It was with great concern that I read in the newspaper that Sonora High School wants to lease or sell both the Sonora Dome and the Wildcat Ranch.
It seems to me that some people are quick to throw in the towel and want to sell pieces of our architectural and agricultural heritage for the financial need of the moment.
We have been through this before with many of our most cherished places and buildings. Our county was established in 1850 making it one of the oldest in the state. The towns, churches, buildings and many of the schools are old and worth saving.
In 1976 our beautiful administration building at Sonora High, was torn down because of the Field Act, which stated that the administration building was not earthquake safe. The Field Act is also the reason the Sonora Dome could no longer be an elementary school.
The administration building was of a similar style to the Dome. It was built in 1906 while the Dome was completed in 1909. Those of us who attended Sonora High School remember the beauty of our building, the lovely lawn and the magnolia trees. I don’t know if it could have been saved but we didn’t try and now we feel regret for the loss.
The county has a long history of fighting to preserve the treasures we hold dear. In 1945 the Columbia Progressive Club was established to save the town of Columbia. In July 1945, Governor Earl Warren declared Columbia a State Historic Park thus saving a whole town from destruction.
In 1960 the old Columbia school was saved with pennies sent in from all the elementary schools in our state.
In August 1978, the “Save St. Anne’s Committee” was formed to preserve the St. Anne’s Church in Columbia. This effort was spearheaded by Angela Brown who worked tirelessly and with great determination. The result of this effort was that on Dec. 24, 1980, the church held Christmas Eve services for the first time in years.
The Opera Hall was bought by the City of Sonora in 1986 and with the help of preservation grants and redevelopment funds it stands today a special symbol of what can be done to save our heritage.
We are a tourist county and Columbia and the above mentioned buildings attract tourists from all over the world. I have worked for years at the museum on Bradford Street and almost every time visitors come through our door their first question to me is, “What is the building on top of the hill.” They are talking about the Sonora Dome, which is a landmark in the county. These guests of Tuolumne County want to go in and see it but that isn’t possible, at least not yet.
In 1969 the powers that be wanted to tear the Dome down. Then in the 1980s they wanted to sell the Dome. It didn’t happen.
Bill Segerstrom in the 1969 ”Save the Dome” article for the Pony Express Magazine states that, “Sonora’s grammar school is an exact reproduction of the Library of Congress, only smaller, with a silver dome that glistens in the sun.”
There has been much interest through the years of ways to improve the Dome for lease. At the Carlo DeFerrari archives I found a copy of the ‘Historic Sonora Dome Feasibility Study,’ done in December 2002. In this study they have figured out how to solve the parking problem and make numerous suggestions as to what could be done to the building. Some of the suggestions are worth thinking about, such as small conference facility, musical productions, weddings, receptions, classes and executive office space.
So citizens of Tuolumne County, once more we are called on to save another building from another time. Please step forward and make your feelings known.
I can not speak about the Wildcat Ranch other that to say that it has never made any sense to me that we would spend over $6 million so the students could play water polo. I don’t believe that you can make a living playing water polo but you can and many in this county do make a living with their farms and cattle ranches.
Our county has existed with four major industries, mining, timber, agriculture and tourism. Two of these four are basically gone. All we have left is our agriculture and our tourism.
Kristine Childres, a genealogist, works at the Carlo M. De Ferrari Archives and the Tuolumne County Museum. She lives in Sonora.