations, call (707) 579-3200.

Hotel La Rose's new owners have also breathed life into the former Railway Express Agency building just north of the depot. It's now home to Hogan's Bar & Grill, which offers inexpensive breakfast and lunch fare daily

You'll find district maps and information at the new offices of the Sonoma County Convention & Visitors Bureau, south of the depot park in the old Western Hotel. These buildings around the park are solidly constructed of massive basalt blocks cut by local Italian stonemasons. The nearby pits where the blocks were quarried also supplied paving stones for San Francisco streets.

Another newcomer with roots in the past, the Xcelsior Brewery, 99 Sixth Street, inhabits a former flour mill. The small brewery processes the contents of its gleaming copper brew kettles just a few blocks from the site of the old Grace Brothers Brewery an important contributor to Santa Rosa's early development. Sonoma County, now best known for its wines, once had its flatland fields planted largely in hops. Open daily, the brewery has free tours hourly noon to 6.

Also attracting attention at the core of Railroad Square are some unabashedly trendy new businesses. At 115 Fourth Street the district's main avenue Polka Dots cafe is decked out in aqua and glossy black. Cheek by jowl with an antique dealer, it features local ingredients and wines for lunch and dinner (closed Sundays); (707) 575-9080. And on the corner of Fifth and Davis streets, the Daily Planet (578-1205) offers live comedy or dancing nightly.

Visitors reaching Railroad Square's western fringe will discover the spark of renovation igniting changes there. South of Sixth Street, cavernous 19th-century warehouses contain showrooms for antique and reproduction furniture.

A few blocks northwest, at Donahue and Decker streets, is a rare round barn used by an early vineyard owner when training racehorses. Current owners plan to convert the barn into townhouses, incorporating Santa Rosa's oldest house. Built in the 1850s, the house is on a platform in the lot next to the barn. To reach the house and barn from Railroad Square, go northwest on Wilson, turn left on Eighth Street and cross the tracks, then turn right on Donahue and walk two blocks to Decker.

How to find the square

Driving north on U.S. Highway 101, take the Downtown Santa Rosa exit; turn left on Third Street and pass under the highway. Go two blocks west to Wilson. Driving south on U.S. 101, the Downtown exit puts you directly on Davis. To reach Fourth, continue straight; to find Wilson, turn right.
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Sep 1, 1987
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