Historic, long-abandoned Tunstall House in Petaluma burns down

One of Petaluma’s oldest homes was destroyed by a fire early Monday morning, reduced to a pile of smoldering debris at the vacant Cedar Grove property on the north side of town.

By the time the Petaluma Fire Department responded to a call at 4:54 a.m., the historic home was already engulfed in flames and parts of the building had already collapsed, according to a fire department news release. by Petaluma.

And site access issues, exacerbated by scheduled maintenance work on a former crossing for Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, forced firefighters to deploy hoses to a neighbor’s yard along Rocca Drive, according to the statement.

The structure was a total loss, with damage estimated at $100,000, the statement said. The cause of the fire, which forced delays to the SMART train schedule on Monday morning, is still under investigation.

The historic house, which was built in 1870 by some of the area’s first European game hunters, has in recent years become a refuge for homeless residents, sparking disputes with neighbors in the area.

In 2021, police responded to more than 70 calls from residents about disturbances, according to data obtained through a public records request. In interviews last year, neighbors voiced complaints ranging from fires to verbal disturbances to prowlers peering out the windows of at least one neighboring house.

The more than 20 acres of now-abandoned Cedar Grove property, including the so-called Tunstall House, changed hands several times over its century of existence, Petaluma historian Skip Sommers reported.

And it’s had as many uses – and potential uses – as it has owners. At one time it was a resort town accommodating up to 3,000 people a day on property that one owner considered “one of the finest and most attractive parks in the county”.

There have been numerous failed attempts to build housing estates, including most recently by Petalumans John Barella and Andrea Barella, who purchased the property from a bankrupt San Francisco developer in 2010.

And when SMART took control of the train tracks, shutting down regular access to the site, it complicated not only development efforts, but also police’s ability to regularly patrol the problem area, police said and neighbors.

*This story will be updated.

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