Petaluma: Hollywood North

By Bob Canning

Most visitors to Petaluma come with a somewhat Googlefied knowledge of the Sonoma County area in which Rancho Obi-Wan is located. But did you know…?

For the first time, Napa Valley now rates second among U.S. wine destinations after Sonoma County, according to TripAdvisor.com’s 2012 Travelers’ Choice Wine Destinations Awards. In 2014, Sunset Magazine’s “Napa vs. Sonoma Face-Off,” Sonoma County also overtook Napa as the most popular wine-producing region in Northern California. Petaluma, one might say, is sippin’ pretty! (And P.S.: Rancho Obi-Wan is now TripAdvisor.com’s #1 of 12 attractions in Petaluma, with votes from visitors as far away as Norway!)

From 1918 to shortly after WWII, Petaluma was known as the Egg Basket of the World, producing more chickens and eggs than anywhere else in the country. Petaluma celebrates that history with the annual Butter & Egg Days Parade which attracts some 30,000 visitors. In April 2014 Rancho Obi-Wan made its first appearance in the Parade with a little help from its friends: Stormtroopers from the Golden Gate Garrison of the 501st Legion. It was by far the most popular – and most photographed — entry in the Parade!

The Butter & Egg Days Parade route passes many locations used in several Hollywood movies. Arguably, the most famous is George Lucas’ AMERICAN GRAFFITI. In 1973 Petaluma Blvd. was used for the movie’s nighttime cruising scenes, and the parking lot next door to McNear’s Restaurant and the Mystic Theatre is (in)famous for the sequence in which the teenagers yank the axle out of the police car.

And we have to wonder what Mr. Lucas has against police cars because before Water Street was renovated, a police car in his 1983 film, HOWARD THE DUCK, zooms down Western Avenue, crosses Water Street, and splashes down and sinks into the Petaluma River. The exact site is the plaza on Petaluma Blvd. North, between Tutto Amiamo Galleria, a jewelry design center (Number 100), and Central Market Restaurant (Number 42).

Speaking of the Central Market, before it became the popular restaurant it is today, it was a ladies apparel shop in PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED (1985). But when the titular character faints at her high school reunion, she dreams she is back in 1960, so when Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) enters the store she asks for pantyhose. “I’m sorry. What?” replies the confused saleslady (it would be a few years before pantyhose would become popular). At 120 Petaluma Blvd. is Bluestone Main Furniture, but in the movie, it serves as Peggy Sue’s father’s appliance store.

In the scene pictured above, actors Kathleen Turner and Matt Lattanzi, cross the intersection of Western Ave. and Kentucky St. Since then Carithers Department Store became Couches, Etc., but the building is presently vacant. Peggy Sue’s family home is the large white Victorian house at 226 Liberty Street. It’s in the driveway where Peggy Sue hilariously squeals to her dad, “You bought an Edsel!”

In 1992’s BASIC INSTINCT, Michael Douglas follows Sharon Stone on a harrowing car chase along rural Western Avenue, just two blocks from Rancho Obi-Wan. Stone enters her aunt’s home at 26 Liberty Street (below right) and Douglas parks across the street in front of St. Vincent DePaul R.C. Church (we ROWers nicknamed the church “Our Lady of Basic Instinct”). He waits until nightfall, and follows her again, but she loses him when she makes a sudden illegal right-hand turn at Western Ave. and Petaluma Blvd.

In HEROES, Petaluma became Sedalia, Missouri, and the old Petaluma bus depot at 40 4th Street (now The Mail Depot) served as the Sedalia bus depot. In the 1977 film, Henry Winkler portrays a Vietnam War vet, Sally Fields plays his love interest, and in a featured role is STAR WARS star Harrison Ford. Winkler’s character suffers from war-related hallucinations, and he imagines dodging gunfire and explosions as dozens of armed Vietcong soldiers and tanks chase him down Kentucky Street. On the day of every Butter & Egg Days Parade, this street is crowded with parents and their chick-costumed babies and toddlers vying for prizes in the Cutest Chick Contest.

Scenes for many other films were shot in and around Petaluma. A short list follows.

CUJO (1983) with Dee Wallace; EXPLORERS (1985) with River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke; Ron Howard’s INVENTING THE ABBOTTS (1992) starring Liv Tyler and Jacquin Phoenix; the 1997 remakes, FLUBBER with Robin Williams, and LOLITA with Jeremy Irons and Melanie Griffith; and TRUE CRIME (1999) with Clint Eastwood.