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Prue’s last tour: A walk to remember

Friday, July 19th, 2013 | Posted by | 2 responses


By NICK WALDEN / Cotati Correspondent

Prue Draper led her last historic tour of downtown Cotati earlier this month, ending a long reign as Cotati’s historian of record. Now 82 and usually perched atop a motorized scooter, she decided it was time to call it a day.

But not before proving her mettle one last time.

The morning of July 13, Draper served as Grand Marshall for the Cotati Kids Day Parade, then had a scooter accident that required the help of paramedics to treat lacerations and bruises.

While other members of the Cotati Historical Society reviewed the script for her tour and discussed who would step in to lead the walk, Draper was telling the paramedics to finish quickly because she had “worked too hard over the past few months” to miss that day’s festivities.

After they finished and she was allowed to rejoin the festivities, there was another problem to solve: how she would lead the tour without her scooter, which was damaged in the accident.

Alan Allen, owner of Petaluma Pedal Cab, volunteered his services, and with Draper seated comfortably in the back of his rickshaw, she began her final historical tour of the town she and her late husband Lloyd adopted as their hometown in 1951.

The Drapers moved to Cotati that year and purchased The Cotatian. They helped lead the effort to incorporate the town 50 years ago, and Draper went on to manage a successful campaign to attract the Hewlett-Packard toRohnert Park.

She went on to work at that plant along with jobs at the Petaluma Argus-Courier, the Rohnert Park-Cotati Times and the Santa Rosa Press Democrat before retiring.

This year Draper was named “Woman of the Year” by Senator Lois Wolk for her long service to the community. In addition to serving on the Cotati Chamber of Commerce, Sonoma County Library Foundation and Cotati School District Advisory Committee, she and Lloyd took the lead in establishing the Cotati Historical Society in 2007.

Volunteers have led the historic downtown tour many times in past years, and it was filmed in 2009. Historical Society member Marie McNaughton transcribed that film, creating the script that was the basis for Draper’s final tour.

That afternoon, Draper left La Plaza Park in the pedicab, heading up Old Redwood Highway with participants trailing behind. As the tour moved up one side of the street and down the other,Draper peppered the tour script with her own colorful recollections.

When she arrived in the 1950s, for example, most of the men who owned businesses in Cotati also served as volunteer firefighters, Draper told her audience.

The chief owned a bar and a barber shop, so when the fire bell rang, everyone dropped what they were doing and ran straight to the fire house, even if a drink was half poured or a shave was half done.

Lloyd Draper was among the volunteers, so make it easier for him to leave the newspaper when the fire bell rang, Prue made him a rip-a-way printer’s apron.

Cotati City Council Member Wendy Skillman, who was filming the tour for the Historical Society, said she enjoyed the chance to learn more about her town, which once had a race track on its outskirts.

“It was neat to learn that wood from the tracks of the old speedway was used for the floor of the Redwood Café and in other buildings,” Skillman said.

Across from the fire department, Draper stopped at the new Athena statue, noting that the bronze plaque at its feet is fairly inaccurate, much to the chagrin of Historical Society members like Marie McNaughton.

No one knows the origin of Cotati’s distinctive hexagonal downtown hub, a question that has befuddled people for years, McNaughton among them.

“I’m getting closer,” she told the crowd, disclosing a new lead that has surfaced.

Other highlights of the tour:

The building now occupied by Ner Shalom was built by the Women’s Improvement Club and became the Cotati Cabaret when owners of the Inn of the Beginning looked for a new music venue.

Papa Murphy’s building was built to be a post office. “It was stolen to be part of Oliver’s Shopping Center,” Draper said, “not that I’m bitter about these things.”

The Korean Baptist Church almost was the scene of an accident. “I was young and kind of wacky, wackier than I am now,” said Draper. “I wanted a photo from the top of the spire, but nobody would go up with me.”

The building housing Sweet Pea Consignment has a tin exterior finish applied in the 1930s by Pringles, the original business that sold stoves.

The tour moved to West Cotati Avenue and the crowd dwindled somewhat, but Draper’s energy didn’t flag. She spent a full two hours talking about the little town she has loved and called home for so many years.


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Nick Walden is our Cotati and Penngrove correspondent.
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