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Nosing Around in Snoopy's Home Town : Though his doghouse is off-limits to visitors, there are some splendid people shelters in his neighborhood, the gentle hamlet of Santa Rosa.

October 06, 1985|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

Guests amuse themselves playing billiards and putting together puzzles, and there are hiking trails, a swimming pool, canoeing on the Russian River, redwood groves to explore and dozens of wineries that welcome the visitor along two-lane country byways.

Other than the wineries, though, it is Snoopy who reigns as the major attraction in the Sonoma Valley. Santa Rosa, the town where Snoopy makes his home, is a pleasant agricultural community whose fame is shared by the ghosts of Luther Burbank and Robert Ripley, both of whom lived in this charming Northern California mini-metropolis.

Snoopy's the Star

To the tourists, Snoopy is the star attraction, and frequently he shows off for them, skating at the Redwood Empire Arena, the ice rink built by cartoonist Charles Schulz, Snoopy's creator.

This is where Schulz can be found each morning in a coffee shop he calls the Warm Puppy.

Schulz finds it hard to turn fans away. They're forever asking him to sketch Snoopy on napkins and gum wrappers and whatever else is handy. (This, confidentially, irritates the cartoonist.)

He told me once: "It isn't fair. I just can't keep up with the interruptions. I'm a nice guy. I don't step on bugs or try to hurt anyone. I'm not a crabby person. But how do you put up with all this? I defy anyone to keep up a good humor and be interrupted as much as I am."

One morning this summer Schulz watched Snoopy skating alongside Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton. They were rehearsing for a performance of "Flashbeagle." Schulz's daughter, Jill, a professional skater, drifted across the ice with Snoopy on one arm, Hamilton on the other.

Not Snoopy's Father

Inside the Warm Puppy, Schulz ordered coffee from a menu listing a Hockey Puck Sundae, a Snoopy Hot Dog and a dish of Waltz Jump Jell-O.

What bothers Schulz most is that he is interrupted during breakfast by strangers who ask, "Are you Snoopy's father?"

The artist will shake his head sadly and reply, "No, I'm Charles Schulz."

On other occasions fathers exclaim to their children: "Look, this is Snoopy's father!"

It's embarrassing, Schulz confesses.

To many of the residents of Santa Rosa, Snoopy is alive; it is no secret that Snoopy, Schulz and the ice arena he created are responsible for a great deal of the tourism Santa Rosa enjoys.

Visitors flock to the ice arena by the carload. Others arrive in huge sightseeing buses. They pester poor Schulz till he runs off and closes the door to his office at No. 1 Snoopy Lane.

He's a Hockey Player

The reason Schulz built the arena is because he's from Minnesota and he wanted to skate and play hockey. It cost him more than $2 million and the arena resembles nothing more than a giant Swiss chalet surrounded by redwood trees, pine, fir and bowls of flowers that hang from Bavarian-style lamp posts.

The arena is where Snoopy struts about, just as Mickey Mouse does along the streets of the Magic Kingdom in Anaheim and at Disney World in Florida.

As for Schulz, well, he's a softy, and he will tell you quite frankly, "I have a Charlie Brown complex. I want to be liked."

Schulz frequently skates in tournaments at his arena. He confesses that one of his greatest thrills came when he scored Santa Rosa's only goal in a game with a team from Korea. "I can still see the puck hitting the back of the net. That was really exciting."

To friends he is Sparky (his nickname), the creator of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Schroeder, Linus and, Snoopy, of course. And then there's Woodstock, the bird that flies upside down. And speaking of flying, Schulz operates his own airline which he calls--oh, my!--Woodstock Aviation.

Doesn't Seek Crowds

Traveling, though, isn't one of his joys. Sparky doesn't seek out crowds, it's the other way around. And so carloads of parents and youngsters continue to arrive, snapping pictures with their Instamatics of America's most famous cartoonist.

Afterward they turn to Railroad Square where Janis Platt and John Adams have restored a once-derelict hotel near the old Southern Pacific Depot, transforming it into one of Santa Rosa's leading attractions. Called Hotel la Rose, it is impossible to fault--the rooms are simply gems, the restaurant is superb.

Entering this old stone building is like stepping across the threshold into the 19th Century and taking up residence in a country manor. Platt and Adams, both from the Bay Area, built an annex across the street; at the same time they restored a Bowery-like bar called Hogan's which turns out beer, wine and gourmet sandwiches.

A few doors away Rebo's serves poached salmon, clam fritters, crab cioppino, linguine and Gold Dust Gertie's cheeseburgers in a restaurant occupying an old warehouse that's a jungle of hanging planters.

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