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From eyesore to attraction

Sunday, January 29th, 2012 | Posted by

Nick Catelli, left, and Kent England pose on the empty lot. (Beth Schlanker / Press Democrat)

By DEBORAH MITCHEL SERVAL / Geyserville Correspondent

Kent England had a thriving international landscape design business based in Silicon Valley but always knew he wanted to live in Sonoma County. So up he and Joanna came, driving every street, alley and country road from Calistoga to Petaluma for three months before locating their new home in Geyserville. They’ve been residents since September, just long enough to get involved.

England and Nick Catelli, co-owner of Catelli’s Restaurant, are creating a community park on the corner of Geyserville Ave.and Highway 128. Once a corner gas station, this empty lot has been nothing more than an eyesore for more than two decades.

Why Geyserville?

Moving to Sonoma County was something I had dreamed about for the past 20 years but had never considered, due to a growing business in Silicon Valley and the greater Bay Area. As the company grew, I became more tied down.

The projects and success were terrific, but then something happened. Joanna and I wanted to stop putting off what we personally wanted. After months of taking a close look at where we wanted to be, Geyserville was our first choice.

How did you get into landscape architecture?

I have been designing and building for nearly 40 years, a journey that was driven by my passion for all things beautiful, handcrafted and old.

I was lucky to grow up in Santa Barbara. While attending college and the first years to follow, I had my own company that installed and maintained aquariums and ponds. This grew into a successful business. As our pond and water features became more elaborate, clients asked if I could design the garden surrounding them.

Soon I was designing structures and interiors to go with the other services we provided. Large estates, commercial sites and ranch properties eventually were added to our list of projects.

How and why did the community park project come to be?

I was out in my front garden watering a dogwood tree I had just planted and noticed a parent doing some work on the elementary school plantings across the street. I walked over and struck up a conversation with Mike, and we ended up talking about the need for community help with all sorts of other projects.

In the weeks that followed, Mike brought up the idea of doing something with the empty lot at the downtown corner. He told me that Nick at Catelli’s restaurant had approached the property owners about using the space until it was sold for development.

I met Mike at the site, and he shared the idea of putting in some trees and a few benches for people to sit. We walked across the street to meet Nick at the restaurant. After a short conversation, I offered to do the design.

This is a perfect example of why I love it here. People engage with each other about things that are important, and after a few short conversations, rally around an idea and then make it happen.

Derek and Patricia Anderson and Jim Miller own the corner lot. After the conceptual design was completed, they allowed us to move forward. None of this would have happened without their generosity in leasing the land to the Catellis.

If the land is sold, what happens to the park?

Part of our agreement with the owners is to be responsive if the land is sold, removing the site improvements whenever necessary. The project has been designed for complete mobility. It really is just a garden with no hardscape or permanent features.

We would move all of the artwork, informational signs, some plant material and trees, benches and rock-work to a new location to continue sharing the educational and historical message.

What is your time frame?

We have finished the conceptual designs and are now refining the ideas into working drawings and plan details, and plan to be done with that stage by the end of January. Actual construction time will be driven by weather, availability of volunteer efforts and the art fabrication. Our forecast would be 90 to 120 days for construction.

How do you see the new park augmenting the look of Geyserville?

As Geyserville grows in the future, it needs to continue to expand with projects that are sophisticated and tasteful. The big challenge is to maintain the historic relevance and local flavor that makes Geyserville so special.

The other challenge is to develop the downtown area with a mixed profile of great businesses that encourage long visits, not just to the wineries and tastings rooms during the busy season, but year round to a vibrant and historically important downtown area.

This will draw people from across the country because of its uniqueness, excellence and diversity. But for this to happen, the downtown area must provide a destination that people can spend time in. This park can be one of those elements.

The design presents three very important elements of the area — the Russian River, with the conservation of the environment that embraces it; Geyserville’s location, the gateway to the local wine valleys; and the local history, from the geysers themselves to other local traditions.

We look for the project to blend seamlessly into the existing architecture and historical presence that makes this sweet little town so special.

It is a very visible property in a prominent location that needs to have something terrific. When downtown Geyserville is busy, it is really busy. People are everywhere, shopping, wine tasting and eating. As they stop to have a cup of coffee, or are waiting for a table for dinner, they need to have more places to stop, relax, stroll or sit. The park will provide that.

But even more important, as Geyserville grows, it needs to do so in a way that is sensitive to the history and “sense of place” that makes it so special. This garden will be a place to learn about the community, local history and the beauty that abounds in this area.

All of this while strolling or sitting in a sanctuary of beautiful plantings and trees, artwork and elements of the Russian River. This will be a place you can continue to learn and enjoy, even after several visits.

What do you need from Geyserville to make it come to life?

We have already received so much great feedback. People want to help by donating money, time and materials. It has been absolutely wonderful.

There is a wish list for labor and materials on our newly developed website, geyservilleprojects.com, an opportunity for everyone to be a part of making this park happen.

This project will be very successful for one simple reason, the community of Geyserville is unbelievable. Their high level of excitement and support, their willingness to give and their commitment to each other are very special.

Everyone is helping, providing organizational support, labor, materials, transportation, storage facilities and heavy equipment. And don’t forget the food, warmth and kindness.

Find out more about the park at geyservilleprojects.com.


  • TS

    It will be great. Let us know if you need paint Nick.

    Ted and Sandy Elliott

  • Constance Newton

    Thank you Nick foe spearheading this.

  • http://thenorrisgroup.biz Vickie

    Once again the Geyserville community comes together is an awesome way. It’s a really wonderful project.

  • http://www.mercurywine.com Gee Bee

    It’s a great idea that benefits everyone. Go Geyserville!

  • Life Long

    CRAP !!!
    Once again- A NEW-BIE comes to town— and thinks it needs to be changed!!
    If it was so great to move here- why not leave it the way it is??
    Why not make it into a parking lot for the other “guests’ that take over town???
    Been here ALL OF MY LIFE…. Can’t even get to my own driveway without manuvering around illegal parked vehicles on PRIVATE PROPERTY!

    • Deborah

      What would like seen done with that corner property?

      • Life Long

        I don’t mean to be so negative… BUT

        A Parking Lot would be a great start.
        It’s in the center of town where all of the wine tasters waunder clue-lessly. It’d be easier for them to find their cars after they have drank too much…. and weave out of town.
        Another idea…. A gas station… Used to have 3 in town… now nothing!
        How about a group of public toiletst???
        Then the gulpers of wine would have some where to releave themselves instead of coping a squat or standing behind buildings…
        Like I said- I don’t intend to be so negative… but do any of the businesses realize what they are doing to the residents of Geyserville???

        • Deborah

          Kent will be the guest speaker at the Feb. Chamber dinner Meeting, (there are tickets available http://www.geyservillecc.com) you should come and see for yourself and put your comments in the ring?
          There is also the empty lot on the corner of G-ville ave & Canyon Rd. perfect for a gas station.

  • Kim Seanor

    My mom and Susie Moore painted the wall when I was 5 years old…37 years ago. I hate to see it go, as it holds so many cherished memories growing up in Geyserville.

  • PJ Lenz

    How wonderful that a new member to the community cares enough to want to make it better. Way to think forward Geyserville!!! Hopefully “life long” will share his/her ideas for that spot.

  • http://thenorrisgroup.biz Vickie

    There are no plans for the painted wall to go anywhere. It would be great if it were reconditioned though.

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Deborah Serval is our Geyserville correspondent.
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