Iconic river properties up for sale

For sale signs appearing on iconic Russian River real estate this spring may reflect the fading of an era when country life seemed more predictable and the pace of change was slower.

Berry’s Sawmill & Lumberyard, the economic centerpiece of Cazadero since World War II, is up for sale, with the Berry family asking $9 million for the 32-acre property at the corner of Cazadero Highway and Highway 116.   

Guerneville’s Community Church still holds Sunday services for a dozen or so of the faithful, but the 50-year-old church property is available for a mere $450,000 including a radio shack on two-plus acres next to Fife Creek on Armstrong Woods Road.

Across the Russian River, Guerneville’s Pee Wee Golf course, a town fixture amusing kids and families since the late 1940s, remains closed after the unexpected death last year of owner Thomas Glover Jr. The half-acre property, listed at $695,000 includes a roomy home upstairs, a game arcade downstairs and a backyard full of plaster monsters.

Why are all these familiar landmarks up for sale now? Maybe it’s just coincidence, but collectively they recall a time when longtime family businesses endured for generations as familiar landmarks and seemed like permanent fixtures on the landscape.

Husband and wife Bruce and Maureen Berry now run Berry’s mill and retail lumberyard that Bruce’s father, Loren Berry, first opened in Cazadero in 1941.

“The family wants to retire,” said one of the mill workers helping a customer in the lumberyard last week. “Bruce started work here when he was eight years old. Now he’s 65. There’s no new generation to take it over.”

With the Berrys looking at retirement, the mill may yet survive as a working sawmill under a new owner, with Cloverdale-based Redwood Empire Lumber reportedly interested in acquiring the property and keeping the mill open.

Is a working lumberyard easier to market than a small-town church?

“We have had no solid offers on the church property but a lot of interest,” said church spokeswoman Kit Mariah. “We continue to hope that someone will be interested who would allow the radio station, Empowerment Center, food pantry, and AA to continue as renters. The property serves so many people.”

Guerneville’s Community Church has been a dependable presence in town since it was established in the late 19th century. The circular beam-ceilinged cathedral on Armstrong Woods Road opened its doors in the mid-1960s when its congregation numbered more than a hundred. When the church celebrated its 123rd anniversary last month attendees included the Rev. Bob Jones, who served as the church pastor from 1966 to 1986.

“Fewer than 20 of us were there,” said Jones, in his “Keeping the Faith” column for Sonoma West.

Jones attributed the sparse turnout to the larger national downward trend in church attendance.

“When I started out as a pastor some 60 years ago, well over half the people in this country attended religious services weekly,” wrote Jones. “Every church I served was a viable congregation when I left it. Now every one of them is either defunct or down to a few members.”

Declining building usage diminished even further two years ago when a Sonoma County building inspector said the Community Church’s aging wooden entry bridge was no longer safe for vehicular traffic to get into the parking lot. Churchgoers now park out on Armstrong Woods Road and walk across the Fife Creek bridge to attend services or special events such as the annual Strawberry Festival scheduled this weekend.

“Great location, walking distance to downtown Guerneville,” says the Guerneville Berkshire Hathaway real estate listing for the church property.

“First time on the market, this property offers a host of potential uses,” says the listing being handled by Berkshire’s Debra Johnson. “Used for years and years as the communities place of worship, this property is truly one of a kind.”

One of a kind also describes Guerneville’s Pee Wee Golf & Arcade that had closed for the winter and will probably be so for the summer since owner Thomas Glover Jr. passed away unexpectedly last October at age 53. Glover bought the run down Pee Wee Golf almost 20 years ago and lovingly nurtured it back to glory as a piece of Guerneville’s history as a family resort destination.

When Glover acquired the business in 2001 he began restoring the site and elevating the main building above the floodplain. In appreciation of his restoration work the Russian River Chamber of Commerce in 2004 awarded him its annual Guerneville Beautification Award.

The golf course is historically one of the first places in Guerneville to go underwater during Russian River flooding, when rising waters surround Dino, the purple dinosaur who’s a favorite flood photo opportunity for visiting news media. Thanks to frequent flooding, Glover once told a reporter, the purple Pee Wee dinosaur “has been broadcast all over the world.”

Although it’s been closed for several years, another old river landmark now on the market is the 11-acre former J’s Amusements for sale on Neeley Road just across the highway from Pee Wee Golf.

The J’s Amusement site, “an icon of yesteryear,” is an oldie but goody, said listing agent Kyla Brooke.

Owners Michael and Tracie Skaggs closed the amusement park in 2004 but continued to offer tent camping under the trees where Pocket Canyon Creek flows through the woodsy property the Skaggs family has owned and lived on since the 1950s. Michael’s father, Jay Skaggs, opened the amusement park in the 1960s with a roller coaster, go-karts, bumper cars, Tilt-a-Whirl rides and a snack bar running every day in the summer.

J’s also hosted charitable community fundraising events that sometimes drew more than 1,000 people. The Russian River Rodeo set up there for a couple of years, bringing in more than 1,500 people a day.

Special events more recently occurred every summer including Lazy Bear Weekend when hundreds of burly guys come to the Russian River and carouse for several days. Participants in the annual Stumptown Brewery Beer Revival once filled up Camp Outback, as did Russian River Jazz and Blues festivals fans that pitched tents under the redwoods.

Camp Outback got into hot water four years ago when a movie production crew wanted to film some scenes on the old amusement park grounds. A county inspector OK’d the filming permit but told the Skaggs they would have to apply for a new use permit to continue the campground.

The permitting process remains “on hold,” according to the property listing. For now, the site is up for sale at $657,000.