Healdsburg’s Villa Chanticleer may simply be the most unique facility for meetings, weddings, small conferences and banquets in California. Located in the heart of Sonoma County’s wine country, the historic buildings are newly renovated and can accommodate groups from 20 to 600 people. Perched on Fitch Mountain, the Villa offers panoramic views of Northern California’s famed wine country. The grounds surrounding the cluster of buildings are much the same as when the Villa Chanticleer was built in 1910, with tall pine trees dotting the landscape. The Villa Chanticleer accommodates meeting groups as large as 600 people with 300 in the ballroom and an additional 300 in the dining area. The Villa Chanticleer has a rich history dating back to 1910. The first and original Villa Chanticleer (Rooster House) was born as a resort for the French population of San Francisco four years after the city’s earthquake and fire. A horse and buggy would meet guests at the depot, and after settling in, vacationers would travel by wagons down to the Russian River to swim or boat, or up the road to taste wine at Italian Swiss Colony in Asti. The Villa changed hands a number of times over the next two decades, finally becoming the property of Lucien Delagnes, who added more cabins and made many improvements, before selling it in 1945 to Joseph D. Johnson and Jack V. Kent, a pair of San Franciscans who owned and operated bars in both the City by the Bay and Truckee. The sale price of $35,000 included approximately 16 acres of wooded land. The new owners went to work immediately making improvements including hot and cold water and electric heaters in the cabins. Later that year the main building burned to the ground, but the cabins and outbuildings were not damaged. Kent and Johnson began immediate reconstruction. For two years, crews worked on the elaborate new structure, designed to be the most elegant resort on the north coast. In 1947, as landscaping was being completed around the complex in readiness for the grand opening, the partners declared bankruptcy and everything came to a halt. That is the story reconstructed from old newspaper clippings. There is another much more colorful version of the last years of Johnson’s Villa Chanticleer. Those who claim to know, say that Kent and Johnson were front men for the Mafioso, and the grand new Villa was being transformed into a high-class gambling casino. Before the casino could open, however, a major figure, reputed to be Johnson and Kent’s backer, disappeared and later his body was discovered in the trunk of a car parked at the San Francisco airport. Without the gangland connection, the tale goes, the two men had no choice but to file bankruptcy. Whichever saga is true, the more current history is easier to follow and substantiate. In October 1955, the City of Healdsburg purchased the Villa, modernized the kitchen, installed air conditioning in the dining room, and developed a picnic area and playground surrounding the main building. In 1993, after nearly 40 years as a favorite for conferences, parties, weddings, civic events and banquets, it was time for another major renovation. The doors closed behind the last departing guest from the New Years Eve Black & White Ball and remained closed for five months. The $1.4 million project included an attractive new entrance, refurbished bar and dining areas, new electrical systems, lighting, kitchen appliances, restrooms and much more. A new outdoor wedding garden has a gazebo, designer brick walkways, large lawn and landscaping. Foremost, of course, was protecting, maintaining and restoring the building’s ambiance as it was when rebuilt in 1947. Atop Fitch Mountain the air is fresh and the view endless. The newly renovated Villa is warm and rustic, with a full arbor of luxuriant wisteria and a sheared velvet lawn. As the French would say, and probably did in the Villa’s early days, “C’est bon, c’est magnifique, c’est la vie en rose” or (“It’s good, it’s magnificent, it’s life through rose-colored glasses”).