Charlie Brown statues show town is still nuts for cartoonist Schulz

August 20, 2005|By Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Jocelyn Y. Stewart,LOS ANGELES TIMES

In tribute to Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, who lived and worked in Santa Rosa, Calif., for four decades, the city has painted the town Brown.

Fifty-five large sculptures of Charlie Brown stand sentry throughout Santa Rosa, offering proof that although he was a loser in love, baseball and everything else, Charlie Brown wins the game of attracting tourists.

This June, after the installation of the statues, the number of people stopping in at the Santa Rosa Convention and Visitors Bureau increased by more than 50 percent to a record 6,660, said Mo Renfro, the bureau's executive director.

Many are looking for Charlie Brown.

"We're getting visitors from all over, literally," said Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Janet Condron, who helped organize the "It's Your Town Charlie Brown" celebration, which also commemorates the comic strip's 55th anniversary. "The recognition of Charles Schulz and the Peanuts characters is international."

Just as artists decorated statues of cows in Chicago and angels in Los Angeles, artists in Santa Rosa painted the blank statues as they saw fit.

Like Snoopy imagining himself as a World War I flying ace, Charlie Brown was depicted in different personas: Good Grief, It's Superman!, painted with a red cape, blue tights and black hair; Aloha Charlie, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, sunglasses and a lei; and Surf Chuck, with suntan and surfboard.

But there have been "good grief!" moments.

In June, someone stole Charlie Brown, dressed as a chef, from his spot in front of Michele's Restaurant. He reappeared after co-owner Bob Forsyth offered a $2,500 reward.

"He's inside the restaurant now," Forsyth said. "I don't want him to disappear."

Schulz spent the last 40 years of his life in the Sonoma County town 55 miles north of San Francisco, which dubbed him the "most beloved resident of the 20th century." He is known locally as "Sparky," the nickname given to him as an infant.

The man who gave the world Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and the rest of the Peanuts gang also gave much to this community. In 1969, Schulz and his wife built the Redwood Empire Skating Arena - also known as "Snoopy's Home Ice" - which plays host to an annual Christmas show with nationally known skaters.

Santa Rosa isn't the only city that claims a special bond with the cartoonist. Schulz spent his childhood in St. Paul, Minn. For six years it has held a Peanuts-themed statue celebration, beginning with "Peanuts on Parade" in 2000. That summer, 101 statues of Snoopy were stationed throughout the city. Each year, members of the Schulz family traveled to St. Paul for the event, which inspired Schulz's son Craig, a Santa Rosa resident, to suggest a similar event.

In addition to attracting tourists, the statues have drawn locals out of their neighborhoods.

"It has a tendency to bring people together," said Craig Schulz, the celebration's co-chairman. "It's what I call rediscovering Santa Rosa. It's been phenomenal so far."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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