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Petaluma was originally the name of a Miwok village east of the Petaluma River. A number of other Coast Miwok villages were also located in and around what is now Petaluma; Wotoki, immediately to the south of the village of Petaluma, on the opposite side of the river, Etem, Likatiut, and Tuchayalin, near downtown Petaluma, and Tulme and Susuli, just north of what are now the city limits of Petaluma.
Pioneered by the Spanish in 1776, the Petaluma area was part of a 66,000 acre (270-km²) Mexican land grant of 1844 by Governor Pío Pico to General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo called the ''Rancho Soscol''. In 1836, General Vallejo began construction of his Rancho Petaluma Adobe a ranch house in Petaluma, which his family often used as a summer home, while he resided in the neighboring town of Sonoma. Vallejo's influence and Mexican control in the region began to decline after Vallejo's arrest during the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846.
Pioneers flocked into Petaluma from the eastern United States after the discovery of gold in California in 1849. The town's position on the Petaluma River in the heart of productive farmland was critical to its growth during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Sailing scows, such as the scow schooner Alma (1892), and steamers plied the river between Petaluma and San Francisco, carrying agricultural produce and raw materials to the burgeoning city of San Francisco during the California Gold Rush.
Volpi's is an old speakeasy that now operates as a bar and restaurant. There were also brothels, one of which is now Old Chicago Pizza on Petaluma Boulevard North, which used to be the main thoroughfare until US Highway 101 was constructed in the 1950s.
Petaluma soon became known for its grain milling and chicken processing industries, which continue to the present as a smaller fraction of its commerce. At one time, Petaluma was known as the "Egg Capital of the World", sparking such nicknames as "Chickaluma". Petaluma hosted the only known Poultry drugstore and is the place where the egg incubator was invented by Lyman Byce in 1879.
In fact one of the largest historic chicken processing plants still stands in the central area of town; this 1930s brick building is no longer used for the chicken industry, but is being evaluated for preservation and change of use. Even though it is no longer known as the Egg Capital of the World, Petaluma maintains a strong agricultural base today with dairy farms, olive groves, vineyards, berry and vegetable farms. The city is proud to protect its Greenbelt of farmland.
According to the Army Museum at the Presidio, San Francisco, Petaluma was relatively unharmed during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake of April 18 1906, due to significant investment of stable bedrock underlying the region. As one of the few communities in the region left standing after the earthquake, Petaluma was the staging point for most Sonoma County rescue and relief efforts.
Petaluma is today the location of many distinguished, well-preserved pre-1906 buildings and Victorian homes on the western side of the river. The downtown has suffered many river floods over the years and during the Depression commerce declined. A lack of funds prevented the demolition of the old homes and buildings. In the 1960s there was a counter-culture migration out of San Francisco into Marin County and southern Sonoma County, looking for inexpensive housing in a less urban environment. The old Victorian, Queen Anne and Eastlake houses were dusty gems waiting to be discovered and restored. Historic iron-front buildings in the downtown commercial district were also rescued. Traffic and new home development for the most part was rerouted to the east of downtown by the construction of the U.S. Route 101 Freeway.
With its large stock of historic buildings, Petaluma has been used as the filming location for numerous movies set in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s. The historic McNear Building is a common film location.
...In the late 1990s, Petaluma was also known as Telecom Valley due to the telecom startup companies that seemed to multiply from one another, and offer great riches if you were lucky enough to be an early stockholder or employee. One success story was that of the employees of Advanced Fibre Communications (AFC) (now Tellabs), or Cerent, which was purchased by Cisco Systems. Some Cerent employees went on to purchase the Phoenix Theater, a local entertainment venue, which was once an opera house.