Windsor residents will be seeing some new sights around town, including painted pianos scattered around town for public use and a World War II fighter pilot memorial at the Windsor Town Green.
At its most recent meeting on Feb. 17, the Windsor Town Council unanimously approved in concept the addition of a World War II memorial to the Town Green and heard a presentation on plans to implement the painted pianos project.
The project is being headed by Heather Cullen of the Windsor Performing Arts Academy and Stefanie Hirayama of Move Over Mozart.
“I’m so excited about this,” Cullen said in a presentation to the council. “This project, we are imagining, will be located on streets, public parks, markets, trains stations and the airport. We are in phase two (of the project) and we’re storing and painting pianos and if the Windsor Day Parade happens, we were hoping to have each piano on a float in the parade.”
Cullen noted that if the parade doesn’t happen this May due to COVID-19 then they’ll have their own little parade as they take the painted pianos to their various locations.
Around 10 to 12 pianos are being used for the project and Art and Soul is currently at work painting one of the pianos. Staubli on the Windsor Town Green is storing the pianos in their facility until the May 1 piano project debut.
Each piano will feature a different artistic theme and according to Cullen, all of the artists on the project will be locally sourced from Windsor.
Potential piano locations include the Windsor Town Green, the Charles M. Schultz Sonoma County Airport, the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit train station, various Windsor parks such as Keiser Park and Foothill Park, the Windsor Golf Course, the Windsor Visitor’s Center, the Windsor Senior Center, the skate park and possibly near local churches and service clubs.
After the pianos are in place for six months, Cullen said the group will prepare for an October piano collection and auction.
“In the third week of October we would prep them for auction converting them to bookshelves, wine racks and garden art — or if someone wants it to stay a piano after it’s stayed out in the weather for six months that’s cool too — then we’ll auction them off and hopefully if it’s successful and everybody loved it we’ll just do it again,” Cullen said.
Proceeds from the auction will go toward student scholarships for music and dance lessons and for other Windsor Arts Academy and Move Over Motzart classes and programs.
For the duration of time the pianos will be outside and available for use a point person will be available to address vandalism or other maintenance concerns.
Windsor High School students will also be able to sign up for weekly piano maintenance shifts as part of their volunteer services hours and each piano will have a sanitation station with a 70% alcohol and water solvent cleaner, paper towels and hand sanitizer.
Additionally, the pianos will be checked on a daily basis by volunteers and sanitizer and cleaning supplies will be replenished as needed.
Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli said he’s going to happily sponsor one of the pianos.
“We’re so excited for this project to come into Windsor,” he said.
The Town of Windsor isn’t the first Sonoma County municipality to create a painted pianos program.
The city of Petaluma has a popular pianos program and over the years it’s attracted many musicians including a local pianist who’s now affectionately known as “Petaluma Pete.”
World War II memorial
This particular memorial will honor World War II fighter pilots who were stationed at the Santa Rosa Army Airfield training base according to the agenda item packet.
In mid-1941 the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors began securing options to purchase land northwest of Santa Rosa — which is now the Charles M. Schultz Sonoma County Airport — as an inducement to the United States Department of Defense to build a military airfield.
After acquiring 337 acres for the project, the county leased the land to the federal government in July of 1942 for the Army Air Corps. Subsequently, 1,150 acres were purchased for construction of additional military facilities in the area.
The original airfield consisted of two 5,400-foot runways, perimeter taxiways, 36 hardstands, refueling pits and fuel storage capacity.
The base was opened on Jan. 18, 1943 and the 493rd Base Headquarters and the Air Base Squadron were activated, and the base became a military training ground where pilots learned to fly single and twin-engine fighter planes before being deployed overseas.
Because the airfield was a training base there were several crashes and approximately 240 airplanes were lost with 59 pilot fatalities during the base’s operation between 1943 and 1945.
The memorial, which is being organized by Windsor resident Karen Alves in collaboration with the Windsor Historical Society, will honor those who died while training at the base. According to the agenda report, the Windsor Historical Society has compiled and confirmed the death certificates for all 59 pilots to be honored.
“This has been a project, believe it or not, that’s been on my mind for 18 years … My dad and his brothers grew up in Sonoma County and they saw these planes crash and even would run out into fields to try to save pilots and it really seared a memory into my dad’s mind and when he moved in with me I heard these stories over and over,” Alves said. “Before Harrison (a local historian) and my dad passed away, a monument was something they both really wanted to see, one at the Sonoma County Airport and one at the Town Green because there were planes that crashed in the area.”
According to the historical society one of the youngest pilots who crashed while stationed at the base was just 18.
Depending on costs, the memorial will either be a large plaque that features the names of those who died, or a small statue positioned on the Windsor Town Green between the American Flag and POW (prisoner of war remembrance) flag poles.
Alves and the historical society will be fundraising to cover the direct costs related to the memorial project.
Now that the town council has approved the concept for the project, Alves and the historical society will begin a fundraising campaign for the memorial and Windsor town staff will return to council with a final rendition of the project for approval before it’s installed.